Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dizzying Heights

It's been a crazy couple of months on the writing front. My book March to November, is getting published this month and I think I've turned into the author equivalent of "Bride-zilla"! Would that be "book-zilla" perhaps?

For example, I had an idea for the book cover that involved red bricks. In order to get my idea across to the designer I needed to find a red brick wall similar to the type you find in Belfast, where the story is set. But where to find a red brick wall in this land of stucco and strip malls? My Husband spotted an area in downtown San Jose, so off I went with my camera.

I found a great sample with the perfect color, texure and deterioation just off St James square. A sad sign of the times, this is a regular hang out for what appears to be homeless folk. So there I was minding my own business and taking photos of a brick wall when I heard a voice behind me say, "Miss, would you like us to take a picture of you?"

I turned to see crusty looking old guy wearing a black hoody faded to nearly the same color of grey as his shaggy beard and a pair of really baggy jeans whose hems had seen better days. I'd seen him earlier talking animatedly with himself (no blue tooth or head phones) or maybe he'd just been conversing with the rest of the "us" he'd mentioned.

I thought, "Bless him," but smiled and said as warmly as I could, "Ah thanks but no. I'm good here."

He cocked his head to one side and made a twirling motion with his finger at his temple, then muttered, "Whatever," and ambled off.

Anyways, I got the shot I needed and have been working hard on the finishing touches my book needs before publication such that, as Labor day approached My Husband and I decided to take a break and go somewhere nice.

We'd been interested in going to Lassen Volcanic Park for a while now, but it always looked so far on the map that we knew we needed a long weekend. Even so we decided that if we went as far as Redding the accommodation would be cheaper, the Friday night drive shorter and we could scout out Lassen one day and perhaps Shasta the next - nothing taxing - just nice a Sunday afternoon driving type vacation...

Until we got to Lassen and learned that Lassen Peak trail was open and it was only open for a few days of the year. We knew we had to do it and were glad that we had packed the hiking boots...

And really, the trail was only 2.5 miles, a total of 5 miles. At our usual hiking speed, sure we'd knock that sucker out in less than two hours, easy. Except we were starting at an elevation of 8000 feet going to over 10, 500...but sure who needs oxygen when they're hiking? And gradient smadient, right? So maybe tack on another half hour for that....

Oh you guessed it... four hours and many aching muscles later we arrived back at the car, exhausted.

It made me realize that climbing a mountain is like writing a book.

You start out eager, excited and full of optimism.
The trail doesn't look that steep from the parking lot.

So you set a pace and continue up-hill, just like in writing where you throw out those first few chapters, thinking to yourself, "This isn't so bad."  Until you present your work to your fellow writers for critiquing and then the trail starts to steepen.
In fact every rewrite feels like these darn switch-backs - repetitive, far too many of them and going no-where fast.

But whats the alternative? Give up and slide back down the hill?
Don't forget those moments when you get a great feedback or your plot idea works and then you feel like you could fly to the top of the mountain.
At a certain point you look back and you realize just how far you've come and decide that it would be an awful shame to give up now considering all the effort you've invested. Just put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you.
Not to mention the interesting characters you meet along the way. My writing buddies are simply wonderful, supportive yet honest, gentle yet guiding and best of all - great oul'craic!
But the closer you get to the top the harder it is to keep going. The altitude was getting to me, my head felt sore and my muscles quivered. The 0.5 mile marker gave me hope. I pressed on wondering how the heck people climbed Everest!
 
And then, at last the peak is in sight. That last bit looks heart stoppingly steep. But you're here now and the decision is made for you - one last push!
 
Then you get to the top. It's a feeling you want to hold on to for a very long time.
Until you realize that this is just the beginning of another stage in your journey. And so you sit on the edge and look over the precipice wondering if you're ready for it.
You always think on the trudge up the hill that going down will be easier, but on the way down you realize that you have bits which hurt now that didn't on the way up.

In writing, here's the scary part. When I publish everyone will be able to read it, to judge it, to hold an opinion on it and I have to tell myself, "That's okay... I can do this. I'll accept that everyone has different tastes in reading. I'll ignore negativity. I'll keep my chin up."

I pray that won't trip on the way down the mountain...
Looking at my finished novel, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I wrote that. In the same way that I look at Lassen Peak in the distance and think - I stood up there!

I'll end the book-writing analogy there lest anyone think that the next few photos refer to dealing with critics!

This is in fact Bumpass Hell Trail where the mud bubbles at scalding temperatures. It's a short hike from the trail head - 3 miles. Feels like 20 when you've just come down from Lassen Peak. It's a great reminder of the fact that we are in a volcanic park and that something lurks below!
People are warned to stay on the trail as injury can occur - again I'm resisting the temptation to extend my analogy!
This pond was a beautiful color - I wonder what temperature it was.
The next day we could barely walk. So we resumed our car touring plan and headed for Shasta Dam where it was hot hot hot!

 The dam truly is impressive.
But the lack of water is scary. I came away feeling anxious. Lake Shasta has only 19% capacity at the moment. I really am wondering if I should put in a cool season garden as I don't want to spend a dry winter watering veggies. As it is, we are not allowed to water between the hours of 8am and 8pm. Another dry winter will be disastrous!

Redding proved to be a good central place to stay and only 4hrs from home. We stopped by the sundial bridge before we left. It was nice to actually see some water in the beautiful Sacramento River.

Time to get back to getting March to November published - not that I'm doing much more than waiting right now...

But don't worry - I'll let you know when it comes out and how to get your hands on a copy!

Byddi Lee

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life's Peachy

My wonderful neighbor, Al, let me strip his tree of the ripe peaches that were threatening to drop. They were simply perfect.
I went online to see how I could freeze peaches. Lots of articles gave advice using sugar, and some even used some chemical to preserve the color, but I really didn't like to add any of these. Then I saw a post in a chat room about simply freezing the peaches whole with their skins on. So I experimented and am happy to report that, yes, it works quite well. When thawing, simply pop the peach into warm water and the skin slides off. The rest of the peach defrosts in about 10 minutes. The texture is affected - its not quite the same as eating it fresh but it is great for use in smoothies - mine was a tomato, spearmint and peach smoothie - total yum! The frozen peaches can also be used in baking and making sauces and jams. Speaking of which...

Yesterday I made a jam, a salsa and a crumble...

Peach  and Lavender Jam

Click on the title to take you to the recipe on the Love and Olive Oil Blog.

I loved how they extracted the lavender taste from the leaves giving a delicate hint of floral flavor -soak two tablespoons of lavender flowers in boiling water for twenty minutes, strain off the flowers and add the water to the fruit.
You can do this to add lavender to a lot of recipes. I even made up a recipe of my own. More about that later...
The jam was amazing and My Husband practically took a spoon to it. He's exasperatingly picky with food, so I was very pleased!


The Peach Salsa 

This recipe is from the blog "She Wears Many Hats." (Don't we all, darlin"?)

I'm not very up on Mexican food, and I don't know if cilantro is a must in salsa, but the aim of this salsa was to prepare it from ingredients that came from either Al's garden or mine. Therefore, I had to substitute some items...like basil instead of cilantro, since cilantro is currently blooming in my garden only and therefore not so nice to eat. Also, I used a bunching onion instead of a red onion and lemon instead of lime since Al's lime tree is still in recovery after the cold snap that nearly killed it last November.
Don't the ingredients make a pretty picture? The tomatoes, peaches and lemon were from Al's garden.
The salsa tasted even better than it looked.

Peach Crumble

I followed the recipe in the link above but doubled the ingredients for the crust as I typically find there isn't a thick enough crust.
 
The crust was great, but the layer of peaches was too thin and seemed to get absorbed totally into the crust.
 
My Husband prefers a dryer crust dessert anyways, so he was happy, but I'd have liked more peaches. Next time I'd use a smaller dish 8X8, with the quantities from the original recipe.

So this is where I invented my own sauce to go with the crumble. When I researched the recipes, every single one of them  added cinnamon. It's not that I don't like cinnamon, but why does it have to be added to every single dessert in America? Apple pie, pumpkin pie and now this?

So here's what I came up with...

Byddi's Peach and Lavender Sauce to keep every crumble eater happy!


Ingredients

2 tbs of lavender flowers
1/3 cup water
8 Peaches (I actually used about 12, but they were small - aim for 4-5 cups of chopped peaches.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla essence

Directions

  1. Soak lavender flowers in the boiling water for 20 minutes.
  2. Peel and pit peaches (say that 20 times, fast!)
  3. Coarsely chop peaches into 3/4 inch cubes. (That is, don't be too precise about the size, not act like a ruffian and swear while you cut them...but you can if you want.)
  4. Strain lavender flowers out and keep the water.
  5. Mix lavender water, peaches, brown sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla essence together in a sauce pan.
  6. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly.
  7. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking (Not sure if it will. I was just scared it would!)
  8. Allow to cool and dish up with Peach Crumble, or ice cream or both!



Now you can have it any way you like - so long as it's peachy!

Byddi Lee




Monday, June 23, 2014

I love it when a plan comes together.

This time last year I was laying out plastic to solarize my lawn. Well the jury is in...

I wouldn't recommend it.

I've been disappointed a the amount of  bur clover that came back not to mention a recurrence of grass. A meticulous weeding regime means I'm on top of things, but I wonder if sheet mulching would have given me the same results in less time. If the front and side yards are anything to go by, the answer to that question is yes. Saying that, it provided a handy work area last year when I repainted my garden furniture.

After solarizing the lawn, my friends helped me build Wee Lee Canyon, a dry creek around the what used to be the lawn. Another friend, and very talented carpenter, constructed a pergola beneath which My Husband and I laid hard-scaping and mulch in time for the winter rains to come. Except that they barely came...

By March I decided it was now or never and I planted some woolly thyme to fill in between the pavers, I also planted some blue fescue grasses and a couple of lavenders that were actually volunteers from a huge one we already had. I planted two grape vines on the pergola and made a shade out of old curtain material that should keep us cool until the grapes grow in.

You can just make out the little seedlings in the picture below.
In two short months the woolly thyme is filling in nicely. There are some bonus lobelia too.
 The grapes are really bounding up the posts!
Despite the lovely seating area, I rarely get time to enjoy it - the hard work in the garden continues! Here's a shot of this years garlic harvest.
 
 Byddi Lee

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nice new natives

I can't believe I last posted in January...two months ago! And to think of those days as a new enthusiastic blogger when I posted every week. 

My excuse for not posting more blogs is twofold...
1) I've finished my novel and am currently looking for publishers for it.
2) I've started my second novel....

Lots of writing going on - just not blogging.

Also lots of gardening going on ... In fact, it's hard to keep up with the garden, things are moving so swiftly with it. The miture of much needed rain and warm spring temperatures has made everything simply bounce forth this spring.

I added a couple of new plants to the native garden, having taken out some of my dwarf coyote bushes that had gotten straggly looking.

Inspired by the beauty of my redbud I purchased another.

I never usually buy big plants, but it was the only one left in the store. At $49.99 I must have visibly quaked at the the price because the sales guy gave me $20 off on the spot!

As I dug the hole to plant it I was struck by how nice the soil was. Four years ago this was compacted, tried old lawn, now it crumbles like chocolate cake - yummy! Take note those of you who don't believe that a layer of cardboard, a six-inch layer of mulch and time to let the earthworms do their thing can produce great results - without removing sod and double digging!  You can see the new plant in the top right hand corner of the photo.
I planted a white sage. It smells divine and will  grow to be quite huge.
Good job I left plenty of space around it! In the foreground of the photo you can see the coyote mint and the Clevelandia sage - all of which smell wonderful in the heat of the summer.
I bought three ceanothus plants. I'm looking froward to the bloom on this Yankee Point next year.
This variegated Diamond Heights prefers shade, and its bright leaves do brighten up a shady corner. I tried one before under my Douglas fir but it died. This one is under the plum tree. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
And the Julia Phelps promises to fill the gap left by my removal of a giant volunteer coyote bush that had gotten too leggy.
An Impulse buy at the garden center, this Mendicino Reed grass is beautiful at maturity, but I hope this spot gives it the shade it likes. It just looks like a random clump of grass right now!
 As does the baby  Deer Grass.
I got it to match the beautiful one I already have... which certainly does look like a random patch of grass.
But the prize for stunning native plants went, this year, to the Dutchmans Pipe vine I have growing through my crepe myrtle. It blossoms with these unusually shaped flowers that  look like a string of novelty lights, and just at the time of year when the crepe myrtle is bare - a perfect complement for each other providing interest year-round.
 
And yes the thermometer in the background really is showing the temperature in the shade of 75F...sorry to nearly everyone else in the Northern hemisphere suffering from extreme weather.


As they say here in California - it is what it is!


Byddi Lee