Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Old World Murder

Kathleen Ernst’s Old World Murder (Midnight Ink) is a splendid read with all the elements of a good, meaty mystery. An award winning author of children’s books, Ernst has made a successful debut in adult mystery with Old World Murder.

When Chloe Ellefson starts a new job as a collections curator at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor ethnic museum, she finds herself embroiled in a missing artifact, an unexplained death, uncooperative co-workers, and a past she’d like to forget. To confuse the issue, she keeps running into this cop who insists she needs protecting.

Officer Roelke McKenna, all business and efficiency, is drawn to Chloe and, even though he can’t officially be involved in the case, finds himself immersed in the mysterious events which seem to get more complex each day.

Ernst, herself a former professional in the realm of outdoor living history museums, writes with knowledge of the complexities of a curator’s life. Suspense is maintained throughout the book, keeping the reader engrossed in the various story elements.

Old World Murder is the first of a series. It will be fun to follow Chloe Ellefson in The Heirloom Murders as she pursues a career discovering old-world history while working through her own past heartaches.

Old World Murder may be ordered through your favorite bookstore, or For more information about Kathleen Ernst or for an autographed copy of Old World Murder visit

Monday, December 20, 2010

Have a Bright and Safe Christmas

During the holidays, our homes are filled with family and friends, good food and festive decorations. Candles are among our favorite Christmas decorations, and therein lurks danger. Nationally, more than 15,000 residential fires are caused each year by careless or inappropriate use of candles. In fact, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the top four days for fires due to candles.

A few years ago, we attended a lovely holiday dinner party. As we helped ourselves to beautifully prepared food, served buffet style, something caught my eye–a paper decoration had slipped onto a lighted tea candle. I gasped, then hollered “The decorations are on fire!” The situation was quickly under control, but had we all passed through the line and gone to the table to eat, that fire could have been disastrous.

This year, let’s observe candle safety by following these rules:

– Place candles on sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders.

– Ensure that candles are not placed near flammable materials, such as Christmas greens or paper decorations.

– Use lighted candles only in a room with a responsible adult present and awake. Falling asleep is a factor in 12 percent of home fires caused by candles and 26 percent of associated deaths.

– Never use candles in a bedroom. Almost 40 percent of home candle fires begin in the bedroom.

– Keep candles out of reach of young children. Young children and older adults have the highest death rate from candles.

– Never leave burning candles unattended.

Hopefully, everyone knows better than to place lighted candles on a Christmas tree. But be aware that many Christmas fires begin at the tree. Be sure that your Christmas tree lights don’t have worn, broken or frayed cords or loose bulb connections. Always unplug your Christmas tree lights when you leave home or go to bed, and keep your tree moist by watering regularly.

Safe, Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Farewell to American Red Cross DRO’s

As of November, 2010 I have retired from serving as a volunteer on national American Red Cross (ARC) jobs. I’ll no longer be going on those two- to three-week disaster responses several times a year. But I’ll have memories to last a lifetime

Since 1995 I have responded to 41 Disaster Response Operations (DRO) in nineteen states and two American territories (St. Croix and Puerto Rico). Most of the jobs involved helping disaster victims’ initial recovery from floods, hurricanes, earthquake, tornadoes, tropical storms, fires, and the 9/11 acts of terrorism in both Washington, D.C. and New York. A few of the jobs involved working with staffing–helping out in our Nevada regional office with the huge job of staffing these big operations.

When a large disaster occurs, the local American Red Cross chapter responds. It is quickly determined whether they will need help managing the event. Many times, the local volunteers themselves are affected by the disaster and have their hands full working through their own disaster-related problems. In that case, the neighboring chapters respond, then, if needed, nearby states, and from there help comes from volunteers from all over the country, making it a “national” DRO.

Sixteen years ago, my first ARC job was in New Orleans, LA in response to a hurricane that left massive flooding in its wake. At first I worked at a Service Center, interviewing clients to determine their needs. Later, I called on individual clients in the field, in what we call Home Visits, often tramping through mud to get to their homes. Most assistance was in the form of vouchers for food, clothing, and cleaning supplies to help clients get their lives back to normal. In some cases, we helped with housing issues. I served with Client Services for several years, gradually rising in experience and responsibilities.

Later, my first job as Service Center Manager was in 2001 in Houston, TX where I managed about 150 people who responded to Tropical Storm Allison, which caused horrendous flood damage.

My administrative duties working at the headquarters of a Disaster Response Operation began with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For years I’d never wanted to work at headquarters–I wanted to be where the action was. But much to my surprise, I loved working at headquarters. For one thing, it was such a pleasure working with people who were true professionals in their field–whether it be the logistics of getting huge trucks with supplies to where they needed to go, or with mass care, the people responsible for feeding and lodging hundreds, perhaps thousands of disaster victims.

At DRO headquarters, I continued to work with Client Services, but now my job consisted of working with managers of Client Casework, Mental Health, Health Services and Safe & Well, those folks who help reunite families scattered after a disaster.

Vivid memories include people expressing their tearful gratitude that someone cared enough about their problems to travel across the country to help. My time in New York for 9/11 is indelibly etched in my mind–the devastation itself, the brave firemen, police and other service organizations who gave so much. And Hurricane Katrina–I’ve seen a lot of mass destruction, but nothing to compare with Katrina’s unending miles of destroyed homes, businesses and dreams. The hardships endured are hard to fathom and heartbreaking to witness. In 2007 I saw the entire town of Greenville, Kansas after it had been ripped away by a tornado. The list goes on and on–I’m so thankful I could be a part of the recovery process and that I could make a difference.

My husband Bruce and I continue to be active with the local Red Cross. It’s a wonderful organization with whom we are proud to serve. I have an American Red Cross tee-shirt with a message I love: Help Can’t Wait. I’m grateful to be a part of the spirit and dedication of this fine humanitarian organization

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review: An Absence So Great by Jane Kirkpatrick

Eighteen year-old Jessie Gaebele is making her way in a world obsessed with rigid propriety. Even at her young age, she’s made mistakes, has committed acts for which she must atone. Although she longs for her family, she remains miles away, working in her life’s vocation, photography.

The story weaves the lives of Jessie Gaebele and the married Fred Bauer, a former employer and the person responsible for her self-imposed exile. Jessie strives to overcome the obstacles of a woman achieving a business of her own in a man’s profession, all the while fighting the demon of forbidden love and an all-consuming longing for what can never be.

Jane Kirkpatrick breathes life into her characters, guiding the reader into another world, another time. In An Absence So Great and its prequel, A Flickering Light, Kirkpatrick draws on her own ancestry, skillfully blending actual details with creative situations resulting in a unique perspective of time and place.

Throughout the book, Kirkpatrick features actual historical photographs with vivid descriptions of the subjects and minute details of the photography process. These actual images bring even more awareness of early 19th century America.

I very much enjoyed yet another Jane Kirkpatrick novel. Her writing embodies the human spirit, its weaknesses, its power to overcome and its conquering faith. She is a superb storyteller.

For more information about the author and to sign up for her newsletter Story Sparks, visit

Monday, November 29, 2010


Mary by Sitka Spruce, 270 feet tall with a diameter of 12 ½ feet and estimated to be 500 to 550 years old.

The Olympic National Park’s 1,400 square miles situated in Washington’s northwest corner ranges from seashore to alpine wilderness. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness. This diverse national park with its wide scope of vistas and habitats is globally recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.

Highway 101 encircles the park and several spur roads lead to mountains, forests and coastline. The center of the park, untouched by roads, offers incredible wilderness adventures. The park is split into two major areas with hundreds of square miles inland to the east and a strip of about 73 miles of wild coastline to the west.

Olympic’s Wild Coast
The expansive, diverse shorelines offer a constantly changing performance with crashing waves, tidal cycles and turning seasons. Most of the beaches along this stretch are wide and sandy with superb hiking and beach combing. One of the best, Rialto Beach, is a photographers heaven with spectacular sunsets, huge stone haystacks, a natural stone arch called “Hole-in-the-Wall” and sweeping beaches.

Olympic’s Rain Forests
You’ll want your rain gear for this part of the trip. Drenched with over 12 feet of rain a year, the forests are magical with curtains of moss hanging like shaggy winter fur from some of the world’s largest trees. Ferns, salal and a multitude of berries and other groundcover take up every inch of space. We saw a healthy fern growing 20 feet up on the branch of an old live cedar. The world is lush green here and the air heavy with moisture.

Olympic’s Sparkling Lakes
Popular Lake Crescent is located 19 miles west of Port Angeles on Highway 101. This shimmering, 624-foot deep jewel was carved out by a huge glacier thousands of years ago. The lake offers swimming, boating and fishing. Other noteworthy lakes include Lakes Quinault and Ozette.

A worthwhile photo stop is the short hike to Marymere Falls, a ribbon of water cascading 90 feet to a pool below. The hike is mostly level with only the last section a little steep.

Olympic’s Majestic Mountains
The most accessible alpine area is Hurricane Ridge, at 5,242 feet and 17 miles up a paved road from Port Angeles. Hurricane Ridge is the only area in Olympic National Park where you can drive from sea level, through lowland, montane, and subalpine forests to the park’s high alpine country. At the top, the stunning view of mountains and valleys makes this destination alone reason enough to visit the park. Miles of trails offer breath-taking views of glaciers, forests and wildlife. Deer, oblivious to humans, graze close to hiking trails. The visitor center is a worthwhile stop.

The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area offers spectacular winter recreation for downhill and cross-country skiers, snowshoers and snowboarders.

Olympic’s Campgrounds
Olympic has 17 campgrounds with a total of 955 sites. Camprounds offer a variety of sites, some with ocean views, with varying degrees of privacy. Several private RV parks with all the amenities are located on the Olympic Peninsula, but not within the park itself.

For campground information and to see which campgrounds are open year-round, visit

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: Where Gable Slept

Irene Bennett Brown, well-known for her popular historical novels, has successfully crossed genres with the fun cozy mystery, Where Gable Slept. A gifted writer, she keeps readers turning the pages while trying to glean clues to solve the mystery.

Widowed Celia Landrey’s beloved town, Pass Creek, Oregon, is her life. She thrives on its history and does everything within her power to breathe life into what some call a has-been town. But one thing after another threatens her tranquil community. The owner of the locally famous Gable House, where actor Clark Gable stayed as a young man, mysteriously dies. The house’s new owner, a guest at Landrey’s Inn, threatens to demolish it, which would create a huge historical gap in the town’s tourism. One thing leads to another and Celia finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery, an arson, personal danger and, oh yes, romance with a handsome cowboy turned realtor.

While Celia digs herself deeper in a maze of clues, she manages to infuriate the local law authority, upsetting the on-going investigation as she puts herself in even more danger.

Where Gable Slept is the first of a series–I can hardly wait for the sequel!

Bookstores may order Where Gable Slept through Ingram Distributors. Or, the book may be ordered through,, and numerous other on-line bookstores. For autographed copies, order through the Contact page on the author’s website,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Know Your Insurance Coverage

What kind of insurance coverage do you have, Replacement Cost or Actual Cash Value? It’s important to know your coverage. Before you determine that, let’s briefly discuss a household inventory, which is valuable when making an insurance claim.

If you suffer a loss, whether it’s a burglary, fire, or other cause, an insurance company will need a detailed list of the household contents lost. It’s difficult enough to function after a disaster, and even more so if you have to come up information about specific items damaged or missing. You’ll need detailed information in order for the insurance company to pay your claim.

Making an inventory isn’t complicated or terribly time-consuming. Go through your home, room by room, creating a document that lists: Item — Original Cost — Purchase Date — Serial/I.D. Number — Current Value. Taking photos is a good idea, too. For each room, in addition to that room’s specific items, consider the draperies, lamps, clocks, area rugs, fine arts, collectibles, musical instruments.

Keep an extra copy of your inventory in a place other than in your house, perhaps at a relative’s home, in the event your home is totally destroyed.

If it becomes necessary to make a claim, you’ll want to know what to expect from your insurance company. It’s important to know what type of insurance you have for your household contents, Replacement Cost or Actual Cash Value.

Replacement Cost: The insurance company will provide payment for the actual cost of purchasing a new, identical or similar item. The lost or damaged item will be replaced.

Exception: Most insurance companies have a specific item limit, such as jewelry, between $1,000 and $3,000. They will pay up to the limit and no more. If you have valuable items such as jewelry, camera or musical instrument, consider getting a rider on your policy to cover these special items.

You pay higher insurance premium for Replacement Cost, but you’ll be given the money to replace the item at their value today.

Actual Cash Value: Sometimes called “Fair Market Value,” this method takes depreciation into consideration. The amount covered will be based on the replacement cost less depreciation.

You pay a lower premium for Actual Cash Value, but may have to pay more out-of-pocket costs to replace lost items.

Be aware of which type of coverage you have: Replacement Cost or Actual Cash Value. Knowing this information will save time and confusion when you need to know what you can expect from your insurance company.

There are several on-line resources for taking a home inventory. Search for “household inventory.” The internet is also a good place to shop for an insurance company.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review: Stealing the Wild by Beth Hodder

Beth Hodder’s Stealing the Wild (Grzzly Ridge Publishing) has all the ingredients of a good coming-of-age story–excitement, outdoor adventure, and a worthwhile lesson in the devastating act of poaching. In Montana’s Great Bear Wilderness, there’s not a telephone, cell phone, or Internet access within miles, as is still the case in many parts of the United States.

In the sequel to The Ghost of Schafer Meadows, Stealing the Wild finds twelve-year old Jessie Scott with her friends Will and Allie. While horseback riding, they come upon a deer carcass, an obvious case of poaching. Alarmed, the kids become obsessed with finding the perpetrator. As people pass through this section of wilderness–a group of four young people, obviously not experienced in wilderness travel; a lone horseman leading a mule; a hiker who has a knack for getting lost--the three friends are constantly exposed to clues and are drawn even deeper into the mystery. Jessie’s father, a wilderness ranger at Schafer Meadows Ranger Station, warns them about the danger of getting involved, but the three can’t ignore the intriguing clues.

Hodder’s real-life wilderness experience with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 25 years gives the story authenticity. She presents believable characters in this environment, while imparting the message that our wilderness is fragile. Further, Hodder handles the world-wide problem of poaching with finesse and without preaching, emphasizing the importance of putting a stop to this illegal trend.

Stealing the Wild is an exciting read, a story that both kids and adults will appreciate.

The book can be ordered through your favorite bookstore or through Grizzly Ridge Publishing,

Monday, November 1, 2010

Authors Retreat to Rancho de los Caballeros

Author Mary Trimble, standing on viewers’ platform, watches Heidi Thomas make friends with a ranch horse. Image by Linda Mocilnikar

Women Writing the West’s 16th Annual Conference was an opportunity to reconnect, re-inspire, rejuvenate and relax. A retreat in every sense of the word. What better place to accomplish all these things than at a guest ranch, namely Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg, Arizona, in the High Sonoran Desert. Set in the graceful hacienda of the ranch, this year’s conference was the best of both worlds.

Rancho de los Caballeros was an extraordinary western setting for a group who writes about the American West. The Gant family has operated the 20,000 acre ranch for nearly 60 years. The ranch’s name implies “gentlemen on horseback” and horseback riding is just one of many recreational opportunities. An 18-hole golf course is another, or there’s tennis, hiking, biking, or swimming in an outdoor pool.

A guest doesn’t have to ride horseback to enjoy the horses. Each morning we watched the “Running of the Horses,” a twice-daily event when about 100 magnificent horses–manes flying, hoofs pounding--run from where they’re stabled at night to the large ranch coral. A group of us enjoyed dinner in town before returning to the ranch for a Board Meeting.

The next day, Friday, many of us braved a “Morning in the Desert” tour to Hassayampa River Preserve. An amazing array of wildlife exists in the wildly changeable desert and our knowledgeable guide shared fascinating information. The hike wasn’t too vigorous, but the heat around high noon encouraged us to seek the shelter of the scrubby Smoke Trees. Rather than the desert tour, some of the group visited the Desert Caballeros Museum, also worthwhile from all reports.

Friday afternoon brought a wide selection of presenters and workshops. A colleague, Joyce Lohse, and I shared the spotlight with “Adventures in Freelancing,” sharing tips on submissions and war stories about the freelancing process.

Friday night’s event was truly a highlight with a hay ride to a cookout a distance from the ranch buildings. Afterward we sat around a bonfire and listened to Caroline Markham’s remarkable singing while she accompanied herself on the guitar. A very special evening.

Saturday’s itinerary was chocked full with more inspiring sessions. The WILLA Finalist Awards Luncheon and WILLA Awards Banquet dinner were both marvelous, well thought-out events. The prestigious WILLA Awards, named after Pulitzer-Prize winning Willa Cather, honors the best in literature that features women’s or girls’ stories set in the West.

Sunday morning it was my pleasure to introduce our Marketing Specialist, Mara Purl, who spoke on the importance of newsletters. After her presentation we held our annual WWW meeting.

As usual, all during the conference a bookstore sold books written by WWW authors. Members and hotel guests had ample opportunities to browse the varied selection of books.

Also during the conference, publishers, a magazine editor and a marketing specialist were available for private appointments to discuss attendee writing projects. This year, I again coordinated that event. My mother used to say that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. I can vouch for that–it was again a pleasure to manage that part of the conference.

All in all, it was a marvelous conference with an amazing setting, inspirational presenters, and, most of all, comradery among a very special group of Women Writing the West members.

To learn more about Women Writing the West, visit

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood

Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood (Random House) is a remarkable memoir about her family’s struggle for survival in southern and central Africa.

Spanning the period 1975 through the early 2000's, Bobo, as the author was nicknamed, makes unique observations about a life most people can’t even imagine. Born in England, Bobo moved with her family to what was then Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, when she was three. Over the years the family eked out a living on a series of farms.

The author considers herself African and the story is told not from a visitor’s viewpoint, but from an African perspective. For a period of time, her father joins the side of the white government in the Rhodesion civil war, while her mother fights the battles at home–drought, wandering stock, reluctant crops and errant help. Her mother’s fierce love for her children isn’t shown with coddling, but rather as a model for hard work, self-reliance and dedication to managing their home. Her father seems fearless, determined to fight for what he believes, yet he’s quick with humor and wry wit. He throws himself wholeheartedly into whatever he’s doing at the moment, a profound example for his children.

Her family means everything to Bobo, yet at times it’s a tentative relationship–always with love, but often with shaky foundations

Fuller’s ability to show this unique lifestyle is extraordinary. With sly humor, she holds nothing back, but is always without judgement. Africa is a tough continent for anyone–the heat can be relentless, the mosquitoes deadly, tribal wars frequent, harsh terrain often unforgiving. Mere survival is a challenge.

At the beginning of each chapter, pictures of the family are shown, giving the reader a sense of being there (but without having to endure all the hardships). The first picture shown is Bobo as a very young girl loading a revolver.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood is told with stark honesty and sensitivity. It’s hard not to be cynical, yet Fuller’s story is unflinching and captivating. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Safety Tips for Driving in the Rain

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day...

Rain is a common cause of driving collisions. With winter just around the corner, it’s a good idea to review safe driving practices, especially for driving in the rain.

● Consult your car owner’s manual for specific safety instructions regarding brakes, cruise control and tires.

● Replace your windshield wipers at least once a year, ideally at the beginning of winter.

● Take time to defog your windows to improve visibility.

● Use extra caution for the first few hours after a long dry spell. Oil and grease accumulate on the road, making it extremely slick.

● Practice extra caution at intersections, on and off ramps, and parking lots. Road oil accumulates more in areas of slow traffic.

● Remember the rule: “Windshield wipers on, cruise control off.” Cruise control slows your ability to recognize changes in weather-related road conditions. Also, when there is less traction, cruise control is apt to malfunction.

● The deeper your tire tread, the more traction you have. Replace worn tires before winter.

● Avoid driving through standing water unless you know it is shallow.

● Vision is compromised in the rain. Another rule: “Windshield wipers on, headlights on.”

● Watch for pedestrians. They’re thinking about staying dry and may make a dash across the street to get out of the rain. Also, rain muffles road noises and they don’t always hear you.

● Posted speed signs are for ideal weather. Reduce speed for less than optimal conditions.

● When it’s raining, slow down. Reduced speed cuts your risk of hydroplaning and allows you more time to stop on slick roads.

● Allow more space than normal from the vehicle in front of you. For one thing, you avoid their spray; for another, it takes longer to stop in wet conditions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Follow the Dream by Heidi M. Thomas

Follow the Dream by Heidi M. Thomas follows the life of Nettie Moser who finally has what she’s longed for–life on a horse ranch and the freedom to ride rodeo with her handsome cowboy husband, Jake Moser. Her dreams are coming true.

Then along comes an opportunity of a lifetime. Her friend, famous bronc rider Marie Gibson, offers Nettie an opportunity to go to London and ride with Tex Austin’s International Rodeo. It’s almost too good to be true. Riding rodeo in London!

But dreams don’t always come true. As family responsibilities become more of a reality, dreams sometimes have to take a back seat. Nettie still dreams, but the dreams become more distant. Survival occupies her time and energy now. Riding rodeo, let alone going to London, seems even farther away.

Life is hard in the late 1920s and 30s. Money is scarce and even the weather turns against them, leaving dust where once lush grass grew. It’s a constant struggle to find enough grass for the horses to graze. Although the Mosers own their stock, they don’t own the land. As the drought drags on, they decide to trail the herd of 50 horses to Idaho, 300 miles away. The drive, an exciting, pivotal adventure of the book involves excitement, hardship and many anxious moments.

Moving back to Montana, life changes. The need for horses in the work-a-day world is dwindling with tractors replacing plow-horses and engines replacing the need for horse-drawn logging equipment. Their treasure isn’t worth what it once was. Their home becomes what they can find for shelter–tents, tarpaper shacks, a run-down hotel, even a granary. Jake takes whatever work he can find. Enduring love make the hardships easier to bear and again Nettie watches their dreams shift and change.

Thomas weaves an exciting, strong, credible tale with this story of love, hardship and adventure that spans 14 years. Follow the Dream is a sequel to her previous novel, Cowgirl Dreams, but each book stands alone as strong and engaging.

Follow the Dream is available through your favorite bookstore, through publisher Treble Heart Books in both print and e-book formats and autographed copies from

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Guest Blog: Reenacting for Writers

It is my pleasure to have as my guest Kathleen Ernst. Welcome, Kathleen. I have found your experiences with reenacting fascinating and am delighted to have you tell our friends more about it.

I’m grateful to Mary for allowing me to be a guest today. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. Old World Murder, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!

My husband, daughter Meg, and I reached Spring Hill, TN, in a driving rain. The temperature was dropping. The parking lot—a field intended to hold the vehicles of 10,000 or so Civil War reenactors and their gear—was a sea of mud. The actual camping areas were located well beyond the parking lot. The horses and wagons provided to help haul gear had trouble slogging through thick muck on the hilly terrain.

Fortunately, my family was traveling relatively light. Meg and I would be spending the weekend in a recreated refugee camp, helping visitors remember that soldiers weren’t the only people affected by military campaigns during the Civil War. After we hiked to the clearing where the refugee camp was being created, Scott helped Meg and me set up our little tent. We watched him tramp off to find his military comrades, the incessant rain darkening his wool coat and dripping from his hat brim.

Welcome to the wonderful world of reenacting.

That weekend was challenging, to be sure. It was also one of the best experiences I had during the decade plus I spent reenacting. The people organizing the refugee camp had done an amazing job of researching and presenting a bit of life as it might have been for some of the thousands of Southern civilians left destitute and homeless during the war.

It also provided me with an amazing opportunity to immerse myself into the 19th century for a few days. We talked with visitors as they came through, but at the end of “public time” each day, we ladies and children were alone in the clearing, with no modern intrusions in sight. I savored the richness of sensory details the experience provided. One evening we heard hoofbeats, and a column of Union cavalry emerged from the trees and rode past our camp. A woman ran to the lane, shouting “Give ‘em hell for East Tennessee!” Her portrayal provided a vivid reminder that the pocket of Union sympathizers in that area suffered terribly during the war. It was an unexpected and magical moment.

I knew before the weekend was over that I needed to channel the experience into a novel. The result was Hearts of Stone, about a young woman named Hannah Cameron from East Tennessee. After Hannah and her younger siblings were orphaned, they wandered through Tennessee and eventually took shelter in a refugee camp—much like the one I helped portray.

If you write historicals, there’s a good chance that someone—or many someones—reenact your period. Even if you don’t want to participate yourself, visiting a reenactment can transform a story from ho-hum to wow. Reenactments can provide a myriad of specific sensory details to bring your story to life. Learn what musket smoke smells like, listen to musicians playing period music, discover (with permission) what homespun linen feels like. If you get lucky you may experience one of those unexpected “bubble” moments, when—just for a split second—you forget that you live in modern times.

Many reenactors are passionate historians. They know a lot, and they love to share what they know. Some are also collectors. If you have questions about material culture during your era, you can likely find the answers.

One word of caution: attending a reenactment to do research is like searching the world wide web for information. You’ll find a lot, but you will need to use some filters. Don’t assume that everything you see and hear is accurate.

I don’t do much reenacting these days, but my experiences and memories will always help inform my work. In my new book, Old World Murder, protagonist Chloe Ellefson is a curator at the historic site where I was first introduced to the hobby of reenacting. I plan to get Chloe to other historic sites as the mystery series continues. Sooner or later she’ll experience a reenactment. She’ll encounter a mystery to solve. I’ll get to revisit some great memories.

Kathleen Ernst is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, Old World Murder (Midnight Ink). She has also written eight mysteries for young readers. Several have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bridging Oregon's Coast

I began to think we were traveling in circles. Driving south on our way to Coos Bay, Oregon, we passed over an attractive bridge in Newport. It’s graceful arches spanned more than half a mile across the bay and, in the middle of the bridge, spires pointed to the sky, like miniature castles. Now, as we approached Waldport, we drove over another familiar-looking bridge. “Didn’t we just do this?”

What we were to discover is that along Highway 101, a stretch sometimes called the Oregon Coast Highway, a series of bridges look similar, and for very good reason. The same man, Conde B. McCullough (1887 - 1946) built most of the bridges linking the coastal highway. In the waterfront town of Waldport, we visited the historic Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center to learn more about these fascinating structures.

Though McCullough designed hundreds of bridges in Oregon, it was not the quantity of bridges that made him famous, it was the quality and innovative graceful arches, pylons and spires.

Using the most advanced techniques of the day, McCullough built bridges with a combination of function, form and grace. He served Oregon’s State Highway Department from 1919 to 1946. Remember, in those days there were no design tools like computers or even calculators. Everything was done by hand. A display at the interpretive center shows a replica of McCullough’s office with its drafting table, wooden file drawers, a clunky typewriter and surveyor hand tools.

After World War I, the United States’ military encouraged the completion of the highway as a means of national security. With the popularity of automobile travel, the tourism industry added impetus to completing the highway. Up until that time, channels along the coast had to be crossed by ferry.

Many of McCullough’s bridges are eligible or have been listed on the National Register.

If you have a chance to visit Oregon’s spectacular coastline, be sure to take special notice of these inspiring structures.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Ballantine Books) is a remarkable story of family dynamics, cultural clashes and bittersweet love that spans all chasms.

Toggling between the war years of mid-1940s and mid-1980s, Ford chronicles the life of Henry Lee, a Chinese American. In the mid-40s, at a time when many Americans were suspicious of all Japanese as the result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Henry is torn between his loyalty to a school friend, Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American, and his father who has an ancestral hatred of the Japanese.

In the mid-80's, Henry, now widowed, is drawn to the Hotel Panama, an old boarded-up building where, it has recently been discovered, Japanese war-time household effects were stored. Old memories surface, memories that haven’t really been buried that deep.

Ford handles the cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese with honesty and skill. Old World Chinese prejudices leave no room for even a casual friendship with the Japanese, not even with an innocent girl whose family loses their home, their livelihood, their community status, during the Internment years.

Another special friend who ties many of the strings of this novel together is Sheldon, an African American, a saxophone jazz player who brings down-to-earth observations and genuine friendship over the 40-year span of the book.

War is ugly with its gruesome battle scenes, death and destruction, but, as Ford depicts in the story, the devastation goes deeper than that with cruel attitudes and inhumane treatment of innocent individuals caught up in the hatred of a few.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a satisfying story, told with historic detail and realism. It’s a book that lingers in the mind and heart.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Loneliest Road in America

Fort Churchhill’s remaining buildings are in ruins, the adobe walls remaining in a state of arrested decay.

Highway 50, dubbed in 1986 by Life Magazine as “The Loneliest Road in America,” may be lonely but the sights are many.

On a sunny June day, with our truck and camper, we travel west on Highway 50 through north central Nevada, from California to the Utah border.

Carson City, the first major stop along Highway 50, is a wonderful introduction to what is yet to come. Crammed with history, Carson City, Nevada’s capital, was founded in 1858 and was indirectly named after the famed scout and frontiersman, Kit Carson.

We stop at the Nevada State Museum in the old U.S. Mint building to pick up brochures and walking tour information. From there we stroll down tree-lined streets and view beautifully preserved homes and churches, many with plaques describing their place in history. Colorful, quaint flower beds decorate the yards of these historic homes.

In Carson City we learn the story of the famous Pony Express riders. From April, 1860 to October, 1861, dozens of hardy young men braved the 1,800 miles between Sacramento, California and St. Joseph, Missouri. They faced extreme elements, Indians, desperadoes and sheer exhaustion to deliver their mail pouches in a mere 10 days time. Stopping at Pony Express stations along the way-–some still visible today--a rider could quickly dismount, grab a canteen of water and a fresh horse to resume his dangerous ride.

Even back then, this colorful chapter in Old West history fell victim to technology, when, just four days after the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph, the Pony Express was out of business, closing a short, but never to be forgotten chapter in the history of the Old West.

Fort Churchill State Historic Park offers a historical glimpse of Nevada’s first military post. The Visitor Center shows the story of Fort Churchill through interpretive boards, pictures and displays.

The desert environment appears to be devoid of life, but one of the exhibits at Fort Churchill demonstrates how many species of plants and desert wildlife flourish in that area alone, each dependent on certain conditions of moisture and soil.

Beginning at Silver Springs, the highway now takes us through Carson Desert and into the heartland of the Great Basin, the great interior sink of the western United States.

The city of Fallon, a community surrounded by farms and ranches, is also known for Naval Air Station Fallon, one of the premier training bases in the country and home to the famous Navy Fighter Weapons School, “Topgun.”

Back on the highway, we visit Grimes Point, one of the largest and most accessible petroglyph sites in northern Nevada. The petroglyphs cover 150 or so basalt boulders and date from between 5000 BC and 1500 AD.

Whoa! What’s that? As we round a bend in the highway, a 600-foot tall, 2.5-mile long, glistening sand dune looms, beckoning us to stop, look and listen. Sand Mountain changes its shape every day as the prevailing southwest winds deposit new sand while pushing and pulling the old. Did I say “listen?” Yes! This strange and wonderful mountain sings! The dry, polished sand particles produce low, booming sounds as they shift. It’s dry and hot at this wayside–we’re thankful to have a good water supply in our rig.

At Sand Springs we stop to look at a Pony Express station and walk the interpretive loop trail. This station was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1976, and subsequently excavated and stabilized. We walk through the station and its various rooms separated by thick stone walls.

Near Middlegate we see a silly sight–a large cottonwood tree draped with hundreds of pairs of shoes. Apparently a fight between lovers resulted in her shoes ending up in the tree and a tradition was born. We move on, our own shoes intact.

We pass a sign “Toiyabe National Forest” but there’s not a tree in sight, just big sagebrush and ricegrass. Our rig climbs to the 7,484-foot Austin summit. Almost the entire state of Nevada is in the Great Basin which also includes sections of California, Oregon and Utah. Although to me the word “basin” suggests lowlands, much of it is higher than 6,000 feet, even in the valleys. Daytime temperatures are high; nights are refreshingly cool.

Tonight we’ll camp at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camp, Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area. Armed with an interpretive brochure, we view petroglyph panels along a cliff face. At an overlook we gaze at the Toquima Mountain Range to the left, the Big Smokey Valley straight ahead, and the Toiyabe Mountain Range to the right.

We pass through Eureka, one of the oldest mining towns in the state. This town has made a supreme effort to restore its buildings and, in fact, has won a prestigious award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for renewal of the Eureka Opera House.

Next comes Ely, another historic mining town with many interesting restored buildings and museums. Five miles east of town, the Ruth open pit copper mines show mounds where waste rock was removed to uncover ore. These mines produced nearly $1 billion in copper, gold and silver during the first half of the 20th century.

Great Basin National Park, created in 1986, is Nevada’s newest treasure and the last stop on Highway 50. Of the five campgrounds in the park, we choose Upper Lehman – it’s cool and comfortable in a forest of shimmering quaking aspen. While there we visit Lehman Caves. The Caves, at the base of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, are chilly and we’re glad we brought light coats. From our guide we learn about the fantastic display of geologic decorations, including an array of stalactite and stalagmites developed over hundreds of years.

True to its name, “The Loneliest Road in America” has very little traffic–at times we’ve traveled hours without encountering another vehicle. We’ve loved this leg of our Nevada journey. What an adventure!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Image by Bruce Trimble: OK Quarter Circle Barn, Built in 1933

America’s barns provide a nostalgic link to yesteryear. Before the advent of gasoline powered tractors, when teams of horses provided the necessary energy to produce our country’s food, the barn was the hub of American farms.

It was in the barn where the farmer sheltered horses, stored hay and grain, fed livestock, milked cows, stored and mended harnesses and other tack. The barn provided warmth and protection needed for birthing farm animals. Our agricultural ancestors conducted much of their daily business in the family barn–it often provided space for dances, weddings, church services, community meetings and a spacious, exciting play arena for farm children.

In Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, a tour of America’s past is offered in the form of a self-guided barn tour. Following an excellent guide book, The Wallowa Valley Barn Tour II (see details at the end of this blog) visitors are given driving directions to several area barns.

The nostalgic barn tour involves barns of all sizes and shapes, many of which are being used today though rarely for the purpose for which they were originally built. The snow-capped peaks of the Wallowa Mountains tower over rolling fields of hay, peas, wheat and other crops, accenting the area’s spectacular variety of barns.

The flavors of country are bountiful here. In the early summer, fields of brilliant wildflowers--purple, yellow, white and orange--provide excellent photographic opportunities. Meadowlarks, barn swallows, magpies and owls are in generous supply and the air is filled with their melodious songs. Deer graze with little fear, as long as visitors keep their distance. Stock–horses, cattle and sheep–view newcomers with curiosity and it’s not unusual for horses to crane their necks over the fence to get a better look.

You can drive for miles before encountering another vehicle, and then it’s inevitably the locals’ vehicle of choice, a diesel, 4-wheel drive, flat-bed pick-up, sporting one or two border collies (the obvious dog of choice) scrambling to balance themselves on a tool box in the back. These are working dogs, by the way, not your fluffy city pooch. These no-nonsense dogs have real work to do in gathering, cutting, and generally keeping stock in line. Many of the dogs looked as though they would neither appreciate nor tolerate a pat on the head by a stranger.

Especially in the early days, many farm families lived in sub-standard housing while investing their money and labor in erecting a sturdy barn. The barn was the core of their existence, a necessary element from which their livelihood stemmed.

Barns often reflected builders’ ancestry with design characteristics of German, English and Scandinavian influences. Later, barn designs of New England, Pennsylvania and Kansas were transplanted and adapted to America’s West and built with materials at hand. Roof slopes, barn construction, the shape of windows, rain hoods, ventilating cupolas, lightning balls and weathervanes often indicate a barn’s cultural history. The sides of Pennsylvania Dutch barns often sport colorful geometric decorations known as hex signs, occasionally seen in western barns today.

Connected farm buildings, called rambling barns, evolved so that the farmer could avoid trips outdoors in harsh weather. At the same time, the configuration of a rambling barn blocks winter winds, providing a protected barnyard for the animals.

The color red is a common color for a barn and is traditionally the result of old-time farmers preserving their weatherboards with a mixture of materials at hand–red oxide from their soil, linseed oil from their flax crop and casein from cows’ milk. Or, to cut expenses, a farmer could sometimes get a free paint job by allowing a company to paint an advertisement on his barn.

Barns connect us to our past but the need for them has become functionally obsolete. Work horses once used for plowing, planting and harvesting have been largely replaced with high-powered machines. Today, specialty buildings have largely taken the place of the all-purpose barn.

Preserving barns is a noble endeavor which provides a link to our past. Caring for these structures is expensive and time-consuming. Even so, replacing or repairing a roof, painting, shoring up the side of a barn, buys communities time to cling to our country’s agricultural past, a chance to recognize and appreciate our heritage.

In some parts of the country efforts to preserve barns have gained popularity. While the individual family farm is slowly disappearing, there are still families whose livelihood depend on their land and what it can produce. Many of these families are investing time and money to preserve their barns. In some cases, community organizations have chipped in to save barns from their inevitable demise.

Touring Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Valley barns, whether to photograph, sketch, paint or simply appreciate, is immensely rewarding. Viewing yesteryear’s barns gives us a rich appreciation of our rural heritage and of those people who today are preserving that heritage by lovingly caring for these relics of the past.

Acknowledgment: An excellent guide book, The Wallowa Valley Barn Tour II, provides pictures and historic information on the area’s barns. The book is available through The Bookloft, 107 East Main Street, Enterprise, OR 97828, or call (541) 426-3351.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Light at the End of the Unemployment Tunnel

Nineteen months is a long time to be unemployed, no matter how you look at it. My husband Bruce recently returned to the work force after 19 months of job searching. The company where he’d worked for 18 years moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, not a viable option for us. Bruce thought it wouldn’t be difficult to get another position, but when the economy took a dive, so did job opportunities. We had our anxious moments, but we survived.

We’re thrifty by nature. We’ve been married 32 years and many of those years were lean ones. First, Bruce went to college while I worked. Later, I went to college while he worked. During our years together, there have been other times with no appreciative income, namely when we served with the Peace Corps and when we sailed the South Pacific. We’ve learned to manage with little or no income.

One of our hard and fast rules has always been to stay out of debt. Except for our house, we’ve never purchased an item on credit. Oh, we use a credit card, but pay it off each month so we’re never charged interest.

Bruce received unemployment benefits, which were a tremendous help. Other than originally going into the Employment Security office, most of the job search was conducted on-line. He was required to make personal visits to the job security office three times during the 19 months–they understandably need to see hard-evidence of job seeking.

Looking for employment is hard work. In today’s job market, making cold-calls for managerial positions is almost unheard of. In fact, it’s usually impossible. The State’s Employment Security Department has an active on-line job listing, and there are several other job search engines available.

What Bruce found, however, is that most of the jobs listed are often not real positions, or they are positions that will be filled from within the company. In these hard-economic times, companies are just not hiring new people. An obvious flaw to this, however, is that people are often promoted to levels beyond their capabilities, and companies are falling behind in production. When massive lay-offs occur, the remaining workers are over-worked, creating an unhealthy environment. Or, companies are letting important elements of their business slide, also a risky trend. Some companies have the unfortunate policy of not hiring anyone currently unemployed, but rather seek those who are and entice them away from their current position.

Bruce diligently filled out applications, kept his resume current, tweaking it to fit the job description, and wrote cover letters. Many of the applications were long; most questions required narrative responses. Many applications were confusing and he’d click where told and all his work would disappear. He formally responded to 270 job openings, most of which took hours to complete. Rarely did he get a response; occasionally an automated acknowledgment of application received. He did get a few personal interviews and some of them went very well, but the result was often that the company eventually hired from within, they’d changed the job description, etc. Many times employers didn’t call when they’d promised and Bruce would follow up only to be disappointed again.

During this time, to save his sanity, Bruce expanded his interest in growing native plants. A neighbor who sells produce from his farm asked Bruce to start some plants by seed and he happily grew vegetable starts to be sold at the produce stand, along with northwest specialty plants, such as salal, flowering current, red osier dogwood, etc.

Bruce also has a keen interest in photography and he researched the possibility of pursuing this interest commercially, including real estate photography. Unfortunately, the economic climate for real estate wasn’t much better than the job market. But it was a way to productively keep busy and feel as though he was accomplishing something. My third novel, Tenderfoot, was released this past year and Bruce designed the book cover, and was invaluable in helping me with promotional material such as postcard design, press releases, posters, etc.

I was amazed with Bruce’s positive attitude and dedication to whatever he was doing–job search, gardening, photography or promoting my work. Also, I was appreciative of his respect for my time–my work, with the release of my new book, went on as before.

After all those 270 job applications, it wasn’t any of those that resulted in a job. It was a former colleague who works for a company that could use Bruce’s skills. The position was an obvious fit and within 2 days of the interview he had a job. Not only that, he is again working in the marine industry, where he has spent his working career. Perhaps this is another example of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” that is key to finding work in today’s marketplace.

Long saga with a happy ending. Let’s hope that all the many others who are diligently seeking work will soon find a satisfying and productive position. Being out of work is no fun, but it still can be productive.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School

Carolyn Wing Greenlee’s recently released book, Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School is a journey into another world, a world without the benefit of sight. Through Greenlee’s delightfully graphic writing, the reader is given glimpses of what she has suffered with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness. At the time she attended Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, California, her vision had dwindled to 4%. In her class of ten, three were totally blind; the others were in various stages of debilitating visual impairment.

For years, Greenlee chafed at the inconvenience of her deteriorating vision loss. Simple tasks took longer, going shopping, especially in a strange store, was a formidable task. Walking brought fear of bumping into something or falling into a hole. The worse part was giving up driving, which meant giving up much of her independence.

People who suffer from blindness feel isolated, no longer feeling that they are a part of the group. They require help which in turn make them feel guilty. They miss communication through body-language and, especially in a group, feel they’re missing out on the flow of conversation.

By a series of surprising connections, Greenlee finds herself surrounded by a community of support, individuals who help bridge this gap by providing counseling, technology, mobility skills, and a fresh prospective on blindness. They enable the disabled. The year-long preparation she receives from these many groups and individuals make Greenlee’s admission into guide dog school possible.

At the school, Greenlee launches into a world of unknowns–unfamiliar surroundings, challenging tasks, unknown fellow students, new routines. A third-generation Chinese American, Greenlee constantly battles feelings of insecurity, incompetency and inadequacy as the result of her Confucian background. She questions whether she will measure up to the task of learning the work and successfully bonding with a guide dog.

After three days of orientation, the students receive their dogs and Greenlee is given Hedy, a small black lab. She’s bitterly disappointed not to have the color of dog she hoped for–a yellow lab. For one, with Greenlee’s limited vision, the light color itself would allow her to see the dog more clearly. To Greenlee, Hedy seems small, smelly and indifferent. It is not love at first sight for the dog, either. It’s obvious Hedy longs for her previous trainer and shows Greenlee no fondness, only aloofness. Clearly, the dog is only there because she has to be. The staff assures Greenlee that with patience and consistency Hedy will come around. It’s a partnership: the handler directs the dog and the dog delivers its owner safely. But it takes patience, time and trust. Especially trust. With hard-headed Hedy, Greenlee worries. Will they ever become a truly interdependent team?

Greenlee chronicles the ambitious activities of the school. While at first she wonders what they could possibly find to do for 28 days, now it is a rush to get everything done. Along the way, the students have adventures, form close friendships, and have a surprisingly good time even though the schedule is grueling. Step by step they face the challenging obstacles placed before them. With the support of GDB, the students become courageous, adventurous, and full of hope, aspirations they hadn’t thought possible.

Stedy Hedy is an engaging, often funny, and thoroughly satisfying story of new found freedom in the face of catastrophic loss, where, as Greenlee says, “Your worse nightmare can become the source of your deepest healing.”

Steady Hedy: A Journey through Blindness & Guide Dog School can be ordered through your favorite bookstore, through the publisher Earthen Vessel Productions (,, Kindle and iBooks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Don't Be a Victim of Fraud

Fraud comes in many forms--telemarketing, mail scams, bunco schemes. If you're approached with a deal that's “too good to be true,” it probably is. If "you've gotta move on it now," you'd better take your time. Watch your step if you're approached by one of these "get rich quick" schemes:

The Bank Examiner A phony bank examiner, IRS agent, or policeman contacts you and asks your help in catching a dishonest employee. You're asked to withdraw funds from your account and give it to the "examiner" so serial numbers can be checked. Of course, the money vanishes, along with the "examiners." Banks, IRS, or the police never use this procedure.

The Pigeon Drop In this bunco scheme the victim is approached by someone saying they have found a large sum of money and will share it. The swindlers ask that you withdraw "good faith" money from your account. They take your "good faith" money and then make phony arrangements where you can pick up your share of the found money. It’s hard to believe so many people fall for this one, but it happens.

Telemarketing Fraud Many types of fraudulent businesses are promoted by telephone, such as travel scams, prizes offered by postcard whereby the victim is asked to call 900 number at a high fee, magazine promoters, charity solicitations. Not all telemarketing is fraudulent, but it's a good idea to ask the company for their offer in writing.

Pyramid Schemes An illegal pyramid scheme requires that you make an initial investment to become a member. Then you must recruit others into the investment who also pay a fee. For each person you bring into the program, you either receive money or bonuses. In an illegal pyramid scheme, making money depends not on how much merchandise is sold, but how many people you bring into the business.

Phony Repairs Auto, roof, and plumbing repairs account for many swindles. Sometimes the victim is charged an outrageous price for work done; sometimes no work was done at all but the victim has signed a "contract" and the swindlers claim money is owed. Or, the contractor may say he needs much of the money up front so that he can buy materials and that’s the last the buyer sees of him. Always get a written estimate before work begins. If you are unsure about the company, call your local Better Business Bureau. It’s also a good idea to ask for local references. Better yet, ask your friends if they know of a reputable repair company.

Work-at-Home schemes These endeavors rarely make money as claimed. By the time the victim has bought the kit or required supplies, the market for the finished product has disappeared and the company won't buy back the supplies.

Here are tips to avoid being a victim of fraud:
1) Be leery of "get rich quick" schemes. The quicker you say “yes,” the quicker the perpetrator gets rich.
2) Don't be pressured into making hasty decisions for offers made for "a limited time."
3) Never give your credit card or bank account information over the telephone to anyone other than a reputable company.
4) Beware of free prizes that require you to pay tax, shipping charges, or handling costs. Refuse a prize if you have to make a purchase to claim it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

DVD Review: Dirt! The Movie

Of all the planets, earth is the only one known to be covered with a thin layer of dirt. This dirt, or soil, is alive and capable of sustaining life. The video Dirt! The Movie is a documentary about the value of soil and its necessity for our survival.

Man’s existence is dependent upon healthy soil. Experts, naturalists, from all over the world recognize its importance to survival. Unfortunately, the quest for money gained through commercially exploiting natural resources has disrupted the natural cycles nature has provided. Tearing up the ground for mining, drilling for oil, cutting down forests, paving fertile ground, even short-sighted farming techniques have altered the natural use of soil and has adversely affected the lives of people all over the world.

The movie, directed by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, also features experts who have experimented with returning the soil to doing what it’s supposed to do. In one instance, a Los Angeles school yard’s pavement was removed and in its place the children planted vegetables and other life-sustaining crops. Their thrill, plus the vivid demonstration of the power of soil, was a heart-warming reminder of the value of returning to natural earth.

In stark contrast were scenes of barren land, devoid of life because of excessive chemical use, over-planting, and misuse of the land. Sick, starving people are the victims of the misuse of soil. One of the most memorable quotations from the movie, “Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt,” is a dramatic statement of man’s mistreatment of our fragile planet.

We can take heart, however, by taking action. By doing a few small things correctly, each one of us can do a lot to restore dirt, to become aware of its value, of its life-giving qualities. “What we’ve destroyed, we can heal.”

I encourage everyone to see this memorable DVD documentary, Dirt! The Movie. For more information and to order the DVD, visit

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roy Lesher: Volunteer Extraordinaire

Serving where needed is a way of life or Roy Lesher. He recently returned from ten days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where he worked with a team dispensing free eyeglasses to 2,498 patients, people who couldn’t afford to buy glasses for themselves. Roy, a member of the Lions and VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) plans to return to Mexico within a year, though to another location. The team’s future plans also involve Jamaica and El Salvador. The common link to both the Lions and VOSH is Helen Keller who inspired both organizations to serve the blind and conserve sight.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1939, Roy attended school and college in his home state. He served with the U.S. Air Force from 1962 through 1985 and retired as Lt Colonel. Most of his military career was oversees–Taiwan, Korea, Spain, Turkey, and almost all countries in the Far and Middle East. He also served in the U.S. in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia and Washington DC. While in Washington he served with the Pentagon and White House Communications Agency.

After leaving the military he received a Master’s Degree in International Studies and another Master’s in Business Administration. He worked for several years in the industrial pump field, and served as an International Tech Consultant. Finally, retiring a second time, Roy and his wife Sally moved to Camano Island, WA in 2004.

But “retired” isn’t exactly a fitting word for Roy. He continues to serve on numerous community organizations. Today he spends most of his volunteer time with the Stanwood Lions Club as Treasurer and Chairman of the Sight and Hearing Programs. Aha! So that’s the story behind Roy’s particular skill of sight screening! The Lions Club screens more than 2,100 school children throughout the district every year.

Roy Lesher is well known locally for his community on-line newsletter. I first heard of it when a friend e-mailed a copy to me. It has become the most reliable and timely way to learn about what’s going on in our community. Roy thoughtfully colors the new material in blue, but leaves the previous but still current news in black. Many organizations make their announcements through Roy Lesher’s newsletter.

When Roy isn’t serving the community, he spends time with family–he and Sally have five children and five grandchildren. He also follows his passion of genealogy, occasionally trekking to Salt Lake City, UT for research.

Our community is richer because of Roy Lesher. He serves for the love of it, for the love of his fellow man. When Roy says, “We’re always at our best when we’re helping people,” he really means it. He lives it.

To receive Roy’s newsletter, contact to be placed on his distribution list.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mount St. Helens: Rising from the Dead

Much to everyone’s surprise, including scientists who have studied the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens extensively, a resurgence of life has returned to Mount St. Helens. The landscape has shifted dramatically from a gray, still and nearly barren panorama to an environment that is green, active and life-filled. The mountain’s return to vibrant life is a remarkable reminder of the power and beauty of nature.

When Mount St. Helens erupted thirty years ago, the landscape looked as though it would never support life again. The lateral blast left 234 square miles of standing-dead or blown-down forests, killing an estimated 10,000,000 trees. As the north face of the mountain collapsed, creating the largest landslide in U.S. history, wind and heat wiped out virtually all animal and plant life. An estimated 7,000 deer, elk and bear, and untold thousands of birds and small animals perished. The Toutle River grew so hot witnesses reported seeing fish jump out of the water to escape the heat.

Sparkling Spirt Lake, directly in the path of the blast, was pushed more than 800 feet up the side of a neighboring mountain by debris and came back down to rest several hundred feet higher than it was before, leaving all marine life eradicated.

Even outside the blast zone, a hot slurry of mud from the Toutle River churned over the land–taking with it huge trees, dozens of homes, and every living thing in its path.

How could this miracle of rebirth happen? The weight of wet snow packs and summer heat have effectively deteriorated the blown-down trees, making fertile ground for wind-blown seeds. The distinctive irregular surface of the landslide entraps runoff from rain and snow melt, forming new ponds and wetlands, spawning new life. The little pocket gophers survived the blast from their underground tunnels and continued feeding on roots, leaving droppings containing seeds along the way. Spiders blew in and birds followed to feast on the spiders. They, too, left rich droppings for future growth. Today, the downed forest in places is almost hidden by an assortment trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and weeds, fodder for returning elk, deer and other animal life.

Even Spirit Lake has gone through a remarkable metamorphosis, returning to near pre-eruption conditions. The lake’s once cold, clear waters were transformed into a primordial soup, a rich broth of sediment and organic matter covered by a floating log mat. Bacteria populations exploded in these ideal conditions, cleansing the lake. Today, Spirit Lake hosts vibrant ecosystems and even trout, although scientists believe the fish were illegally introduced by visitors after the eruption.

Much of the recovery has been instigated by nature. However, employees of Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, planted 18,400,000 trees by hand in an effort to rebuild some of the forest after the blast. It took workers four years to complete the project.

The effects of the 1980 eruption are still very evident–the enormous crater is stark evidence of the magnitude of the event. From Johnston Ridge, named after geologist Dave Johnston who lost his life in the blast, visitors can see a close-up of the lava dome, crater, pumice plain, and the landslide deposit.

Mount St. Helens is witness to and a lesson in nature’s remarkable evolution. From a colorless, barren landscape to an array of color and life, the mountain again beckons visitors to its wild beauty. When was the last time you visited Mount St. Helens?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guest: Paty Jager, Author of Doctor in Petticoats

My guest today is Paty Jager, Award-winning Western Romance author. She’s joined us today to share insights of her latest novel, Doctor in Petticoats. At the end of the blog, Paty tells us about her contest being held during this blog tour.

Welcome, Paty. Tell us about your work.

All of my Halsey brother books have a heroine with an occupation that at the time was male dominated. Doctor in Petticoats is set in Oregon in 1889 which was fifty years after the first woman, Elizabeth Blackwell, earned a degree from a U.S. medical school, there were still lots of prejudice against women as doctors both from male doctors and patients.

My editor and my critique partner both made comments when my heroine is considering if she should forgo motherhood to be a doctor. I read several books written by some of the frontier women doctors and they felt if they had children it would 1) take up time they would need to start a practice and 2) the possibility that they could bring home a disease to their own children. Several waited until their practices were well established before they had children and then they would only do obstetrics or scale down their practice. It was also felt by the male doctors that female doctors were too weak to control any sexual urges they might have toward male patients. As we all know the male is much weaker when it comes to that than females. But it was one of the major concerns of the male instructors in colleges, that women had too frail a constitution to handle crisis situations and resist their desires. Mothers for centuries have been dealing with far more than men.

Here are a few more stats on women physicians:
♥The Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania was the first women's medical college and it opened in 1850 with 40 students.
♥By 1860 there were about 200 women medical doctors in the U.S.
♥ In 1864 Rebecca Lee Crumbler became the first African-American woman to earn an MD and Mary Walter became assistant Surgeon General in the U.S. Army.
♥ In 1889 Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first Native-American
woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.
♥In 1897 Eliza Ann Grier, an emancipated slave, became the first
African-American woman to practice medicine in Georgia.
Blurb for Doctor in Petticoats
After a life-altering accident and a failed relationship, Dr. Rachel Tarkiel gave up on love and settled for a life healing others as the physician at a School for the Blind. She's happy in her vocation--until handsome Clay Halsey shows up and inspires her to want more.

Blinded by a person he considered a friend, Clay curses his circumstances and his limitations. Intriguing Dr. Tarkiel shows him no pity, though. To her, he's as much a man as he ever was.

Can these two wounded souls conquer outside obstacles, as well as their own internal fears, and find love?

“I’m going to look in your other eye now.” She, again, placed a hand on his face and opened the eyelids, stilling her fluttering heart as she pressed close. His clean-shaven face had a couple small nicks on the edges of his angular cheeks. The spice of his shave soap lingered on his skin.

She resisted the urge to run her cheek against his. The heat of his face under her palm and his breath moving wisps of wayward hair caused her to close her eyes and pretend for a few seconds he could be her husband. A man who loved her and wouldn’t be threatened by her occupation or sickened by her hideous scar.

His breathing quickened. A hand settled on her waist, slid around to her back, and drew her forward. Her hand, holding the lens, dropped to his shoulder, and she opened her eyes. This behavior on both their parts was unconscionable, but her constricted throat wouldn’t allow her to utter the rebuke.

Clay sensed the moment the doctor slid from professional to aroused woman. The hand on his cheek caressed rather than held, her breathing quickened, and her scent invaded his senses like a warm summer rain.

Blog Tour Contest

This is my twelth blog on my fifteen blog/twelve day tour. Leave a comment and follow me to all the blogs on my tour and you could win an autographed copy of my June release, Doctor in Petticoats, a B&N gift card, and a summer tote filled with goodies. To find out all the places I'll be, go to my blog- to find the list.

Paty Jager
Award- Winning Western Romance Author

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: The Good Times are All Gone Now

The Good Times are All Gone Now: Life, Death, and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town, by Julie Whitesel Weston takes a refreshingly frank look at the author’s hometown, Kellogg, Idaho.

Weston delves realistically into the gritty world of a town’s quest for lead, silver and zinc by Bunker Hill Mining Company, the community’s largest employer. Although the book begins with the author’s return to Kellogg to witness the 1996 demolition of the mining company’s smokestack, much of the book takes place in the fifties and sixties, during Weston’s years as a school girl. But she also reaches back to the nineteenth century of Kellogg’s founding and the townpeople’s involvement in this stark mining environment, as well as five generations of her family in Idaho.

Weston takes an honest look at her family’s dynamics–a supportive mother, an older brother and younger sister, and a well-respected father, much admired as a skilled physician, but who at home is feared for his drunken rages. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Weston thrives among the hard-working townspeople, is at the top of her class at school, and makes life-long friends.

Kellogg, known for its rich mines and notorious for its tough way of life, its brothels and gambling, is nevertheless Julie Whitesel Weston’s hometown and she mourns the demise of a way of life. Although the mines brought wealth to the community, they also brought sludge piles of contaminated waste, causing devastation to forests and rivers.

Toward the end of the book, the author recognizes a new Kellogg emerging, a town with a different focus, turning years of decay into new life, opportunity and jobs. The realization that her hometown has changed forever is mixed with the bitter-sweet memories of the past, but hope for the future.

The Good Times are All Gone Now: Life, Death, and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town is a funny, sad, touching and skillfully-told story of a town and its people, of a young girl influenced by all she saw and experienced. Weston does a remarkable job of putting the reader inside the heart of a town, giving a fresh viewpoint to otherwise casual observers of that unique way of life.

The book is available through the publisher, The University of Oklahoma Press, the author’s website, and

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tough Hombre: A Father's Day Story

Five of us sat in the doctor's waiting room. To my right, a woman handed her little son a truck she'd selected from a toy box in the corner. The boy sat on the floor while he carefully examined the underside of the truck. With a cautious, pudgy finger he turned one wheel and studied the truck's rotating axle.

I opened my book, taking advantage of the wait to get in a little reading.

"That boy's going to be a mechanic," boomed the man sitting across from me.

Startled, all eyes darted his way. He was a large man, sixtyish with big square hands, a prominent nose, and a full head of curly, silver hair. He wore blue denim work clothes with "Len" embroidered on his shirt pocket, and heavy, black shoes. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, strong hands folded, watching the boy.

The mother nodded. "His dad's a mechanic and when he's home, the boy never leaves his side."

"I know what you mean," the big man said. "I've been a mechanic all my life. My four sons all are mechanical, but none do it for a living.

"Watching him, it takes me back." He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his round stomach. He radiated strength.

"When the boys were in their teens our place looked like an auto wrecking yard. At one time we had no fewer than six cars—my wife and I each had a car and each of our sons had one. Of course, there was usually another car or two—one getting fixed up to sell, or they were working on a friend's. And our house is right in the middle of a city block! My poor wife. She took such pride in her yard. But with all those cars, there was no hope. Our backyard was always a mess with cars parked on the lawn, parts strewn about.”

I lowered my book, captivated by the big man’s story.

"Well, what can you do? Kids, especially boys, need cars. They all had jobs and earned the money for their own cars and insurance. I was proud they could work on 'em themselves.

"You pay a price with kids," he said, nodding, remembering.

"Finally, one by one they left and took their cars with them. All but Nick, the youngest, he stayed on. I hate to say it, but it got irritating, having him still at home. Here he was, twenty-four, a college graduate and a C.P.A. and still living with Mom and Pop! My wife did all his laundry, still cleaned up after him. I'd complain to her, but she wasn't anxious for him to leave. He was her youngest and you know how mothers are.... Anyway, with only one at home, she'd fixed up her yard. She was happy."

He looked at each of us. He had our undivided attention. Even the little boy didn't move, but clutched the truck and listened to the big man's rumbling voice.

I will just die, I thought, if the nurse calls me and I can't hear the rest of this story.

"One night Nick didn’t show up for dinner. As usual, no call to his mother saying he would be late. When he did come home, he switched on the TV and plunked down in front of it. My wife scurried out to the kitchen, heated up his dinner, and brought it to him on a tray.

"For some reason, I went into orbit. `That's it!,' I yelled. `This is plain ridiculous. Nick, in one month you're on your own. You get your own apartment. Do you hear me?'"

The man leaned forward again, easing his back.

"If there's anything that infuriates me, it's that five-mile stare a kid gets when they think you're being absurd. All of them had better sense than to say it to me, but they would get that look in their eye.

"`Do you hear me?'

"`Sure Dad, I hear you.'

He shook his head and sighed. "Well, after two weeks I didn't see anything that looked like progress so I approached him again.

"`Nick, have you found an apartment, another place to live?'

"`No, were you serious?'

"`You bet I'm serious. Now you've got two weeks.'

"The day came and I was ready to throw all his stuff in the front yard. But a couple of his friends came with a van and helped him move in with them.

"I noticed he took with him some odds and ends of our furniture and I started to protest, but my wife stopped me. She had given him that stuff to get started, she said.

"He didn't say a word to me. At one point on moving day my wife went into his room and they talked, but he didn't say anything to me.

"For months.

"Then one day I heard my wife on the phone. `I want you to come on Father's Day. Your brothers are coming and I want you here, too. No excuses. Yes, you can bring a friend.'

"`He still living with those friends?' I asked her after she'd hung up.

"`No,' she said, `he borrowed $4,000 from me for a down payment on a house, a little fixer. He's paying me back $200 a month.'

"I fumed about that but figured at least he's doing something for himself. If he'd asked me for the money I probably couldn't have turned him down, either."

Oh, please, please don't call me now, I thought. I've got to hear the end of this.

"Father's Day came and my other three sons, their wives or whoever, and my three grandkids from the oldest two, arrived. I tried not to notice that Nick wasn't there, but my wife kept going to the dining room window. She was getting really steamed.

"Just as we were ready to eat, Nick came, with a girl, a nice girl. He kissed his mother and introduced his girlfriend to the family. We're sort of a noisy bunch and there was a lot of confusion. We sat around the table and with all the commotion I'd hardly noticed that Nick and I hadn't really spoken.

"Dinner was over and we were about to leave the table when Nick got up and came over to me.

"`Dad,' he said, `for a long time I really hated your guts for kicking me out. You are one tough hombre. But I want to thank you. It's the best thing you could have done for me. I really like my place, my home. I wouldn't have it if you hadn't kicked me out.'

"`I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day,' he said, and kissed me." The man tapped the spot on his forehead. "Right there. It had been years since one of my boys kissed me.

"I looked around the dinner table to see if the others had heard. Except for the grandkids, who didn't know what was going on, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

"That's a wonderful story," I said, blinking. "Thanks for telling us."

He shrugged, a little embarrassed. "Sure."

"Leonard?," the nurse called.

The big man stood, nodded to us, and fell into step behind the nurse.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: Stronghold by Terri McIntyre

When 13 year-old Joe Aberdeen’s world is ripped apart after his mother’s tragic death, he feels torn between his neighboring grandparents, whom he loves and in whose home he is always welcomed, and his father, divorced from his mother several years earlier and living 1,200 miles away. Although his father has visited him from time to time, Joe hardly knows his father’s new wife and their daughter–Joe’s step-sister. He admires his father, but feels a special closeness to his grandparents and to the area where he has been raised in Indiana. His grandparents want him to live with them and he wants to stay in the place where he is most familiar.

Joe’s father must take a stand and, to the objection of Joe and his grandparents, takes his son with him to Arizona. During the long drive, Joe mentally reaches back, back to what’s familiar and what he loves. He’s resistant to the new sights his father points out, resistant to the inevitable change that’s in store for him. He resists all attempts of affection shown to him.

Arriving in Arizona’s high-desert country and forced to be with a family he barely knows, Joe finds himself overwhelmed and homesick to the core. The only friend he makes is the family’s wolf-dog. Through the family’s patient efforts, Joe gradually thaws. His feeling of belonging is improved when he makes a friend, a boy his own age whose home is close by. Still, he branches out alone much of the time and begins exploring, finding relief in creating a fort, his own stronghold. In the process of building his stronghold, Joe finds buried items, which he soon learns to be ancient ruins.

At school, Joe finds he is a racial minority–a strange situation for him. All the other students and even the teachers are Native American. He finds himself accepted and becomes absorbed in a surprisingly interesting class–social studies. However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a dangerous situation involving Indian artifacts.

I found Stronghold an absorbing book, interesting for all ages, though it is primarily for young adults. The author speaks with authority having taught Navajo children and raising her own family in a multi-cultural environment.

Stronghold is available at,,, and other on-line stores. For more information, visit the author's website

Monday, May 31, 2010

Ready, Set...Launch! Using hard-copy promotion to your advantage

As soon as you’ve signed a contract, or if you’re self-published, as soon as you’ve established a publication date, it’s time to get serious about promotion. On May 23, 2010, I discussed electronic promotion and this week we’ll talk about hard-copy promotion.

Hard-copy Promotion

Business Cards: Business cards provide a professional image and are a valuable marketing tool. Have plenty of them printed and always have them with you. At a minimum, a business card should have name, address, phone number, e-mail address and website URL. Some writers have their book’s cover art on their cards; other writers have several writing interests and want to present a wider image.

Bookmarks: Have a stack of bookmarks handy at personal appearances. Slip a bookmark into books as you sell them, or hand them out as incentives. I’ve found that bookmarks measuring 1 ½ x 7 inches a practical size and allows 6 bookmarks across a page. Card stock of 110-pound weight is perfect for making a substantial bookmark. Include cover image, author’s name, a short synopsis, a reviewers blurb, where the book is available, the ISBN, and author’s website. Bookmarks can be printed on your own color printer. For sharp looking bookmarks, cut them with a paper cutter.

Postcards: Postcards involve a little more expense, but they are well worth it. I’ve had many book orders because of this promotional tool. By shopping on-line and designing the postcards myself, the cost was a little over $50 for 500 cards.

I saved and studied many book announcement postcards that I’ve received over the years to decide which features I liked and wanted to incorporate. On the picture side of the postcard is the book’s cover image. On the left of the reverse side is the book’s title and author, a synopsis, and a reviewer’s blurb. Include the ISBN, price, ordering information for personalized copies and where else the book is available, such as a favorite bookstore, the publisher, or

Again, start assembling address lists early–don’t wait until you have the book in hand. I printed out address labels for the postcards and, once the book was available, sent them to about 400 people and have used the rest of them at events. Recently, I ordered another 500.

Press Release: Press Releases are used for media business contacts such as newspapers, professional reviewers (such as Midwest Book Review). A press release should be one full-page and include date of release, contact information, and a title that includes the purpose of the release. As an example, I’ll use my release: AS THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF MOUNT ST. HELENS’ DRAMATIC ERUPTION APPROACHES, AUTHOR MARY E. TRIMBLE RELEASES HER TIMELY NOVEL, TENDERFOOT. The release continues with a one-paragraph synopsis, a reviewers blurb, a short bio, where the book is available, ISBN and price. Also included in my Press Release is the book’s cover image and an author image.

Save the Press Release file in PDF format so that it can be either e-mailed to media contacts or printed.

Posters: Posters are good event marketing tools and serve to validate a writer’s achievement. When I appear at fairs or speaking engagements, I have a poster at my table, along with my books. Usually, my poster is in a clear plastic stand-up 8 x 10 inch picture holder, though I’ve also had posters enlarged and made a stand for them.

It’s handy to have generic posters made, but for special events, it’s also a good idea to use the basic poster and add the date and time of the event. Title your posters; for example, “Coming Soon,” “Just Released,” “Meet the Author.” When you are scheduled for a presentation, booksigning, etc., deliver two or three posters well ahead of time so the host location can promote your appearance.

For poster art, my picture appears with a solid background, a barn, leaving space beside me to over-lay the book cover image. This half-page picture (5 ½ x 8 inch), can be seen from a distance. Under the picture is the book’s title, author, and a short reviewer’s blurb.

Marketing and promotion take time and involve a little expense. But, after writing the book, the next step is selling it and aids such as those I’ve mentioned will build momentum and will help launch your book into the hands of readers.