Saturday, December 12, 2015

Elizabeth Gilbert's new book--must-read for creative people!

If you're looking for new inspiration, here's a book that's perfect for artists, writers, performers, crafters and anyone who enjoys expressing their creativity: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. You're sure to finish the book feeling more inspired and energized about all your creative projects!

Gilbert, who also wrote Eat, Pray, Love, mentions an extraordinary experience in this wonderful book. Some years back, she met a world-famous author, and they began an instant friendship. Sharing their latest book works-in-progress, they discovered they were each working on a mystery set in the Amazon jungle, with uncannily similar plots! Ms. Gilbert believes that such “coincidences,” that is, ideas that come to more than one person about the same time, speak to the power of creativity and its intimate connection to the universe. (As it turned out, life happened to Ms. Gilbert, and she never wrote her book, But her friend Ann Pachett’s novel became the best-selling State of Wonder.)

I had a similar experience (minus the bestseller!). A little over a year ago, a new friend, Laine, mentioned she was writing a fairy book. “How cool is that!” I told her. “I’m writing a fairy book too!” In my spare time, I’d been noodling around with a kids’ story, and I figured Laine was still at the “playing with ideas” stage as well. Anyway, I was busy working on another novel (The Hopeful Romantic), but we resolved to meet again after the New Year.

Several weeks later, with Christmas swiftly approaching, I was hit by an overwhelming urge to write my entire fairy book. In an unprecedented writing binge, I finished what became Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies in 6 days. When I came up for air Christmas Eve, I realized I’d written the story so fast it was like there was some power beyond me, helping me get Morgan’s holiday fairy story down on paper before December 25.

Laine's Faerie Activity Book!
I’d had to miss out on a lot holiday traditions to get it done but it was worth it. When I saw Laine again after the holidays, she had not only finished her fairy book, but had a mock-up of it ready. Clearly, the two of us had been working on our books at the same time! Coincidence? Or…magic? While Laine’s book, In the Mt. Baker Faerie Forest (written with the author name MaryElaine De-Good Wheatley) is a vividly illustrated fairy activity book (think coloring book, only far better!) mine is a middle-grade chapter book. Yet both books express the power of love and wonder, both take place in the forests of Northwest Washington near Mount Baker, and both Laine and I  published our books in 2015. Now that, my friends, is the power of creativity! 
My Kids' Fairy Book!

The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies is Book 2 of my Morgan Carey series. You'll find more about all my books at !

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway for Thanksgiving!

A Thanksgiving weekend when a young woman's life turns upside down… and a fateful Christmas season when reconciliation seems impossible…Just in time for the holidays, The Hopeful Romantic, my 3rd Village of Ballydara novel, will be a Goodreads Giveaway starting Monday, November 23!

And watch for more posts about Irish food and holiday recipes too!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Irish Food: Cream Cakes, Pub Grub, and Everything In Between

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, foodies everywhere are feverishly scanning recipes for fresh takes on turkey, sides, and desserts…and if you’re like me, you’re daydreaming of new and exotic dishes to serve on T-Day. Somehow, though, you often end up serving the same-old roast turkey and mashed potatoes, and using the pumpkin pie recipe on the back of the Libby’s can.

On our summer trip to Ireland, the cuisine reminded me of typical Thanksgiving fare: roast meat and gravy, mashed spuds, and cooked vegetables. In fact, no matter where we ate—a little hillside café above the Atlantic Ocean in the wilds of County Kerry, or a city hotel in Galway, most of the food we encountered was like in America—you could easily find Caesar salad, burgers, and fish and chips wherever you went.

Ireland is also a carnivore’s dream come true. Given the number of farm critters in Ireland (mentioned in my previous Glen Keen Farm post), meat, and plenty of it, was available for breakfast, lunch and dinner: pork, lamb, beef and often turkey, as well as bangers (sausages) and rashers (bacon). Not much new in the meat department, then—but one food that surprised me was the vegetable soup, offered on nearly every lunch menu. Instead of veggies floating in broth, in Ireland the soup is a mix of cooked pureed root vegetables. Really delicious!

One new food I did discover was turnips!  I’d never tried them before…but then, in my experience, no restaurants I’d ever eaten at offered them. In Ireland, they’re served either mashed, or in the aforementioned vegetable soup, lending a delicate sweetness to the preparation. I liked turnips so much I’ll be dedicating a big garden bed to turnips this coming summer.

Our best meal, hands down, was at the King’s Head Pub in Galway City’s High Street. (Although the street sign reads “Shop Street”—take your pick.) John ordered a burger and fries—mostly, I think, because he liked the little tin bucket the fries came in. I had teriyaki salmon on a bed of rice—the fish was super-crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. It was actually, hands-down, the tastiest salmon I’ve ever had. Same goes for the coleslaw, creamy and sweet, just the way I like it.
For anyone with an incorrigible sweet tooth (guilty!), Irish desserts are first class—one dinner ended with a rhubarb crumble, another with an apple crumble, both of which were served in little ramekins that could have been a LOT bigger. Carrot cake was frequently on the menu, lunch or dinner. The Glen Keen Farm tearoom had a bakery case that could bring tears to your eyes—groaning with five kinds of scones, frosted cakes and custard cakes.

I took myself on a “bakery crawl” (as opposed to a pub crawl—you see my priorities here!) in Westport, County Mayo, and in Dublin. Each bakery offered lots of cakes too, which I would have loved to try. But eating on the run generally gives me a tummyache, and you can’t carry a slice of cream cake in your backpack while you traipse around museums and ruins. So I’d end up buying a cookie.

The most memorable dish was the one that got away: the drool-inducing cheesecake at the Kylemore Abbey restaurant in County Galway. I’ve long concluded that most restaurant cheesecake is served in pieces that are WAY too small. But this massive slice of what appeared to be New York style was perfect. Still, with a long ride to Westport ahead, I knew it would be gooey mess by the time I got to it, so any cheesecake-eating would have to be in my imagination.

When I had a sweet craving, and no cream cakes or even cookies to be had, I’d settle for a Butler’s chocolate bar. But I’m still dreaming about that cheesecake. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Giveaways and Freebies Update!

Happy Halloween!
A Family-Friendly Halloween Fantasy!
The Goodreads Giveaway of The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt has ended, but you can still get a free ebook of Book 1 of the series! Morgan Carey and The Curse of the Corpse Bride, a Halloween and Day of the Dead tale, will be free on Amazon until November 2!

Watch for more Goodreads Giveaways and Amazon free ebooks in the coming weeks, including Book 2 of the Morgan Carey series, Morgan Carey and The Mystery of the Christmas Fairies!

P.S. Don't forget to "fall back" tonight and turn your clock back 1 hour for Standard Time...and enjoy your extra hour of the spookiest night of the year!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway for Halloween!

Book 3 of the Morgan Carey series
The Goonies Anniversary Celebration...a Victorian haunted house...and a mysterious skeleton...Just in time for Halloween, The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt, Book 3 of the Morgan Carey series for tweens, will be a Goodreads Giveaway starting Sunday, October 18!

Here's more about the story: The Goonies Anniversary Celebration brings Seattle tween Morgan to Astoria, Oregon, for a fun weekend with her younger Astoria cousins, Sean and Ronan. The Anniversary festivities are in full swing at this historic riverfront town, plus the boys have just entered a spooky contest inspired by the movie. When the boys ask Morgan to help them win the grand prize, she’s determined to make their Anniversary Celebration weekend together the most memorable ever!

But there’s something really peculiar about the bed-and-breakfast where Morgan, almost thirteen, and her mom are staying. When an even more outlandish girl at the B&B asks the three to go on a cryptic quest on her behalf—a scavenger hunt that could help the boys win the contest—Morgan and her cousins begin a rollicking visit to Astoria’s most famous spots.  Yet as the weird hunt kicks into high gear, they discover a mysterious boy is following them all over town.

With the stranger in hot pursuit, the kids realize that the secrets and legends of old Astoria may be haunting them. Will Morgan, Sean and Ronan be able to escape from the powerful forces of the past?  Or will they remain trapped in a world of shadows and dangerous secrets?

Here's a brief excerpt of the book. The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt will also be a free ebook on Amazon October 27-29! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Holly the Border Collie and her Irish Farm

In the hills of western County Mayo lies Glen Keen Farm—which means “gentle glen” in Irish. At the farm, you’ll find a culinary school, tearoom and bakery, petting zoo, and of course, loads of sheep. But the heart and soul of the farm is Holly, sheepherder extraordinaire.

During our time on the Emerald Isle, I decided the whole of Ireland seems like one big sheep farm, with a few towns and cities dotting the island. I understand that in this country of 4.6 million people, there are nearly 4 sheep for every human! On our travels on the west side of Ireland, I saw sheep being herded by four-wheelers, but when you’re running sheep on steep hillsides, motorized vehicles just don’t cut it. That’s where sheep dogs come in.

Which brings us back to Holly. This is a girl who really loves her job. On our visit to Glen Keen Farm, she was the main attraction. When she wasn’t actively herding sheep, she would crouch, one eye on her master, the other on the sheep, poised for the next command. As I understand it, on many sheep farms, the call, “Come away” or “Away” means herd the sheep counter-clockwise, and “Come around” or simply, “Around” means herd clockwise. Jim, the farm’s co-owner explained that Holly couldn’t distinguish between “away” and “around.” So instead of calling “Around,” Jim would call “Come by.” However, Holly, not just being any old border collie, could understand French! Jim also used the calls, “à droit” (to the right) and “à gauche” (to the left) when the fancy struck him. And Holly understood perfectly!

Jim called Holly his best friend—after all, they spent every day together, all day. At his command, she would explode into action. She could get fifty sheep into a pen within a minute or two. Or she could pick one sheep out of a crowd and into a separate pen just as quickly. Sometimes she couldn’t contain herself, and she would start herding even when she was supposed to wait. But at the command “Stay, Holly,” she would instantly stop whatever she was doing. Well, almost instantly. Watching her, I was thinking she would stop herding only with the utmost reluctance. Or to humor Jim. You pick.

Holly and the sheep weren’t the only animals on the farm. We visited the farm’s petting zoo, that included a few hens in a small mobile coop, and one enormous pig. She had her own pen, and a few people braver than I gave her a pet. Another pasture held two donkeys and a pair of Dexter cows. Dexters are a small breed about half the size of the beef cattle we see in the US, and are known for being good for both milk and meat. Jim didn’t mention what the farm used these cows for, only joked that he was scared of them.

After watching Holly’s sheep herding, we had lunch in Glen Keen’s tearoom—basil tomato soup (excellent), ham and egg salad sandwiches, mini-baguettes and buttered scones with jam on top. (Carbs, I found, are big in Ireland!) After lunch we got a brief Irish step-dancing demo from a young lad and lass, and an older fellow did a bit of a clog-shuffle dance. Still, I think the best “dance” of all was watching Holly’s fancy footwork on the hills of Glen Keen Farm. 

Visit the farm online at!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Irish Pirate Queen Lives On!

Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s 16th century Pirate Queen, is still a big celebrity in the West of Ireland. The morning I spent at Westport House in County, Mayo, Grace’s ancestral home, was a fun and educational blast from the past during my recent trip to Ireland.

As the story goes—told with relish by a young, pretty tour guide—Grace, or Grainne O’Maille in Irish Gaelic, was an adventurer from an early age. As a girl, she lopped off her mane of vivid red hair and sneaked onto her father’s ship to work as a seaman. Naturally she was found out, and even now is fondly referred to as “Granuile” (pronounced "Gran-u-ale"), or “Bald Grainne” throughout the West.
Westport House

She grew up to become Chief of the O’Malley clan and a legendary pirate, ruling the seas from her castle on Clare Island, off the coast of Mayo. After her first husband died, she remarried, but apparently Husband #2 didn’t ring her chimes. This Elizabethan-era liberated woman kicked him out and went on her merry way. I’ve always been fond of the lore and legends surrounding Grace/Grainne—so much that I named the main character in my book Mother Love after her!

Here I am next to the Pirate Queen's
 statue near the mansion.
Back to the original Grainne: She owned several castles and fortresses in the area, one of which was on the site of Westport House. The current mansion was built over the ruins of her original home, which is the basement level of the mansion, or “dudgeon.”

The dudgeon is currently rigged up as a kind of hokey, haunted house-pirate ship, with skeletons, spooky lights and a treasure chest. It's not really scary, but it's definitely a highlight of the Pirate Adventure Park on the Westport House grounds. For me, more fun than the dudgeon was a room upstairs--lounging around a dining table were a dozen wax figures of notable Irishmen, Oscar Wilde and W.B. Yeats among them.

You won't find any Downton Abbey type grandeur at Westport House, since many of the furnishings are centuries old. Still, I was really drawn to the place, because Westport House is also the ancestral home of another of the Twelve Clans of Ireland, the Irish noble family of the Brownes! 

Westport House Dudgeon
Pirate Queen strikes a pose in the Dudgeon
Grace’s great-great-granddaughter married into the Browne family. While I wish I could claim some distant, connected-through-marriage relationship to the Pirate Queen, I...can’t. My husband John has traced his family back to Ireland, but has not yet found any direct link to this branch of the Browne nobility, much less to Grainne O'Maille.

Anyway, I've just dived into the book Westport House and The Brownes, by the 10th Marquess of Sligo, to get more detail on the mansion, the family and any additional nuggets about Grainne. You can find out more about Westport House at

I’ll be posting more highlights of my travels in Ireland, so stay tuned...And if you’ve been to Ireland, I invite you to share your adventures here!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Goonies Anniversary Celebration inspires a new story for tweens!

The 30th Anniversary of the cult classic The Goonies and my Astoria, Oregon "peeps" have inspired my new fantasy-adventure, The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt! It's a family-friendly mystery that includes ghosts and skeletons, old time smuggling, and Astoria's intriguing past...
Book 3 of the Morgan Carey series

I first got the idea for the story when I came across a newspaper article about the writer visiting a grown-over graveyard. He stumbled upon a girl's gravestone that read, "Forget me not, is all I ask." Later, he saw a photo of that same grave...and in the photo was the ghostly outline of a young girl. I was further inspired by memories of a friend's home when I was a kid in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The house had little passageways between the bedrooms! 

Since I'm a big fan of The Goonies movie, all the Victorian homes, historical sites, and fascinating nooks and crannies of Astoria, Oregon sealed the deal...Morgan, the main character of my paranormal series for tweens, needed an adventure where The Goonies had been filmed! 

While I was writing the book, I was also reading Anne of Green Gables. I was so taken by the sweetness and innocence of that story, that I wanted to reflect that simpler time in my  new book.

A tale that also touches upon the ways kids find their place in the world, The Secret Astoria Scavenger Hunt is available in print and ebook on Amazon!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Glass is Always Half Full

Kerry, the heroine of my new novel, The Hopeful Romantic, and I have something in common: we believe that things will always turn out okay.

Sunny optimism is almost a requirement for gardeners (what do you know, Kerry gardens too!). How else can you stick seeds in the ground every spring, and trust that plants will sprout and grow from those seeds and eventually feed you? Living on Berryridge Farm, surrounded by a forest in the middle of the Foothills, takes an even more optimistic spirit. John and I grow plants that we trust will survive, despite the constant onslaught of critters determined to steal, gobble up, or otherwise demolish them: deer, rabbits, birds, mice, voles, slugs and our tiny "friends" the aphids and cabbage worms.

Fencing, nets, raised and screened beds, and row cover only goes so far--so we're always glad when a new predator shows up. (Except for mountain lions.) Last week, John saw an animal we'd never before encountered, some kind of skinny rodent with a bushy tail. He of course Googled it, and discovered it's a kind of weasel. Normally, the thought of any more rodents on our place will put me in a tailspin, but apparently, these weasels eat voles. So it's all good!

Anyway, as I dive into another planting season, looking at the bright side gets me through. I'm just sure that this year, my tomato plants won't get blight, that the robins won't sneak inside the nets and devour our blueberries. or slugs won't mow down my new rows of teensy spinach seedlings. I'm heading outside now, but not before I put on my rose-colored glasses!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mother's Day Goodreads Giveaway!

What's more appropriate for Mother's Day than mothers and love? Maybe...a story about both? Starting today, you can sign up for a free, autographed copy of my novel Mother Love! The Goodreads giveaway runs from May 5 to May 12.

Mother Love, the second novel of the Village of Ballydara series, is about falling in love...or trying not to. It's also about mothers, traditional and not-so-traditional. Here's more about the story...

In this rollicking tale, meet brash, irreverent Grainne Larkin, a modern Irish heroine juggling family relationships and the man she can’t forget…   

Grainne wants three things: her mother's love, a baby, and Rafe Byrne—not necessarily in that order. On Rafe's wedding day, Grainne is keen for a fresh start—why not settle for the nice guy in the wings who’s successful, and mad about her too? Just as Grainne is poised to get her future on track, her family pressures her to leave Dublin for the quaint little village of Ballydara, to help her mother launch a B&B. Given her turbulent relationship with her mam, the last thing Grainne wants to do is live with her.

But when Rafe, her old flame, turns up in Ballydara a free man, Grainne takes a page from her favorite fictional heroine Scarlett O’Hara: she plunges into a no-holds-barred pursuit of the child she wants so badly. But Grainne soon discovers that opening her heart—to Rafe, to the prospect of motherhood, and to her mother—is the biggest risk of all… 

See more about Mother Love, my new novel The Hopeful Romantic, and the Village of Ballydara series at

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up…Your Homestead

Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  has a lot of wisdom. In fact, when it comes to decluttering, she’s nailed it: Keep what makes you happy and brings you joy, and let go of what doesn’t. So simple, so elegant...right?

I only wish it were that easy! Tidying up Berryridge Farm, I mean. The stumbling block to making magic happen is that country life, food gardening, and generally living closer to the land requires a ginormous amount of…stuff.

My wake-up call occurred recently, when we undertook a major muck-out of our shop-garage: spring cleaning, de-cluttering, and generally tidying up the place. Just having finished Kondo's book, I was sure the job would be pretty straightforward, although (embarrassing disclosure here) we'd left the shop to its own devices for a couple of years. Trying to follow her suggestions, I discovered that all the good intentions didn't matter, because the stuff  is in charge:

If you, like us, are running a small country place without benefit of a tractor, rototiller, or any other large, labor-saving equipment, you need a lot of hand tools. A lot. And you will find that you never met a tool of any kind you didn’t like. 

Engaging in all kinds of homesteady activities—cutting and splitting wood, digging garden beds, clearing ground and cutting brush—you will find that you’re always needing this or that tool: a new hatchet or splitting maul, cultivator, shovel (after you’ve worked your previous tools so hard you’ve rendered them unusable) to at least try to keep up with your workload.

If you’re not having enough trouble keeping your place tidy, you always find yourself needing a bit of wire, a length of rope or twine, a chunk of pipe, a piece of lumber oh, how I could go on. And where are you going to put it all? Well, in addition to all your chores, you'll need to keep building more and more sheds to hold your stuff.  

You may ask, how in the world did you get yourself into this mess? Well, the reason you have so much stuff is directly related to the Number 1 Rule of Homesteading: you never, ever toss something out because you might need it…Someday.

Which goes along with the Number 2 Rule of Homesteading: you never, ever toss out a busted tool or broken piece of equipment because you might find the time to fix it…Someday.

If you’re also married to an ardent hobbyist (say, a sportsperson, a woodworker, or keeper of the family media archives) who’s too busy to do these fun, relaxing activities but has many, many plans to take them up when he or she has the time, you discover that on a homestead, Someday is a hotly anticipated date. 

I was a very tidy person before we moved out to the Boonies. My house and yard was in order both literally and figuratively. Now, however, each day I cultivate not the habit of tidying up, but being able to walk past a mess without my tidy gene having a spasm.

And here’s the other thing: there’s a really, really unfortunate result of not finding the time, energy, or fire-in-the-belly to tidy up your country place—but that’s for another day.   

Friday, March 20, 2015

International Day of Happiness!

What a happy coincidence (or not), that this year, the first day of Spring coincides with the third annual International Day of Happiness! I'm celebrating the day by sharing my favorite "happy" quote (which I found after an hour of tearing my office apart but it was worth it!):

"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy." W.B. Yeats

Today, I'm very happy to announce that my 3rd Irish novel, The Hopeful Romantic, is now on Amazon pre-order! I imagine that the angsty fellow Yeats was talking about, whoever he is, probably would not have appreciated today's festival of happiness. But I hope you're having a day full of joy, serendipity, and hopes for a fun Spring ahead!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Broth is the new Red Bull: The latest trend in energy drinks

Traditional bone broth, made with water, bones, meat and vegetables simmered together, is becoming the trendiest new health food since smoothies came along. When I read in a recent TIME article that there’s even a bone-broth boutique in (where else) New York City, it just goes to show: everything old is new again.

Whether the focus on meat is an offshoot of the Paleo diet, or extra cold winter weather has created a fresh appreciation for soup, I think homemade broth is a great cure for the mid-winter blahs. Here at Berryridge Farm, I’ve been on a real soup kick lately. While I’m not a big meat eater, I always make my soups with homemade poultry broth. Lots of recipes start with bones and uncooked meat (the TIME article included a recipe for chicken broth, using both) but for me, it’s easiest to use the carcass of a roasted chicken or turkey.

I roasted a 15-pound turkey for our New Year’s dinner, and did something a bit different this time. While I have long stuffed the bird cavity with onion and sprigs of sage and thyme from the garden, I took a chance and followed the suggestion of my sister Patricia, a splendid cook and baker (you can find her at I rubbed the outside of the bird with olive oil and lots of herbs and spices before roasting as usual.

My homemade rub included not only Betty Crocker-approved salt and pepper, but loads of garlic powder, cumin, chili powder and Italian seasoning. Once I got the bird rubbed down, and set more sage leaves on the skin, I was like, with all these spices this bird is going to taste kinda…funky. But, I figured, no guts, no glory, so I went with it.

The meat turned out to be more flavorful than any turkey I’d ever roasted! Not at all over-seasoned. So I had high hopes for the broth. The next day, after picking the bird nearly clean I stuffed the carcass into my big Dutch oven, and filled the pot with water. After bringing the pot to a gentle boil, I turned the burner down to its lowest setting for a 2 ½ hour simmer.

The broth smelled fabulous. I strained out the solids and as soon as the broth had cooled, I stuck it in the fridge for soup making the next day. While John and I are as health conscious as any other Boomers, I did something entirely unprecedented: I used the broth without skimming off the thin layer of fat that had solidified on top.

My basic recipe: (amounts and prep are up to you)
Saute chopped onion, celery, peeled carrots and parsnips and fresh garlic in lots of olive until they start to get soft. If I have kale I cut it up that too (don’t use the tough center ribs). The soup is extra yummo if you do one additional step: Chop some potatoes (I use Yukon gold taters from the garden) and peeled sweet potatoes and roast them in the oven with a little olive oil until tender.

Next, pour in your homemade broth. Add a good quantity of cut-up turkey and a half cup of French lentils and bring the pot to a simmer for at least another half hour.

If I want a brothy soup, I precook the lentils. For a more stew-like dish, you can do as above. Because the roasted potatoes are likely to fall apart in the soup if you simmer them too long, I wait to add them until the last 10 minutes of cooking.

My fat-rich soup was hands-down, the absolute best soup I have ever made. The extra fat makes the soup far more filling and satisfying than any low-fat broth.  Given the cozy feeling and all-around sense of well-being you get from homemade soup, it seems to me a little turkey fat has to be good for you...especially now that full fat dairy foods have been removed from the “bad foods” list.

How I regret all those years I bought into the “saturated fat will kill you” mindset and ate margarine—margarine!—instead of butter! So in the spirit of being okay with wholesome fats in real food, I hope you’ll use full fat homemade broth in your next soup recipe…and I’d love to know how it turned out!