Show Us Your #MiddleofSomewhere Winners: Week 4

A month has flown by since we started this promotion and suddenly it's only three weeks until MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE is released. This weekend I bought my outfit for my launch party. If there ever was an excuse for a new dress, this is it. 

I'm adding events all the time to my schedule so make sure you check and see if I'll be near you this fall. One of my favorite things about being an author--and there are many--is meeting readers I've met virtually. 

The first of this week's winners is one I overlooked from the earlier weeks. (Yes, entries stay active!) It must've been a groggy Monday because look at this beauty taken somewhere in New Mexico!

I included the next one in part because it's a cool rock and because I wanted to know where it was. Anyone have an idea? It looks familiar to me. Let's ask those folks in the parking lot.

We get a lot of entries of mountains, and from the coasts, so I'd like America's heartland to take a bow. What a gorgeous shot of  Indiana.

indiana.jpg

I was wondering when we were going to get an entry from Hawaii. This is Kauai, and the entrant was kind enough to tell me that these are Ojai trees. Imagine the bird life there!

Last week for laughs we had Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This week we have writer Laura Drake. I love how at home she looks here, with her bike in the background, the cooler close by (what's in there, Laura?!) and a book in her lap. Laura has definitely found her #MiddleofSomewhere!

Congratulations to the winners! Please email me your mailing address through the contact page and we'll get your book out to you right away.

If you didn't win, you can enter again. Just tweet a photo of your #MiddleofSomewhere and use the hashtag, and we'll see you all here again next week!

Joy of Romance, Sierra Style

Lucky me, I'm part of Read A Romance Month 2015. This year's theme is The Joy of Romance. Yeah, I thought that sounded fun, too. You'll find links to other contributing posts at the bottom. AND THERE'S A GIVEAWAY! So read on!

Here's we go:

As soon as our youngest daughter was out the door headed for college, my husband and I hightailed to Yosemite Valley where the John Muir Trail begins.  This 18-day backpacking trip was quite the undertaking: 220 miles long, eight vertical miles of climbing, and only two places along it offering showers and food we didn't schlep on our backs. Not your idea of a good time? How do I convince you it was not only fun, but romantic?

To me, romance is the expression of love. It's showing someone how much you cherish them, how life would be less thrilling, less interesting, and smaller, without them. What better way than to be alone together, in the wilderness, away from devices and televisions and jobs and traffic and children and his family and your family and...you get the idea. 

Without distractions, we were free to be ourselves. All day we walked. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we were silent, because the deep silence of the wilderness is one of its pleasures. We told each other stories and sang songs (well, I did) and splashed in rivers. We carried everything we needed on our backs, making a new home each night. In the evenings, we sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a rock ledge over looking a lake, or a rushing stream, and felt immeasurably lucky to be there, and to be there together. 

We said goodnight to the stars, crawled into our tent, exhausted and footsore, and slept for eleven hours in our nylon haven. One night, on the rim of a vast lake,  gale force winds buffeted the tent, disrupting our sleep, but we were secure, and unafraid, and we greeted the bright morning, eager to walk again, just the two of us.

My second novel, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, is set along the John Muir Trail. I couldn't guess when I began writing it, however, that it would become a love story. Looking back, I guess I should've known. 

Here are five questions all the contributing authors are answering.

1. Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy. 

At the summit of Mount Whitney, where the John Muir Trail ends, of course! I was joyful, all right--I made it!--and also exhilarated and relieved. And cold! The wind at the top was tremendous, discouraging us from lingering, despite the spectacular views. This photo is not from Whitney, but Post Peak Pass in Yosemite, but captured the feeling better than one of me bundled up and shivering.

2. Tell us about a sound that brings you joy (or a memory attached to sound — music, laughter, wind chimes… ?)

The chorus of birdsong on a spring morning at our home in Virginia. It’s wonderful to wake up to, and fills the day with hope.

3. What book have you read in your life that brought you so much joy you’ve never forgotten it? Why?

Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne. I first read it as an adult. It’s filled with wisdom, compassion and humor. Piglet is my guru.

4. Pick your Chris! Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp?) 

Except for Rock and Plummer, I had to look these boys up! Tough job. I’ll go with Hemsworth--just about anywhere.

5. Just for fun--your joy of choice!

I can't decide between cooking and gardening. How about cooking with vegetables from my garden? Yeah, I really like that. 

Giveaway! 

Comment below for a chance to win an advance copy of Middle of Somewhere!

 US only (sorry--publisher's rules). Ends 8/12.

 

Want to read more about the Joy of Romance? Try posts by these fabulous authors Tall Poppy Writers: Amy Impellizziri, Marin ThomasAmy Reichert, Anita Hughes and Cathy Lamb

Show Us Your #MiddleofSomewhere Giveaway winners: Week 3

August already? I was just getting cozy with July. The berries in the woods near our house have shriveled up and the fields are full of goldenrod. Summer is making the rounds, saying the first in a long series of goodbyes. Sigh. But I'm not one for looking behind me for very long. After all, it's less than a month until my new book is out and about!

Which brings me to this week's photos. The first winner is a gorgeous beach, perhaps Sarasota where the entrant lives, according to her profile. In her tweet she confided this scene inspires her jewelry designs. 

Here's a beach of a different sort, with nary a spot for a towel. I love the rocky drama of the California coast. See any sea lions in the water? 

Nah, me neither. 

Another winner on the Pacific coast, a more intimate setting in the entrant's backyard, perhaps. Isn't that little bridge sweet? 

I appreciated the next photo for its celebration of the beauty of the ordinary. There is nothing spectacular here, just a view you might encounter on an afternoon's hike, and yet it is very pretty. Blue skies, puffy clouds, tall pines and a lush valley of grass. It's very quiet there, don't you think?

I laughed out loud at this one. I never expected anyone's #MiddleofSomewhere to be a baseball stadium but, then again, why not? It's a great shot of Busch Stadium where the Cardinals play. As a Giants fan with pride in AT&T Park, I can relate. 

Congratulations to this week's winners! Copies of MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE will be on their way shortly. Winners can send their addresses to me on the contact page.

Now the fun begins again! Tweet a photo of your #MiddleofSomewhere--and tell your friends!

Wherever you are--at the beach, in your backyard, on a hike or at a baseball game--have a great week.  

Show Us Your #MiddleofSomewhere giveaway winners: Week 2

Week 2 is over already? That was fast, probably because I had my head down, finishing up revisions on Book 3. Exciting! I'll tell you about it as soon as I can, but not today. Today we are looking at pretty pictures.

This winner caught my eye right away. The colors! The little tiny moon. I'm a sucker for old stone, too.  I'm not sure where this is, but I'm thinking Greece.

Clear skies are lovely, but there's nothing like the dramatic interplay of clouds and sun, captured beautifully here, on the Columbia River. Clouds like that would might mean trouble on the high passes of the Sierra, as you will find out when you read MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE.

Rocky Mountain National Park. Wow. Just wow.

This entry enjoyed the most retweets this week. Isn't it stunning? It was taken on a farm belonging to the entrant's parents. 

The tweet read: "In love in the #MiddleofSomewhere." Sigh. My book is, at its heart, a love story, so we're sending these two a copy. Maybe they'll read it together.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the giveaway. Remember you can enter every week, as many times as you wish. Just remember to use the hashtag! 

Enjoy whatever beauty you find around you. I plan to. See you on Twitter!

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-july-2015

Show us your #MiddleofSomewhere giveaway: Week 1 winners!

In case you missed it, my publisher and I are giving away five copies of my new book, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE every week on Twitter. All you have to do to enter is tweet a photo of your favorite #MiddleofSomewhere and include the hashtag. That's it! 

Thanks to everyone who entered. We've picked the winners for the first week, but don't worry if your photo wasn't chosen; you can enter again! In fact, do it now so you don't forget. We'll wait for you.

Welcome back. Without further ado, here are the winners!

What a photo! What a spot! Let's all pack our bags and meet there. I'll bring the wine.

I don't think we need a long discussion of what we like about this shot. Nicely played!

We loved this #MiddleofSomewhere selfie. She looks relaxed and happy and ready to explore the outdoors.

Lake Michigan as you've never seen it before, plus some boulder Jenga. Look at those colors!

A different take on #MiddleofSomewhere. This road leads to the entrant's home. Because sometimes your favorite place is where you already are. 

Congrats to the winners! You can email me your mailing address through the contact page and we'll send a book to right away!

And don't forget to tweet your #MiddleofSomewhere for next week's giveaway. Have an adventurous week!

Très Jolie

I just flew in from France and boy are my arms tired. Okay, not my arms so much as my frontal cortex. But I will leave my complaints at that because my husband and I had a lovely time in the French Pyrenees. Mountains, gorgeous weather, French food, cheap, delicious wine--that's the formula, right? 

I've got loads to chat about, but a certain manuscript has been pining for its author and I can't leave it mewling in the drawer for much longer. So for now, a brief commentary on how pretty this part of the planet is, especially in full spring bloom. We've seen lots of gobsmackingly beautiful wildflower displays in our time, but nothing compared to the flower riot in the mid-Pyrenees.

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And it wasn't just nature on display, the locals had a hand in it as well. Here's a park in a teensy hamlet where we stopped for lunch.

This is one of my favorite images. Someone went to the trouble of placing flowers in an attic window simply to please passers-by. A random act of beauty.

The city of Narbonne was the last we visited. The city landscaper had a fine eye and a sizable budget because every bridge and railing looked like this one.

This flower-filled cart blew my mind, not just because it was such a cheerful sight but because of its location: outside a supermarket and gas station. Yup. 

Maybe we should all participate in decorating the world more often, in small gestures or large ones, making the world a prettier place for anyone who happens to walk by. 

Enjoy your summer, and each and every beautiful flower, mountain, beach and sky. 

The Profundity of Turnips

I've been a bad blogger. Would it help to know I've finished another book in the meantime? Not really? Okay, how about if I show you a pretty picture. This is from 5:30 am today. Can we be friends again now? 

What a glorious spring we've had! That cold, snowy thing called winter is but a distant memory. In fact, I'm sorry I brought it up. I planted the earliest of my crops about a month ago: radishes, spinach, arugula, peas, chard, beets, kale, more kale, and turnips. I don't know why I planted turnips. I can never get them to germinate, much less grow. I've had a vegetable garden nearly every year since I was twenty, and I don't recall ever having a decent crop of turnips. Or even one turnip. But, inexplicably, I had some seeds from last year's vain attempt at turnip propagation, so I planted a small bed of them.

It's not that I adore turnips, but I seek variety in my gardening. I once grew a gorgeous crop of okra that I gave away because I discovered I couldn't get over the slime. (I now know you can cook past that, but this was in my youth. Wise Old Sonja knows better.) I like to grow a little bit of this, a little bit of that, or, preferably, a lot of this and a lot of that. It interests me, both as a gardener and as a food wrangler. 

So I planted the turnips and, big surprise, nothing happened. The peas were slow, too. But the radishes and arugula were speedy!

I convinced myself I had made a mistake in the turnip department. Perhaps I had covered them with too much soil. Perhaps, in a white matter whiteout, I had neglected to plant them at all! So I sowed another bed. And waited. 

Guess what?! The first batch came up. They sprouted! They grew! They thrived! Two weeks later, the second batch sprouted and grew and thrived. It was full-on turnip madness. 

Those beauties closest to the camera are the turnips. Behind them are more turnips, the first batch that I'd already partially harvested. Behind that are the beets (oh faithful beets) and the chard (oh lovely reliable chard).

Aren't they pretty? 

I'm certain you are asking what I made with all those turnips, and if I perhaps regretted that second bed. Not for one moment. They are delicious. First, the greens, especially from the thinnings, are versatile and extremely nutritious. I saute them with garlic or shallots, hit them with a little red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon, and serve them on crostini, or over pasta or with eggs. 

And what about the turnips themselves? These fresh garden lovelies are not bitter. I've diced and caramelized them, added chopped kale and mixed with pasta and lots of Parmesan.  Heaven. I've sauteed sliced turnips and leeks in olive oil as a base for a savory tart. Gruyere and lemon thyme are great choices for this dish. And I created a pureed turnip and carrot soup, with a sauteed turnip green garnish which I served with grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade bread. 

Yes, you can come over. Please bring wine.

The other spring surprise in my garden was the cilantro that popped up on its own. I rarely can get my favorite herb to germinate, and here it was growing all by itself from the plants I let go to seed last fall. (If you grow cilantro and have never allowed it to set seed, you are missing something. The seeds, especially when green, are tiny flavor bombs. This is coriander seed, natch.)

This year it's turnips and cilantro, another year it's a bumper crop of butternut squash and I can't grow a zucchini (a zucchini!) to save my life. Most of the things I grow do just fine, but gardening is always a bit of a crap shoot. You can't control everything, certainly not the weather and definitely not the deer.

There is little room for despair in gardening. You try, you learn, you live to garden another year. There is no fail. But there are successes, if you place a smidgen of hope in a tiny seed.

Now, my friends, I'm sure you are expecting me to draw the circle closed and suggest that writing, if not LIFE, may be a little (or a lot) like the story of the turnips. Some things grow, some things don't. Some of it is down to us but much of it is just the breaks. A open packet of seeds is an invitation to hope that if we try again, this time it just might work. 

If I were to draw that comparison, it might be trite. It also might be true. 

New book! New cover!

This is less of a blog post and more of a happy dance. I'm here to show you the cover of my second novel, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, to be published by Penguin/NAL on 1 September 2015. Ready?

Ta-da! You can read about it here, including some lovely endorsements. It's available for pre-order, too. But really I just wanted to show you the beautiful cover. 

Have a productive, happy week!

#LikeAGirl, and That's a Good Thing.

SuperBowl Sunday has come and gone. Great game, wasn't it? Even if you were trying to read your book between the ads, it was hard not to get sucked into the gridiron action. Whichever side you were on, or even if you were in it mostly for the nachos, it was a nail-biter.  

What stuck with me long after the obligatory Gatorade dump, however, had less to do with hashmarks than hashtags. Or, rather, a particular hashtag: #LikeAGirl. It was promoted in an Always ad (yeah, I know) which you can see here. They asked "What does it mean to do something like a girl?" The boys mimicked girls running spastically and fighting  as if swatting mosquitoes. The young girls in the ad exhibited strength, speed and confidence which, tragically, will largely disappear when they hit puberty. #LikeAGirl usurps the phrase from those who undermine the ability of girls and young women to dream, to compete, and to achieve.

My father was a ski instructor, tennis pro, and mountaineer. He was also something of a feminist. Although my sister, my brother and I were raised in the 60s and 70s, the sports fields were, at least in my father's eye, level. We played all the sports all the time, and were expected to compete, no whining or excuse-making allowed. 

That's my brother, Ricky, on the left, and my big sister, Helga, getting ready for a race, and me, on the right. She was a tough act to follow! 

And here's me, a few years later, demonstrating the awkard form that would be the hallmark of my racing career, such as it was.

But nevermind. It wasn't about winning (although we were all competitive). It was about feeling I had the right to be on the slope, or on the court, or a member of the team. My father once told me, laughing, that I ran like a duck, but he never once said I did anything like a girl. It wasn't plausible as an insult, as his girls, and the countless ones he taught sports to, were not deficient as a class. 

I don't like competing in sports anymore, although I'm an absolute terror at board games. I push myself hard, though, and am not afraid to try new activities, whether of the body or of the mind. I have my father to thank for that, a man forty years ahead of his time.

Here he is flying off a backyard ski jump!  

When I had daughters of my own, I vowed to give them the same gift. #LikeAGirl would be a compliment in our house. I let them choose their sports, as long as the activity was aerobic and didn't require smiling. They trained and competed in all sorts of sports and, I hope, felt empowered by them. It was good to be tough. It was okay to be sweaty. It was noble to compete. 

(It's possible I wrote this post just so I could show you my fabulous daughters. Sorrynotsorry.)

As I said, I was fortunate my father had my back. And my girls are, I'm sure, glad to have benefited from his legacy. But many girls were not so lucky, certainly not forty years ago and, more importantly, many are still not today. 

So, in support of those girls who don't know that behaving #LikeAGirl is wonderful and powerful, I'm going to use the hashtag whenever I can. Join me!

Run, fight, compete #LikeAGirl. Do science, math #LikeAGirl. Write #LikeAGirl. Paint, act, create #LikeAGirl.

And, most of all, Dream #LikeAGirl.



Sweets from the Tree

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas, except for those who celebrate right up to Candlemas on February 2nd. Tonight is, therefore, Twelfth Night,  or the eve of the Epiphany. As the story goes, it's the night the three kings followed the star to the manger to bring a special newborn a few welcoming gifts. 

My parents emigrated from Germany and brought their holiday traditions with them. On Christmas Eve, my father would set up the freshly cut spruce in the dining room, then herd my sister, my brother and me into the kitchen. We were sequestered there while my mother conferred privately with the Christkind, a sprite-like figure who brought us presents. My mother, we were told, helped the Christkind decorate the tree and wrap the presents. My siblings and I, trapped in the kitchen in our holiday finery, were climbing out of our skin in excitement,  waiting with not even a hint of patience for the signal the preparations were complete: the bright ring of a small, silver bell used only for this occasion. 

 

The bell would ring and we'd storm into the dining room, always just missing a glimpse of the Christkind. Our disappointment was short-lived; we were overwhelmed by the tree, glowing with the light of real candles, and  laden with ornaments, sweets and lead tinsel.  

 

Of course the presents also got our attention.

But long after that night, long enough for new mittens to become sodden with melted snow, for fights to break out over new games, for a new stuffed animal to become a favorite, for eleven long days and nights, in fact, the sweets remained on the tree. They were not to be touched. It was painful to have so much sugar so close at hand and yet out of bounds. 

New Year's Day came and went and still the candy winked at us from between the boughs. Finally, the candles had burned down to stubs and it was time to end Christmas. In fact, it was bad luck to leave decorations up after the twelfth night. So on the evening of January 5th, my parents removed the candles and the delicate decorations from the tree, and the sweets, so long awaited, were ours. 

And that, my friends, is how I feel today, on the eve of the launch of my debut novel. It's been a long wait and I have not always been patient. Okay, I was never patient. But starting tomorrow, I finally get to see HOUSE BROKEN in a bookstore, to pull it off a shelf in a library and, if I'm lucky, watch someone reading it "in the wild." Soon there will a tribe of people, my readers, who will share in, and hopefully enjoy, what I have created. 

Thank you, friends and readers. Life is sweet indeed. 


Where Have All the Doggies Gone?

A couple months ago, I received a box of galleys of my debut novel. It's an exciting moment for an author, seeing not just the cover, but an actual book-like object with your name on it and lots of your words inside. 

Galleys.jpg

I thought you might be curious about what happens to galleys, the rough copies publishers print three months before publication.  I had eighteen at my disposal, and while I would've liked to hand them out to family and friends, the idea was to put those dogs to work. 

The first one went to my local independent bookstore, Books & Co, in Lexington VA. They're hosting my launch party and are offering to send out signed and gift wrapped copies anywhere in the US. That's kind, isn't it? So, a copy for them. They'll pass it on to the local newspaper because small towns are like that.

I paid a visit to another indie bookstore, New Dominion Bookstore in Charlottesville. And because sometimes a book is not enough, I brought them some treats as well. Indie bookstores and authors need each other, and cookies are a nice way to make friends, don't you think?

I shipped off a few puppies to folks I met on Twitter, who I thought might like the story and shout about it if they did. I found good homes in Hollywood, West Virginia and Texas, among other places. 

As prized as galleys are, I didn't want to be too strategic about giving them out. A woman on Goodreads wrote to say how excited she was about my book, how much she loved the cover and how desperately she hoped she'd win a copy in the giveaway. I told her that if she didn't win, I'd send her a galley. There were 1300 entries for 90 copies, and she didn't get lucky, so I made good on my promise.

I was down to three copies, and it would only be a few weeks before the Advance Review Copies (the finished, real books) would be available. What to do? My husband came up with the solution: send them home. 

The first home was in Marin County in California, where most of the story takes place, and not far from where we lived before we split for Virginia. One copy went to Diesel, A Bookstore in Larkspur, and one to The Depot Bookstore in Mill Valley, each with a letter explaining the connection. Wouldn't you want to read a book that takes place in your home town?

One copy left.  The solution was obvious: send it home--to my home town--and close the circle.  So I packed up the last puppy, and mailed it to Bear Pond Books in Stowe, Vermont. 

 I'm hoping they order a few copies. Maybe some of the locals will remember me, but even if they don't, it doesn't matter. Yes, the galleys are supposed to be put to work to sell books. They are the few, the precious. In truth, however, they are so much more than that. Galleys are newborn books, to be treated with care and love, and the last one found the best home of all. 

Last Picks

My Mothers' Day garden is closing down for the winter. *Sniff* What a year we have had! The freezer is full of tomatoes, tomatillos and pesto. I've got pickled peppers in the fridge and the memory of enough wonderful garden-supplied meals to last until it's time to start again. Here's what it looks like now.

It's bare all right, but the gnome is standing proud on his pole. We've got a saying at our house: "Don't be such a gnome pole." The meaning is abundantly clear.

There is still a stalwart stand of chard, a few lettuces that survived the frost and the deer, and a clump of radishes that might yet make it into a salad. But the last pick of the season is behind us. Look!

I don't fry much (I'd only have to run that much further every day), so those green tomatoes were earmarked for chutney. We all love Indian cuisine, so chutney is a staple. I hardly ever have ketchup in my fridge, but we go through a dozen pints of chutney a year. 

This year I used this recipe. I'll let you know how it is later, because chutney needs to sit in a jar and meditate in the dark for a few months. I'm certain that's what it does. Pickles need time, too, but who knows what pickles get up to when no one's looking. Let's move on, okay? Oh, I left out the hot chili in the recipe. The chutney is supposed to be an antidote to viciously hot curries, not add fuel to the fire.

Chutney's not difficult to make; you just throw it all together and cook it a while. The tedious part is sterilizing the jars, waiting a year for 60 gallons of water to boil, and, finally, boiling each batch pints for 15 minutes. But, good things take time, unless it's a quickie or a really good knock-knock joke, and this is worth it.

Aren't they fabulous? The '09 vintage was superb, and the '12 vintage was a close second, but I have high hopes for these babies because of the crystallized ginger. But we must wait. The chutney must meditate. 

And meanwhile we can hope. We think of spring as a time of hope, but I'd argue it's fall. I mean, by springtime you don't need hope; you're already in the money. The days are long. The world is replete with asparagus, strawberries, daffodils and peeps. You've got mud instead of snow. It's progress. But here in November, with winter standing like a snowdrift between now and the beginning of the next Mothers' Day garden, hope is what we've got. And lots and lots of frozen tomatoes.

 

The Mighty Pawpaw, Fruit of the Mastodon

Almost a year ago to the day, the former owner of our property took us on a tour. Half of the land is pasture, half is forested. Machetes were involved. 

One of the trees he pointed out was the pawpaw. He noticed my blank stare. "Tastes like bananas." I'd never heard of them, though many of you undoubtedly have, as they are widely distributed throughout the temperate Eastern regions. Here's what the fruit looks like. 

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You can tell by the leaves this tree would never make it in New England. It doesn't like low humidity either, and needs 400 hours of winter chill, which explains why I'd never seen it in California or elsewhere in the West.The trees gather at the edges of the woods and lend a tropical ambiance. Makes me want to organize a luau.

Of course we had to try some. Let's be honest. The fruit is butt ugly when it's ripe. Open it up and it gets weird fast. First, it's got numerous large disc-shaped seeds. No living herbivore can swallow them. Back in the day, mastodons and giant ground sloths had pawpaw parties, and distributed the seeds in their pawpaw poopoo. Now the pawpaws stay where they are unless the seeds wash away or someone plants them.

The pulp clings to the seeds, so you pretty much have to dig them out and scrape what's left into a bowl. Luckily we have an embarrassment of pawpaws and harvested three pounds of pulp in the first batch.

The taste? Think of a cross between banana, mango and passion fruit. The aroma from having a huge bowl of them in the kitchen made the whole house smell like a fifth-grade girl's lip gloss. 

I made a loaf of pawpaw bread, using the jacked-up banana bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It was terrible. As you can see from the photo, I had to throw a third of it away the minute it came out of the oven. (Ha!) Oh, and don't adjust your monitor. It IS weirdly pink. It's just showing off how tropical it really is, deep down inside.

My next recipe is something a giant ground sloth might have enjoyed at the end of a long day suspended from a branch doing jack: a pawpaw daiquiri. Care to join me?

Share your pawpaw recipes, or commiserate with me on the absence of the mastodon. Every creature has its day. Make this yours.

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hopapril-2015/

 

Pigeon vs. Hornworm

My husband calls me "Pigeon," not as a term of endearment but in recognition of my visual search abilities. I'm good at spotting things and so are pigeons. In order to survive, a pigeon must be skilled at detecting the edible crumb or seed amid a background of inedible stuff. They are so adept at this that Navy researchers have trained them in search and rescue. The pigeons sat in an observation bubble aboard a helicopter and pecked a disc when they spotted a colorful speck in the vast sea. Read more about Project Sea Hunt here.

Transient

I haven't been trained in search and rescue, but if you lose the back of your earring or need help finding a cryptic bird or animal, I'm your pigeon. This skill came in handy during field work, when sneaking up on things was my job. 

My powers have been stretched to the limit lately, however. Something was chewing my tomato plants. 

The nerve! The garden has been so prolific, and I was determined to stop this munchery. Brace yourself now as I reveal the culprit.

Transient

The tomato hornworm. They can be five inches long! Let's say it together: YUCK!

The problem is they are very hard to see. They crawl down into the dense part of the plant during the day, then come out and eat the tender bits at night. I'd search and search and never find any. Their crypticity was defeating even this pigeon.

Then I saw one that looked like this.

A little research told me this hornworm had been parasitized. Yay! Meet my new BFF, the braconid wasp.

Transient

They lay their eggs on hornworms, paralyzing them. So if you are hornworm hunting and see one with white eggs on it, leave it there. Help, in the form of more wasps, is on the way.

But of course the wasps can't find all the hornworms or I wouldn't have a problem. So I did a little more research and found help of a technical, rather than a biological, nature. 

A hornworm detector, aka, a UV flashlight! I was so excited when it arrived in the mail. As soon as it was dark enough, I went hunting. It worked! I found six hornworms the first night, two the next and only an occasional one since. Which is fantastic, because they really are gross.

So, if hornworms ever plague your garden, you know what to do. You're welcome. And this parable serves as a reminder that nature has the power to humble even our best talents.

Ding, ding! Round 2!

Seems like only a couple weeks have passed since I sent off these giveaway packets to the winners of my first Goodreads giveaway of HOUSE BROKEN. 

Wait. It WAS only a couple weeks ago. Never mind. We're doing it again. In fact, we may decide not to sell any books at all. 

Ninety (90! Nine zero!)  more free books up for grab. Here's the link: GOODREADS GIVEAWAY.

Not a member? All you have to do is go to www.goodreads.com and sign up (which I highly recommend anyway. It's a wonderful place for readers and writers, but mostly readers.

What? You're still here?  I said, "FREE BOOKS!" 

 

 

Summer's End

It's been madness around here and I don't have the excuse of having to organize kids for school. We finally drilled the well for our new house, a mere 805 feet through solid limestone.

Murphy's Law is in full effect on the construction site, making us worry we might not get it weather tight before winter. But all that is fluff compared to the medical scare my beloved husband had. (He's fine, thank goodness!) A scary week with a happy ending.

So for now I will leave you only with some pretty photos, just to let you know how much we love life, especially here.

It's been misty most mornings, but this particular sunrise was stunning.

And this is how September began. No complaints so far.

Wishing all of you a happy end to your summer and a smooth transition into the school year. Keep the small stuff small.

Flower Child

We bought our property in Virginia in November,  so I hadn't a clue what summers there would be like. We lived in town last summer but now had 43 acres. I know. That's a lot of acres. Half are in pasture, so imagine my delight when the fields bloomed and a gazillion of one of my favorite flowers appeared: black-eyed susans. 

Every few weeks, different wildflowers emerge. In the field I can see from my kitchen, a patch of pale purple caught my eye--bee balm. It's related to mint. I had to bring some inside. I couldn't help myself even if it made the bees a little mad. 

susans and bee balm.jpg

As a child in Vermont, I was constantly bringing fistfuls of flowers to my mother. No matter what tangled collection I presented her, she was always delighted, and exclaimed, "Wherever did you find those?!" although it wasn't exactly a mystery. In my enthusiasm I did once pull up a rather large armload of white trillium, which neither of us had seen before. She gently suggested I might leave a few in the wild so there'd be some next year. Ahem.

People here usually cut their pastures twice a year. That makes sense when you've got a good hay field, which we don't. In our case, I'm sure you'll agree that once a year, in the fall after the flowers are gone, is plenty. The bobwhite quail who reside among the flowers have also voted for that schedule. 

So here it is August, and we're already looking at goldenrod, that harbinger of fall. The fireflies are almost a memory. But I choose to be wistful, rather than sad. After all, I didn't pick ALL the black-eyes susans, so next summer there'll be plenty.

Claytor May-June 2014 001.JPG



Kitchen Magician

I've been promising to do the Kitchen Reveal for a while, but it wasn't quite ready. The stools were the last piece, plus a little more painting. I have now officially painted the entire house, and earned my Advanced Painting badge. I've come a long way. A few years ago, Richard would only let me paint the inside of closets. True story. And I paint commando. None of that taping business.

So back to the kitchen. Here are a couple of Before shots. The house was built in the 1920s, but the kitchen was remodeled in 1969.

Kitchen before 1.JPG
Kitchen before 2.JPG

I'm sorry I didn't do a better job of documenting the avocado appliances. Feel free to use your imagination.

Here's Richard taking down the drop ceiling. Look at the pretty bead board!

Sad to say the paneling had to go. *sniff*

There was all sorts of behind-the-scenes work, you know, having to do with electricity and water and making sure the floor didn't end up in the basement. Richard took care of all that, and of course it was HUGELY interesting, and it's great that we don't have to worry about getting electrocuted or drowning or dying, but I think we'll just move on, okay?

So what, pray tell, did I do? Well, the designing and shopping and paint color choosing and all that. I even did the cabinets myself. No, not MAKE them. But I did use graph paper and decide what went where and how big everything should be. It was hard work.

That's the hole between the kitchen and the dining room. I do not like to be stuck in a box when I am cooking. It makes me cranky.

Ready to see the result?

Ta-da! More, you say? Sure thing.

July 15 2014 002.JPG

There's the hole. No more Mrs. Cranky. And I'm certain you've noted what a fantastic paint job that is. And the stools? $60 for the pair at Overstock.com.

Here's the view from the dining room.

I'd love to hear your accolades, I mean, thoughts. It was a great project.