Thursday, September 10, 2020

New Irish Novella--Available Now!

In the midst of bear damage control, harvesting buckets of blueberries, and attacking weeds gone crazy, I've released a new book! My latest is The Little Irish Gift Shop, the first book of my new Fairy Cottage of Ballydara mini-series. This short novel takes place, in Seattle, but it's very much connected with the world of my other Irish novels, set in County Galway. Here's more about the story:

There's a story behind this cover
A summer in Seattle, a charming little shop, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a new life...

New release! In this sparkling novella, Dublin girl Emma Carey jumps at the opportunity to start fresh in America—her old friend Fitzwilliam has offered her a job running a picturesque Irish shop in Seattle. At 30, she's always played it safe, but that hasn’t saved her from regularly mucking up her career, and the shop seems perfect—plus Emma’s wise younger sister Hazel (who's also a bit mystical) is entirely supportive.  

 

Arriving in Seattle, Emma discovers the shop is full of surprises. And so is geeky Fitz. Yet she’s determined to make a go of her unexpectedly tricky situation. Can she pull off taking the risks to jump-start her life? Full of heart and humor, The Little Irish Gift Shop is just the beginning of Emma’s unforgettable journey to her heart's desire.



I had imagined this little gift shop on a street in a lovely historical district in Seattle--but I couldn't find any photo for my book cover that matched my ideas. At a loss for what to do, I was scrolling through a bunch of photos John and I had taken in Ireland, on my research trip a few years back. In the seaside village of Dingle, County Kerry, John had taken a photo of a sweet little stone nook, that led up to outdoor seating for a pie shop. When I saw the photo again, I just knew the nook could lead up to my little shop! 


Another novel coming soon...


Watch for more of my Irish novels featuring Emma, her sister Hazel, and the O'Donoghue family from my short story, The Christmas Visitor. Book 2 of the Fairy Cottage series, Becoming Emma, will be released Fall 2020! 


You can find The Little Irish Gift Shop at your favorite online retailer, including Amazon, Kobo, Nook and the Apple Store !  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Bear Invasion, Round 2

When I saw a bear lumber across our small private lane two weeks ago--in broad daylight and just a couple hundred yards from our house--I didn’t think much of it. Only to remind myself not to take walks by myself at dusk!

It certainly wasn’t news that we have bears in the neighborhood—there’s enough bear scat dotting our little road to prove they’re close by. But yesterday, John and I had a big wake-up call.

At breakfast, I gazed into the yard, and noticed the rotting cedar stump next to our Tsugaru apple tree. (It’s been in our yard since the beginning, because it was way too big to remove by hand—the only way we can get rid of stumps around here.) I actually used the stump as a stool, to climb on for picking and pruning.)

But today, the stump looked different—chunks of wood were strewn around it. “I guess that stump is finally falling apart,” I said to John. Once again, I didn’t think much of it.

I was weeding the asparagus bed—sadly pulling out loads of pretty little violas that had completely taken over the whole patch—when John called from our south orchard. “We had a visitor last night.” He sounded a little…odd.

“A deer?” I called back. In our fourteen years on Berryridge Farm, we’d had deer worm their way into the yard, but only a handful of times. 

“Not a deer,” said John, exasperation in his voice.

I clambered to my feet, climbed over our rabbit fencing, and joined him. “Look at this!” John showed me his French prune plum, which had been dripping with fruit just the day before. “They stripped the entire tree!”

“A bear,” I said, resigned.

“A bear,” said John. “It’s a good thing I picked a few plums the other day.” The bear hadn’t permanently damaged the tree, but one of the main boughs was bent way over. Interestingly, the plum tree was right next to a weak spot in the deer fence where the bear had obviously gotten in.

Bear crashes down fence
Inspecting the rest of the orchard, we saw the bear had really made the rounds. The Italian prune plum, right next to the French plum, had been hit too. Although the fruit was not quite ripe, it was mostly gone, a few half-eaten purple plums littering the ground. Half a dozen Williams Pride apples had bites in them, and bits of crabapple were scattered beneath that tree as well.

Bear vs Stump, Stump Loses
 As for the stump, upon closer inspection, it was clear the stump was definitely not falling apart on its own. The center was full of little holes, indicating grubs and ants lived there, and the bear had torn away chunks of stump to get at the goodies inside.
Bear's way of saying "Hi, just dropped by for a visit!"

“Come see this,” said John, a short distance away. The bear had left a very large, and unmistakable calling card. If you needed hard proof a bear had done all this damage, here it was.

I harvested the rest of the Williams Pride crop, though it probably could have used a few more days of ripening, and tossed the damaged apples into the compost. John started a repair of the weak spot in the fence, and spent the evening putting in some reinforcing posts and re-wiring any gaps together. We went inside for the night, figuring we’d solved the problem.


Bear rustles crabapple into submission

This morning, a new sight greeted our eyes. Our flourishing, bushy crabapple tree, near the William’s Pride apple, was a shadow of its former self. Boughs lay all over the ground, the crop decimated. John went outside immediately, and saw the bear had found a second way into our yard, through another weak place in the fencing. The weak spot was right next to the crabapple.

A bear had gotten into our north orchard 3 years ago, and had eaten every last apple off the Florina apple tree. And had nearly broken the tree apart. Then, as now, the animal had gotten in through some wobbly fencing. In the north orchard, instead of simply repairing that portion of the fence, John replaced the entire side with new posts and steer wire. Since then, we had no problems.

That is, until now, in an area with—yep, you guessed it—a stretch of jerry-rigged fencing.

Moral of the story: we’d protected our place very effectively from the deer—which are lazier critters. They’ve already got plenty of browsing available to nibble on, and if a food source is easy to get, they’ll go for it. If not, they’ll simply move on.

Bears, we are learning with this second invasion, are definitely not nibblers. They’ll eat an entire treeful of fruit in one sitting. Also, they’ll work a little harder to at what they want, especially if there’s a quantity of food as a reward: like this portion of our orchard in harvest season, with 6 trees full of fruit. All they need to do is find a weak fence, using their vast bulk to push under it, over it or through it, and voila! A feast!

John will be spending this afternoon not shoring up this second spot in the fence, but installing brand new steer wire, and I’ll be picking up damaged crabapples and broken boughs. With 7 more apples trees currently laden with fruit around our place—hundreds of apples that need a couple more weeks of ripening—you can bet we’ll be checking our fence often.

As for our dinner plans tonight…we were going to grill hamburgers outdoors. Now, the last thing we want is to attract the bear with the aroma of roasting meat in the yard, so we’ll be cooking inside! 

Photos and captions by John Browne... Find more of our adventures with bears in my Little Farm books!  

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Free Gardening Guide--In a New Format

Just a quick update on my new Little Farm gardening e-booklet: Little Farm in the Garden: A Practical Mini-Guide to Raising Selected Fruits and Vegetables Homestead-Style...It's now available in PDF on my website. Just visit susancolleenbrowne.com for your free copy!

Blueberry Picking Tip:

Blueberry season has just started here in the Foothills. Picking blueberries the other day, I was keeping in mind that even the blue ones can be sour. So I'd like to share a tip for finding the sweeter berries:

When it's early in the season, you're probably trying to select the ripe berries when there are still so many white ones on the shrubs. Here's what you do: just look for the clusters of berries where all but one or two berries are blue. Select the largest berries in the cluster, and you'll be sure to end up with more sweet ones!

If you like reading on your Kindle, iPad or other device, the Little Farm gardening guide also available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and all other online retailers. I hope you're enjoying your summertime garden! PS...I'm adding a quick note today, September 10...with fall just arounnd the corner, you'll find plenty of useful suggestions for your cool season gardening and preparation for next year's crops in Little Farm in the Garden!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

International Fairy Day!

Today is June 24, and that means it's time to celebrate International Fairy Day!

If you've read my Irish novels, or looked at this blog, you know I'm a big fan of fairies. And despite these difficult times we're living through, it seems a shame to let the day go by without somehow recognizing fairydom.

My big dream is to build a wee fairy garden. (Okay, my dreams are actually pretty small.) But with berry season upon us, along with all the other summer homestead gardening chores, I won't be getting to that until...someday. Kind of like the rest of my big plans.

Irish Short Story
Since someday is a ways off, in honor of today, I'm sharing my new cover of my ebook The Secret Well. It has a strong fairy thread, and it's also one of the origin stories of my upcoming Fairy Cottage mini-series. While this story has been out for some time, it's still a perfect read for a summer day!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Removing an Over-the-Range Microwave Oven--Homestead DIY

Time Management on the Homestead, 2nd in a series...

I’m coming late to the party, but after our over-the-range microwave gave up the ghost, I’m starting to realize just what a time-sucking black hole home improvements can be. 

In the 14 years since my husband John and I moved to our acreage, we’ve mostly focused on far more urgent, outdoor projects. Instead of keeping up the house, we’ve spent our time and energy growing food, processing firewood, caring for the hens, plus keeping the woods and critters from taking over. All these projects always take far more time than I figure they will. 

But as the old saying goes, the chickens have come home to roost. That is, the house itself is starting show its age (like us), so maintenance is getting more demanding. 

Not long ago, I put some cooked apples in our microwave oven to warm them up. Even on a low setting, the appliance emitted a labored sound—sort of like groaning. I tried not to let the strange noise worry me, but when a faint plastic odor wafted from the oven, I said “uh oh,” and immediately pressed “Stop.”

I have a friend who believes the electromagnetic waves that escape microwave ovens can cook your brains. I’m not on board with that, but I didn’t want to find out I was wrong the hard way.
“Honey,” I said to John, “I’m afraid our microwave is dying.”

John is the last one to be an alarmist, or even worry about a few plastic fumes, but the sound and smell coming from the oven was enough to convince him: the microwave really was kicking the bucket. “Well,” he said, “it is 14 years old. Obviously it’s time to replace it.”

“Should I call someone?” I asked.

“Heck no,” John said confidently. In the last couple of years, he’s gotten very big on DIY YouTube videos. In past years, he’d been reluctant to take on home fix-its, and preferred to just pay someone far more expert to do them. But lately, he has become not only more willing, but more adventuresome about taking on home repairs. “We can do it.”

“Okay," I said doubtfully. "If you're up for it.” I’d heard from my family that over the range microwaves were insanely complicated to replace.

“Totally,” said John. “I’d rather spend the money on something else.”

It wasn’t like we had a pile of money budgeted for home repairs anyway. Since my husband was willing to be the project manager, I was all in.

So first things first. We would have to remove the microwave, so I did a Google search for “Over-the-range microwave removal.” John and I viewed a few YouTube instructional videos, then I chose one to review if we ran into any hangups. “See?” said John, “it’s easy. The job will take like, 5 minutes. Fifteen, tops.”

“Really,” I said. That seemed pretty optimistic, but I’m a glass half full sort of person so I was game. And though it was a lovely spring day, and I was eager to get out into the garden, I figured I could spare 15 minutes. 

After John fetched some hand tools from the shop, we stood in front of the microwave and gazed at it for a moment. I’d never really thought about how large it actually was. “Wait,” I said. “How about if we get the stove out of the way?”

Otherwise, to lean over the stove and lift the microwave, we were cruisin‘ for a bruisin‘—at the very least, we’d be a couple of Boomers whose backs would never be the same. “Good idea,” said John, so we moved our fairly light electric range out from under the microwave. Then looked at the floor.

It had been a couple of years since we’d cleaned under the stove, and its footprint was covered with a film of grime, adorned with dust bunnies. If we stood on that greasy dust to take care of the microwave, we’d track it all over our carpet. “Take a break,” I told John, “while I clean this up.”

After many, many scrubs with vinegar and Dawn detergent, I deemed the floor passable. That had taken at least a half an hour. So onward to the oven removal!

According to the DIY guys we watched, this process is really straightforward. The oven is attached to the cupboard above it by some big bolts, and rests on a narrow metal ledge on the wall behind it. So after unplugging your microwave, you just undo the big bolts, and the detached oven, now supported only by the ledge, leans forward. All you have to do is lift the oven off the ledge.

Up to now, John said he didn’t need any help, so I’d been happy to act as the surgical nurse, handing Dr. John his instruments. But once he removed the bolts, and the oven rather alarmingly listed forward like a tiny sinking ship, I said, “You are going to let me help lift this puppy, aren’t you?”

“The microwave isn’t that heavy,” said John. “But it might be easier if we both do it.”

The now semi-detached microwave had revealed a metal frame attached to the wall behind it, and the 4 small ledges that had been supporting its weight. So John and I got under the microwave and I said, “Okay, on the count of 3—1-2-3 Lift!”

It wouldn’t budge.

Were we not putting enough muscle into it? We tried again. Then, since 3 times is often the charm, one more time. Still, the oven refused to shift off its little ledges.

Back to YouTube. We tried another video or two, hoping to find a new technique, but no YouTuber seemed to be addressing our problem.

Our next move was to pull on the oven from every angle, hoping to loosen it—and seriously, John and I wouldn’t have cared if the darn thing crashed to the floor, as long as we could get out of the way in time. But…nothing.

So far, the job had taken at least an hour, and we were no closer to removing that blasted microwave.
I finally peered more closely at the vent unit above the oven. “It looks like the oven might be still attached to the vent.” That hadn’t been the case in any of the videos we’d watched.

After poking around the vent, John revealed the roadblock. The top of the microwave was indeed attached to the vent, and the bottom portion of the vent was lodged into the guts of the cupboard tighter than an impacted wisdom tooth.

In our manufactured home—a house that we’d discovered had more flaws, quirks and wackadoodle workarounds than anything Rube Goldberg could come up with—here was one more: It seemed very clear that they’d installed the microwave and the venting unit at the factory, then built the kitchen cupboard units around it!

To detach the oven really would take surgery. And the process wasn’t pretty: John had to pry the vent away from the top of the microwave, both on the sides and the back, then cut through several layers of duct tape. Then pull the vent out of the innards of the cupboard. That took at least another hour.

Gap with mystery hole in the wall on the upper right
Finally, now detached at the top, the oven looked ready to lift. With much pulling, yanking, and brute force, John and I were able to wrestle that oven away from the wall and to the floor. What was left really wasn’t pretty: a big, ugly, gaping space in the middle of our kitchen, including a hole in the wall that served no purpose. But John and I were too sick of dealing with the microwave to worry about how awful the gap looked.

After a break, John and I took another look at the space. “I don’t know about you,” I said, “but after what we’ve been through, I don’t want another over-the-range microwave.”

“Me neither,” said John. “How about I build a little cupboard, and we’ll fill the gap with that?”

“Sounds fine to me,” I told him, and he went straight out to the shop and found some suitable wood for the job. He’s putting the finishing touches on it this week. (For me, this project further proved there's no such thing as homestead time management.)

We ended up buying a little countertop microwave that doesn’t have the oomph of our former one, but it works ok. To this day, I don’t know how people DIY an entire kitchen remodel, though I admire them tremendously. Fortunately, I'm much better at gardening, and far happier digging in the dirt.

If you are too, you might like to take a look at my new and free gardening mini-guide! It’s available in ebook at Amazon, Kobo, and all other online retailers, or you can request the ebook at your local library!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Free Gardening Guide--New Release

New gardening booklet!
As my way to help during this health emergency, I've created a brand new gardening ebook, Little Farm in the Garden: A Practical Mini-Guide for Raising Selected Fruits and Vegetables Homestead-Style, Book 3 of the Little Farm in the Foothills series. It's a friendly (I hope!), down-to-earth little guide for starting and maintaining a thriving food garden, and I'm offering it for free.

You can find the ebook at AmazonKobo, or your favorite online retailer...
 

Here's more:
Caught in the middle of the global health crisis, maybe you’re feeling helpless and anxious about the future. But there is something you and I and everyone else can do about this tragic, unforeseen calamity: Grow some of your own food—in a pot, a small plot or a garden. In “normal” times, homegrown food is not only a pleasure, but food gardening can be a pastime that helps to take your mind off your worries. In these dark days, it may be that raising some food may become a necessity.

Whatever happens, in the coming months and years, producing your own food supply can become a bulwark against uncertainty. In Little Farm in the Garden, I share the evolution of my own homestead garden, and cover how to get started on your own food garden with basic nut-and-bolts, selecting crops, and challenges you might encounter raising food. I also provide strategies for working with nature, dealing with wildlife, and raising your crops chemical-free.

If you’ve read my Little Farm memoirs, this booklet can be a handy addition to the homesteading experiences I've shared in those 2 books. But this also works as a stand-alone manual for simple ways to approach creating your own food supply, focusing on easy-to-grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit, and creating a balanced garden for the long-term—and includes a handy timeline for your food gardening activities too.


Wherever you are in your gardening journey--a novice, a flower fancier, or an experienced food-raiser, Little Farm in the Garden offers a lively, heartfelt approach for not only gardeners, but nature-lovers, and dreamers of all ages!

Here are a couple of photos of our place: when we first moved to our Foothills place, and years later. You'll find more photos of our little homestead at susancolleenbrowne.com
...and more bonus books too!

Here's our place the week we moved in
And years later
Bee balm and hummingbird


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

St. Patrick's Day Sneak Peek

It seems a bit frivolous, in these difficult times, to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day--we're all far more worried about our loved ones' health and our own, and if we have groceries in the cupboard, than the way all the St. Paddy's celebrations have been cancelled.

This week, I'm working on a gardening guide, which, given the potential of food shortages, seems far more important these days, instead of plunking around with my Irish stories. But if you're game for a little distraction of the Irish kind, I offer you a look at the cover of my upcoming novel: the first book of my new Fairy Cottage mini-series, part of my Irish Village of Ballydara series.

The Fairy Cottage books are warm and tender stories about searching for love and home and family in the most unlikely of places. Look for The Little Irish Gift Shop in July!

I plan to have my new gardening guide ready in another week...until then, be well, stay safe, and I'm wishing you all the Irish blessings you can hold.