Waterfalls in the rain, and mushrooms too

This time of year it gets rainy and night falls at five o’clock. By most accounts, it’s time to read by the fire with a cup of hot coffee. I do enjoy reading and writing during the long winter evenings, but I also love getting out into the mountains to enjoy the cool air, misty mornings, autumn colors and mushrooms. I live about forty minutes from the base of the mountain range so I often go up into the Rogue Umpqua Divide to explore, hike, mountain bike, and pick berries. There’s dozens and dozens of different mushrooms in the woods too this time of year, pushing up through the moist moss, growing out of logs or hiding under ferns. Most are fun to look at but not fun to eat, except chanterelles. You can find them in the stores in Oregon right now, or pick up to a gallon without a permit. There are other edible mushrooms too, but chanterelles are by far the easiest to identify and best tasting. Just do some research on identifying them and on scaly chanterelles, which can give some stomach upset.

I usually pick a bag to make mushroom soup, egg and mushroom scramble, or other dishes. The other night I stuffed breaded wild turkey breast with a chanterelle/bacon/scallop stuffing, and then made chanterelle gravy to go over. It was easily the best meal I’ve eaten in several years!

I’ll share a few shots below of some whacky looking, unidentified mushrooms. I took a picture and left them alone for others to enjoy.

I’ve seen a lot of bear sign on my last few hikes. In one spot, I hiked up a ridge and found a group of about a dozen large tree trunks that were scratched clear into the wood, and some still had bear hair caught in the bark.

In another spot, I hiked way up a hillside into the old growth timber and followed a stream up the mountain to some meadows. On the way down, there was bear sign that hadn’t been there before–a big icky pile of it. Right next to that, the bear had torn apart a five foot sapling, tearing the top half of the tree off and then chewing off branches. I’m guessing it might have smelled my trail and marked its territory! I love finding little mysteries in the woods and imaging what could have happened. It’s all a guess, but still fun. I haven’t encountered a bear in the woods while on foot. They’re very secretive and like to hide from people. But I’ve spotted a few while driving on a country road. The most recent one, this year, was a small black bear, probably a baby from this year. I caught sight of its back and watched it take off into the trees as we drove around a corner.

Man, I wish I had taken my camera on those hikes so I could share pictures!

Here’s some from other hikes. This is Grotto Falls, out in the mountains east of Glide, Oregon.

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These falls are beautiful, especially in the fall time, and fun because you can walk behind them into a large cave.

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This mushrooms was a over a foot wide. The little one next to it was a normal sized mushroom a few inches tall.

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Not sure what this is, but doesn’t it looks like coral from the ocean?

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This one caught my fancy because it’s growing out of an old log, sticking up six inches.

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This is Youtlkut Pillars, which you can climb, if you can find them. There’s one sign that I know about, 1/4 mile from them, marking the road. Maybe you can climb them for me if you’re so inclined, because I’m not going up that!

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Weekend roadtrip: wood ducks, sea lions and eagles oh my.

This last weekend I decided to jump in the car and visit Ashland, the main setting in my work in progress. It’s home to Southern Oregon University and the world famous Shakespearean Festival. I ended up in Lithia Park, a huge park (93 acres) that centers around Ashland Creek from the small downtown area clear up to Mount Ashland. The park is just breathtaking, so of course my photos won’t do it justice. You can check out the park in all its seasons on Google Images here.

I took this one from the first bridge.

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The creek is so picturesque, and there’s a spot by the bridge where it’s perfectly flat and little kids can wade in warm weather. There’s also a playground right there and a really nice hiking trail. On such a warm, sunny spring day, the park was full of people, which makes it that more fun in a setting like this.

A little ways up, the duck pond had several wood ducks. They’re typically super shy so I was thrilled to see them up close.

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So after Ashland, I headed north and to the coast on 199, which goes through Cave Junction and down into California. I love how the terrain changes so much in different parts of Oregon. Parts of the drive looked much like Eastern Oregon, where it gets much less rainfall. I love this route because we go through the Redwoods, and I’m amazed at their size every single time.

I came across this awesome creek bed on the way over–at Rough and Ready Creek. This photo shows half of the rocky valley. There were streams cutting through everywhere.

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I arrived at the Northern California coast about an hour before sunset, and at one of my favorite places, I came upon a group of sea lions sunbathing. They were much closer than I’d ever seen them, right on the sidewalk!

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Several came up out of the water and waddle-wiggled their way up to the others. They flopped right on top of the pile and wiggled around until they slipped into a spot to sleep.

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The sun set while I watched the sea lions, and then it was time for a seafood dinner.

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Oh, the other fun sighting: a boat with my name on it!  Maybe it’s a sign…

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Costa Rica – the trip that inspired my novel

I realized I went to Costa Rica before I began blogging so I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared any photos. I did write about getting the idea while on the trip, actually while walking on the beach. I wrote a summary in my journal then and even started the story after we returned, but it would be three years later when I finished the project. There were all kinds of little details that I incorporated into the book–I’m finding more and more that I love to use a real setting so I can find little things to make the story come to life.

We stayed by Playa Flamingo, just like my characters, and walked or rode bikes around the area for ten days, through warm rainstorms and sunshine. We went in July, the wet season, and I set the book around the same time so I could describe the area as I experienced it. My characters went to the same restaurants and beaches we did, although I made up the resort at the end to make the plot work. Annalisa and Drew even rented bicycles from Claudia as we did. We were riding along on a muddy road in our swim suits, barefoot, when a Tico waved and called “hello,” and I used that in the book too.

While the book is filled with tension and conflict, along with high moments and the beauty of Costa Rica, our trip was all fun. My husband has an uncle living in Costa Rica, and we ate a few authentic meals with his tios and got advice on navigating the area and culture. We also went fishing off the beach for rooster fish…and I ended up catching  sting ray. We took turns fighting what we thought was a fish for forty minutes while a crowd gathered, but when we got it in closer we realized what it was. Luckily for us, the line snapped and we didn’t have it free it by hand.

We spent our time walking or riding all over the place, to different beaches and places to eat. Getting away from our normal lives gave us space and time to think, and that sparked my creativity and my new story idea.

When it was time to return home, we rode the local bus back to Liberia and the airport, which was a fun experience in itself. A man stood up during the ride to play a guitar and sing. Then we stayed in an ancient motel–the building was 200 years old. We just don’t see that in Oregon. I think we spent something like fifteen bucks for the room.

Here’s a few of my pictures:

 

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A few fun little things. Whenever we were out walking, we would hear or see big iguanas fall out of the palm trees. It didn’t seem to hurt them. There were also little geckos everywhere that chirped at night. We spotted glowing fish in the waves. While walking through the jungle to the beach, we saw hundreds of tiny bright orange crabs. There was color everywhere and new things to see. Of course I’m dying to go back!

Because I live close to the Oregon coast, it was hard not to contrast the two places. I hinted at that in the book, too. The rugged and wild Oregon coast, where the book begins, captures how the characters feel. Then, in peaceful and tropical Costa Rica, they begin to work through their problems and discover what’s important to them.

I want to share a sneak peak from the book too, but I’ll make a separate post for that.

New Year, New Book, and a Treasure Hunting Story!

It’s 2014, and Costa Rica is out! It’s available in Kindle, Smashwords, and Kobo, with print and other ebook retailers coming soon. A funny thing happened the day before I launched it…

We kicked off the new year with a family hiking trip on the 1st. It was clear and fairly warm here for January, especially after the icy weather we’ve had the last two months. Our hike included many steep hills, and a giant tree sat on top of one of them, with wide, spreading branches that made perfect seats. (I must keep the type of tree secret so I don’t give away too many hints.) The boys and I climbed up the tree’s fat branches, and I looked around us and spotted a yellow tackle box in an old, hollowed out tree trunk. So of course I scrambled down my tree to go investigate.

I LOVE finding things. Don’t you? I’ve always kept an eye out for interesting little treasures out in the woods, and I’ve found mushrooms, flowers, berries, an elk shed, unique rocks, and other little things in the forest floor. Many people watch for arrowheads. It just always feels like I’ll find something cool.

So this time I actually found a treasure. Well, a geocache treasure. Normally you get the coordinates from a club or website like geocaching.com and then hike out to look for the cache. We happened to stumble upon it.

fishThis cache had a bag full of things: ping pong balls, sharpie markers, bug repellent, coins, tiny notebooks with pretty pictures, and other little trinkets. One trinket was a little beaded fish on a keyring. How cool is that? I totally fell in love with it, so we traded a pair of batman sunglasses for it.

So does that relate in any way to my new release? Well, in my world, everything is somehow related. Call it writer’s brain or something, but that’s just how it works around here. I found this tropical fish on the 1st and launched my new book, Costa Rica, on the 2nd. I couldn’t wish for a better lucky charm!

So here’s my new book, a romantic family drama set in Coos Bay, Oregon, and the west side of Costa Rica:

Costa Rica by Kristen James     Costa Rica – Kindle Link            Preview the First Chapter on my website

Annalisa and Drew have always dreamed of going to Play Flamingo, Costa Rica, with their best friends, Vincent and Melinda. But now they’re out of time.

Annalisa feels their marriage is just a shell for others to see–there’s nothing left inside. She wonders if they can rekindle their love in paradise, but there’s so little left. They gave up on their marriage along with their dream of having children.

Time is literally slipping away from Vince and Mel. Vincent’s cancer is back–his tumor is inoperable and he won’t do chemo again. This trip is now or never.

 

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I’m releasing this one across multiple ebook retailers to reach more readers. In fact, I’ll be releasing some of my backlist across various retailers throughout this coming year, and posting the links on my Novels page. (While you’re there, check out the new cover for More Than a Promise!)

I pushed things with this story; it’s literary/women’s fiction/romance/travel and looks at several emotionally charged issues. It’s Annalisa’s story, but also a romance between her and Drew. Their best friends, Melinda and Vince, have a storyline too. Costa Rica is similar to Point Hope (with Trey and Rosette), but I wanted to lighten the mood just a bit. It was also fun contrasting the coasts from Oregon and Costa Rica. I always get giddy excited about sharing a new book, and I hope you enjoy it.   🙂

Happy Friday and weekend!   XXOO ~Kristen

Falltime in Oregon

The rainy season started recently and we drove up in the mountains in search of mushrooms the last two weekends. The good news? On the first trip, we found at least 30 different varieties in reds, whites, oranges and browns.

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I thought this one looked like a flower. It’s not on our list of edible mushrooms that we know well, so I didn’t look up the name.

 

 

 

The bad news? None were what we were looking for: Chanterelles. But we found three kinds that were probably edible, so we brought some home to check them against our mushroom guide. It turned out one kind wasn’t edible, and the other two were okay to eat but not that great.

 

 

 

 

 

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The trip wasn’t a loss, however. I love getting out into the mountains and exploring. There’s so many breathtaking sights to see and wonderful forest smells to breathe in. It just takes warm boots, a waterproof jacket and pants.

We followed a small, mossy creek up the hillside. I have a weird habit of thinking I’ll find treasure in places like this, and I guess I do if you count mushrooms, berries and serenity. I should also count the special time spent with my husband or entire family, depending on the trip.

These photos are from the first hike.

 

 

 

 

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This is an elk rub; the branches were worn off up to ten feet high. I’ve wanted to see one for some time. It even had elk hair on it still.  (By the way, you can click these photos to enlarge them.)

I actually did get to see elk on a hike about four years ago. We went up to the top of the North Umpqua River (a spring) very early one spring when there were still spots of snow on the ground.  We watched a herd of elk graze and saw another herd come over a hill above us. I looked up at the elk and even saw the whites of their eyes. It looked like their eyes rolled as they reeled back and took off in the other direction. They were pretty surprised to see me too. I guess I also see the herd on the way to the coast once or twice a year–they come right up to the elk viewing area. But this was the first elk rub I’ve seen.

So back to the mushroom finding…It rained a lot during the week, and continued on the second weekend, but we knew that meant more mushrooms would be popping up. We went to a different spot this time where we’ve found Chanterelles before. It can be tricky to find the right road, but as we explored, I spotted an orange spot in the moss. A Chanterelle! We stopped and looked around to find quite a few more. So this time, we came home happy with plenty of mushrooms for cream of mushroom soup.  I have a hot bowl of soup next to me right now, thanks to my wonderful husband.

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I also have the rest of the Chanterelles spread out on the table so they’ll stay dry. Even if you brush them off out in the woods, it’s impossible to get rid of all the pine needles, bits of moss and some dirt.  I actually don’t mind because it smells like the deep woods right here. It’s that mossy, earthy, evergreen smell.

If you’re not able to get out in the woods, you can actually buy Chanterelle mushrooms in some stories this time of year, sans the moss and pine needles.

 

 

I’ll leave you with this picture of the sunset behind my house from the other night. I was home with my 9-year-old son and we watched a storm roll in.  I spend a lot of time looking at this view, when I should be writing!

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Harvest Time!

I absolutely love late summer and early fall – the air is cooler, apples, blackberries and garden veggies are ripe, and the local wildlife is out and about. This morning, a doe, two fawns and a spike mozzied through my yard and snacked on the moss on a branch that fell out of a tree. Then the neighborhood peacock hen came through–not sure where that one came from, but she’s pretty.

Growing a vegetable garden is a healthy hobby, but I never thought of it as entertaining until now. This year’s garden grew like crazy so I have little watermelons hanging out of the bush beans, butternut squash growing throughout the entire space including the strawberries, and both the butternut and acorn squash climbing the fences.

Can you believe this crazy squash? I didn’t expect it to make it to maturity without falling off the vine, but I picked and cooked it last night.

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There’s squash, tomatoes, zucchini, melon and peppers taking over my kitchen counters. I’m not complaining – I’ve been eating fresh vegetables every day.

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I’m hooked on baked tomatoes right now.  Of course I like them fresh too, and I also started baking them sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. These are stuffed tomatoes, green peppers and mushrooms that I made for dinner.

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I am wondering what else I can make with zucchini besides grilled zucchini, bread, stuffed zucchini and spaghetti sauce, but it’s still been fun.  I wonder if you can carve giant zucchinis for Halloween???