Category: Personal Glimpses

Family Reunion and a Recipe

 

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Today is Columbus Day.  About 4 years ago I wrote a post celebrating the day with lots of fun facts and trivia – you can view it by clicking HERE. So, instead of a repeat, I thought I’d talk about something else.

This past weekend was my hubby’s family’s annual reunion. It’s something we always look forward to. It’s an opportunity for him and all of his siblings and cousins and everyone’s extended families to come together and get reacquainted. Those we’ve lost since the last gathering are remembered and additions through birth, adoption or marriage are joyfully welcomed.

We usually gather mid-morning and visit, look at photos and family memorabilia folks have brought with them, update a large family tree chart and just generally enjoy each others company. Then we have a group meal provided potluck-style by the attendees. 
After lunch several of us drive out to visit hubby’s old home place, evoking memories for the adults and nurturing an appreciation of their roots for the younger generation.

All in all, Saturday was a wonderfully lovely day.

Now for the recipe I promised you. I love to experiment with new ideas and combinations of flavors when I cook. For the reunion this year however, I was hampered by the fact that not only did I wait until a few days before to think about what I was going to cook, but doctor’s orders still have me restricted from driving so I had to make do with what was already in the house. The following recipe and accompanying notes will probably give you some insights into how my mind works.  Keep in mind that I developed this on the fly and rarely measure so many of the quantities listed are approximate.

 

Oh, and also keep in mind that I was cooking for a large group gathering (we usually run around 40+ people) – this should be scaled back for smaller groups.

 

Winnie’s Chicken And Sausage Potluck Pasta 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sausage, diced (I used a skinless smoked sausage because that’s what I had on hand, but I think it would be great with andouille)
  • Shredded Turkey (I used leftovers of a roasted turkey, pulled from the carcass and frozen in a 1 quart container in it’s own broth)
  • Dehydrated  seasonings (again using what I had in the pantry, you can substitute fresh) as follows:
    2 tblsp chives
    2 tblsp minced onion
    1 tsp celery flakes
    ½ tsp garlic
  • 3 boxes Pasta Roni (angel hair with herbs)
  • 1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies
    I put them in the food processor and give it a couple of quick pulses because I don’t like big chunks, but this step is totally optional.
    Also, I like spicy so if I was cooking this just for me I would have used a full can. But since I was cooking this for a mixed crowd, I just used about ½ the can
  • 1 can of small English peas, drained
  • Black Pepper to taste

Note, most of the ingredients already contain salt so you should taste the finished product before adding more

Directions

  • Brown sausage in a large skillet.
  • Add dehydrated seasonings along with turkey (with broth). Continue to cook together until liquid has reduced.
  • Remove meat from pan and set aside. 
  • In the same pan, cook pasta according to package directions, except at the point when the pasta and sauce are added to the liquid, also add rotel.
  • Once pasta is cooked, add meat, peas and pepper and continue to cook on low heat for ten minutes, stirring frequently and adding liquid as needed.

There you go. Not the most complex or elegant of dishes, but believe it or not, I had several folks come up after the meal and ask for my recipe 🙂

 

So what about you? Does your family schedule reunions or get togethers? And have you invented any dishes you’d like to share the recipes for?

Updated: October 7, 2018 — 11:39 pm

Chicken Soup, Lemons, and Small Towns

One reason I enjoy writing stories set in small western towns is the sense of community. In one book I joked if someone sneezed, half the town would be at the door with chicken soup before day’s end. From the small towns I’ve known, this isn’t too far from the truth.

Life is hard. In the city I’ve become so accustomed to the polite and well-meaning “hello, how are you today” greetings everywhere, I can respond on auto-pilot. No matter how hard life is knocking me around, I can plaster a smile on my face and reply I’m fine. But in small towns, that’s harder to pull off because people know each other. They’re more likely to see past an overly bright smile and notice something is off. More importantly, they’re likely to ask and care about the answer. Not that this doesn’t happen in the city. It does. I just find it harder to create those mini-communities of support in the city.

Another difference I’ve discovered, is to receive help in the city, I am more likely to have to ask for it friends in my mini-community. My grandparents lived on a farm outside Decorah, Iowa, a town of eight thousand. If someone was struggling financially, if a death occurred in the family, or someone was sick, most of the town knew. For example, my dear friend Lori Turner Halligan shared a story about her father’s death during prime planting time in Iowa twenty-three years ago on April 28. Farmers arrived with equipment and planted her family’s fields before planting their own. Other families brought food to feed those working the fields. Her mother didn’t have to ask. The Turners needed help, and the community turned out. This is the sense of community I tried to create in both my Estes Park Series and my Wishing Texas Series.

Western women are known for their strength. In the old west, they helped carve a life out of the wilderness. While many of my heroines start out as “Eastern city women,” they possess a western soul. One that refuses to let them give up or give in. When fate lobs lemons at my heroines like hand grenades, they put on a hard hat and make lemonade,but sometimes even the strongest of women get weary.

Take Cassie in To Love A Texas Cowboy. When her niece is orphaned, Cassie moves from New York to Texas because that’s what’s best for Ella. Without family to count on, she’s learned to rely on herself, but keeping her art career going, raising a child and keeping a roof over their heads would shake Wonder Woman’s confidence. Like so many of us, Cassie realizes she can’t do it all alone. For her, help comes from the most unexpected place–Ty, a cowboy who at first glance appears to be on the opposite side of every issue and a small Texas town.

Whether we live in the city, small town or a ranch, whether our support comes from those related to us by blood, or a family we create in less traditional ways, we need people we can count on when life gets rough. 

And a special thank you to my BFF Lori for help with this blog and life in general. Everyone should be blessed with a friend like you.

Take a moment to leave a comment and be entered to win the dish towel, wine glass and a copy of Colorado Rescue.

To read an excerpt of To Love A Texas Cowboy, click here

Updated: October 2, 2018 — 4:33 pm

Warning! A Tomato Can Kill You!

Ha!  Did I get your attention?

This time of year when tomatoes abound in our gardens, and many of us are canning, freezing and eating the vegetable (or is it a fruit?) in any way, shape or form we can think of, it seems impossible to believe that at one time, tomatoes were very much feared.

It’s true.  

Tomatoes have been traced clear back to 700 AD, which is amazing in itself.  By the 16th century, European adventurers here in the Americas discovered them and brought them home.  At that time, the rich were served their food on pewter dishware.  Unbeknownst to them, when high-acid foods like tomatoes were served on the pewter, the lead leeched out into the food, which resulted in lead poisoning and death.  

The poor, however, used wooden plates and thus did not have the lead poisoning problem.  Notably, many Italians were poor and thrived on the tomatoes.  Wasn’t long before they developed some pretty darn delicious dishes with those tomatoes, and we all know what those are–pizza and spaghetti sauce are only the beginning.

Every year I plant tomatoes.  Usually one plant, sometimes two.  This year is my first for Romas, and my lone plant is a workhorse!  It’s so prolific, I can hardly keep up with its bounty.  Can you see how it’s spilling out of its cage? It can’t be contained.  Enough already!  I’ve preserved three batches of spaghetti sauce, two of salsa, one of plain tomatoes, and that doesn’t include all the tomatoes I’ve used in dinner dishes or eaten plain by the bowlful.  

Ah, well.  Won’t be long, I’ll pull the darn thing up.  Nights are getting shorter and cooler, which means the tomatoes are slowing down.  In the midst of winter, I’ll certainly miss walking out to the garden for a fresh tomato right off the vine.

If you’re drowning in tomatoes, too, I’d love to share my spaghetti sauce recipe with you.  It’s wonderful and easy.  The best part of all, you cook it in the Crockpot, let it cool, then freeze.  (Of course, if you prefer to can in a hot water bath, go for it.  That works just as well.)

 

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

4 onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable oil

16 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes

2 Tb dried oregano

2 Tb dried basil

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup white sugar

2 Tb salt

3/4 tsp black pepper

6 oz can tomato paste

Directions:

  1. In a 6 quart slow cooker on high, saute onion, garlic, green pepper and vegetable oil until onion is transparent.
  2. Add chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, parsley, sugar, salt and pepper.  
  3. Cook for 2 to 3 hours on low heat.  Stir frequently.
  4. Let sauce cool.  Pour sauce into quart size freezer containers.  Store in freezer.
  5. When ready to use sauce, stir in can of tomato paste.

Notes: I start sauteing first while I’m peeling the tomatoes.   Also, I use an immersion blender to smooth the sauce a bit.  

Do you plant tomatoes, too?  What’s your favorite way to cook with them?  If you have a recipe to share, please do!

Updated: September 6, 2018 — 7:45 am

How I Spent My Summer

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Happy Labor Day!

Since I’ve already done a post on Labor Day history and trivia in a previous post (you can read it HERE ), I thought I’d do something a little different this year – take a look back on my summer.

As you may or may not remember, I had foot surgery back in mid-February. It was a long healing process – 12 weeks where I couldn’t let my foot touch the floor and another 2 weeks where I could walk, but only if I wore a medical boot.  This was me at the end of those 14 weeks.

That took me to the end of May. So as summer began I was ready to make up for lost time.  I made a trip to my hairdresser – such a relief to get rid of 4 months worth of shagginess!  Then we made a trip down to my Mom’s – so good to be able to visit with her and some of my siblings again.

It was also in June that my future daughter-in-law invited me to accompany her and her bridesmaids (which included my daughters) to shop for their dresses. The wedding gown she picked is breath taking and the bridesmaids dresses are lovely and I was very happy I got to tag along and be part of the day.

Another thing I was once more able to do was have all my kids and their families over to my house, which is just what we did to celebrate my husband with a Father’s Day family lunch.

The month of June ended with me dogsitting for my daughter’s sweet and frisky Dean while she and her husband went on vacation. Dean made sure that I got my exercise, no matter how hot it was outside!

July was all about the Romance Writers of America national conference – something I look forward to every year. Preparations included getting my notes together for the workshop I was scheduled to present, making sure I was prepared for the board meeting (I’m currently a member of the RWA board), doing a little shopping and getting my hair and nails done.

But I also began to feel that something was still not quite right with my foot. A visit to my doctor three days before my scheduled departure for Denver confirmed my fears. He told me to resume wearing my medical boot and he scheduled a CT scan for the week after I returned.

Determined to find the silver lining, I posted this picture, saying that it had definitely lightened my suitcase to only have to pack left shoes!

Despite having to wear the boot, I had a great time at the conference in Denver.  My agent, the fabulous Michelle Grajkowski, along with her associate Cori Deyoe, invited all their clients who were at the conference to tour the fabulous Molly Brown House Museum with them. The place was a fabulous step back in time and I learned a lot of things I hadn’t previously known about this remarkable woman.

The rest of the conference went equally well. While there were some things I couldn’t do – no dance party for me – I focused on the things I could do.  The workshop Renee Ryan and I presented was well attended and well received. I had opportunities to visit with several editors I’d targeted, my agent and I had a productive career planning session and I was able to meet all of my volunteer obligations. But one of my favorite parts of the conference is getting to spend time with friends, some of whom I only get to see this one time a year. Here are pics of just a few of those friends I reconnected with this year.

Three days after I got home from the conference I was back in the doctor’s office listening to the results of the CT scan. It seems one of the metal screws they inserted in February had shifted and was causing problems that only another surgery could correct. A week later it was done and I was back in a post-op cast with strict instructions not to let my right foot so much as touch the floor. This time I was a little more prepared for the process, but cabin fever is what it is. The only time I get out of the house these days is to visit the doctor. On the bright side, I’m enjoying being able to being able to do a lot more reading guilt free 🙂

Since my surgery I’ve gone through two more casts.  The doctor lets me pick my cast color so I tend to pick colors that make me happy.  I think my next one will be a bright blue 🙂

 

However, there was a wedding shower scheduled for my son and his fiancee down at my Mom’s (a 5 hour drive from me) that I was determined not to miss. So my three daughters agreed to drive me down in my van and get me there.  It meant packing up my wheelchair, knee scooter and assorted other paraphenalia, and setting up the van so I could sit with my foot propped off the floor for the entire trip.  Here’s what the back of my van looked like for an overnight trip.

But it was well worth it!  The shower was lovely, the guests were all family so it was great having a chance to visit. Here’s a picture of the happy couple along with the cake my very talented sister made for them.

So that was what my summer was like.

How about you? Did you take a fun vacation or stay-cation? Have any memorable moments? 

Leave a comment and I’ll pick one person to win their chice of any book in my backlist.

Updated: September 2, 2018 — 6:32 pm

Gifts Out of the Blue

People often ask where I get my story ideas. Once I’ve conceived the series concept, individual stories come from the characters, a lot of brainstorming, and research. My series ideas, however, often come out of the blue like my Wishing, Texas Series.

I was driving home and wondered if my oldest son was on his way to Athens, Texas, to meet his friends from the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University. I thought about how close he and his squadron buddies were, and I predicted they’d still be friends in ten years.

My Spidey sense tingled, telling me I had something special. What if I showed A&M squadron friends ten years after graduation? What if they still met at one friend’s east Texas ranch at least once every year? What if they were there for each other through life’s ups and downs?

When I got home, I jotted down notes. One would run the family ranch. Another would be in law enforcement. Because of A&M’s phenomenal vet med program, one would be a veterinarian. For some reason, I settled on a computer related field for my last hero.

The relationships between these men would provide the series backbone—the heart. Even now working on book three, my favorite scenes to write are when the heroes are together.

 

Here’s an excerpt from To Love A Texas Cowboy.

“Is there anything else you need, Ty?” The Horseshoe Grill’s waitress Tiffani, a woman he’d known since middle school, asked as she leaned forward showing off her recently enhanced cleavage.

“We’re good,” he said, staring at the pool table as he sorted out his shot.

“Let me know if you change your mind about anything,” Tiffani said before she sashayed away.

Cooper, Ty’s eight ball partner, elbowed him in the ribs and nodded toward

the departing waitress. “Are you going to take her up on the invitation?”

While easy on the eyes, with long, blonde hair a man would love to run his hands through, tall, curvy in all the right places, and good-natured enough, with her marital track record—oh for three—Ty doubted the good sense of any man who took Tiffani up on her offer.

“Anyone else notice she didn’t care if the rest of us needed anything?” AJ asked.

“Mind if I throw my hook into the water?” Zane asked his gaze locked on the waitress as she flitted around the restaurant. “She looks like she knows how to have a good time.”

“Come on. Give someone else a chance. Like maybe me.” Of all of them, AJ craved the connection and belonging that came with a serious relationship. After a six-year stint in the military and traveling around the world, he was more than ready to put down roots, but most of the women he met were leery of getting involved with an FBI agent. Poor schmuck.

“You’ve got more women on the line that you know what to do with.”

After sending the three ball into the side pocket, Zane turned to AJ. “Weren’t you thinking about going exclusive with Megan? Though why any sane man would do that is beyond me.”

Ty shook his head and smiled, feeling like the ring master of a three-ring circus. Despite that, he wouldn’t trade one of his friends for fifty-yard line tickets to an A&M /Alabama game in Kyle Field. Good friends like these could get a man through just about any rough patch.

“We broke up,” AJ said referring to Megan.

Before anyone could comment, “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown band rang out.

“Next round’s on you, Zane,” Ty said even before his cousin reached for his phone.

They’d instituted the cell phones on vibrate rule and the violations penalty two years ago when Zane’s girlfriend of the month drove them nuts with constant calls and texts. The man always had a woman desperate to claim, keep, or regain his attention. Hell, usually more than one. Zane was a master juggler, but that didn’t mean the rest of them wanted to be part of the act.

To read the first chapter of To Love A Texas Cowboy which includes the excerpt above, click here.

To be entered to win the horseshoe pictured, leave a comment on which hero– Ty, AJ, Cooper or Zane–you like best and why based on the short scene above. BTW, the excerpt occurred in Wishing’s favorite hot spot, The Horseshoe Grill. 🙂

 

 

Updated: August 28, 2018 — 7:18 pm

Junior Junior Rodeo

I had an overdose of cute a little over a week ago when I went to the Junior Rodeo. The contestants range in age from toddlers to 18 year olds and, as you can imagine, compete in age groups. Parents of the younger children get a work out, because a lot of them lead the horse through the events, be it poles or barrels or what have you. Here’s a cowboy dad running the poles with his little girl.

 

And a cowgirl mom running the barrels with her little girl.

Of course, some contestants had their own mount. This one was my favorite–

Here’s another shot of this young cowboy. They run two heats at the same time, so you can see an older contestant in the background, which gives you some scale for this little guy–

Hats off to parents who go the extra mile to give their kids these special experiences, regardless of the sport. 

And here, just to add some perspective, are some scenes from the Rancher’s Rodeo four days later. I wonder how many of these guys and gals started off as juniors with their parents leading them through the barrels?

Ah, the Pioneer Life! Sort of . . .

Hi! Kit Morgan here. As I’m the newest filly in this corral of wonderful western authors, I thought I’d let you know a little more about me.

Most folks don’t realize that I grew up in a log cabin in the woods with a lovely creek flowing through the property. Back then the cabin had a fireplace and a wood cook stove, the only sources of heat. It was built as a summer cabin and had no insulation. It was made to stay cool. And it does! I live in said cabin still. My sister and I bought our older siblings out and are in the process of making the cabin better suited to year-round living.

Growing up I remember my mother cooking on wood cook stoves. The picture you see is me, seven years old, standing next to our first little stove. The second was huge, but I couldn’t find pictures of that. The electricity often went out in the winter, so having a wood cook stove meant we didn’t go without a hot meal. We used oil lamps and candles for light and had to haul water up from the creek. Our mother would then boil it so it could be used for drinking, cooking, washing and other necessities.

We had to chop and haul wood, feed the livestock and walk a mile to the school bus stop in all kinds of weather … yes, I can say I did that! We also often ate trout and steelhead fished out of our creek.

When we were older, our dad got my little sister and me horses, and playing cowboys and Indians was our favorite past time. Is it any wonder I write western romance?

Growing up in the woods away from everything gave one an appreciation of the simple things, like the pleasure of writing outdoors. Besides, I get a few visitors while working, and like to stop and watch them.

So, having lived like a pioneer (a little here and a little there) gives added insight into writing historical western romance. Though I wouldn’t want to live like that year round. It was hard enough when the power was out for days at a time. But back then we didn’t know anything else, so it wasn’t a big deal. Now I might be tempted to check into a comfy hotel if the power went out for more than a day or two! Yes, I’ve gone soft in my old age! Besides, you can’t binge watch Downton Abbey when the power’s out …

Until next time, happy reading!  Kit

Good Gravy By Crystal L Barnes

Howdy y’all! Thanks for having me back on Petticoats and Pistols. It’s always a treat. And speaking of treats…when was the last time you treated yourself to some good old-fashioned home cooking? I’m talking Texas-style comfort food, y’all. Steak and taters. Sausage gravy and homemade biscuits. Black-eyed peas and cornbread. Mmmmm…I think I’m getting hungry. 🙂

If you haven’t figured it out, I love to cook and bake (just not clean—praise God for dishwashers!). Like many of the characters you’ll find in my historical western romances or other old-time westerns, I was reared, for the most part, on what my family grew, raised, or hunted. Pretty much still am. In my kitchen you’ll find anything from venison to home-grown chicken to home-canned veggies and fruit preserves. Through the years my table and taste buds have enjoyed rabbit, squirrel, wild hog, and even steers from our pasture, to name a few.

                                  

I love to intermingle these types of tidbits into my stories, and I thought some of you authors and history lovers, who don’t delve into these delicacies 😉 often, would enjoy a few fun facts about this type of down-home cooking.

For example, did you know…?

  • A squirrel is all dark meat and tastes a lot like chicken. They are very lean, but go great with dumplings.
  • A rabbit is all white meat. 🙂 Just don’t eat one in a month without an R in the name. (I can tell you why from my dad’s personal experience, but I don’t want to test those with weak stomachs.)
    • In my family, we joke when we eat rabbit and say we’re having “furry chicken.” My favorite is BBQ rabbit. Only don’t smoke them on the pit too long or they’ll be like eating cotton-candy bunny—it practically dissolves in your mouth.
  • When cleaned properly—if no one punctures a scent gland—deer meat actually does not taste gamey. If a scent gland does get hit/cut, you can soak the meat in salt water to remove the gamey smell and taste. Venison is leaner than beef and higher in iron too. (It’s my favorite! 🙂 )

Now that I’ve shared a few tidbits, why don’t you take a turn? What unique or country-style dishes have you eaten? What is your favorite comfort food? Were any of these tidbits news to you? Leave a comment and let me know.

I’ll be giving away a FREE copy (ebook or paperback) of one of my stories to one of this post’s commenters, and I’ll give a second FREE copy (ebook or paperback) to the first person that correctly answers the following question.

What is the most integral ingredient in any country-cooking kitchen?
(I rarely cook a meal without it.)

Winners may select one of the following titles:
(Paperback for contiguous US winners only.)

 

 

An award-winning author, bona fide country girl, and former gymnast,  Crystal L Barnes tells stories of fun, faith, and friction that allow her to share her love of Texas, old-fashioned things, and the Lord—not necessarily in that order. When she’s not writing, reading, or singing, Crystal enjoys exploring on road-trips, spending time with family, and watching old movies/sitcoms. I Love Lucy and Little House on the Prairie are two of her favorites. You can find out more and connect with Crystal at http://www.crystal-barnes.com

Find her also on her blog, the Stitches Thru Time group blog, her Amazon Author Page, Goodreads, Pinterest, Google+, or her Facebook Author page.

Want to be notified of her latest releases and other fun tidbits? Subscribe to her newsletter.

 

 

 

Updated: August 17, 2018 — 8:26 am

Old Hints and a New Release

 

In May my new book “Out of a Texas Night” was released.  I was so excited, and didn’t think things could get any better, but they have!  

I’m so thrilled to tell you all that the first book in the Kasota Spring series The Troubled Texan is on BookBub in the Romantic Suspense category today for a fantastic price of 99 cents.  Below is a link, so you can go directly to the website and purchase your copy from your favorite book provider.  If you haven’t checked BookBub out, please do so because they provide daily releases for special pricing, including free books, in almost every genera.

In my May blog, I gave you an insight into how this particular series came about. One of the things I mentioned is that in all three of the Kasota Springs stories I always use a family recipe for one of my characters, particularly Lola Ruth Hicks, who is the cook and the cement that holds the Jacks Bluff Ranch together. I then give the complete recipe, plus a little bit of my family history behind it at the back of the book.

In cleaning out some of my family “stuff”, I found a bicentennial cookbook from the town I lived in when I was born.  The Methodist Cooks Celebrate covers from 1784 to 1984.  I was amazed and enthralled with the book, especially the gems from way-back-yonder; so, I decided to share some interesting ones that are still applicable almost a century and a half later.

Measuring Ingredients 

She guessed the pepper; the soup was too hot,   

She guessed the water, it dried in the pot.

She guessed the salt and what do you think?

   For the rest of the day we did nothing but drink.

She guessed the sugar, the sauce was to sweet,

   And by her guessing, she spoiled the meat.

What of the moral, ‘tis easy to see,

    A good cook measures most carefully.

 

    There is no indigestion worse than that of trying to eat your own words.
    Those who think it permissible to tell ‘white lies’ soon go ‘colorblind’.

Advice to the Housewife

Well mix and bake the dainty cake,And beat the frosting light;

The sweetest plan to please a man is through his appetite.

 

A Couple of Cooking Tips:

    • To remedy greasy gravy, add a small amount of baking soda.

      

      Keep tomatoes in storage with stems pointed downward and they will retain their freshness longer.
      If you wrap each egg in aluminum foil before boiling it, the shell won’t crack when it’s boiling.
    Before measuring honey or syrup, oil the cup with cooking oil and rinse in hot water.

Household Tips:

    Tight screws:  Loosen a screw by putting a couple of drops of peroxide on it and letting it soak in.
    Buttons:  Coat the center of buttons with clear nail polish and they’ll stay on longer.
    Stubborn locks:  Dip key into machine oil or graphite to loosen up a lock.

 This is probably my favorite:

Let none escape, but try them all,

To boil or fry or bake.

We’ll warrant they are just as good

As Mother used to make!

 

Do you love old cookbooks?  If so, do you use many of the recipes?

To two lucky winners who leave a comment, I will give away an eBook of Out of a Texas Night.

   BOOKBUB Link 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated: August 13, 2018 — 7:14 pm

A Lake, a Resort–and a Massacre!

For those of us living in the Midwest, we are  hopelessly landlocked.  No oceans within easy reach for us.  We do, however, have some breathtaking lakes, and among some of the most beautiful are in northeast Iowa–West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Spirit Lake in the Great Lakes Region.

This summer, my family–all 19 of us–had a memorable vacation in Okoboji.  We stayed in Arnold’s Park, specifically Fillenwarth Beach.  Honestly, if you have a chance to go there and stay for even a few days, GO!  It’s the perfect family getaway.

While there, my husband and I went on a History Cruise, narrated by the widowed husband of Julie Fillenwarth, whose grandparents developed the resort in 1918.  (Yes, this year is Fillenwarth Beach’s 100th birthday.)  On the cruise, the narrator told of a museum within walking distance of the beach–an 1850s cabin that belonged to a family that had been massacred by Sioux Indians.

He explained how bitter cold winters forced bands of Sioux to find food and warmth.  On March 8, 1857, they attacked pioneer settlers who were trying hard to survive, just like they were.  In all, 33 settlers were killed and four females kidnapped, three of them married women and the youngest, a girl barely fourteen.

That girl was Abbie Gardner.  After her family’s murder, she endured 84 days with the Sioux where she witnessed the murders of two of the women until finally, she was ransomed and freed.  She married shortly thereafter at the (shockingly) young age of 14.  Though she struggled with what we now know is PTSD, she went on to live a relatively happy life with her husband and three children.  During that time, she wrote a book of her ordeal, The Spirit Lake Massacre and Captivity of Abbie Gardner.  The book earned seven printings and Abbie enough money to return to Spirit Lake and buy back the cabin her father built.  For many years, she worked at the cabin museum, selling her book and sharing her story.

I could not put this book down, it was so riveting.

(Buy the book on Amazon.)

There was even a movie made of her experience in 1927.

Abbie’s story reminded me of my newest book–without the massacre of course.  My first contemporary western romance will be released in January, 2019, by Tule Publishing.  Ava Howell comes to the Blackstone Ranch to develop a resort on the Paxton family’s ranch.  The resort has a beautiful lake, too, and a hero, Beau Paxton, who resists her efforts but can’t fight the love that grows between them.

I’ll tell you more about Ava and Beau’s story as details are finalized.  We’re working on the cover now–and Tule has some of the best!  Can’t wait!

Until then, tell me about your favorite family vacations!  Do they include a beach, too, like mine do?

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