Turning over a new leaf

So I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this last year, and am finally home again now for a good long stretch.  Which means I finally have time to clean my office!  Here’s what it looked like a few days ago:

Can you believe that mess?  It’s a total hurrah’s nest, as my Nova Scotia grandmother used to say.  (She pronounced it “who-raw’s nest.”)  This is what happens when you’re juggling multiple deadlines and lots of travel.  But it sure makes for a horrid place to work.

I’ve been busy these past few days, sorting, tidying, filing, tossing, dusting, vacuuming, straightening, and organizing.  I finally finished last night.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Ahhh.  MUCH better — I can breathe again!  And write.  Which is what I’m going to do right now…

Tidy surroundings are a vital part of my writing process.  How about you?

 

Nest update

I count four little beaks, how about you?

Mama Robin is keeping a close watch on me as I watch her and her babies …

 

It’s been a busy day here in the Frederick backyard.  The nest is bulging with rapidly-growing baby robins, who look to me like they’re about ready to fledge (leave the nest).  I spotted a couple of way-too-interested crows hanging around earlier (unfortunately, crows like to snack on baby birds), so I’ve stationed myself close to the nest with my laptop, a glass of ice water, and, believe it or not, a canoe paddle just in case I need to swat at one of said crows.

I have to go inside to Skype with a mother-daughter book club in Wisconsin, so I’m going to let Bonnie take over for nest guard duty for a while.  Talk about teamwork!

 

 

The robins are back!

I returned home today from a quick trip to Boston (my wonderful nephew graduated from Hampshire College this past weekend — yay, Will!) to find this in my backyard:

Yes, folks, that is a robin’s nest.  Guess we won’t be sweeping off the back patio anytime soon…

 

Holiday shopping tra la

Bought my first gift of the season today from…

 Pink♥d is one of my FAVORITE Etsy stores!  It’s the brainchild of Stephanie, a talented teen friend of mine.  Click here to check out her gorgeous designs.

I picked out a pair of super cute earrings for a relative (shhhhh!).

Have you done any holiday shopping yet?  Did you find any treasures?  If you’re making gifts this year instead of buying them (I make jam and shortbread for friends and relatives every year), what’s your favorite thing to make?

 

Operation Secret Puppy

It’s not often that I manage to hoodwink my husband.

I do not have a poker face.  I have a “boy oh boy do I have a secret I betcha can’t guess what it is!” kind of face.  Somehow, though, last week I managed to pull it off.

My husband with his “surprise” puppy

For a while now, we’ve been discussing the possibility of getting another dog — a sibling for Bonnie, our Shetland Sheepdog.  My husband loves tri-color Shelties, and said that if we were ever to get another dog, that’s the one that would win his vote.  He liked the idea of having two little bookends — one with a sable coat, one with a tri-color coat.  But in the end we pretty much tabled the whole idea, and decided to revisit it after our own “puppies” graduated from college.  Besides, we thought, how could we possibly ever find a dog as wonderful as our beloved Bonnie?

My Bonnie Valentine

Bonnie was a surprise present from my husband five years ago.  Sheltie purists might not appove of her one-ear-up-one-ear-down look (show dogs of this breed sport folded ears), but we think it gives her personality and sass and wouldn’t change it for the world.  In fact, we’re convinced Bonnie is an angel in a fur suit.  She keeps me company while I write, takes me on walks when I need a break, and lights up our home life in ways none of us could ever have imagined.  We adore her.

So here we were, content with our “only” dog, when lo and behold what should appear on Facebook a few weeks ago but baby pictures — and not just any baby pictures, but charming shots of two tri-color pups from Kensil’s Shelties. Sylvia and David Calderwood raised Bonnie, and all their dogs are amazingly beautiful and smart, with sweet temperaments. These pups were EXACTLY the kind we WOULD have been looking for, IF we were looking for another puppy.  Which we WEREN’T, remember?

Well.

Last week, egged on by my 19-year-old son, I decided to surprise my husband (turnabout being fair play and all that), and Billie came to join our family.  The look on Steve’s face was worth every second I’d spent agonizing over whether I had made the right decision.  Wouldn’t you have melted, too?

Billie Holliday Frederick

As for Bonnie, she took one look at her new “little sister” and tore around the yard for several minutes doing happy laps. She’s since taken Billie under her wing, showing her the ropes…

Bonnie & Billie exploring the backyard

and sharing her toys…

“May I please play with this now?”
“Thank you!”

and even sharing her favorite bed (along with another toy).

Billie catching some zzz’s

Of course, being a big sister does have some perks.   Twice as many dogs means twice as many new toys, after all!

Bonnie with one of Billie’s toys

Little House on the Cul-de-sac

There’s something about summer that makes me feel all Laura Ingalls Wilderish.  I get in a “Little House” frame of mind come July every year, and there’s nothing to be done for it but whip out my apron and start stirring up good things.

July is when the berries start ripening in droves.  June is a tease — just strawberries, mostly — although here in Oregon, that means Hood strawberries, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else.  Intensely sweet and highly perishable, they rarely make it to stores and have to be hunted down at Farmer’s Markets or, if you’re lucky (which I am), at the neighborhood berry stand that magically appears every summer in an unpaved parking lot near our local supermarket.

June means bowls of strawberries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It means homemade strawberry shortcake (my husband’s favorite) for Father’s Day.  Some years it means strawberry jam, too, although this year I was too busy with work to put any up.

July, though, means Berries with a capital B — boysenberries, loganberries, raspberries, marionberries, tayberries, sylvan blackberries, and whatever other berries Mother Nature can dream up.  I was determined not to let this bounty, too, slip by, and when a window of opportunity opened up this past weekend, I grabbed it and my husband (aka Pa Frederick), and made a dash for our favorite berry farm …

… where we picked gooseberries and boysenberries.

Oregon boysenberries

Boysenberries  make the BEST jam — although marionberries run a close second.

Ma Frederick's Boysenberry Jam

Oddly enough, boysenberries also make good picture books.

Coming in October 2010!

I got the idea for this book a couple of years ago, at the very same berry farm.  Writers fool around with words in their heads a lot (if you ever notice a vacant expression on our faces, that’s what we’re doing), and that day I got to noodling around with the word “boysenberry” while my hands were busy picking.  Wouldn’t it be funny if there were girlsenberries? I thought.  Which of course led to, And wouldn’t it be funny if you could pick babyberries? That was it, I was off and running, and voila! Babyberry Pie was born.

No picture books were born this weekend, just a most satisfying cupboard full of jam and chutney (gooseberries make fabulous chutney).  Oh, and we picked up some rhubarb, too, which I turned into Rhubarb Custard Streusel Pie.

I used Jennifer Jacobson’s recipe (thanks, JJ!),  but since I only had one pie crust in the freezer (I make several at a time and freeze the extras), and was too lazy to make another one, I whipped up some streusel topping instead.  You can use it atop just about any fruit pie — trust me, it’s delicious.  Here’s the recipe:

Streusel Topping

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. flour

Mix together until topping is the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.  Sprinkle evenly atop pie, cover with foil, and bake as usual, according to the directions for whatever pie you’re making.  Remove foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking, so that streusel turns golden brown.

Yum.

All in all, a most satisfying weekend.  Ma Ingalls would definitely approve.

Keeping cool

It’s hotter than blazes here!

When my family and I moved from the East Coast to the Northwest nearly 20 years ago, we quickly discovered one of Portland, Oregon’s best-kept secrets — absolutely heavenly summers.

Our winters may be cool and gray and rainy, but summer is a different story altogether.  We’re talking almost no humidity (bliss for a former New Englander), and weeks and weeks of sunny skies and temperatures that hover in the 70s and low 80s.

Not today.

Like most of the rest of the country, we’re sweltering out here.  After one of the rainiest springs on record, and March weather that lingered through the fourth of July, we’ve finally been hit with a heat wave.

Yesterday I threw in the towel (literally) and vamoosed to my favorite outdoor pool to cool off.  When I came home, I switched the air conditioner on for the first time all summer and made homemade fudgesicles.  Today I might have to play hooky and go to a movie.

What are your favorite ways to beat the heat?

Writer’s cottage

I was in Sacramento this past weekend, visiting family and attending the annual Curtis Park Home & Garden tour.  Curtis Park is a fabulous, eclectic neighborhood in the heart of the city, filled with unique old homes built between the turn of the last century and the 1920s and ’30s.  I fell in love with every single one I stepped foot in.

I’m a big fan of old houses.

Especially ones with intriguing outbuildings in the back yard.  Check this out:

Would that not make the perfect spot for a writer to set up shop?

Maybe someday…

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep trying to turn my 1950s ranch-style house into the English cottage of my dreams.