Tag Archives: gardening

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!

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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 hippy 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!   🙂

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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!

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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!

 

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More Juggling (But Not With Fish)

September is shaping up to be a crazy month!  (Lucky I’m crazy enough to deal with it.)  I’m still picking piles of fruit and veggies from the garden, and we’re busily socking it away to enjoy throughout the winter.  The considerable overflow goes to our friends and neighbours as well as the Food Bank.

We might have been just a teeny bit over-enthusiastic when we were planting the garden, but… look at all this glorious food!

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

A single picking of tomatoes. (I pick a couple of times a week.)

 

Ten gallons of chopped carrots all ready for the freezer.

 

50 pints of pickles, 22 pints of jam, 7 pints of salsa, 28 pints of beans (another 20 pounds frozen), 24 pints of tomatoes and lots to go, and still a bit of space left for the rest of the beets and tomatoes and pickled hot peppers. YUM!

 

But our autumn isn’t only about food.  The flowers are still gorgeous, too, and the bees and other wildlife are hard at work stocking their own pantries:

This little black bear has been feasting on the wild cherries only a few hundred feet from our house. Don’t be fooled by his casual pose — he’s actually about 30 feet up a tree. (He’s a little blurry because Hubby took this shot using a LONG zoom — we have a healthy respect even for small bears!)

 

This little guy has been hard at work snipping off pine cones and stashing them away.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my camera or the tiny white spider (near the centre of the flower) that chased this bee off the zinnia. Either way, he’s buzzing off.

 

The snapdragons are still putting on a show.

 

One of our newest rhododendrons, Medusa, is a bit confused as to whether it’s spring or fall, but she’s beautiful anyway!

 

We’ll have a couple more rounds of houseguests this month, so maintaining my writing schedule for Book 15 will be a juggling act.  (Fortunately not with fish.)  To salvage some time I’ll dial back my blogging schedule to every second week for the month of September, so my next post will be September 18.

How’s your September shaping up?  Are you harvesting any goodies from your garden?

Book 15 update:  I’m bombing along on Chapter 4!  Hellhound would normally be voted “Most Likely To Get Arrested While On Vacation”, but Aydan’s the one who’s ended up in handcuffs…

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Hmmm…

As I’ve noted before, the universe seems to store up its oddities so it can dump them on me all at once.  Apparently this week its goal was to leave me just slightly disturbed.  (Some might argue that I’m already permanently disturbed, but pshaw.)

The first thing that left me feeling a little off-balance was the fact that I’ve been calling friends and family to see if ANYBODY wants some zucchini.  There’s only so much I can eat, freeze, and dehydrate, and I passed that limit after the first thirty zukes.  (And that was only two pickings.  I’ve been picking every second day since the beginning of July.  Math majors, don’t bother adding that up – it comes out to “far too many”!)

So I phone.  I always get voicemail.  (Is that a hint?)  I leave my message offering free zucchini.  And then…

*sound of crickets*

They never call back.

This leaves me feeling just a bit… odd. Ordinarily I’d consider it rude if somebody completely ignored an offer of free food; but after all, we are talking about zucchini here. Zucchini is like that overly friendly coworker who keeps proposing weird-bordering-on-creepy social activities every weekend. Maybe it’s the thought that counts; but you’re not sure you want to encourage those thoughts.

(And that leaves me wondering whether I’m that coworker and I’m just too oblivious to realize it. These are the things that keep me awake at night.)

My next “Um… what?!?” moment came when I was doing some research for Book 15.  I began typing ‘Is it legal…’ into Google, and this is what popped up:

Seriously? Marrying yourself is the top Google search? How would that even work? And why?  (And don’t get me started about all the animal questions.)

My next ‘Uh-oh’ arrived while I was picking another big basket of cucumbers, as I do every… second… day.  (I may have to start breaking into people’s homes and leaving fresh produce behind.)

Anyway, there I was on my knees in the patch with all the bees working away at the blossoms… which were very near a certain place that’s quite dear to me. As I eyed the large bumblebee buzzing millimetres away from my crotch, I was reminded of the old joke about the guy in the dentist’s chair who reaches over to gently grip the dentist’s testicles and say, “We wouldn’t want to hurt each other, would we?”  I lack the testicles, but now I understand the trepidation.

And last but not least: I usually drink my morning cup of tea outside on our front porch. We still haven’t got our concrete poured, so my chair sits on a piece of plywood. And the other day when I glanced absently at it, I realized that it contained the face from Edvard Munch’s The Scream:

Am I right?

I’m here to tell you that it’s seriously disturbing to glance down and see that between your knees.  But I guess it’s better than an irate bumblebee.

So I’m slightly unbalanced as usual, but I’m still staggering forward.  How was your week?

Book 15 update:  I’ve almost finished Chapter 1!  And I’ve made another attempt at book cover redesign — what do you think? (See below.)

                       

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…oh.

We have houseguests this week, so it’s a shorter post today.  Here’s a little cartoon that occurred to me moments after I cursed the aphids for ganging up on my baby fruit trees last week.

I guess the aphids don’t have a corner on that kind of ‘stupidity’…

 

And, in other news…

I’m doing a short public presentation in mid-July.  There are so many artists and writers and other creative types here on Vancouver Island, I thought it would be nice to offer my writing and publishing experience, for what it’s worth.

I’m not sure whether it’ll be a help, an inspiration, or merely a shudder-worthy cautionary tale; but I hope we’ll all have some chuckles in the process.  I hope to see you there!

Publishing and writing presentation by bestselling e-book author Diane Henders

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Flipped Off By The Bird

It’s that time of year again, when even the mildest-mannered gardener turns into a homicidal lunatic.  I wasn’t mild-mannered in the first place, so I’m in full Rambo-mode.

Why, you ask?  (Or maybe you don’t; but tough noogies.  I’m going to tell you anyway.)  Yep, once again I’m locked in a life-or-death struggle with garden-raiding critters.

In March, Hubby took down last year’s bird netting so he could double the size of our strawberry patch.  We now have 22 raised beds, an area 60 feet long and 20 feet wide.  After much anticipation (and much weeding), the first few berries began to blush a couple of weeks ago.

The robins swooped in immediately.

“That’s okay,” I thought.  “It’s a giant patch.  There’ll be enough for all of us.”

Ha.

Robins do not share well.  Nor are they considerate berry-pickers.  When I went out to pick ‘my share’, I discovered that long sharp beaks had plunged into almost every berry that had even a touch of red, and about half the harvest was gone entirely.

Then the robins got possessive.  No longer did they fly away when I approached.  I had to chase them off, waving my arms and shouting obscenities.  (The obscenities probably weren’t strictly necessary, but they made me feel better.)

Then it got to the point where they’d only move about ten feet despite my bellowing and arm-waving; and as soon as I hunkered down to pick the pathetic leftovers, they’d settle in a couple of rows behind me and chow down all over again.

The worst part was their derisive clucking and chirping.  I just knew those little feathered bastards were laughing at me.

So, up went the netting again.  As I secured the last gap, I shot a triumphant look at the robin perched outside the perimeter.  “This is your own fault,” I lectured.  “If you hadn’t been so greedy, you could have still been eating nice fresh berries.”

He let out a loud chirp, flicked his tail at me, and flocked off.  He didn’t have a middle finger to jab skyward, but I got the message loud and clear.  Now I know why they call it ‘flipping the bird’.

At least my berries are ripening unmolested now.  But… last night I spotted a rabbit checking out the veggie garden.

AAARGH!!!  GRAB THE CHICKENWIRE; I’M GOIN’ IN!

Do you ‘enjoy the relaxing hobby of gardening’?

The giant strawberry patch

 

This is how they’re supposed to look: No ugly beak-gouges, just plump beautiful berries. YUM!

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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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