Friday, December 26, 2014

Recipe for a Fairy Tale

Take a lifelong fairy fan...

Mix in a treasured photo of a baby girl dressed in a fairy costume, tiny wings on her shoulders. Add a bunch of fairy lore books, a fairy snow globe and other figurines, and make sure to include the ceramic fairy king with the bemused smile sitting on the bookshelf. Blend well and let let simmer for a few months. Then as the holidays approach, with a Eureka! moment, pour all the ingredients onto the page. The dish? Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies, a story of a magical woods and family bonding.

This gentle fantasy “novelette” for middle grade readers is set right here in the foothills. Here's more:

In Book 2 of the Morgan Carey series, Seattle fifth-grader Morgan makes a holiday visit to her grandparents’ house in the foothills of the Cascade mountains. While Morgan thinks her grandma and grandpa are great and everything, they live way out in the boonies, with no cable TV or even cell phones! Then on Christmas Eve, she’s stuck looking after the three young step-cousins she hardly knows.

Babysitting the unruly little kids during a jaunt in the woods, Morgan and her cousins are lured into an entrancing, mysterious forest, where they encounter unexpected adventures…and even dangers. Morgan must draw upon all her strength and ingenuity if they are to escape this magical world, and find their way back home for Christmas.

Now on Amazon, this heartwarming, family-friendly tale is for kids, grandparents, and anyone who is young at heart!

I hope you're having a wonderful holiday, and I wish you the best for the New Year!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mystical Christmas

Do you enjoy stories that, while not really scary, make your spine tingle a little? I love collecting mystical stories myself, especially Irish ones. 

Here's my favorite: The mother of a creative writing student of mine had an Irish grandmother, whose surname was Quinn. This mother, an American, had recurring dreams all her life of an old castle ruin with crumbling steps. Later in life, she went to Ireland on a tour, and the bus stopped at a castle. She saw those same steps she’d seen in her dreams. The name of the castle? Castle Quinn.

And another one: a friend of mine, an Irish-American author, recently took her first trip to Ireland. Before the aircraft landed, she gazed down at the green hills of Ireland below and was completely overcome by the conviction that she belonged there. The sensation was so powerful, she said, she felt like she could have jumped right out of the plane.

I found another story I loved in the memoir Midlife Irish, by Irish-American journalist Joe Gannon. During his first trip to Ireland, Gannon says he felt this overwhelming sense that heaven, or the life beyond this one, was as close as the next room.

What do these stories have to do with Christmas, you may ask?

They remind me that Christmastime—and the entire holiday season (whatever holiday you may be celebrating)—is brimming with magic and mystery.  How else do you explain the story of St. Nicholas?  

He was a real-life bishop in 4th century Turkey, who became the patron saint of children. Later, this historical figure became mythical—a benevolent spirit who left treasure and gifts in children’s shoes…or stockings. This mythical presence soon evolved to include Father Christmas, Santa Claus and other magical beings throughout other countries and other cultures—all of whom represent the spirit of love and generosity.

And children around the world believe in this magical spirit as strongly and as fervently as they believe in anything, long after they’re old enough to know the difference between reality and make believe. When I was 7 years old, I was sitting with my grandma in our basement rec room, watching The Laurence Welk show. I heard some thumping upstairs, and soon after, my dad called to us and said Santa had just left gifts for everyone. As I tore up the stairs, I believed…no, I knew it was Santa who’d made that noise and left those presents. There was simply no other explanation.

Which relates to the best holiday quote ever: “Seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing.” (Judy the Elf, from the movie The Santa Clause).  Why not believe in the angels among us, in the messages from our ancestors, or in the miracles that took place in ancient times?

Charles Dickens wrote, “The dreams of childhood…its airy fables, its graceful, beautiful humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond; so good, to be believed in once, so good to be remembered when outgrown.”

So as long as you believe, believe that all things are possible, everywhere you look you’ll find the magic and mystery of the season…truly the holiday gifts that keep on giving.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Day of the Dead movie, Irish Halloween Fairy Lore and the Oscar Wilde Connection

I just discovered a new Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos-themed movie, coming out this month! “The Book of Life” is an animated film that takes place on Dia de Los Muertos,  which is a joy-filled festival celebrated in Mexico right around Halloween.  Given the light and cheer of this festival,  I’m hoping this movie means more people, whatever their ancestry, will be drawn to celebrating both holidays!

You may ask, what does Oscar Wilde have to do with Halloween? Well, his mother, Lady Wilde, wrote a book called Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions. The book, one the my favorites on my Irish book shelf, is full of Irish fairy lore. Lady Wilde depicts All Hallow's Eve as a very ghost-ridden and angsty time of the year--when the dead even have power over the living. I'm thinking the Irish traditions could add a bit of Day of the Dead joy to the gloom and doom of the olden days!

But count on famed Irish chef Darina Allen to lighten things up. She notes an old Irish tradition--you put out a bowl of champ (a mashed potato dish with scallions) for the fairies on Halloween, under a whitethorn or hawthorn tree if you can manage it. It's supposed to keep away the mischief-making fairies for the rest of the year!

With Halloween and the Day of the Dead fast approaching, it seems like a good time to share Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride, my Halloween and Day of the Dead “novelette” for middle-grade readers! It’s a gentle, heartwarming tale, perfect for all ages. Here’s more:

Morgan has chosen the coolest costume ever—a dead bride. But when she finds  a strange fortune-telling machine at the mall on Halloween, she has no way of knowing that she has encountered some powerful magic—and entered a world where her Halloween costume has become all too real…The next day, on the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, she faces a terrible dilemma…

Will Morgan and her best friend Claire be able to break the spell? Or is Morgan doomed to be cursed by the Corpse Bride Forever?

With the Day of the Dead weekend approaching, I'm offering Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride  as a free ebook on Amazon November     1-2.  I would love to hear about your Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos celebrations!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild Critters and Harvest Time: Grin and Bear It

Now that fall is underway, the harvest is in full swing. You name it, it needs picking: zucchini, kale, potatoes, and carrots—the sweetest treat you can eat without sugar!  

With the harvest, however, I start asking two questions: 1) When is too much of a good thing not good? And 2) How full we can cram our two refrigerators and still close the doors? Since we don’t have a root cellar yet, and there are so many mice around our place we don’t dare put anything in the crawl space, it’s refrigeration or nada. One fridge is already full of Akane apples, and yesterday, we discovered the Elstars are ready. Actually, we should have seen it coming: when the tree fruits are ripe, the yard fills with robins. It’s like they fly in carrying a banner that says, Hey, the apples are ready!  And while we’re not looking, they peck mercilessly at our fruit. With the robin predation comes these super-annoying tiny flies that swarm everywhere. At luck would have it, they’re small enough to sneak through your window screens and soon your house is full of ‘em.

The fall bounty has brought out another of our wild “friends”…namely the bears. A tract located a few hundred yards from us was clearcut this past spring, and has apparently brought the neighborhood bears out into the open. I’ve never seen so much bear scat on our road—we’ve been seeing a fresh pile of their “stuff” nearly every day. Needless to say, when I take a walk these days, I’m not daydreaming about the story I’m writing, or working out plots. I’m watching my surroundings.  Vigilantly.

With bears so close by, folks around here advise that you pick up any fruit falls and dispose of them. Meaning, don’t leave fruit out in the open, tempting Mama Bear and her cubs to climb your deer fence to sample it. That’s when your garden bounty can a problem, because conventional wisdom says don’t put fruit in your compost. My guess is, fruit makes the pile too acidic, and it doesn’t decompose as it should. Disclosure: I’m guilty: I do put fruit peelings in the pile, and it works okay.  I’m even guiltier: we also dispose of whole, spoiled fruits improperly… But we make sure we toss it way, waaaayyy back in the woods. Okay, we know it will attract bears, but we know they’re back there anyway.

Needless to say, what with the bears, when Halloween comes, there’s no trick-or-treating on our streetlight-free road. But I am celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with a Goodreads Giveaway of my kids’ Halloween story, Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride, starting October 1! I hope you'll check it out!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"An entertaining light romance that is full of Irish humor and family fun..."

A lovely review of "Mother Love" just came in, from Chanticleer Book Reviews...

Mother Love, written by Susan Colleen Browne, is a romantic Irish story set in the colorful Village of Ballydara. She vividly portrays a written slice of contemporary life in Ireland with its pubs, puddings, pals and mams. Hers is a story of love, growth, and healing. It has just the right amount of chaos and family conflict, along with a good dose of  Irish humor,  to make it a fun and entertaining read.
Grainne knows exactly what her perfect man is like, down to each little detail—the problem is her perfect man is getting married just as this book,  and Grainne’s story, have begun. Grainne sadly acknowledges and grimly accepts the fact that her perfect man is about to become permanently unavailable. However, her biological clock is ticking and, on the eve of her 30th birthday, she is anything but reasonable.

A complex and realistic protagonist, Grainne is plagued by her own family conflicts. Grainne’s relationship with her mam is strained to say the least. Having grown up feeling that she was less important than her sisters, Grainne does her best to avoid visiting her family home more than she deems necessary. She can’t even be in the same room as her mam without making the entire situation uncomfortable for everyone around. Yet for a young woman who avoids her mother, Grainne spends more time wishing for her mam’s acceptance and attention than not.
Despite her tumultuous family life, Grainne is a devoted and doting nanny to three rambunctious kids whose own mother is too busy running a newspaper to pay them much attention. She finds happiness in her work as she dotes on the kids, but her wanting her own family cannot be ignored.
Grainne’s mam is keen to turn her home into a B and B and Grainne’s sister has guilted our protagonist into helping out with the venture. Grainne grudgingly helps out, thinking this may be a good way for her to get to spend some time with Rafe—the one that got away. Grainne and Rafe’s story seems destined to end before it ever begins, but sometimes you never know what life has in store.
Rafe isn’t the only man in Grainne’s life. She’s also got good-guy Joe, a nice man with a decent job and only minor flaws and he has his eyes set on Grainne. And with all the family drama and emotional stress it’s a good thing Grainne has Justine—her best friend and flatmate—who spends her free time cooking and baking delicious food along with obsessing with the blog “Girl Talk.”
Grainne must navigate her way through this crazy and tumultuous life if she is to find happiness.  Mother Love is a novel that lives up to the lore of Irish tales. If you like an entertaining light romance that is full of Irish humor and family fun, Browne’s story telling will not disappoint.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

International Fairy Day

Here's one more reason--if you need it--that fairies are not just for kids: International Fairy Day!
It takes place June 24, coinciding with the Feast Day of St. John, and follows the holiday often celebrated in Ireland, St. John's Eve on June 23. So International Fairy Day gives the young at heart (if not in years) an opportunity to celebrate the magic and whimsy of fairies.

I've actually been a huge fairy fan from way back. The first books I read were all fairy tales, and my favorite stories always had--you guessed it--fairies in them. My first store-bought Halloween costume was a fairy outfit, royal blue with silver sparkles on it. Of course, it was cheapo polyester instead of more fairy-like satin and tulle, but I was 7, in fairy heaven. And one of my favorite childhood movies was "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," in which Sean Connery romances an Irish lass and hangs out with a bunch of fairies.

Fairies--known also not just as "Little People" but as "Good People" and "The Other Crowd" are still on my radar in a big way. My house has a fair amount of fairy stuff in it, including an intriguing little art book, Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book. One of the best children's books and Irish stories I've come across is The Wee Christmas Cabin of Car-na-ween. When I recently went to Disneyland and saw Tinkerbell flying over the Castle during the fireworks show, I was as entranced as my 6-year old granddaughter. Actually, probably more. If you need further proof of my fairy fandom,  3 of my 4 Village of Ballydara books has a fairy thread in the storylines: It Only Takes Once, The Secret Well, and The Christmas Visitor... Plus, I'm working on a new fairy-themed story!

If you're ready to celebrate fairies, today, the Summer Solstice, is a great time to start: I understand fairies are especially active on the first day of Summer. While you're at it, find a copy of the film "Fairy Tale: A True Story. It's a pure delight. You can find the story behind the film, but warning: the site contains a spoiler! So don't visit the link until after you've seen the movie.

And here's one last bit of fairy wisdom, from author Tom Robbins: "...I think [a child's imagination] comes from fairies...certain children are visited by a fairy in their cradle, and are tapped on their forehead with a small but luminous wand. After that, even all the forces in our culture, and there are many, are unable to totally subdue it."

So whatever your age, I hope you'll embrace the magic of summer and life and celebrate International Fairy Day!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Potato Growing: Top 5 Tips!

Anyone who's compared the taste difference between vegetables you buy at the grocery story and the ones you grow yourself knows there's just no comparison: hands-down, home grown tastes best! And of all the veggies we grow at Berryridge Farm, I've found that it's potatoes that offer the biggest "yumminess" factor between store-bought and home-grown--and that includes the organic potatoes at the local food co-op.
So potatoes (that's "Irish" potatoes as opposed to sweet potatoes) are one of my must-grow crops. To my dismay, however, it's the crop I've had the least success with: voles have eaten us out of potato house and home, my timing with planting has often been way off, and in our rainy climate, late blight has ruined more crops than I care to remember. (And did I mention the voles love 'em?) So the last couple of years I've been trying some new strategies.
First off, since voles were our greatest challenge, we started growing potatoes in a boxed raised bed, with a bottom lined with hardware cloth. It's a lot of trouble and expense but totally worth it: with no vole predation, our harvests have quadrupled. Quintupled! At least!
Planting timing: I've often heard it said that you plant your potato hills on St. Patrick's Day. I concluded years ago that in the Foothills, we're still getting way to much rain to plant anything in March. So when is the optimal time to plant? I just read in Mother Earth News that you go with soil temperature. Well, who knew: you want 50 degrees minimum. Otherwise, your seed taters may just rot. (Been there, done that.) I don't have a soil thermometer, so I will improvise: in a couple of weeks I'll take a meat thermometer out to my beds and check things out! 
Blight: I finally figured out why I was getting such blighty potatoes. I was mulching them with home-grown compost. And what was wrong with my compost, you might ask? Well, I was throwing all our blighted tomatoes into the pile. All my lovely, fluffy compost was probably rife with fungus! So last summer, I didn't use the previous year's compost on the potatoes. No blight! And you can be sure that at harvest time, all our spoiled tomatoes went into a separate weed pile far from my compost.
As far as the dreaded potato "sunburn," those green spots that make your taters bitter, there's an easy solution. Mulch, mulch and more mulch. I've learned you want  to cover your hills with an ample layer of soil plus several inches of leaves, compost or any other friendly material.
One last thing: I always limed all our veggie beds since we have very acidic soil here. But here's another one of those "who knew" facts: potatoes like slightly acidic soil! So lime with caution.
If you have any favorite potato growing tips, I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fun Irish Recipe...Spotted Dog is not a Dalmatian!

Writing Irish stories means I like to do something special for fans of Irish tales right around St. Patrick's Day and the month of March. So this month, I'm celebrating the print format release of Mother Love, my second Village of Ballydara novel, with a Goodreads Giveaway! The giveaway lasts through March 31... so if you're interested in a free autographed copy of the book, here's the Goodreads link
Fun stuff this month also included my recent St. Patrick's Day party and Mother Love book launch at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. There's a lovely story, "Writing Irish," about the book and event in the March 11-18 issue of The Cascadia Weekly (click on Archives). I hope you'll check it out. And you'll find a review of Mother Love in "The Bookmonger" column in The Bellingham Herald!

For the St. Patrick's Day bookstore festivities, I brought shortbread, as well as "Spotted Dog," which isn't a Dalmatian breed, but a traditional soda bread! I used Irish chef Darina Allen's recipe. In addition to the usual flour, soda, salt and buttermilk, for "Spotted Dog," she uses a touch of sugar, raisins, and an organic egg, making a more cake-like soda bread. The raisins create the "spots."

I substituted dried cranberries for the raisins, and it turned out great! They add enough sweetness to offset the soda, I think. The trick to soda bread, according to Darina, is to mix things the traditional way, with your hands, not a spoon: first the dry ingredients, lifting the flour mixture and letting it sift through your fingers. Then make a "well" in the dry stuff, and pour in your the wet ingredients, mixing with your hands as well. The first time I made soda bread, I made the mistake of soaking the raisins in a little boiling water before combining. The wet raisins made the dough soggy and the bread heavy, so  just put your dried fruit in with the flour mixture. Then get your hands right into the flour and swirl it around!
I also found that if you use a bit less salt than the recipe calls for, the bread doesn't have that trace of bitterness that baking soda can impart. I never liked soda bread much before, but John and I are going to make it a regular thing here at Berryridge Farm!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Big Cat Confusion

A recent cover story in TIME magazine implies that wildlife are a dime a dozen--people finding deer in a motel room, bears in a kitchen, alligators on the front porch. Here at Berryridge Farm, wildlife encounters have pretty much been confined to the outdoors, thank goodness. And there are lots of them, depending on the critter. Deer? See 'em everyday. Rabbits? Our garden beds are fenced tighter than a high-security prison, thanks to the gazillions of them that call our place home. And we have birds of every feather: songbirds, ravens, and hawks, and even bald eagles aren't uncommon.

Then there are rodents. This is the country, so they're everywhere. Voles have eaten more of our crops than we have. And despite trapping, mice have their run of the place. In our shop/barn, crawlspace, and once even in the house, we see more evidence that they've been around, rather than see them for real. Mostly those telltale black specks, but there was that time I lifted the hood of my car to check the oil, and found a mouse nest on the engine. And I once put my foot into my muckboot and found the boot toe full of something. Yanking my foot out, I turned my boot upside down and found that mice had stored a cup or so of squash seeds in it!

Face-to-face encounters with those little pests have been rare, but one memorable day, I was cleaning straw out of the garden shed and suddenly felt a lump inside my boot. I looked down, and eeeeek! A mouse had jumped into my boot! I tore the boot off and dumped out the mouse pronto. But it took days to get rid of that lumpy sensation on my foot.

We haven't seen many bears, and I'd like to keep it that way. But when it comes to big cats, they're the rarest of them all. In our neck of the woods we've had only 3 or 4 sightings in the 7 years we've been here. Years ago, John saw a mountain lion in the woods, but all this time I'd seen a bobcat maybe once every other year, slinking around our fence line, half-hidden by the brush.

The day our hens were attacked, I saw the big cat that had done it on the other side of the chicken coop. I was too upset to see anything but the cat's head, and the expression on its face--fierce and insolent. I assumed it was a bobcat, though I'd heard they were shy. But then, I'd never seen any other kind of cat on our place.

Then a few days ago, I got a close look at a bobcat. It was staring longingly through the fence, like it would have liked to nab a rabbit, but had no intention of exerting itself too much. What was more important, though, was that I got a good long look its face, which was narrow and streaked with black markings. It didn't look threatening at all...and if Tweety Bird had been around, he would have said, "I think I see a puddy-tat."

I realized then the cat I'd seen just after the attack was a mountain lion. It had a wide, tawny-colored face, almost golden, and piercing eyes that stared right back at you. After all I'd heard about dealing with mountain lion encounters, how you're supposed to quietly and slowly retreat, I get cold shivers. Because I didn't do anything of the kind. I yelled at it, "Get away!" then turned my back (another no-no) and raced to the house.

I should have known. Because this big cat had the nerve, the guts to climb our fence, and squeeze through the hens' tiny door. Not a bobcatty thing to do at all.

Anyway, I'll know better next time, if there is one. We still miss the hens. We didn't have the heart to replace them after they were killed. But we plan scout around for some pullets in the spring, after we overhaul the coop fencing...with the hopes that any future mountain lions around here return to their former habits of  laying low.

And I also hope that your wildlife encounters are good ones.