Tag Archives: gardening

Sun Princess

It’s that time of the year when I dress with care before going outside, making sure every square inch of skin is covered by long pants, long sleeves, gloves, hat…

No, I’m not bundling up for sub-zero temperatures; I’m just taking my wimpy skin outside on a sunny day.  I swear I put on more clothes in the summer than I do in the winter.

I’ve always been an ‘outside’ person. If fate was kind, I’d have been blessed with a leathery hide that tanned effortlessly. Instead, I have fairy-princess skin with a little mushroom DNA thrown in:  sickly white, delicate as tissue paper, and just as flammable.

After ten unprotected minutes in the sun I turn a nice shade of parboiled pink. Half an hour and my skin is angry red. If I spend any longer in the sun, it becomes clear why there are legends about vampires combusting in daylight.

I wear an SPF that would allow normal people to bask comfortably on the sunny side of Mercury, but my princess-skin is picky about sunscreen, too. Most sunscreens give me chemical burns, and applying zinc oxide is like rubbing my face with finely-ground glass.

After many trials and errors I’ve found sunscreens my skin can tolerate, and I wear them every day. I’m grateful for them, because I still need their protection even though I wear a hat.  But…

I hate them.

I hate the way they feel on my skin. I hate the way dirt and dust sticks to them. I hate the glowing white trails that show up when titanium dioxide slithers down to collect in my wrinkles. I hate the way avobenzone stains my clothes orange in our iron-rich water, and I especially hate that avobenzone is carcinogenic.  (Yeah, why don’t I just put a cancer-causing substance on my skin… to prevent skin cancer?  WTF?!?)

I especially hate the taste of sunscreen.  I know I’m not supposed to eat it, but I have to apply it right around my lips or risk a sunburn that looks like Bozo the Clown.  Then all it takes is one ill-advised swipe of my tongue to catch the juice from my morning orange, and I’m making a face like a horse with peanut butter stuck to the roof of its mouth.  At least my mother would be pleased to know that I’m finally learning to use a napkin.

Still, I don’t want skin cancer so I keep wearing my icky sunscreen and sweating profusely in my long sleeves, long pants, and hat.  I may or may not live longer, but it’ll certainly feel like it.

But the joy of gardening makes it all worthwhile!  Here’s what’s new in the garden this week (click on the photos to see larger versions):

I’m still rockin’ the garden. Only a few hundred tons of rock and soil to go…

 

The colours and scents are glorious!

 

The big fuzzy bumblebees are out now, and the anemones are heavenly-blue.

 

The lupin leaves are amazing on a misty day.

 

Our earliest rhododendron is just starting to bloom. This is Snow Lady – still tiny, but putting on a show!

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The Crabapple Dirge

I’ve been gardening for a long time, and I like to think I (mostly) know what I’m doing.  I usually have pretty flowerbeds and tasty veggies.  But fruit trees?  That’s another matter entirely.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember the tale of Doing the Crabapple Tango.  In it, I mentioned that my crabapple tree had been pruned by an irresponsible orangutan:  Me.  (Or rather, not pruned; merely allowed to grow into a mess of crisscrossing branches.)

Fast-forward to 2016, when I eagerly planted two cherry trees, two apple trees, a crabapple, a peach, and a plum tree at our new place.  I use the word “trees” loosely here – they were actually more like whippy little twigs.  But that was okay, because I had resolved that this time I was going to prune my trees properly right from the start.  And I’d never have to do the Crabapple Tango again!

So I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube and read long dissertations on the correct methods of pruning and shaping… and then I went out last weekend with my pruners.  (Yes, it was time — the sap was already rising in the cherry trees.)

I just want to say that I hate pruning.  I like growing plants, not hacking pieces off them.  But all the gardening websites say it has to be done, so I steeled myself for the task.

I consulted the videos again.  I walked around and around my trees, studying the bud locations and visualizing where and how the new limbs would grow.  Then I trimmed out crossing branches and branches going toward the centre of the tree, and made heading cuts to encourage new branches at the height I wanted.

Then I crept back into the house weighed down by a huge black cloud of guilt over butchering my poor trees.  Where before I had perky little saplings, now I have sad little truncated twigs standing forlornly in full view of all the windows, where I’ll be forced to look at them every day and contemplate my sins.

I feel so awful about what I’ve done that I’m not even going to post pictures — it would be like a murderer posting photos of her innocent victims.

I hope they live.  All the gardening sites say they will, and I really did follow their instructions; but the poor wee twigs are heart-wrenching.  I don’t know whether it would be best if they survive to absolve me of the guilt, or die quickly so I can buy new unmutilated ones and pretend this whole sorry affair never happened.

Maybe from now on I’ll just let them grow the way they want.  Really, the Crabapple Tango wasn’t so bad — there was a high probability of personal injury, but at least my conscience was clear.

Would somebody please tell me that this is all normal and my trees are going to be okay?  (Feel free to lie through your teeth if necessary.)

’Cause I’m really hoping I won’t have to write a Crabapple Dirge.

*bells toll solemnly in the background*

Book 14 update:  Chapter 44 and counting.  My books usually come in around 50 chapters, but this one is ballooning.  Time to sharpen my editing knife!

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Zucchini Wars

I was driving home a few days ago when I saw it lying sad and alone by the side of the road, gazing up at passersby like an abandoned puppy begging for a home:  a giant zucchini.

I didn’t stop.

One of the charming features of Vancouver Island is the honour-system market stands.  Lots of little farms offer eggs or produce at the end of their lane; and you can pull over, pick up what you want, and leave money according to the prices on their sign.  Free items are left out there with no payment requested or required.

So there was this giant zucchini beside the road.  Colossal:  A couple of feet long and about eight inches in diameter.  I’m guessing its growers spotted it making a play for world domination, recoiled in horror, and extracted the threat from their garden to carry it as far away from their property as they could manage.

Or who knows?  Maybe the zucchini didn’t even belong to that farm.  Maybe it had been dumped there by someone eager to be rid of it; or maybe it was intentionally deposited there as a subtle threat from some enemy.  Instead of a horse’s head in your bed, you get a mega-zucchini at the end of your lane.

Or maybe it got there under its own power.  Judging by the activity in my garden, it’s entirely possible that one mutant monster became sentient and was searching for the ideal spot to disgorge its seeds and begin a zucchini-terrorist cell intent on taking over every square inch of arable land.

Yes, actually, I am hip-deep in zucchini right now; why do you ask?

But I don’t mind.  I like fresh zucchini; and if I can’t eat it immediately I dehydrate it into chips that are compact and easy to store, and yummy all winter long in soups, stews, omelets, and even on homemade pizza.

As you read those words, I’m guessing that at least 50% of you are grimacing.  After extensive research involving alcoholic beverages with several sets of my friends, I have determined that all men (and some women) hate zucchini.

My dad hated zucchini.  My husband hates zucchini.  All my male friends hate zucchini; although actually, ‘hate’ is probably too strong a word.  “Meh” is more accurate.  After all, there’s nothing much to hate about it – as the guys tell me, “It doesn’t taste like anything, so why would you eat it?”

Well, okay, guys:  If you don’t want to eat it, how about racing it?  One of the small towns near us held zucchini races last weekend (the zucchini footage begins at 0:46 in the video).

’Cause why NOT take a huge malevolent vegetable intent on world domination, and give it wheels?  What could possibly go wrong?!?

Zucchini:  Love it or hate it?  Take my very scientific poll!  (You can choose as many answers as you want.)

Book 14 update:  Chapter 12 is well under way, and I’m chuckling while I write Daniel’s dialog – you can always depend on kids to say the things that adults won’t!

Zucchini Poll Update:  New answers now coming in!

Zucchini is:
– Take it or leave it. Choco zuke cake! Yum.
– What will replace cryptocurrency in 2045
– Local produce
– Part of the deep state
– Great battered and fried crispy
– Makes the best chocolate cake!

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Leading You Down The Garden Path

It’s gardening season, woohoo!

If you’ve ever been to a garden centre, you’ll know why the expression “leading you down the garden path” means “deceiving you”.  I’ve been sucked in by their euphemisms more times than I can count, so today I’m going to translate some common plant-sales wording for the benefit of less jaded experienced gardeners:

“This vigorous plant will thrive anywhere”:  This innocent-looking scrap of greenery is a monster poised to attack.  As soon as you place it in the ground, it will shoot twelve-foot-long roots in all directions and new plants will spring from every inch of the roots.  If you attempt to pull it out, every tiny segment of remaining root will form a new mother plant with its own set of twelve-foot-long roots and plague of invasive children.

“This delightful woodland favourite prefers dappled shade and moist well-drained humus-rich soil”:  It’ll die no matter where you put it.

“Easy to grow”:  …If you’re a master gardener.

“Plant these seeds as soon as soil can be worked in spring”:  …But they won’t actually grow then.  This is just a clever way to make you buy a second $5.95 packet of seeds after the first batch rots in the cold soggy soil.

“These seeds require light to germinate”:  These seeds won’t germinate.  Ever.

“Attracts birds to your garden”:  Cut off its flowers the instant they fade, otherwise it’ll spew out so many seeds you’ll spend the rest of your life weeding.

“Drought-tolerant”:  …As long as your definition of ‘drought’ is “an inch of rain per week”.

“Will even grow in dry shady trouble spots”:  Yes, it will.  But it’ll send out tendrils to scout for better conditions, and when it finds them… see “This vigorous plant…” above.

“Requires support”:  It’s a pathetic weedy vine.

“Requires a sturdy trellis”:  It’ll leap out of the ground like Jack’s beanstalk and within weeks will thicken to a woody rope that scrambles up the trellis and onto the neighbouring tree, where it will subsequently crush the trellis to dust and strangle the tree.  If the trellis is attached to your house, you’d better sleep with an axe under your pillow and ten gallons of weed killer beside your bed.

“Blooms from May to September”:  Theoretically, ten minutes in July is within the range of ‘May to September’.

“Non-invasive”:  …If you live in the arctic.

“Forms a neat mounded clump”:  …In June.  By August it’s a mess of leggy stems flopped over in all directions.

“Semi-evergreen”:  Completely deciduous except for one ugly leaf that clings to the stem all winter like dirty underwear tied to a flagpole.

“Evergreen”:  Mottled olive-drab is technically a shade of green.

“Hardy once established”:  It’ll probably live, if it doesn’t die first.

“Fast-growing”:  Don’t lean over it while you’re planting unless you want to be impaled by the branches shooting skyward.  And you might as well buy a chainsaw right now, ’cause you’re gonna need it.

“Slow-growing”:  If you’re over the age of two, don’t bother planting it.  You won’t live long enough to see it reach its mature height.

“Hardy to Zone x”:  Make that “Zone x, minus 1 or 2”.

“Gardening is an inexpensive and relaxing hobby”:  I’ve got some swampland to sell you…

Chime in, gardeners!  What’s the best gardening euphemism you’ve heard?

P.S. Still no word from Amazon about why the pre-orders for Book 13 didn’t show up on Amazon Canada, UK, Australia, or any other marketplace except the U.S.  They promised to get back to me today, so… fingers crossed…

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Some News Is Good News

The phrase ‘no news is good news’ has always seemed ambiguous to me.  I’m never quite sure whether it’s supposed to mean ‘if you don’t hear anything, everything’s going well’; or ‘there’s no good news at all’.

I have a guilty confession:  I hate reading the news.  Because… there’s no good news.  I’d rather avoid it and pretend everything’s going well in the world.  But out of some misguided sense of civic duty, I do skim the headlines regularly; and Hubby (who is a newshound by nature) has strict instructions to let me know if we’re going to get annihilated by a rogue meteor… again.

But by the time I finish reading the news, I feel like the Vogons after Marvin zaps them with the empathy gun:  “I feel so depressed…  Oh, what’s the point…?”

So this week I’m concentrating on good news:

Spring is truly here and the birdies are in fine form around our yard:  Swallows swooping and cheeping, eagles soaring high, colourful red-shafted flickers probing for bugs, mourning doves cooing, robins chirping, hummingbirds buzzing and squeaking, and red-headed woodpeckers hammering out their messages on the trees.  And more good news:

The sun is shining! (And that’s not snow in the background; it’s a tarp covering our manure pile.)

 

My apple twig is in full bloom (it’s too small to be called a “tree” yet)

 

The last of the tulips are putting on a show

 

Our deciduous azalea, R. luteum “Golden Comet” is only 18″ tall but it’s still beautiful and fragrant.

And…

Book 13 cover art is done!  The release date will be June 5, 2018, and pre-orders should be available sometime within the next week.

If you want to receive an email with links when the pre-orders are live, please click here to sign up for my New Book Notification list.  As soon as I have all the information I’ll update my Books and Where To Buy pages, too, so stay tuned!

Escorting Canada’s top weapons developers to an international summit should be just another stressful day in the life of secret agent Aydan Kelly.  But Aydan’s routine mission becomes a nightmare when she’s accused of an attack on the delegates and the theft of a classified weapon.

As evidence mounts against her, Aydan’s own investigation suggests she might have unconsciously committed the crime.  Burned by her own Department and hunted by MI6, CIA, and FBI, Aydan must decide:  When her own mind might betray her, who can she trust?

 

 

 

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Flowers And Festivities

It’s FINISHED!  Woohooo!!!

I wrote “The End” on Book 13 this week, and I hope to have a title and cover soon.  And wow, did it ever turn out to be a long book!  Now let the editing begin…

My brain is temporarily drained of words, so for this week’s post I decided to ‘say it with flowers’. These are photos from our garden and from Milner Gardens and Woodland, where the rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, and magnolias are putting on a show.

Happy spring!

A tulip after the rain

 

Tulip love in our garden

 

This is our baby rhododendron “Baden-Baden”, only a few inches off the ground.

 

…and this is how we’re hoping it might look someday.

 

These anemones are almost finished.

 

…and these ones are just getting started.

 

More anemones with a fat seed head in the foreground.

 

White rhododendron at Milner Gardens

 

White rhodo closeup

 

Almost there…

 

Rhodos at Milner Gardens

 

Beach view from Milner Gardens with a purple azalea. Ahhhh…

 

Camellias at Milner Gardens

 

More camellias at Milner Gardens

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Getting Stoned

It’s a standing joke that residents of British Columbia are more or less permanently blissed out on the marijuana that reputedly flourishes here.  But since Hubby and I aren’t into ‘herbal’ remedies, we never guessed that we’d end up getting stoned.

Sadly, it wasn’t as pleasant as we had hoped.  We didn’t realize it would involve actual stones.

I’ve mentioned before that our yard is basically a gravel pit:  The rocks range from the size of a breadbox down to pebbles, and it’s all so tightly interlocked that the only way to “dig” is by scraping the surface with a hoe so the larger rocks can be hooked out and tossed aside.  A shovel won’t travel more than half an inch without stopping dead.

So with that in mind, consider this:  We have a rototiller.

It’s an ancient Honda that we bought second-hand years ago.  The original owner assured us that it was only a few years old, and we didn’t discover that he’d lied through his teeth until we attempted repairs for the first time.

The Honda turned out to be much older than advertised; but other than the difficulty of finding drive belts in a size that’s no longer manufactured, that turned out to be a good thing.  Unlike today’s flimsy machines, this one’s mechanical parts were made to last forever.  It has gotten uglier as superfluous parts rust and/or fall off, but it still works.  Hard.

That tiller has chewed through everything from prairie sod to half-rotted stumps to our current rock collection, aided by the fact that Hubby replaced the worn-out 8 HP engine with a 13 HP model a couple of years ago.  The clutch doesn’t work anymore but it’s still possible to engage and disengage the drive wheels and tines with a lever, so it’s all good.

Or, to be more precise, it’s grossly over-powered and positively lethal in rocky soil.

The first time Hubby attempted to till our newly-created veggie garden last year, he came indoors looking as though he’d received a persuasive visit from Guido and Luigi with their baseball bats.  His shins were black and blue where they weren’t oozing red.  Turns out those heavy-duty tines can unearth rocks larger than softballs and hurl them with such force that they crash right through the protective shroud and into whatever is immediately behind the tiller… AKA the operator’s legs.

Hubby’s a quick learner:  Now he wears knee-high neoprene boots with kneepads and shin guards strapped over top.  I wandered over to the garden a few days ago as he was girding his shins for battle.  He looked up, spotted me about ten feet away, and said, “You’d better stand back.”

When he started tilling, it was like those science-fiction movies where giant malevolent critters attack from below the earth’s surface.  The tiller bucked and kicked and actually took air once or twice while rocks and sticks flew everywhere, accompanied by a deafening clatter.  At one point a rock the size of my head bounced out from behind the machine, but fortunately it was too heavy to fly very far.

So all in all, this ‘getting stoned’ thing has turned out to be a more, um… energetic process than we’d anticipated.

Are we having fun yet…?

The Beast. (That’s our tilled garden in the middleground; with the original “soil” in the background still waiting to be attacked. Or to attack us.)

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Crazy Plant Lady

’Tis the season when I expend massive amounts of energy on my garden.

“Oh, is it planting time there already?” you ask.

Well… kinda, but not really.  I’ve planted a few seeds, but it’s too early for most things.

“Oh; then you’re digging and preparing your garden?  I could see where that would be a lot of work.”

Well, no; not yet.  It’s still too wet.

“So exactly what is taking so much energy…?”

Well… um… my own idiocy.

Every day I hurry out to eagerly examine the garden.  Are any new crocuses blooming?  Are the cherry buds maybe just a bit fatter than yesterday?  Why are my poor rhododendrons looking so yellow?

I rush off to the Rhododendron Society and pick the brains of every member who doesn’t flee as soon as they realize I’m vectoring toward them.  I pore over obscure sites on the internet.  Organic fertilizer tailored to acid-loving plants:  applied.  Bark mulch:  check.  Could it be a magnesium deficiency?  I sprinkle on some Epsom salts.  Maybe the soil pH is too high.  Sulphur to the rescue!  It can’t be iron deficiency; our soil is red with iron oxide.  But maybe a little foliar feeding of ferrous sulphate would help…

Then I hover.  Maybe they look a bit better today.

But no.  It’s only a trick of the light.  *sigh*

The next day, same thing.  Maybe they’re a little greener now?

I don’t know why I do it.  I’ve been gardening all my life, and I know better.  I have NEVER seen a plant respond to fertilizer overnight.  But that’s not from a lack of effort on my part.  With all the emotional energy I’ve been pouring into these plants, they should be surging toward the sky like Jack’s beanstalk.

I try equally hard to alter the climate through sheer psychic (or is that ‘psycho’?) effort.  I stare at the sky, fists clenched by my sides, willing spring to arrive.  Snow is not allowed!  The clouds must dissipate!  The sun must come out!

Our tomato and pepper seedlings have just emerged indoors, and I’m equally obsessed.  The light in the south window isn’t bright enough – they need to be outside.  But it’s only 5 degrees Celsius, and that’s not warm enough for tomatoes and peppers.  So they can go outside in the afternoon when it’s warm, as long as I remember to bring them in at sunset.  And when will they get their second set of leaves?  Tomorrow?  This evening?  NOW?!?

It’s lucky I never had children.  The poor kids would be scarred for life when they awakened in the middle of the night to find me leaning over their cribs with a measuring tape, checking to see whether they’d grown since I’d put them to bed a few hours ago.

Fortunately plants are oblivious to my antics; and in another month I’ll have so much garden work I’ll be far too tired to obsess over a rhododendron’s precise shade of green.

But until then… maybe I should check that rhodo one more time this afternoon.

Just in case…

It’s spring, hooray! Must… obsess… over… garden… now…

My poor yellowing rhododendron. Maybe I’m giving it performance anxiety.

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Spuds And, Um… ‘Spunts’

So there we were, stumbling across frozen ground in the darkness carrying a powerful flashlight and a digging fork… and Hubby turns to me and says, “This is going to be a blog post, isn’t it?”

Yes; yes it is.

Why were we apparently robbing graves in the dark of night, you ask?  Well, I’m pretty sure it’s my dad’s fault.

He loved potatoes, and we had them for nearly every meal.  Every now and then my mom would sneak in a bit of rice or pasta; but as my dad tactfully explained, “That was okay, but I wouldn’t want it every year.”  I love potatoes, too, and most of our meals include the humble spud.

But the other night Hubby came into the kitchen where I was making gravy and announced, “You know we’re out of potatoes, right?”

My jaw dropped in horror.  What?

WHAAAT?!?

We had roast beef.  With gravy.  And NO POTATOES?  I turned off the heat under the gravy pot and marched toward the door.

“Please tell me we’re not going out to the garden,” he said.

“Of course we are.  We have gravy.  We need potatoes.”

“It’s pitch dark, and the ground is starting to freeze.”

“I don’t care.  We need potatoes.”

Which led to the aforementioned jacklighting of potatoes.  As it turned out, it was remarkably similar to grave robbing since some of the hills were a little on the rotten side; but we did end up with enough good potatoes to soak up our gravy.  Whew.  Crisis averted.

Later in the week I was waiting my turn in the insurance office, playing Scrabble on my phone to pass the time.  It’s a point of pride for me to win – in all the time I’ve had it, the app has only beaten me once.

I was down to three tiles, so I knew the game was almost over.  I hadn’t seen the Q (worth 10 points) yet, which meant the app had it.  By then there was no way the app could win – I was already beating it by nearly a hundred points.  But I really wanted to stick it with that Q.

I had three letters left, and there was only one place where I could unload them all at once.

But I hesitated.  The available letter on the board was C.

And I had U, N, and T.

I’ve already mentioned my profoundly Canadian habit of never using foul language in public even though I’m actually a complete potty-mouth.

I was in public.  And it was a really rude word.

It wasn’t as though I was going to stand up and yell it out at the top of my lungs, but still.  My Canadian conditioning runs deep.

I stared at the board.

Sneaked a surreptitious glance around the waiting room to make sure nobody could see my screen.

Then I snickered inwardly and unloaded the dirty word that ended the game.  But I felt as though I should apologize to the little old lady beside me, just in case she’d seen it.

…But then again, if she was as Canadian as I was, theoretically her private vocabulary was just as colourful as mine.

Any dubious victories in your world this week?

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Mactac, Mullets, and Manure

Anybody remember the Mactac of the 60s and 70s?  Maybe you knew it by another name, but it was all the same thing:  adhesive-backed vinyl printed with colourful graphics.

I suspect that people with taste avoided Mactac like the plague it was; but out in the sticks where I grew up, the only taste we had was in our mouths.  Every questionable surface in our house got covered with either woodgrain print or sparkly gold paisley on white.

It actually looked okay for a while.  But then the adhesive deteriorated and the vinyl curled up, creating tattered edges that looked as though rodents had been gnawing them and leaving a sticky residue that defied any attempt to clean it off or reglue it.

My love affair with Mactac faded when I realized that it inevitably suffered a slow and ugly demise, and the last time I applied adhesive-backed vinyl to anything was in the late 70s.

Until this week.

We needed a cheap-and-cheerful solution for a kitchen backsplash until our construction budget recovers enough to upgrade our kitchen counters.  So the other day I was walking through the store when some pretty glass tiles caught my eye, for less than half the price I’d expected.

Yep, adhesive-backed vinyl had reared its deceptively attractive head.  It’s even embossed with grout lines like real glass tile, and it’s insanely sticky.

I succumbed.  I’m really hoping it doesn’t curl up and die like the old-school stuff.

Looks like glass… smells like vinyl.

That blast from the past made me think about other oldies that are new again… like the mullet haircut.  If you’re not familiar with the mullet, it was an 80s hairstyle trimmed short around the face and ears, with the rest of the hair left long in back.  The instant the 80s were over everyone restyled their hair and pretended they’d never worn a mullet.  Overnight, it went from a fashion statement to a joke.

I had a mullet haircut back in the 80s, and I even wore it for a while after everybody else started laughing about it.  I loved that haircut.  It was comfortable and practical:  I had the long hair I loved, but it wasn’t in my face.  I still don’t understand why it became so universally despised.

But apparently it’s in style again for young male hipsters and Millenials.  So  I wasn’t unfashionable; I was only a few decades early… and the wrong gender.  Details, pshaw.

On to our next M-word:  Manure.  We got a giant load for our garden so of course I had to share it with you, my beloved readers.

Why, you ask?  (I’m hoping that’s a ‘why?’ of guarded curiosity, not an anguished cry of ‘oh, sweet Lord, why?!?’)

Well, it seemed appropriate since I’m usually full of shit; but ultimately it’s because I couldn’t resist the punchline:

Mactac, mullets, and manure… you don’t want to get any of them on you.

18,000 pounds of horseshit. That’s more than I usually manage to pack into a post.

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