A very different kind of fairy tale…

Warning: The following fairy tale is NOT for kids.
No siree. It’s for all of us grownups who are sick and tired of reading about all the nasty shit going on in the world these days and would, for once, like to read a story with a happy ending.

So, go curl up on the couch with your blankie and a cold beer… ’cause it’s story time!

Jack And His Beanstalk

I was not amused when Jack developed a sudden zest for gardening. The last time he’d flexed his green thumb, it had got him thrown in the slammer.

He came home, not with news that he’d finally found employment, but with a ratty leather pouch containing a few seeds he’d won in a poker game. You heard me right. He won seeds in a poker game. When he added that they were magic seeds, I lost it.

“How much beer have you drank today, Jack? Are you into the pot again too? Those are marijuana seeds, aren’t they? How could you go back on your word like this?”

Clutching his silly pouch of seeds as if it were a sack of rare diamonds, he shook his head. “I didn’t smoke nothing. And no more than ten pints touched these here lips. I was a good boy today, Ida. And it’s gonna pay off in spades!”

I glared at the sorry lout that was my lot in life for the past thirty-six years, spun on my heel and stormed down the hall to our room, from where I sent his pillow and beddings sailing smoothly out the door to land magically at his feet. The slamming door was my exclamation point.

After a fitful night’s sleep, I arose early with a thirst for a good, strong cup of coffee. While I ran water at the sink, I caught my reflection in the windowpane.

I couldn’t help but despair at the tired face that stared back at me—old beyond her fifty years. (Yes, you figured the math right. I was just a bit of a girl when I was fool enough to marry Jack. Fourteen, to be exact.) My reflection faded as a movement out the window caught my attention. I nearly dropped the coffee pot at the sight that met my eyes.

There was Jack, crouched over a freshly turned patch of earth by the shed, planting his “magic” seeds. Turning away from the window, I slammed the empty coffee pot on the counter and stomped back to the bedroom to change. I had to get away. It was obvious that Jack had lied to me and was back to growing “the smoke” again, instead of hauling his rump out to look for work. There was a time when those plants had nearly destroyed our lives. I thought he had changed. I was wrong. And I was devastated.

***

After a morning spent rifling through the racks at the new Save-A-Dollar in town, I had cooled off considerably. It’s amazing really how therapeutic it can be to treat yourself to a comfy new pair of elastic-waist jeans. I was ready to go home and confront Jack.

I called out his name as I entered the house, but there was only silence. In the kitchen, I dropped my parcel on the counter… then dropped my jaw at the scene that greeted my eyes through the window.

There was Jack perched at the edge of the half-rotted Adirondack chair he’d “found” on garbage day, peering intently at his dirt patch which had sprouted a leafy green sapling about four feet tall.

“What in the…?” were the first words that came to my mind. How could seeds planted just this morning be producing growth already? Could Jack be playing some kind of mind game with me?

I flung open the kitchen door and stalked across the lawn, fists planted firmly on my hips to keep myself from punching him.

“Jack O’Toole. What the hell kind of game do you think you’re playing with me?”

Jack’s head snapped around, his eyebrows meeting his hairline as he gawked at me.

“What do you mean, Ida? What game?”

I took a deep breath to keep myself from exploding, and growled.

“I saw you planting those seeds this morning, Jack. Do you really think I’m stupid enough to believe that they could’ve grown this much already?”

Jack’s shoulders relaxed as he waved a hand and chuckled. “Oh. Of course. You didn’t believe me when I told you they’re magic seeds.”

He sighed, leaning forward in his chair to grasp both my hands in his.

“I know how crazy it sounds, Ida, but I’m telling you the truth. I swear on Stinker’s grave,” he said, motioning with his chin toward the small mound of earth under the kitchen window. The patch was marked with a cross I’d made from twine-trussed branches, a laminated photo of our beloved old mutt—bless his little I-love-to-roll-in-crap heart—duct-taped to it.

“I’m not growing illegal contraband. I’m not playing games. These seeds are one of a kind. Old Callaghan brought ‘em back from Ireland. He told me he bought ‘em from a wee odd man who appeared outta nowhere after he’d stopped to take a whiz at the side of a dirt road outside the village of Ballybeg. Paid three-hundred pounds for ‘em! Callaghan’s eyes were like a pair’a beer taps, he was cryin’ so hard when he had to hand ‘em over to me. In all our years, I’ve not seen him so distraught.”

Jack nodded toward his plant, which had sprouted another foot as I’d stood there listening to him.

“The wee odd man told Callaghan that these seeds are guaranteed to bring good fortune to and fulfill the wildest dreams of he who possesses ‘em.”

He released my hands and leaned back in his chair to resume watching over his magic plant.

“Trust me. You’ll see proof soon enough.”

I leaned forward to take a closer look. It definitely wasn’t a marijuana plant. I knew what they looked like, thanks to years spent watching “Farmer Jack” tend his precious crops in our back yard until the day Morris Dwick from next door—pissed off after Stinker’d chased his cat over to the next county—tipped off the cops. The day Jack returned home after serving his sentence, he swore up and down to me that he was turning over a new leaf. Excuse the pun.

And he had. Until now. Was it any wonder that little soldiers of suspicion were marching up and down my spine?

As he talked, the plant grew some more, right there before my own eyes. It looked just like a beanstalk, with identical leaves and lush, orange blossoms. It was now the same height as the shed and sprouting more vines as I watched it, dumbfounded.

Could Jack actually be telling the truth? It was certainly beginning to appear that way. I continued to stare at the plant.

“So, Jack, just how will this plant be bringing us good fortune? If it gets you a job that pays in tax-free gold bricks, I just may fall over with a heart attack.”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know exactly how, Ida. I just know that our luck is about to take a turn for the best. Callaghan said the wee man promised that he who plants the seeds shall find paradise at the top of the world. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

I sighed. “All right then. I’d best go in and start supper. I don’t imagine that the plant will be taking over my chores anytime soon.”

I went back inside the house, now feeling a tingle of excitement as I busied myself preparing a big pot of my famous Canada goose stew. While I chopped and diced, thoughts of “happy dances” bloomed in my mind, and a good half-hour passed before it dawned on me to take another look outside at Jack and his beanstalk.

I gasped and the knife slipped from my fingers and fell to the floor, missing my big toe by a hair. The beanstalk was now the circumference of a thirty-year-old oak tree. I craned my neck in an attempt to see the top of the monster plant, but it had vanished into the low cloud ceiling. I was either in the process of completely losing my mind or this truly was magic.

I turned the burner down under the stew and hurried back outside to check things out. Jack’s Adirondack chair was vacant. I glanced around the yard. “Jack?”

I peeked into the shed. “Jack? Are you in here?”

I scratched my head and chewed my lip. “Where the heck did he go?”

I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “JACK! Where are you?”

A distant voice on the breeze—Jack’s—responded from somewhere far above me.

“I’m just checking things out up here, Ida. Don’t you come up though. You might slip and fall. Just yell when supper’s ready and I’ll come right back down!”

Frowning, I reached out and touched a finger to the stalk. It was soft as velvet, but solid as granite. I looked up, hoping to see Jack, but my eyesight wasn’t sharp enough to locate the precise spot where the stalk had pierced the clouds. I backed up a step, frightened suddenly at the magnitude of the strange events that had taken place over the past twenty-four hours. Perhaps Jack really would find our fortune up there.

My curiosity finally won out over Jack’s orders to stay on the ground. I wiped my damp hands on my apron, took a deep breath and raised my foot to the first vine. The creepers that wound around the trunk were thick and sturdy—spaced as closely as the rungs of a ladder. I wasn’t as nimble as I used to be, but for some reason, I found myself climbing the plant with the buoyancy of my youth. Before long, I was ascending that baby as swiftly as a mountain goat in the Rockies. I even began to whistle a tune as I climbed.

As I made my way through the clouds, I wanted to shout, “Pinch me—am I dreaming?”

They may look like fluffy cotton balls from the ground, but they certainly aren’t so soft and cuddly when you’re climbing through them. I cursed as the heavy mist drenched my new pants.

At last, my head broke through the clouds to behold blue skies and lemony sunshine that drenched the emerald grounds of a palatial, breathtakingly beautiful mansion. And…

There was my Jack, his big belly propped atop his crossed bird legs as he lounged like a king on a mound of royal blue velvet cushions beside an Olympic-sized pool. The pool was filled with what appeared to be beer, a solid gold fountain in the middle spouting a sudsy amber geyser. In one fist, he clutched a crystal mug of ale, in the other, a fat Cuban cigar.

A twittering harem of diaphanously garbed floozies were clustered around him, some feeding him nachos and cheese, others fanning him with peacock feathers and palm fronds.

Across the way, a hockey game (with the Toronto Maple Leafs winning by a landslide) blared on a widescreen TV as big as a Boeing 747, while nearby, in a gem-encrusted gazebo, Jack’s poker cronies were hunched around a marble table that overflowed with gold coins. They were playing cards, draining suds, and basking in the attention of another flock of “I Dream Of Jeannie” wannabes.

I was SO stupefied… SO stunned… SO flabbergasted… I wouldn’t have been surprised had a clap of thunder and a lightning bolt erupted from my mouth once I was able to open it. Instead, it was my voice that burst forth, “Jack?! You slimy, bottom-feeding son of a…”

“Oh crap! Ida! What the hell are you doing up here? Oh crap!” Jack leapt up from the cushions, guilty as a politician defending his expense account. I couldn’t hold back an incredulous guffaw as I took in the tight white suit he was wearing—straight from the seventies—the jacket unbuttoned to display that his once beast-like chest had been shaved clean and adorned with ropes of gold chains.

“What the hell is this at the top of your stupid magic plant, Jack? A new sequel to Saturday Night Fever?”

I turned to glare at his cronies. They looked like a shoal of fish—eyes popping, mouths gaping open. The tarts hovering around them had become a frozen tableau, all eyeballing me curiously.

“And you! You gang of…” Oh, they weren’t worth my breath. I spun around to redirect my glare at the genies that huddled around Jack.

“You know what? You can have him! He’s all yours!”

I lowered a foot back onto a vine to begin my descent. Jack’s mouth was working but no sound was forthcoming.

“And you know what, girls? Jack-and-his-beanstalk, my ass! It’s more like a sprout!”

I descended as swiftly as I’d climbed until my feet hit the solid ground of our backyard. The anger boiling under my skin was the force that propelled me to the shed, where I dug out an axe and proceeded to chop down that blasted beanstalk… and Jack out of my life, once and for all. I have to admit—I was none too upset when it finally crashed down on top of Morris Dwick’s double-wide.

Once I was done, I pitched the axe back into the shed, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt some of my fury begin to dissipate. Stepping out of the shed, I paused a moment to rub my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left behind a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I peered skyward for a few calming moments. Then I did a sprightly little two-step before heading back to my house for a heaping bowl of stew.

***

This being a fairy tale—Ida proceeded to live happily ever after, of course!

THE END.

 

ALTERNATE ENDING #2:

Once I was done, I stomped to the shed, pitched the axe back inside, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt my fury begin to dissipate.

Turning back toward my work, I halted and rubbed my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I crouched to get a closer look at the patch of earth where a massive beanstalk had existed only moments ago. It was now nothing more than a freshly turned patch of earth. Astonishing? Not really.

I straightened up and stretched languidly, raising my eyes skyward. The thick cloud cover had dissipated to reveal a limitless stretch of sun-washed, robin’s-egg blue.

I stood for a moment, my smile a radiant tribute to this picture of transcendence.

Prompted by the grumble of my appetite, I blew a kiss to the wind and turned toward the house, ready for a yummy bowl of stew on this, my first day of Happily Ever After.

THE END.

 

ALTERNATE ENDING #3:

Once I was done, I stomped to the shed, pitched the axe back inside, slapped the dirt off my hands and felt my fury begin to dissipate.

Turning back toward my work, I halted and rubbed my eyes. The fallen beanstalk had completely vanished (although it had left a huge crater in Dwick’s roof—heh heh).

I crouched to get a closer look at the patch of earth where a massive beanstalk had existed only moments ago. It was now nothing more than a freshly turned patch of earth. I peered a little closer… Perhaps there wassomething there.

Kneeling, I brushed at the earth then clawed at it with my fingernails. I scrambled into the shed, grabbed a spade and began to dig.

I struck it at the exact moment the sun sank beneath the horizon and the first evening star appeared.

***

Fast-forward one year…

I’m sipping the world’s finest champagne as I gaze out over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea from the yacht that serves as one of my vacation homes. Stinker II is curled up on my lap, dolled up in the most precious little custom-made cummerbund and bow tie. A team will soon arrive by shuttle to do my hair, nails and makeup for the dinner party I am hosting tonight in honor of my new best friend, His Royal Highness. Donatella is also arriving shortly with a gown she designed just for me. A nip here, a tuck there—I’m a whole new woman.

Good fortune and my wildest dreams fulfilled… I’m on top of the world thanks to the endless fountain of black gold I struck right in my own backyard. And thanks to a few magic seeds that provided me with the means to chop away a bad chapter of my life.

***

Of course, this being a fairy tale, Ida—or rather Princess Ida (as is her new destiny)—lives happily ever after with a real prince.

THE END

 

Toronto Zoo day!

Zoo members were allowed to visit the zoo by booking specific times online, and we had an appointment to go on Monday afternoon. I was so excited to finally see the new baby giraffe, and she was just as beautiful in person as in her online pictures! (She is now seven feet tall at only a couple of months old.)

The zoo made it so easy to visit safely–you had to wear a mask to go inside the African pavilion, which was the only one open, and there was a zoo staff member at every entrance to open the door for you so there was no need to touch anything. By making appointments, there were fewer people at a time, so easier to stay apart from others.

I have to call out that the zoo was 100% efficient in maintaining a safe process for visitors. What a great place!

Happy Canada Day from Otis!

Otis says Happy Canada Day to all …

Stay healthy, stay safe, have fun!

Bumble Bees Rock!

This was another easy painting-on-rocks project.

Materials: Black, gold and white acrylic paint and paint brushes; a bit of aluminum screening; a bit of thin wire for attaching the wings.

It was a simple task of painting each rock black with gold stripes, then painting on the little eyes and antennae. I also used an acrylic spray sealant in case I want to put them outside in the garden.

For each set of wings, I cut a rounded, oblong shape from the mesh screening, pinched it together in the middle, then wound a piece of wire through it and wound the wire around the centre of each rock to hold the wings securely in place. You could also use a glue gun, but I wanted to try the wire, and it worked just fine.

Voila! Little bumble bees for the garden.

Wait! Don’t throw out that tin can…

Turn it into something useful with a bit of paint and your imagination.
What was once an empty soup can on its way to the recycling bin is now a cute vase for my outdoor patio table.

Here’s what I did.

After washing out the can and soaking off the label, I spray painted it with a mint green acrylic, and allowed it to dry overnight. Then I used a pencil to roughly transfer the sketch below onto it.
Next, I selected the different colours of acrylic paint that I wanted to use—olive green and tan brown for the branches, yellow for the tiny leaves (I had forsythia in mind), two shades of purple for the flowers and a mustard gold for the flower center—then I got to work.

Once the paint dried, I sprayed it with a clear acrylic finish.

Voila! From tin can to simple transformation.

 

Recycle your blue jeans with an easy patch job

Big hole in your favourite pair of jeans? At my age, I’m not into the ripped, grunge look. I’d rather patch it up with a pretty piece of fabric.

It’s easy.

Just choose a fabric pattern that you like and use pinking shears to cut a square that’s big enough to cover the hole. I used pinking shears instead of regular scissors so that the fabric won’t fray. You could stitch a ¼” hem around the square to prevent fraying, but I’m too lazy to bother with that, thus the pinking shears.
Next, I pinned the square into place with straight pins.

Then I did a fine straight stitch around to secure them to the jeans.

For a bit of decoration and added security, I then sewed around the edges with a blanket stitch.

Voila! A new pair of jeans.
And, as always, here’s my supervisor and his baby, watching over me as I work.

Lions rock!

Here’s my latest rock painting of one of my favourite majestic creatures.

Painted in different shades of brown and cream acrylic — it’s the same process as my ladybugs… rough pencil sketch of the lion’s face on the rock, then paint in the colours.

Speaking of ladybugs… I painted a few big ones for my mother’s garden. You can see them below with their tinier friends.

Ladybugs rock!

I’ve noticed a lot of ladybug painted rocks online, so I thought I’d try my hand at making some of my own.
I started by painting a few small, smooth stones with black acrylic paint.Once dry, I used a pencil to outline where I’d be painting their red wings.
Then, I painted the areas with a couple of coats of red acrylic paint.
Next, I added the black polka dots by dipping the eraser at the end of my pencil into the black paint and dabbing the polka dots onto the red areas. What an easy way to paint small, perfectly round circles!

Then I used white paint and a bit more black to paint on the eyes.

Once dry, I sprayed them with a clear matte protective finish.
Definitely one of the easiest painting projects I’ve ever done—with fantastic results.

I plan to paint a bunch of them to place around my garden.

Here they are social distancing. 🙂

Whooo Loves You? A whimsical owl on canvas

This was definitely an art in progress—shaped from ideas that popped into my mind each step of the way.

I had a large canvas with an old painting on it that I had decided to scrap, so I spray painted over it in blue to make it look like the sky.

So, what to do with a canvas that looks like the sky? Why not mount a real tree branch on it.

I did just that by finding a loose branch that was the right size for the canvas, set it down into place, and used a pencil to draw a light outline of it on the canvas. Next, I used my smallest drill bit to drill tiny holes in a few strategic places on either side of the outline, where I would be using fine wire to secure the branch to the canvas. I found that the wire worked well enough to skip the need to use glue.

So, what to do with a canvas that looks like the sky and has a tree branch in the middle of it? Why not put a bird of some sort on it.

So I decided to make a great big bird out of clay. I sketched a rough picture of an owl in the approximate size that I wanted to make it. Then I mixed up some homemade flour/salt/water modelling dough that my daughter and I used to play with together when she was little (so easy… 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup warm water—stir together, knead, then start making stuff!). I rolled out the dough, and following my sketch, used a small knife to cut out all the shapes I needed to make my owl.
As I cut the pieces, I set them on a baking sheet, then baked everything at 200 degrees for about three hours, until all the pieces were dry and hard. (The larger pieces baked longer than the small pieces.)

I took a break from this project for a few weeks because I had a couple of other projects I wanted to work on first. When I went back to it, it was time to paint all the owl pieces. I decided that I wanted to make it colourful and whimsical instead of realistic, so I picked out my acrylic paint colours and just jumped in with both feet, making up the colour combinations and design patterns as I went along. (Most of what I do isn’t very pre-planned—that’s what makes it fun to me. Some people wouldn’t want to work that way. Different strokes for different folks.)

Once all the pieces were painted, I used heavy-duty carpenter’s wood glue to affix them to each other. So far, so good.

So, what to do with a canvas that looks like the sky and has a tree branch and an owl on it? Why not incorporate the dried leaves I had tucked away in my craft cupboard. I laid them out on the canvas and got the idea to write positive words on them, as if spoken by the owl. I pictured this mixed media project as something a young child would enjoy—as a piece of art to hang in their room or even for display in a kindergarten classroom, and using words that are easy to read made sense.
So, what would this colourful owl say to a young child?
How about, “Whooo loves you? I do! I do!”
And that’s exactly what I painted in white and gold acrylic on each leaf after spraying them with a clear gloss preservative.

I wanted to make some kind of way to hang it on a wall, so I found a perfectly shaped tree branch (it’s funny how the nature supplies that I need always seem to be sitting right there on the ground in front of me, just when I need them!) that was just the right length. I stripped the old bark from it with a small knife.
Then I laid it against the top of the canvas, in the spot where I wanted to place it. I marked four dots on either side of the branch where I wanted to secure it to the canvas, then I used my small drill bit to drill holes on the marked spots where I planned to run wire.
Next, I ran thin but sturdy wire through the holes, wrapping it around the branch (as shown in photo) to secure it. The curved shape of the branch makes it perfect for hanging!

And that’s the story behind my latest project.

Butterfly in alcohol ink and acrylic paint

I loved this saying when I saw it online: “Don’t be afraid. Change can be beautiful,” said the butterfly. That was my prompt to paint something that would complement it.

First, I outlined a butterfly in pencil on a plain ceramic tile.

I wanted to do some experimenting with alcohol ink, so I used black acrylic paint to outline the butterfly, creating a “border” that would contain the drips of alcohol ink in each section.

Once the acrylic was dry, I dripped different colours of ink into each white space on the wings. It took me several hours, on and off, to arrive at the colour mix that I wanted, but it was worth it. It kind of looks like stained glass up close. The acrylic paint did a very good job of containing the alcohol ink within each section.

To add the saying, I just did hand lettering with a super-fine marker.

Last step — I sprayed it with a clear sealant.

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