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…

Bean There…

The garden is in full swing again, and we’re at the ‘buried in beans’ stage.  I’m blanching and freezing and pickling, and still the beans keep coming.  I’m starting to dream about beans.  So you can imagine my freaked-out chagrin last week when I found a bean in my bed.

I’d like to say I have no idea how it got there, but the truth is I’m pretty sure I know.  Freshly-picked string beans are like VelcroTM:  They’re covered with microscopic hairs that cling to everything, particularly synthetic fabrics like fleece and yoga pants.  Also, to human hair.

Yes, there is a reason why I know that. 

I originally discovered the VelcroTM-like properties of beans back in the dark days when I still had to wear business suits and attend meetings to make a living.  I had been to an important business luncheon and had schmoozed appropriately.  Afterward, I retreated to my car with a measure of pride:  I had gotten through the entire luncheon without committing any social gaffes or spilling anything on my nice clothes.

I let my head fall back on the headrest as I blew out a relieved sigh, and my upturned gaze snagged on my reflection in the rearview mirror. 

Oh. 

Shit, no.

Yep, I had a green bean lodged in the ends of my long hair.  At some point I must have leaned too close to my plate, and its perfidious little hairs had latched on.

I mentally replayed the conversations I’d had at the luncheon and concluded (with my usual semi-delusional optimism) that nobody had noticed.  Or maybe they were all just people with superhuman self-control.  In any case, nobody raised an eyebrow and/or pointed out that I had a renegade legume attached to my person.

So, it was with a sense of rueful déjà vu that I picked the offending bean out of my bedsheets last week.  It brought back a cringeworthy memory; but at least the bean didn’t get lodged in any truly embarrassing personal places.

That would have been a little tricky to explain to Hubby.

Anybody else ever unwittingly hosted a sneaky vegetable?

Hubby’s no midget; the zucchini and corn are giants!
And then there are the wee sunflowers…

Power-Trippin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anybody else tackling major landscape projects this spring?

Critters vs. Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was.  No more rabbit problems.

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

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

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

’Cause I distinctly heard a rabbit laughing.

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

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

Going Buggy

Remember the old figure of speech, ‘put a bug in your ear’?  It means ‘give you a hint’.  So, the other day I was out in the garden and a bug flew up my nose.  I’m not sure how to interpret that.

What made the whole episode disturbing (other than, hello, a bug up my nose) was the fact that the bug flew directly up my left nostril with all the precision of a shuttlecraft docking in the Starship Enterprise’s shuttle bay.  (Well, maybe a shuttlecraft with a slightly inebriated pilot, because I did feel the bug carom off the inside of my nostril as it rocketed up there.)

Even more worrisome was the fact that the bug didn’t come out.  No matter how much I sneezed and blew, no reassuring bug-body appeared.

So as far as I know it’s still up there, tunnelling slowly but steadily through my sinuses on its way to my brain, where it will lay a zillion eggs that will hatch into hungry little carnivorous worms.  I’d like to say that’s nothing more than a bizarre fantasy on my part; but I’m afraid it might be actually possible after reading about the woman who had a cockroach living in her ear (and there’s a disturbing twist on ‘a bug in your ear’).

The sad fact is that even if my brain had as many wormholes as swiss cheese, it probably wouldn’t noticeably affect my current behaviour.  I’ve been deep in writing again this week (six more chapters, woohoo!) which means I’m perfectly capable of:

  • Not noticing real-life people and events that are right in front of my nose
  • Forgetting that my fictional people and events never actually existed
  • Forgetting to eat, sleep, bathe, and keep important appointments
  • Muttering incomprehensibly and making weird facial grimaces for no apparent reason

On the upside, it’s possible that my resident brain-worms will have minds of their own, which might lend a certain off-the-wall creativity to my future ideas.

Or who knows?  Maybe they’ll just be in single-minded pursuit of their next meal.  Food normally occupies a large portion of my waking thoughts, too, so… dang. I guess I’ll never know whether I’m going buggy.  But if I start vigorously flapping my arms and searching for dark moist tunnels to inhabit, it’s probably time to call the bug-catchers.

Oh, and maybe give Hollywood a call.  It’s been a while since they remade ‘The Fly’.

Anything bugging you this week?

Book 16 update:  I’m on Chapter 17, and Blue Eddy’s has been taken over by folks wearing tinfoil hats to protect themselves against space aliens.  In Aydan’s world, there’s always something…

Garden Goodies

We’re at the height of the gardening season now, happily inundated by a flood of fruits and veggies; which only goes to show that gardeners are a bunch of freakish masochists (or maybe that’s just me).

You’d think sane people would avoid a hobby that requires them to go outside during the hottest part of the year and perform vigorous labour, then return to the house lugging pounds of produce that needs to be peeled/trimmed/chopped and then processed in boiling water over a hot stove.  But what the hell; if it made sense, it wouldn’t be a hobby.

I harvested about 150 pounds of strawberries in June, and now the rest of the veggies are attempting to follow suit (though fortunately not quite that enthusiastically).  I’ve picked forty pounds of beans so far, and they’re finally “slowing down” to only about six pounds per picking.

I only planted three zucchini seeds this year, so that means I’ll only be feeding all our friends and neighbours instead of having to make multiple deliveries to the Food Bank as well.  Ditto cucumbers; but we may have miscalculated on the corn.  If you don’t see a blog post for a while, you’ll know we’re trying to dig/eat our way out from under a giant heap of kernels.

The veggies’ success hasn’t exactly been shared by the flower seeds, though.  I optimistically planted the seeds in our perennial beds this spring, but I didn’t take the time to mark their locations — I figured I’d be able to tell which were weeds and which were flowers when everything came up. (You gardeners, stop snickering.)

In fact, I did figure it out. It was quite simple: If it looked pale and weedy and it was struggling to survive, it was a desirable plant.  If it was huge and green and growing vigorously, it was a weed.  But at least our established perennials performed beautifully!

Here are a few of the blooms we’ve been enjoying this summer:
(Click on photos to see full-size versions.)

Dahlias

 

Romneya coulteri (California Tree Poppy – Fried Egg Plant)

 

LA hybrid lily

 

Another LA hybrid lily

 

Gorgeous roses

 

More dahlias

 

Poppies

 

Echinacea x hybrida ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

 

Sky-high sunflowers

 

Echinacea purpurea

 

Here’s our most unexpected summer harvest:  A pineapple.  Two years ago, Hubby potted up the top of a pineapple that I’d bought at the grocery store.  The plant grew, and you may recall that back in April I posted a photo of the baby pineapple that was forming on one of the plants.

Well, it actually ripened; and yesterday we picked it and ate it.  Yum!

Our pineapple harvest for the year.

All my sweating in the garden is rewarded with more than yummy veggies and pretty flowers:  I also get to watch the hummingbirds!  They’re amazing — so tiny, and so fearless.  They do their rounds of the flowers less than three feet away from me, completely unconcerned by my presence.

Sometimes they hover a few feet from my face, staring.  Then they’ll swoop over a few feet to the left, then to the right, studying me from all angles.  I think they’re wondering what kind of non-human creature I am, with my giant broad-brimmed gardening hat.

Anna’s hummingbird with scarlet runner bean blossoms

 

Rufous hummingbird with scarlet runner bean blossoms

What’s new in your neck of the woods this week?

Book 16 update:  I’ve plotted far enough to get started — writing begins this week! Woohoo!

Off In The Weeds

Maybe I’ve been self-isolating for just a little too long.  I’m talking to weeds now, and it almost cost me a friendship.

But it wasn’t my fault that I apparently phoned my very nice neighbour and told her she wasn’t welcome at our place.  No; the blame lies with our strawberry patch, and rampant weeds.  (It’s good to be a fiction writer — we can manufacture bullshit to rationalize even the most egregious behaviour.)

Here’s what happened:

Our garden is in full swing, which is my oblique way of admitting that we planted far too much as usual.  I’ve picked 150 pounds of strawberries so far, and everything else is doing its best to compete with that over-the-top-abundance.  And when I say, ‘everything else’, that includes the weeds.

But the strawberries didn’t quit after yielding 150 pounds. They were still pumping out ten pounds of berries every second day when I cried ‘Uncle’ and started inviting friends and neighbours over to pick. (Thank goodness we have lots of room so social distancing was easy.)

One of our neighbours planned to drop by sometime in the late morning, and she said she’d call before she came. I was outside weeding and enjoying the beautiful weather, so I stuck the phone in my pocket.

Spotting one of those long vine-like weeds wrapped around a potato plant like a malevolent steel cable, I hunkered down to unravel it.

“You’re… not… welcome here!” I growled, just as the phone handset beeped.

When I took it out and checked the display, my heart plummeted: “Missed call”, along with my neighbour’s number.

Oh, SHIT.

I dialled her back, and she picked up immediately.

“Um…” I began sheepishly. “Did I just, um… hang up on you?”

“No,” she replied, sounding puzzled.  “I didn’t call you yet.”

Whew!  I had pocket-dialled the call list; not my neighbour.

I sagged with relief and explained the situation, and laughter ensued.  It was a little embarrassing, but I figured it was better to be that weirdo who talks to weeds than that rabid bitch who invites people over and then rudely rescinds the invitation.

And as soon as I got off the phone, I yanked out that weed with extreme prejudice.

I’d love to report that I’ve learned my lesson and I don’t talk to weeds anymore; but that would be a lie.  The only thing I’ve actually learned is not to carry the phone to the garden.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who talks to weeds…

Book 16 update:  Initial plotting is almost complete, and I’m hoping to start putting words on the page this week.  Woohoo!

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 hippie 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!   🙂

Dwindling Time; Shrinking Pants

I can’t believe 2019 is gone already — I honestly don’t know where the time went.  My theory is that aliens have been abducting me for several hours every day, and they’ve masked their nefarious activities with false memories of working at my desk.  Either that, or Dr. Who is hovering above our house and altering time so that I’m working at half-speed relative to the rest of the world.

I’m sure there has to be some sci-fi explanation, because I’m not fond of the thought that I’m working as hard and fast as I can and still falling behind.  So, aliens it is!

Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s tackle the conundrum of why pants shrink in December.  I’m sure it must be the shorter hours of daylight and cooler temperatures that make the fabric fibres contract.  (Or maybe that’s caused by aliens, too.)  It can’t possibly be related to that box of chocolates I can’t seem to pass without nibbling.

Speaking of shorter days, we’re in the gloomy depths of winter rain here, which is actually a bit of a relief.  I’m not fond of dark days, but it was a dry autumn and water reservoirs were low, so it’s good to know they’re being replenished now.

I’m ready to look at something besides grey clouds, so here are some cheery views from 2019.

(Click on photos to see a larger version.  Depending on your browser, clicking again on the larger photo might give you a closeup — worth doing for the little pollen-coated bee.)

Ahhhh, beach and blue sky!

 

Happy garden plants soaking up the sun

 

Bees hard at work – look at the pollen on this little guy!

 

Colours so vivid they almost hurt your eyes

 

Sunny rudbeckia. This is ‘Goldsturm’.

 

And our tiny rhododendrons bloomed heroically! This is ‘Lee’s Best Purple’, only about 2 feet tall but with flower trusses the size of basketballs.

 

Ah, I feel better now.  It might be a while before spring gets here, but at least I can happily anticipate it.

And hey, maybe my pants will stretch out by spring, too!  I can always hope.  (I could also exercise more and diet a bit; but that would imply that those shrinking pants are somehow my fault.  Perish the thought.)

Happy New Year!

Book 15 update:  Just when I think I’ve got everything figured out, another wrench appears in the works.  But I did some excellent plotting and lots of research over the holidays, and I’m bombing ahead with Chapter 26.  Things just took a turn for the worse for Aydan and the boys, and they’re scrambling!

Gardening and Other Extreme Sports

We’ve finally put the last of the garden to bed. (Well… kinda. The parsnips and carrots are still out there, but they’re fine with some frost so we’re not in a hurry.)  It’s a relief, because this year’s garden felt like an extreme sport — long gruelling hours of hand-watering, weeding, picking, processing, canning and freezing.

I grew an extreme watermelon:

That’s a 40-pound watermelon, in case you’re wondering.  And for the first time in my life somebody said to me, “Nice watermelons!”  (Okay, she actually said ‘watermelon’, which isn’t quite the same; but I took the compliment nonetheless.)

We got extreme beets:

And you already know about our extreme tomatoes, which have almost completed their primary fermentation and are on the verge of being filtered and bottled for cider:

But now that all’s quiet on the garden front, I feel a little flat.  There are still a few outside chores to be done, but the ‘extreme’ part is over for the season.  Dang, what am I going to do for an adrenaline rush?

So I consulted the internet.

Extreme sitting (sporthocking) sounded like something I could nail without too much practice, but after watching the YouTube video, I decided against it.  I want to be able to use those parts of my anatomy for a good long while, and that looks like an ideal way to break one’s butt (among other things).

Extreme ironing seemed a possibility (although not necessarily a good fit; since I use my iron maybe once or twice a year).  But no.  My rock-climbing, sky-diving, and scuba-diving skills just aren’t quite up to par.  The video also mentioned extreme vacuuming; but I’ve never been fond of vacuuming.  (Nor of hurtling down a hill on a household appliance with no steering or brakes.)  So that was out.

Chess boxing could combine my love of kickboxing with the more cerebral pursuit of chess, but I’m not good enough at either of them.  And anyway, Hubby didn’t want to play.

So I guess it’s down to toe wrestling.  It might be a bit hard on the bunions, but at least if Hubby and I have nothing else to do during our long rainy winter, toe wrestling might lead to other, more interesting indoor ‘sports’.

Any other extreme sport suggestions?

*

P.S. I’m travelling until the end of the month so my next post will be November 6, but I’ll be checking in here regularly.  ‘Talk’ to you soon!

Book 15 update:  Chapter 9 is well on its way, and I made good strides with the plot this week.  It’s lucky that Aydan stays fit – she’s going to need it in this book!