Sleigh Bell Serenade

I’ve shared before how inspiration can strike from anywhere when it comes to me writing a story.

Two Christmas seasons ago, I was happily decking my halls for the holidays and listening to a traditional Christmas music station.

A song started to play—one I’d never heard—and I literally stopped in the midst of hanging a holly garland and listened to Bing Crosby croon about a “Sleigh Bell Serenade.” If you’ve never heard the song, it’s so cute and you can listen to it on YouTube.

Anyway,  by the time the song ended, I knew I wanted to write a story with that title and have one of the main characters do something with sleighs or sleigh bells.

It wasn’t until I started writing The Snowman’s Sweetheart, which released in January of last year, that I figured out how to run with the sleigh bell idea. In this book, the hero, Ky, has a best friend named Bo who is a rancher, but also runs a sleigh tour business during the winter months.

Sleigh Bell Serenade is book two in the Winter Wishes sweet romance series, and shares the story of Bowen Jensen and Juniper Haynes, a hot-shot real estate agent who is really ready from a break from her big-city, fast-paced life.

The book releases tomorrow!

He keeps his heart heavily guarded.

She meets everyone with a friendly smile.

Will the attraction sizzling between them pull them into the space between their two worlds?

Burdened by too many responsibilities, Bowen Jensen struggles beneath their overwhelming weight. Between raising his teenage sister, running their family ranch, and managing Sleigh Bell Tours, he barely has time to sleep let alone do something just for himself. He can’t even recall his last date. Then a chance encounter with a beguiling woman leaves him pondering if there isn’t more to life than trudging through one lonely day after another.

Juniper Haynes appears to have it all with a successful real estate career and a picture-perfect life. In reality, she’s tired of dealing with demanding clients, wary of her so-called friends, and secretly longs for the peace she finds at her sister’s mountain home. After a magical New Year’s Eve kiss with a cowboy she barely knows, she realizes true happiness might only be found outside her comfort zone.

Can Bo and Juniper find the courage to embrace change and explore the possibility of a future together?

Find out in this sweet winter romance full of small-town charm, memorable characters, laughter, hope, and love.

 

Annoyed by his infatuation with Juniper, he took a step back, uncertain what to say.

Words had never easily come to him. He was more of a doer than a talker. In his younger years, his best friend, Ky, had always filled the gap since he could talk to anyone, anytime, about anything. Ky had received the gift of gab, while Bo had been given the gift of brawn and endurance.

But at that moment, an idea or two of something witty to say would have been helpful.

“Do you live around here?” Sassy asked as Bo stood there like one of the snow carvings that would fill the town next month at the Winter Fest.

“Cedar lives in Faraday with her husband. I live in Portland,” Juniper said. “I’m just visiting through the holidays.”

“So you’ll be around for New Year’s Eve?” Sassy asked.

Heaven help him if the girl decided to take it upon herself to ask Juniper to go out with him to ring in the new year.

Juniper nodded uncertainly.

“We’re hosting a little gathering of friends that night. Would you like to join us?” Cedar asked, smiling at Bo and then Sassy in invitation. “It’s very casual and informal. We’ll have finger foods and things like pizza and jalapeno poppers, and family-friendly games.”

“Why is this the …” Juniper started to speak, but Cedar gave her a quelling look that made her snap her mouth shut.

Bo might have laughed if he hadn’t been certain there was matchmaking afoot. Under normal circumstances, he would have run in the opposite direction as fast as possible, but he really wanted to see Juniper again. A party with her sister and friends seemed harmless enough.

“We’d love to come,” Sassy said with enthusiasm before he could respond. “Thank you for inviting us.”

Do you have a favorite winter memory?

Sleigh ride? Sledding? Nailing a smug sibling with a snowball? 
Share your comment for a chance to win a digital copy of Sleigh Bell Serenade!

The Age Old Holiday Question–Fruitcake Treat or Door Stop?

When I look back on my books, I can often tell something about what was going on with me. When I wrote To Tame a Texas Cowboy, transporting a lot of dogs from Corsicana, Texas. (For those who don’t know, my family fosters and transports dogs for Cody’s Friends Rescue.) I say that because of my heroine, Cheyenne’s comment describing her overprotective Mom. Despite the serious nature that brought about the scene (the mother reports her missing), I had a blast writing it. Here’s an excerpt.

“I’ve got to do something about Mom. I don’t care how worried she is, when she hurts other people she’s gone too far.” Cheyenne collapsed on the couch beside Aubrey.

If this was a sample of what Cheyenne was dealing with, no wonder she was desperate to move out. If a service dog could help her with that goal, how could he refuse to help? Wasn’t easing burdens like Cheyenne’s why he’d taken up Olivia’s cause with the SeizureReader?

Dog nails scraping against the glass patio door drew Cooper’s attention. After he let the dogs in, Penny trotted over to Cheyenne and curled up by her feet.

The wild idea that sprouted last night when he saw Penny with Cheyenne expanded. The idea could work.

“We should leave. I’ve caused Cooper enough trouble, and who knows what else will happen if I stay longer,” Cheyenne said to Aubrey.

Her friend shook her head. “Girl, I slept in my clothes and the officer showing up scared me so much I’m as sweaty as a teenager sneaking into the house after curfew. No way am I crawling in the car without a shower. Cooper, mind if I use yours?”

“Go ahead. That’ll give me time to talk to Cheyenne.”

After Aubrey left, Cheyenne stared at him wide-eyed. “Why would you want to talk to me? If I were you, I’d figure out how to get a restraining order.”

He smiled at her attempt at humor as he sank into his recliner. The woman had grit. Despite everything, she hadn’t buckled. “On your mom maybe, but this wasn’t your fault.”

Fatigue and vulnerability flashed in her green eyes, overwhelming the courage and toughness he admired a minute ago. “You’re wrong. This is my fault. I didn’t rein Mom in before this happened.”

“Has your mom always been so,” he paused. Would it be completely out of line to call her mom a nut case?

“Go ahead and say it. Crazy, wacko. Nuttier than a Collin Street Bakery fruitcake. Take your pick.”

He chuckled at her plain speaking. “I was trying to find a better way to phrase it.”

“That’s sweet, but unnecessary.” Cheyenne sighed. “She wasn’t as bad when my dad was alive.”

“You don’t have to talk about this.”

She shrugged. “You’ve seen my dirtiest laundry. Might as well know how it got so bad. My dad died in a freak rodeo accident when I was fifteen. A bull threw him and before the rodeo clowns got there, the bull stepped on his—” She shuddered, and horror flashed across her face. “There was nothing anyone could do. He was gone.”

“Saying I’m sorry is inadequate, but I am sorry.”

Cheyenne picked at the couch cushion. “That’s what started Mom’s overprotectiveness. Most people think things like that won’t happen to them or someone they love, but she knows they do. My diagnosis has dredged up that pain, along with her fear, and helplessness. She’s doing the only thing she can think of, trying to control everything, but she can’t fix this for me.”

 

I know a lot of folks outside of Texas won’t get Cheyenne’s comment “nuttier than a Collin Street Bakery fruitcake” but I had a good laugh writing with it. Her comment refers to the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, famous for the fruitcake it’s made for over 125 years. I can see the looks of disbelief on your faces now. Hey, I’ve heard all the fruitcake jokes that abound this time of year, but the Collin Street Bakery’s been featured on a popular shows like Good Morning America.

I thought the same thing the first time I went to Corsicana to transport a dog. But when I saw the Collin Street Bakery on my way to the city shelter, I had to stop. After that, every time I drove to Corsicana, I stopped at the bakery first. I would get a cherry turnover to devour on the way home, peanut brittle for my hubby, cupcakes, and a sample of their fruitcake, which is by the way, pretty good.

While we don’t buy fruitcakes, every year at the holidays, my husband craves our family’s version which is more like a pound cake. It’s so good that if I don’t have time to bake it, he does! Today I’m sharing that recipe with you.

 

Philly Christmas Cake

 

Ingredients:

1 8 oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1 1/2 C sugar

1 C butter

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

2 1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 C each of candied red, green cherries, and pineapple

1 C chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions:

Place 1/4 C chopped walnuts in each of two loaf pans. Place 1/4 C of the flour in a small bowl. Add cut candied fruit and remaining nuts. Mix and set aside.

Cream softened cream cheese, sugar, butter and vanilla until combined well. Add eggs one a time. Mix until incorporated. Add remaining flour (2C) and baking powder. Combine. Add remaining walnuts (1/2) and candied (now floured) fruit. Mix. Pour into loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour 20 min.

Giveaway–Today I have two holiday T-shirts to give away. Each one comes with a signed copy of To Tame A Texas Cowboy. To be entered in the giveaways, leave me a comment on your thoughts regarding fruitcake.

 

Savoring Christmas

 

I’ve been writing in the Rodeo Romance series since 2013 when The Christmas Cowboy released.

When I wrote that first sweet romance about a saddle bronc rider and a focused corporate executive, I never imagined it would lead to a whole series of books.

But it has.

Each holiday season, I release a new book in the series and last week  Savoring Christmas released.

This story is a combination of hilarity and heartfelt moments that tug on your heartstrings.

Troy Lucas gave up his winning rodeo career to run the family ranch after the death of his grandfather. Now, being a rancher, a farrier, and even doing some team roping just for fun can’t seem to keep him satisfied. He didn’t think he’d miss his glory days in the rodeo when he came back home – in fact, there’s no where else he’d rather be. Still, he can’t deny the hole inside that keeps reminding him he’s hungry for something…more.

Chef Lark Gibson has only one thing on her mind: opening a restaurant in Portland. Until that day comes, Lark will take her food truck to as many events as possible and make sure her customers are always begging for more. The last thing she expected was to find herself distracted by a knight in dusty Wranglers, until a handsome cowboy comes to her rescue and catches her off-guard.

 

 

The idea for Troy and Lark’s story started when Troy first made an appearance in a book a few years ago as a quiet and shy farrier. I knew as soon as his character popped onto the page, I wanted him to have his own story and find his happily ever after.

Last year, when I was working on Remembering Christmas, I came around to the idea of Troy’s love interest running a food truck – because … well, why not? So I asked my reader group for food truck ideas. As soon as one of them (thanks, Stephanie R!) mentioned a tater tot truck, I knew that was what I wanted to include, and their sweet romance grew from there. (You might remember I wrote a whole blog about tater tots a few years ago.)

Josephine Blake from Covers & Cupcakes created this amazing cover for me and I couldn’t love it more. She took my request for a cowboy, a red-headed woman, a food truck, and a snowy background and turn them into something amazing.

EXCERPT:

“Are you hurt?” he asked, hunkering down beside her, not wanting her to feel rushed to move. He’d had the air knocked out of him often enough to know it was an uncomfortable, unsettling feeling.

When she didn’t answer, only inhaled a third breath, he started to worry. “Should I find a medic?”

She shook her head, sending that mane of finger-tempting hair into a lively dance. Troy kept his hands pressed to his thighs when he experienced a sudden, inexplicable need to brush the hair away from her face. With the verdant grass providing a sharp contrast to her red hair, it was all Troy could do not to snap a picture of her to make him smile on a lonely gray day. The woman could be her own Christmas decoration with her alabaster skin, red hair, and the green background.

Despite comparing her to holiday décor, she really was a beauty, even with her hair in a tangle and no makeup on her face, at least that he could see.

“Just take your time. No need to get in a hurry to move. If you need assistance, I’ll go find someone.” Troy wasn’t certain if her pale skin was natural because of her red hair, or if she was injured and trying to make light of it.

She pushed herself up into a sitting position. “That won’t be necessary, even if that was an exciting way to start the day,” she said in a mellow voice that flowed over him like rich honey warmed by the sun.

“Are you sure you aren’t hurt?” he asked, rising to his feet, then offering her his hands.

“Just my pride.” She latched onto his hands and Troy almost jumped back, feeling something charged, like a current of electricity, shoot up both of his arms. It was like grabbing onto an electrified wire. Instead of letting go, though, he tightened his fingers around hers and hauled her upright.

The woman appeared of average height for a female, not too tall or too short. She had a nice figure he tried not to ogle as he observed her bright blue T-shirt and a pair of dark gray cotton shorts with pockets on the legs. His gaze slid down the length of her to her blue sneakers, then started back up when he noticed blood trickling down her leg and over her knee.

“You’re hurt,” he said, reaching for the cuff of her shorts that fell just above her knee, hiding her injury from his view. He stopped before his fingers connected with the cloth and dropped his hand to his side. Touching a stranger that way seemed rather inappropriate. He certainly didn’t want her to wrongly assume he was a pervert who preyed on women who’d been bowled over by belligerent bovine running amok.

 

To me Savoring Christmas isn’t just about Troy enjoying the food Lark creates.

It’s about savoring the season and the people they love and care about. It’s about savoring moments that will become treasured memories. It’s about savoring the warmth in their hearts and the joy of selfless giving.

May we all savor this special time of year!

Just for fun, here’s a song my narrator, Luke Andreen, wrote for this series. Enjoy!

If you were going to write a song to go with one of your favorite things

(can be a book, movie, person, place, thing – whatever),

what would the song be about? 

Share your answer for a chance to win a digital copy of Savoring Christmas and a $5 Amazon Gift Card!

A Sneak Peek!

 

My current project is a fish-out-water story, my favorite type to write. I do so love putting my characters in uncomfortable situations. I realized this with my first book Big City Cowboy when I forced my hero Rory to model in NYC. In the book I’m currently writing, my heroine, Jade works as a Senior Account Manager for a NYC designer. When her aunt leaves her a house in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, she travels there to supervising renovations for its sale. Of course, my hero is a cowboy. Dalton’s forced to take contractor jobs to earn money to keep his ranch afloat.

Another reason I’m enjoying this project is get to show off my DIY/renovation skills. (Yup, I love power tools and own tile, miter, and table saws, a cool nail gun, and various sanders.) I’ve retiled floors, removed wallpaper and popcorn ceilings, then retextured them, and retiled a shower. (FYI, renovating your house is a better workout than you get at any gym!)

After I hammered 🙂 out my characters and their backstory, I thought about the house’s floor plan to determine what renovations Jade would do. Despite knowing all we can discover on the internet, silly me, I tried to sketch a floor plan of my grandparents’ farmhouse. I almost drove myself crazy before turning to the internet where I discovered floor plans from houses built in the early 1900s from Sears and Roebuck.

 

New farmhouse my aunt built when my grandparents’ house had to be torn down.

Starting in 1910 homes were built wired for electricity, except for ones in poor rural areas. They didn’t get electricity until the 1920s. They also had indoor plumbing. This meant houses had one bathroom with a toilet, sink, bathtub (or shower), and a kitchen sink. Because of the growing popularity of automobiles, home also started having a detached garage built. The last new feature of the era were built-in closets to replace wardrobes.

I choose this floor plan.

 

I’ve selected option #2 or Jade’s house. It’s still hard to believe this house could be built for less than $3,000. I chose it for a couple reasons. One, the square style reminded me of my grandparents’ house and the happy times I spent there. Secondly, this design had a bathroom upstairs. Because this novel is shorter than ones I’ve written recently, I wanted to keep the renovations simple and didn’t want to add a plumber character. Because of this, I’m also saying the aunt already added a downstairs half-bath.

I needed another photo and thought we could use a picture of a good looking cowboy.

Before you think I’m writing a DIY renovation book and calling it a novel, my plan is to use the renovation to create trouble for Jade and Dalton. As anyone who’s renovated a house knows, it’s stressful and messy. Ordering supplies online, supply chain issues, and weather problems can create havoc with a timeline. And with Jade wanting to get in, get the job done, and get out of Oklahoma ASAP, this will drive her crazy. Further, there’s opportunities for Dalton to tell Jade about the perils of ordering online and the value of using local suppliers, only to be told Jade’s the boss and she’s made her decision. But of course, he’ll show this city girl a thing or two and she’ll give him a run or his money. Oh, how I love putting two strong-willed, intelligent, stubborn characters together!

So, now you’ve got the inside scoop on my latest project. More to come later on Jade and Dalton…

Giveaway—To be entered in today’s giveaway for the Thanksgiving dish towel and signed copy of Colorado Rescue, leave a comment on what renovations you would do to the house in my story if you wanted to sell it.

Welcome Our Guest Author Paula Altenburg

Hello! Paula Altenburg here.

It seems so early to be discussing a Christmas book! And yet, here we are.

 

My latest release, the seventh book set in Grand, MT and number four in The Endeavour Ranch series, involves a retired professional bull rider, a cute baby, and a perky blonde elf.

A lot of The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby talks about forming new Christmas traditions. The perky blonde elf heroine, Tate, has lost her twin brother. The retired rodeo hero, Miles, finds himself starting a new chapter in his life with a brand-new daughter he didn’t anticipate. Miles and Tate both love their family traditions from Christmases past. Both recognize the need to move forward and create new ones—for the people they love.

I’d like to talk about traditions; more importantly, the role women have played in the creation of them. This is going to take a little backtracking on my part, so bear with me.

I have a degree in Social Anthropology, so even though I write contemporary western romance, when I want to understand the mindset of a culture or society, I look at its origins.

Montana’s history is fascinating.

If you’ve read Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour, or watched old western movies on television, you’ve no doubt seen the litter of old pianos and heavy furniture left behind on the trail as wagon trains crossing rivers and deserts are forced to lighten their loads. You’re also familiar with the absurdity of it—why would anyone think these frivolous things are important for survival when traveling into the wild west?

As it turns out, these weren’t frivolous items at all. They played a significant role in survival.

While doing research, I stumbled across a master’s thesis from the University of Montana: “A Little Bit of Paradise”: Women’s Search for Comfort in Late-Nineteenth Century Montana by Allison Badger (May 2003). The study focuses on middle class women, who history often overlooks because they don’t appear to have much at stake. That doesn’t mean triumphs and struggles didn’t exist for them.

The thesis talks about colorful handkerchiefs tied to poles so women on the prairie could tell which way the wind blew as a means of preserving their sanity.

But the author challenges this observation. One quote caught my attention:

“Western domesticity allowed Montana women to continue operating in their feminine sphere and gave women the means to cope with their circumstances.”

Not every woman who came west wanted to dress and act like a man or become another Annie Oakley. Many women saw turning their backs on civility and the rules of society as defeat. Clinging to things that made everyday life more familiar and “normal” came with a sense of pride—things such as social etiquette, home furnishings, and fashion. These women knew how to turn a house into a home.

I like to write my western heroines feminine as well as strong, to take after the women who blazed trails for them. I think Tate Shannahan fits their model quite nicely as she struggles to rekindle the joy in Christmas for others, even though she believes the magic is lost to her forever.

For a chance to win a copy of The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby, drop one of your favorite Christmas traditions in the comments below.

 

THE COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS BABY

Rodeo champion and buckle-bunny favorite Miles Decker is the “face” of professional bull riding. So when his famous face is badly scarred in a bull riding accident, he retires from public life and returns to Grand, Montana, to manage the new circuit rodeo on the Endeavour Ranch. He has few regrets—he’s made his money and has had his fill of beautiful women. But his future is upended when a surprise Christmas gift lands on his doorstep: an eight-month-old baby girl with his eyes and smile.

Local girl Tate Shannahan just lost her elf job, so being hired as the caregiver for Miles Decker’s baby is a godsend for an already difficult Christmas. Her twin brother’s death in a bull riding accident fractured Tate’s family, leaving her and her older brother to continue the Shannahan traditions alone—or not, as her brother decides. The baby is a joy, but working for a man who represents everything her family has lost isn’t easy.

Miracles happen at Christmas though, and as Miles and Tate discover new traditions together, can love grow where they least expect it?

 

You can purchase a copy of The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby here.

 

 

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!

 

 

A Big Welcome To Guest Chris Martin!

We have guest author Chris Martin with us today and I know everyone will offer their usual warm welcome. And check out the post for info on a giveaway you won’t want to miss.

Hello everyone and Happy High School Homecoming Season!

Yes, High School Homecoming Season has begun and I recently did a little research on its origins and traditions. The whole dressing, dating and dancing routine has changed over the years, yet some traditions remain core.

Where did this tradition start?

The first high school homecoming was an adaptation of the college or university homecoming. Four different colleges claim to have started the tradition: Baylor of Waco, Tx; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne; University of Missouri at Columbus ; and Southwestern University at Georgetown, Tx.  The first homecoming celebration occurred in 1909, 1910, or 1911 according to which school you give the credit to.

About four years later, the tradition was picked up by high schools.  However, unlike the original university homecomings honoring alumni, high school homecomings generally are celebrations of team spirit for current students, particularly the graduating class.

Most high school homecomings include a football game and a dance. And where I’m from, the game schedule is carefully assigned so that the homecoming team plays a weaker team. This doesn’t guarantee a win for the homecoming team, but it certainly helps the odds. I have no idea what happens with the weakest team in the league!

Many schools have a homecoming court, although this tradition has started to wane in a few areas. Rules for choosing the homecoming royalty vary greatly by school. In the school my daughter graduated from, every Senior girl was made official Homecoming Queen and was escorted onto the football field at halftime for presentation. (They won their game.)

Homecoming dance formality varies from school to school, with some now as causal as T-shirts and jeans, while others are still into formal wear.  Part of the traditional dress is the homecoming corsage, typically made from a mum.

Homecoming corsages vary, too, in size and scope. Texas claims they invented the traditional mum corsages, but Missouri also claims that honor.  Evidence, though, strongly points to this being a Texas tradition that then spread to Oklahoma and Louisiana.

The homecoming mum corsage became popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  The corsage started off simply enough. A flower with a bit of ribbon to wear pin to a dress and wear at the football game and then the dance. Mums cost about $3 back then.

Now, the traditional mums are silk as well as fresh. Some of these corsages are so huge and heavy, they require thick ribbons to drape them around the wearers neck and can cover the wearer’s whole torso. Pounds and pounds of ribbons and trinkets make the most elaborate corsages heavy, rattling decorations that can cost thousands of dollars!

Despite the pomp, or lack thereof, one thing remains the same about all high school homecomings. They lend excitement and the chance to make memories that students will remember long after graduation day.

In my new second chance romance A Cowboy To Love Again, Sagebrush High School Vice Principal Gina Middleton Maisie has her own personal homecoming and it doesn’t go quite as she’d hoped.

PS Sagebrush Highs School Mustangs are one of those football teams that everyone wants to play for their homecoming game.

A COWBOY TO LOVE AGAIN

Gina took her heart to San Francisco, leaving Zach Rivers behind. After high school graduation, she accepted the first scholarship she could wrangle and headed to university, hoping Zach would follow her.

He would have if he could have. But family troubles kept him at River Ranch as he struggled to save the family legacy.

After a disastrous marriage and divorce, Gina is back in Sagebrush as the high school’s vice principal.

When Zach finds himself in the vice principal’s office, will he pass on this second chance at love, or will he make the grade this time before it’s too late?

 

You can Preorder HERE

What about you? Are there any Homecoming traditions or memories you’d like to share? Or was it not something you paid much attention to? I’ll randomly pick from all the comments posted here and give away two large print paperbacks of my new release, A Cowboy To Love Again, one for the winner and one for the winner to give to a friend or donate to a library. Good luck!

 

 

I’m excited about my new pen name and my new sweet, clean cowboy romance series, Sagebrush. The series kicks off with A Cowboy to Love Again up for preorder and will release Sept 16th anywhere you buy books. Many thanks to Winnie Griggs who let me post in her spot this month to help me celebrate my launch!

 

All four books in this series are now available for Preorder

Follows on Amazon and Bookbub are greatly appreciated!  And to learn more about me and my books, visit my Website

Chris Martin
Just Kisses and Heartstring Tugs

 

 

 

Are We Speaking the Same Language?

 

Soon after having my first son (I now have three), I realized how males and females possess dissimilar views the world. We also speak and communicate differently. This realization and my sons have helped me be a better writer and create more realistic heroes. At least, I hope so!

 

When my heroes talk, I keep in mind there are phrases that guys just don’t say. Here’s the ever-growing list I search for to eliminate on my final edit.

I don’t think…

What if we…

How about if…

You may have to…

You might want to…

Think about… (or as I say qualifying it further, “Think about maybe…”)

I thought we might…

 

 

Men don’t qualify what they say or soften the blow. They tell others what needs to be done. Period. In clear, concise terms. What if someone doesn’t like it? Tough. We women worry about hurting someone’s feeling. Goodness, we don’t want anyone getting mad over what we say. And where does that come from? Anyone else raised as I was to avoid conflict at any cost? I see all the raised hands from here in Texas.

 

I’m not sure this illustrates my point, but then who cares?

 

For example, here’s setting up a lunch date between two female friends and two male ones.

Women’s Conversation:

“Where would you like to go to lunch?”

“I don’t know. What sounds good to you?”

“Anything. You choose. Wherever you want to go is fine with me.”

“I was thinking Italian.”

“Actually, I had that last night.”

“That’s alright. We can have something else. What do you suggest?”

“Anything but Italian is great, and if you’re really in the mood for that, I don’t mind having it again.”

Five minutes later, the women will hopefully have decided on a time and place.

 

Men’s Conversation:

“You hungry?”

“Yup.”

“Pizza?”

“Sounds good. Make mine pepperoni and green peppers.”

 

This leads into my next point. Women use around 20,000 words as day versus the paltry 7,000 men use. Guys are like Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet. They keep it to just the facts. They don’t embellish or add emotion to the story. (When I taught fourth grade writing, that was the hardest thing for boys to learn—to add their feelings to their writing.) Nor do men notice the same details women do. Women notice what people wear, jewelry, outfits, shoes, and hair. My heroine might think a friend’s dress is aqua, but then qualify if as turquoise, but not the blue kind, the type that has a green hue. Guys? They’ll say it’s blue if they notice the color. But a car? Men will often know the make, model, color, how much horsepower it has, and Lord only knows what else. Me? I’m lucky if I know how many doors the car had. This can be fun, though, giving a character an unusual trait such as the heroine being a car expert or a sharpshooter as in The Andy Griffith Show when his date, Karen beats him in shooting competition. Or I might have a hero who has two or more sisters notice details other heroes won’t.

 

Men are also fixers. That’s why when women talk, they often jump in with solutions. They don’t realize we merely want to vent and need another human being to listen. This makes for great conflict, especially if the heroine assumes the reason the hero’s offering solutions is because he thinks she can’t solve the problem or needs his help.

 

For me to write strong characters I had to understand how people are different and how those distinctions create conflict. It’s not that these traits are right or wrong. They’re simply facts. I find if I don’t remember them when I’m writing, especially from my hero’s point of view, my hero doesn’t come off as real to me, and if I don’t fall in love with him, I know none of you will.

 

GIVEAWAY:  To be entered in today’s random giveaway for the credit card holder, coaster, and signed copy of To Tame a Texas Cowboy, leave a comment on what you think is the biggest difference between men and women–other than the obvious Y chromosome, that is. Lol!

Musical Inspiration

Today I’m giving you an insight on how music occasionally influences my writing. But it’s not how you might expect. I don’t write with music on because if I like a song, then I start singing along. Then my train of thought is shattered. Like now. I’m sitting in Starbucks writing and “Defy Gravity” from the musical Wicked has come on. Excuse me while I sing under my breath…

Okay, I’m back. However, occasionally songs play a big part in my stories. In To Marry A Texas Cowboy, George Strait’s “Here For A Good Time” became my hero’s theme song. Despite knowing Zane’s backstory and him almost taking over a couple books in the series, when I started his story, I couldn’t grasp him. He put up a good front, even from me. But when I heard “Here For A Good Time” Zane’s personality and fears fell into place.

Zane had a rough past. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read To Marry A Texas Cowboy, but Zane’s dad was a piece of work and his mom wasn’t a winner either. To cope or survive really, he lived in the moment. Everything was about having a good time. That drove his actions and his life.

Here For A Good Time

Source: Musixmatch  Songwriters: Bubba Straight / Dillon Dean / George H Strait

I’m not gonna lay around
And whine and moan for somebody that done me wrong
Don’t think for a minute
That I’m gonna sit around and sing some old sad song
I believe it’s half-full not a half-empty glass
Every day I wake up knowing it could be my last

I ain’t here for a long time
I’m here for a good time
So bring on the sunshine, to hell with the red wine
Pour me some moonshine
When I’m gone, put it in stone “He left nothing behind”
I ain’t here for a long time
I’m here for a good time

Folks are always dreaming about what they like to do
But I like to do just what I like
I’ll take the chance, dance the dance
It might be wrong but then again it might be right
There’s no way of knowing what tomorrow brings
Life’s too short to waste it, I say bring on anything

I ain’t here for a long time
I’m here for a good time
So bring on the sunshine, to hell with the red wine
Pour me some moonshine
When I’m gone, put it in stone “He left nothing behind”
I ain’t here for a long time
I’m here for a good time
I ain’t here for a long time
I’m here for a good time

 

And speaking of Wicked, when attending that musical, the solution to the same problem with my heroine, Maggie in Bet On A Cowboy hit me. When Elphaba sang “I’m Not That Girl” I instantly knew everything about Maggie. I even whispered, “she’s Elphaba” right there in my Broadway seat.

Maggie believed love wasn’t in her future. She was just too plain, too average in every way to attract a man’s notice. As the director of a Bachelor type reality show, she’s surrounded by beautiful, outgoing, extraordinary women and is constantly reminded she doesn’t measure up. The mindset Elphaba shows in “I’m Not That Girl” guided Maggie’s actions and interactions in life.

 

I’m Not That Girl

Source: Musixmatch  Songwriters: Schwartz Stephen Laurence / Sandford Steve

Hands touch, eyes meet
Sudden silence, sudden heat
Hearts leap in a giddy whirl
He could be that boy
But I’m not that girl

Don’t dream too far
Don’t lose sight of who you are
Don’t remember that rush of joy
He could be that boy
I’m not that girl

Every so often we long to steal
To the land of what-might-have-been
But that doesn’t soften the ache we feel
When reality sets back in

Blithe smile, lithe limb
She who’s winsome, she wins him
Gold hair with a gentle curl
That’s the girl he chose
And Heaven knows
I’m not that girl

Don’t wish, don’t start
Wishing only wounds the heart
I wasn’t born for the rose and the pearl
There’s a girl I know
He loves her so
I’m not that girl

I shouldn’t be surprised songs have helped me grasp my characters and their relationships. Songs have always spoken to me and helped me make sense out of life. Why shouldn’t they do the same with my writing?

To be entered in today’s random giveaway for the car coasters, air freshener, and signed copy of Family Ties leave a comment on what song has or could serve as a theme for you?

My Latest Release is Out!

It’s an exciting week for me – the release of my first Love Inspired Suspense – WILDFIRE THREAT was the 24th. Whoo, hoo! I loved every moment of writing this book, and I realized why when I recently gave an interview. So many things about Wildfire Threat are very personal and special for me, and not just because it’s my first Love Inspired Suspense.

I’ve been writing for Harlequin a long time. I admit it, I sometimes don’t have to work as hard as other authors to land a new contract. My editor knows me and can depend on me to deliver a book in good shape and on time. But when this opportunity came around, I had to work hard for it and go up against a lot of other authors. There was no golden ticket or cutting to the head of the line. When I got the call, I felt really good. My hard work paid off.

Purchase Wildfire Threat

As you can guess from the title, the story is about a wildfire. In this case, it’s headed straight for the fictional Arizona small town of Happenstance. For many, many years, we owned a small vacation home in Young, Arizona, a place that’s considered the most remote town in the state. One year, a wildfire came close enough we could watch it from our front porch. That inspired the book that became my first Harlequin sale about a Hotshot. About ten years ago, the Young fire came “this” close to destroying the town. Yes, it was the inspiration for Wildfire Threat.

My son, an avid outdoor enthusiast, helped me brainstorm the book. We had several long sessions where we tossed ideas back and forth. Okay, I tossed ideas out there, and he told me why they wouldn’t work. He is the source for much of my information about herding cattle and driving trucks and ATV through the burning wilderness.

Lastly, the heroine’s grandfather suffers from dementia. My own sweet mother, who I lost last year, suffered greatly from this terrible disease. It did my heart good to write about the love and devotion my heroine has for her grandfather, the tender, kind and respectful way my hero treats the older man, and how the family copes — which isn’t always easily. Writing the grandfather allowed me to honor my mother in a small but meaningful way.

To celebrate the release, I’m having a giveaway — one of my coffee mugs, a Starbucks gift card, some author bling and couple of previous books. To enter, you just have to make a comment. That’s all.

For anyone interested joining my newsletter, you can email me at: cathymcdavid@yahoo.com It’s not necessary for entering this giveaway. Just if you’d like to keep up on the latest news about me.

Thank you for letting me share my good news with you and tell you about my newest book.

Hugs,

Cathy McDavid