Beware the Dough-Snake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any surprises in your world this week?

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

Fall Colour

Hi everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Post Doesn’t Suck

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

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

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

Wait, WHAT?!?

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

(I meant ‘whew’. Honest.)

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Hamster-Brain

Well, it’s that time of the book cycle again:  The days after releasing a book when the busy hamster that powers my brain is still churning his little legs frantically, but there’s a big sadistic hand preventing the hamster-wheel from turning. 

My poor brain-hamster dashes up the side of the unmoving wheel only to plop unceremoniously to the bottom and start all over again, panting and wheezing. I wish the stupid little rodent would just give up and stagger over to curl up in the shavings for a snooze.

But, no.  During the day I rocket from one task to the next, trying to catch up on all the things I left undone during the final publishing push.  I’m tired and ready to sleep by the end of the day; but unfortunately, hamsters are nocturnal. 

As soon as my body gets horizontal, the hamster-wheel in my head accelerates to warp-speed, spitting out to-do lists and urgent reminders of upcoming deadlines both real and imagined.  (I’m pretty sure that’s what’s been causing the squeaking noise I hear in my head at night.  Or possibly I have bats in my belfry.)

But Book 16 should be released in paperback sometime in the next week or so, and I’ll start to recover from “hamster-brain”. And my usual spring gardening frenzy should ease off in a couple of weeks, too. Then I’ll take some time to rest and let my starved brain gorge on some new reading before I start plotting Book 17.

Which means… I NEED BOOKS! 

Any suggestions? My ideal binge-read would be a thriller series with humour in it, but I’ll read just about any fiction if the characters are likeable and it gives me a chuckle.  (And no killing off the good guys!) Thrillers, mysteries, cozies, sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, mashups of any of the above; you name it, I’ll read it.  I’m not big on horror, mostly because “funny” and “horror” rarely overlap. Romance, women’s fiction, and chick lit aren’t really my thing, either; but I do occasionally read in those genres.

So if there’s a book (or better still, a series) you love, please mention it in the comments below. I’d appreciate any recommendations you can offer!  (Book recommendations and/or advice on how to wean my brain-hamster off its addiction to exercise.)  😉

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…

Happy Holidays

I feel a bit weird about writing ‘Happy Holidays’ this year. It’s been such a shitty year for so many people, and I don’t want to toss off a flippant greeting to someone whose days will be anything but happy. I don’t want to make anyone feel worse than they already do.

But yet, I do wish everyone happiness. I know we can’t be happy all the time; that’s why it’s a ‘wish’ and not a ‘command’. And I really don’t want to croak out some gloomy pronouncement that’s supposed to sound positive but actually just drags people down. (Now I’m imagining Marvin, the depressive robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, moaning, “I’ll wish you Happy Holidays, but you won’t like it.”)

What can I offer instead? Best wishes for peace of mind and peace of home. Hope for the future. Comfort and strength for those who are struggling. Above all, good health. I want those things for everyone, not just now but all year round.

And you know what? I wish us all ‘Happy Holidays’. Not as a thoughtless rote greeting, but as a sincere hope and a positive intention. May we all find joy where we can, when we can; no matter how large or small the measure.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, we had our first snowfall of the year, just in time for Christmas. Now, if only it’ll go away in time for New Year’s…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 28 and Aydan is awash in complications. Now I have to decide whether to help her out or pile on a few more problems just to see what she does. Authors: Part empath, part sadist. 😉

Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

All my life I’ve had trouble coming to grips with the difference between what I’d like to believe of myself and what hard evidence proves.

I first discovered my penchant for denial ’way back in the early 1970s. That’s when my parents decided to mail audio cassette tapes back and forth to keep in touch with our grandparents, who spent winters in Texas. I was about eight years old at the time, and the new tape recorder was a fascinating gadget. Fascinating, that is, until I recorded my first message and pressed the playback button. And this weird geeky voice issued from the tape recorder!

What the hell?!? (Or ‘what the heck’, I guess, since I was eight.)

I was certain the tape recorder was malfunctioning. I knew I didn’t sound like that. I could hear my own voice perfectly well in my ears (or, more to the point, in my imagination), and it was completely different. Even though my parents and siblings insisted that the recording sounded just like me, I was sure it was all just a tasteless joke and I refused to believe them.

But I eventually had to accept reality when I listened to their recordings. Their voices on tape sounded just like real life.

Damn. That weird, geeky voice was mine.

That memory came rushing back to me a couple of weeks ago. No thanks to COVID, I’m attending virtual meetings these days; so I got a webcam.

Let me just say that webcams were obviously created by the same sadists who install bright lights in changing rooms.

The first time I turned the camera on, this godawful old hag appeared on my screen. Pasty-skinned, she had deep grooves around her mouth and between her eyebrows, and the puffy bags under her eyes were big enough to accommodate a picnic lunch.

Clearly there had to be something wrong with the webcam, because I don’t look like that. Sure, I’ve got a few wrinkles, but they’re not really noticeable unless I look in the mirror while I’m wearing my glasses. (There’s something wrong with my glasses, too.)

But after attending my first online meeting, I’m chagrined to admit that everybody else looked the same on camera as they do in real life. So unless I somehow managed to buy a special ‘Funhouse Brand’ distorted webcam (and I’m not ruling that possibility out, just sayin’), I probably am the godawful old hag I see on my screen.

That was a severe blow to my powers of denial, but I shall overcome!

I’m pretty sure I only looked so bad because it’s a high-definition webcam and I was looking at it full-screen. It’s like looking at yourself in a magnifying mirror — everything looks much worse than it actually is. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And if all else fails, I’ve just discovered that my webcam has a soft-focus setting that should blur reality nicely. Now, if only I could find some device to do that in real life…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 23 and just finished my usual mid-book editing stage. Everything is tightened up nicely now, and I’m ready to bomb ahead!