The Big Drop

Guess what I did last week?

If you guessed ‘skydiving’, you’re right… and oh-so-wrong.

Yes, I got trussed into a tandem skydiving harness by Gord from Skydive Vancouver Island. But that’s as far as it went; although I did have a moment of panic when he finished tightening the harness and said, “So, we’ll be taking you up now?”

He took one look at my expression and burst out laughing as I yelped, “No!”

Why did I get into the harness if I wasn’t going to jump, you ask? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask; but I’m going to tell you anyway.) Because… *drumroll* …I was doing the cover art for Book 16, which will be available for pre-order in only a few short days, hooray! The only ‘drop’ was the impending drop of the book.

Digression: I’m not sure why everybody uses ‘drop’ when referring to the release of movies or music or books these days, but here we are. I was tempted to title this post ‘The Long Drop’, but since ‘long drop’ is Aussie slang for a hole-in-the-ground toilet, I refrained. (Barely.)

Anyhow, in SPY IN THE SKY, Aydan unwillingly goes skydiving. I had a lot of fun writing those scenes, but I have to admit that my chief enjoyment came from the fact that I didn’t actually have to experience it. I’ve done most of the stunts Aydan tries in my books, but I draw the line at skydiving.

Gord told me the attachment points on the harness will hold a combined weight of 1500 pounds, and statistics say skydiving is actually safer than the drive to the airport. If I could completely, 100%, trust that the parachute would open and I’d stay attached to my instructor, I’d probably give it a try. But I have serious trust issues, so I don’t think I’ll ever jump out of a perfectly good airplane at any altitude greater than two feet.

I’m pretty sure my depiction of the experience is close, though, because Gord was kind enough to give me a crash course (sorry, couldn’t resist) in what it’s like to skydive. Many thanks to Gord and Allison for the generous donation of their time and expertise!

Would you ever skydive? Have you? Inquiring minds want to know!

To be released May 7, 2021:

When secret agent Aydan Kelly investigates a disgraced CIA agent, he insists he was only following orders.  Four days later he mysteriously dies while in custody.

Aydan suspects that a CIA director committed murder to hide his profitable connection with an international arms dealer.  As she digs deeper, Aydan knows she’s on the right track when assassins start trying to kill her.  But when the arms dealer deposits twenty million dollars in her bank account, suspicion veers toward Aydan.

With only three days left before she’s jailed for treason, Aydan fights to stay alive, capture the elusive arms dealer, and clear her name.

Want to get an email with purchasing links when pre-orders are available and when the book is officially released? Click here to sign up for my New Book Notification list.

Silver Tea and Senior Moments

My grandmother (Dad’s mother) was a poised and gracious woman. I never heard her raise her voice; never saw her make any movement that was rushed or awkward. She was unfailingly kind and polite, with a gentle sense of humour. When she finally had to enter a care home after a devastating stroke, the staff affectionately nicknamed her “Queen Bea”. It suited her perfectly.

One of her little quirks has stayed with me all my life: Her preference for ‘silver tea’.

You won’t find silver tea in any internet search, because there’s no such thing. Maybe Grandma developed her taste for it during the war(s) or the Depression years when everything was either rationed or beyond their budget, or maybe it was just her preference; but its recipe was simple: A cup of hot water.

When offered coffee or tea, she’d smile and respond with her usual humorous twinkle: “I’ll just have silver tea, thank you.” And she’d pour herself a cup of hot water from the kettle. It became one of our family quips, and to this day I often drink silver tea when I don’t feel like brewing actual tea.

But the other day I inadvertently made ‘real’ silver tea. I didn’t think that was possible, since it doesn’t actually exist; but I managed it. I always have several tea infusers on the go, and I usually get two steepings from each. I’d brewed a cup of pumpkin pie rooibos in the morning, and decided to go for Round Two in the afternoon. I grabbed the infuser, dropped it into my mug, and poured boiling water over it. A few minutes later I checked on it, only to find no pleasant spicy aroma at all.

Yep, I’d accidentally grabbed an empty infuser. I wonder if I can market that as “Steeped Silver Tea”?

Normally I’d worry that I was showing early signs of ‘senior moments’ (and yes, I’m flattering myself by pretending I’m much too young for that). But since I was in the final throes of finishing Book 16, I wasn’t too concerned. After a decade of writing novels, I’ve come to accept that I simply don’t have enough brainpower to immerse myself in writing the final chapters of a book and stay on top of all the details of daily life.

Which leads me to my big announcement for this week: The draft of Book 16 is DONE, woohoo! It’s already been passed by my first speedy beta reader, and we have a title: Spy In The Sky. I’m hard at work on a blurb and cover art, and hopefully pre-orders will be available in a couple of weeks.

And soon (with any luck) my wrung-out brain will return to normal and I’ll drink silver tea by choice instead of by accident.

What’s your favourite cup of tea?

Book 16 update: The draft is done, and beta reading and final edits are speeding along. Then it’ll be into proofreading and production. Stay tuned for a cover reveal and release date!

(Want to get an email when Spy In The Sky is available? Click here to join my New Book Notification list.)

Riddles And Chicken Earlobes

“I live in a house with no windows or doors. If I want to leave, I have to break through a wall. What am I?”

When I sat down to write the draft for this post, my mind was blank. Back in the days when I actually had human contact, I didn’t have much trouble writing blog posts — I could talk about something funny I’d seen, or tell somebody else’s great joke, or report on my latest ‘should-have-been-uneventful’ comedy of errors. But comedic opportunities dwindle when your biggest outing is going to the lab for blood tests.

So I looked to the internet for ideas. It’s been years since I encountered riddles; so when I found a page of them, I spent far too much time scratching my head over the clues and giggling at the answers. (And occasionally groaning. Not all riddles are good.)

I was stumped by the one at the top of the page, and I had to peek at the answer to discover that it’s “a baby chick”. Which (by way of a particularly twisty rabbit-hole) led me to discover… chicken earlobes.

I didn’t know chickens had earlobes. I didn’t even think they had ears. I mean, I knew they had earholes; but earlobes? I love learning new and useless facts, so I followed that rabbit-hole a bit farther and discovered that a hen’s feather colour doesn’t affect the colour of the eggs it lays — it’s the colour of her earlobes that matters. Chickens with white earlobes lay white eggs; chickens with red or brown earlobes usually lay brown (or other coloured) eggs. Who knew?

I realize this is not earth-shattering news, but it was a bright spot in my admittedly monotonous daily routine. I’m SO close to finishing Book 16 now! My entire world is focused on those last few chapters, and (dare I say it) I may even write “The End” in a couple of weeks!

But, just in case chicken earlobes aren’t as fascinating to normal people as they were to me, here are some other bright spots from around our place this week:

Crocuses of every colour!

Lovely little snowdrops surrounded by heather

Adorable minnow daffodils

Botanical tulips no bigger than the crocuses

I think these giant crocuses nestled in the cranesbill geranium leaves are actually bigger than the botanical tulips.

And just for good measure, here’s a riddle about a bright spot from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: “A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

Book 16 progress: I’m on Chapter 46 and Aydan is scrambling to face threats from all directions. Arnie and John have her back as always, but there are some things even they can’t fix…

Answer to the final riddle: “an egg”. Yes, I apparently have chickens on my mind. Does that make me a bird-brain?

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It Fell From The Sky

Several months ago, before there was snow on the ground (yes, we had snow; stop laughing), I looked out the front window one morning and saw a rabbit’s foot. Clearly not a lucky one, since it had been recently detached from the rabbit.

I’ve never been squeamish, but I have to admit that being confronted by a dismembered limb first thing in the morning was a bit… disconcerting. (Although probably not as disconcerting as it was for the victim.)

I grew up on a farm, so this wasn’t the first time I’d discovered evidence of some predator’s successful hunt; but it was unique in that there were no other signs of carnage. No tufts of fur flung wide, no other remains, nothing. That was what weirded me out: The fact that the leg had apparently dropped from the clear blue sky.

A moment’s thought reminded me that we now live in eagle habitat, so after that it wasn’t too hard to guess who ate the rest of the rabbit. Still, it was a bit disturbing.

But life went on (for us; not the rabbit), and a couple of weeks later we poured a concrete pad in front of our house, effectively interring the rabbit remains. All was forgotten.

Until two weeks ago, when I looked out the front window and saw this:

Hubby and I had each taken a walk and followed different paths several yards apart. Neither of us dropped or threw anything. So… what’s that divot in the snow, at least six feet away from the nearest footprints?

I ventured over with some reluctance to check it out, but there were no grisly remains. So either we have a tiny volcanic vent in front of our house, or else the eagle flew over again and dropped something a little more *ahem* liquid in that spot.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that the snow is gone, and spring is on its way. Our crocuses are blooming (at least the ones that managed to escape our hungry squirrels), and we are the proud proprietors of a penis garden. It’s more work than you might think: We have to be vigilant about turning it every day to make sure the sprouting schlongs don’t develop a permanent curvature.

I didn’t want to post anything pornographic, so instead of the original flock of phalluses, here’s the end result:

The amaryllis garden in its (mostly) post-porn phase

What’s popped up in your world this week?

Book 16 progress: I’m on Chapter 42 and Aydan has finally discovered who’s trying to kill her; but now a sniper isn’t the worst of her problems. Things are getting complicated…

Ant-Watching

Last week I acquired a hobby I never wanted, and certainly don’t enjoy: Ant-watching.

It wasn’t my idea. Hubby made me do it.

Ants creep me out, so you can imagine how (not) thrilled I was last year when a platoon of ants infiltrated the second floor of our house. Soon the upstairs was dotted with little corpses where I’d squished them and left the bodies as a warning to others. (It turns out ants are cannibalistic, though; so really I was just leaving welcoming snacks. Yet another reason why ants creep me out.)

Hubby took an entirely different attitude at the time. “Just leave them alone,” he urged. “Watch them and see where they go. That way we can find the nest and get rid of them once and for all.”

There was some logic to that, but it went against every one of my instincts. I argued that we could simply study the distribution of corpses after I squished them, and it would amount to a scatter-graph showing the areas of higher population density.

In the end, I set out some cotton balls soaked in boric acid/honey/water. The ants gorged on the treat and carried it eagerly back to the missus and kids, poisoning the whole nest before succumbing themselves. We haven’t had ants in the house for over a year.

But.

A few days ago, there was another damn ant!

I squished it, of course. When I told Hubby, his response was predictable: “Don’t squish them, watch them!” He even encouraged me to name the next ant, naively hoping that if the invader had a name, I’d become fond enough of him to spare his life. Clearly, Hubby doesn’t realize what a heartless bitch I am.

But I decided to humour him (Hubby, not the ant), at least for a while. So for an hour I watched ‘Antonio’ make brainless circles around the floor. Eventually he found the place where I’d squished his compatriot a couple of days ago. He circled the spot again and again, antennae waving wildly. I had a small pang, wondering if he was grieving for his friend; but then I remembered the whole ‘cannibal’ thing. He was probably just licking up some tasty juices.

Antonio apparently needed a nap after his cannibalistic snack, so he snoozed under the table for forty minutes. I’d had enough, so I called Hubby upstairs to take over. Oddly, he didn’t seem quite so enthusiastic about the chore when he was the one listening to his brain rot while he watched a motionless ant.

Moments after Hubby abandoned ant-watching duty, Antonio got smeared across the floor. Since then I’ve set out my honey saloon and had a few patrons, so I’m hoping this year our ant-ordeal will be shorter. Meanwhile, I’m stopping up every tiny aperture and grimly eyeing a suspicious spot on the east side of the house. As soon as the weather warms up, it’s off with the siding!

But at least ant-watching is off my to-do list. One thing down; three hundred and seventy-six to go…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 38, and Aydan has just discovered that she’s rich beyond her wildest dreams. Unfortunately, she has no idea where the money came from…

Exercising My Options

Exercise always seems like such a good idea. Medical professionals say it’s vital to our health; beauty magazines tell us it’s vital for our appearance; mental health experts say it boosts our mood; hell, it’s even supposed to improve our sex lives.

So regular exercise is a no-brainer, right? It’ll make me feel look, look good, etc. (No comment on the sex aspect — when everything from powdered rhino horn to chocolate to kale is supposed to make us friskier, I take claims like that with a grain of salt. And a square of chocolate, ’cause why would I not jump on an excuse to eat chocolate?)

Anyhow.

I’m one of those annoying freaks who actually enjoys exercise, but my aging body isn’t quite as enthusiastic. I don’t see why it shouldn’t run and jump and kick and punch just like it used to, but my joints disagree. (So much so that I’ve been sidelined since September with an ankle injury, grrr.)

But my ankle is better now, so I’m back to my regular workouts. That led to my discovery of one of the great ironies of life: After a good arm workout I really need a drink, but I no longer have the strength to raise the glass.

Then there are the ongoing consequences of working out regularly: If I’m doing it right, some part of my body is always a bit tired and sore. So am I actually winning here, or am I only amortizing the pain?

Think about it: If I lie around like a slug most of the time, nothing will hurt until I have to exert myself. But if I exercise regularly I’ll hurt a bit every day. What if it’s like a mortgage, where I end up paying twice as much because I paid in tiny increments?

I guess it doesn’t matter, because I’m not actually capable of lying around like a slug for long — I can only manage it for a few days before I start to twitch. But maybe, like exercise, I have to work up to it. Perhaps short period of sluggery (sluggage?) daily, with gradual increases to build up my tolerance?

It’s just an idea; and probably not a bright one. So the next time I’m straining to lift a glass to my lips with rubbery arms after a workout, I’ll remind myself that I’m actually strengthening my beer-drinking muscles. That’ll put a smile on my face.

Meanwhile, where did I leave that package of drinking straws…?

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 34, and Aydan is on the trail of her nemesis… or one of them, anyway.

Sink Slime and Adulthood

The slime is back.

I thought I had vanquished it in July, but no. This week I had to unclog my bathroom sink drain again.

It doesn’t make sense. We lived in our last house for nearly 19 years without a clog. We lived in this house for nearly three years without a clog. Now, I’m dismantling slime-plugged plumbing every six months.

And it’s weird slime. Not particularly stinky or slimy. In fact, it’s more like soft black rubber: Boiling water didn’t budge it; and even though I couldn’t wipe it off, it peeled off cleanly. The internet tells me it’s ‘biofilm’, formed by colonies of bacteria happily gobbling up the various goodies that go down a drain.

Okay, but why now? It has to be something that I (and only I) have recently started doing. I’ve been using the same moisturizer since 1983; and that’s the only difference between what goes down the drain in Hubby’s sink and mine. Except…

Mouthwash.

Hubby doesn’t use mouthwash, but last year I started using it for the first time in my life.

What’s in that stuff?!? And, more to the point, if it can completely clog a drain with rubbery black slime in six short months, do I really want to rinse my mouth with it?

As I was scraping slime into a bucket while sewer gas wafted to my nose from the open pipes, I began to rethink this whole ‘adult’ thing. It seemed like such a good deal when I was a kid: “Adults get to do whatever they want, whenever they want.” I don’t remember any wording in that contract that said, “…whatever they want, whenever they want, right after all the bills are paid and the meals are cooked and the house is cleaned and the work is done and all the gross slimy disgusting jobs are finished, but only if there’s any money left over after all the other stuff.”

Isn’t there a statute of limitations on adulthood? Shouldn’t we be able to get out of it because, as kids, we didn’t have the intellectual capacity to agree to a contract that would last the rest of our lives? Or, failing that, shouldn’t we at least get parole after fifty years of time served?

Oh, well. I had brownies for breakfast the other day so I guess adulthood isn’t all bad. And the drain is fine now, and I’ve switched to an alcohol-based mouthwash so maybe that will discourage the slime-cooties.

Or, with my luck, they’ll get drunk, invite all their little friends over, and party twice as hard. If I wake up some morning to find rubbery black slime oozing out from under the bathroom door, that mouthwash is GONE!

I might turn in my membership card for adulthood, too. Anybody know where I can do that?

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 32, and a dead cow is causing problems for Aydan and the gang. Or maybe the dead cow is the beginning of a solution…

Construction Conundrums

I’ll tackle just about any household renovation, and I’ve sometimes thought that it might be a nice way to make a bit of extra income. After all, what could be more satisfying than building and fixing things? It seems like a good idea, until I actually do a project.

Last week we replaced an exterior door that had leaked since Day One. It didn’t meet the BC Building Code standards in the first place (and the building inspector didn’t catch it, grrr). But even if the door had met code, it was so poorly installed that it would have leaked anyway.

So we bought a new door, and realized why the builder had cheaped out in the first place. Over seven hundred dollars *hyperventilates briefly* for a 36″ wide NAFS-08 door, plus half a day’s work; and the door was caulked, insulated, weatherstripped, dry, and done.

The project went fairly smoothly, other than the fact that we tried four tubes of caulking and two cans of expanding foam before we found ones that actually worked. Yes, the expanding foam was a brand-new can, and yes, we had to make a special trip to town to get another, thank you very much. This illustrates the First Law of Construction: Even when you think you have all your tools ready and assembled, you don’t.

The Second Law of Construction also kicked in: Caulking and expanding foam have an irresistible attraction to any place you DON’T want them.  I can’t get within ten feet of caulking without getting it all over myself and my clothes. Fortunately I knew that in advance, so I wore my “construction” clothes and all was well. But despite the overall success of the operation, I felt… unsatisfied.

It’s good to know that the problem is (hopefully) solved. And the new door looks nice. But the old door looked nice, too, until puddles formed under it. After all the time, money, and aggravation we expended, you’d never know we’d changed anything. I’d post a picture, but it’s just… a door. “Wow, look at how well that door was installed!” said nobody, ever.

So I guess I’ll stick with my writing career. Words don’t cost me a penny no matter how many I use, and I can put them together and tear them apart and rearrange them as many times as I want without damaging them.

And, unlike lumber, I’ll never ‘measure twice, cut once’ only to discover that I should have ‘thought twice, measured thrice, cut once’. As our elderly neighbour used to complain with tongue in cheek: “I’ve cut that board twice, and it’s still too short.”

Hope everything has measured up in your world this week!

Book 16 update: After weeks of plotting and untangling complicated story threads, I’m finally writing again. I’m on Chapter 25, and things are getting explosive!

Just A Little Comfort

When I sat down to write the draft for this post, I consulted my memory for screwball things that had amused me lately.

The pickings were slim.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m still incredibly grateful to be living where I do and doing what I love. Despite all the crap going on in the world, most of it hasn’t really stunk up my life too much.

Still, I think we’re all feeling a bit frazzled right about now. We’re in the throes of a huge second wave of COVID, and even though Hubby and I have zero social contact and only go out for groceries every two weeks or so, it’s just one… more… worry… added to all the stresses of daily life.

We could all use a little comfort right about now, so let’s share a few of our favourite things, and maybe we can all feel a bit better. I’ll start, but I’ll warn you up front that I’m a bit of a weirdo. My ‘comfort’ stuff is probably someone else’s ‘are you kidding me?!?’

Houseplants: My Christmas cactuses are putting on a show!

Comfort reads: When I just want to retreat under a (metaphorical) soft fuzzy blanket, I return to the gentler books of my past: James Herriot’s series about a country veterinarian in Yorkshire (first book “If Only They Could Talk”, and Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series (first book “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax”) along with her lesser-known novels “The Clairvoyant Countess” and “Thale’s Folly”.

Funny escapist reads: Sometimes you need a few snickers with your escapism. Katy Munger’s Casey Jones series does it for me (first book “Legwork”.) I almost never read romance because it’s annoyingly predictable; but if I want a laugh-out-loud read with a warm-and-fuzzy ending, Tawna Fenske’s Ponderosa Ranch series (first book “Studmuffin Santa”) is full of raunchy humour, oddball situations, and quirky characters.

Comfort food: I love food of all kinds; but when my defenses are down, my ultimate comfort food is soft-poached eggs on buttered toast.

Decadent dessert: When only something rich and decadent will soothe my soul, it’s time for Hello Dolly bars: Only five ingredients mixed in the pan (no dirty mixing bowls, hooray), and enough sugar and fat to induce a blissful coma:

Hello Dolly Bars (8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan)

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (300ml / 10 oz)

Mix the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs together and press them into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Sprinkle coconut over chocolate chips. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the whole thing. (The other ingredients should be completely covered.) Bake at 350°F until top is bubbly and browned (approximately 30 – 35 minutes). I like it best when it’s room temperature or a bit chilled, but I can never resist a few pieces right after it comes out of the oven!

Comfort music: It’s crazy but true: When I’m feeling fragile, I don’t retreat into meditation soundtracks or classical music. Nope, barbershop harmony is what comforts me the most. It’s not the music of my childhood. It’s not even the music of my parents’ childhood. So maybe I’ve been reincarnated from someone who lived in the late 1800s? Who knows, but here’s a modern sample:

Guaranteed belly laugh: Here are a couple of video clips that always make me laugh helplessly. The first is an ancient one from when BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) was all over the news. I’ve never made it past the 22-second mark without doubling over:

And here’s one that pretty much sums up how I feel about COVID right now:

Whew, I feel better! 🙂

Now it’s your turn! What are your comfort goodies? Make up your own categories, or copy and paste any or all of these into your comment:

  • Comfort reads:
  • Funny / escapist reads:
  • Comfort food:
  • Decadent dessert:
  • Comfort music:
  • Guaranteed belly laugh:

Book 16 update: Another good week of plotting and figuring out everybody’s twisty motivations. I’m on Chapter 24, and Lola and her geriatric CRAPS cronies are on the case!

An ‘Engineering’ Solution

Last week I was swearing over a project when Hubby wandered by. I looked up with a sigh and said, “This is driving me nuts. I bust my ass to get it done, and think, ‘There, it’s finished.’ Then I find out I should have done it differently. So I fix it and think, ‘There, now it’s finished and it’s right.’ Then I find more and better information, so I fix it again…”

By then, Hubby was nodding sympathetically. “Yep, that’s engineering.”

I gaped at him for a moment. Then I smiled. With one simple phrase, he’d made a seemingly futile process feel like a worthwhile endeavor.

I admit it: I’m a wannabe engineer. My tendency to overanalyze and devise solutions usually emerges late at night when I should be sleeping. My half-dozing brain is certain it’s invented something brilliant, until I come to full alertness in the morning and think, “What the ever-loving f…?!?” Worse, I grew up on a farm, so I inherited the ‘farmer fix-it’ mentality: It doesn’t have to look good; it only has to work.

And that’s how I came to be sitting in our mudroom a couple of days ago, keeping an eye on a stream of water from a partially-extended retractable faucet I’d taped to a 10-foot piece of central-vacuum piping, which went out the door to rest on a length of aluminum channel propped on a short segment of wooden I-beam and stabilized by a small rock. A chair held the door mostly closed, while a blanket, old jacket, garden sprayer, and small rug kept the cold air at bay.

Unless you’re an engineer, your eyes probably glazed over just from reading the description; so I won’t launch into how the design evolved. I will, however, answer the question most likely to be asked by any sane person: “For the love of God, WHY?!?

Well, once a year we have to sanitize our water lines with a dose of bleach, but we’re not supposed to run bleach into our septic system because it kills the good bacteria. (Although it seems to me that ‘good’ is a relative term when referring to anything that results from rotting shit.)

Anyway, the bleach-laden water has to be piped outside. A hose would have been a good solution, but our mudroom faucet won’t accept a hose fitting. Hence the Rube Goldberg contraption.

Somewhat to my surprise, it worked fine and we got most of the bleach out of the lines, although the next morning’s shower smelled a lot like a public swimming pool. (The chlorine scent, not the funky ‘somewhere in this room a wet towel has been rolled in a ball and left in a locker until it grows polka-dots’ odour.)

So our water is safe for another year; and my hair is only a few shades lighter from the mental effort and residual bleach. So far, so good…

Anybody else have an inventive week?

Book 16 update: Just when I think ‘it’s done and it’s right’, I find something else to fix. (Engineering, grrr!) I’m still at the 50% mark, but the early chapters are whipped into shape now. (I think hope.)