Pumpkin Palooza

This year the release of the PSL (pumpkin spice latte—a new acronym I learned this week—) was August 24. As I sat writing in Starbucks, I wondered how we went from my childhood of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread around the holidays to the pumpkin/pumpkin spice frenzy of today. That made me curious about the history of pumpkins, and to the internet I went.

To my surprise, pumpkins are fruit. (Sidebar, so are all squash, eggplants, avocados, and cucumbers. And, so you can answer the why question, it’s because those plant have seeds and the items we eat develop from the flower-producing part of the plant. Botanically that makes them fruit.) Archaeologists believe pumpkins originated in Central America 7,500 years ago, but unlike todays, those were small and had a bitter taste. (Which again makes me wonder how they caught on for food!)

Despite that beginning, a recipe for a side dish with diced pumpkin was published in New-England’s Rarities Discovered, in America in the 1670s. After that, women developed more pumpkin recipes. Serving sweet pumpkin dishes during the holidays didn’t start until the 1800s. However, the first pies were scooped out pumpkins filled with a ginger-spiced milk, then roasted by the fire. Hmmm, an early PSL?

Fun pumpkin facts:

  • Antarctica is the only content where pumpkins aren’t grown.
  • Pumpkin seeds (each pumpkin has around 500) can be roasted, then salted and eaten. The flowers are also edible.
  • Pumpkin, which are 90% water, contains carotenoids which are good for eyes and neutralizes free radicals that can attack cells.
  • Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin which could reduce cataract formation and risk of macular degeneration. They also contain potassium, vitamin A, iron, zinc, and fiber.
  • Irish immigrant brought the tradition of Jack-O’-Lanterns to the U.S., but instead of using turnips or potatoes, they used the American pumpkins.
  • In the United States, the heaviest pumpkin was grown in New Hampshire (2018) and weighed 2,528 pounds.
  • In 2010 a pumpkin pie was baked in Ohio weighing 3,699 pounds and over 20 feet in diameter.
  • Early American settlers cut pumpkin shells into strips, dried them, and wove them into mats.
  • Morton, Illinois is called the ‘Pumpkin Capital of the World’ and the home to Libby’s pumpkin industry. Illinois also grows the most pumpkins.
  • Pumpkins were once a remedy for freckles and snakebites.
Large pumpkins are usually used for feed for livestock.

Yesterday my Pinterest feed was filled with pumpkin recipes. My research didn’t really explain how we went from the first pumpkins to the craze we see today. But maybe the answer has something to do with the following Pilgrim verse, circa 1633.

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.”

I may not have satisfied my original curiosity, but at least now you can astound and stun your friend and family with your amazing pumpkin knowledge this Thanksgiving!

To be entered in today’s random drawing for Howdy Fall T-shirt, tell me what’s your favorite pumpkin recipe or what fun fact surprised you the most. Happy (almost) Fall, Y’all!

Decorating With Horseshoes for Craft Day!

After I sold my first two books to Harlequin, I started seeing cool horseshoe stuff on Pinterest. Crosses, Christmas trees, reindeer, wine racks, even tables, benches, and chandeliers! I couldn’t do those things because they required welding. ? But there were other items that I thought, heck, I’m crafty. I can do that. Like the cross here that hangs on my patio. For my I “free choice” day, I’m going to walk you through how to decorate a horseshoe like the first simple one I made for my office.

       

The cool thing about this craft is you can make it simple like my first one or as elaborate as you want. It’s all up to you and your imagination. The other great thing is you can use those single beads you don’t know what to do with.

What you’ll need:

  • Horseshoe (old or new depending on your preference) nails removed
  • Miscellaneous beads
  • Wire
  • Feathers, pendants, charms or anything else you’d like to add
  • Ribbon (if you want a bow)

If I’m adding a bigger item in the center, like the cross and other dangle above, I select beads that coordinate with those. I found these at a local craft store for three or four dollars. I usually prefer a copper or dull gold wire that doesn’t stand out unless my embellishments are silver. I 20-gauge wire, but use whatever fits through your beads or what you have on hand.

       

Slip the wire through a nail hole and bend it to secure as in the above picture. Then just start playing  with the wire and beads. To get the curls I wrap the wire around a regular pencil. (See below) For smaller curls, I’ve used those tiny screwdrivers. Keep adding bead, wrapping, and twisting until you get what you like. Add charms or feathers, and twine or wire in the center. Whatever you envision. It’s easy to undo something if you decide you don’t like the look.

Here’s how my demonstration has turned out so far. I can’t decide if it needs something else or not, but not bad for less than a thirty minutes working on it. You can either add twine, chain, or ribbon to hang your horseshoe. Or you can mount it on a board the way I did with the courage, strength, and hope one. I’ve seen horseshoes put on boards with great sayings such as “Ride…as far as your dreams will take you” or my favorite “Live like someone left the gate open.” I think that may be my next quick project. Just remember to hang your horseshoe with the open end up to keep the luck from running out and to allow it to be refilled!

To see the cool horseshoe designs and items I’ve found on Pinterest, click here.

If it’s a fortune to mail the horseshoe above for the giveaway, I’ll send the beads I wired, plus more wire and beads, the dream catcher and twine. You supply the horseshoe. Whichever, it will come with a copy of Roping the Rancher, my story set on an equestrian therapy ranch. To be entered in today’s random  giveaway, comment on what you think of items made from horseshoes or what’s your favorite? Or, ask me a question about my directions if something wasn’t clear.

Now I’m off to see who offers a welding class. A horseshoe end table would be fantastic…

Happy Crafting!

Hotter Than a Fur Coat in Marfa

That’s what my house felt like this June when my air condition conked out. When the temperature hit over 85 degrees inside, I wondered how people in the old west handled the summer heat. How did they stay cool? Or rather as cool as possible? Staying warm in the winter I can image as the upstairs bedrooms in my grandparents’ northern Iowa farmhouse lacked heat. We piled on the layers during the day and stayed in the room with the gas furnace. At night, we bundled up and slept under a huge pile of blankets. But summer? There’s only so much folks can take off before they get thrown in jail for indecent exposure!

Here’s what I found when I researched the subject. Folks wore loose fitting cotton clothing like the couple above that “breathed” allowing air in and sweat to dry which also helped keep them cool. I’ve got to admit, I’ve found some fabrics cooler than others.  Western settlers also woke before the sun and accomplished the majority of their work before the heat of the day hit. After that they either napped or took a dip in an irrigation ditch, or canal. I’m not sure how I feel about those based on the picture above. They don’t sound like the most fantastic swimming holes. I’d prefer a nearby lake, stream, or spring.

irrigation ditch

 

Settlers learned to include shady breezeways in their houses. Thick walls of grassy sod and the same material covering the wood roof helped keep the structures cooler. The downside of this was sod houses let bugs in. Ugh. Not a great choice—being hotter or dealing with bugs. Many soaked their bedsheets in water before sleeping. Others slept outside to take advantage of the breeze. Kitchens were lean-to structures which allowed some heat to dissipate. But this didn’t help cooks much who still had to cope with it being ten to twenty degrees warmer at the cookstove.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the 1870s to 1880s, ice could be shipped in by railcar. However, it was so expensive few regular folk could afford it. Fans weren’t common either. There were some powered by foot treadles, but they were mostly used by businesses, offices, or the wealthy.

1890s ice wagon

That’s what I discovered. In the old west during summer folks dressed in loose, lightweight cotton, drank a lot of water, rested during the day, slept outside, or on wet bedsheets to cope with the3 heat. I suspect it made for quite a few cranky people. I sure was a bit short on patience when we lost AC!

To be entered in my random giveaway for a copy of The Rancher and the Vet, a car rearview mirror charm, and a drink sleeve, leave a comment on your favorite way to keep cool in summer. Other than staying inside, that is!

 

It’s GAME DAY with a Cowboy Word Search

Howdy! Glad to see you at the corral for today’s word search. I’m also doing a giveaway for a Hold Your Horses T-shirt and a copy of Big City Cowboy, the first book I sold. All you have to do is leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

To give you a topic to comment on and because we all can use a Monday morning pick me up, I’m starting off with a photo of the cowboy who inspired me to write Big City Cowboy. Our guide on a horseback ride in Estes Park, Colorado, when we arrived, a man from NYC was trying to talk this Colorado cowboy into modeling. Would you believe he had no idea why people would ask him that and why they wouldn’t take no for an answer. (My reaction–Had he looked in a mirror lately?!) What reason can you think of that would leave a cowboy leave his ranch for the Big Apple to model? Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway.

 

Now for the word search. Find these words related to cowboys. To play, click here.

Have fun!

Julie Benson’s Winner!!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by today to talk about the impact and strength of our grandmothers. The stories you shared were amazing.

The winner of my giveaway is:

                     Kathleen O

Congratulations! Look for an email from me on how to claim your giveaway. Thank you again to everyone who spent part of your day with me.

Julie

Lessons From My Grandmothers

My Grandma Walter holding me with my Uncle Wayne sitting beside us.

The older I get the more grateful I am for what my grandmothers taught me. I wish I could spend one more day with each of them to ask all the life, history, and family questions I was too young to know would be important later.

Most of the recipes I’ve shared with you were my Grandma Walter’s. I wish I’d made time to write down more of them while she cooked. As my birthday approaches, I remember the times I was on the farm in July. She would ask what I wanted for a birthday cake, and my response was always the same. I wanted her angel food cake with fresh strawberries mashed so they were all syrupy. She also gave me a love of gardening, though my thumb is more brown than green like hers was. I took a sewing class in high school (and still use those skills) because she sewed. From her I learned how women could be quiet, patient, and still possess an indominable strength.

My Grandma Ryan’s grocery store in Ohio, Illinois.

My father’s mother, my Grandma Ryan, possessed a more obvious strength. Widowed young, she raised four sons. With three grown sons, I can’t begin to imagine how daunting and scary that must have been. I wish now I’d asked her how she managed. She remarried, but her second husband died when I was a toddler, leaving her with a general store to run in a town of less than five hundred people. She had breast cancer before I was born and bone cancer as long as I can remember. Through all that, she never complained or thought God was punishing her with these trials. She loved to play cards and would sit with my brother and I playing her current favorite card game. From her I learned to laugh and that a woman could make a life for herself. But the best gift my Grandma Ryan gave me was, making me feel special. As one of only two granddaughters, she made no secret she loved us just a bit more.

A picture of me and my Grandma Ryan when I was two.

No wonder grandparents play such guiding, supportive roles in many of my books. In my most recent release, To Marry a Texas Cowboy, Zane carries a plane full of family baggage. After divorcing, his parents concentrated on their new lives and families. Zane became collateral damage and part of a past they wanted to forget. Who stepped in to fill the void and create the hero I fell in love with the minute he walked on the page as a friend in To Love A Texas Cowboy? His grandparents.

My Grandma Ryan spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas with us, but rarely cooked. Today I’m sharing a recipe she gave me. This one, referred to as “frozen salad,” is easy and great for these hot summer days. Two notes about it. First, while we called it a salad, it could be served as dessert, and second, watch out for brain freeze eating it straight out of the freezer! I prefer to give it a minute or two to thaw some before eating.

Frozen Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • 1 lg. can crushed pineapple (drained)
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • ¼ C lemon juice
  • 1 12 oz container Cool Whip (thawed)

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Place in 8 x 8 freezer safe container overnight.

 

Giveaway: To be entered in today’s random drawing for the USA y’all T-shirt and a signed copy of To Marry a Texas Cowboy, leave a comment about something you learned from a grandparent or significant older person in your life.

 

Julie Benson’s Winner!

Debra J Pruss

Congratulations, Debra!

Look for an email from me for how to claim your giveaway.

Thank you to everyone who spent part of the day sharing ways to stay positive. May all the positive energy you put out into the universe be returned to you threefold.

                                                                                                     Julie

 

Thinking Positive Takes Work

I love when God or the universe if you prefer, tells me exactly what I need to hear some days. And it’s even better when that reminder leads to not only one blog post, but two! This happened last month as I struggled to find a post topic. When I went to Starbucks to pick up my morning tea, I said I couldn’t think of a topic for my post. The fabulous manager and incredibly perceptive person, Caitlyn said, “And now you’re putting that negative energy out there.”

 

Caitlyn’s words reminded me I’d been backsliding on positive thinking. (Click here for the post inspired by a dear friend Jinger who started my positive thinking journey.) I smiled and responded, “I don’t know why I’m worried. I’ll think of something. I always do.” My fear eliminated, at home when I read through my blog ideas, the file entitled “Sayings that tick me off” caught my eye. Thinking someone else might need a gentle nudge about turning a negative into a positive, I wrote this post.

Do you see a woman’s face or a man playing an instrument?

Just as the picture here illustrates, most things come down to how we view them. One saying on my ticked me off list was “too blessed to be stressed.” For me, this felt too Pollyanna and like ignoring stress. I can’t do that. Plus, stuffing things down never works. (But they make for great books!) I need to actively fight stress. I prefer the staying “Pray more. Worry less.” or “Be Still” Psalm 46.10. Then there’s “Stars don’t shine without the darkness.” Yes, we know the road will at times be rough for everyone. But when stuck in the darkness, thinking rough times makes the good moments shine brighter offers me no comfort. I prefer, “Stars don’t shine in the day.” That reminds me day will come, though the night feels endless. It also says something positive can come out of what has happened. Though that thought doesn’t make going through difficult times easier. However, when the night recedes, just as it’s easy to forget the stars during the day, it’s easy to forget what I learned.

Sometimes simply changing a word can change a negative to a positive. Can’t to can is the obvious one. But here’s another less obvious example. Instead of saying I’m struggling to find a post topic, what if I say I have to work to find them? The first is negative, while the second if positive. I have to work to discover topics indicates I will find one. The hard work will pay off. For me to remain positive, I have to watch for words like struggled that can trip me up.

How did I get two posts out of Caitlyn’s comments? When I saved this post under May’s scheduled date, I discovered my day was May 5. I thought if I posted these musings for June and wrote about the history of Cinco de Mayo for May I’d be ahead for once!

Today I’m giving away the T-shirt pictured here and a copy of To Tame A Texas Cowboy since that book was released when I started my positive thinking journey. The heroine, Cheyenne also refuses to let her medical issues destroy her positive attitude. To be entered in the random drawing, share your favorite positive thinking advice or how you keep a positive attitude.

A Little History, a Margarita Recipe, and a Giveaway!

When I realized my post fell on Cinco de Mayo, I wondered how the day became such a big United States celebration. Okay, I hear those who remember I live in Texas saying, “You’re just asking this now?” Yes, I should’ve researched this sooner having lived in Texas over 35 years, but as my father said, I was born two weeks late and have been late ever since!

The first thing I discovered, that celebrating Cinco de Mayo is primarily a US festivity, surprised me. I also mistakenly thought some that the day commemorated Mexico’s independence from Spain. (This occurred on September 16, 1821.) What Cinco de Mayo originally celebrated was 1862 Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. On that day, Mexican peasants with South Texas and Rio Grande Valley vaqueros led by Goliad, Texas, born General Ignacio Zaragosa defended forts in Puebla. Though poorly trained, short on ammunition, weapons, and artillery, they defeated the French.

In 1864, Mexican American associations in California organized an event to memorialize the battle. To these people, the win was a symbol of Mexican pride and hope for freedom over tyranny. Soon after, communities in South Texas started commemorating the day. Newspapers from the 1880s and 1890s contained stories on Cinco de Mayo celebrations in San Antonio, Laredo, and El Paso. In the 1960s Goliad created the General Zaragoza State Historic Site in Goliad State Park. In 1973 the town held Fiesta Zaragoza which included music, ballet folklórico performances, and a barbecue cookoff. (After all, this was Texas!) In 1980 Puebla gifted Goliad with a statue for their historic site, and in 1990, the Texas Senate declared Goliad the “official place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.”

As to how Cinco de Mayo has become the huge event it is today in the US? Part of the reason could be because as some claim winning the Battle of Puebla, slowed Napoleon III’s taking of Mexico and installing Maximilian I, and prevented the French’s involvement in the US Civil War on the Confederate’s side. But most agree the celebration’s huge popularity is due to marketing folks realizing the day’s potential.

Tonight if you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and toast General Zaragoza and the bravery of those Texans that fought with him against the French but aren’t big on crowds, here’s my dear hubby’s margarita recipe.

          Into a shaker with ice, place the following:

          1 shot Tequila

          1/2 shot orange liqueur such as Triple Sec

          1/2 shot Fresh squeezed lime juice

          1/2 shot Simple Syrup (Make by bringing equal parts of sugar and water to a boil and cooling.)

          Shake well. Strain into a glass filled with ice and rimmed with salt (optional).

Note: You can make a margarita mix to store in the fridge by mixing equal parts of fresh lime juice and simple syrup.

As an extra bonus, here’s my hubby’s great fajita recipe to go with the margaritas. The meat is also super in quesadillas.

Fajitas

INGREDIENTS

1  lb skirt steak

2  limes

1  pkg tortillas

Rub

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cumin

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp coriander

1 Tbl chili powder

DIRECTIONS

Sprinkle meat with tenderizer. Combine dry ingredients to make the rub. Apply the rub to the meat, let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle meat with fresh lime juice. Refridgerate 30-60 minutes covered. Grill on high heat for 6-8 minutes per side. Let rest 5 minutes. Slice against the grain.

To be entered in today’s giveaway of a margarita car air freshener, car coasters  (they also fit in my couch’s cup holders), and a copy of The Rancher and the Vet leave a comment about your favorite Mexican dish, dessert, or cocktail. My favorite is a tie between sopapillas and flan!