And Next on our Falconsbane Tour:

Greetings and welcome, beloved Readers! We’re back this week with another Falconsbane feature post. Following our (somewhat) methodical tour through the land of Phen, visiting its regions and their varying militaries, we have now come to the region of Massa.

True story: in the first development stages of the idea for Falconsbane, when it was yet known as The Druyds of Phen and my maps were sketched out on the inside covers of a notebook, the region was originally called Rassa (vastly different, I know, right?) Anywho, after a brief series of rather uneventful events I decided to switch the name, and it’s been Massa ever since. I don’t know about you, but I like it better with the ‘M’.

Massa is one of the largest regions of Phen, located on the eastern side of the country, and is shaped kind of like a leg and foot, actually. It’s just north of Nyan, at about the heel, and its toes meet the border with Kedash to the west. The top of the foot, as well as the ankle and shin, border the region of Zuar. Running through the middle of Massa is the River Geron, which flows from where it enters the country farther north in Ashelon and heads south until it feeds into the Adrian Sea at the bottom of the ‘foot’. The river forms a good stretch of Massa’s border with the foreign country to the east known a Mehdai, and the northern half of the region is covered in the gigantic forest that stretches across the entire country all the way to the mountains in Gadrei. Whew.

The Massan people are craftsmen, metalsmiths and carpenters. They log the forest and export building materials and furniture across the country and beyond, and it was in the Massan forges that the exceptional steel which makes up Phen’s arms was first smelted.

Every military has its varying branches which specialize in different aspects of war. Massa’s armed forces are the cavalry, the armored knights, the tanks. Massans already come in size large, and their horses resemble bears more than equines (according to Roscha, anyway). They’re the powerhouses, the battering ram that smashes through enemy forces and scatters them like flies ─ and that’s about the extent of their strategical prowess. They are at their best in melee, after shattering the enemy’s front line. They wear the most armor and wield the heaviest weaponry, which range from double bladed swords to axes, maces, and on occasion the morning star. These men are notoriously tough to beat, often described as immune to injury, and like their brothers to the west, the Zuarmen, they are fierce in battle and brutal. This is displayed fairly well in one of their marching mantras: ‘Beasts and stones tear flesh from bones, but Massans are more thorough.’ They like to attribute it to the attitude of giving their all for the purpose toward which they are fighting, and this sentiment happens to be the theme of their regional motto.

The anthem by which the Massans live and their warriors fight is ‘Enkahma ge surdae Sol’El’, which translates into the idea of ‘All for the One’. This carries a twofold meaning. The language used indicates that the ‘all’ implies both ‘everyone’ and ‘everything’, meaning ‘all the people/all of us’, as well as the entirety of an individual, ‘all my might’. It’s the idea that everything that person is, their strength, mind, passion, talents, etc. are for this One, meaning Avin’El, the God of the Phennish people. The term Sol’El is a name often attributed to Avin’El, which means ‘one and only God’.

This motto serves as a reminder to the people of how they have devoted themselves to live, as well as a warning to their enemies to beware, for they are a no-holds-barred kind of people, unreserved and zealous in all that they do.

 

Sweet Summer Snack

It’s that cycle of the blog again ─ recipes! I try to find ones that I can make and work into the family meal schedule, but on the occasions that I don’t forget (*sheepish grin*) we don’t end up eating dinner until late, it’s dark, and taking pictures would result in unappealing photos. This time of year the schedule is all over the board, too. In this summer season spontaneous sub nights and impromptu meals at the neighbors speckle the menu almost as often as bowls of cereal and burgers.

Nevertheless, here’s an item that made it to the table: Rosemary-Lemon Scones. I love scones. Actually, I love them about as much as I love muffins, biscotti, and peaches with cream. These have a fairly damp dough (not one of my favorite things, as it happens) but they bake up light and fluffy. They have a nice, mild lemon flavor that doesn’t punch you in the face (because who likes being punched in the face?) and a hint of rosemary. I was so excited that I got to use the fresh rosemary from my herb garden. It smells so lovely, and adds a wonderful aroma and flavor to these scones. Even my mom, who doesn’t like rosemary because it makes her think of Vix, said they were good. Double score.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 Tbsp cold butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 small egg
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • Coarse sugar

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I have found that I like to cheat and use the food processor to cut in my butter, but not always. When I cut it in by hand I’ve learned that chopping the cold butter into wee cubes first helps make the process much easier).
  • Whisk together the sour cream and egg, then add to the crumb mixture and stir until moistened, but not too thoroughly. The more you mash the dough the tougher the scones will be. Then mix in the lemon peel and rosemary.
  • Turn out onto an heavily floured surface and knead gently about 10 times or so; form into a ball. On a greased baking sheet pat into an 8inch disk, then cut into 8 wedges, but don’t pull them apart (I wondered at this, thinking it would just bake up into a single, massive scone. As it turns out, though, the slices remain, and the scones just pull apart easy as you please). Sprinkle the top with coarse sugar and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve.

These are good warm or room temperature, as a side at supper, as breakfast, or a snack with a hot cup of tea (*earl grey*).

Life, in Summer

Hey, all! It’s been a doozey of a week up here, with temperatures that us northerners just aren’t used to coping with. I’m not complaining, though. We’ve been waiting for it to warm up for so long, it seems pretty hypocritical for us to turn around and wish it would cool down again!

Anywho, it’s been pretty busy this season around the homestead. Lots to do, and I have to admit that I haven’t been working on Falconsbane overmuch these last couple of months. I hate to give excuses, and in some cases there’s really no place for one, but I’ll explain a wee bit more a little later on.

So, what’s the deal with today’s post? Well, I thought I’d take you on a bit of a tour of what’s been going on lately; an update of sorts.


The farm:

This covers a lot of what’s been going down lately. It’s a major part of our lives, after all! I planted an herb garden in an old water trough (broken and no longer waterproof, of course), and it’s thriving ─ which is really rather exciting, since I’m no green thumb. My grandparents on the other hand, could bring a dried up old twig back to verdant life in a single season; between that generational difference a goodly bit of plant savvy was lost. But so far we haven’t lost any plants, so that’s a blessing.

The vegetable garden is coming along and we’re trying to stay on top of the weeding. It’s amazing how there’s a weed to match every seed you’ve planted. The strawberries took the transplanting alright, so hopefully by next year we’ll get a decent crop ─ provided the critters are kept at bay. We’ve also got a short row of lavender and twenty or so tomato plants. We like to process a lot of tomatoes.

Also, there’s been discovered a red mulberry tree up on top of our hill, so between the birds, deer, and cattle, we’ve harvested enough to make two batches of jam and a pie (two of my favorite things to make!) You know the darnedest thing, though? Every time I’ve gone up there that silly song gets stuck in my head. Round and round the mulberry bush the monkey chased the weasel . . .


The business venture:

I’ve toyed with the idea over the last year or so of trying to sell some of by home- canned and baked goods, so this spring I got official with a (fancy?) permission slip from the grand poohbahs of agriculture and foodery. My outlets for selling are limited, since my refrigerator and apron aren’t stainless steel, but so far ye olde market stand out by the road is doing serviceably. I really want to make and sell shelves of jams and jellies, but I suppose we’ll have to work up to that. I’ve dubbed this wee business the NovelTea Kitchen, and I have a neat logo and everything. (If you’re interested in what’s going on with all of that on a week-by-week basis, check out the farm’s Facebook page).

We managed to grab some of the season’s last strawberries last weekend, and I immediately tried a new recipe I’ve been wanting to test my hand at for some time: strawberry kiwi jam. It’s remarkable all the things you can turn into jam, and I want to try them all. It didn’t turn out quite as viscous as I wanted, but that’s my bad for messing with the fruit-to-sugar ratio. It still tastes good, and dolloped over ice cream I don’t think anyone would mind the looser consistency. Next year I want to try a different brand of pectin and see if it’ll give me more freedom to do all the things I want.


The rest of life:

Last year I may or may not have mentioned the record number of weddings we’ve been to over the summer. This summer seems to be the encore. We’ve been to one already and have two more lined up. It’s strange, how the people you grow up around suddenly grow up.  What’s also very exciting is my brother’s term in Japan is through, so he got to come home last weekend for a bit and visit before moving to his new station on the west coast. It was great seeing him again, and this time he finally gets to take my awesome sister-in-law with him!


The reading:

I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally found a string of good books to read. Keeping up with reading is a healthy exercise for any writer, and so I’ve been trying to shatter those long stretches of reading deserts, which spring from busyness/preoccupation and poor choices in books that turn out unengaging. Last week I shared my thoughts on one of the jewels I found, A Green and Ancient Light. Later this month I’ll post about the one that came after: The Name of the Wind. I’ve since finished that book’s sequel, and now I’ve switched down to YA for a trilogy called The Cloak Society. I’ve had it on my library reading list for who knows how long, and finding it there again earlier this week I decided to give it a try.


The writing:

Lastly, but not leastly. Although it does seem like it. With all of the above going on, I will admit that work on Falconsbane has taken a back seat. This spring-summer-harvest season is a difficult time for me to focus on writing, since there are a plethora of other things to be doing. Another reason why working on it has come to a near standstill is because I’ve needed to reconsider a lot of the story. I was moving too fast through it and not taking the time to show off and develop the characters or the world they lived in. This story has been more challenging to write than its predecessor,and I feel it will be a while before I can say it’s reached its potential. Roscha (the MC) and I have a lot to work through, but I think in the end it’ll be better for all the reconsiderations and rewrites. Beauty takes time, they say. Flowers don’t bloom all at once, Rome wasn’t built in a day, lasting impressions take time to develop ─ all that good stuff. I feel, at least for me personally, that this is a story I need to write, and I am willing to take the time necessary to tell it right. So I thank you for all of your support and patience as I weave these tangled story-threads!


And that’s the gist of it! We may not be running around like chickens without heads cut off, but there’s never a lack for something that needs doing. It’s a calmer, steadier kind of busyness that lets you take moments and smell the flowers or enjoy the neighbor’s pool before starting up the grill.

How are your summer days passing? Are they the ‘lazy summer days’ mentioned in stories, or a string of endless activity? How are you taking moments to enjoy the days, while they’re here, ere this brief season passes like the flickering sparks of an evening campfire?

Reynwood’s Reviews: A Green and Ancient Light

Title: A Green and Ancient Light

Author: Frederic S. Durbin

My rating:         


Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole — a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’­s slipper — and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.


My thoughts:

Ahh . . . This was a good one. I could finish this with a satisfied sigh ─ after, of course, the misting of the eyes. I love it and hate it when a story can bring the water to my usually parched eyes. This tale was magical, transporting you to a place far away, and yet close to home. Just like it did for the boy in the story.

The first two things I noticed when I began reading A Green and Ancient Light were 1) there are no chapters, only breaks in the narrative now and again, and 2) there are no names. Every time the name of a person or a place would be mentioned, the first letter is (usually) written and then left blank. The reasoning, according to the narrator (our main character), was because this could be the story of anybody anywhere. The only person who has a proper name is Mr. Girandole. Oh, Mr. Girandole . . . Once I got over the novelty of a story with only one name, it was smooth sailing. I filled in the blanks, actually, with some names of my own, and that, I suppose, was the purpose. (I won’t mention what I called the characters, so as not to spoil your own experience).

Everything else about this story was enchanting. Not some high-paced, swashbuckling epic fantasy, not some stamped-out contemporary fiction, this carried more of a fairy tale atmosphere. The woods and monster garden, where a large portion of the story takes place, is vivid in imagery ─ a beautiful and bewitching place that I loved going to as much as the main character (his name was G ──). It was a quiet and peaceful place, separate from the rest of the world, ancient and magical, full of grandiose statues and puzzling clues. For the monster garden, tucked away in the woods and partially swallowed by the brush, holds a mystery. A grand puzzle that hasn’t been solved in over four hundred years. The driving force of the story is solving this puzzle, sorting out the riddles and clues scattered amongst the stone to find the answer of where the duke who built the garden so long ago went. To find the place where Mr. Girandole came from. To find the door that will take him back home.

For Mr. Girandole is not an ordinary man, but a faun from the realm of Faery, who missed his chance to go back home with his brethren, and now lives alone in the woods. He, the main character, and the main character’s grandmother (known as Grandmother and M ──) work together over the summer during wartime to solve the mystery, all the while nursing back to health an enemy pilot who’d been gunned down in the forest, and avoiding incrimination by the Major P ── and his soldiers, who’ve come to hunt the pilot down. It got dicey a couple of times, but I am amazed by Grandmother’s wit and fortitude. She’s awesome.

Over the course of the story, through the summer these four undergo together, we get to experience with them how strangers become friends and enemies become allies, how love can make you do crazy things and sustain you through the hardest of times, how even in war there is beauty and purpose. How bad things can bring about good, if you’re willing to see it.

I could probably go on for a while and tell you just how much I enjoyed this book, but that would likely come at the expense of spoiling it for you, and I really think you ought to give this story a read. Set in the WWII era, it still feels like a fantasy, with no more magical creatures than Mr. Girandole and the faery songs that R ──, our pilot, plays on his flute. It brings out the awe and longing in the heart that (I know at least for myself) is awakened whenever the quiet and the stillness of the wood surrounds you, when the trees whisper and the sunlight filters through the leaves, hinting at life both green and ancient, just beyond the reach of our mortal hands.

This story made me laugh (those four are a hoot), it made me cry; it left me happy, and it left me sad. It reminds us to take the moments while they’re here, for they will soon pass, and never be the same again ─ to take the time to watch the sunset as it bleeds across the horizon, or the flowers glowing in the noonday sunlight, the mists hovering on the dawn air, the feel of the breeze, the sounds of the birds ─ all of it. For while the sun will set again, it won’t be the same as this one, and though the flowers will still bloom and glow, they won’t be the same as these, and so on.

Such is the message in a story about passing youth, about growing up. The monster garden is indeed haunted, by childhoods that were, and are no more. That summer, G ── grew up in many ways, leaving his youth behind in that wood, but his experiences there were irreplaceable, and though much was lost, much also was gained. Love was deep, lost souls found a home, and in the end, that is all we really need.

So again, I would highly recommend this book. It’s fun and witty with a heart and soul. I enjoyed every moment I could to read, and I ate it up over late nights and rainy afternoons. Definitely one for the shelves!


So what about you? What have you been reading of late? After what felt an age, it’s so good to finally have found a novel that wrapped me in its embrace until it told me its story. Are there any stories that have done the same for you? I’d love to hear about it, so don’t be shy!

Falconsbane Featurette: Gadrei

It’s time for the best post of the month ─ that’s right, folks, a peek into the world of Falconsbane! This week I’m going to tell you about the region of Gadrei, which is a special region close to my heart because a good number of the main characters in the book come from there.

Located to the west of Zuar, north of Kedash and south of Colan, the term ‘midwest’ is pretty literal when you’re talking about Gadrei. The region is long and narrow, and with its western border being among the craggy peaks of the Black Mountains (Bauroks ─ finally came up with a name for them!), it’s mountainous country. Very hilly. The land rolls with green hills which ripple out across the country, and towards the north end is the great forest. Towns and villages are tucked away in these hills like wee pockets of civilization, where the people live quietly, following their own pursuits. There is a saying about the people of Gadrei: sokudai e dondys flyr vénna. It basically means that the Gadreians are quirky, and that it’s as much a fact of life as rain falling from heaven or flowers blooming. The one aspect of this region and its people that isn’t considered eccentric is its military.

While Nyan has its Falcons, Kedash its masters of stealth, and Zuar its jackals in men’s skin, Gadrei’s armed forces are what one might just call ‘basic’. One of the largest regions, it has the smallest branch of the military, and these soldiers are more suited to bolstering ranks and providing backup than being any main player in battle. Why? Well, there are a good many reasons, both large and small, but one of the major reasons is because their military isn’t full-time like all the others’. Their branch is basically ‘reserves’, and while members are called upon to keep in practice, they’re not required to leave hearth and home and live on any military base until called to war. Gadrei only has one designated military base, and it’s where basic training is done and other military related business is conducted.

To dig a little into the design of the Gadreian Coat of Arms, the antlers are those of a creature called an ‘alk’, which is basically a mix of a red deer and a moose with a bad attitude. It’s become part of the Coat due to the most legendary Gadreian in history, who wrangled a bull alk and rode it into battle. Now if that isn’t a sight to see . . . who wouldn’t want a reminder of that on their standard? As for the horn, there’s been debate on its origin. Some have called it a battle horn, others a hunting horn, and still others have called in an heralding horn. Whether it signals the call to battle (which is doubtful), the hunt, or something else, none can really say. There have been some who suggested changing the horn to something more befitting the quirkiness of the people, but none of the suggestions have been overly flattering, and so the horn remains ─ mysterious, a little odd ─ and that in itself might be reason enough to keep it.

Because of their style of arms, Gadreians don’t have a reputation for being overly exceptional warriors, excepting an handful of legendary and historical figures (eccentrics, remember?). However, unimposing though their forces may be, their spirit is anything but lackluster. Their motto, Solas aiph solas e hanna kovekh yanai, reflects the heart behind the Gadreian people as a whole. It means ‘one faith, one heart, many minds’, the ‘minds’ referring also to ‘personalities’. The interests of the people may be all over the board, but ‘whichever direction the petal points, each is rooted in the same place’ ─ and that’s what makes the flower beautiful.

Hey, everyone! Over the last few weeks my non-writerly self has been preparing for a small farm stand bakery business over here on the farm, called the NovelTea Kitchen (neat name, am I right?) It’s happening weekly on Fridays, and yesterday was my first day! I think it went fairly well, too.

Today I’m sharing a recipe that’s super quick and easy to make: nutty orange marmalade cookies. Reading the ingredients, you’ll notice that there’s no sugar, but I assure you that’s no typo ─ the marmalade in the mix adds its own sweetness! Isn’t that awesome? And I’m using my very own homemade marmalade, too! These cookies are lighter and fluffier than regular cookies (kind of like wee cakes, actually) with a nice orange flavor, a hint of spice, and a satisfying nutty crunch. Great for snaking (with a cup of tea!) or a simple dessert after supper (with a cup of tea!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

  • Firstly, you’ll want to measure out all your ingredients and set them on your workspace (mise en place, people, get your mess in order). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease/parchment a baking sheet.
  • Secondly, cream the butter, egg yolk, and marmalade until light and fluffy, which might take a couple of minutes. Once you’re looking at an orange flavored pseudo-cloud, add the vanilla. Then combine all the dry ingredients (except the pecans) in a bowl and sift together, then add to the creamed mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the pecans.
  • Drop 2 tablespoon mounds onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart or so (I got 8 cookies this way) and bake for 13 to 15 minutes until edges are golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Thinking about it, I bet you could make these with any kind of preserves — can you imagine raspberry? The cookies would certainly be an interesting color! I might have to give that a try . . . once I make more raspberry jam this summer; we’ve just finished off the last jar. But we’ve still got blackcap and peach, so there are still options! Oh, cherry and pecan (or chocolate chip) sounds good, or blueberry and walnut, maybe even strawberry and almond . . .

If you try this recipe, let me know what you thought of it, and if you switched it up I’d love to hear about it!

Hey, all! This weekend’s been fairly busy so far already (but then, most of them tend to be, around here!) Recently I was glancing through my (growing) bookshelf at some of the picture books that I’ve loved while growing up, and it got me thinking. These pieces of art don’t seem to be as appreciated as other books of larger word counts, but they’re precious treasures all the same.

These are the kinds of stories we’re introduced to as children, the ones that inspired us to keep reading and feeding our imaginations and developing a love for words and the images they create. I have a fairly long list of my favorites from back in the day, and there are more that I’ve come across in later years that I can really get into (like Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Jack Frost by William Joyce), but for now I’ll just focus on a few of the oldest ones I can remember.


Bamboozled

by David Legge

This is a fun little story about a girl going to see her grandfather, and they go all over his topsy-turvy house trying to figure out just what seems odd about this particular visit. As is turns out ─ his socks don’t match! I love to just look at the pictures and take in all the crazy things going on in each page.


Chicken Soup with Rice

by Maurice Sendak

This book has been in the family pretty close to if not before I was. Each page has a month of the year and a little poem that describes just how amazing chicken soup with rice is all year round.

Reading once, reading twice, reading Chicken Soup with Rice!


Green Eggs and Ham

by Dr. Seuss

Arguably the best Dr. Seuss book ever. Seriously. I don’t know why, but this one beats them all. I’m told that when I was really small I would make my dad read it to me just about every day.


If You Give a Pig a Pancake

by Laura Numeroff

Beware the dangers of giving a pig a pancake. Just beware. You know what happened when you gave a mouse a cookie, or the moose a muffin? Yeah. Save yourself from a day of exhaustion and messes and DON’T FEED THE PIG.


The Princess and the Pizza

by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

I honestly can’t tell you when or where I came across this book, but it has to be one of the best ever. Here’s an origin story of pizza for the record books ─ an act of desperation by a paupered princess trying to prove her royal blood! You go, Paulina, show them who’s boss.


The Tale of Three Trees

retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

This is a folktale about the lives of three trees as they dream about their future on a hilltop to what fates actually befall them, and each one marks an important event that took place throughout the life of Christ: His birth, the calming of the sea, and crucifixion. A powerful story for both children and adults.


Thunder Cake

by Patricia Polacco

If you know any wee ones who are afraid of thunder, this might be a good book to read them. It tells of a little girl and how her grandmother helped her get over her fear of thunder by going about the farm gathering ingredients to back thunder cake before the storm comes. The best part? The cake recipe is in the back.


Now you’re up! What are some of your own favorite picture books from growing up? Or maybe you have some that you’ve only just discovered ─ I’d love to hear about them!