Canning Season is Upon Us

In my little corner of Pennsylvania, it’s not unusual to find home-canned goods lining the shelves of pantries. If you tally up the cost of processing, I’m not sure canning food is a cost-effective endeavor. Still, it’s nice to know what’s in those jars (and what isn’t).

Canned red beets.

Unlike the tins you buy in the store, glass jars can be reused. The flat lids must be purchased new each year, of course, but just recently, I saw a local store selling reusable ones. I intend to try them soon.

Mulberry jelly. I tried drying some berries this year, too. Tasted gross.

Dill and cilantro in the dehydrator.

Shredded cabbage transforming into sauerkraut. It smells so bad in here my husband thought we broke a sewer line.

There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about growing and preserving the harvest. I always feel a bit like a frontierswoman when I’m shredding cabbage for kraut or gathering berries for jam. I have a feeling my ancestors would laugh at that. After all, if my harvest fails, a drive to the store can replace it.

This year, I planted a row of snow peas next to our kitchen door. They were about a foot high when this happened:

Rabbit destruction.

In a single night, three rabbits devoured the entire row. It annoyed me, but the loss wasn’t a huge catastrophe, since I only planted enough to eat fresh. It made me pause to think about our forefathers, though (Let’s face it–everything makes me pause to think about them.). Our ancestors got one shot at a successful harvest. An assault like this–be it animal or otherwise–meant calamity for families relying on their bounty to survive the coming winter.

Those who plan to survive must adapt. We raised our beds, which ended the rabbits’ reign of terror.

We may have won that battle, but the war goes on. Insects aren’t ground feeders, so the raised beds did nothing to thwart them. Right now, we are under a major cabbage worm attack. I refuse to apply insecticides, so I’ve been trying natural repellents. I can tell you with certainty that garlic spray, citrus spray, and diatomaceous earth did not work for us. We hand pick the caterpillars each day, and still, some get through. Today, I’m trying Bacillus thuringiensis. Hopefully, that will do the job.

Have you tried something natural that works for these monsters? I’d love to hear about it.

 

Posted in Hands-On Research

A New Chapter (Not the Book Kind)

This is the state of my office.

IMG_20170617_110009

If you’re one of the sorry SOBs following me on Facebook, you know by my overshares that I’ve been going through some stuff. You also know I haven’t written much in the past year. I lost all heart and momentum, thanks to several big, emotional, word-stealing events.

In the midst of that turmoil, the workload at my day job increased to an unmanageable level. I thought it would eventually diminish. It didn’t. Each day seemed worse than the one before until it felt like someone stood on my back pressing my face into the dirt. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I didn’t want to wake up.

Months passed, during which a simmering thought turned to a rolling boil: you are not living the life intended for you.

I was not only off the path, but lost in the woods with no water, no food, no toilet paper, and I had to poop.

I became snagged fishing line, rising in pitch as I neared the breaking point.

I prayed for a lifeline. God threw one, a scary one, but when God throws you a lifeline, you don’t shit out of grabbing hold of the rope.

So. Yesterday was my last day of full-time work. A part-time position awaits me at a local law firm, which means the end of my very long commute. It also means four—FOUR!—days a week for writing. I don’t know why I’m glad about that, since it’s unlikely my writing will ever pay our bills. We won’t be eating out anymore. I’ll be growing, canning, and catching a lot of our food. Somehow, that sounds okay to me. I’m thankful it sounds fine to my husband, too.

I said farewell to my work family yesterday, good people I’ve loved for many years. It wasn’t easy. That job and those friends were constants in my world when everything else was falling apart.

I suppose because God knows I’m a fearful creature, He’s been sending me little messages to strengthen my courage. I thought I’d share them here in case you’re going through some anxiety of your own. I either heard these on the radio or saw them on signs over the past few weeks. They were important enough to write down in a notebook I carry:

NEVER LET FEAR DECIDE YOUR FUTURE

GOD’S GOT HIS HAND ON YOU; DON’T LIVE YOUR LIFE IN FEAR

STEP INTO THE LIGHT; HE’S RIGHT THERE BY YOUR SIDE

DON’T TRY HARDER; TRUST HARDER.

I am cleaning my home office today. I start the new job Monday. On Tuesday, it’s back to writing. It’s time to finish those two works in progress languishing at the 60,000 word mark.

When I’m complaining about eating my 500th trout, I may need you to remind me again that I did the right thing . . .

Posted in Writing

April Fools’ Day

In my childhood home, there were four holidays worth celebrating: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and April Fools’ Day. We looked forward to Christmas, Easter, and Halloween for obvious reasons. Presents and candy. Yippee!

But, oh, April Fools’ Day. That was the most anticipated day of the year. A day of houghmagandie. The objective was to survive April 1st without falling for a trick or a prank. In an isolated house with two mischievous parents and six intelligent imps, this wasn’t easy. We began preparing about the third week of March, often pilfering needed supplies from closets and sheds that had to be secreted in our rooms until The Big Day.

The Picture of Innocence, Right?

The Picture of Innocence, Right?

One year, we learned about strength in numbers. We united against our parents and strung fishing line from an upstairs bedroom to their room downstairs. The plan was to haul on the line in the middle of the night (just when they felt sure they’d survived the day!) and rattle something under their bed. This required several days’ labor. Do you know how hard it is to tuck fishing line into carpets without being seen?

My brothers often took things up a notch, like the year they laid down a minefield of potholder looms Santa brought us, then raised a ruckus so Mom would storm upstairs in her bare feet and nightgown. “April Fools! Oh, hey, somebody get the gauze.”

loom

Landmine!

Once, I managed to fool Mom from the basement. “Mom! The freezer died. There’s blood and water all over the floor!” (If you knew how hard that woman worked to freeze and can wild game and homegrown fruit and vegetables, you would understand why she nearly died on the spot.)

Now, before you feel too sorry for the woman who bore me, you should know she dished it out like a champ. She once put bricks and Limburger cheese in my brothers’ pillows. In case you don’t know, bricks hurt, and Limburger cheese smells like ass. Like, for days.

In the Losch household, if you made it through April Fools’ Day without falling for something, you were George Freakin’ Washington. At 12:01 a.m., on April 2nd, you could prance around with your head high and chest puffed out like a Banty rooster in a house of hens. It rarely happened.

This year, I fell by 11:30 a.m. There I was, potting up some seedlings in the kitchen, when Doherty yelled from the living room, “Did you see the Pope is coming to Harrisburg?”

“You’re kidding me. Why?”

Game over.

Posted in Uncategorized

When the Writing Mojo is a No Show

I photographed my flower bed today.

pumpkin

That’s a pumpkin. From Halloween.

Did I mention today is January 14th?

It may interest you to know that the Christmas wreaths are still on the upstairs windows, too.

What can I say? It’s been a rough couple of months filled with illness, stress, and the death of a loved one. Needless to say, I haven’t made much writing progress. For a while, there was no time. Then, there was time, but no energy. Now, there’s time and energy, but no writing mojo. It all feels hopeless, too daunting, a worthless endeavor.

I know better, of course. That’s just Lazy Julie complaining because something’s not going to happen easily. (My dad always said if something was easy, everyone would do it.)

So, it’s nose to the grindstone. The long break from writing turned my characters into strangers again. Unlike some fabulous writers, I can’t just sit down with my outline and pick up where I left off. I need time with my peeps. I have to woo them all over again, which means studying character development sheets and rereading the 50,000 words I wrote so far.

There are worse ways to spend a Saturday. I mean, it’s the first draft, so it’s not brilliant. Still, I think it shows promise. I feel a bit like I’m visiting with old friends, and I call that a good sign.

writing

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

Writing Through Stress

You may have noticed a lull in my blogging.

Or, not.

In April, two important things happened. First, Soul Mate Publishing released my second novel, SCATTERED SEEDS. Second, I moved with the clan chief to a grand, old house.house

Things were looking up. I had two books on the market and two manuscripts nearing the halfway mark. At long last, I had an office—and organization.

office

My new hometown rolled out a welcome I could not have anticipated. Mifflintown, Pennsylvania has to be one of the most author-friendly places on the planet.The sign in my yard created excitement and chatter.

sign

My blog hits and sales increased. I scored interviews with both the local newspaper and a little hometown magazine. My high school English teacher invited me to speak to his 10th grade class about writing historical fiction.

 

school

That last thing terrified me, and I nearly declined. What could I possibly have to offer teenagers? I agreed, telling myself if I could encourage one future writer, it would be worth the horror. Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed the day. Nearly every student listened with great focus and blatant enthusiasm. It turned out to be one of the best days of my life, because I faced something that frightened me, and I not only completed the task, but exceeded my own expectations. In my experience, days like those are few and far between.

The next day, the Universe punished me for dipping too much joy out of the happiness jar. Everything fell into the shitter. Like, really fell into the shitter. It was as if storm clouds gathered and rained a sticky form of hell, then stayed there. Calamity struck—repeatedly. The little free time I had completely disappeared. These days, I’m smelling my clothes to determine their degree of dirtiness. I’m learning how to dress, dry my hair, and put on makeup at the same time. I’m exhausted, stretched too thin, and suffering the physical and mental manifestations of unbearable stress.

I’m not alone. I’ve asked around. Many people are off-balance right now. This can be especially hard for us artistic types to bear. It’s difficult enough to create under the best of circumstances; it’s impossible during a catastrophe.

I keep telling myself that nothing stays the same for long. In another month, I might complain that I’m bored. (I sure hope so.) I have two manuscripts I’m dying to complete in that awesome new office of mine! There’s no actual writing going on, but that doesn’t stop the characters from attending barn dances inside my head.

I’m determined to just put my head down and soldier on. One day, I’ll have a minute or two of free time.

How do you get through stressful times?

Posted in Writing

Making Soap – Hands On Research

Some of the oils in my soapI love making soap. Sure, it’s cheap to buy, but have you ever read the list of ingredients in store-bought soap?

I know what’s in mine: lye, oils, essential oils. Period.

Oh, lye, you think. That stuff is really harsh.

Yes, lye is harsh. So harsh, in fact, we use it to unclog drains. You’ll need to be very careful with it. When combined with water, it heats quickly and throws of a steam you do not want to breathe. It’s an alkali. Your skin is not. This explains why Grandma’s “lye soap” was so drying. (You’re going to have to forgive Grandma. She didn’t have a lye calculator or an electric scale. Still, she managed to make a pretty decent soap with nothing but lard and lye.)

In the old days, we made lye in barrels by combining water, wood ash, straw, and maybe a little lime. If you ever want to try it (I do! I do!), here’s a great site with instructions: http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/make-lye.html

A lye-lard combo makes great soap, believe it or not, but I like to experiment with fancier oils. I collect bargains throughout the year and tuck them away for soaping day. My go-to recipe is a basic mixture of olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, castor oil, and shea butter.

This year, I was in the mood to try some flax oil, since my latest release, SCATTERED SEEDS, opens in Ireland with a flax failure.

You can play around with your oils, but in my experience, you will need at least 10% coconut oil in your recipe if you want good lather. Heavier oils like avocado and shea butter will make a decadent bar, but the soap will be a bit soft.

There’s a nifty lye calculator over at  https://www.thesage.com/calcs/LyeCalc.html to help you perfect your recipe. You’ll find basic instructions there, too.

Get your molds ready, if you haven’t already. You will not have time to prepare them when it’s time to pour.

soap6Melted oils ready to be made into soap

Once you have the lye mixed (I do mine outside whenever I can), and your oils melted, keep an eye on their temperatures. When both reach between 100-125 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to pour the lye into the melted fats. Be very careful. Spilled lye burns. Get the kids and pets out of the kitchen, and keep vinegar nearby just in case something splashes on your skin. Vinegar will neutralize the burn.

Mix your combined ingredients with a stick blender until it reaches what soapers call “trace.” Trace is that magical point when your mix looks like thick custard. If I’ve done everything correctly, I seem to hit trace in about 10-15 minutes.Mixing raw soap

Add your essential oils at this point. For this batch, I used lavender, patchouli, and just a touch of lemon. I never really measure, but for a batch this size, it’s probably about 16 oz. If you’re using fragrance instead of essential oils, you’ll need much less.

Pour the mix into your mold. I use a long loaf mold my husband made me. The sides are covered with plastic wrap, and they break away for easy removal of the set loaf.

Raw soap in the mold after pouring

Within a day or two, you can break away the sides to expose and slice your loaf.

Soap one day after pouring into mold

The soap will be quite harsh at this point, so you’ll need to be careful. Slice it, and allow it to cure for at least eight weeks before use. You’ll notice a light dusting on the cured bars. This is just ash, a by-product of the chemical process that took place in your soap. It is only on the outside of the bar and washes away quickly.

Happy sudsing!

Soap cut and ready to cure

Posted in Hands-On Research Tagged with: , , ,

Caroline Warfield’s The Renegade Wife

TheRenegadeWifeCaroline Warfield is celebrating her latest release, THE RENEGADE WIFE, with a giveaway! This one sounds so good. As you might guess, she had me at “isolated cabin.” 😉

Enter HERE for a chance to win a kindle copy of this spectacular new book, a $25 Amazon gift certificate, and a bundle of other prizes.

The Blurb

Betrayed by his cousin and the woman he loved, Rand Wheatly fled England, his dreams of a loving family shattered. He clings to his solitude in an isolated cabin in Upper Canada. Returning from a business trip to find a widow and two children squatting in his house, he flies into a rage. He wants her gone, but her children are sick and injured, and his heart is not as hard as he likes to pretend.

Meggy Blair harbors a secret, and she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her children safe. She’d hopes to hide with her Ojibwa grandmother, if she can find the woman and her people. She doesn’t expect to find shelter with a quiet, solitary man, a man who lowers his defensive walls enough to let Meggy and her children in.

Their idyllic interlude is shattered when Meggy’s brutal husband appears to claim his children. She isn’t a widow, but a wife, a woman who betrayed the man she was supposed to love, just as Rand’s sweetheart betrayed him. He soon discovers why Meggy is on the run, but time is running out. To save them all, Rand must return and face his demons.

The Excerpt

We. The word hung between them. She couldn’t look away. They stood for a long time in the narrow hallway before he closed the space between them. He moved so gradually that she didn’t realize it until his mouth was inches from hers, his warmth surrounded her, and his eyes searched hers. She couldn’t say if those eyes searched for permission; she couldn’t think at all. There was only awareness: of the man, of his warmth, of his bedroom door feet away.

The kiss came gently, a touch, a caress. She let herself feel it, starved for tenderness, and she breathed in his scent—pine and wood smoke. Her hands slid up his rough shirt, around his neck, and into the hair that hung to his collar.

Long fingers cupped her head then, splaying into her hair, and he deepened the kiss softly, gently without force. She opened gladly.

WOO!
*fans self*
Buy it. You know you want to.


The Author

CarolineTraveler, would-be adventurer, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things, but above all a romantic. She is now a writer of historical romance, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens, who sits in an office surrounded by windows and lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

You can learn more about Caroline at: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

Or, check her out at Ye Good Facebooke: https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7

Posted in Giveaways Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

18th Century Fail

lampI’m not sure why I get excited about power outages. Actually, wait. Yes, I do.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes stalled over Pennsylvania and turned our normally verdant commonwealth into a bowl of squash soup. I was five years old at the time, and living with my parents and five siblings. I can still recall the deafening roar of the Cocolamus Creek outside my window, and the grave concern etched in my parents’ faces when local waterways crossed roads, essentially cutting us off from civilization.

I can’t remember how long we were stuck there, but it must have been over a week, the most enjoyable of my life. We passed evenings playing games in the warm glow of a kerosene lantern. There were no outside distractions, other than the rising creek. If it’s possible for an already close family to grow closer, we certainly did in April of 1972.

There is no question the cloudy spring water (with the occasional waterlogged worm) was a bastard, but we didn’t just eat; we ate like kings. See, when the going gets tough, my Mom makes Caroline Ingalls look like a sloth on Klonopin. Why make one custard pie when you can make fifty?

I inherited some of my mom’s grit. Look anywhere in my house, and you will see kerosene lanterns, coffee percolators, cast iron cookware, and even a couple of MREs. I’m all about survival in case the lights go out, because, well, I know it can—and probably will. Heck, the only reason I bought a gas stove/oven is so I can still cook during power outages.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when the lights went out this morning, I sprang into action. YES! Time to impress The Hubs with my pioneer skills. Only, I didn’t impress anyone. The wicks in the kerosene lanterns were too short and dried out. My flashlight batteries were dead. The Yankee candles had about five minutes’ burning left, because they’re damn expensive and haven’t been in the budget for two years. The coffee percolator was stuffed into the back corner of the tallest shelf in the kitchen.

Thank heaven, the Shag Candle worked. (I’ll let you figure that one out.)  It’s one of those coiled beeswax jobbies that is supposed to last eighty hours. There’s no way. Three inches lasts exactly ten minutes. Unless you want to sit your arse in front of it for the entire power outage, at some not-so-distant point, darkness will return.

In summary, for all my primitive weaponry and preparations, my survivor skills are total crap. Either I’ve gotten lazy, or I’ve been lulled by relative reliability into a sense of security. In any event, there will not be a repeat of #18thcenturyfail. Starting tomorrow, I’m putting together an emergency kit. Maybe you should, too.

Or, do you already have one?

Posted in Hands-On Research Tagged with: , ,

Brotherly Advice from Scattered Seeds

banner and title

It will soon be 261 years since my characters from SCATTERED SEEDS boarded The Charming Hannah in Derry, Ireland and set sail for Philadelphia.

Here’s the letter that started it all, written from one brother to another:

Dearest Edward,

Forgive the quality of writing, as I do so in haste with a dying fire, a bad quill, and the last of my ink. I pray you are well, but if you are not—and judging from the number of Ulstermen alighting on these shores, I fear you may not be—I implore you to consider selling up and coming to Pennsylvania. There is much to gain here, including land!

I myself possess the most glorious 100 acres of land you have ever seen. It lies northwest of the Kittatinny. The mountain itself is a wall of forested rock, but if a man can elude the authorities and manage the arduous climb, he is rewarded with fertile valleys sprawling between an endless series of ridges. There are Ulstermen here now in every valley, living in secret, and if those tenacious souls can hang on but a year, I firmly believe they will have a chance to apply for ownership of the lands they now occupy.

I would be remiss if I did not warn of the impending violence here. Rumour has it that the French are building forts from New Orleans to Canada. Should they succeed, they will cut off British expansion to the west, and mayhap push us eastward until we have no choice but to board a ship and sail home. Take comfort, dear brother; I and my new countrymen—a rough and hardy lot—will not submit to a French yoke! I go to the Ohio Valley now, with others, to do my part. My cabin along the Cocolamus Creek, a humble abode, will be left unattended, and I fear it shall fall into disrepair or another man’s hands. You and Elizabeth would do me a great service by coming to inhabit it. Bring Henry and the rest of the countless brats you’ve no doubt sired since your last letter. You’ll need every one of their hands, but oh, Edward, what a feeling to close your eyes at night knowing you and yours will be the ones to reap the benefit of your own labour. I simply cannot describe to you the joy that accompanies the liberation found in Penn’s woods. You must come experience it for yourself.

Make your way from Philadelphia to Lancaster and from thence west to Harris’s and into Sherman’s Valley. I have drawn a map from there. Do not stray from it, no matter what advice folks give you along the way. Trust the traders whose names I have marked with X’s. Many will be away trading, and those who are at home will not only turn a blind eye to your trespassing, but give you succour also. They hate the English nearly as much as they hate the French.

You will think the Injuns scarce in these parts, but they are not. They are merely invisible. Thankfully, they are not soundless. Their milk-curdling shrieks are hard to miss, particularly since they are often uttered while running at you with a hatchet! If you see any, try not to shite your breeks. Just mention my name. (They like me well enough.) Do not come in winter. Chop wood straight away no matter what season you land—you’ll need every stick of it and probably  more. Horses are worthless in the backcountry for now, and too hard to keep. An ox is much better, and you can eat him when he has served his purpose—if the Injuns do not get him first. (Here I jest, for the wild men have not yet developed a taste for beef. Can you believe they prefer bear meat and even dog?)

God willing, my forge and smokehouse will still be standing when you get here. I’m burying my cauldron, an anvil, and some bar iron dead center between the three giant buttonwood trees south of the cabin, ten strides away from the water at the big bend in the creek. Come before it rusts to nothing—and before the field grows up in saplings. One of the trees mentioned above has as hollow butt large enough to stand up in. I’ll grease up a rifle and lead and stuff it up into that tree, along with some tools, so don’t buy any before coming over the Kittatinny. At most, I would bring a hand axe, some ground seed, and a tinderbox. If Injuns find you, you’re better off unarmed anyway.

Sell your wig in Philadelphia. No one here wears them.

I’ll be back to the cabin in two years’ time, and I hope to see you and Elizabeth there with your brood. Tell Sorley to shove his rent straight up his arse, and get yourselves on the first boat out of Derry, even if you must indenture your wains for a time. There truly is no better way of securing an education and a trade for them.

One last thing. If you come in summer, watch for serpents in the rocks. Some of them will kill you dead. Also, there are turtles in the Juniata River and in the Cocolamus Creek that will happily remove your dangly bits. I did not know this when I came here, and I’m missing half a finger. That turtle was tasty.

God be with you, brother.

—W

SCATTERED SEEDS is available for download now from Amazon, thanks to Soul Mate Publishing. Escape with Edward and Henry this summer! https://www.amazon.com/Scattered-Seeds-Julie-Doherty-ebook/dp/B01E056H1Q

Watch the book trailer for SCATTERED SEEDS here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNzrVFnl9Ts

Posted in Scattered Seeds Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

When Your Dad Labels Something IMPORTANT

Someone recently asked me to name one thing—other than loved ones or pets—I’d save from my burning house. Of course, we all know you should never, EVER run back into a burning house, but the question was asked hypothetically. My answer might surprise you. Or, not, if you know me well.

There are three things I’d want to save.

  • The Raggedy Ann doll my mom made;
  • My dad’s original paintings; and
  • This:

DadWhat is it? you ask. Well, it’s a piece of acid-free mat board taped to Masonite to protect what’s inside. I’ve added white squiggles on the jpg because I want you to guess what’s in there. In case my dad’s giant letters don’t make it clear, the contents are IMPORTANT. I mean, Dad said so, right there in clear print, and he was never, ever wrong (except for that time he claimed I met Russell Ferguson along the Cocolamus Creek for romantic purposes. No matter what my sister says, I was only fishing! Thanks, Sarah.)

So, what do you think is in there? What item would have me running through flames to retrieve it?

This:

HeneryIt’s a handwritten list of McConnell births, marriages, and deaths, beginning with Henry, born in 1802. This particular Henry is the son of the Henry featured in SCATTERED SEEDS. It’s just an old piece of paper, and as you can see, it’s not in great shape. But it means everything to me. I don’t know why. I know we aren’t in therapy here, but I suppose it’s because I’ve never been able to bear children, so the only family I’ll ever have is the one I had.

In any event, I don’t know that I’d recover from the loss of this document. Or my Raggedy Ann. OR my dad’s paintings.

Have you ever asked yourself what you’d hypothetically save? Other than  your family and pets, of course. Is there some monetarily valueless thing you couldn’t live without?

Let’s turn that question into a contest, shall we? Comment on this blog post by April 28th, swear by Rafflecopter you did it, and good ole Raffle-de-Copter will select one random poster to win this tea bag holder and a digital copy of SCATTERED SEEDS. Doherty, the sexy shite, hauled that tea bag holder the whole way home from Ireland in his suitcase, so it still has plenty of awesome Irish leprechaun magic stuck to it from the Auld Sod. No cheating, now! If you say you commented, you’d better comment!

** UPDATE ** Congratulations, Rose Lange! You are the winner of the tea bag holder.

 

Tea Bag Holder

Enter to Win!

Posted in Giveaways, Scattered Seeds
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