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! 🙂

On The Hot Seat

I’ve done some adventurous things in my life, but as a general rule I play it safe(ish.)  So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I’ve been dicing with death (or at least a painful personal injury) for the past week.

The malevolent heat bubble that pushed our temperatures up to 42C/107F has finally moved on and the weather has been lovely since; so in the evenings I’ve been sitting outside.  Our deck chairs are cheap and light, and we leave them hooked over the edge of the deck to prevent them from playing Smash-Up Derby whenever the wind picks up.  So every evening I’ve been unhooking a chair, dragging it over to my favourite spot, and enjoying a few peaceful minutes.

No danger in that, right?

Riiiight.

While I’ve been sitting there, I’ve noticed some paper wasps buzzing around the other chair.  “Hmmm,” I’ve thought each time.  “They must be starting a nest under that other chair.  Lucky I grabbed this one.  I should probably do something about that nest…”  Then I finish my drink and go inside and forget the whole thing until next time.

So yesterday I finally decided to check and see if I needed to deal with a nest.  Paper wasps are relatively docile, but they’re still wasps; so I used appropriate caution.  I got up from my chair, crept over to the other chair where they were hovering, and gingerly eased it over to look beneath.

No nest.

Whew, that was a relief.

I went back and sat down.  But the wasps kept hanging around.  Flying under that other chair and circling.  And at last realization dawned:  The chairs normally sit side by side.  They were looking for their nest.  It wasn’t under the other chair.  Ergo…

Slowly and with dread, I got up again and carefully tipped my chair over.

Yep, there was a wasp nest right under the seat, inches away from where my leg (and some other important parts of my anatomy) had been.  And all week I’d been dragging that chair around, sitting down, shifting, getting up and strolling around; all but waving my arms and yelling, “I’m a threat, sting me!”  I can still hardly believe they didn’t.

So now I’m torn.  After they tolerated my obnoxious presence in peace for a week, it seems rude and ungrateful to smash their home and slaughter them all.  But (in a stellar example of applying safety measures after the danger is past) I don’t want to spend another second on, or even near, the hot seat.

I can’t quite bring myself to wipe them out, though. So I guess I’ll be uneasily sharing the deck with them for the rest of the summer. At least I know they’re docile.

Right…?

Power-Trippin’

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember me crowing about the fun I had with a mini excavator we rented back in 2017.

Well, pshaw.  This time we got a SERIOUS machine (and I’m a lot better at operating it now, too):

It’s only a ‘midi’, but at 14,000 pounds it’s much bigger and more powerful than the mini.  (Which was still a hell of a lot bigger and more powerful than my muscles.)  Our ‘soil’ here is so full of rocks that the only way to dig by hand is with a pickaxe and hoe and a lot of elbow grease.  Even the mini struggled to scrape out a small hole. But this excavator?  Big beautiful bucketloads, woohoo!  Those rocks don’t stand a chance.

This is our fourth year in our ‘new’ place, and while I’ve accomplished a lot of landscaping by hand, there were some projects that were just too big to manage.  F’rinstance, here are before-and-after shots of the rhododendron garden. (The ‘before’ photo comes from the post I linked to above.) I did all the rock and soil fill by hand, and it took a couple of years to show progress:

Back in 2017 when I was just starting to lay out the beds.
Early this spring. (You can still see the snow on the mountains in the background.)
And a few weeks ago in full bloom. (Different angle, though.)

But… here’s a project I just did with the excavator. That embankment is about 4 feet high and full of rocks; and it took me around 10 machine-hours to scrape up the fill, level the garden, and grade/contour afterward:

No chance of me EVER doing that by hand, unless I wanted to make it my life’s work.  (Hint: Nope!) 

I’m getting a bunch of other long-postponed projects done with the machine, too.  More landscaping and grading, some new flowerbeds, lifting deadfall trees off our beleaguered deer fence… the possibilities are endless! 

Better still, even though my first project was a flowerbed only two feet away from the house, I haven’t caused any property damage.  (Well, except for our wheelbarrow, which suffered a permanent curvature of its spine when I had a brain fart at the excavator controls.  But the wheelbarrow still works, so I’m counting it as an ‘oops’, not actual property damage.)

There’s only one flaw in this seemingly-idyllic situation:  I’m far too attached to this machine.  The more I use it, the more I want it.

Yep, I’m power-trippin’.  And when it’s all over and the machine goes away, my withdrawal symptoms will be truly ugly.

But that’s in the future.  Meanwhile, I’ve got more flowerbeds to build!

Anybody else tackling major landscape projects this spring?

Critters vs. Me

So, it finally happened:  The local critters have ganged up on me.

Last week I had rolled our garbage carts out to the curb and retreated to the house to wash my hands and grab my morning cup of tea to enjoy on our front porch.  About fifteen minutes later, I heard the distinctive sound of a garbage cart being rolled over asphalt. And we don’t have neighbours who live close enough to interfere with our garbage carts.

I craned my neck.  Sure enough, a big black bear was batting our kitchen waste cart around, about a hundred yards away.

I jumped up and yelled, “HEY BEAR!  GET LOST!”

The bear glanced up and a thought-bubble appeared above its head:  “Why is that annoying little creature disturbing my breakfast-to-be?

Since my primary goal is to not die of my own stupidity, I didn’t press the point in person.  Instead I got into my car and drove to the front gate, where I bravely honked the horn from behind our 8-foot deer fence.  The bear ambled off into the forest, and after a respectful pause I scooted out to retrieve our garbage cart (fortunately bear-proof) and replace it at the curb.  But I’m pretty sure the bear was the master of that situation.

The next marauding critters were robins.  The cheap plastic mesh we used to protect our strawberries two years ago has rotted away, so we’re constructing a new permanent enclosure with chicken wire.  But we’re behind schedule, so the ripening berries are unprotected.  I’ll say no more; and simply refer you to my post from two years ago:  https://blog.dianehenders.com/2019/06/12/flipped-off-by-the-bird/.  It’s an exact repeat.

I wasn’t surprised by the behaviour of the bear and the birds, but the crowning insult of my week was being bested by a bunny.

After discovering that some of our newly-emerged beans and sunflowers had been nipped off by bunny teeth, I deployed a rabbit fence around the garden.  I was short on time so I shoved the posts into the ground by hand and strung a two-foot-high barrier of chicken wire between them.  It was wimpy, but I figured it was strong enough to stop a not-too-determined rabbit.

And it was.  No more rabbit problems.

But the bunnies got the last laugh:  A couple of days ago I was striding across the garden with my attention elsewhere and my gaze fixed on the horizon.  Moments later I was doing a graceful slow-motion faceplant when the damn-near-invisible rabbit fence tackled me around the knees.

On the bright side, I was lucky my makeshift posts weren’t solidly rooted. I easily broke my fall with my hands in the soft earth, and the only injury was to my dignity. Plus, I made an important discovery at the same time.

Science tells us that rabbits don’t vocalize, except for a truly horrifying scream when they’re attacked.  Well, science is wrong.

’Cause I distinctly heard a rabbit laughing.

Anybody else have run-ins with rabbits? Or do things like that only happen to me?

Book News: Book 16 is available in paperback now! If you’re interested, purchasing links are available on my Books page. And Book 17 is swirling around in my brain. No formal plotting yet, but it’s slowly taking shape. Stay tuned…