Cuteness in the country

How cute is this church?
I’ve written about it in my blog post here but to save you the trouble, it’s a darling, mid-Victorian gothic-style church that was built in 1877 in the Manawatu, here in NZ.
A few weeks back I ended up going to an open day they held to celebrate its 140th, and had a look around and was quite charmed by it. I’d been inside it once before but that had been a while ago, now, as in decades, so I couldn’t really remember much about it.
Inside it’s made of totara wood – its one of those wedding churches, where it would, if were going for the traditional wedding, be the perfect place to have a wedding.
All the wooden pews and stained glass windows, and even a pipe organ for the wedding march, or whatever it is one does when one weds traditionally.
After the service to celebrate the birthday, everyone went to the hall next door for lunch and after there was a cake (oh my golly gosh, an utterly gorgeous fruit cake) that was ceremoniously cut and handed out.

Two of the young people performed a waiata (song) and there was plenty of opportunity to look around at pictures and displays of life in the church in days of yore.
I am thinking I might make it a bit of a hobby next time I’m out and about in rural New Zealand to check out more of these gorgeous little churches.  They are such a neat part of Kiwi landscape and amazingly, not all of them have been turned into cafes, art galleries, and private homes. I see a cute heritage church turning up in a romance novel, some time soon…!

Marrying Melinda excerpt

An excerpt from Marrying Melinda, which was my first indie published book:
Enjoy…
      Mel took a bite of her hamburger and used a paper napkin to wipe away a dribble of ketchup from her chin. Steak, tomato and lettuce, a warm bun, pickles, tons of sauce – what more could you want?
She took a sip of cola – diet cola – from the paper cup, set it back in the holder and glanced discreetly at Daniel. What she’d give to read his mind now, right this minute, as they sat on hard plastic seats in a stadium with sports crazed fans surrounding them. Most of them were vocal; a lot of them were just plain drunk. She took another bite of hamburger. This was the dinner he’d promised her?
Not that she was complaining when it was the most excitement she’d be getting for a while. Their thighs had touched before and brief as it was, she hadn’t wanted the feeling to end. But watching a game meant they weren’t getting to talk and in the days since he’d phoned, imagining their dinner had been a welcome distraction from everything else. In complete violation of the rest home rules which stated no visitors allowed she had spent last night at her mother’s apartment. It had been a trial run, being her mother’s new roomie, and it would be fine; in a fortnight she might not have a choice.
Daniel finished off his hamburger and began to tuck into the rest of his fries. She was drawn to his profile, to the way his hair sat around his neck, the way his jaw moved as he slowly chewed, the short lines around his eyes as he focused on the game. Her gaze dipped. The T-shirt emphasised his flat stomach, the fabric sitting nicely around muscular arms and wide, powerful shoulders. He leant forward and the T-shirt slipped up from his jeans. Beneath it she saw a nice tanned section of male skin. He sat back and finished off his fries. How did he manage to eat that stuff and not get fat?
The crowd roared and she jumped in shock. Around them people rose to their feet, Daniel went with them and Mel followed suit, not sure what she was meant to be looking at.
She stared at the field and at the players running around on the green turf. Suddenly a player was brought to the ground in a tackle, a collective groan rose in the crowd, and she sat back down with relief and consoled herself with the rest of the hamburger.
“I take it you’re enjoying that?” Daniel commented.
Mel froze, mid chew. Heat rose startlingly quick up her neck as she turned to face him.
He pointed to an area to the right of his mouth. “You’ve got something…”
She grabbed her paper napkin and dabbed and for good measure dabbed the other side and took a sip of cola to wash away the shame. Not that she was out to impress him but she didn’t have to embarrass herself.
“It’s delicious,” she said finally. “Yummy. I haven’t had a hamburger in ages.”
“It wasn’t bad at all,” he agreed. He screwed up his wrapper and took his cup from the holder.
And that was the thing. If you were going to bring a girl out on a date, wouldn’t you go to some swanky French restaurant with four courses, a waiter who draped a fine linen napkin across your lap, and served wine in crystal flutes? The Christies were loaded – she’d Googled them. When he’d said his name was Daniel Christie she hadn’t for a second assumed he was actually one of those Christies. But he was. They weren’t the flashy rich who paraded themselves at functions or indulged in scurrilous activities and married supermodels. They were far too conservative and old money for that. But they packed impressive financial punch, gave heavily to charity, and appeared to have inherited one heck of a mighty gene pool judging from the photos that had come up on line. Even the great grandfather in the grainy sepia shot was pretty easy on the eye.
“You’re not enjoying yourself, are you,” Daniel remarked. It was a voice that was neither accusing nor disappointed. For such emotive words in fact, it was said with amazing blandness.
“I’m enjoying myself.” She took another sip of cola.
He ran a considering gaze over her. “I thought you’d like football. You were wearing a football shirt at the campground and I noticed you had supporters’ stickers on your car bumper.”
Mel closed her eyes a second. Of course he would think that. It all made perfect sense now. Except that it was her mother who was the huge fan, relying on the cable TV Mel insisted she have to indulge her passion for the game.
“I’ve watched a lot of sport in my time,” she told him diplomatically. “My mother is one of those crazy supporters with all the scarves and the posters and the coffee cups and…” She stopped. She didn’t need to impart personal information to him. Didn’t need him to know that it was the one thing that kept her mother sane, and when she was learning how to get her life back on track it counted for a lot.
She took the final sip of her cola and he glanced at the scoreboard and said, “Looks like we lost.” He stood up, slid effortlessly into his leather jacket and held out his hand. “Let’s go.”
She put her hand in his. Heat pulsed through her as he pulled her up. Everyone around them was getting up from the hard seats, too. He said, “I’m only sorry I couldn’t deliver a win for your team.”
“Our team,” she corrected, in between praying he didn’t ask her to name which teams had played.
He dropped her hand. Her skin still tingled, still felt hot. He smiled the amused smile that could have been from a brother to a sister. Her heart dipped even further. “Of course. Our team. Let’s go.”
They walked out of the grounds, people rushing past, some a little worse for wear after indulging in the obscenely priced liquor. Daniel took her hand again. “So we don’t get lost,” he remarked as a particularly rambunctious group of young men, rejoicing in their team’s win, jostled past. “I hear it was a sell-out.”
Mel glanced at his hand and found herself mesmerised by the sight and by the feel. His hand was large and warm, with a grip that said possession without control. She suddenly noticed women watching them both and her spirits lifted. Maybe they thought she was his girlfriend. His lover even.
Or maybe, she thought as he said, “Whoa” when she came close to stepping over the curb, they figured she was his poor simple sister and he had to hold on to her so she didn’t wander off and get run over. Her spirits were taking a rapid dive when a voice called, “Daniel?”
An older man, gray hair on the cusp of turning white, walked towards them, a surprised grin on his face
A supporter’s scarf draped his neck even though the evening was almost warm.
“Hugh. Why am I not surprised?” They shook hands and Daniel introduced them. “Hugh Devereaux, this is my… that is, she’s…” His gaze fixed on Mel a long moment, as if trying to figure out what to call her. Similarly, her mind had reached a total blank.
“Friend,” he said finally. “And Mel, this is Hugh Devereaux. Hugh is a family friend and our company lawyer.”
“Charmed, Melissa.” Hugh took her hand, bent and kissed it. “Or is it Melanie?”
Daniel sighed wearily, and Mel grinned, instantly warming to the handsome, older man. “No, it’s Melinda. But call me Mel.”
“Mel it is. It’s good to meet any female friend of Daniel’s. A rare occurrence.”
Really? She stared at Daniel who looked as if he’d heard the comment a million times and was heartily sick of it. Surely he had women friends all over the place, just waiting for the nod.
Hugh turned his attention to Daniel, his bushy eyebrows raised impossibly high above light blue eyes. “What on earth brings you to the park, Dan? You detest football. What made you see the light?”
Daniel’s face tightened. “I owed Mel,” he said briskly. “Mel’s the supporter.”
Alarm settled like a fog across her. He’d brought her here only because he thought she was the footie fan? She didn’t mind it but that was only for her mother.
“Well, I wouldn’t call myself a…” She swallowed, and stared back at him. “You mean you don’t really like football?”
Daniel waggled his hand in a fifty-fifty gesture.
“He loathes it,” Hugh put in.
“Loathe is an exaggeration,” Daniel told her. “I prefer to channel my physical energies into other things. I rowed at varsity and I whack a squash ball around the court now and then. Suits me fine.”
She dropped her gaze to his broad shoulders. She could imagine him rowing. He looked like a rower, now she thought of it. All that power and muscle, not to mention the determination to row mile after mile, water glistening off his skin, sun hitting his body. The power in his thighs…
He turned to her and his eyes glimmered as if he’d read her mind. Impossible. Hugh slapped Daniel on the back. “At least his allegiance lies with the family firm, not with a team that darn well lost a match they should have won.”
Daniel gestured ahead. “Hugh, how about a lift home? I assume you caught a taxi.” They were out on the main road now and he said, “We’re parked up here, it’s not far to walk. And I’ll be dropping Mel off back at her place.”
Hugh glanced straight at her and his gaze held a curious fraction. It was loaded with enough questions that she felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. Daniel seemed ambivalent to the speculation as Hugh agreed, “I’ll take you up on it. It’ll save me a taxi fare.”
Mel noted his tailored jacket and trousers, and leather shoes that looked straight out of a GQ fashion shoot. He looked as if the last thing he’d ever need to worry about would be the cost of a taxi fare.
“So Mel,” he said as they joined in the stream moving away from the sports ground, “what did you think of the game?”

Buy the book here.

Any Dream Will Do

I’ve just finished this fabulous book from Debbie Macomber.

I’m not a love-all-of-Debbie’s stuff reader at all, but this was a terrific story.
Our heroine Shay is a girl with a past who has just been released from prison and finds herself in a church one day, just sitting there to get out of the Seattle cold.
The pastor, Drew, offers to help her and she ends up in a programme to get her life on track.
Drew’s wife died a few years earlier and he’s raising two kids on his own, but he finds himself drawn to Shay and drawn to her resilience to get her life on track, to get a job and a place of her own, and to take classes to move ahead into a future she could only dream about.
What did I like about this story? Pretty much everything, actually. 
There were really likeable and relateable characters, a heroine who really has a good heart and is determined to try and make a go of life. A hero who sees beyond her gruff exterior and finds himself attracted to a woman some of his congregation aren’t so sure about.
I love a church setting, but even someone who’s a little ‘meh’ on the faith aspect, I think will like this story. 
I admit that some of Debbie’s work has jarred me a bit in the past, but this was just great.

Posting excerpts cos its an excerpt kind of season.
Here’s one from All About Sage.


The reception was informal, with finger foods and desserts, waiters serving champagne, and a jazz trio playing softly in the background.
Sage spent some time talking with Mrs Parker, Jack’s housekeeper, who was running through the details of a murderer who had appealed to a higher court for a retrial.
So how do you know Robyn?” Mrs Parker asked when she’d finished listing the reasons why he was so clearly guilty and wasting taxpayer money on a joke retrial.
We’re neighbours. She rented the house next door to me when her marriage broke up. We’ve been neighbours for just a couple of years but it feels like forever. We’ve become—” She held up her fingers knotted together. “Like that.”
I see.” Mrs Parker nodded sympathetically. Strands of her wild grey hair escaped from her bun. “You lose your friend and you end up getting new neighbours. Good luck with that.”
Sage exhaled. Once Robyn had given notice to the landlord, the house had gone on the market. It had sold in a surprisingly short time, but then, houses priced at the lower end of the market were the type for first home buyers or investors looking to rent out. Robyn’s place qualified. It needed a lot of work.
Now she’d be living in luxury on Auckland’s North Shore, in Jack’s mansion.
You’ll miss her a lot, won’t you?” Mrs Parker observed.
A lump settled in Sage’s throat. “I will. I already do.”
She noticed Ethan talking with Harriet, and wondered what state secrets Harriet was passing on. Hopefully nothing too embarrassing. Not that she cared what her daughter told him. She didn’t care what he thought of her. Didn’t care what he thought about anything, full stop.
Harriet suddenly stood on tiptoes, put her arms around Ethan and hugged him. She looked around, spotted Sage, and grabbed Ethan’s hand to drag him over.
Mother, you’ll never guess, you will never guess,” she said.
I’m sure you’re quite right.” Sage avoided looking at Ethan but she sensed him frowning. It was disconcerting. All the times she’d gone out with Barry, she’d never sensed anything.
Ethan’s moving in,” Harriet announced. “To Robyn’s.”
For a moment Sage pictured him at Robyn’s new place, Jack’s mansion, and wondered why Ethan was moving in there when he already owned his own place somewhere.
The expression on Harriet’s face began to ring alarm bells and confused, she clarified, not looking at Ethan, “You did mean he’s moving into Jack’s place in Takapuna, right?”
Harriet rolled her eyes. “No, not to Jack’s. To Robyn’s place. Her old house. He’s going to be our neighbour.”
For a second, Sage’s mind went blank. Slowly, she looked at Ethan. He stood watching her. Waiting.
She swallowed hard. Focus, Sage. Focus.
You’re doing what?” she said finally.
Harriet didn’t give him a chance to respond. “Ethan bought Robyn’s house. He’s going to renovate it and live in it at the same time. It’s a project.”
The fact suddenly hit home and Sage nearly staggered.
No. He couldn’t be. It was impossible. It could not be happening. She could not have this…this…Neanderthal living next door to her.
You’re doing what?” she said again.
I bought Rob’s house,” he told her smoothly.
Harriet had let go of his hand to take a flute of champagne from the passing waiter, and Sage knew she should tell her she was too young.
Instead, she stared into Ethan’s blue eyes. Amazing blue eyes. Probably contacts.
Why?” she asked.
His eyebrows arched with amusement. “It’s called property investment. I’ll live in it for a couple of months, fix it up, then sell it.”
You’re doing all the work,” she said disbelievingly.
Not all. I draw the line at climbing on the roof and replacing the iron. I’ve got no death-wish for electrocution either.”
So what is you living in it all about? Why would you do that when you’ve got your own place?”
Avoids travelling time. Plus I’ve got friends coming up. They’re—” He stopped abruptly.
Probably ex-military, Sage surmised. SAS even. Jack had been very vague about Ethan’s background.
He continued. “They need to use my place, so it works out. I can stay in the house, patch it up, and then flick it off.”
There was a feeling rising through her. Boiling blood. The last time she’d felt it this strongly had been when the local council transport planners had mandated that heritage pohutukawa trees be removed for a new motorway extension when it was clear to anyone with half a brain they could be retained. In the end, the trees had been saved, thanks to herself, Barry, and the Save Our Pohutukawa campaign.
She doubted Ethan gave a damn about pohutukawa trees.
And she doubted anything was going to save her from this…this…whatever the heck this situation was.
Why that house?” she asked finally.
He took a glass of champagne from another passing waiter, took a sip, appeared to consider the taste. Seemed satisfied with it.
Because,” he said, looking her in the eye, “it was a good price. It has a lot going for it.” He took another sip. “And I could do with the challenge. Something to do,” he added, then his mouth tightened. As if he regretted saying that. Admitting that.
What is it you do, anyway?” she asked, curious. “For a day job.” All she’d known was that he was now in property development, but she hadn’t been sure if he actually worked on projects or just paid other people to make him money.
I have a number of enterprises. I like challenge.”
Vague. Typical.
And renovating properties is one of those portfolios?”
He looked straight back at her. “It is now.”
She stiffened. “So you’ve never done this before?”
Not to this extent. I normally start from scratch with bare land. But don’t worry. I’ve got Jack assisting on the architectural side and Robyn’s got ideas on what to do inside. Given she’s lived there for the past two years and has an eye for colour and design, she’s happy to help.”
Sage glanced across at Robyn. Her best friend. Her blissfully happy best friend. Robyn caught her staring and waved.
She waved back, and the minute Robyn looked away, Sage scowled. So Robyn had known Ethan was going to buy the place? And hadn’t told her?
To be fair, Robyn had been tied up with the wedding, and as soon as the announcement had hit the papers, her business had taken off, with orders for the clothing collection she could only have dreamt of a few months ago. But even so…
A sense of panic began to trickle through Sage, settled on her chest, settled inside her. As if her life was beginning to slip away.
What if the bouquet was right and Harriet did get married and moved away? Robyn had left—Robyn who had been her sanity these past couple of years. And now? Now that… that Ethanwas moving in next door, and she didn’t know for how long. He might say it was a few months, but it could be years. It was his house. He could stay there as long as he damn well liked.
My equilibrium is shot, she thought, and earth shifted underneath her in a very unsettling way.
Steady.” Ethan reached out and gripped her upper arm. He looked at her closely. “Have you had too much to drink?”
No.” She felt so out of sorts she didn’t even have the energy to retort. Woozy, she grabbed his arm and said, “I don’t know. Something just came over me.”
She was eye-level with his chest. She looked up to his face. He was looking down at her. The air between them seemed to disappear.
She sucked in a breath. The air can’t vanish, she told herself with forced calm. They were outside. There were trees everywhere. A harbour right in front of them. The air can’t vanish.
And now there was a look on Ethan’s face. In his eyes. She had the strangest thought it matched her own. Total confusion.
Then it vanished, and he dropped her arm. “You okay now?”
She reached for a glass of champagne from the ever-passing waiter.
Ethan gestured to the glass. “Should you be drinking any more?”
She stared in disbelief at him.
Relax,” he said. “I’m kidding. I haven’t seen you drink even a drop.”
He held his own glass out to her. “But since you are now, let’s make a toast.”
She felt more normal. This was normal. This was life. Two mature – she mentally choked on that word – matureadults toasting their best friends.
To Jack and Robyn,” she agreed.
His eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t thinking of the happy couple. I was thinking of toasting our new status. As neighbours.”
She kept the smile on her face. “Of course. Neighbours. How remiss of me to even consider toasting the happiness of our best friends.”

They don’t need our toast.” He took a sip, his gaze never leaving hers. “But I get the feeling we might.”

The Secret Garden

I have been quite inspired to go and read some of the classics, following an article in one of the local papers about a father reading books with heroic girl characters, with his own daughters.  It so happened that I was away for a few days this past week and in the collection of books in the house, I found an old 1956 (from memory) copy of The Secret Garden.

So I decided to read it.
Now, two things struck me,
One was that I don’t recall ever having read the story at all before.
And the second was that… I absolutely loved it. From beginning to end and in the middle, I loved it. I did skip over some of the garden description because, you know, short attention span and all that, quite unlike (I am sure) my grandmother who probably read this book when she was a girl and did no such thing as skip pages of botannical description.
It was actually a perfect few days to read something like this.  The weather was grand in that cold, early-winter way where the days are lovely, and there’s not a lot of rain.
One afternoon I took a break from the Garden and went in search of some real gardens. As in giant ones, like farms, as I was, in fact, staying in the country – again.
One risks one’s life walking down the rural roads because it’s quite near to town, and people cut through quiet roads at a bloody great rate of knots so I’m forced to walk practically in the drain so I don’t meet my demise.  What I do meet is the totally disgusting litter that people chuck out on the road. It’s about time we launched an anti-litter campaign like they did in the seventies. Anti-litter art contests, telling adults off for littering, non-political songs that are just about common human decency to not pollute the planet with your crap. That kind of thing.
But there is also loveliness. 


Having left the road for a bit, I traipsed along the path by the stream and debated the sense of leaving home for an hour without an umbrella as the sky looked dodgy for a spell,  Then it cleared and it would have been a nice spot to have taken a snack, a thermos of coffee, like in the olden days, and the book, and plonked down on the grass (on a tartan rug, if I owned one) and read for a bit.



But then, there is the joy of finally arriving back home, quite knackered, actually, to a nice warm house with the fire going and the rest of the book waiting. Plus a date with the TV and the Lions v Crusaders in the evening.
The Secret Garden would have been a good one to read to the children, like we did the Narnia books, but not to worry – I read it to myself, though not out loud, and I thoroughly loved it.

Prideful Self Praising

I have taken it upon myself to invent recipes, mainly because, let’s face it, half the recipes you read are just dumb. As in, who has these ingredients in the house?
Plus one gets a bit bored, no matter how much one just adores lasagne.
So the other night I was thinking what to have, and I sat there with my cook books (note that most of them were thanks to the library book sale, ridiculously great books at absurdly low prices – bliss!) and nothing jumped out as such, but I did have a brainwave.
Here is what I did;
I marinated sliced schnitzel in garlic, soy and a bit of peanut oil.
I chopped up pumpkin, carrots, an onion or two, discovered I had a lone choko, so added that in and roasted this with paprika, some sugar, (yes, a dash of sugar, oh the sin), some oil and I think that was it. Half way through I had another brain wave, and chucked in a can of brown lentils. To be fair, lentils could be one of those naff ingredients you don’t have, but am a bit of a fan of them, so in they went.
And when it was all done, I just shoved it all in a dish with peas on the side.
Sweet food heaven.
It was so yummy, I had to restrain myself from prideful self-praising, because I would have got one of those “it’s not that great” comments.
But it was that great.
It truly was.
PS: There is no picture of this stupendously magnificent dish, because to be honest, it doesn’t look that great. It actually looks a bit of a disaster. You wouldn’t want to bother, if I included a picture.
PPS: But here’s a picture of those withdrawn library cookbooks.