Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Goodreads Giveaway for my new Irish novel!

To start off the New Year, I'm giving the gift of reading--you can enter to win 1 of 100 ebook copies of The Galway Girls, Book 4 of my Village of Ballydara series, starting January 16, 2018! Here's more about my new novel:

A tender romantic tale
Two friends search for their heart’s desire in this small-town romantic story set in Ireland. Kerry has fallen in love all over again with her husband Stephen, and after their miscarriage, she longs to try for another baby. But will her long-held dream of having a farm bring an end to her marriage?

Her best friend Fiona has left her free-spirited life behind her. Or so she thinks—until she finds herself caught between Dublin artist Colm, the man she was once mad about, and the sweet, youthful passion of Davie, who can see the woman she’s meant to be. Follow this warmhearted tale of women’s friendship and love lost and love found among the misty green hills of the Galway countryside! 

Discover more book freebies and learn more about my Ballydara series at www.susancolleenbrowne.com


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Pause for This Is Us

Yesterday, the forecast was for epic rainfall—and we got a snowstorm instead. An unexpected snowfall at our place often brings concern, and this one, so close to Christmas, was no exception. My anxiety mounted as first the Internet went out, then the power. As the inches accumulated, a cottonwood tree bent sideways over our narrow private lane, blocking the roadway. I not only had to bite the bullet and cancel a needed trip to town, but fret about the soon-to-arrive Northeaster.

Then last night, after the power was restored, I watched an especially tender and heartrending episode of “This Is Us,” a moment when a man gently held his dying father’s face between his hands. The older man was frightened of what was to come, but his son just held him, telling him to breathe. 

Wrapped in an afghan, the Christmas tree lights glowing nearby, I was reminded of how small my afternoon’s worries were. Whether you’re focusing on everyday troubles, or your heart is breaking, you can take a moment and simply breathe.

Berryridge snowfall on the grape arbor
In that pause, you might notice small wonders. They say the devil's in the details, but perhaps it's the divine that's in the details—like the slanting winter sun through the trees, the kindness in your neighbor’s face, the gleam of a meteor shooting through the midnight sky. The Irish in antiquity were so attuned to wonders that they built a tomb, Newgrange, with an extraordinary design: sunlight can penetrate into a special passage and illuminate an inner chamber only at the time of the winter solstice.

Even if you’re giving traditional winter holidays a pass, what’s not to  love about celebrating the end of the darkest days of the season, and the beginning of longer daylight hours? Happily, snowstorms or traffic snarls or holiday stress, whatever it is, shall pass. So, as darkness falls on chilly these December nights, put your mind and spirit on pause, and just…breathe. Take in the marvels around you. And may you enjoy every moment of the season.


If you like tender father-son stories, you'll find my free short story, The Secret Well, at www.susancolleenbrowne.com...and here's wishing you all the best for 2018! 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Chickens Back at the Little Farm

I was afraid to hope too much.

For chickens, that is. I know that’s the reason I put off cleaning out the chicken run and yard. But when our hen-owning neighbors invited John and me to come by and check out their flock--a few of which we'd be buying soon--I knew time was getting short.

I moseyed over to Art and Ginny’s place during a break in the rain. First, they showed us a half-dozen full-grown turkeys hanging around a pen with a shelter on one end, the whole space covered by heavy fishnet.

Another fenced area held ten or so older chickens and twice as many young birds in a variety of breeds. To house their chickens, Art and Ginny had two well-built coops that looked straight out of a homesteader magazine. One of the coops was a brand-new, airy, A-frame structure built off the ground, with a protected space beneath where lots of the little birds were taking shelter. A large fenced run with a few stacked straw bales gave both flocks lots of room to roam and climb. I was so impressed--it was like a hen heaven.
New flock checking out the feeder

When Al proposed that we pick up our five chickens in a couple of weeks, John and I were like, “Yes!” Yet as I thanked Art and Ginny and headed home, I felt kind of inadequate. The chicken amenities at Berryridge Farm weren’t new or pretty or clean like theirs. And the weed-choked areas only made our set-up look worse. But it looked like John and I really were going to get chickens. 

So no more excuses.

The next day, John fired up the wood chipper so we’d have nice clean bedding for the birds, while I started clearing out the run. The weeds weren’t the daunting part. It was my fear that I’d find years-old chicken remains. After I finished the exercise area, I stepped into the run to yank and clip the six-foot high weeds. I’m happy to report that after clearing every inch of the place, I didn’t find any bones.

As the days flew by, John hand-sawed the coppices off an old maple tree that had taken over the entire area—the resulting stump would be our birds’ jungle-gym—then made a few tweaks to the fencing. Just before we were due back at Art and Ginny’s to pick up our birds, I brought in bucket after bucket of fresh wood chips for the coop floor and to spread around their run. At last, we were ready!

Art and Ginny were waiting for us, and had separated out the young birds we'd take home: 3 black Sexlinks, 1 Buff Orpington, and a reddish chicken that looked just like the breed of chickens we had before. John, being sort of a “hen-whisperer,” captured the birds easily and put 3 in one box, and 2 in another, then Art helped him pack the boxes in his Ranger. “So” I ventured to Art, “what do we owe you?” We hadn’t discussed the price of their chickens.

Art mentioned a far lower amount than I expected, so John and I persuaded them to take several dollars more for each bird. Then after more effusive thank yous, we headed back to Berryridge Farm, chickens in tow. After more than 4 years since our first flock was killed, John and I had chickens again.

The little birds were very skittish the first 3 days or so, and mostly stayed in the coop, even during the daylight hours. But they slowly became more comfortable in their new home, and now they come running whenever John and I go outside.

Hanging around the chicken run
Our birds aren’t hens yet, or even pullets; Art and Ginny said these young ones may not lay for a few more months. Still, it’s funny—it feels like these “girls” have always been here. Of course we’ve given them names: “Buffy” is the blond one, and the one I started calling “Red” turned into “Red Rosie.” However, the three black chickens are almost impossible to tell apart, and we were stumped for a while. Then one day, we were outside the pen, watching the girls peck at the scratch I’d just tossed out. All of a sudden I thought of the three “girls” on our favorite show, “The Big Bang Theory.” I turned to John. “Hey, what do you think of Penny, Bernadette and Amy?”

He got the joke immediately. “Amy Farrah-Fowler?” We had a good laugh, then John headed back to his wood splitting stump, and I ducked into the coop for its twice-a-week cleaning. I've jumped back into my chicken-wrangling routine without much trouble, but if you have any chicken tips or wisdom, I hope you’ll share it here!


Find free ebooks, fun Irish stuff, and my new novel, The Galway Girls, at www.susancolleenbrowne.com!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

New Irish Book and a Freebie!

If you like country love stories and fictional chicken tales, I hope you'll take a look at The Galway Girls, my 4th Village of Ballydara novel, now available! Here's more:
Irish love story

Two friends search for their heart’s desire in this small-town romantic story set in Ireland. Kerry has fallen in love all over again with her husband Stephen, and after their miscarriage, she longs to try for another baby. But will her lifelong quest of having a farm bring an end to her marriage?

Her best friend Fiona has left her free-spirited life behind her. Or so she thinks—until she finds herself caught between Dublin artist Colm, the man she was once mad about, and the sweet, youthful passion of Davie, who can see the woman she’s meant to be. Follow this warmhearted tale of women’s friendship and love lost and love found among the misty green hills of the Galway countryside! 

This novel is the sequel to Book 3, The Hopeful Romantic, with a new Ballydara heroine. It's no coincidence that many of Kerry's farm adventures in The Galway Girls have been inspired by my real-life experiences on my little farm. 

Irish romantic comedy
And if you haven't yet tried the Ballydara stories, you might take a look at It Only Takes Once, Book 1 of the series, about single motherhood, first love, and second chances...it's now  free on Amazon, Kobo, and at all other online stores


Friday, September 22, 2017

Chickens 2.0

After we lost our small flock to a cougar several years ago, John and I dreamed of having hens again. But as the months, then years went by, we grew accustomed to not having our girls’ entertaining company, or the freshly-laid eggs they gave us. We learned not to be quite so haunted by their absence, and the way we’d lost them.

Just recently, our neighbors decided to start a flock of laying hens, starting with chicks. Knowing we once had hens, they asked us, “Would you like a few?”

Are you kidding? John and I jumped at the chance to have more laying hens. And this out-of-the blue opportunity seemed like our getting chickens again was Meant To Be. The plan was, our neighbors would set aside 4 or 5 chicks, raise them for 8 weeks, then they’d be ours. Only we had one very big problem…

Our chicken “compound” of the coop and run was a disaster.

Those first weeks and months after the hens were killed, we were too sick at heart to keep the area cleared. And the whole place quickly went feral. As the weeds grew, the chore of weeding seemed more and more overwhelming. Pretty soon, we just gave up. And as the six-foot high fireweed and thimbleberry turned to a dense jungle, the whole chicken
compound seemed like a lost cause.
Scary coop entry area

But now that 5 young chickens will soon grace Berryridge Farm again, we have a lot of work to do. The two pics below are the chicken “exercise” area that John cleared a month or so ago, and the pile of brush he yarded out. The photo at right, taken yesterday, is the coop area/run that I’m taking on.
Semi-cleared chicken area


It’s not going to be pretty.  Watch for more about our chicken reboot, coming soon!
Brush pile

Monday, September 11, 2017

Apple Pest (yet another one of the Devil's Spawn) Plus a Free ebook!

Just when I thought it was safe to go outside...

When the wildfire smoke finally cleared, it was time to harvest our champion apple tree, the Akane. This is the one tree that faithfully bears every year, with beautiful fruit and great flavor and crunch, and no whining, sniveling or apple scab! So John and I ventured to our orchard with several big boxes and started picking, already tasting our homemade applesauce and apple crisp.

However, for the first time in the 8 years of bearing, the fruit was covered with little dots, with sort of dimples all over the apple. Well, growing without spray, John and I are accustomed to less than pretty apples, so we figured no problemo. I was so ready for my first taste of the season, so I washed an apple and cut it in half to share with John. I could feel the apple's crunchiness as I wielded my knife, but as the apple fell into two halves, my heart sank.
Coddling moth damage

The middle was full of trails of reddish-brown stuff.

Thanks to Ciscoe Morris, gardening columnist for The Seattle Times, I knew what I was looking at. Those of you who have read Little Farm in the Foothills know what I mean when I write "stuff" in italics. For the uninitiated, stuff in this sense means poo. To be precise, coddling moth poo. Orchard pros call it "frass" but why put lipstick on a pig, I ask you?

For some reason, I thought coddling moths wouldn't find Berryridge Farm (the same hope I'd entertained about cabbage moths but was destined for disappointment). Anyway, we ended up giving the crop to my sister who has 3 horses, who don't care if their snacks are frass-filled. I'm not sure what we'll do about next year's crop--we won't spray, and while I've read about securing a plastic bag around each apple, that seems extremely high maintenance. Not exactly our style, so I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, we have 3 huge honeycrisp apples on one of our baby trees, and so far I don't see any dots. John and I will have to draw straws as to who gets the third apple!
Free ebook at www.susancolleenbrowne.com !

On a positive note, I wanted to share my redesigned web site, www.susancolleenbrowne.com, where you can find a special offer: a free copy of my short story The Secret Well, part of my Irish Village of Ballydara series...I hope you'll take a look!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Smokin’ Hot and Mummies—Or, It Could Be Worse

I wish I was here to share the recipe for Texas-style barbecue brisket with black pepper rub that I came across last week. Or to tell you about a cool new archaeological find. But if wishes were horses then we’d all be kings, as the old saying goes.

When it comes to backyard farming, or even life in general, a helpful—maybe even essential—credo may be, “Things Could Always Be Worse.” Take this summer. When our resident chipmunks were hitting our strawberry crop and I spent many hours devising the netting that would finally keep them out (see previous post),  I thought, Now all I have to worry about is Chip getting into our blueberries.

In previous years, Chip and his pals invaded our two blueberry patches, each berry season worse than the last. I’d get under the netting to pick, only to find the pesky critters been there first: half-eaten berries scattered all over the place, decomposing in the summer sun.  This summer, however, Chip seemed to be laying low since I’d thwarted him with the strawberries.

And happily, this year our blueberry crop looked abundant, despite the hard pruning I’d given the shrubs to encourage more upright growth. Earlier this summer, I’d head into our patches to look admiringly at all the healthy fruit set, clusters bursting with swelling white berries, taking on a bluish tinge—the first sign of ripening. Smiling, I pictured the bowls of fresh berries we’d eat, the gallons of berries I’d process for the deep-freeze.

As the days went by, I found a mystery: shrubs that previously had been laden with berries looked…emptier. I’d find berry stems with no berries on them, as if the robins had been gobbling them. But robins are smarter than that—they wait until the berries are blue and sweet, and then start attacking them.

More days passed. Most of my blueberry bushes now held only a middling amount of berries—I’d never seen this before. The fruit seemed to be disappearing before my very eyes. Poking around the shrubs, it was then I saw them: shriveled grayish-white bits on the ground, which once were blueberries.

Blueberries in various stages of "mummification"
I’d seen these tiny white berries before of course—with spray-free blueberries, you’ll find a number of them on every bush. I figured it was nature’s way of preventing the blueberry shrubs from working too hard. But this year, there were way too many to ignore. And many, many berries still on the bush were half-wrinkled, and turning a sickly purple. You’d barely touch them and they’d fall off the stem. Something was definitely wrong.

I’d heard of mummyberry disease—something only other growers get, I said to myself in my Pollyanna way. (The same mindset that got me into trouble with cabbage worms!) After all, I’d faithfully mulched my berries to prevent it—along with the meticulous pruning and watering, my berries got the best of care.

When the numbers of shriveled bits were too alarming to ignore, I made myself Google mummyberry disease. Sure enough, that’s what we had. It’s a fungus—the afflicted berries drop to the ground, looking “mummified.” It gets worse. If you don’t pick up all your little mummies, each one develops into this mushroom-like thingy in the fall and releases like, millions of spores. Thus setting you up for a worse fungal attack next year. Well, if that’s what it took, that’s what I’d do. Every day, I have crawled under the nets and picked up every last one of those little suckers. Fortunately, as blueberry season progresses, the die-off seems to be decreasing. Life—and berry picking—goes on.

At least that’s what I thought until a few days ago. Here in the Foothills, like anywhere else, the weather gods haven’t always been kind: we’ve had windstorms and blizzards and tree-splitting ice storms, along with drought and extreme heat. But last week’s heatwave brought a new twist: smoke.

Up in Canada, in British Columbia, wildfires have burned well over a million acres. Days ago, a summer northeaster wind brought thick smoke from the fires into the entire western side of our state. Here in the Foothills, we’re in Week 2 of the great smoke-out. Meteorologists say air quality is between “marginal and poor.” A thick haze hangs in the still air, and the lovely hills surrounding us are nearly obscured; our iconic mountain has completely disappeared from view. At night, the moon is a bizarre blood-orange color. The landscape feels threatening, almost dystopian.

As a fresh air freak, I feel claustrophobic, having to keep the house windows closed 24/7. Worse is staying indoors all afternoon--being outdoors, the heated smoke makes your throat raw, and creates a bitter taste in your mouth. The undone garden chores are piling up: weeds going unpulled, mulch going unmulched, bushwhacking going unwhacked. And the forecast calls for at least three more smoke-choked days.


So I’ve reached for my Pollyanna-like optimism. Despite our mummyberry problem, I’ve already put up three gallons of blueberries. I caught Chip in the blueberry patch this morning but didn’t see much damage. And while I’ve seen lots of fresh bear scat on our road this week, I haven’t run into any bears. So, yeah—things could definitely be worse.