Pop.

The other day my friend Swamp Butt mentioned that one of her co-workers had guessed her age at nearly twenty years younger than she actually is.

“Must be nice,” said I. “Nobody has ever said anything like that to me.”

But Swamp Butt was blessed with superb genes passed down from her father, who lived to be 102; and she has always looked younger than she is. So I shrugged it off.

Only a few days later, I changed into my goin’-to-town clothes (which are only distinguishable from my around-home clothes by the fact that they don’t feature holes and/or paint and/or automotive grease stains). I glanced in the mirror before I left the house and thought, “Huh. I look pretty good for my age.” Buoyed by that thought, I drove to town with a smile.

While I was standing in line at one of the stores, I noticed it was Seniors Day: 15% off. *shrug* Whatever. Didn’t apply to me.

When it was my turn, the cashier scanned and totalled my items, and then asked, “Do you qualify for the senior’s discount?”

That took the wind out of my sails.

“Sadly, no,” I said, summoning my most youthful smile.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

Pop. That was the sound of my bubble bursting.

“Really, really sure,” I assured her. “I’m only 58.”

Then I did a mental head-smack. Shit, if I was going to get kicked in the ego anyway, I should have at least lied about my age and snagged the discount. Apparently I’m only getting old, not wise.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a huge capacity for denial and and very little concern for what others think of my appearance. After I got over the momentary ‘ouch’, I found the whole exchange pretty funny, and I’m still chuckling about it. (Albeit somewhat ruefully.)

And I still like what I see when I look in the mirror. It’s nothing to do with my face — it’s what’s behind my eyes that counts. 🙂

Anybody else have a face that doesn’t fit their (mental) age?

Book 17 update: Woohoo! LIVE AND LET SPY will be released on October 28/22, and it’s now available for pre-order at all retailers. Pre-order links are on my Books page, and I’ll be sending them out to my mailing list soon!

Revealing!

A while ago on Facebook, I was grumbling about stubborn characters who refuse to do what I want. I promised to explain who was giving me trouble and why, after Book 17 was released.

But meanwhile, here’s a teaser: I’ll reveal the culprit and the “conversation” we had; and I bet you’ll recognize the situation as soon as you get to it in the book!

The culprit: Former secret agent John Kane.

The conversation:

Me: Okay, let’s move this forward.

John: No.

Me: What?!? You can’t tell me ‘no’. I’m the author. I control your every move.

John: I don’t care who you are; I won’t do that.

Me: You sure as hell will!

John: *stubborn silence*

Several frustrating days later, after no writing progress…

Me (wheedling): Come on, John. I spent a week figuring out how to make this work, and it took three chapters to set it up. Just do it, okay? You know you want to.

John: No.

Me (fighting dirty): Arnie would do it in a heartbeat. And he’d make it hot as hell.

John: Good for Arnie. But he’s not here. And I won’t do it.

Me: Yes. You. Will!

After another week of fruitless writing, re-writing, and discarding…

John: It doesn’t have to be this difficult, you know. Just let me do it my way. And I promise… (deep seductive rumble) … I’ll make it hotter than hell.

Me: Gah! Okay, fine! Do it your way… (under my breath) … jerk.

Later…

Me (fanning myself): Whew! Okay, John. You were right, and I was wrong…

And now for another reveal: The cover and jacket blurb are finally done(ish) for Book 17; and we have a release date, woohoo! But I have two options for the cover, and I can’t decide. Please help me by voting for your fave:

Back cover blurb: Secret agent Aydan Kelly is investigating an international arms cabal when drive-by shootings target her lovers, her Director, and Aydan herself.  Her trusted informant delivers the chilling news:  All their covers are blown.

The hitmen keep coming… and they seem to know exactly where Aydan and her team will be.  Someone in the Department is betraying them, and Aydan is forced into a deadly race against time.  Can she catch the traitor and stop the cabal before they slaughter the people she loves?

Live And Let Spy will be released October 28, 2022! If you’ve signed up for my mailing list, you’ll soon receive an email with pre-order links. Plus, I’ll post links on my Facebook author page and here on my webpage as soon as they’re available. Thanks for reading!

1666944060

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

Book 17: Live And Let Spy goes live!

Rubber Chicken

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with rubber chicken for most of my adult life. (And after re-reading that sentence, I’d like to clarify that ‘rubber chicken’ is not a euphemism for anything unmentionable. Just sayin’.)

It all started (as so many things do) with my friend Swamp Butt. I can’t remember the circumstances exactly, but I had refused to partake in some activity… wait; hang on. It might have been laser hair removal.

Whatever it was, I declined; and she called me a chicken. I probably flung back an equally mature reply, and that was the end of it. Until the next gift-giving occasion, when she handed me a beautifully-wrapped parcel containing this:

It’s squishy silicone, which makes it revoltingly floppy.

Of course, we laughed our asses off. My niece was young then, and every time she visited, she also laughed at the rubbery chicken.

Fast-forward a decade or so. My niece went to Japan as an exchange student. When she returned, she brought me this:

It’s horrifying. It looks like a traumatized poultry sex doll.

Of course, we laughed our asses off all over again.

Not long after that, I was introduced to another version of rubber chicken that never, ever invoked laughter: The dreaded ‘networking dinner meeting’. Chicken was almost always served because it accommodates most dietary needs. Unfortunately, chicken meat does not hold up well to the kind of lengthy warming that occurs with catered meals. Eating rubbery chicken while crammed into uncomfortable business clothes and making strained small talk was as close as I care to come to hell.

Thankfully, the days of networking meetings are well in my past. The shudder-inducing memories have begun to fade… which is why I was surprised last week when I dreamed about eating rubber chicken again.

I woke up chewing on this:

I’ve just started wearing a mouth guard to keep me from grinding my teeth at night. So far it’s not going very well.

The flavour and texture of the mouth guard are remarkably similar to those long-ago chicken meals. Fortunately, I didn’t manage to actually bite off a piece and swallow it.

Anybody else have a love/hate relationship with rubber chickens?

Book 17 update: My first beta reader has finished, hooray! I’ll make revisions, then pass it to my next beta reader. Stay tuned for a cover reveal and release date, to be announced in my next post!

On My Knees, Preying

The past week was unusually hot. I like summer, but 38°C/100°F is a little too warm for me. So I’ve been getting up at 6:00 AM to pick veggies and water the garden. It’s gorgeous outside at that time: The sun is just coming up, the air is cool and fresh, and the only sounds are the birds and the trickle of the creek.

Coincidentally, there was a recent news article about how the bear population is exploding on Vancouver Island. Bears are now regularly seen in residential areas where there’s no record of a bear being spotted in the past 40 years. So big hungry critters were in the back of my mind when I hauled myself out of bed a few days ago and opened all the windows.

I was sitting at the breakfast table when a blood-curdling cry froze me to my chair. It was close. Somewhere in our yard.

After a moment of breathless immobility, I relaxed. The ravens were flapping around as usual. They have a huge range of vocalizations, so I figured one of them must have gotten creative. I carried on with my breakfast.

But only for another minute or two, until the terrible cry came again, even louder. The ravens fled. And my primitive lizard-brain screamed, “COUGAR!”

A couple of years ago, a big cougar came right up on our neighbours’ deck; so we definitely have cougars in the area. I scurried over to the internet and looked up ‘cougar vocalizations’. Sure enough, cougars make a lot of different noises; and some of them sounded just like what I’d heard.

No way was I going to kneel out in the garden like prey when there was a big predator around. But where was it? I hurried from window to window, peering out. Nothing. Then I went through our attached garage to look north.

As I eased the door open and cautiously stuck my head out, a Great Blue Heron took off from our pond with an irritable squawk.

Yep, it turns out that cougar cries and close-range heron squawks sound remarkably similar.

So I did my garden duties after all, and my week turned out fine. I hope yours does, too — may all your scary cougars turn out to be harmless herons!

Book 17 update: The draft is FINISHED, woohoo! The title will be Live And Let Spy. I’m editing madly, and I hope to hand it off to my first beta reader next week. Stay tuned for cover art and a release date, coming soon!

Half-Naked Ant-ics

Well, Mom’s admonition to ‘always wear nice underwear, just in case’ has proved (once again) to be good advice.

I used to think it was just silly. Seriously, Mom: What could possibly make me strip off my clothes in public?

(The Fates let out an evil chuckle.)

So.

There I was, out in our front yard on a sunny day, minding my own business. As usual, I was togged out in more clothes than most people wear on an Arctic expedition: Jeans, T-shirt with a long-sleeved shirt open over it, steel-toed work boots, knee pads, work gloves, sunglasses, a broad-brimmed hat, and enough sunscreen to kill a dozen coral reefs. (Note: We don’t have coral reefs in our front yard. No coral reefs were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

I was working on a rotten log, tearing handfuls of squishy wood into the rich mulch that our rhododendrons love. Trying to appease my cranky lumbar vertebrae, I sat on another fallen log.

Anybody who’s spent time around rotten logs can probably see what’s coming; but in my defense, I’ve done this loads of times all over our property and I’ve never had a problem before. But this time, I felt a painful little pinch. In… my armpit?!?

“Okay,” thought I. “Maybe it’s a bit of heat rash, or an errant hair follicle.” I scratched the spot and carried on.

But then there were more pinches. Armpit, shoulder. What the…?

You guessed it: There was an ant colony in my log seat. And a bunch of big black-and-red ants had climbed up the back of my jeans, under the loose long-sleeved shirt, and chowed down on the tender armpit exposed by my short-sleeved T-shirt.

Let’s just say I moved, um… briskly. I yanked off my overshirt, but by then the ants had found their way through my T-shirt arms and down inside my jeans.

So, yeah. I did an extremely graceless striptease in our front yard. The exhibition was made even more alluring by the fact that I couldn’t take off my jeans without first removing my bulky boots, which have long laces that require some effort to pull loose.

So there I was: Head down, ass up, hopping around and whacking at random parts of my half-naked body. The sun’s reflection off all that pasty skin could probably be seen from outer space. (And if that didn’t warn any passing aliens to avoid Earth, nothing will.)

But I guess it could have been worse. At least the neighbours can’t see into our yard, and no cars drove by. (As far as I know.) And I was actually wearing nice underwear, Mom.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s flung off my clothes in public…

Book 17 update: My optimistic plan to finish the draft last week was scuttled when I had a reaction to a prescription painkiller and ended up in Urgent Care for a day, then spent the week stoned brainless on heavy-duty antihistamines. Fingers crossed for this week…

Bee-Watching

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

So:

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

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

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

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

This tiny guy is dusted with pollen.

Who says you shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes?

So fuzzy! ❤

One of the big bumblers

Snazzy two-tone bees!

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

Here’s how it looks fully open.

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

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

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

Of Loggers and Lapins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking with Diane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except

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

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

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

No dice. The lumps were impervious.

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

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

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

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

Electronic Drama Queens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Warm Fuzzies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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