Rain, Rain, Go Away …

After a rainy week, the flood has only just begun. It’s been hosing down rain for about the past ten hours, and it’s supposed to continue for the next 24. I was out in the rain a short while ago building a bridge so my chickens can get back to their coop across the lake that’s formed in their paddock. The news is full of pictures of flooded streets and swollen muddy rivers.

Excessive baking!

It’s not entirely unusual weather. Last year I spent a whole week with my year 7/8 maths students doing a lesson on isoclines with weather station data after a particularly spectacular rainstorm dumped 200mm on us in 24 hours. 

But just because we’ve experienced it before doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. It just means we know how to cope, right?

On Saturday, I baked apple/blackcurrant pie and pumpkin cupcakes, filling the house with delicious warm aromas of cinnamon and fruit. On Sunday, I raided my fabric stash to make a sunny patchwork tote bag—not that I need another tote bag, but that’s irrelevant when it’s raining for the zillionth day in a row.

Yesterday, I banged out over 5,000 words on my current novel, bringing me within 10,000 words of typing The End. 

Today … well, today I’m watching that lake in the chook paddock, in case I have to raise the height of the bridge. But when I’m not rescuing my soggy birds, I’m pottering away at my novel, and tending to marketing and all the other unpleasant aspects of writing. I’ve also drunk endless cups of coffee and tea (and it’s not even lunchtime yet…). No doubt I’ll quit early to make a decadent dinner of comfort food, probably eaten by candlelight (because why not take advantage of short days while you can?).

Crazy tote in progress…

And of course after dinner, when it’s still supposed to be raining, I’ll no doubt curl up with one of the books I picked up in the library yesterday.

So it’s not all bad, though I do look forward to the return of the sun someday.

Planning Time

We’ve turned the corner on the seasons—the days are getting longer now, and we’re in the second half of the year. The seed catalogue will be arriving within the next couple of weeks, so now’s the time for garden planning.

As someone obsessed with organising, creating my garden plan each winter is a highlight of the year. It’s the time to take stock of the previous year’s successes and failures and to dream about next year’s abundance.

For me, planning starts with taking inventory of my seed stock. Two large shoe boxes barely manage to contain most of my seeds (the broad beans never fit). Small vegetable seeds are arranged alphabetically. Large-seeded peas and beans get their own shoe box, and are less well organised. 

My inventory is kept on a spreadsheet that I update annually, so I can see at a glance what I’ve got in stock. As I update the inventory, I cross-reference my garden notes, tossing out seeds that had low or no germination the year before. When I find seeds I know I need more of, I make a note on the spreadsheet. When the seed catalogue arrives, I can quickly determine what I need to buy. (Note that this doesn’t actually save me any time in getting my order in—I still page through the entire catalogue, because you never know what new things you’re going to absolutely NEED, based on a pretty photograph and a two-sentence description).

Once I’ve got my seed needs identified, it’s time to plan where all those plants are going to go in the vegetable garden.

Every year I draw a map on a large sheet of paper. The map includes all the vegetable beds plus the greenhouse and any ‘overflow’ space I happen to have that year in perennial beds. I give each bed a grid reference—columns labeled with letters, rows with numbers—so I can refer to them easily when I start mapping out my weekly tasks later in the year.

With last year’s map as a reference, I tentatively write each crop into the beds I want to plant in, careful to rotate crops to avoid pathogen build up. As I plant each crop later on, I’ll mark a date on the map to tell me when it was planted.

By planning ahead, I avoid mistakes like planting sprawling winter squash next to low-growing herbs that will be overrun by the squash. I can also plan for large plants to sprawl into space vacated by early crops, or tall crops to shade cool-loving crops and extend their season.

Equally importantly, by planning in advance, I can control myself when it comes time to actually plant seeds—preventing problems like having to deal with 50 kg of zucchini every day in February. Planning goes a long way toward making each garden year a success.

Pro tip: Garden planning is best done on a really cold, nasty day, with a cup of coffee or glass of wine in hand. 🙂

Matariki Hike–Tiromoana Bush Walkway

Nature pulled out all the stops last weekend for Matariki. All three days of the long weekend were stunners, with temperatures more like mid-autumn than mid-winter.

On Saturday I worked in the garden in a t-shirt, and we had all the doors and windows open for most of the day. On Sunday, with both kids home for the holiday, we headed out for a hike.

Avoiding the snowy mountains and crowded ski fields, we headed to an unlikely spot—the Kate Valley Landfill.

Well, okay, not the landfill itself, but the restoration area next to it on Transwaste land.

Tiromoana Bush Walkway wends through a patchwork of restoration planting, old paddocks, plantation forestry and regenerating bush. An active predator trapping programme has clearly done its job, and the air teems with bellbirds and pīwakawaka.

Access to the beach cuts through a steep valley between limestone cliffs busy with welcome swallows. The beach is narrow and overshadowed by actively crumbling cliffs of limestone and clay—definitely not a place you want to be during a storm, but quite fascinating on the blue-sky day we enjoyed.

The hike was only about three hours long, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the beach, even on a short mid-winter day.

We had relatively low expectations of the hike when we started out, but it ended up being quite a pleasant mid-winter outing. Not very strenuous, but with enough ups and downs to be interesting, and with some intriguing landforms along the coast.

Celebrating Matariki–making new traditions

This year is the first year Matariki is an official holiday here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s about time. 

Matariki is the Māori New Year celebration. The holiday is named after the Matariki star cluster (also known as the Pleiades), which disappears from our night sky for a time, and reappears in late June, around the winter solstice. 

Matariki is a time to celebrate autumn’s harvest, remember friends and family who have died the previous year, and plan for the new year.

This year, my husband and I will celebrate the harvest with pizza topped with vegetables from the garden, and pie filled with fruit from our berry bushes.

I will remember my grandmother, who passed away in May, just a few days shy of her 97th birthday. Rugs braided by her hands will warm my feet during the chilly days of Matariki.

I will plan for the new year by assessing my seed stock and drawing the 2022-2023 garden map. Although I won’t plan my planting around how the stars of Matariki look when they first appear in the sky, as Māori used to (just as I never planned by Punxsutawney Phil and his Groundhog Day predictions), but I am pleased to note the sky has been crystal clear for the past few days—clear, bright Matariki stars signify an early planting season. Just as a shadowless groundhog used to make me hope for an early spring, bright Matariki stars do the same.

Celebrating Matariki feels natural and right here in Aotearoa. When the children were young, we always celebrated the winter solstice. I made special solstice cakes, decorated to celebrate darkness or welcome the soon-to-be-lengthening days. We’d give the kids little gifts—a flashlight, or some winter-appropriate craft supplies. We made candle holders and dipped beeswax candles. We had a special dinner in the light of the candles we’d made. It wasn’t a huge celebration—just something to mark the season and look forward to during the short, dark winter days.

As the kids grew older, they weren’t interested in candle making or other crafts. We still enjoyed candlelight dinners on the solstice, but most of the other parts of our celebration fell away. Now that Matariki is an official holiday, I expect some of our solstice celebration will make its way into our Matariki celebrations.

Like us, many New Zealanders will be creating new traditions this year, mapping out what Matariki looks like today, mixing traditional Māori celebrations with the myriad cultures that make up modern day New Zealand. I hope as we all move forward with our celebrations, we can resist the commercialisation that has plagued other holidays and remain focused on the deeper meanings behind Matariki and its intimate connection to the land.

Winter Baking

Anytime of year is a good time for baking, as far as I’m concerned. But winter baking is probably my favourite.

Chocolate raspberry cupcakes
Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

First, it’s dark out. I can start baking after dinner on a weeknight and not feel like I’m missing out on valuable garden time, because it’s pitch black out.

Second, who doesn’t feel the need for a few extra calories on those cold winter days? We can all justify eating that extra cupcake in order to stay warm.

Third, with the house closed up, the glorious smells of cinnamon, chocolate and butter linger in the house. If you bake on Monday evening, you can still smell those delicious cookies the next morning. You don’t lose those scents out the open windows.

But possibly the best thing about winter baking is the opportunity to revisit the other seasons by using the fruit stored up during the rest of the year. 

apple pie
Apple Pie

Monday night I made chocolate raspberry cupcakes using the last of the raspberries frozen at the height of summer—that fresh taste is so welcome in mid-winter when berry fruits are little more than a memory. 

Last week I made apple pie with apples frozen during autumn. The aroma of fruit and cinnamon evoked those marvellous days of plenty. 

Next week, for the solstice and Matariki, I’ll pull out the frozen currents and make my very favourite winter treat—current pie. Its tart flavour is the taste of summer. It reminds me that the long days of December are only six months away.

So I will bake my way through June, July and August, dreaming of warmer days past and planning for warmer days to come.

currant pie
Care for a slice of currant pie?

Fun Fantasy reads for young and not-so-young adults!

Young Adult fantasy is a popular genre, not just among the teens it’s primarily geared toward. Who can resist a good coming-of-age story or a swashbuckling adventure?

Here are some YA fantasy books from authors you may not have heard of before. They include all sorts of awesome things like dragons, samurai, mermaids and Greek gods. So whatever your tastes, there’s something for YA fantasy lovers here.

The Dragonaxi Challenge by Leslie E. Heath 

The last thing Marella wants to hear is that they’re moving halfway across the ocean during her senior year. But her father’s been posted as Ambassador to Pharlandzi, a rival mermaid kingdom, and no amount of pleading is going to change the inevitable: Marella is leaving her school and all of her friends behind to swim in strange waters.

As an ambassador’s daughter, she’s expected to know all the etiquette, curtsy to the right people and bite her tongue around others. But that tongue of hers has always gotten her in trouble, and now she’s in too deep. She doesn’t know who submitted her name into this challenge, but the one thing she knows? It’s death, or victory, and her father didn’t raise a loser. She’ll come back a dragon-riding warrior, or not at all.

Chain of Loyalty by Amanda Ward 

She must enter the realm of the dead, or lose the one she loves forever.

Grief becomes revenge when Shou vows to kill the kami king. Only one weapon can destroy him, and it is lost in the realm of the dead. Driven by her hope to save the one she loves, Shou goes where even the kami cannot follow.

But the realm changes those that enter it. And a price must be paid, one that Shou’s allies do not want her to accept.

Further betrayal awaits Shou. And a final decision as the prophecy is unveiled. For with the death of the kami king, another must rise to take his place.

The epic conclusion to The Kami Prophecy, a YA series full of action, mythical creatures, and romance, all set in a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan.

Champion of the Gods by Julie L. Kramer 

The fate of the kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young warrior touched by the gods…which prince will she choose?

Ilia is Gods Touched, a young warrior who has spent her entire life sequestered behind the walls of the temple of the goddess of war. The goddess herself brought her there, leaving her in the care of two other misfits, with only the warning that her visions of the future would put her in the path of the gods. Now, so many years later, that prediction has come true.

Prince Aristo has been raised to be king, but when his parents put together a tournament for the eligible young ladies of the kingdom to fight for his hand and an unlikely enemy appears instead, will Ilia’s help be enough to spite the gods and help Aristo keep his kingdom, or is there something deeper at play?

Ignited by A.M.Deese 

An Eternal Flame.

A Powerful Secret.

The Republic of the Sand Sea is a dangerous land where fire wielders are forced to battle dragons for the entertainment of wealthy families. None are wealthier or more dangerous than the Thirteen.

Water is currency and enemies lurk around every corner. The stakes are high in the games of court and the players are running out of time before everything is…Ignited.

When the first of the Thirteen goes missing, Jura, the only heir, is thrust into a world of political intrigue and assassin’s threats.

In the arena, Ash, a retired Fire Dancer, is determined to reclaim his glory, no matter the unthinkable cost. Might the life of a captured child be the ultimate price?

Beshar, Tenth of the Thirteen, knows that true power comes from knowledge. But is information worth sparking a dangerous new friendship with the First family?

A Drop of Magic by Janna Ruth 

Magic, Demons & High School Drama

All Lucille ever wanted was a perfectly normal high school experience, but her town doesn’t do normal. Not when a few Latin words set her hand on fire, the entire town gets possessed by evil spirits, and the cute guy she’s got her eyes on brings a freaking sword to the battle.

Now Lucille has to make a decision: return to her cushy, and safe, life-style at the boarding school, or face the monsters that hunt her and the magic that lurks inside of her.

A Drop of Magic is the first of this action-packed YA fantasy series with the wit of Buffy, the magic of Charmed, and all the drama of the Vampire Diaries.

Do Something Scary

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Paper! Never needs a new operating system.

I heard this bit of advice years ago, and while I wouldn’t say I do something scary every day, I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I have an opportunity.

Yesterday, I did something that for me was scary.

I updated my computer system.

I know that sounds pathetic, but I’d put off any updates for years, because I had a host of expensive software that would be rendered useless if I upgraded. The software worked well for me—why would I upgrade and have to spend thousands of dollars to replace it? 

The reason why came to a head as I tried to publish Fatewalker last week. My software was no longer supported by the upload algorithms at Amazon, which meant my e-book wasn’t uploading properly. It was the last straw in an increasingly frustrating game of eking out my old software for as long as possible.

So I spent some time over the last week searching out alternatives to my expensive old software and emotionally preparing myself for the inevitable frustration of a new operating system and new software, which may or may not be able to read files created by the old software. 

Yesterday morning I made two complete backups of my computer.

Then I clicked on the dreaded button to install the latest operating system.

My computer flashed up warning after warning, asking me if I was sure I wanted to do this. 

Yes, I said. I’m ready. 

The screen went black.

A progress bar told me it would be about four million years until it was finished.

I spent my afternoon trying not to glance at the still-black screen, writing a short story in a notebook, enjoying the beauty of analog writing.

I brainstormed titles for my current work in progress, revelling in the scratch of pencil on paper while ignoring the whine of my computer’s cooling fan.

I took a long break with a cup of tea.

Finally, light returned to my screen. I was relieved to see the update had been successful. None of my software worked, but all my files were there. 

I pulled out the credit card and bought new software. I purged the old, useless software from my applications folder. On a whim, I downloaded some free software that looked useful (software I couldn’t have run before). 

The process was almost fun, in a nail-biting sort of way.

There will be a learning curve, of course (and no doubt some swearing involved). I have lots of new systems to master. But I uploaded a fully functional version of Fatewalker today to replace the cobbled-together one I uploaded last week—not a single warning or error message to be seen. And I played around with some new software, just to see how it worked, and was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive it was. Then I got down to work, and added over 3000 words to my work in progress. 

It was a good day. Scary thing conquered.

What scary thing have you done recently?

Fatewalker Available Now!

I’m pleased to announce the release of Fatewalker–book 2 of the Fatecarver series!

What will you become–woman, falcon or snake?

Kalish is a Fatewalker, chosen by the god Iskra to save her people and their enemies from a common threat. But how does a young woman who’s been banished by her own clan convince anyone to listen to her?

As her shape-shifting power grows, her influence does too, but Kalish’s personal goals—a home and a people she belongs to—seem as far away as ever. 

Personal and societal struggles intertwine as Kalish and her followers grapple with the question, not of who they are, but of who they wish to become. 

Book 2 of the Fatecarver trilogy is another action-packed fantasy, full of strong female characters and magic realism! Pick up your copy today and continue your adventure!

Get it now!

Lemony Currant and Rosemary Cake

I can’t come home from the library without at least one cookbook. This week’s gem was Snacking Cakes by Yossey Arefi. The general premise of the book is cakes you can whip up with a whisk and one bowl. How could I resist?

There are 50 recipes in this book, and they’re not all just the same recipe with one ingredient changed. Along with standards like pineapple upside down cake and several different chocolate cakes, there are some intriguing and unusual ones.

My first foray into the book was Lemony Currant and Rosemary Cake. There are four teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary in the cake (along with the obvious lemon and currants), and the top is sprinkled with sugar and coarse salt. The result is a delightful sweet/savoury combination that invites me to snitch a bit every time I walk through the kitchen.

I’d invest serious time in making a cake that tastes this good, and yet this cake mixed up in just a few minutes. The return on investment is huge!

I can’t wait to try some of the other cakes—Salty Caramel Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Powdered Donut, Buttered Walnut, Grapefruit White Chocolate, and Coconut Lime Cake all sound fabulous. The speed at which these cake can be made, I could make a different one every day after work! 

Never mind dinner—I’ll just have cake 🙂

You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do

papers on a desk
Some of the notes about this story I’ve been scribbling over two years.

There’s a live Arlo Guthrie album (I can’t remember which one) in which he’s talking between songs, and at some point he says, “I know I’m supposed to be singing. But you can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.” To which the audience roars approval.

It’s true. You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.

The second Fatecarver book (Fatewalker) is with the editor, and I really should be working on book 3 if I want to keep the books in the series coming out at a reasonable pace for my readers.

But a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to start book 2, a different book began pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard.

It was like a flash flood. Within a few days, 15,000 words of a book I shouldn’t be spending time on right now had flowed out. I gave in and have let it flow. I don’t even have a title for the story, which has been kicking around in my head since New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown in 2020, but it’s already over a third written.

Here’s the gist of the story. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you. If things carry on this way, it won’t be long before I can.

Alex Blackburn has inherited all her Grandmother’s possessions. And all her secrets.

When she discovers an ancient book on summoning spirits among Gran’s books, she … sort of accidentally summons one of them.

It’s three metres long and looks like a centipede. 

And it’s just eaten Gran’s dog.

She drags Gran’s neighbour, Shelby, into the drama because the book came from his great-great-great-grandmother. Alex can’t work out how to get rid of the demon, but maybe Shelby’s inherited some of his ancestor’s ability with magic.

Or maybe he’s just terrified of centipedes.

While the demon munches its way through the neighbourhood pets, Alex and Shelby scramble to find a way to send it back to where it came from before it …

Has babies.

This fantasy set in small-town New Zealand will have you sitting on the edge of your seat (while checking underneath it for centipedes), and cheering on Alex and Shelby as they bumble their way around magic and each other.