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The Mysteries of Vegemite

Vegemite

I was doing a final read-through for Snow Moon Dragon, my next release, and I realized I had my characters eating toast and vegemite for breakfast. In fact, quite a few of my characters like vegemite.

Here is the excerpt:

Aware of Nyree’s impatience, he drank his coffee and ate the last mouthful of toast covered with something black called vegemite. It was salty and bore an interesting flavor, although he’d liked the peanut butter better. He stood. “Should I do the dishes?”

I grew up with Vegemite as a kid, as did many other children from New Zealand and Australia. I still eat vegemite on my toast.

So what exactly is vegemite?

Vegemite is a dark spread (blackish-brown in color) made from yeast extract leftover from beer production. It’s flavored with spices and vegetables and was developed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1922 by a chemist called Dr. Cyril Callister. Vegemite is rich in niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate. It doesn’t contain sugar but does contain salt and gluten.

Most Australians and New Zealanders use vegemite as a breakfast spread. One of my favorite edible delights is toast with vegemite and avocado. Yum!

As children, my mother used to make us Mousetraps for an after-school snack. This consists of slices of bread, spread with vegemite and covered with grated cheese. These are then put under the grill and toasted until the cheese melts. Also delicious!

Vegemite is an acquired taste. It’s salty, and it’s best to add it sparingly to toast rather than liberally, something some of my American friends have learned the hard way. * grin*

If you’re interested in trying vegemite, you can order it from Amazon.

Spreading the iconic Australian spread vegemite on to a slice of fresh bread.

Shelley’s note: This is way too much vegemite for my liking. I prefer about half this amount.

Meet the Delphinium

Delphinium or larkspur, as they’re sometimes known in the United Kingdom is a perennial plant native to the Northern hemisphere. Their name comes from the Greek word Delphin, which means dolphin. It’s said that the flowers are the shape of a dolphin. During Tudor times in England, growers thought the flowers resembled the lark’s claw, hence the common name larkspur.

Delphinium

Over 500 varieties grow in the wild, and there are many cultivated varieties these days. Traditional delphiniums are tall, but the modern plants come in various heights and some are suitable for growing in containers.
Delphinium are popular in cottage gardens, and they are known for attracting butterflies.

Delphinium

Beautiful blue delphinium flowers, close up

Growing Delphinium:

1. They prefer a sunny, well-drained position with fertile soil.

2. A more sheltered position is best since strong wind can break stems.

3. The tall varieties should be staked since some can grow up to 2.1 meters high.

4. Don’t plant too close together because they can suffer from mildew or fungal if they don’t have good airflow between the plants.

5. Watch out for slugs and snails.

Delphinium

Most delphinium and their seeds are poisonous to both humans and animals.

Escape to the Country is one of my favorite shows, and a special interest section on this program featured delphinium flowers. A farmer had diversified by growing the flowers and turning them into confetti. This story inspired me to write Operation Flower Petal.

Delphinium
Here’s the blurb:

He falls for her…literally.

Since her husband’s murder, Ada Buckingham’s life has comprised one calamity after another, and the hits keep coming, yet each day, she picks herself up and begins again.

Military man Matt Townsend, AKA Frog, expects a challenging assignment when he agrees to train soldiers in tough country terrain. The rules: stay away from the old lady’s flowers and notify her of days or nights with flash-bang.

Easy, right?

On arrival via parachute, he plummets into the lady’s flowers. The sexy spitfire who confronts him isn’t the maiden aunt-type he imagined, but man, she intrigues and entices him, and he’s eager to learn more.

Matt is quick to insert himself into her life, and his mission evolves once he learns something is hinky and dangerous in the world of Ada. While he fell arse over teakettle, Ada is slower to believe or trust, but Matt is confident in his charm and brings his A-game. Now all he needs to do is keep her safe.

You will love this latest addition to the Military Men series because it contains a charming, confident, and audacious soldier known for his singing voice—not!—and a brave and determined heroine with a love of flowers. You’ll also find skullduggery in a country town, danger, and gossip aplenty. Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the romantic adventure.

Click here to learn more about Operation Flower Petal

Delphinium

Sources:
https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/gardens/a718/fact-file-delphiniums/
https://delphinium.co.nz/pages/history-of-delphiniums
https://tuigarden.co.nz/how-to-guide/delphinium-growing-guide/

The History of Confetti

Wedding Confetti

It’s thought that the throwing of confetti started in Greek times when locals would shower athletes and those getting married with flowers and leaves. It was a unique way of sprinkling people with love and excitement and made for a brilliant spectacle.

But it was the Italians who we can thank most. The word confetti is of Italian origin and means small pellets made of lime or soft plaster. It is also the word for sweetmeats.

The Italians had a similar custom where the nobles threw coins, nuts, sweets, and flowers at the crowds. The confetti contributed to a festival-like atmosphere and got everyone excited. It seemed too excited since some of the masses became riled and tossed back stones, rotten eggs and vegetables, and other nasty items. Because the custom upset some and fights broke out, authorities banned confetti tossing for many years.

Paper confetti is more modern, and around 1875 a man saw an opportunity in silkworm farming. The farmers lined the worms’ home with thick paper. As the larvae hatched, they burrowed out of the paper and created small discs. One man saw possibilities, and instead of trashing the paper discs, he sold them for use at festivals and wedding celebrations. He informed people this was a safe and fun way to party.

The British used to throw uncooked rice, or sometimes wheat and barley, to signify fertility. Pelting a couple with rice was meant to bring luck and children into their lives. Having uncooked rice chucked at one can be painful, and the practice fell out of favor when paper confetti came along.

Flower Confetti

These days, many churches and towns dislike the mess of paper thrown everywhere. Clean up can take lots of time! People use flower petals as a natural alternative, which is where Ada from Operation Flower Petal comes into the picture!

Here is the blurb for Operation Flower Petal.

He falls for her…literally.

Since her husband’s murder, Ada Buckingham’s life has comprised one calamity after another, and the hits keep coming, yet each day, she picks herself up and begins again.

Military man Matt Townsend, AKA Frog, expects a challenging assignment when he agrees to train soldiers in tough country terrain. The rules: stay away from the old lady’s flowers and notify her of days or nights with flash-bang.

Easy, right?

On arrival via parachute, he plummets into the lady’s flowers. The sexy spitfire who confronts him isn’t the maiden aunt-type he imagined, but man, she intrigues and entices him, and he’s eager to learn more.

Matt is quick to insert himself into her life, and his mission evolves once he learns something is hinky and dangerous in the world of Ada. While he fell arse over teakettle, Ada is slower to believe or trust, but Matt is confident in his charm and brings his A-game. Now all he needs to do is keep her safe.

You will love this latest addition to the Military Men series because it contains a charming, confident, and audacious soldier known for his singing voice—not!—and a brave and determined heroine with a love of flowers. You’ll also find skullduggery in a country town, danger, and gossip aplenty. Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the romantic adventure.

Get more Operation Flower Petal Here

Sources:
https://ultimateconfetti.com/blog/the-history-of-confetti/
https://hoorayweddings.com/for-the-bridal-couple/the-history-of-confetti/
https://www.etymonline.com/word/confetti
https://www.brideandgroomdirect.co.uk/blog/2020/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-wedding-confetti/

Muriwai Gannet Colony

From August to March each year, visitors get a ringside seat to the goings-on at the gannet colony. There are nests with chicks and busy adult birds feeding their offspring. We watched the birds for ages as they flew back and forth, rode the air currents, and squabbled with each other.

It’s an hour’s drive from Auckland and a short walk from the carpark to the viewpoint, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching these seabirds going about their business. This is one of the few mainland colonies in New Zealand.

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Gannets and Gannet Chicks

Christina, Gabriel, and Aidan visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony in Maverick Lovers. Learn more about Maverick Lovers and read the first chapter.

Goat Island Marine Reserve: The Setting for Maverick Lovers

The first marine reserve in New Zealand was created in 1975 and takes its name from the small island not far from the shore. Goat Island Marine Reserve is 518 hectares in size, and more than 100 species of fish have been identified within the reserve. The reserve is a real success story.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

It’s the perfect place to snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, or for those who don’t like to get wet, explore the seabed via the glass bottom boat.

Snapper

Both juvenile and adult snapper gather in the marine reserve around Goat Island near Leigh in New Zealand.

Blue MauMau

Blue MauMau fish at the Goat Island Marine Reserve.

The beach is a busy place during the summer months since a visit to Goat Island is perfect for a family outing.

Beach at Goat Island

Beach at Goat Island in backlight.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

Rocks and Beach near Goat Island Marine Park

In Maverick Lovers, Aidan is a travel blogger. He’s on assignment with New Zealand tourism and takes his friends Gabriel and Christina with him when he visits Goat Island. Learn more about Maverick Lovers and read the first chapter.

Waiheke Island: The Setting for Maverick Lovers

View from Waiheke looking back to Auckland

A forty-minute ferry ride from Central Auckland, Waiheke is one of the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf. It’s a popular place with daytrippers and the third most populated area of New Zealand after the North and South Islands.

The convenient proximity to the city means Waiheke residents can comfortably commute to work, and many do.

Waiheke means cascading or ebbing water in the Maori language, and interestingly the temperatures are slightly higher than the Auckland region, which makes it ideal for growing grapes and olives.

Initially, when I started writing Maverick Lovers, I was going to set my romance in one of the country towns that surround Auckland. One day when I was thinking about my setting, the idea of using Waiheke came to me, and I ran with the idea. Waiheke turned out to be perfect, giving my characters a sense of isolation, yet maintaining the small-town feel I was aiming for.

While my characters are busy sorting out their lives, they do get to go wine-tasting, to the beach, and involve themselves in local events like the weekly Farmers’ market.

If you’re interested in visiting Waiheke, these are some of the things you might like to do:

1. Go walking on one of the many walking tracks on and around the island.
2. Check out the art galleries or perhaps the sculpture walk.
3. Go wine-tasting!
4. Try some of the fantastic restaurants, many of which are part of the various vineyards.
5. Visit one of the many beaches to relax, swim, or go bird watching.
6. Water sports – diving, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming.
7. Try out the zip-line (This is relatively new and something I want to try.)
8. Go olive oil tasting.
9. Star-gazing.
10. Visit Stoney Batter – the remains of a World War Two gunnery installation.

Not visiting New Zealand soon? No problem! Go armchair visiting to Waiheke and check out Maverick Lovers.

Maverick Lovers, Friendship Chronicles 6, is due out on 1 Jan 2020. Here is the blurb:

Maverick LoversMaverick: [noun] an independent person who has ideas or behavior that differs from the norm. Someone brave and impulsive who attacks life their way.

Finding and satisfying one lover is difficult…
Adding a second to the equation is an impossible challenge

Christina: her life is spiraling out of control. Her job, her friends, and her family relationships are slipping through her fingers, leaving her achingly alone and staring into the eyes of the black dog of depression. She claws her way free, and finally, a bright spot—she reconnects with a childhood friend. Not a boyfriend, but wow! That’s the way her mind is marching now, straight to Mr. Sexy Pants.

Gabriel: he’s seeing the success he’s worked for after his parents kicked him from their home for something he didn’t do. Christina’s arrival makes him happy, makes him consider a future, a family, then Aidan arrives home. Off-balance because he has feelings for each of them, Gabriel screws up both relationships. Go him!

Aidan: Tired of traveling and clawing his way to the top, he’s come home to claim Gabriel, the man he has always loved. The only problem—while Aidan was running away, Gabriel has moved on with his life. Prepared to fight, he can’t hate the gorgeous yet troubled Christina as much as he wants.

Three lost lovers battle their way to a committed relationship that shouldn’t be possible but has the potential to cement them into a solid and unconventional team.

Learn more here or pre-order https://shelleymunro.com/books/maverick-lovers/

Walheke Walking Track

One of the many walking tracks on the island.

Vineyard view - Waiheke Island

Vineyards, Waiheke

Waiheke Vineyard

Most of the vineyards on Waiheke Island have gorgeous views over the Hauraki Gulf or the Auckland region.

Waiheke Coastline

Waiheke coast

Fun on the beach

Family friendly beaches

The beaches are lovely. Some are sandy while others are rocky. They’re perfect for exploring, swimming, and other water sports or you can just relax with a picnic and a bottle of wine.

Auckland ferry terminal

And finally, this is a view of Auckland city from the ferry on returning after a busy day on Waiheke Island. Visit for the day or stay longer. I guarantee you’ll have fun!

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey ~ Inspiration for Star-Crossed with Scarlett

Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Back in the early 1990s, Mr. Munro and I did an overland trip from England to Kathmandu. The trip proper started once we reached Turkey. It was my first visit to Turkey, the country where the west and east meet, and I loved the food, the beaches, the history, and the people we met.

We traveled around the Western coast, hitting the gorgeous beaches and then drove up the east coast of Turkey.

I’d never heard of Nemrut Dagi before, and to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with our game plan once we arrived. We had to get up early to see the sunrise. I’d been promised a brilliant show before, and each time I’ve regretted the early start to get to the top of a mountain/hill to be in the perfect position to enjoy this magical time. The sunrise has never lived up to my expectations.

Mountains near Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

So, a little about Nemrut Dagi before I get back to the sunrise. You’ll find it in the Eastern Taurus mountains, and it’s a man-made funerary mound. The late Hellenistic King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) made the mound, which consists of stone chips. The king had the structure constructed for his own use. Huge limestone statues face outward from terraces, and guardian animal statues stand at each end. Some of the giant heads have toppled while others stand in their original positions.

As I mentioned, I had no expectations of our visit, but I loved the weathered heads that stand taller than a person. I enjoyed wandering around the site. We were lucky because there were only a few of us—our group of eight in fact.

Heads at Nemrut Dagi, Turkey

Nemrut Dagi

Photos of some of the enormous heads at Nemrut Dagi. Note – it was still pre-dawn when the bottom photo was taken.

I remember feeling the cold, but for once the sunrise was pretty, the sky a wash of pink and pale blue. This time, the person who informed me a pre-sunrise slog up a mountain was a good thing was entirely right. Nemrut Dagi has remained as a bright memory, and when I started writing Star-Crossed with Scarlett, it was the perfect inspiration to add to the action and adventure of my plot.

Funerary Mound and statues

This is a shot of the burial mound and some of the statues (parts of them).

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Sunrise at Nemrut Dagi

Two pics taken during sunrise. Of all the sunrises I’ve seen, this was my favorite!

Star-Crossed with Scarlett My memories of Nemrut Dagi inspired part of the plot for Star-Crossed with Scarlett, a paranormal, action-adventure romance. I don’t want to say too much. Spoilers, you know!

The Scarlet Macaw #research #travel

One of seventeen species of macaws, the Scarlet Macaw is becoming increasingly rare. In Costa Rica, Central America, we visited the Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary where they rescue, breed, and release the Scarlet Macaw.

I was very excited at the thought of seeing macaws. When our tour around the reserve started, my anticipation turned to disappointment because the Scarlet Macaw and the Blue and Yellow Macaw were in a huge aviary. Not great for photographic opportunities, although their aviary is HUGE.

But it turned out the sanctuary releases some of their macaws. Some of these pairs have returned and nest in boxes placed around the grounds. The Scarlet Macaw come and go as they please and have been successfully breeding, adding to the population. These ones provided excellent photographic opportunities.

The sanctuary houses many other animals such as jaguar, sloth, deer and other birds. Many of the animals are recovered from poachers or rescued when the animal butts up against man encroaching on habitat. Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable, and I enjoyed our visit very much.

Scarlet Macaw

Facts about Scarlet Macaws.

Scarlet Macaw

1. They live in the rainforest.

2. Their beak is perfect for cracking nuts and seeds.

3. The male and female look the same with white faces, scarlet and yellow.

4. They live to around 50 years of age in the wild. In captivity, they are known to live much longer than this.

5. They are intelligent birds and are popular pets but can be quite aggressive.

6. They usually mate for life.

7. Both the male and female look after the young.

8. Their bright colors help them to blend in the rainforest.

Scarlet Macaw Pair and Nesting Box

Star-Crossed with ScarlettI spent ages watching the macaws and found them fascinating. Already, they’ve found their way into my upcoming release Star-crossed with Scarlett. The birds make an appearance in the story and, of course, there is the heroine’s name, which is Scarlett.

The Adorable Sloth

The Adorable Sloth

Before our visit to Costa Rica, my knowledge of sloths was limited to the Ice Age cartoons. I thought of sloths as adorable and a little clumsy but with a great deal of charm.

The Natuwa Macaw Sanctuary is a refuge for other animals as well as the Red Macaw, and this is where I had a close-up view of two orphan sloths.

Natuwa Sanctuary

Sloth

They are the cutest things, and I spent ages watching them.

Here are some facts about Two-toe Sloths:

1. Sloths are herbivores and eat mainly leaves. Their diet is low-energy, so they don’t move around very much.

2. Their natural habitat is the rainforest in Central and South America.

Sloth

3. They are called two-toed sloths because of the two claws on their forearms. In fact, all sloths actually have three toes!

4. Predators such as the ocelot, the jaguar, and eagles are their enemies.

5. A sloth sleeps for around 15 hours a day.

6. They spend most of their time hanging upside down in their tree.

7. They go down to the ground to toilet and usually do this around once a week.

8. They are excellent swimmers and enjoy the water.

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

Sloth

As I said, I loved the sloths. They are mega-cute, and I am determined to write a sloth into an upcoming romance. Watch this space!

A Research Visit to Barista Cats, Auckland, New Zealand

Barista Cats

These days, many families live in rental accommodation or high-rise apartments are unable to keep pets. Enter – a business opportunity. Barista Cats in Queen Street Auckland is one of the new cafes where animal lovers can go to have a coffee and get their pet-fix without having the responsibility of a full-time pet.

Barista Cats has fifteen cats who live at the café and mingle with the café patrons as they chill with a tea or coffee. All the cats are ex-SPCA cats, and all have had tough lives, so they lap up the attention and care they receive at the café. One is deaf while another is blind. One or two of the cats wobble as they walk or climb, but all are healthy and happy.

Barista Cats Cafe

A visit to the café must be booked online beforehand, and only children over the age of fourteen can enter the premises. They must be with a guardian.

Hi Cutie

A Barista Cat

On arrival, all visitors are introduced to each cat, and the rules are explained. The cats have loads of toys and different bedding, but most are happy to plop down and enjoy a stroke or two from their visitors.

Each session is one hour, and the café hosts special sessions with kittens. They also have yoga and movies several times a month. You get to do yoga or watch a movie with a cat on your lap.

Dinner Time at the Cafe

Want to chill out and destress? If you’re a pet-lover without a pet, this is definitely the place for you.

Military MenI enjoyed my visit, and some of my experience will go into my current, as yet unnamed work-in-progress, which is part of my Military Men series. Watch this space!