Category: Oregon

Catching the Cowboy

 

The past few months, I’ve been working on a brand-new sweet western romance series set in a modern-day town that only exists in my head. 

I can’t speak for other authors, but I have the absolute best time dreaming up towns, businesses, and oddball characters. 

I first started thinking about a series set near Burns, Oregon, years ago. At that time, I jotted down a few notes, tucked them away, and thought about the characters and stories I wanted to write but just never had time to work into my schedule. Last summer, I began thinking of ideas for another ranch series, one with Summer in the title (inspired by a ranch sign I saw on the way to church one Sunday when I ventured along a back road). Finally, I landed on the idea of combining the two series into one and naming it Summer Creek. Of course, I came up with that idea ten minutes into a three-hour road trip with Captain Cavedweller. So the entire trip he was trapped in the pickup with me as I brainstormed ideas. Lucky for me, he’s great at brainstorming and tossing around “what ifs” so it was quite a trip! 

By the time we got home, I had the basics outlined for the first three books with oodles of notes for more in the series. 

I like to have a cover in finished before I start writing the book, or at least something in mind. And I knew I wanted the covers for this series to be different — original. After searching for hours (days!) online, I ended up asking a local photographer if she’d sell me three images from engagement sessions. She specializes in western photography and I fell in love with this image.

It was so incredibly perfect for the story I wanted to write and in fact, I wrote this image into the last scene of the book. 

I had such a great time creating not just the characters and story, but the town of Summer Creek. It’s an old town that’s been around for more than a century, but it’s fallen on hard times and when the heroine arrives, she boosts the population up to 497. Did I mention it’s a really small town? One where a goat named Ethel roams around eating grocery bags and tube socks. Where the mayor is also the barber and locksmith, and… you get the idea. 

Catching the Cowboy is the first book in the series and it will release June 9. I can hardly wait to share it with everyone. 

 

She’s fresh out of jail . . .

  He’s fresh out of luck.

 Spoiled heiress Emery Brighton indulges in one mimosa too many, attempts to steal a horse, and winds up in jail. A sentence of community service leaves her at the mercy of strangers on a remote ranch near a small town in Oregon. Adjusting to country life is hard enough, but she has no idea how to handle her growing affection for a surly cowboy and his adorable daughter.

 Steady and dependable as the day is long, rancher Hudson Cole just wants to raise his little girl and be left alone. When his grandmother invites a lawbreaker dressed in Louis Vuitton to Summer Creek Ranch, Hud is convinced Grammy has lost her ever-loving mind. Determined to detest Emery, he instead finds himself doing the one thing he vowed would never happen again: falling in love.  

With one foot out the door, will love be enough to convince Emery to stay?

 This sweet romance offers a funny, delightful happily ever after adventure in a quirky small town. Discover a meandering goat named Ethel, meddling matchmakers, and a community that feels like home in a story filled with heart, humor, and hope.

 

Here’s an excerpt:

“Sit by me,” Cricket said, snagging Emery’s hand and pulling on it.

Jossy feigned a pout. “I’ve been displaced as the favored seatmate.”

Emery glanced from Jossy to Hud. “I don’t want to steal anyone’s seat.”

“You’re fine,” Jossy said, giving Emery a warm smile then settling into the chair on the other side of Hud. “This looks and smells fantastic, Grammy. Thank you for making my muffins.”

“Of course, sweetie. It’s a treat to have you join us,” Nell said, lifting Jossy’s and Cricket’s hand in hers. “Let’s hold hands while I offer a word of thanks for this food and beautiful day.”

Hud would rather pet a rabid porcupine than hold Emery’s hand in his, but to appease his grandmother, he reached out and clasped it. Unprepared for the wild jolt of electricity that zipped from the point of contact up his arm, he would have dropped her hand and left the room if it wouldn’t have created a flurry of questions from his grandmother and Jossy.

Instead, he forced himself to sit still and listen to his grandmother say grace. As soon as he uttered “amen,” he released Emery’s hand, although his skin continued to tingle. He picked up the mug of coffee in front of him and took a long, bracing drink. He did his best to ignore the way it burned all the way down his throat as he picked up the platter of sausages. When he held it for Emery before passing it on to Jossy, he caught the woman eyeing him, as though she was equally disturbed by the unsettling, unexpected feeling that continued to linger in the air.

This …  whatever this energy was that pulsated between them, was not something he wanted to explore or even acknowledge. He’d vowed years ago he would never be stupid enough to let another woman into his heart and life, and he intended to stick with that decision.

 

You can pre-order Catching the Cowboy for just $1.99. After it releases, the price will increase to $5.99 for digital copies. It will also be available in paperback. 

To find out more, please visit my website, or order your copy today.

 

Secrets of My Heart and Book Giveaway

Secrets of My Heart comes out March first and is part of the Willamette Brides series (a sequel to the Heart of the Frontier series which came out several years ago).  The story deals with three women who are caught up in the racial conflicts of 1879 Oregon. As I researched for this story, I kept finding a lot of issues that reminded me of problems we’re continuing to deal with today.

For instance, did you know that early in Oregon’s history, exclusion laws went into place that made it illegal for African Americans to even take up residency in Oregon Country.  Wagon train masters signed agreements to not allow blacks in their trains. In one of the museums I visited they had a display that told the story of former slave Rose Jackson who was forced to hide in a specially made wagon box all day, every day, as the wagon train came west. She was only able to come out at night after everyone had gone to bed.

Freed slave in Oregon.

There were three exclusion acts – Peter Burnett’s Lash Law was one of these that called for African Americans to be expelled from Oregon, and if they refused to go, they were to be lashed. The law was rescinded in 1845 when it was determined lashing too harsh. The next exclusion law was made in 1849 and stated, it was unlawful for any “negro or mulatto” to enter or reside in Oregon Territory.  It was rescinded in 1854.  The third and final exclusion act was passed in 1857 and actually written into Oregon’s Bill of Rights. The clause prohibited African American from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts. Oregon became the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution. It wasn’t repealed by voters until 1926, with final racist language not removed until 2002.

While the exclusion laws were generally not enforced, they hung as a threat over the heads of African Americans who feared that at any given moment new laws might be passed to strip away their possessions and force them from the state.  This was especially driven home when the Fourteenth Amendment issue came up.

The Fourteenth Amendment which grants citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, including former slaves, was ratified by a very narrow margin in 1866.  Oregon then rescinded that ratification in 1868.  The Fourteenth Amendment in Oregon was not re-ratified until 1973. They also refused to ratify the 15th Amendment which allows African American men the right to vote. That law wasn’t ratified in Oregon until 1959.  For more information go to:

https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/exclusion_laws/#.XRf4A-tTmpo

https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/14th_amendment/#.XRfyZetTmpo

https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/15th_amendment/#.XRfxxutTmpo

Of course, along with these laws, were laws against the Native Americans. Including making it illegal for whites to marry a person who was at least half Native American or even a quarter black, Chinese or Pacific Islander. This law wasn’t rescinded until 1951.

Learning about these laws and the problems they caused was quite fascinating and reminded me that as Solomon said in the Bible there truly is nothing new under the sun.  It also reminded me that as Christians we should love others as Jesus loved us and when we do that, it allows for no prejudice or negativity based on the color of our skin. 

I hope you’ll enjoy the series.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

What do you think would be the hardest part of traveling the Oregon trail in a covered wagon?

Tracie is giving away a print copy of Secrets of My Heart to one person who comments today.

Amazon

Tracie had an unexpected travel engagement arise today and will not be available to respond to comments here today, but she welcomes readers to contacted her directly at tjpbooks@aol.com or through her website http://www.traciepeterson.com.

Updated: March 9, 2020 — 11:13 am

Baker City Mining

 

Admittedly, the history of mining isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about or researching. And then I happened to include a setting of mines in not one but two stories and dove into researching hard rock mining in the Baker City, Oregon, area at the end of the 1800s.

I knew before I started that there were many, many mines in the area from the 1880s through the 1890s and on into the new century. Dozens of little mining towns popped up on the horizon and just as quickly faded one the mines closed. 

From 1880 through 1899, Oregon produced more than $26 million dollars in gold and silver with more than $18 million of it coming from Baker, Grant and Union county (which are all in the Baker City region). 

To say mining was a big deal at the time is something of an understatement. It was a huge business.

Thankfully, the Baker County Library has an incredible digital library of thousands of old images. I found many that illustrated the mining business and aided my research more than I can even say. 

As a visual person, it was fantastic to look at these images, read the descriptions and picture how things would look at my fictional mines. 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This advertisement was such a help to me because the illustration lets you look inside the various levels of the mill and see how they were built into the hills. 

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This is an image of the Eureka & Excelsior Mine mill building in the Cracker Creek District, Oregon. You can see how it’s built into the hill, quite similar to the illustration in the advertisement. 

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This image shows the vanner room at the Bonanaza Mine, which was one of the top producing mines during the mining heyday in the Baker City region. It was located four miles from Greenhorn City which straddled both the Baker and Grant county lines.

Vanning is a process of separating the material of value from that which is worthless. Typically, a powdered sample of orestuff is swirled with water on the blade of a shovel and then given a series of upward flicking motions. The heavier ore is tossed up through the water and appears as a crescent shaped patch at the top of the charge with the lighter material that is unusable below.  In the 19th century, the process was automated and used to separate ore on an industrial scale. The Frue Vanner was a widely-adopted machine, invented in 1874 by W.B. Frue in Canada. 

With a Frue vanner, a continuous rubber belt (usually 4 feet wide and about 27.5 feet long, shown in the center of this photo) passed over rollers to from the surface of an inclined plane. The orestuff was concentrate on in the belt and the belt traveled uphill from three to twelve feet per minute while being shaken anywhere from 180-200 times. Crushed orestuff from the stamps fed onto the belt. As it traveled uphill, it met small jets of water which gradually washed the gangue (the commercially valueless material in which ore is found) off the bottom of the belt. The heavier ore adhered to the belt as it went over the top roller and passed into a box containing water where the ore was deposited. To make this work, anywhere from three to six gallons of water per minute was required. One machine could treat approximately six tons per twenty-four hours of orestuff.

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

 

This is a photo of the stamping room at the Golden Gate mine, also located near Greenhorn City. There are ten stamps shown here. The stamp is a large mechanical device used to crush ore and extract minerals. Repeatedly, the stamps and raised and dropped onto ore that is fed into the mill, until the coarse ore is reduced to a finer material that can be further processed. The number of stamps used depended on the size of the mill and the amount of ore being taken out of the mine.

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

The Red Boy Mine (also located near Greenhorn City) boasted it’s own laboratory, at least in this 1902 photo. On-site labs were considered to be a strategic value to a mine. Among the work done there was testing and sampling to derive critical operational, metallurgical, and environmental data needed to make the most of mining and mineral processing production.

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This amazing photo (undated) was taken at the Bonanza Mine.  Five men are working in a tunnel wielding four-pound hammers that were called “single jacks” and steel drills. Note the candles on a wire stuck in cracks in the walls to provide light.  Total production at this mine from 1899-1904 was just shy of a million dollars. It was mostly a gold mine, although they did find some silver. Reports show total production from the mine totaled $1.75 million dollars. 

 

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

And this awesome image is taken inside the superintendent’s cabin at the St. Anthony Mine in 1901.  One might assume the woman in the photo is the superintendent’s wife. Many of the mines refused to allow women in the camp and were called a “boar’s nest.” 

If you’d like to read more about mining in this region of Oregon, there’s a lot of detail in this digital report

And if you’d like to read about the adventures of my characters at the fictional mines that exist only in my head, you’ll find Graydon (Grady) Gaffney at the Lucky Larkspur Mine in Gift of Hope.

 

When his affections are spurned by the girl he plans to wed, Graydon Gaffney rides off in the swirling snow, determined to stay far away from fickle females. Then a voice in the storm draws him to a woman and her two sweet children. Despite his intentions to guard his emotions, all three members of the DeVille family threaten to capture his heart.

Giavanna DeVille holds the last frayed edges of her composure in a tenuous grasp. In a moment of desperation, she leaves her sleeping children in her cabin and ventures out into a storm to release her pent-up frustrations where no one can hear her cries. Much to her surprise, a man appears through the blinding snow. He gives her a shoulder to cry on and something even more precious. . . hope.

Can the two of them move beyond past heartaches to accept the gift of hope for their future?

You’ll also find the characters of my latest book Dumplings and Dynamite (releasing tomorrow!) at the Crescent Creek Mine, up in the hills out of Baker City. 

Widow Hollin Hughes doesn’t care how long it takes or the depths of deception required to discover how her husband really died. She’s determined to unearth the truth and unravel the mystery surrounding his death. Then a new dynamite man arrives at the mine and throws all her plans off kilter.

With a smile that makes females of any age swoon, Deputy Seth Harter can charm his way into or out of almost anything. When he’s sent undercover to Crescent Creek Mine, even the cranky cook seems entirely immune to his rugged appeal, making him wonder if he’s losing his touch. Eager to get to the bottom of a series of unexplained deaths, Seth counts on catching the criminals. He just didn’t anticipate a tempestuous woman claiming his heart in the process.

Brimming with humor, tidbits from history, and a sweet, unexpected love, don’t miss out on a heartwarming romance packed with adventure.

And here’s a little excerpt from the story:

A flash of pity swept through him for the baby’s mother who lost her husband and was now working for the contemptible Eustace Gilford. He had no doubt the woman had to rise in the wee hours of the morning to be able to cook a big breakfast for a camp full of miners. It had to be challenging to cook and care for such a newly-born child.

Mrs. Parrish hurried back into the kitchen, saw him holding the baby, and her pale skin blanched white.

“What are you doing?” she asked in a harsh, quiet tone. She moved across the room and took the baby from him with such haste, he had no idea how she’d managed to reach him in so few steps. He couldn’t be certain, but he thought maybe she’d forgotten about her limp.

“I hoped if I held her, she’d stop crying. It worked,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets, although he moved a step closer to the widow. “What’s her name?”

“Keeva.”

“I’ve never met anyone named Keeva. Is it a family name?” he asked.

The woman merely nodded. “It was her great-grandmother’s name.”

“Then I’m sure she’d be proud to have a beautiful little granddaughter to share it with.”

The woman looked at him over her shoulder with an uncertain glare, as though she couldn’t quite figure him out, before she turned back to the baby. “Breakfast is on the table. The men will be in soon. If you want something to eat, you best get out there. If Mr. Gilford didn’t mention it, the men pack their own lunches from the food on the tables near the door.”

“He did say something about that. Thank you, Mrs. Parrish.” Seth tipped his head to her then made his way to the dining room where men began trickling inside.

Eustace directed Seth to a chair at the far end of the long table. When everyone was seated, he pointed to Seth. “Meet our newest employee, Seth Harter. He’ll be drilling and blasting.”

Mrs. Parrish nearly dropped the pot of coffee she carried at this announcement but quickly recovered. Seth wondered how hard he’d have to work to charm the truth out of her. In spite of her appearance, something about her made him look forward to trying.

Although Dumplings and Dynamite releases tomorrow, you can pre-order it today!

If you were a miner back in the 1800s, what kind of mineral would you have been searching for? Gold? Silver? Quartz? Copper? Lead? Something with a little more sparkle? 

Jingle Jangle Spurs – Cinnamon Rolls

I hope you had an amazing, beautiful, memorable, sweet Christmas! 

Are you out hitting the after-Christmas sales today? Or maybe taking it easy, lingering over a leftover piece of pie and cup of spicy tea? 

I’ve been thinking about these days that fall between Christmas and New Years. They were always such fun during my growing up years (and not just because I didn’t have to go to school!). 
Both of my parents came from good-sized families and we were often the house that hosted one side or the other for Christmas Day.
Often, relatives who didn’t come for that year’s Christmas dinner would trickle in over the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, bringing fun surprises and joining in our outdoor fun of sledding or ice skating.

In particular, I remember a year when we hosted my mom’s side of the family for Christmas but all of Dad’s family came on New Year’s Day bringing a bounty of delicious treats and filling the house with laughter. My mom made a huge pot of chili and batches of gooey cinnamon rolls that were quickly devoured.
However you spend these last days of 2019, saying goodbye to the year and preparing to welcome in a new one, I hope they bring you great joy and a bounty of hope, grace, and love! 

Cinnamon Rolls

Dough

2 cups milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 package active dry yeast

4 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/3 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tbsp. salt

Filling

1 cup melted butter

¼ cup cinnamon

1 cup sugar

Icing

4 cups powdered sugar

¼ cup milk

3 tbsp. melted butter

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Scald the milk, oil and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat (bring heat to nearly a boil, but don’t let it boil!). Set aside and cool to lukewarm (think temperature of a baby’s bottle). Sprinkle yeast on top of milk and let rest for one minute.

Add four cups of the flour and stir until just combined. It is going to be sticky. Cover with a tea towel and set in a warm place for an hour.

Remove the towel and add baking powder, baking soda, salt and final 1/2 cup of flour. Stir to combine.

On a floured surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle, somewhere in the proximity of 10 inches by 30 inches.

Pour melted butter over dough. Use your fingers or a knife to spread evenly. Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar. You can also mix cinnamon and sugar into the butter before pouring over dough. Either way works fine.

Beginning at the long end farthest from you, roll the rectangle tightly toward you. Use both hands and work slowly, keeping the roll nice and tight. Some filling may ooze out and that is OK (and give you something to snitch later.)

When you have the roll finished, pinch the outside edge of the roll to create a seam. You should now have a long log. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1 1/2 inch slices. You should get about 25 rolls.

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray and place rolls in the pan. I like to use smaller pans and freeze them. If you want to give cinnamon rolls as a holiday gift, put them in disposable aluminum pans, then they are ready for gift giving!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the pans with a tea towel and set aside for about 20 minutes. Remove towel and bake for about 15 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Do not overcook! While the rolls are baking, whip up the icing.

Mix the powdered sugar, butter, cream cheese, milk and vanilla in a bowl. Icing should be thick but pourable.

When the rolls come out of the oven, pour on the icing. Make sure you cover every last bit of roll. This step is vitally important for the overall happiness of your taste buds.

Put one on a plate, take a deep breath inhaling that decadent cinnamon aroma, and enjoy!


Today is the release day for the third book in my Gifts of Christmas series. If you’re looking for something new to read, I hope you’ll take a look at this sweet historical romance that can stand alone.

Gift of Faith

When their faith is tested

Will Christmas bring a miracle?

Handsome and engaging, Marc Rawlings could have his choice of girls, but he only has eyes for gentle Amy Madsen. Ready to begin a future with her, he instead asks her to wait for him while he heads off to war. Bound by his duty to his country, Marc leaves his heart with her, counting on the day they’ll be reunited.

Amy Madsen spends her days working in her family’s bakery and her nights gazing up at the sky, hoping her fiancé knows she’s thinking of him. When tragic news arrives, Amy refuses to believe it, clinging to her promises to Marc and her faith that he’ll return to her.

It will take a miracle and a unique gift of faith to bring a happy holiday during a wartime Christmas in 1942.

Gift of Faith is the third book in the Gifts of Christmas series, a collection of heartwarming, wholesome historical romances, featuring precious gifts given straight from the heart.

~*~

Happy Holidays!

Gifts of Christmas

I love the holiday season.

The scents, the sounds, the twinkling lights, glistening snow, the yummy treats. 

Truly, I love it all.

But I also love the gifts that don’t come from the store, but from the heart. The gifts that lift our spirits, warm our hearts, and wrap us up in a cozy blanket of love. 

It was thoughts of those gifts that inspired my newest series and collection of sweet holiday romances.

There are three books in the series: Gift of Grace, Gift of Hope, Gift of Faith.

Although each book can be read as a stand-alone, a fun little detail is that each story ties to one of my other series, too!

Tomorrow is the release day for Gift of Grace, book one in the series. Today, you can pre-order the book for just 99 cents!

Sometimes the best gifts

Are those freely given from the heart . . .

Ready to begin a new life far away from the sad memories of the Civil War, J.B. and Nora Nash head west on the Oregon Trail. They settle into the small community of Pendleton, Oregon, on a piece of land where they’re excited to build a future and their dreams together.

A devastating tragedy leaves them both reeling as they draw further and further apart. Nora blames J.B. for her unhappiness while he struggles through his own challenges. Only a miracle can bring them through their trials and reunite them for Christmas.

Together, will they discover the gift of grace in this sweet holiday romance brimming with hope, history, and abiding love?

Gift of Grace is the first book in the Gifts of Christmas series, a collection of heartwarming, wholesome romances, featuring precious gifts given straight from the heart.

Much to her dismay and surprise, J.B. stepped onto the bed with his damp boots and picked her up, holding her tight against his chest. Without missing a step, he walked off the other side and toward the bedroom door.

Nora clenched her hands into fists and pounded on his shoulders as he carried her into the kitchen.

The big galvanized tub they used for taking baths sat near the stove and she could see steam rising from the water. She had no idea what J.B. intended to do, but whatever it was she would fight him until her last breath.

“Put me down, you brute!” she demanded, shoving against his solid chest.

“Whatever you say, Nora,” J.B. said, dropping her into the tub.

Water splashed over the sides onto the floor and stung Nora’s eyes. She spluttered, pushing hair out of her face then rubbed her eyes.

Before she could stand and step out of the tub, J.B. reached down and ripped off her nightgown, sending buttons flying into the air. Appalled, she watched in horror as he wadded the ruined cloth into a ball and tossed it into a basket with dirty clothing sitting on the floor near the stove.

He glowered at her, pinning her in place with an unrelenting gaze. “You stink and your hair looks like you rubbed bear grease over your head. Take a bath and wash your hair. Maybe by the time you finish, you’ll feel better. At the very least, you’ll smell better than something left to rot on the side of the road.”

Shocked speechless by his actions, she remained as still as stone as he went into the bedroom and returned with the tray of tea and toast he’d prepared.

“When you get out of there, you eat that toast and drink the tea,” he ordered. “If you don’t, I swear I’ll force-feed you.”

Defiantly, Nora lifted her chin. “I’ll eat when I feel like it.”

J.B. picked up a bar of perfumed soap and a wash cloth then bent down until his nose nearly touched hers. “Either you start scrubbing or I’ll do it for you.”

Nora grabbed the soap and cloth from him. If looks could have killed, James Benjamin Nash would have inhaled his very last breath in that moment.


What about you? What is your favorite gift of the season?

Potatoes from the farm to your freezer

I spent my growing up years in an area where row crops were every bit as prevalent as wheat and hay fields. 
One of the most popular row crops (next to onions) happens to be potatoes. Some of our neighbors grew acres and acres of them. One year, as a fundraising project for our senior class, we went and picked up all the “cull” potatoes from their field and sold them for something like a $1 per bag by going door to door in our small town. That was not the most fun any 17-year-old ever had.

I also just happened to grow up in the same valley where one famous potato company started and continues today, known as Ore-Ida.

If you’ve ever stood in the freezer section at your grocery store and looked at the selection of frozen tater tots, French fries, or hash browns, you’ve probably seen Ore-Ida potatoes with their trademark red bag and distinctive logo.

Ore-Ida is  currently produced and distributed by the H.J. Heinz Company, now part of Kraft Heinz. The primary production facility for Ore-Ida is located in the community of Ontario, Oregon, that sits right on the border between Oregon and Idaho. The company once employed more than 1,000 people, but today has around 600 employees. 

Back in the mid-1930s, entrepreneurs and brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg began growing sweet corn in eastern Oregon. Their first company, Grigg Brothers, became one of the largest distributors of sweet corn in the United States. 

Then, in 1949, with financial backing from their brother-in-law Otis Williams, the brothers rented a frozen food plant located in Ontario, at the border with Idaho, and converted it into a potato-processing facility. The three men purchased the facility in the early 1950s. In 1952, Oregon Frozen Foods Company was founded. 

Initially, the company produced and sold frozen corn and French fries. In 1953, Tater Tots were invented and patented by Ore-Ida. The tots were made from seasoned slivers of potatoes left over from the French fry production. (Oddly enough, Tater Tots are the brand’s most popular product). 

The company went on to build a second plant in Burley, Idaho, where many of their potato fields were located. The company’s name became a syllabic abbreviation of the two states where they ran the companies and the original logo consisted of outlines of Oregon and Idaho with Ore-Ida superimposed in italicized letters. 

Ore-Ida was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Company in 1965. Ore-Ida’s headquarters were located in Boise, Idaho, until 1999 when a new frozen foods division was created at Heinz’s corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

So the next time you reach into the freeze for a bag of fries or tots, you’ll know a little history of the company of you bought the Ore-Ida brand. 

Of course, I have to share a recipe with you today. This one includes Tater Tots and is easy to whip together for a fast meal. 

Tater Tot Casserole

2 pounds of ground beef

1 package of Ore-Ida Tater Tots

1 cup shredded colby-jack cheese (or cheddar)

1 tsp. onion flakes (or grated fresh onion)

2 cans of cream of mushroom soup

1 teaspoon seasoning (like Mrs. Dash)

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place tater tots into a 9 x 13 casserole pan (I lightly spray mine with non-stick spray first) and set in the oven while you brown the ground beef. I add the onion flakes, seasoning and salt and pepper to the ground beef. When the hamburger is browned, mix it with the cream of mushroom soup and spoon over the top of the tater tots. Layer on cheese and cover with foil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until soup is hot and bubbly. Remove foil and bake for a few more minutes until cheese is a melted layer of luscious gooey-ness. Remove from oven and serve. I like to sprinkle the top of my casserole with a bit of chopped fresh parsley. Captain Cavedweller likes his straight up “without any of that weird green stuff on there.”
Enjoy!

What is your favorite fast or easy dinner recipe using potatoes?

 

Stop in later to see if your name has been added to the list of semi-finalists! 

Only those who comment have a chance to win!

The Dynamite Kid

 

The past several weeks, I’ve been working on a new book in my Baker City Brides series which is set in the 1890s in Baker City, Oregon. 

The town got its start from gold mines in the area back in the 1860s. The gold played out, or so people thought, then enjoyed another boom around 1890. 

The story, titled Dumplings and Dynamite, takes place for the most part at a mining camp. 

Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This is a photo of the E&E Mine out of Baker City. It appears much as I envision the mine where my story takes place. 

Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

I’m fascinated with the mill buildings that sprung up against the hillsides at mines like this one – the Golden Gate Mine near what once was called Greenhorn City. 

It’s hard for me to envision what it was like working in a mine because I wouldn’t have lasted a day. Probably not even an hour. I don’t like dark, enclosed spaces. At all. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to get up day after day and spend hour after hour in the bowels of a mountain digging out some other man’s fortune. 

 

Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

The image above shows mine workers from the Bonanza Mine (one of the most successful of its time) near Baker City.The men are wielding “single jacks,” four-pound hammers, and steel drills. For light, the miners had candles on a wire stuck in a crack in the wall.

In my story, the hero is working as a powder monkey (a new term I learned in my research), also known as the brave individuals who worked with the explosives at a mine. The powder monkeys, or powdermen, were in charge of rotating the explosives to ensure older explosives were used first, ordering explosives, transportation of explosives, and keeping up the area where the explosives were stored. And in my story, he also sets off the charges, although, in reality, this job was often left to the miners who were digging out the ore. 

It was while I was trying to dig up research on dynamite usage in the early 1890s that I happened across an interesting story. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s fun reading, anyway. The source is from Richard Dillon’s book Shanghaiing Days. New York: Coward, 1961. 

According to the story, a young man named George Banks had a job working on the portage railroad at Cascade Locks, Oregon. It was the mid-1890s and shanghaiing was a rampant sport at the docks in Portland. In fact, it was a known fact the port was one of the worst places in the world to be kidnapped around that time. 

One day, George (known as a confident, upright, rock-solid fellow) was in Portland picking up a load of freight and he missed his returning sailing on the riverboat. Stuck on the wharf with crates of merchandise for work, he didn’t want to have to wait for morning to leave. 

A few friendly fellows approached George and offered to help him out. They made a deal for George to pay them for transporting him and his crates, and the men soon returned with a boat. The men helped George load his crates and they cast off, heading the wrong direction. At first, George merely puzzled over what they were doing. Then one of the men explained to him he was a sailor now and they were taking him to their ship where he’d be stuck working for them as little more than a free laborer. 

George took exception to this plan. 

“You ain’t gonna shanghai me,” George informed his kidnappers, reaching into his pocket. “I’ll blow you to hell first.”

His hand came out full of blasting caps.

All those crates the men had loaded were full of dynamite and George had the nickname among his friends as the “Dynamite Kid.” 

Needless to say, the boat turned around and took George where he wanted to go. After he unloaded his cargo, he paid the men as he’d originally agreed to do, then went about his work. 

I think I would have liked to have met George. Talk about pluck and determination! 

Although I’m not quite ready to do a cover reveal of Dumplings and Dynamite, I will share a little excerpt with you today:

 

Seth gathered an armload of wood and carried it inside the cookshack where mouth-watering aromas filled the air.

Long tables and benches filled the room. Through a doorway, he could see a woman and the two younger boys he’d noticed earlier scurrying around the kitchen, scooping food into bowls and dishing it onto platters.

“Need some wood?” Seth asked as he walked through the doorway.

The woman glanced up at him in surprise, but quickly recovered. She waggled a gravy-coated spoon in the direction of the wood box then went back to scraping gravy into a large bowl.

“I’m Seth. Mr. Gilford just hired me,” he said after he dumped the wood he carried into the box by the stove. He stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep from snatching a golden flapjack off a platter one of the boys carried out to the table.

“I’m Mrs. Parrish, the cook,” she said, not meeting his gaze as she handed the gravy bowl to a boy then picked up two platters full of bacon.

“Allow me,” Seth said, taking the platters from her. The woman might have been twenty or fifty. From her stringy hair, rumpled dress, and bedraggled petticoat hanging an inch below her skirt hem, she looked rather unkempt, but she smelled clean and her eyes were bright.

In fact, they were an unusual shade somewhere between gray and green that made him think of the sagebrush that grew so prevalent to the south and east of Baker City. In spite of circles beneath her eyes and smudges of flour on her cheeks, her skin was smooth, without the wrinkles age brings, and dusted with a generous helping of freckles.

He glimpsed her hands. Although rough and red from hard work, they looked young, almost delicate.

Yet, the woman moved slightly humped over with the hint of a limp and when she smiled at him, he couldn’t miss the absence of her two front teeth. He stepped back and followed the boys out to the dining area, setting the platters on the table. Something about the woman bothered him and it had nothing to do with the lack of teeth. If he was a gambling man, he’d bet she was hiding something. He had a feeling Mrs. Parrish was not at all what she seemed.

 

Learn more about the Baker City Brides series on my website, or browse through my boards on Pinterest!

What about you? If you found yourself living at a mining camp in the late 1800s, what job would you have done? 

 

 

 

Grass Valley Cowboys

A few weeks ago, I was working on promotional plans for my books for the summer. As I browsed through my books, a little niggling thought kept popping up… one that said it was time for more book cover makeovers.

Every once in a while, I’ll give a book cover a new look. It’s fun and allows my brain to use some different creative skills. 

This time, the series I decided could use a new look is one of my favorites — the Grass Valley Cowboys. 

Set in the tiny Oregon town of Grass Valley, this series focuses on (as the title implies) the cowboys who live there. Specifically, cowboys from the Thompson and Morgan families.

I had such a good time writing these books and I do plan to write a few more before I bring the series to an end. The inspiration for the series came when I happened to drive through the area on the way to spend the weekend with my aunt and cousins. I just couldn’t help thinking what a fun setting Grass Valley would provide for a story.  Not only that, but one of my dear friends grew up in the area, and had stories to share about things that happened there.

The settlement of Grass Valley began with the establishment of a few stock ranches. Settlers began to arrive in the area and were soon plowing the cattle-sustaining grass to plant wheat fields.  Dr. Charles R. Rollins, a physician from New Hampshire, is credited with establishing Grass Valley when he arrived in the area with a small party of pioneers.  Dr. Rollins had an easy time choosing a name for the location since the rye grass grew thick and tall in the alkaline soil. Rollins built a large two-story hotel, which included a clinic from which he prescribed and sold medicine. 

The Grass Valley Cowboys series takes place in modern times, but as I wrote the stories, I often envisioned what life was like when the area was yet settled. When deer hid from hunters in the tall grass and those crossing the Oregon Trail pressed onward for the fir-dotted hills of the Willamette Valley. 

Here’s a little about the books and a look at the brand-spanking new covers!

The Cowboy’s Christmas Plan

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 1

Cadence Greer’s plans for a happy-ever-after are quickly derailed when her fiancé runs off with his secretary a week before their wedding. Homeless, jobless, and jilted, she escapes to Grass Valley, Oregon, where she takes a job as a housekeeper and cook to seven cowboys on a sprawling ranch.

Trey Thompson is a well-respected pillar of the community, running a successful ranch with his brother. All he wanted was someone to cook meals and keep the house clean. When he hires Cadence Greer for the job, he gets more than he ever planned on, including a sassy little redheaded orphan.

 

The Cowboy’s Spring Romance

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 2

Trent Thompson doesn’t have many secrets, except for the torch he’s carried for the new schoolteacher since she moved to Grass Valley more than three years ago. Instead of asking her out, he’s dated every single female in a thirty-mile radius, giving her the impression he holds no interest in knowing her.

Lindsay Pierce moved to Grass Valley to teach and quickly fell in love with the small community as well as the delightful people who live there. Everyone welcomes her warmly except for one obnoxious cowboy who goes out of his way to ignore her.

Will Trent be able to maintain the pretense when he has to babysit his niece, who happens to be in Lindsay’s class?

 

The Cowboy’s Summer Love

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 3

After six years in the service and two tours of duty in the middle of a war zone, Travis Thompson eagerly returns home to Grass Valley, ready to resume his life on the Triple T Ranch with his two older brothers. Ever the wild-child, Travis doesn’t disappoint as he rolls from one adventure to another in his quest to keep his adrenaline pumping. He needs a release for the tension constantly building inside him, especially after he discovers the girl he’s loved his entire life just moved back to Grass Valley.

In love with Travis Thompson since she was old enough to notice boys, Tess Morgan can’t stay away from him no matter how hard she tries. Convinced Travis sees her only as his best friend’s sister, she wants him to realize she is the woman who could love him deeply and passionately.

 

The Cowboy’s Autumn Fall

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 4

Brice Morgan thought love at first sight was some ridiculous notion of school girls and old ladies who read too many romance novels. At least he does until he falls hard and fast for an intriguing and thoroughly perplexing woman at a friend’s wedding.

Bailey Bishop attends her cousin’s wedding with no intention of extending her brief visit to Oregon. Married to her career as a paleontologist, Bailey tries to ignore her intense attraction to her cousin’s best friend, Brice. Ready to return home to Denver, Bailey instead accepts the opportunity to explore a new dig site not far from the family’s ranch in Grass Valley. Can she keep her feelings for Brice from derailing her plans for the future?

 

The Cowboy’s New Heart

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 5

Former bull rider Hart Hammond spent twenty years building a business empire while successfully avoiding love. He buried his heart the same day he made his last bull ride and has vowed to never make the mistake of loving a woman again. Then he meets the beautiful mother of the fun-loving Thompson tribe.

Years after her husband died, Denni Thompson can’t bear to think of giving her heart to anyone else. With three newly married sons, a grandchild on the way, and a busy life, Denni doesn’t entertain any notions of romance until she encounters the handsome new owner of Grass Valley’s gas station.

 

The Cowboy’s Last Goodbye

Grass Valley Cowboys Book 6

With his siblings and friends entangled in the state of matrimony, Ben Morgan is more determined than ever to remain blissfully single. Despite his vehement refusal to commit to a relationship, he can’t help but envision a future with the sweet, charming woman who unknowingly captures his heart.

Harper Hayes is an expert at bad relationships. After vowing never to wed, the idea enters her mind with alarming frequency after she meets Ben Morgan. Although the handsome cowboy makes it clear he’s only interested in having fun, Harper’s dog and crazy uncle have other ideas.

 

You can find all the books in the series on Amazon .

Also, for a limited time, The Cowboy’s Summer Love is on sale for just 99 cents! 

If you were going to come up with a name for a book in this series, what would you choose? 

Matrimony Vine

I was flipping through an old book about the Oregon desert the other day when a photo caught my eye of a vine climbing up the side of an old cabin.

The caption beneath the photo said, “Homesteaders’ wives needed something green in the middle of the gray desert.” 

Of course the photo was black and white, but the description went on to state that most women planted a matrimony vine. 

Matrimony vine? 

Although I loved the name, I’d never heard of it. 

A quick search revealed matrimony vine is also known as Chinese Wolfberry, Chinese Boxthorn, Himalayan Goji, Tibetan Goji. The deciduous shrub has roots that go back to Japan, Korea, and China. 

As the book I was reading stated, homesteaders who were trying to make a living in the sagebrush-dotted desert lands longed for a spot of color, something that would grow with minimal attention and water.  Many of them found what they were searching for with the matrimony vine. 

I could so easily picture a hardworking farm wife dumping her dishwater on the plant, eager to keep it green and growing in the sometimes harsh desert climate, especially those found in the dry interior of California, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon. 

Legends state a newlywed couple would plant the vine at their homestead to bless their marriage.

Matrimony vine was also a “pass along” plant that could be easily dug up and shared with others. Can’t you just see a mother digging up a bit of her beloved plant to share with her daughter when she wed?  The “lifted and gifted” plants seemed to thrive amid the desert climate.

Another way the plants came to America where with Chinese workers. The berries, popularly known as Goji, have been used for centuries by the Chinese in teas, as dried condiments, additions to stews and soups, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Waves of Chinese immigrants began arriving in San Francisco in the 1850s, and with these immigrants came components of their native culture, including the Goji berry. Tens of thousands of immigrants arrived, escaping poverty and civil war in China, initially bound for the gold fields of California. As they journeyed throughout the west for work, the Goji berry traveled along with them.

Today, stands of matrimony vine mark where homesteads long ago lost to time, fire, or other causes, once stood. The shrubs can also be found growing near old Chinese cemeteries.

Sadly, the plants have become host to the potato psyllid which is related to aphids and secretes a toxic saliva during feeding that causes great harm to potato plants. 

During my growing up years on our farm, we had one of these plants growing out behind our milk barn near the shed where we bottle fed calves. I had no idea what it was, but each spring, it burst forth with beautiful purple blossoms and each autumn, bright red berries begged to be picked. My mother told me it was poisonous and to leave it alone. Now I’m kind of wishing I’d plucked a few of those berries anyway. 

And there you have it, how matrimony vine came to be an invasive plant in the Pacific Northwest!

If you close your eyes and envision a homesteader dutifully keeping alive a plant in the midst of dirt and sagebrush, what do you picture?  

Landscape Architecture from the Past

Recently, I was eyeball deep in research for an upcoming historical release. 

In the story, set in 1913, the heroine is a nanny and the hero is a landscape architect. 

The hero, Flynn, runs a landscaping business with his sister. Not only does he design elaborate (or simple) gardens and yards, he also has a huge greenhouse where he develops and experiments with plants. 

When I started working on Flynn’s character and his profession, I did some research into landscape architects and greenhouses.

The first recorded greenhouses were in Rome around 30 AD. Legend states that the physicians of Emperor Tiberius told him he needed, for health purposes, to eat a cucumber every day. Supposedly, his scientists and engineers brainstormed how to grow plants year round and the greenhouse came to be.

Greenhouses traveled to America in the 1700s. They grew in popularity in England in the mid-1800s when glass began to be widely manufactured. The inspiration for Flynn’s greenhouse comes from the spectacular Temperate House at Kew Gardens in London. My gracious, I’ve added this impressive garden to my bucket list of places I hope to someday see.

Temperate House is the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse and recently reopened after an extensive renovation process. Some of the world’s rarest and most threatened species of plants are among the 1,500 species of plants from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands included on display.

Of course, Flynn’s greenhouse isn’t as magnificent as this or nearly as large, but it did give me some wonderful ideas of what his greenhouse might look like. And he has an interesting collection of plants and flowers he’s collected from his travels around the world.

When I first considered Flynn’s career, the term landscape architect seems so modern. But I discovered the roots of the profession go back to 1828 when Gilbert Laing Meason, a Scotsman, wrote a book offering insights into the art of relating architecture to landscape. William Andrews Nesfield was reportedly the first person hired as a “landscape architect. He designed garden areas for Buckingham Palace in London and Castle Howard in Yorkshire. In 1863, Fredrick Law Olmstead used the term landscape architecture for designing public open space (parks). Olmstead is known as the father of American Landscape Architecture. I like to think his work helped inspire my character Flynn.

In the story, Evie (releasing May 23), Flynn is hired to design and install an elaborate garden at the home of a well-to-do couple with three young children. Flynn finds himself falling for the nanny and scheming ways to spend time with the effervescent woman. 

Will love bloom between a spunky nanny and a distracted landscaper?

Unconventional nanny Evie Caswell views it as her duty to bring fun and laughter to the residence of her strict, aloof employers. Full of life and spirit, she is determined to teach the couple’s children how to be young and carefree. With hardly a minute to herself, she long ago surrendered her dreams of having her own home and a family. Then her employer hires Flynn Elliott, a landscape architect, to turn the yard into a spectacular garden. Enchanted with the intriguing man, Evie realizes after meeting Flynn nothing in her life will ever be the same.

Renowned for his landscape designs and ability to make anything grow, Flynn Elliott is a bit of an enigma. He spouts romantic poetry to the plants in his greenhouse and stealthily avoids social interactions, yet can charm birds right out of the trees when the need arises. While his sister handles the finer details of their business, he often loses himself in his work, forgetting the outside world exists. A chance encounter with a beautiful woman in a moonlit garden leaves him seeking opportunities to discover more about the effervescent Evie and the joy she radiates to those around her.

Will the two of them be able to set aside their doubts and fears to embrace a happily ever after?

Brimming with lighthearted moments, snippets of history, and the hope of true love, Evie is a sweet historical romance sure to warm your heart. 

Available May 23, you can pre-order your copy today! 

If you could travel back to 1913, what career would you choose?