Dishing The Dirt

Wow, the last few months have been so crazy-busy, I feel like I’ve been living under a large rock.  I kinda look as though I have, too.  I’d like to blame the COVID-19 isolation for my dishevelled appearance; but with gardening season in full swing, well… even basic personal hygiene seems a bit futile.

I get up, shower, and sit down at the breakfast table all shiny-clean. Mere hours later, I’m caked with dirt, soaked in sweat, and greasy with sunscreen. My fingernails are pitch-black crescents, and I have hat-head worthy of a clown show or a horror movie.  (Is there really a difference between the two?)

Here’s the embarrassing truth:  I’m perfectly happy like that. What’s more, I love wearing old clothes because I don’t have to worry about wrecking them. I’ve been wearing the same gardening jeans for at least fifteen years. They’ve been exposed to so much sunlight that they’re almost white, except where they’ve been permanently stained by dirt, engine grease, paint, caulking, glue, and/or other unnamed substances. They’ve fallen apart and been sewn back together so often that even their patches have patches.

But they’re comfortable.  And I live out in the sticks so nobody can see me; and even if they do see me and judge me, they’re far enough away that I don’t know they’re doing it.  So it’s all good.

Problem is, that kind of laid-back comfort gets insidious.  If I’m not careful, I’ll become that stinky old lady with the tattered clothes, matted hair, and feral expression, who shows up at the grocery store twice a year to buy staple foods before vanishing back into the dilapidated hovel whence she came.

Fortunately Hubby is much more civilized than I, and he somehow manages to stay clean(ish) no matter what he does.  So I have a model for normal human behaviour; and at least I’m still capable of cleaning up when it’s time for cover photos (albeit with a big assist from Photoshop).

Which, of course, is my ever-so-subtle segue to dishing today’s dirt:

It’s release day for Book 15, A SPY FOR HELP, woohoo!  (And whew.  It’s finally done! But the next book is already knocking at my mental doors…)

Off-duty secret agent Aydan Kelly knows she shouldn’t interfere when her lover finally locates his long-lost sister, but she’s afraid Arnie’s too upset to stay on the right side of the law.

Arnie’s sister has been outed in a social media firestorm, and threats against her escalate to a violent attack.  Aydan and Arnie rush to her rescue, only to discover she’s being targeted by a powerful crime lord from her unsavory past.  As danger mounts, Aydan realizes Arnie will do anything to save his sister… including murder.

Caught between love and legality, Aydan faces an unthinkable choice:  Risk her career and freedom by turning a blind eye to Arnie’s deadly plan, or save the crime lord and condemn Arnie to prison and his sister to death.

Click here for links to retailers

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Virtual Art Show

Since COVID-19 reared its ugly head, my regular Friday Painters meetings have been cancelled.  We all know it’s best for everyone; but I miss our laughter and camaraderie, and I especially miss the inspiration I gain from being surrounded by such talented and creative people.

Several members of our group had artwork accepted into various shows this spring and summer, and of course the art shows have all been cancelled, too.

That’s just sad, so today I’m doing a Virtual Art Show featuring the work of some of my very talented Friday friends. I hope you enjoy it!

Joanne Ayley
joanneayleyart.com

“My House” $150
Acrylic on deep Canvas 12” x 12” x 1.5”
© Joanne Ayley

 

“The Lookout” $250
Acrylic on Canvas 24” x 12”
© Joanne Ayley

 

Deborah Glover

24″ x 36″ acrylic on canvas
© Deborah Glover

 

“Portrait of Tim”
11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas
© Deborah Glover

 

 

Vanessa Lambert
I enjoy working in many mediums including Pen/Ink, Graphite, Charcoal, Watercolour and Acrylic.

“Stairway to Heaven, Judges Row, Qualicum Beach”
© Vanessa Lambert

 

Joanne Nemeth
joannenemeth.com
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/joanne_nemeth/

“Spring Revival” $250
17” x 14” acrylic, framed
© Joanne Nemeth

 

“Crimson Rising” $175
11” x 14” acrylic, framed
© Joanne Nemeth

 

Lynne Rattray

“Boldly Go” $75
9″ x 12″ Multi-media acrylic on deep canvas
© Lynne Rattray

 

“The Road Not Taken” $95
12″ x 12″ Acrylic on deep canvas
© Lynne Rattray

Amazingly, I’ve done a couple of paintings, too. I know my Friday friends are chuckling at this because I’m a VERY slow painter — these are the only paintings I’ve done since we started last September, and the second one’s still not finished.  But for what it’s worth, here they are:

“Rathtrevor Beach Campground”
Watercolour, 9″ x 16″
© Diane Henders

 

“Cameron Lake Log”
Acrylic 16″ x 20″
© Diane Henders

Book 15 update:  At last, a release date!  “A Spy For Help” will be released on May 27, 2020.  I’ll be sending out preorder links via my New Book Notification List soon — if you want to get on the list, click here.

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Marriage Is A Short Sentence

Now that I’m in the final stages of polishing Book 15, my brain has apparently decided to become creative in more questionable ways.  For instance, last week I figured out why language skills seem to diminish with age.

It’s not normal aging.  It’s not even dementia.  No, the cause is much more widespread and insidious.

It’s marriage.

I determined this through exhaustive scientific research, of course.  To be exact, it occurred to me at the dinner table.

Hubby and I were chatting about nothing in particular when I mentioned that I’d finally taken time to clean my engagement ring.  I’m an avid gardener and even though I always wear gardening gloves, fine particles of soil sift through the fabric and sully my diamond.

I attempted to communicate that idea as follows:

“I always wear gloves, but you know how fine dust always comes through the…”

I didn’t bother to complete the sentence.  Hubby was already nodding, so I knew he’d gotten it.

And that’s when it hit me:  After being together for twenty years, we don’t have to finish our sentences anymore.  We each know what the other means.  (Or we don’t; and then we accuse each other of conversations that never actually took place.  Marriage is all about give and take:  Give blame, take credit.)

But it proves my point:  We don’t lose language skills as we get older; we just expect others to decipher our meaning after only a few cryptic words.

And Hubby and I have only been married for a couple of decades.  People who have been married for fifty years probably don’t even need to use nouns.  In another few decades, this will be our dinner conversation:

“Did you…”

“Yep.”

“How about…”

“Uh-huh. But don’t forget the…”

“Got it.”

If we were married even longer, we could probably communicate with only the lift of an eyebrow and a nod.  (Or the lift of a certain finger; but that’s more of a universal gesture so I’m excluding it from my scholarly research.)

But now that I’ve identified the problem, I’m stumped for a solution.  It seems like a lot of work to change my habits just for the sake of keeping up language skills; and it’ll likely be a while before the COVID-19 isolation protocols are relaxed enough that I can visit regularly with people who require me to express complete ideas.

So I guess I’ll have to start conversing with inanimate objects that can’t possibly nod and indicate their understanding after only a few words.  As long as self-isolation doesn’t last so long that I develop an unhealthy relationship with my teapot or my dining room chair, everything should be fine.

But if they start replying…

I don’t think I’ll finish that sentence.

Book 15 update:  I’m expecting the final feedback from my beta readers this week, so stay tuned for a release date announcement in my next post!

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Language Lapses

I’m fascinated by the way English speakers from various cultures use the same words to mean completely different things, sometimes with hilarious results.  I have readers around the world so I’m generally conscious of words that are innocent in some places but rude in others, and I try to stay away from the iffy ones.

But sometimes I fail.  F’rinstance…

Hubby is an electronics genius, and he’s always repairing and/or inventing things in his mancave. Sometimes there are worrisome whiffs of electrochemical odour that make me wonder whether the air is safe to breathe.  So the other day I was talking with a doctor; a knowledgeable and pleasant man with a British accent.  And he asked whether we had any potential toxins in our house.

“Solder!” I announced.

In the momentary pause that followed, I realized I’d slipped up.  I had forgotten that in Britain, ‘solder’ is pronounced ‘sole-der’ (rhyming with ‘bolder’). In the U.S. and Canada, we pronounce it ‘sodder’. And just after the word launched from my mouth into that instant of silence, I recalled that ‘sod’, ‘sodding’, and its variations are quite rude in Britain. Similar to the F-bomb, according to the online dictionaries.

Oops.

I hurriedly added, “…from electronics repair” and the doctor replied as though nothing was amiss (and his answer was that we’re probably safe, considering the minimal amount of soldering Hubby does), but there was definitely a thread of amusement in his voice. I’m glad he decided to see the humour!

Considering that Canada actually began as a British colony, it’s surprising how many of our words have diverged in meaning.

Take ‘gas’, for example. Here, it’s fuel for our vehicles. In the U.K. it’s called ‘petrol’ — ‘gas’ is something you get after eating too many beans. I can only imagine the chuckles over there when somebody from this continent bemoans the unfortunate addiction of gas-sniffing.

Then there’s the time-honoured British tradition of smoking fags:  To them, a ‘fag’ is a cigarette. Over here, it’s a derogatory word for a homosexual man. Add that to the fact that ‘smoke’ is slang for ‘kill’ in North America, and a casual social practice in the U.K. becomes a criminal act over here.

But the word that came closest to embarrassing me internationally was ‘fanny’. As you may know, the protagonist of my novels wears a waist pouch; commonly known as a ‘fanny pack’ in North America. Here, ‘fanny’ is a semi-polite word meaning ‘bum’ or ‘buttocks’.  Over the pond, ‘fanny’ is a very impolite word for female genitals. I’m SO glad I didn’t call it a ‘fanny pack’ in my novels!

And speaking of novels… Book 15’s cover and blurb are finished, woohoo!  I’m expecting feedback from one more beta reader, and then I’ll be ready to announce a release date.

Here’s the cover art, with many thanks to all my wonderful blog readers who offered feedback and advice last May.  Most people liked the original cover photos, but over half thought the colours and fonts could be more dynamic.  So here’s the new look — I hope you like it!  (You can see the rest of the updated covers on the Books page.)

Off-duty secret agent Aydan Kelly knows she shouldn’t interfere when her lover finally locates his long-lost sister, but she’s afraid Arnie’s too upset to stay on the right side of the law.

Arnie’s sister has been outed in a social media firestorm, and threats against her escalate to a violent attack.  Aydan and Arnie rush to her rescue, only to discover she’s being targeted by a powerful crime lord from her unsavory past.  As danger mounts, Aydan realizes Arnie will do anything to save his sister… including murder.

Caught between love and legality, Aydan faces an unthinkable choice:  Risk her career and freedom by turning a blind eye to Arnie’s deadly plan, or save the crime lord and condemn Arnie to prison and his sister to death.

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A Wrinkly Old Bog

Yesterday was Cover Photo Day, woohoo!  It’s exciting to be that much closer to launching Book 15; but on the downside, I had to put on makeup.  Blech.  It was only for a few hours, but it felt like a lot longer.

I’ve always felt a little embarrassed about being on the covers of my own books, but I’m actually pretty happy about it this time around.  With the COVID-19 isolation protocols, I wouldn’t have been able to get the cover done otherwise.  Plus… hell; I might as well admit it:  It feels good because I’m a do-it-yourself freak, a control freak, and several other varieties of freak that are probably better left unmentioned.

But still…

I loathe makeup.  I hate that chalky, sticky, suffocating feeling on my skin.  I hate the greasy flesh-coloured scum it leaves in my sink after I wash it off.  But most of all, I hate the way it falls into my wrinkles and makes my skin look like this:

(No, I’m not going to post a closeup photo of my face. You’re welcome.)

Back in the hazily-remembered days before I had wrinkles, I still didn’t like makeup much; but at least I looked good when I put it on.  These days putting on makeup is like rolling a coat of fresh paint over drywall I should have filled and sanded first:  Every crack and rough spot looks ten times worse.

Plus, my protagonist is aging much more slowly than I am.  If this series keeps going I’ll have to get better at Photoshop.  Much, much better.  As in, “face transplant” better.

Most of the time my wrinkles don’t bother me.  I can’t see my face clearly in the mirror unless I’m wearing reading glasses (which is, frankly, the only humane thing about aging).  More to the point, this is the best I’m going to look for the whole rest of my life.  Might as well relax and enjoy it.

But makeup?  That’s just adding insult to injury.

P.S. Here are a few pretty photos of what’s blooming at our place, to take your mind off wrinkly old bogs (or wrinkly old bags, as the case may be).

Dwarf species tulips and chionodoxa

 

Heather and grape hyacinths and a couple of late snowdrops

 

Indoors, a baby pineapple on a plant that Hubby started from the top of a store-bought pineapple we ate.

 

Can you spot the little viola that decided to self-seed despite the odds?

 

Here’s a closeup – it’s amazing how these tiny but tough flowers find a way to survive! Kinda puts things in perspective…

 

A flock of daffodils

 

…and we woke up to snow this morning. April Fool’s on us!

 

Book 15 update:  We have a title:  “A Spy For Help”!  The manuscript is out for its final beta and proofreading, and the cover is in progress.  Stay tuned for a blurb and cover reveal in my next post!

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Doobie-ous Choices

As a thriller writer, I make my living by writing scary scenarios and then finding ways to make them worse.  But, wow, with all the scary stuff going on in the world right now, what have I got left to work with? I hate to say it, but it might be time to cue the zombie invasion.

I’ve done what I can to mitigate my risks of catching or spreading the flu, so that leaves me a couple of ways to deal with my residual anxiety:  1) Cower in my home and obsess over every sniffle; or 2) occupy my mind with childish humour.

Guess which one I chose?

It wasn’t actually a conscious choice — after I finished the draft of Book 15 this week (hooray!), my brain started scrambling signals just for fun.

For instance, I was surprised and not a little disturbed to discover an email in my inbox titled “What to expect from federal prison”.  It’s not reassuring to receive that sort of advice from one’s online brokerage.  Much to my relief, the title turned out to be “What to expect from federal pension”, so I guess I don’t need to look for escape routes just yet.

Only a few days later, flu symptoms must have been on my mind when I read “It’s a spectacular series of snots” on a photography website.  That would be “shots”, not “snots”.  But at least my inner child got a giggle.

And while I was writing the last couple of chapters of Book 15, that same naughty inner child decided that the root word of “dubious” is “doobie”.  Now I’ll never be able to hear, speak, write, or read the word ‘dubious’ without smirking.

With my inner child thus occupied, my outer middle-aged adult began to contemplate how retirement might look if I ever get to the point where it’s something I want and can afford (neither of which seems likely).

“Well-dressed charity board member” would be a laughably bad fit; mostly because my idea of “well-dressed” is a T-shirt without holes in it, and my lifetime allocation of patience for meetings was used up at least a decade ago.

“Pillar of the arts” might work if I had enough money to actually be a pillar; but right now my budget is more “toothpick”.  And I’d probably have to dress up, too; so that’s out.

After considering and discarding a few other possibilities, I’ve finally decided to become the reprehensible old hippy who spends all day in her garden, sits on her front porch smoking the recreational herbs she grows, shouts insults at passersby, and occasionally moons people just for fun.  (Her fun; not theirs.)

Like all good retirement plans, this will require some advance planning:  I’ll have to learn to smoke, acquire some marijuana plants, move to a place where there actually are passersby, and practice my mooning.  I’ve done it by accident a few times, but I suspect the intentional act is trickier than it looks; particularly if one’s balance is impaired by recreational herbs.

So, having settled on these doobie-ous choices for my future, I think I’m ready to relax a bit.  Anybody want to join me on the front porch?  (At a safe six-foot distance, of course.)

Book 15 update:  The draft is DONE!  It’s already been vetted by the first beta reader, and now I’m into my first round of revisions.  Title and release date coming soon!   🙂

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Never Turn Your Back On Your Car

In the past I’ve mentioned how bad things tend to sneak up from behind.  I’m especially paranoid about bad things involving my behind.  This has led me to develop a few, um… let’s just say ‘unique’ behaviours like always sitting with my back to a wall and obsessively checking the butt-end of any spandex-containing garment I intend to wear.

Nothing has sneaked up on me for a long time; but this week I got ambushed by an entirely unforeseen enemy:  My car.

It was raining when I parked at the art centre for my Friday painting group.  I sidled between the vehicles and carefully opened my passenger door, not enough to hit the vehicle beside me, but wide enough to retrieve my largish Rubbermaid tub and the art canvas I carry on top of it.  Thinking ahead (and smug in my own efficiency), I hit the door locks before I grabbed the tub so I wouldn’t have to add ‘fumble with keys and lock car’ to my list of acrobatic manoeuvres.

I eased the tub out, balancing on one foot and stabilizing the door with the other, while remembering to keep a thumb on the canvas so the wind wouldn’t blow it away.  Then I turned to complete the final step in my awkward ballet:  Slamming the door with my elbow while holding the tub in both hands.

Everything went fine:  The door latched, and I didn’t drop my tub or fall on my butt.  Except… when I tried to walk away, I couldn’t.

I had a moment of blank incomprehension:  “Can’t move. Why…???”

Then I realized the wind had gusted at the exact moment that the door slammed shut, and a big fold of my jacket was locked into the car.  And there I stood:  My back jammed against the car, both hands occupied by the tub, arms immobilized by the tightened jacket, and rain bucketing down.

After a couple of futile tugs on the jacket, I raised one knee to balance the tub and groped behind me for the door handle.  But no; I’d been efficient.  The door was locked.

Then came the truly ridiculous part of my performance:  Standing on one leg, balancing the tub on my drawn-up knee, gripping the handle of the tub with my left hand, left thumb stretched up to hold the canvas in place; all while insinuating my right hand between the tub and my belly to reach my waist pouch (which was jammed under the tub), where I’d ever-so-efficiently stowed my keys in a zippered pocket.

By some miracle I still didn’t fall on my butt; but it was a near thing when giggles seized me halfway through the process.  The only saving grace was that my car has electric locks.  If I’d had to insert a key in a keyhole one-handed, behind my back, while standing on one leg balancing a heavy tub, I probably would have done myself an injury.  From laughter, if nothing else.

I managed to free myself without drawing a crowd of jeering onlookers, so I considered it a win.  But that’s the last time I’ll ever turn my back on my car…

Book 15 update:  Another good writing week!  I’m bombing along on Chapter 43 and all the threads are finally coming together.  Dare I say… “The End” is in sight…?

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Amaryllis And Avocats

Like many Canadians, I’m semi-bilingual.  I took eight years of French in school and still read French reasonably well; but the only times I use it are when I accidentally pick up a container with the French label facing outward, and when some crossover in vocabulary gives me a giggle.

That happened just the other day:  Hubby (whose entire French vocabulary consists of ‘oui’) was telling me about an incident where a truckload of rotten produce had been refused by a composting site because the little plastic sticky-labels were still affixed.

He began, “So this truckload of rotten avocats…”

I burst out laughing.

“I meant avocados,” he interrupted.

“I know,” I said, still laughing.  “That’s what’s so funny.”

I then explained that, against all odds, he had inadvertently managed to use the French word for ‘avocado’.  And he’d tickled my funnybone, since ‘avocat’ also means ‘lawyer’ in French.

Now I really want to hear the rest of the story that begins, “So this truckload of rotten lawyers…”

At this point I’ll resist the urge to tell lawyer jokes; partly because I have some very nice friends who are lawyers, but mostly because I prefer to avoid antagonizing people who have the time, inclination, and skill to sue my ass off.

Instead, here are some pretty pictures.  The crocuses are in bloom outside, and inside our amaryllis bulbs are putting on a show.  I just love those gorgeous colours!

These little beauties are just starting outside.

 

These guys are three feet tall!

 

Flame orange…

 

Hot pink…

 

…and gorgeous deep satiny red!

Book 15 update:  I’m on Chapter 35 and going strong!  I just wrote a car chase that takes place in Regina, Saskatchewan in the middle of winter.  I think I managed to make it a little more exciting than this spoof from a commercial for winter tires:

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I Did It, And I’m Proud! (ish)

I found the above title on a completely blank post in my Drafts folder.  I don’t know what I had originally intended to write, but I’m going to run with it now. (Fasten your seatbelt, because the upcoming segue will produce severe g-forces.)

So… speaking of running with it: Remember the aerobics classes of the 1980s?

I was in university then, living in the city after growing up so far out in the sticks that even the fashion-conscious folks were several years behind the current styles.

University was an eye-opener. Suddenly I was confronted by Fashion with a capital F, in clothing, shoes, home furnishings, music, EVERYTHING. Including fitness. My dismal attempts at sartorial style are a post for another day (actually, many days), but I seized on aerobics as The Fitness Thing To Do.

My first aerobics class was taught by one of my interior design classmates. She was perfect in every way. Blonde, petite, a talented interior designer, fashionable, and so insanely fit that fat cells couldn’t even exist in the same room with her.

She was everything I was not. Dressed in her sleek bodysuit, tights, leg warmers, and perky matching headband, she led the class through a complicated and gruelling workout without apparent effort. I gallumphed gracelessly at the back of the room, puffing like steam engine, sweating like a toilet tank, and flailing wildly in an attempt to match her dance-like choreography.

If she hadn’t been such a nice person, I would have suspected her of keeping an eye on me and purposely changing the routine the instant I managed to catch up. But I knew the truth: Even though I’m generally pretty well-coordinated, I’m hopelessly choreography-impaired.

I hadn’t thought about aerobics classes for several decades, but this week it all came back to me. We don’t live close to a gym now, so I follow an online program that’s focused on strength training, not choreography.  The movements are simple and I can keep up.

But.

There’s an add-on module for extra ab work, with a randomized selection of timed activities. Which means, “Keep up with the class, kids”.

So there I was again: panting, sweating, and hopelessly out of sync. The only change from 38 years ago was that this time I was on my back, doing a strikingly accurate imitation of a beetle that’s been flipped upside-down: Arms and legs flailing in the air, body rocking spastically back and forth.

I managed most of the routine before I collapsed and lay there laughing helplessly at myself, while the mechanized voice prompted, “X-Man crosses for 30 seconds starting in 5… 4… 3…”

But at least I’m exercising. I did it, and I’m proud(ish); as long as nobody confuses ‘proud’ with ‘dignified’.

Anybody got some leg warmers I can borrow?

Book 15 update:  I spent most of last week wrestling with a knotty plot (which is not nearly as much fun as wrestling with a naughty plot), and did a big reorganization.  I’m on Chapter 27, and it should be clear sailing now!  (Says she, with misguided optimism.)

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It Tastes Like Sh… ampagne…?

This is it:  The grand unveiling of the tomato cider I started fermenting back in October!

I’ve made several batches of cider over the years, and the process has been pretty similar each time:

  1. Go through the long painstaking process of sterilizing, fermenting, racking, back-sweetening, and bottling.
  2. Wait.
  3. Wait, wait, wait, waitwaitwait…
  4. Proudly bring out the inaugural bottle, pop the top, and pour it out.
  5. Admire the beautiful clarity of the fizzy contents.
  6. Eagerly taste it.
  7. *sound of disappointed crowd booing, accompanied by derisive minor-key music: ‘wah-wah-waaaahhhh’*

Until this year, I’d only made cider out of apples, which is theoretically supposed to give palatable results.  Even so, I’ve never managed to produce anything I’d offer to anyone else; except maybe as a practical joke.

Apparently I’m either optimistic or delusional, because I keep trying despite repeated disappointments.  (Note:  No matter how bad it is, I drink the rotgut myself because I fear the Irish legend of Judgement Day*.)

Since the tomato cider was a crapshoot to start with, my usual optimism was slightly subdued, but there was still some anticipation.

The ‘pop’:

It sounds like champagne!

The pour:

It fizzes like champagne.

The beautifully clear contents:

It looks like champagne!

And the taste test:

Despite its promising appearance, I was afraid it was going to taste like something that starts with that ‘sh-’ sound.  It definitely isn’t champagne, but amazingly, it’s okay!  (You can see my surprise.)

It’s a bit weird because it has a faint but distinct tomato flavour.  Not as much as tomato juice, though, so you might not be able to identify the taste if you didn’t know what it was.  It’s fruity and smooth and pleasantly carbonated.  In short, it’s nothing like the godawful rocket fuel I’ve made in previous years!

I hate to admit it, but this is probably the best result I’ve had out of all my cider-making thus far.  Maybe I’m getting better at it.

Or maybe it only seems better because I drank the whole pint and it’s almost as alcoholic as champagne…

What’s the oddest flavour of cider you’ve ever tried?

*

* On Judgement Day, you’ll be suspended head-down in a barrel containing all the booze you’ve ever wasted; and if you drown, to Hell with you.

Book 15 update:  The last couple of weeks have been full of research and revisions!  Aydan and Arnie’s run-ins with the police will be as accurate as I can make them, thanks to the patience and generosity of the constable from Regina Police Service who answered my MANY questions.

 

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