Friday, October 31, 2014

It's raining and I have no asthma. Zip. Meanwhile, two of my family are fighting five day sore throats, and I still have a lovely singing voice. Thank you, pectin in my GF flour mix.

I'm excited and happy about turning 40. Good things are happening, and my writing is flowing. Life is good.

Snippet: thanks for breakfast

Juniper smiled. “Could be. Anyway, thank you for breakfast. Is there anything I can do to thank you before I go?” She looked at Mia. “I’m sorry about the bed. I’m afraid I can’t “ungrow” a tree, but I can pay for damages.”
“What’s up with the bed?” Faolán wanted to know.
Mia grinned. “Go see for yourself. Don’t worry about it, girl. It’s a conversation piece now. But if you’re serious about helping out, maybe you could look into the back yard. It’s a sorry bit of concrete, and we could use a tree or something for shade when we grill.”
Juniper followed her outside and surveyed the back lot. It was a cracked bit of concrete with weeds growing in the cracks and a couple of rickety wooden tables and lawn chairs, surrounded by a battered wooden fence. She nodded. “I can do something with this. Did you have anything in particular in mind?”
The crew looked at each other. “Nothing too high maintenance,” Karl suggested. “Maybe a tree and some grass or something.”
“Can you put in some herbs? I love rosemary,” Mia added.
“No problem. Let me get my seeds from my pack. You can go about your work while I do this, and I’ll show you what I’ve done when it’s finished.”

She was saddling Twix when Lt Bjorn entered the stable. Thankfully the crew had grabbed her tack and saddlebags when they finished with her tree last night, or she’d be riding bareback. It was less than a mile to the park, but a saddle was welcome.
“You did the back yard,” he said with a tinge of admiration. “I had no idea it could look so good.”
She smiled. It hadn’t been hard to line the lot with hedges and sprout a climbing oak. It had a branch that would be perfect for a swing, and she’d made a bench project from the trunk. The lot was now lined with a sturdy hazelnut hedge and she’d used the roots to break up the concrete into pavers. Grass grew thick and green in the cracks. She’d planted an herb garden and cherry tree, too. “It was my pleasure.”
“You’re leaving?” He walked her out of the stable.
“Yes. I need to get to work.”
He was silent for a moment. “Karl said you had some ideas to make the tree safer.”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “The first steps are still dangerous, but I have to start somewhere.”
“Do you think you can do it?”
“Yep.” She mounted up.
He looked her over thoughtfully. “Will the tree be done today?”
She shook her head. “It will be two days at least, but it will be easy to close the holes in the tree today. I’ll have some protection while I work.”
“All right. Do me a favor; sleep here tonight. I’d rather not be called out to the Burn again.”
She looked away, considering it.
“You more than earned it with the yard work. Beside, you’ve given the crew something to talk about, and you already marked your bunk.”
His smile made her heart beat faster, but she didn’t need romance right now; too much to do. She tried to sound casual. “Okay. Just for tonight. I won’t need it after that. I appreciate the offer.” It would be good to have a place to rest tonight, and she would be dog tired.
“Cool. See you then.” He stepped back and let her ride away.
The gangs watched her as she trotted up to the Burn, and this time the neighbors stared, too. She kept an eye on them, but her senses were busy on the tree and the immediate vicinity. The tree rustled with pleasure at her approach and assured her there were no monsters inside. She hurried past the burned carcasses and into the tree, sealing the door. The first thing she did was help the tree repair the bark so she could work safely, though she wouldn’t take that safety for granted. The Bramble had taught her an important lesson, and she would watch her back.
She settled Twix in his sandy stall and helped the tree “breathe” away the smoke stink. She didn’t want to be distracted while she worked.
The next bit was harder. She stood in the center of the floor and thought about her battery. She knew the theory of how to make one, but she’d never had access to a power source like Bramble Burn before. It took a river of power to make, and it was dangerous. If she got cocky, the battery could explode, taking her, the tree and Twix with it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Birthday soon, will be 40

I'll be forty in November. It's a cool landmark, so we were thinking about a weekend in Seattle. After running the numbers and factoring in Christmas coming, we decided to have local fun instead. We're going to take the kids to PF Chang's for lunch and maybe mini golf. Big Hero Six looks fun, too.

I don't mind getting old one bit. First off, I look ten years younger than I am, which was a plague when I was younger, but fine now. I'm also healthier now than I ever was, and rarely suffer colds and illness, and my asthma has greatly improved. Removing milk and going GF was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I've got a great marriage of over 20 years and three healthy kids, a comfortable house, a job I love. There's a lot to be thankful for.

Snippet: “You really bought Bramble Burn?”

“You really bought Bramble Burn?” The medic chatted while Juniper was loaded into the ambulance for the ride to the station. “You do things like that often?”
“First time for everything,” Juniper mumbled. She was so tired. Maybe she’d been overconfident. Obviously she needed to tweak a few things. If she wanted to anchor the park, she’d need a safe place to crawl home to at night and a way to keep from draining all her energy. She couldn’t afford to be weak, or the Burn would eat her.
The station was stark outside, from what she could see in the dark, a brick building on a city lot. It was clean inside and furnished with Government Issue furniture and castoffs. She walked in under her own steam and nearly fell into one of the kitchen chairs. The pair of F &R guys with KP looked at her uncertainly.
“She needs to eat and crash,” Bjorn said, placing a bowl of steaming stew in front of her. “It was that or arrest her crazy self so she wouldn’t get killed in the Burn.”
Juniper ignored him. The stew fortified her enough that she helped coax Twix into a box stall, calming his furious protests. He’d followed the ambulance on his own, but they wouldn’t let him hang out on the street, scaring pedestrians.
“Quit, old man. They aren’t going to eat either of us,” she muttered, rubbing his neck. She was tempted to lie down in the hay, but Lt Bjorn was watching. If she looked too weak, he might decide the hospital was the place for her.

She showered, but it took all she had. The bunk in the woman’s dorm was clean, and she collapsed on it gratefully. She had a thousand things to do tomorrow, and she couldn’t wait to start the day.

Chapter 2

“What did you do to the bed?”
Juniper opened her eyes and peered at the woman frowning at her. It took a moment to remember attack, fire, rescue. She sat up and looked at the bunk bed, then hopped off for a better look. “Holy cow!” The bedposts had sprouted into saplings, rooting into the floor as she slept. The branches formed an arch over the top bunk, and the only thing missing was a flock of little birdies.
She looked at the fire fighter, dumbfounded. “That never happened before.” Did it have something to do with Bramble Burn? She could sense the park, even from here. Had the tree done something to tune her senses to the park’s power? The tree was supposed to anchor the magic, to be the first of many “fence posts”. She’d never dreamed that the wild energy might change her, too.
The woman snorted. “The guys are never going to believe this. Come on, let’s get breakfast.” She waited while Juniper brushed her hair and changed into jeans and a t-shirt, then led the way downstairs, chatting as she went. “I’m Mia, by the way. Word has it Kjetil picked you up from Bramble Park. You know, we were on the roof yesterday watching that tree of yours grow with binoculars. You’re the talk of the town. No one knew if it was some kind of new monster.” Mia had short, straight black hair and was built small but sturdy.
“Cher-til? Is that Lt Bjorn’s given name?”
“Yep. He’s one of the Norse wolves. The local pack likes to keep an eye on the city, and wolves like action, so we’ve got a couple on staff. Hope you like cinnamon rolls.”
Mia handed her a plate and introduced her to the day crew. There were four on duty, plus Mia, and all of them had questions.
“How did you grow a tree that big, that fast?” a large black man, Karl, wanted to know. He was responsible for the cinnamon rolls, and he had a southern drawl.
“Did you know you were on the news?” Faolán, an Irish man with black hair and a neatly trimmed goatee wanted to know. He waved a hand at the TV. “Not many tree mages out there.”
“I’m not a mage,” Juniper protested. “More like a farmer.”
“That’s a bloody big tree, farm girl,” Faolán remarked. “But you can’t mean to go back there?”
“I do, yes. I need to fix my tree.”
“Now that’s crazy talk,” Karl said. He set his coffee aside and leaned closer over the table. “You’ll ruin all of Bjorn’s hard work. What are you going to do the next time a mutant woodchuck sets your tree on fire? You can’t count on rescue every time.”
Juniper nodded. “Good point. May I have some paper? I need to add it to the list.” She took a pencil and busily began making a tree diagram. “You’re an expert on safety. What do I need to plan for?”
Mia leaned closer to view her sketch. “For starters, you need to plan for fire. Second, you need something stronger than wood to keep the critters out. You’ve already proved that they think of giant trees as chew toys.”
Juniper drew a picture of a tree burning and stick figures running around, arms in the air. She drew a slash through it. “Tougher skin. I think I can do that.” She thought about all the junk cars and made scales on the trunk. She had plenty of metal to work with. She sketched in rain water collection tanks that would be hidden in the walls of the tree and added a greenhouse on top.
“What’s that?” Karl asked.
“Greenhouse. I need to grow some herbs and stuff,” she said absently.
“What kind of herbs?” he asked suspiciously.
She laughed. “The legal kind. Saffron and chocolate, for one. I need to make money, and I need to eat. A garden won’t be safe on the ground at this time.”
“You can grow chocolate?” Mia asked with interest.
“It doesn’t matter. It will be too vulnerable. You’ll have giant grasshoppers trying to break in,” Karl warned.
“Bullet proof glass and protective shutters,” Juniper added to her list.
“What’s to stop something from eating you when you’re leaving your tree?” Faolán wanted to know. “That’s when you’ll be most vulnerable.”
“Defenses, very important.” Juniper drew a ring of thorns around the tree and studied the picture.
“You know Bramble Burn is in the middle of a tough neighborhood,” Mia said seriously. “You can be mugged or worse.”
Juniper met her eyes. “I could be. Twix is dangerous, but he could be shot. I could be shot. I’ll have to take steps to prevent that.”
“Kevlar,” Faolán suggested.
“Bodyguards,” Karl grumped.
Juniper cocked her head. “Tenants,” she said thoughtfully.
Karl guffawed. “You think you’re going to get renters in Bramble Burn? You’re crazy, girl.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Snippet: That’s me, drama queen.

“Sure. My tree was attacked by squirrels and mutant hedgehogs. I need to make some adjustments.”
He scowled. “I should arrest you for disturbing the peace and trespassing.”
Juniper gulped the sweet, salty drink the EMT handed her and was able to sit up. “I bought the park from the city. I have the deed, so it’s not trespassing.”
“I’d like to see this deed.”
“Sure. Please bring me my pack.” She nodded to the tree, which the emergency personnel and assorted gawkers were giving a wide berth. “She’ll behave.”
He looked doubtful, but approached the door. The warning snort inside made him pause.
“Twix, come here,” Juniper called, summoning the animal. He’d never let the soldier in without her.
The crowd moved back warily as he walked out of the tree. Black Adders weren’t known to cotton to strangers.
The Lt brought her pack. She rummaged in it and found the deed so he could look at it. “I’m surprised Fire and Rescue was called out for Bramble Burn.”
“You grow a tree as tall as a skyscraper and set it on fire. It could be seen for miles, and you’re surprised anyone noticed?” he said dryly. “Sheer curiosity would have gotten us called out, if nothing else.”
“That’s me, drama queen.” Juniper tried to sit up. Spots danced before her eyes and she quickly lay back. She felt like puking.
“Your blood pressure is low,” the medic reported. “We need to take you to the hospital for observation.”
“Nope, too expensive. I’ll be fine tomorrow.” Juniper struggled to sit up, but the medic placed a hand on her shoulder and pointed to the smoldering tree. Smoking corpses littered the ground around it, and splintered holes gaped in the hollow trunk. “Were you planning to stay in that?”
Juniper sighed in defeat. There was no way she could patch it up, not tonight, but a hospital stay was out of the question. “I just need some sugar and some sleep. Any chance you could drop me at a hotel on the way back?”
Lt. Bjorn exchanged a look with the medic. “Look, we have room in the station. You can bunk there tonight. We have medics on staff who can keep an eye on you.” At her doubtful look, he added, “Or I could arrest you and toss you a cell for a few hours. There won’t be charges, but you’ll get some sleep without becoming a chipmunk snack.”
Not much of a choice, and she was weak as wet paper. “Fine. I accept your hospitality. Appreciate it.”

“My pleasure. Now I won’t have to come back for your body later.” He left to help with cleanup.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Monster boar roast

I spend seven hours yesterday turning a hunk of pork shoulder into a beautiful mahogany roast with crackling crisp skin, and then I let it rest in the oven until the kids had filled up on leftovers. They moaned in protest when I brought it out because they were almost full, but obligingly finished their veggies so they could have some. Best way to use up leftovers ever. Good thing there was plenty of beautifully rendered skin, because there would have been a fight over it. For a while all I could hear was crunching and blissful yum sounds.

It's definitely going on my holiday meal list. Ham's a problem because of allergies and undisclosed ingredients, and turkey doesn't like me. Crispy pork shoulder, brisket, ribs and Cornish hens are my answer to holiday meals. They throw in a prime rib when we buy half a cow, and that's nothing to sneeze at, either.

I used the Cook's Illustrated Cuban Pork Roast method of 3 hours scored skin down on a rack, covered with tinfoil at 325 F. Flip skin side up at three hours and leave uncovered. When almost done, turn off oven and let rest for an hour for maximum yumminess. Remember to use a generous amount of dry rub before roasting, and I add a bit of water to the pan under the rack to prevent smoking up the house.

After that, I knew I needed to let Juniper roast some of the monstrous boars rooting in her yard. She's a busy girl, but fortunately, she has help...

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bramble Burn snippet: infested with mutant squirrels.

“Keep an eye out, Twix.” She led Twix across the border and gently breathed on it. She put the acorn on the ground, tapping into the magic of Bramble Burn. A thrill chilled her. There was a river of power here, waiting to be tapped. It tested her, pulled with a strong current to drown her like it had done so many others, but she knew how to tame wild magic. She pointed it at the acorn and told it to anchor, to not only claim the space, but to own it.
Gleeful to finally have direction, eager to work, it grabbed the acorn and pulled it under the soil. A sprout shot out, making the ground ripple with rapid growth. A normal oak grew a hundred feet tall and four feet wide. This one widened until it was the girth of a house and soared thirty stories, as tall a redwood. The leaves spread over the ruined park, forming a huge canopy of green.
Deep in her trance, Juniper stepped inside the massive hollow tree, followed by Twix, and sealed the door. Dusk was approaching, and they needed solid walls between them and the Bramble, but they also needed light. Narrow windows of thick amber formed beside the door, acting like one-way mirrors. More dotted the trunk, forming an amber spiral, and her eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom.
Juniper breathed deeply of fresh green oak, beginning to feel the exertion. She formed a box stall with a sandy floor and took a break to remove Twix’s tack. She taught the tree to draw water into a basin for him and made one for her own use across the way, adding a drain.
She was trembling now, so she quickly formed a crude toilet and called it a night. Exhausted, she washed up and ate a quick dinner.
The floor was hard, but it was solid and she was safe. She slept like a log.

The tree screeched in her mind, jolting her awake. Twix paced his stall, frantic with the smell of smoke.
What the garbage? Was someone trying to smoke them out? Fuzzy with sleep, Juniper tapped into the tree to see what the problem was and flinched. There were things crawling in the limbs, burrowing into the bark. They were infested with mutant squirrels.
The tree groaned in pain as another blast of fire seared the bark. She peered cautiously through the amber windows and saw a pack of giant hedgehogs breathing fire, having a squirrel barbeque. They were milling in excitement at the all-they-could-eat buffet.
Alrighty then.
She was already dressed, so she sat in a lotus position and focused on the tree. “Time to exterminate some pests.” She let the tree feel her outrage, the need to protect and avenge. She fed it power and limbs suddenly became limber, swatting and squeezing Rottweiler sized, saber tooth squirrels into jelly. It flung the carcasses at the hedgehogs, bowling them over. While they were distracted, the roots and branches snared the hogs, binding and crushing.
The magic built, and Juniper grew lightheaded. She directed the tap roots to draw on the aquifer, pulling up massive amounts of water to quench the fire ravaging her branches. Dots peppered her vision, and she strained to rein in the energy. It resisted, testing her. She dug deep and hauled up hard, forcing it to spin until it stopped fighting. Roots burrowed into the ground with a sigh and blackened limbs hardened.
Sirens split the night. Dizzy, she crawled to the door and peered out the window. Fire trucks and armored police vehicles screeched to a halt next to smoking carcasses. She made sure the energy was quiet and crawled up the door frame, opening the door. She flinched at the glare of headlights. She reached for the wall, but the light grew and punched her in the face.
She must have fainted, because when she came to, she was lying on a stretcher with a flashlight beam in her eyes. She turned her head and tried to sit up, but that made the world flare white. She gave up.
“She’s awake. I can’t find any injuries,” an elven EMT reported.
“Jus’ tired,” Juniper slurred. “How’s Twix? He bites.”

A head blocked her view and resolved into a man’s face. “My name is Lt. Bjorn. I’m with Fire and Rescue. Can you make a statement?” He had dark eyes and short dark hair and might be in his late twenties. Judging from his black Kevlar and the rifle over his shoulder, he was the Rescue. If there was mayhem, soldiers like him were deployed along with fire crews. They were empowered to make arrests, though mostly they shot things until they stopped twitching.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Most excellent white chocolate orange cupcakes

Link to awesome cupcakes I made. 

Most excellent white chocolate orange cupcakes

I wasn't sure my kids would like this or if it would come out right off the bat,
but as I was mixing the extracts and the perfume filled the house, I knew. 
Tasting the batter was a clue, and the cupcakes, a revelation.