A crazy camel and Christmas in July

I don’t know about you, but in our little corner of the world it’s been hot most days for the better part of a month. In fact, our hottest day was 116. Whew!

It’s kind of fun to watch Christmas movies and read Christmas-themed books this time of year for no other reason than to convince myself it’s not really as hot outside as it really is.

In fact, I’m working on some Christmas books that will release this holiday season and would love to hear your thoughts about  what you enjoy most in a Christmas romance? What are some of your favorites? Do you like holiday romances that are tender and sweet or romantic comedies? Do you enjoy a touch of magic in them or prefer them to be more grounded in reality? What makes you pick up a Christmas book and read it in the middle of the summer?

If you were going to write a Christmas romance, what one thing would you definitely include?

One holiday series I wrote a few years ago was such fun for me. The books were inspired by a Christmas carol, The Friendly Beasts, and I had a blast figuring out ways to incorporate all the animals from the song into the set of four stories.

The first story begins with a meeting among the animals on Christmas Eve. They are a nativity, discussing the their humans and how they can help them fall in love. The ringleader is a sassy camel named Lolly.

 

“Any other business?” Ivy asked.

“We really do need to find a donkey,” Lolly said as one of the humans picked up a toddler and set it on Cam’s back. The pony froze mid-chew then dropped his belly so the little boy almost fell off. “One good with children.”

“I concur,” Jasper said, smoothing his feathers.

“We don’t need to vote on it, but everyone should take the initiative to search for a donkey. If one is located, Jasper can communicate to all of us on the matter.” Ivy glanced up at the bird then back to Lolly. “Anything else to discuss?”

“No. I move to adjourn the meeting.” Lolly narrowed her gaze as the adults continued inching closer to her.

“Meeting adjourned and none too soon,” Ivy said, stretching her neck toward the costumed humans heading their way. “And for goodness sakes, Shep, don’t fall into the manger this year.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” the sheep protested. “The mule we had last year knocked me into it on purpose.”

“And that’s why we’ve got Cam this year.” Lolly turned from her friends to the people trying to take a photo of their child in front of the fence. “You want a photo op with your little darlings? I’ll give you a photo op you won’t ever forget.” She leaned over the fence and opened her mouth, dropping it over the closest child’s head.

Ivy mooed with laughter while Shep and Jasper joined in the amusement.

“Taste good, did it?” Ivy asked when Rhett ran over and extracted the child from Lolly’s mouth, handing the girl back to her mother. Lolly ignored his admonishments for her to behave and quit treating the kids like giant lollipops.

“Like peppermint and strawberries mixed with fuzz,” Lolly said, sticking out her tongue and spitting as everyone ducked. She grinned and turned back to her fellow Friendly Beasts of Faraday members. “I can’t wait until next year. It’s going to be the best, most magical Christmas ever.”

For a limited time, get a digital copy of Scent of Cedar FREE! You’ll find Lolly and the story of her humans on Amazon.

Distracting the Deputy

 

I am super-duper excited to share about my soon-to-release book with you all today.

Distracting the Deputy (Summer Creek, book 4) releases on Tuesday! Yeehaw!

I know I always say I had such fun writing a book, but I seriously had such fun writing this story. The characters climbed inside my head then wound their way into my heart. I was so sad to write the last few pages. However, since this is a series, I know these two wonderful characters will pop up again!

Zadie Redmond is a woman full of mystery and secrets, mostly because it’s the only way to keep herself and those she cares about safe. And she’s a woman full of contradictions.

If things had gone according to plan, she’d be performing as a prima ballerina, dancing on stages across the globe. Instead, she was remodeling a home she would most likely never own, scraping pond scum from beneath her chipped nails, and teaching the basics of ballet to a group of country kids who arrived for their lessons wearing cowboy boots with their leotards.

Knox Strickland is a Deputy in Harney County, based in his tiny little hometown of Summer Creek, Oregon. He’s a good guy who always goes above and beyond, and he truly cares about people.

When he’s not evading grabby-handed octogenarians, mentoring troubled teens, or rescuing rascally youngsters from disaster, Deputy Knox Strickland can be found upholding the law in the eastern Oregon region he patrols. He avoids making plans for tomorrow, focusing instead on doing his best today. Then one chance encounter with a beautiful woman in a wheat field turns his world upside down. Knox is left questioning what secrets she’s hiding, and how hard he’ll have to work to scale the fortress she’s built around her heart.

I may or may not have developed a teeny-weeny crush on Knox. He’s just so… swoony!

Here’s one of my favorite fun scenes in the story:

~*~

“Well, hello there, Captain America,” Jossy said in a teasing, seductive voice that made Zadie giggle.

“I’m standing right here, you know,” Nate said, scowling at his wife.

“Yes, you are, and you look so adorable, Nate.” Jossy smiled at her husband, then smirked at Zadie, “but this girl should magically turn him into her own personal superhero.”

“Don’t get any ideas.” Zadie frowned at Jossy, then turned to ogle the man dressed as a popular comic book hero. Making a mental inventory of his attire, she started her observation at his feet, covered by a pair of black lace-up military boots. Dark blue cargo pants fit the guy like a glove, highlighting his thick thighs and trim waist. In fact, thoughts of Knox and the teasing comments she’d made about his interest in being a tight end came to mind. Zadie noted the impressive form visible beneath the man’s long-sleeved blue T-shirt. She was sure what the fabric hugged were real muscles, not the foam or inflatable ones often worn with a costume. He had on a Captain America hat, wore leather holsters over both shoulders, and carried a replica of the Captain America shield. He turned slightly, and his profile certainly looked like one an all-American hero might possess.

Something about the strong, square jawline seemed oddly familiar. Then he looked over his shoulder, and Zadie’s jaw fell open. The hunky guy in the hero costume wasn’t a stranger after all.

“Knox? He’s Captain America?” Zadie whispered, feeling things she’d rather not acknowledge or explain, even to herself.

“The one and only,” Jossy said in a sing-song voice, then gave Zadie a nudge forward just as a loud pop signaled the beginning of the parade.

Zadie found herself pushed along and glanced up to see Knox looking down at her. He’d somehow finagled his way back through the line to walk beside her.

“You are the most gorgeous fairy I’ve ever seen,” he said, giving her an admiring glance.

Her cheeks warmed as she tried not to stare at the muscles of his chest, perfectly outlined by the tight T-shirt. “You look …”

“Ridiculous,” Knox grumbled. “My friend Wes’s wife suggested this would be a good costume. I already had the pants. The shirt and other stuff were easy to find when I was in Portland. She told me to get the shirt on the snug side.” He sighed and swept a hand in front of his chest. “I look like an idiot.”

Idiot was not the first, or even fortieth, word Zadie would have chosen to describe Knox’s appearance. Hunk. Hottie. Captain Cutie all came to mind.

Now that you’ve had a little introduction to Knox, what do you think? Would you want to live in Summer Creek where he’s on duty?

Summer Creek is one of those small towns—the kind brimming with quirky inhabitants, pets with personalities (like a meandering goat named Ethel), meddling matchmakers, tumbling-down old buildings, and dreams. So many dreams. These sweet, uplifting romances explore the ties that bind a community together when they unite for a common purpose and open their hearts to unexpected possibilities. Heart, humor, and hope weave through each story, touching the lives of those who call Summer Creek home.

Readers who love Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series and RaeAnne Thayne’s Haven Point series will enjoy coming home to Summer Creek.

Catching the Cowboy  (Book 1)

Rescuing the Rancher (Book 2)

Protecting the Princess (Book 3)

Distracting the Deputy (Book 4)

If you pre-order your ebook by June 21 (at the special price of $2.99) you can go to THIS FORM and enter your purchase number to receive access to a Bonus Bundle. The Bonus Bundle includes a short story featuring a day in the life of Knox, a Zadie-approved recipe, and some other fun goodies like coloring pages with Ethel the goat!

To enter for a chance to win a copy of Distracting the Deputy,

post one thing you enjoy reading about in small town romances.

Strawberry Shortcake

Growing up, we always had an abundance of strawberries during the summer months. My mom made strawberry shortcake at least once a week.

Now, I know everyone has their own take on what “shortcake” should mean. Some people like to use biscuits. Others a sponge cake. Some might go for angel food cake. For me, it means the baked-from-scratch white cake Mom made only when she served it with strawberries.

At the end of a long, hot, hard day of working on the farm, a serving of that shortcake soaking up sweet strawberry juice and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was a little bite of summer heaven.

Even the few years my brother decided to grow strawberries and sell them in town (and roped me into picking them way too early in the mornings), those berries still tasted so good.

My dad liked to say the variety of berry, Ogallala, might not make the biggest berries, but they were the sweetest. I had to agree.

The Ogallala is known as one of the hardiest strawberries because they can handle both cold temperatures and drought. After the first year, they are a heavy producer, spreading out runners and falling in the category of everbearing (meaning they’ll bear fruit all summer).

According to the information I found, 25 years of research and testing by the North Platte Experiment Station and the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station went into developing this strawberry which debuted in the 1950s. Created by Dr. LeRoy Powers, the Ogallala combines Rocky Mountain wild strawberry with cultivated varieties of Fairfax, Midland, and Rockhill.  The result: big husky plants with abundant dark green foliage and deep red berries that are red all the way to the center. The leaves make finding the berries a bit of a challenge, but helps protect against bird damage, hot winds, and unseasonable frost.

All I knew as a kid was how good those berries tasted. Mom would make jam so we could enjoy that delicious summer flavor all winter long. And sometimes, if she was in a rush, instead of making shortcake, she’d simply roll out a pie crust, sprinkle it with sugar, and bake it on a cookie sheet. Then we’d break off pieces of the crust, layer berries and ice cream on top, and savor the wonderful treat.

A few years ago, I was craving those sweet berries of my childhood, not the big, flavorless things we so often find at the grocery store. Of course, when my parents sold the farm, they didn’t bring along any of the berry plants to their new place. So I started searching for them online.

When I finally found a nursery that sold them, I decided to order 20 plants. I figured if even half of them survived, that would be plenty for Captain Cavedweller and me to enjoy. When they arrived, they were the most pathetic looking starts you’ve ever seen. They looked more like shriveled little sticks than hearty root stock. But I planted them – in between the roses that line the fence along our driveway. I was sure none of the plants would grow. The first year, they didn’t do much, but the following spring, gorgeous leaves unfurled and soon we were picking sweet, juicy berries that took my back to my childhood days on the farm.

And this summer, it looks like we’re going to get a bumper crop of berries with berry plants coming up everywhere. Yum! I can hardly wait to make shortcake just like Mom used to serve! (Right after I trim back all those runners!)

Strawberry Shortcake

¾ cup sugar

½ cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups flour

4-5 cups of strawberries

½ cup sugar

Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together ¾ cup sugar and butter, then add egg and vanilla extract. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the bowl until batter is well blended.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan and bake until the top is a light, golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool completely.

Remove stems from strawberries, wash and hull them, then place in a large serving bowl.  Mom always used a potato masher to break them down a little. You don’t want to pulverize them like you would if you were making jam, just mash them enough they get good and juicy and break into nice little pieces. Stir in ½ cup of sugar until sugar dissolves, then let rest for at least 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut slices of cake, top with strawberries and a scoop of ice cream.

~*~

Do you have a favorite childhood dessert

you enjoyed in the summer?

Or a favorite dessert you look forward to

making during the summer months? 

Post your answer for a chance to win a copy of Farm Girl, a collection of humorous stories from my childhood years.

 

 

Starting in the Middle

Back in 2013, I started kicking around the idea for a sweet historical romance. I knew it would involve a mail-order bride coming west from a big city, but I had to decide where she was headed.

That’s when I landed on the idea of using the real town of Pendleton, Oregon, for the setting of the story.  My parents lived in Pendleton during the early years of their marriage (long before I arrived on the scene), but my dad shared such great stories about the area, I decided to look deeper into the history.

That’s when things got interesting and fun!

Located along the Oregon Trail, the city was founded in 1868 and named for George Hunt Pendleton, a Democratic candidate for vice president in 1864. The county judge, G.W. Bailey, suggested the name and the commissioners decided Pendleton suited the town.

In 1851, Dr. William C. McKay established a post office on McKay Creek and called it Houtama. Later, Marshall Station was situated about a half-mile to the east on the north bank of the Umatilla River. Marshall Station was then called Middleton since it rested half way between what was then Umatilla Landing and the Grand Ronde Valley (known today as La Grande).

When the county was created in 1862, the temporary county seat was placed at Marshall Station. The post office was established there in 1865 with Jonathan Swift as the postmaster.

On October 8, 1869, the name was changed to Pendleton. Much of the town proper at that time was owned by Moses E. Goodwin and Judge Bailey. Goodwin arrived in the area around 1861. He traded a team of horses to Abram Miller for squatter rights to 160 acres about three miles from Marshall Station. Goodwin Crossing was a stop for freight wagons. In 1868, Goodwin deeded two and a half acres of his land to the county for a town. A toll bridge that spanned the Umatilla River was constructed along with a hotel, a newspaper, and other businesses and Pendleton began to take shape as a community. In the early days, there was a community well in town where folks gathered.  Some diaries wrote about the delicious, cool, sweet water that came from the well.

In 1872, twenty women started the first church when they began meeting together. The first church building erected in town was the Episcopal Church, constructed in 1875.

One pioneer account claimed the streets were so dusty in the summer, it was nearly up to their knees while the dust turned into a quagmire of mud in the winter. No wonder Pendleton was one of the first cities in Oregon to pave their streets.

If you jump ahead a few decades, Pendleton had become quite the happening place to be by the time a new century rolled around.

Modern and progressive for its time, Pendleton was a unique blend of Wild West and culture. The town boasted an opera house and theater, a teashop, a French restaurant, and a wide variety of businesses in the early years of the new century. On any given day during that time, someone walking down the boardwalk could see well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, as well as Chinese immigrants, Indians from the nearby reservation, miners, ranchers, and farmers. Someone once wrote Pendleton was the only place in the world that had a reservation on one end of town and an asylum for the insane on the other (which they did!).

Pendleton had an enviable railway facility with trains running east and west daily. Telephones as well as running water and sewer lines were available for those who could afford the services.

In the year 1900, it was the fourth largest city in Oregon. By 1902, the population grew to 6,000 and there were 32 saloons and 18 bordellos in the area. If you’re wondering why the town needed quite so much “entertainment,” it was in part because of the sheer number of cowboys, wheat harvesters, sheepherders, railroad workers, and crews of men who descended on the town to work. In 1900 alone, an estimated 440,000 sheep produced more than two million pounds of wool. Pendleton also boasted a maze of underground tunnels where there some of the brothels, drinking rooms, card rooms, and other colorful characters spent their time and money. There was a Chinese operated laundry and opium den, as well as more legitimate businesses like a butcher shop and ice cream parlor.  Today, visitors can tour a small portion of the underground that has been restored through The Pendleton Underground Tours.

By now, you are probably asking yourself what any of this has to do with me starting in the middle.  That book I wrote back in 2013 was my first Pendleton book. I knew before I finished writing it, I wanted it to be a series because I loved the town that existed in my mind (and in history) and the characters I’d created. I decided to call the series Pendleton Petticoats because it had a nice catchy ring to it, and because of the time period, when women still work petticoats (which I would have hated in particular in the summer!).

I released my book Aundy that spring.

Fast forward a few years when I was invited to participate in the epic American Mail-Order Bride series that featured a novella for every state. By the time I joined the project, Oregon was already taken, so I choose North Carolina – the state where my grandpa was born and spent part of his childhood before moving to Oklahoma. Of course, I had to tie the story to Oregon somehow, so the bride in my story, Dacey, is from Pendleton.  I won’t give you any spoilers, but her daughter pops up in Dally, book 8 in the Pendleton Petticoats series, as the love interest for Aundy’s adopted son, Nik Nash.

Then a few years ago, I thought it would be fun to go back and write the story of J.B. and Nora Nash, who were among the early settlers in Pendleton. Gift of Grace was the book was the first in my Gifts of Christmas series.

If you aren’t thoroughly confused yet, I’ll try a little harder. (Just kidding!).

So to recap, I wrote Aundy (technically, the first book in the series) which takes place in 1899, then Dacey which takes place in 1890, and Gift of Grace which takes place in 1870.

Because Dacey and Gift of Grace are part of other series, I decided it might be fun to bundle the three books together.

Ta, da!

You are the first to see the Pendleton Petticoats Boxed Set .

It’s available now on Amazon for $2.99 or through Kindle Unlimited!

Indulge in the romance of a bygone era with three incredible pioneer women.

This boxed set contains two novellas and a full-length historical romance from the Pendleton Petticoats series including Aundy, Dacey, and Nora (Gift of Grace). Strong-willed, courageous women encounter the men who capture their hearts in these sweet western romances full of heart, humor, and hope.

Nora –  Ready to begin a new life far away from the dark memories of the Civil War, J.B. and Nora Nash head west and settle into the small community of Pendleton, Oregon. A devastating tragedy leaves them at odds as they drift further apart. Nora blames J.B. for her unhappiness while he struggles through his own challenges. Together, will they discover the gift of grace and rekindle their love?

Dacey – A conniving mother, a reluctant groom, and a desperate mail-order bride make for a lively adventure. Dacey Butler arrives in North Carolina only to discover Braxton Douglas, her would-be groom, has no idea his mother wrote on his behalf, seeking a bride. Braxton has his work cut out for him if he plans to remain unaffected by the lively, lovely Dacey. Will the promise of hope be enough to keep her from leaving?

Aundy – Desperate to better a hopeless situation, Aundy Thorsen leaves behind city life to fulfill a farmer’s request for a mail-order bride. A tragic accident leaves her a widow soon after becoming a wife. Aundy takes on the challenge of learning how to manage a farm, wrangle demented chickens, and raise sheep, even though her stubborn determination to succeed upsets a few of the neighbor, including Garret Nash. Will she prove to him that courage sometimes arrives in a petticoat and love has a mind of its own?

 

For a chance to win a mystery prize, just post an answer to this question:

If you could set a fictional story in a real town, what place would you choose?

 

Fish ponds and school carnivals

 

Back during my childhood years, I attended a small country school from first through the eighth grade. The school was small enough teachers had two grades per classroom (first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seven and eighth).

Every year around the end of February or beginning of March, the CSO (Community School Organization – better known as Parent Teacher Association) would host an indoor carnival in the school gymnasium. For the rural families who attended, it was an evening of games, treats, and a chance to get out and visit before the busyness of spring farm work descended.

I haven’t been able to find much history on school carnivals, other than they’ve been around a long time. They most often serve as a fundraiser for the school for something in particular.

A variety of games and booths were included each year, like the cake walk. Music played and you walked around in a circle on the numbers that had been taped to the floor. When the music stopped, you stood on a number, hoping the person pulling numbers out of a glass jar would pick yours. There were some wonderful bakers in our community and a cake made by them was awesome.

There were ring toss games, a ball toss, and several others to keep the youngsters busy.  My husband remembers a dig in the sand game from his school carnival days which entailed digging through a box of sand for poker chips. The color of the chip determined the type of prize. He, admittedly, watched to see which color garnered the best prizes and dug until he found one.

Tickets were sold at the door, just like for a carnival. I think they sold for something like 20 tickets for $5. Each game required a different number of tickets to play. The cakewalk seems like it took five.

My favorite game at the carnival was the fish pond. Sheets were hung on a rope, making an enclosed area. The students lined up on the outside of it with a “fishing pole,” which was usually a dowel or old broom handle with a piece of yarn attached to it. A clothespin dangled from the end of the string. After surrendering the appropriate number of tickets to play, you lifted up the pole and dropped the end behind the curtain, waiting with great anticipation of what treasure you’d “catch.” There were usually three parents helping with the booth. One who took the tickets and helped get the line over the curtain. One who stood at the side of the curtain and whispered which child was in line. And then the person who chose the prize and attached it to the line.

People donated items and funds for the carnival, and the fish pond seemed to have an assortment of treasures and junk.  Unlike the other games, the fish pond guaranteed a prize. And depending on which parent was helping behind the curtain, sometimes the prizes were so perfect for the child. It was fun because you had no idea what you’d get, but you knew you’d have something unexpected when you felt the tug on the string and pulled the line back over the curtain.

The winter I was eleven, my mom helped organize the carnival. I’d buzzed around the gym with my best friend, playing various games and spending way too many tickets at the cake walk (where she won a cake!), before I wandered over to the fish pond.

I should probably explain that anyone who even remotely knew me knew I liked pretty, girly things even though I was a farm girl who loved (and still loves) all things John Deere.

So I handed over the required tickets, lifted the pole and anxiously waited to see what treasure I’d receive. When the line gently tugged, the parent standing beside me carefully lifted it up over the curtain. A wrinkled brown paper sack hung from the clothespin.

“Be careful,” she warned as I unfastened the pin and opened the sack.

Inside was a little porcelain statue.

My childish heart pitter-pattered in excitement. I loved it! It was pretty, and pink, and so, so perfect for me.

Who cared about my friend’s silly cake when I held in my hands something so girly and sweet!

At the time, it didn’t register in my head when I saw my mom step out from behind the fish pond booth a few minutes later. But I know she was the one who chose that special little gift for me, knowing how much it would delight me.

I discovered the statue wasn’t a statue at all, but part of a salt and pepper set produced by Enesco in the 1950s. The pattern is Prayer Lady. There were numerous pieces produced in a variety of styles, from a tea pot and soap dish to a canister set. They also produced them in a blue color scheme.

But none of that mattered to me. What mattered was that someone I loved made sure I received something I loved.

My little prayer lady sits on a shelf by my kitchen sink and every time I look at it, I think of that carnival and my mom, and it warms my heart all over again.

Do you have any fun or special school memories?

Did your school put on a carnival? 

Post your answer for a chance to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card!