Eating (With A) Crow

Last week I went through the MacDonald’s drive-through for a quick bite. Not wanting to be disturbed by passersby, I parked at the farthest corner of the lot, next to a tall hedge. With my window open to admit the sweetly scented breeze, I chowed down.

I hadn’t taken more than a couple of bites before a large crow flapped over and landed on top of the hedge. After inspecting me with bright black eyes, he flew down to perch on the curb. There he cocked his head and watched every movement of the burger to my mouth.

Recognizing a mooch, I shook my head and said, “Sorry, buddy. Bread isn’t good for birds.”

He hopped closer, still watching my burger like a hawk… or, more accurately, like a mooching crow.

I repeated, “Nope, nothing for you.”

Undeterred, he hopped closer and flirted some more.

When I finished my burger without sharing, he shot me a disgusted look and flew up to the top of the hedge again. But then I started eating my sundae.

Down he came to the curb again, turning his head coquettishly this way and that so I could admire his glossy ebony feathers. How could I possibly deny him a taste?

I chuckled and said, “Sorry, buddy. You’re a handsome guy, but I’m not giving you ice cream, either.”

As if he’d understood me, he puffed out his feathers and let out a barrage of angry caws. After he had thoroughly cussed me up one side and down the other, he departed in a snit.

Later, I was telling Hubby about my mercurial dinner companion. “I was a little worried that he might fly up into my window,” I said. “I wouldn’t want to tangle with that sharp beak.”

Hubby smirked. “Well, if he had, you could have hit him with your crowbar.”

It took me an instant, because I do actually carry a crowbar in my vehicle. But then the terrible/terrific pun exploded in my brain.

GROAN!

At least he didn’t suggest that I could have eaten my burger’s condiments with my pickle fork…

*

P.S. I just realized that you have to be a gearhead to get that last sentence. A ‘pickle fork’ is an automotive tool used to separate ball joints and tie rod ends.

P.P.S. I further just realized that if you’re not a gearhead, ‘ball joints’ and ‘tie rod ends’ are equally obscure. And now that I’ve completely over-explained it, maybe it would be better to just pretend I made a dirty joke about balls and rods. ’Nuff said.

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 51, and Aydan is in a desperate race against time to save someone she cares about. But is it already too late?

Bee-Watching

I had a post all ready for today, but then I read it over and thought, “The world doesn’t need any more snark.” Yep, it’s been one of those weeks; but I’d rather concentrate on the good stuff instead of the tear-out-my-hair stuff. (’Cause I don’t think I can pass off bald spots as a fashion statement.)

So:

Bees! I adore bees. As a kid I was afraid of them, but my fear didn’t last. Bees were ever-present on our family farm and I never got stung; so I learned to ignore them. (I later found out that I’ve probably been stung quite a few times. Other than the initial ‘Wow, does that ever hurt’, I don’t have much reaction to bee stings.)

Anyhow, when I started gardening and growing fruit, my interest in bees ramped up. Then I discovered that without bees, we’d lose about a third of the food crops we eat. Now I’m firmly Team Bee!

When I started paying more attention, I realized how cute they are, too: Wee tubby fuzzy almost-bears with sparkly gossamer wings. We grow lots of pollinator-friendly plants, and a huge variety of bees come to the snack bar. You can hear the garden buzzing from across the lane.

Since I haven’t been able to do much outdoor work this spring (no thanks to my back problems, grrr), I’ve developed a new hobby: Bee-watching. From my chair on the porch, I can train the binoculars on the garden several yards away, and watch the action to my heart’s content. Here are a few of our many visitors:

This tiny guy is dusted with pollen.

Who says you shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes?

So fuzzy! ❤

One of the big bumblers

Snazzy two-tone bees!

No bees in this one, but I couldn’t resist photographing the fuzzy centre of a poppy.

Here’s how it looks fully open.

The bees’ snack bar. (Just ignore the weeds. Or, as I like to call them, “groundcover”.) 😉

I hope you’ve found some beautiful things to enjoy this week, too!

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 47 and John and Aydan are in serious trouble, with no rescue in sight. Sometimes no matter how smart and resourceful you are, circumstances get the best of you…

Of Loggers and Lapins

We live in the country, so we’re beset by garden-destroying wildlife. Our big fence keeps the deer out (mostly); but nothing stops rabbits. They usually stay away from the house, but every now and then I discover that my perennials have been ‘pruned’ by sharp bunny teeth.

It’s a love/hate relationship: They’re furry and cute; but they’re also destructive and damn prolific. From their standpoint, we’re the benevolent purveyors of gourmet plant material; but we also have a distressing tendency to run at them yelling and chucking pebbles. So we’ve maintained an uneasy détente, and the sighting of a rabbit in our yard is usually accompanied by (empty) threats involving rabbit stew.

But this spring, larger and more destructive critters arrived down the road: The local logging company decided to remove some timber from their property. We keep a set of binoculars by the window for bird-watching, but this time we used them to watch the big hungry machines growling through the woods.

They worked steadily for four days, but on the fifth day the racket was silenced. Instead, I could hear clunks, clanks, and the metallic chirping of a socket driver wrenching on some recalcitrant part. The machine started up, then shut down several times. At length, the truck departed and the defunct machine sat silent beside the road.

Several days later the loggers still hadn’t returned, but our resident rabbits put on an impromptu dance, leaping and chasing each other. We watched them through the binoculars, enjoying the show while muttering dark incantations designed to prevent them from getting too close to our garden.

The next day, I came into the living room to see Hubby standing at the window looking through the binoculars. I looked, but couldn’t see any rabbits.

“They’re probably screwing in the woods,” I growled.

Hubby burst out laughing. “Actually, I was checking to see whether the loggers were back. But I guess they could be screwing in the woods.”

So from now on I’m keeping the binoculars trained strictly inside our yard… just in case. The only full moon I want to see is the one up in the sky.

Have you spotted anything interesting in your neck of the woods lately?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 43, and Spider and Linda’s baby is on her way into the world… at a time that’s convenient for her, and nobody else!

Cooking with Diane

I love creating new recipes, but experiments always carry a certain risk of failure. And sometimes my failures are *ahem* …notable. (Don’t worry, it’s still safe to eat at our place — I don’t experiment when I’ve invited company to dinner.)

Recently, I’ve been wrangling with brownies. I’ve used Hubby’s mum’s recipe for years, but one day Hubby said, “You know, these are great; but they’d be even better if they weren’t quite so sweet.”

“Easy,” said I in a burst of delusional optimism. “I’ll just reduce the sugar a bit.”

So I did. And instead of brownies, I got dense cake. It was tasty; but the texture was meh. Over the next several weeks I churned out more variations, but none of them achieved the fabulously chewy texture of the original recipe.

By then we were (much to our own surprise) sick of eating brownies, so I shelved the project. But a few months ago I was researching ways to make my homemade ice cream softer, and I discovered maltodextrin. It’s used in myriad foods, but particularly in beer and ice cream to provide a good mouthfeel without adding a lot of sweetness.

Inspiration struck: Texture. Without sweetness. Aha! The brownie project was revived.

Our local winemaking store carried maltodextrin, so I got some and mixed up my ingredients in a burst of misplaced confidence. This would be the perfect batch of chewy, delicious, not-too-sweet brownies!

Except

It turns out maltodextrin isn’t particularly soluble. It’ll dissolve in water, but the only moisture in this recipe is provided by eggs. Not the same thing at all.

Unaware of the impending disaster, I beat the butter and eggs, added the sugar and maltodextrin and stared in horror as the mixture curdled into pea-sized lumps.

I cranked up the mixer to its highest setting, but the lumps had the texture of finely-grated leather mixed with half-solidified glue. I could break one apart if I rubbed it between my fingers, but I didn’t feel like doing that for hours. So I got out my blender and set it to Turbo.

No dice. The lumps were impervious.

But I hated to waste half a pound of butter, four eggs, and two cups of sugar. As I was staring at the pox-riddled batter, Hubby passed through the kitchen. After considerable discussion and some hilarity, we decided to strain out the lumps and carry on. I’ll spare you a description of the mess that resulted; but in the end we did get tasty chewy brownies.

The only problem is, I have no idea how much maltodextrin actually got mixed in; and a considerable amount of butter and eggs got subtracted during the straining process. So I had to reduce the flour to compensate and well, let’s just say that I still haven’t perfected that brownie recipe. But if I ever need leather glue, I’m all set! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) 😉

Any other creative cooks out there? What’s your most notable culinary ‘oops’?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 39 and Aydan’s evidence trail has just hit a dead end. But the killers keep coming, so she’d better figure it out soon!

Electronic Drama Queens

’Way back in 2011 I speculated that my electronic devices might be alive, and maybe even moderately sentient. Today I’m here to tell you: Not only are my electronic devices alive; they’re also drama queens.

At first I thought they were merely minor chaotic evil. Imps, if you will. Not smart enough to develop an organized attack; only aware enough to grind to a halt when they sensed I really needed them to work.

But I was wrong. Lately my electronic devices have undertaken a passive-aggressive campaign to demand all my attention while making it clear that they’re the ones in charge. (’Scuse the electronic pun.)

First my laptop’s CD drive started whining at me: Making that small annoying “rrr-EEE-rr” sound that indicates it’s spinning up a CD. But there was no CD in the drive. And it wouldn’t stop. I finally gave up on fixing it and left the CD tray permanently unlatched.

Thwarted, the laptop began its next micro-aggression: Randomly jumping around in my document when scrolling. It would work fine for a while; and then I’d scroll down in Chapter 22 and suddenly find myself in Chapter 3. Or 10. Or…?

Fine. I started using the Page Up/Page Down keys instead of scrolling on the touchpad.

I could practically hear its thoughts: “What?!? Well, I’ll fix you.”

So it started flipping to battery power without warning, even though it’s plugged in. I wiggle the cord and it goes back to wall power. Then it switches back to battery for no apparent reason. Wiggle the cord: Wall power. Then battery again. I reach for the cord again, but this time it coyly switches back to wall power before I can touch it. It’s a relatively minor annoyance; but it gets my attention, which was apparently the goal.

The laptop is old, so I’ve been putting up with its quirks; but in retrospect that may have been a mistake. Now it’s infecting my other devices with its bad attitude.

My Kindle has developed a similar intermittent issue with its charging cord. And sometimes it stalls in the middle of a book and reboots, only to reopen the book in a completely different place. The Kindle is supposed to remember how far you’ve read, but mine doesn’t. Profanity ensues.

Sometimes, the Kindle won’t start at all; it just shows me an obstinate lock screen. It takes at least five minutes to recover and reboot from that; and it won’t always do it on the first try. (Because why would it pass up an opportunity to show me who’s really the boss?)

Clearly I should have disciplined the laptop before it could become a bad influence, because lately my desktop computer has been getting into the act with random reboot errors, too.

I don’t know where all this will end, but the escalation is making me nervous. If you see headlines about a woman who died in a bizarre mishap caused by simultaneous electric shocks from three separate devices, you’ll know what happened.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here trying to placate my laptop…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 37, and things are getting explosive… literally!

A Ferry Tale

Last week we had a big adventure: We took the ferry over to Denman Island!

Why are you laughing?

Okay, fine; you’re right. Before COVID, a ten-minute ferry ride would have been a mere footnote in our lives. But we’ve been cooped up for so long that it felt like an exotic vacation. It was a glorious sunny day with a fresh breeze, and it was a joy to be out on the water. Heart-palpitating excitement, I tell you!

I admit, though, some of the heart palpitations were due to unresolved trauma left over from my last trip to Denman Island. That was the time Hubby marooned me, sailing off into the sunset (or at least to the opposite shore) without me.

I’ve never let him forget it; but to be fair, it wasn’t really his fault. We were new to ferry travel then. We didn’t realize that when the operators load cars onto a small ferry, it means they’re going to depart within minutes. We also didn’t realize that schedules for the smaller ferries change without notice if there’s a mechanical problem or any other hiccup.

So we went over to Denman and spent a few hours roaming around, taking in some spectacular views and some ever-so-tasty food. After a lovely day, we took our place in the ferry lineup with forty-five minutes to spare.

That meant there was enough time for me to hike over and check out a nearby artisan’s studio, so Hubby waited with the car while I headed out. I kept an eye on my wristwatch, planning to be back at the car fifteen minutes before the ferry was due to sail. I was right on time.

But our car was gone.

In fact, all the cars were gone. I was nonplussed, but not overly concerned. I hiked down the hill to the ferry terminal, expecting Hubby to be waiting for me there. He wasn’t.

He didn’t have his cell phone, but I had mine with me. Against logic, I checked to see if I’d missed any calls. Nope.

“Okay…” I thought. “Maybe he’s driving around looking for me.”

He wasn’t. I retraced my steps, but there was no sign of our car.

I knew that if he’d been on the ferry he would have reached the other shore by then. There was a ferry terminal, gas station, and restaurant there; and they all had phones.

But he didn’t call me. I began to wonder if he was not-so-subtly trying to tell me something.

With no other choices available, I waited an hour until the next ferry came. When I disembarked on the opposite shore, Hubby was waiting for me. “I didn’t realize they were going leave right after we loaded,” he explained. “I thought it was like air travel, where you just sit there until your flight is scheduled to leave.”

“Why didn’t you phone me?” I demanded.

He rolled out some Husband Logic: “I knew you’d be on the next ferry. Where else would you go?”

I didn’t kill him.

But this trip, I stayed in the driver’s seat. Just in case.

Please tell me I’m not the only one whose spouse has marooned them on an island…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 33, and a man wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys and a blanket has just given Aydan some vital information. Will Captain Underpants save the day?

Denman Island shoreline

Warm Fuzzies Too

The last couple of weeks have been… interesting. I’m still having trouble sitting because of my spinal problems, so I’ve applied to my insurance company for partial disability until I’m back on my feet (or, more accurately, back on my butt).

Let’s just say it’s *ahem* ironic (this is the most tactful word I can summon) that, in order to be compensated for a disability that prevents me from sitting and working at the computer, they require me to submit personal and corporate documentation that takes over forty hours of computer time to produce.

I’m reminded of the joke about corporate policy for sick days: “You may only be absent from work on medical grounds if you submit a valid death certificate signed by your doctor and witnessed by you.”

I’ll say no more, lest I tumble into a bottomless well of snark and cynicism. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on some more warm fuzzies this week. Here are some bright moments that can make us all smile whenever we remember them (or, better still, when they happen again):

  • The crisp ‘ping’ of your one perfect golf swing in an otherwise abysmal game. (Okay, that’s probably just me — most people get more than one good swing in a game.)
  • The first cold, crisp mouthful of beer (or your beverage of choice) on the Friday night after a tough week.
  • That last-minute substitution in a recipe where you didn’t have all the ingredients, and the dish turns out even better than the original.
  • After practicing for days, the first time that fast intricate passage flows from your fingers and out of your musical instrument without a mistake.
  • The once-in-a-lifetime euphoria of successfully choosing the shortest grocery store lineup.
  • The glorious synergy when you’re charging down the basketball court and your teammate throws the ball exactly where you need it to make the layup.
  • The pure satisfaction of standing in your lush veggie garden and knowing you’re surrounded by a year’s worth of delicious and nutritious food.
  • The lucky brushstroke that creates exactly the look you wanted in your painting, even though you didn’t plan it.
  • And the heart-lifting joy of spring flowers peeking out after a long winter:

What are your warm fuzzies for this week?

Book 17 update: Despite my insurance company’s appropriation of my writing time, I still managed to make it to Chapter 28. The Department is in disarray, and Aydan’s murder suspect got released before she could finish questioning him. Now she’s lost her only lead, and an(other) assassin is on the loose.

Feeding My Inner Brat

I usually try to eat a healthy diet (except for a once-a-week indulgence in beer and deep-fried food on Friday evenings). But I adore all types of food, and I especially love that glorious full-tummy feeling after a big luxurious meal.

So my food intake has always been a balancing act. I’m lucky to have a forgiving metabolism, so I rarely gain more than a few pounds before realizing it’s time to (re)adjust. But I have a definite cycle:

  1. Healthy food in healthy portions
  2. Healthy food in portions that slowly increase until the plate looks comfortably full
  3. Generous portions of mostly-healthy food with frequent treats
  4. Big satisfying portions, with unlimited snacks and treats, woohoo!
  5. *sound of squealing brakes* …and back to healthy food in healthy portions

Unfortunately, there’s a big ‘culture shock’ between steps 4 and 5. When my portions are suddenly reduced to normal, the plate looks sadly empty; and it takes a while for my brain to adjust to how ‘normal’ looks.

Part of the problem is that I don’t actually want to adjust. My inner spoiled brat is perfectly happy with lots and lots of food and treats, so she constantly tries to undermine the efforts of my inner (and rarely-displayed) adult. Last week I thought I had everything under control, but then this happened:

My inner brat is definitely getting trickier, but I think I’ve got her subdued… this time. Please tell me I’m not the only one with an inner spoiled brat!

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 26 — over half finished the book, hooray! Bullets are flying, and the guy Aydan just saved might turn out to be an enemy. There’s always something…

A Few Warm Fuzzies

Good news and good feelings have been pretty scarce lately. So for just a little while, I’m going to focus on some feel-good stuff. Here, in no particular order, are some memories I revisit when I want some warm fuzzies.

Disclaimer: I have the world’s shittiest memory. The feelings and experiences I report here are true. The dates and times? Your guess is as good as mine.

One glorious autumn (or maybe spring) a couple of decades ago (maybe more): My sister came to visit me in Calgary, and we decided to hike in the Alberta Rockies. At the time, there was still public access to the trail up Mount Indefatigable in Kananaskis Country. (The trail is permanently closed now to protect grizzly bear habitat.) The steep rocky path started at an elevation of about 7,250 feet and went all the way up to the 8,750 foot summit, but our goal was the midpoint around 8,000 feet. We panted up there and collapsed on the bench only a few feet from the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheer drop to Upper Kananaskis Lake nearly 1,000 feet below. The sky was flawless blue, and the sparkling lake mirrored it. The breeze gently lifted our hair and sang the soft eternal song of wind through conifers, and the clean scent of spruce and jackpine surrounded us. As we watched, a cloud drifted below us, then dissipated. I’ll never forget that moment of peace, awe, and sheer happiness.

Spring 2017: Hubby and I had just moved to Vancouver Island, and we were renting a creaky little place on the beach while our house was under construction. One night an extra-low tide was predicted, and I couldn’t resist. The sky was clear and the moon was full when I slipped out onto the beach and followed the sound of surf rolling up on the rocky shore. The moon struck bright silver off the crest of every ripple, and the fresh briny air was intoxicating. I stood for a very long time in the coolness and solitude, just listening to the heartbeat of the earth.

Spring 2020: Our irrigation pond had been in place for a year, and every night the chorus of frog-song was so loud that we could even hear it indoors. One crisp black-velvet night I stepped out onto the porch to listen for a while, then gave in to the temptation. Grabbing a flashlight, I sneaked out to the pond. Footstep by cautious footstep, I crept closer, triangulating the location of the loudest croaking. A quick flick of the flashlight, and there he was: A leopard frog with his translucent throat inflated, singing his little heart out. He seemed transfixed by the light, and I watched him for long seconds before he went silent and ducked under a branch. By the time I got back to the house the chorus was back to full volume, and I spent the evening wearing a smile.

Care to share some of your own ‘warm fuzzy’ moments?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 23, and Aydan just got caught sneaking out of her Director’s house in the middle of the night. This doesn’t look good…

Tom Clancy’s Polter-Ghost

I’ve never believed in the occult before, but I may have to change my tune. Because I’m pretty sure I’m being haunted by Tom Clancy’s ghost.

Actually, not just haunted. Poltergeisted. (Poltergeised?)

It started simply enough: Hubby is a Tom Clancy fan. And Hubby’s favourite reading spot is on our bed.

About a month ago I was blissfully asleep when a sudden loud noise catapulted me to wild-eyed wakefulness. It sounded as though somebody had smashed in our bedroom door with an axe. This is not a sound one wants to hear at three o’clock in the morning.

Hubby roused, too; although not as dramatically as I did. “It’s just my book.” He retrieved Clancy’s gigantic tome from the floor. “It fell off the night table.”

He promptly went back to sleep. I took about ten minutes to gradually disengage my fingernails from the ceiling before dropping back into bed and lying awake for the next hour, waiting for my heart rate to stabilize.

Several nights later, it happened again. This time it wasn’t quite so traumatic because I was pretty sure what had happened; but nevertheless I had a serious conversation with Hubby about stabilizing the damn book before we went to sleep. A few days later he finished it, so I assumed that would be the end of its nocturnal antics.

Fast-forward to a few nights ago. I was blissfully asleep when… BANG! I bolted upright and switched on the lamp, my heart jackhammering my ribs.

No crazed axe-murderer. Hubby didn’t even wake up, despite my violent thrashing and subsequent flooding of the bedroom with light.

After staring around the silent bedroom for a few minutes, I eased myself back onto the pillow and switched off the light. Hubby slept on. Maybe I’d dreamed the loud noise? Was I losing what little sanity I still retained? Eventually, I managed to ease back into a fitful doze.

In the morning, Hubby woke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while I dragged my carcass out of bed, groaning. When he asked why I was so tired, I explained about the loud noise.

“I can’t figure out what it was,” I complained. “Sometimes the heating ducts click and bang, but this seemed so much louder.”

Hubby picked up the giant Tom Clancy book from the floor. “I guess this must have fallen again.”

Nobody had touched that damn book for weeks. I know we didn’t have an earthquake, and it’s highly suspicious that the sound woke me, but not Hubby. There’s only one explanation: Tom Clancy has returned from beyond the grave to mess with me.

What did I ever do to him? More to the point, what can I do to make him move on? Should I start reading frothy romances until his shade flees screaming?

Any suggestions?

Book 17 update: I made it Chapter 20 this week! Aydan’s cover has been irreparably blown, and now she has to find out who spilled the beans and how many assassins are coming for her.