Celebrate Autumn’s Arrival

Can you believe it?

The first official day of fall here in the United States is tomorrow.

I love the autumn season. The crisp crunch of leaves beneath my boots. The spicy and loamy scents that waft on the afternoon breeze, and the pumpkin and spice scents that waft from my oven. The sounds of fans cheering at high school football games, and the brilliant array of colors as the leaves change from green to crimson, tangerine, and gold.

As the days grow shorter and we tend to spend more time at home, it’s a perfect time to host a get together, whether it’s inviting a friend over for lunch, or the whole gang over for a bonfire.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I used to work for a direct sales company that was all about making entertaining at home easier and more enjoyable for the hostess. I learned so many tips and tricks for entertaining that really do simplify things, I thought I’d share a few today.

 

 

THEMES

One of the easiest ways to entertain is to pick a theme for your gathering. It makes everything from decorations to food choices so much simpler.

For an autumn party theme, send out invitations shaped like fall leaves or use stationery with a pumpkin or apple theme.

Bring the colors of the season into your home using shades of crimson red, burgundy, sage and earthy greens, golden yellow, and deep orange. Use accent pillows or throws to really create that warm and cozy atmosphere we associate with fall.  (Side note: you can easily recover a pillow using a swatch of felt since the edges won’t fray. Cut a piece big enough to cover the entire pillow and glue the edges or simply connect the edges by stitching with a piece of thin ribbon.)

Decorations for your party can be something as basic as a few potted mums, bundles of wheat tied with raffia bows, or a pile of mini pumpkins and squash. You don’t have to get carried away with something fancy.

Your meal can be simple as well. Make a big pot of stew (check out Cheryl’s recipe for hamburger stew) or a filling casserole. Finish the meal with a pumpkin or apple dessert.

If you want the party to be a more hands-on experience, do a fun activity before the meal like apple picking or visiting a pumpkin patch.

Or host an autumn bonfire. Serve up hot dogs, potato wedges and mulled cider.

Here’s a list of party ideas from A to Z:

Apples

Back to School

Crafter’s Gathering

Decadent Desserts

End of Summer

Foliage & Fun

Game Night

Harvest Festival

Indian Summer

Jubilee

King’s Castle

Leaves & Laughter

Maze Daze

Nature’s Splendor

Oktoberfest

Pumpkins

Queen for a Day

Rag Time

Scarecrow

Tailgate

Under the Umbrella

Vintage

Wiener and Marshmallow Roast

X-ray Vision/Superheros

Yearbook

Zebra – everything is black and white

 

SCENTS

If I thought I could get away with it, I’d burn pumpkin scented candles all year long. Just think about walking into a home where the scents of pumpkin, apple, cinnamon or spices fill the air. It makes you think about fall and hayrides and pumpkin pie and all sorts of wonderful, comforting experiences.

The main thing to remember as you fill your home with the scents of fall is to stick with one scent at a time.

If you’re burning a sweet pumpkin candle in the kitchen, don’t light a heavily spiced candle a few feet away in the family room. Before you know it, you’ve got warring scents and quite possibly a headache.

DECOR

If you are looking to bring the autumn season into your home, a great place to start is by going outdoors. What fall leaves, branches or natural items, like grasses, pinecones or nuts, can you bring indoors for an inexpensive accent to your decor?

Use neutral tones highlighted with fall colors, focusing on the vivid jewel tones of autumn like rich red, warm gold, brilliant orange, deep green and pops of purple. This is not the time or the season to go all beige. Think bold, warm and rich when you are choosing accent colors.

Create a fall welcome at your front door by placing pumpkins on steps, a twiggy wreath around an exterior light or baskets filled with bright fall flowers like mums.

Use fall scents like pumpkin, cinnamon and apple throughout your home. Whatever scent you choose, make sure you stick with it consistently so you don’t have scents overpowering each other. No one wants to walk into a scent war-zone!

Fill bowls or baskets with nuts or pinecones for a fast fall accent. Place large leaves between a serving tray and a piece of glass (or a clear glass pate). You can use this as a centerpiece, serve warm mugs of cider on it or leave it on the coffee table as a conversation piece.

Keep your focus on warmth. Warm colors and cozy fabrics create a fantastic sense of welcome.

FLAVORS

If you are a pumpkin maniac (hand waving in the air), here are a few ideas to add pumpkins to your menu if you choose a pumpkin theme (or just really love pumpkin!).

• Make a simple pumpkin soup by adding about four cups of chicken broth to a 28-ounce can of pumpkin. Cook until bubbling and let simmer then stir in about 3 ounces of Feta cheese, season with salt and a pinch of nutmeg.

• Use canned pumpkin as a thickener. Add it to any type of chili or stew that needs a little thickening.

• Substitute canned pumpkin for half the fat in quick breads. This works well with cinnamon, citrus and chocolate. Or make your taste buds extra happy and make a loaf of pumpkin bread.

• Add canned pumpkin to half your cheesecake filling. Swirl it into the filling, but don’t mix, before baking to get an awesome design and incredible flavor.

• Mix canned pumpkin into softened ice cream then refreeze for a quick pumpkin dessert. Serve with gingersnaps and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

• Mix a heaping spoonful into grits, top with grated Parmesan cheese and a tiny dollop of butter.

• Mix canned pumpkin with one part apple cider and two parts ginger ale for a fun beverage.

You could also make pumpkin polenta, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin muffins, roasted pumpkin wedges, pumpkin roll or pumpkin seeds.

However you decide to entertain this fall, just remember to enjoy the experience and not get too wrapped up in the details. It’s all about connecting with your friends and loved ones that truly matters!

Speaking of connecting, I hope you’ll join me and the rest of the Love Train authors for a “welcome autumn” celebration tomorrow. The fun begins at 8 a.m. Pacific Time (9 Mountain, 10 Central, 11 Eastern). It will be a day full of fun, games, giveaways, and more!
https://www.facebook.com/groups/2143576775865837

What’s your favorite way to entertain?

Casual? Rustic? Elegant? Classy? Whimsical?

Or if entertaining isn’t your thing,

what’s your favorite autumn flavor? 

 

Post your answer for a chance to win a digital copy of my newly released

Fall Into Love

collection of two autumn-themed sweet cowboy romances,

and a digital copy of my Savvy Autumn Entertaining guide!

 

 

10 Things to Do Before Summer Ends

I don’t know about you, but the summer days are flying past. I’m pretty sure they stir a breeze and make a whirring sound as they whiz past my head.

Before summer bliss turns to cozy days of autumn, I thought I’d share a list of ten things to do before summer winds to an end.

  1. Blow Bubbles. Doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, go blow a few bubbles and see if a few worries and cares don’t float away with the soapy orbs.
  2. Go on a Picnic. It doesn’t matter if you make something elaborate, run by the deli, or grab take-out, pack a blanket and your loved ones and head for a park or picnic area you haven’t visited this summer.

  3. Host a bonfire. Make sure you follow local ordinances and keep a hose handy. And don’t forget to have plenty of S’mores supplies on hand.

  4. Eat a popsicle. It’s cold and sweet and perfectly delightful. Indulge and enjoy. Have a contest to see who can make theirs last the longest.

  5. Pick fresh fruit. Scan the classified ads or ask around for the best “U-pick” fruit location and then go pick something. You’ll be glad you did when you bite into that fresh off-the-tree fruit!

  6. Take a hike or a bike ride. Go somewhere off the beaten path and really look around you. Take in the scenery, the smells, the sounds. It won’t be long until fall paints an entirely different canvas over nature.

  7. Take photos. Although the moments won’t last, the photos and memories will. Take photos of your family and friends enjoying the last days of summer in all their joy and silliness.

  8. Eat watermelon. Take it outside and let the kids munch to their heart’s content, with juice running down their chins and onto their toes. I dare you to join them! There is summer sweetness packed in every juicy sweet bite.

  9. Make homemade ice cream. There is nothing like making your own ice cream and enjoying each cool, creamy bite of frozen confection. Our favorite is banana ice cream.

  10. Enjoy a sunset. There is nothing quite as spectacular as watching the summer sun sink into the western horizon. The pinks, oranges and golds that fill the sky can be breathtaking. Go sit outside and watch nature’s beauty descend. If you are of a mind to keep up the gazing, throw down a blanket and watch the stars.

I’m going to see how many of these I can cross off the list before September arrives!

GIVEAWAY

For a chance to win a mystery prize,

post one thing you are looking forward to doing before summer ends. Or share something fun you’ve already done this summer!

Eye of the Beholder

 

Over the years, I’ve snapped many photos of eyeballs – horse eyes, to clarify.

I don’t know what is about their eyes, something soulful and deep that just draws me to them and makes me want to capture that moment with my camera.

This horse, Steve, was one my niece was training at the time. It was getting close to sunset when I snapped the photo. When I got home and blew it up on the computer, I could see the silhouette of the skyline in his eye. Thanks to Photoshop, I was able to enhance it. This remains my favorite, favorite eye.

This is our neighbor’s horse. He used to hang his head over our fence all the time. It was just starting to snow when I took this photo. You can see a few white specks clinging to his dirty face.

This was one I took when we were on vacation in Central Oregon. There’s a resort there that keeps several horses and we went out to see them one morning. The deer were wandering around at the time too.

This old fella was also at the resort. I didn’t get any fun reflections in his eye, but he was such a sweetheart.

This is a horse my niece was working with a few months ago. He was such a laid-back guy.

What about you?

Do you ever snap photos of animals? Landscapes? Flowers?

Just post your answer for a chance to win

an art print of Steve’s eye and some other goodies!

 

Patriotic Fun

Some of you may know, I’m a big fan of rodeos. I have been since I was a little girl because of the 4th of July.

Every summer, the sleepy little town closest to our farm would burst to life for four days with the biggest event of the year – the 4th of July celebration. I can’t even tell you how old I was before I figured out the 4th of July was supposed to represent a single day, not a time of year.

Some towns might go all out for Christmas or Halloween, maybe even Easter. But our small town had the 4th of July. Apparently, going all out for Independence Day is something they’ve done for more than a century.

The four days of fun generally included four nights of rodeo, games and activities in the park, and a parade. Fireworks generally took place  the night of the 4th. There was also a Suicide Race, most often right before the second night of the rodeo.

The town boasted a saddle shop owned by a wonderful, kind man who also tended to enjoy a good joke from time to time. When I was four, my dad took me to Leroy’s shop to get a new belt for the rodeo. I remember walking inside, holding tightly to Daddy’s hand as the rich scent of leather filled my nose.

While Dad and Leroy talked, I wandered around the store, looking at saddles and boots, running my little fingers over the smooth leather of bridles and the rough texture of new ropes. Then I spied the belts. Dad let me pick the one I wanted – a floral stamped leather belt with a silver buckle. On the center of the buckle was a little gold saddle. I still have that belt today and whenever I look at it, I smile, recalling fond memories from both going to town with my dad and going to the rodeo.

Anyway, my family was big into the 4th of July celebration. We usually went to the rodeo at least once, sometimes twice. Quite often one or more of us would be in the parade. My oldest brother and his wife often rode their horses or drove a wagon in the parade. My other brother frequently entered one of his antique cars. I remember one year Mom helped me make an early 1900s costume so I could ride with him. I played In the Good Old Summertime on the piano about fifty times in a row and recorded it on our tape player, then we blasted that from a boom box in the car as we drove down the street (yep, that was back before you could loop songs on your smart phone!).

Back in those days, my oldest brother and one or more of my cousins would ride in the Suicide Race. If you’ve never seen or heard of one, in a nutshell, a group of riders with more courage than I could ever muster race down a harrowing trail to see who makes it to the bottom first. The race starts at the top of a butte with a blast of dynamite and ends in the rodeo arena across the river. It’s a 2-mile course down the hill, across the highway, through the river and into the arena. If a rider makes it off the butte, many of them end up taking a swim in the river.

Eventually my brother stopped racing and his kids took over as competitors. My niece was the first girl to race, starting when she was just 16. She rode five years, and won it twice.

Here you can watch the race from a competitor’s perspective. If you skip ahead to about the two-minute mark, it’s when the race begins.

Thanks to my childhood, I still feel that same excitement when the 4th of July rolls around. Even though we moved away many years ago, I still think back on those holidays with great fondness and nostalgia.

I think that’s why, if I have a book that includes the summer months, I often work in a scene of a parade or rodeo.

One of my favorites is this excerpt from my sweet historical romance, Bertie.

Enjoy an excerpt!

~*~

Bertie smiled and slipped her arm around his, drawing him closer into their rowdy group. Together, they watched the parade. The sheriff served as the grand marshal, flanked by Lars and Kade. They made such a striking duo as they rode their horses down the street, waving to the crowds. Three other deputies rode behind them.

“There’s my daddy! There’s my daddy!” Brett and Ben yelled, joined in their cheers by all of Lars and Marnie’s children.

Bertie giggled when Sophie nearly lurched out of Marnie’s arms, begging to go with her father. “Please, Mama, ride with Daddy. I wanna ride with Daddy!”

“No, Sophie. Not today. You just stay right here with me and watch the parade. Look, see the little pony cart coming? Isn’t he pretty?” Marnie tried to distract her daughter, but the child fussed and squirmed.

Bertie’s mouth fell open when Riley stepped over to Marnie and held out his arms to the child. “Mind if I hold this little sweetheart for a while?”

“Not at all, Riley. Maybe she’ll settle down for you.” Marnie handed over Sophie with an indulgent smile.

Sophie stared up at the man she’d only seen a few times. She leaned back in his arms and studied him. A tiny finger traced down his straight nose, across his cheeks and over his bottom lip. She grinned and sighed, wrapping her little arms around his neck, knocking his hat askew. “I like you.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Miss Sophie. I like you, too.” Riley reached up and straightened his hat, then turned so he once again stood beside Bertie with Sophie perched on his arm. He kept the little girl entertained and engaged during the parade.

Bertie marveled at his ease interacting with the child. He seemed confident, as if he had experience in handling fussy little ones. From past conversations, she knew Riley was an only child. Curious, she wondered where he’d gained his knowledge of keeping a little one content.

Perhaps he was one of those people who just naturally took to children. If so, it made her like him even more.

The “burrrrrooom boom boom boom” sound that Bertie recognized as Nik’s motorcycle rumbled down the street. He appeared riding his bike, followed by a group of bicyclers including several young women wearing bicycle bloomers.

“Looks like Nik finally got his harem,” Tony joked, nudging Garrett with his elbow.

~*~

Just for fun, here are a few patriotic puzzles to enjoy!

 

 

 

And a jigsaw puzzle!

What about you? Do you have any fun memories from 4th of July celebrations, or even summer memories as a child?

Wishing everyone a beautiful weekend full of fun and joy!

Lake Bride

It’s funny how one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, you’re writing a book you hadn’t planned on writing.

My dad’s cousin, JJ, often sends him funny quotes or memes, or things to make him smile. He also shares interesting tidbits of information. Dad chooses the things he likes best and sends them on to me.

One of his “chosen favorites” from JJ was a lovely post written about the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at  Arlington National Cemetery.  I’d heard of the cemetery, had never visited it, and knew there were guards, but that was about the extent of my knowledge when I opened that email from dad.

After reading what was shared, I had to know more. I needed to know more about the soldiers who guard the Tomb and the cemetery. And that knowledge led to me writing a sweet contemporary romance about a Tomb Guard, a nurse, and an array of wacky wildlife.

 

In 1857, George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington, willed an 1,100 acre property to his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee. The Lee family vacated the estate in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War, and federal troops soon occupied the property as a camp and headquarters.

In 1863, the government established Freedman’s Village, on the estate as a way to assist slaves transitioning to freedom. The village provided housing, education, training, and medical care. As the number of Civil War casualties grew faster than other local cemeteries could handle them, the property became a burial location. The first military burial took place on May 13, 1864, when Private William Christman was laid to rest there.

That June, the War Department officially set aside 200 acres of the property to use as a cemetery. By the end of the war, thousands of service members and former slaves were buried there.  Eventually, the Lee family received compensation for the property although the land remained with the War Department. Today, the cemetery has since grown to exceed 600 acres and is one of the oldest national cemeteries in America.

Evolving from a place of necessity to a national shrine to those who have served honorably in our Nation, the rolling hills have become the final resting place to more than 400,00 active duty service members, veterans, and their families. An average of 27-30 services are held each week day and more than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services take place each year. Among the notable graves include presidents (President Kennedy and President Taft), astronauts (including John Glenn and Christa McAuliffe), and celebrities (such as Maureen O’Hara, Lee Marvin, and Audie Murphy).

At first, being buried at Arlington was not considered an honor, but it did ensure service members whose families couldn’t afford to bring them home for a funeral were given a proper burial. The first official Decoration Day (later renamed Memorial Day) was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The event was so popular, an amphitheater was constructed in 1873 to hold the official ceremonies. By the late 1870s, high-ranking veterans began requesting burial in the Officers’ Sections.

In 1899, the U.S. Government began, at its own expense, repatriating service members who died overseas during the Spanish-American War. The cemetery expanded to include Sections 21, 22, and 24. Congress authorized, in 1900, a designated section for Confederate soldiers. After World War I, more than 2,000 service members were repatriated and interred in Sections 18 and 19.

 

In October 1921, four bodies of unidentified U.S. military personnel were exhumed from various American military cemeteries in France. The four caskets were taken to the city hall of Châlons-sur-Marne (now called Châlons-en-Champagne), France. Town officials and members of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps had prepared the city hall for the selection ceremony. Early on the morning of October 24, 1921, Maj. Robert P. Harbold of the  Quartermaster Corps oversaw the arrangement of the caskets so that each rested on a shipping case other than the one in which it had arrived. Major Harbold then chose Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany, to select the Unknown Soldier. Sgt. Younger selected the Unknown by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets.  From Châlons-sur-Marne, the Unknown journeyed by caisson and rail to the port town of Le Havre, France. From Le Havre, the Unknown Soldier’s casket was transported to Washington, D.C.  on the USS Olympia. The Unknown Soldier arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921, and was taken to the Capitol Rotund. The Unknown lay in state in there on November 10 with around 90,000 visitors paying their respects that day.

On November 11, 1921, the Unknown was placed on a horse-drawn caisson and carried in a procession through Washington, D.C. and across the Potomac River. A state funeral ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater, and the Unknown was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Nationwide, Americans observed two minutes of silence at the beginning of the ceremony. President Warren G. Harding officiated the ceremony and placed the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, on the casket. Additionally, numerous foreign dignitaries presented their nations’ highest awards.

Originally, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier consisted of a simple marble slab. Thousands of visitors came to Arlington National Cemetery to mourn at the Tomb and to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier and the military personnel he represented. The tomb was unguarded, since most people were respectfully. But it became more popular with people to treat the tomb as a tourist attraction. It’s said some even picnicked on the tomb because of the grand view it provided.

In 1926, the Army assigned soldiers as guards. A sarcophagus was installed in 1932.  The Tomb sarcophagus is decorated with three wreaths on each side panel (north and south). On the front (east), three figures represent Peace, Victory and Valor. The back (west) features the inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” (This inscription gets to me every time I read it.)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War in 1956. The selection ceremonies and the interment of these Unknowns took place in 1958. The caskets of the World War II and Korean Unknowns arrived in Washington on May 28, 1958, where they lay in the Capitol Rotunda until the morning of May 30. They were then carried on caissons to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded each the Medal of Honor, and the Unknowns of World War II and the Korean War were interred in the plaza beside their World War I comrade. A Vietnam Unknown was added in 1984. An Army caisson carried the Vietnam Unknown from the Capitol to the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 28, 1984. President Reagan presided over the funeral, and presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam Unknown, and also acted as next of kin by accepting the interment flag at the end of the ceremony. With modern technology, the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed in 1998 and identified. His remains were transported to his family in St. Louis, where he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The slab over the empty crypt was since been replaced. The inscription of “Vietnam” has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen 1958 – 1975” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members.

Beginning in 1937, guards were stationed 24-hours a day to keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1948, the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), took over the prestigious duty and continue to guard the Tomb today. Known as sentinels, the soldiers provide security for the Tomb, lead ceremonies, and maintain the sanctity of the space. To them, they honor the Unknowns through the precision of their rituals.

The sentinels are amazing.

After digging into the research of this unique soldier, they have my highest respect and admiration for their service and dedication.

Soldiers who volunteer to become Tomb guards must go through a strict selection process and intensive training. Each element of their routine has meaning. The guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, and then takes 21 steps down the mat. Next, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place his/her weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, signifying that he or she stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. The number 21 symbolizes the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed: the 21-gun salute.

Now imagine doing that in searing summer heat (in a wool uniform), in pouring rain, or freezing snow. It’s what they do. Every single day.

The Sentinels have a creed they live by. One of my favorite lines is this one: And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.

In my sweet romance Lake Bride (releasing June 23), the hero has spent the past two years of his life as a Sentinel. He’s at a crossroads in his life, trying to find himself and direction for his future. When his favorite relative, Uncle Wally, passes away and leaves him a cabin on a lake in Eastern Oregon, Bridger sees the perfect opportunity to get away and figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

If you read my book Henley that was part of the Love Train series, Bridger is a great-great-great-grandson to Evan and Henley Holt!

A solemn soldier.

A woman full of sunshine.

And the lake where they fall in love.

Twenty-one steps. The past two years of Bridger Holt’s life have centered on the twenty-one steps he repeatedly walks back and forth as one of the sentinels guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Now that his duty is coming to an end, Bridger has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. Guilt from his past and trepidation about his unknown future drive him to the mountain cabin he inherited from his beloved uncle to gain clarity and direction. The quirky residents in the nearby town of Holiday, the assortment of wildlife that adopts him, and the woman who shines a light into his tattered soul might be what Bridger needs to find the redemption he seeks.

Outgoing, upbeat Shayla Reeves spreads sunshine wherever she goes. Holiday has become her home, and she enjoys spending time in the mountains around town. She adores the patients in the dementia facility where she works as a nurse. But something is missing from her mostly joyful world. When she mistakenly camps on private land owned by the mysterious and brooding Bridger Holt, she realizes what her life is lacking isn’t adventure but love.

Will two opposite personalities overcome their challenges and figure out a way to build a future together?

Find out in this sweet love story full of hope, small-town humor, and the wonder of falling in love.

Pre-order your copy of Lake Bride today!

 

You can get a free Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Commemorative Guide to download at this link: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Interactive/2021/10-tomb-of-the-unkown-soldier/TUS-Commemorative-Guide.pdf

To enter for a chance to win a Lake Bride postcard, bookmark, and some other fun goodies,

just share if you’ve ever been to Arlington National Cemetery.

If yes, what did you most enjoy there?

If no, share about a place you’ve visited that was special to you.