Holding on to Thanksgiving

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas.  Love the music, love the baking, love the special charge in the air.  And I especially love spending the month focusing on the Christ Child.

But not yet.

When the leaves are still crunchy on the ground, when the air is crisp but (hopefully) not frigid, it’s time to gather family around and give thanks for our very blessed lives.

Sure, I’d like a bit more money to accomplish things around the house.  But we have a house.  We have heat and running water and electricity.  We have food to eat, coats on our backs and shoes on our feet.  We have beautiful music and plenty of books.  We have phones to call far away loved ones and cars to take us to ones close by. We have healthy bodies and active minds, and opportunities to put them to work.  We have trees and grass and flowers in the spring.  We have beloved children who have grown into awesome adults.  And we have Christ’s Gospel in the center of our lives.

Thanksgiving is more than just the beginning of the holiday shopping season.  It’s a time to give thanks for all these blessings – enough that they could take the entire day to count.

We traditionally celebrate with a feast, so yes, it’s time for smooth pumpkin pies and crunchy Waldorf salad.  For roasted turkey and smooth homemade gravy.  For cranking potatoes through the ricer for the creamiest mash you’ve ever eaten.  But it’s also time to give thanks for the peanut butter sandwiches and chicken casserole we have on other days.

Instead of shopping, we’ll show our gratitude for family with time for football and board games, Frisbee outside and stories inside.  We’ll enjoy every minute of young men wrestling, of tripping over bedding, of many hands cooking, of talks both serious and silly.

And on Friday or Saturday, when Thanksgiving has been fully appreciated, we’ll bring out the Christmas music.

What does your Thanksgiving holiday look like this year?  What are you thankful for this season?


Remembering Maggie

What can you say about a 65 pound black Lab who thinks she’s a lap dog?

She was well-loved and slightly spoiled – and she knew it.IMG_0880She was part of the family, jokes and all:

Maggie was never a dog to play fetch. She liked to chase what you threw, but she’d rather tease and play tug-o-war than give it up to go chase it again.IMG_2895She loved to play with her blanket, tugging it off “her” big red chair and wrestling with it.  She wasn’t too excited about playing with her blonde buddy, Mindy – she preferred people.  She would nudge you with a wet nose, tease you until you grabbed (or stood on) the other end, and then play tug-o-war.

Maggie would “talk” to Mom when she wasn’t getting enough attention, and our phone calls were often punctuated by a crescendo-ing aarrooooaahh.  She loved to chase wild turkeys and lay on the blistering asphalt driveway, even when there was cool dirt and grass in the garden.  She loved car rides, drinking water from every conceivable vessel, and licking the dinner plates before they went into the dishwasher.

Thanks to a service tech who left both gates open, Mom’s freedom-loving Maggie got out and was killed by a car last week.

We know you’re romping in doggie-heaven now, Maggie, but we’ll surely miss you here!

(PS: for those who know Mom, please don’t call her to talk about Maggie.  You know she hates crying in front of people and she doesn’t like to talk about what she can’t change.  She still likes to chat about other things, though.)

NaNoWriMo and Shimmer of Time 2

It’s that time of year again, when writers all over the world hunker down together and begin a new novel, with the goal of at least 50,000 words (that’s about 200 double-spaced pages) by the end of November – National Novel Writing Month.  Would you believe there were 310,000 NaNoWriMo writers last year??

I’ve “won” NaNo twice before, once finishing the majority of an adult novel, and once with a YA experiment with mixed results.  I haven’t participated since I got back from Ireland, but now I’m all set to go with the sequel to Through the Shimmer of Time (click to read an excerpt of Book 1).

Jim and Hannah will be back, of course, along with a new village resident named Mr. Oppenheimer, a young Irishman named Donal, and their immigrant canal-building buddies.  Plus a nasty dude who has no name yet, and plenty of adventure and danger.  I’d continue, but if I told you everything I have planned, then reading the book next spring would be no fun!  My lips are sealed.

I’ll try to keep blogging this month, and I’ve got a book signing coming up – more about that later.  But if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s because I’m immersed in 1838.  Happy writing!

Are you taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo? What are you working on?  And if you’d like to be writing buddies, my user name is JenJensen. 

Halloween Story Starters

Capture a Spooky Setting

Capture a Spooky Setting


Do you love spooky stories?  Ones that make you shiver, jump at an unexpected sound, feel like someone is watching from the shadows?

Here are some opening lines to start you writing your own.  But first, a couple of tips:

  •  Fear builds when something unknown happens or might happen.  Don’t simply include gruesome monsters or menacing wraiths – instead, let your character hear/feel things that shouldn’t be possible.
  •  Don’t forget the surroundings, including the unexplainable from above, such as things that move with no wind or that don’t move when they should.  Your character’s observations and reactions will heighten the tension.

Okay, ready to write? You can use these openers as written, change the gender or other details, or let them be triggers for your own ideas.  Whether you write a paragraph or a complete short story, have fun giving someone else the shivers!


  1. She stared at the candle, watching the flame flicker until it drowned in melted wax.
  2. His footsteps echoed on the staircase and a door clicked shut above.  Who else was in the building this late?
  3. The fog crept closer, wispy fingers reaching through the orchard until the trees were smothered in white.
  4. It was an ordinary Monday night with the kids asleep upstairs and the ball game blaring from the family room, until the doorbell rang.
  5. The old woman walked back and forth, back and forth, from one room to another.  Sometimes she seemed to be carrying something heavy.  Once she stopped to laugh.

If you’d like to share a bit of what you wrote, please paste it into the comments below.



Weird Names & the War That Wasn’t a War

Stolen Ohio chickens, a lost Michigan militia, and men with numbers for names?  You never know what your fiction research is going to uncover.

Photo by "JoanaCroft" via FreeImages.comThere I was, digging into Midwest canals and railroads for Book 2 of my Shimmer of Time series.  Lots of cool stuff for the book, right?  But I got sidetracked completely by Benjamin Franklin Stickney, who had weird tastes in names and was (probably) responsible for a war most of us have never heard of.

Stickney’s mother was a favorite niece of Benjamin Franklin (that’s right, the key-on-a-kite-string Benjamin Franklin, “discoverer” of electricity and inventor of my ever-necessary bifocals), and she named her son after him in 1773.  So Benjamin Stickney grew up, got married, and named his sons …

wait for it . . .


Two Stickney

One and Two!  Evidently he wanted to let them choose their own names when they got older, but they never did.  So early Toledo, Ohio residents had friends named One Stickney and Two Stickney.  Can you imagine the tavern?  “Hey, One, come have a drink with me!”

Good old Ben also wanted to name his daughters after states, but his wife put her foot down.  His first two girls were Mary and Louisa, but by the time the third was born, he was the Indian Agent in Fort Wayne, Indiana Territory.  Who knows why his wife agreed, or if he just plain over-ruled her, but that daughter became Indiana Stickney.  Poor girl. Poor boys!

So, besides giving his sons numbers instead of names, Benjamin Stickney was a pretty accomplished dude.  He was a historian, a biographer, spoke twenty native dialects, was totally against giving liquor to Native Americans (and got into trouble for it), and was even a spy, sneaking into Canada to find out if the US could mount an invasion during the War of 1812.  But his biggest interest was the Ohio canal, and in the process he became responsible for the “Toledo War,” sixteen years of sometimes-armed conflict over a strip of land claimed by both the State of Ohio and Michigan Territory.

What’s that?  You’ve never heard of the Toledo War?  Don’t feel bad – neither have most of us.

A Toledo newspaper biography of Benjamin Stickney tells how he wanted his neighborhood not to have to pay huge Ohio taxes to get the canal built, so encouraged them to secede from Ohio and become part of Michigan in 1820.  But a few years later he found out that Michigan wasn’t going to let Toledo become an important port AND that the Ohio canal builders were moving the planned Toledo terminus to another town, which would ruin many of their financial plans.  So he convinced his neighbors to “move” back to Ohio – which Michigan wasn’t at all happy about.


The “Toledo Strip”

The disputes carried on, with surveyors sent and harassed, lawsuits flying and militias gathering.  Ohio wanted the strip back, Michigan didn’t want to give it up.  People living in the strip spent the summer of 1835 getting arrested by Michigan authorities if they voted in or held office for Ohio.

Stickney and son One were arrested, and Two took off for Ohio proper after slightly wounding a sheriff with a pen knife.

The federal government got involved and finally, in 1836, allowed Michigan to become a state if it ceded the strip to Ohio in exchange for more land in the upper peninsula.  Michigan wasn’t thrilled, thinking the upper peninsula was worthless, but finally agreed for other economic reasons.  And in the end, the “worthless” land turned out to have rich mineral resources, so Michigan came out ahead and modern Toledo-ites are Buckeyes instead of Wolverines.

So just how did I come across this eccentric guy and an unknown “war”?  One intriguing sentence in a Wikipedia article about Toledo:

“The only casualty of the conflict was a Michigan deputy sheriff—stabbed in the leg with a pen knife by Two Stickney during the arrest of his elder brother, One Stickney—and the loss of two horses, two pigs and a few chickens stolen from an Ohio farm by lost members of the Michigan militia.”

Seriously, who could resist exploring a quote like that?  So many possibilities!  Unfortunately, it’s too early and too far north to end up in the next Shimmer of Time book, but it was fun finding out.

What sets your curiosity on fire?  What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found as you dug deeper into the internet?  Leave a comment below so we can share the fun!


BlogMash: Strong Daughters, Reading & NaNoWriMo

Colliding Rivers (North Umpqua & Little River) near my mother's home.  Photo by "Little Mountain 5" via Wikimedia Commons

Colliding Rivers (North Umpqua & Little River) near my mother’s home. Photo by “Little Mountain 5″ via Wikimedia Commons

While I’m off traveling once more (to Oregon for a visit with my mother, this time), I’ve collected some cool stuff for you to read until I manage the next installment of our Irish adventure:

*** We can teach our kids to be strong and stand up for themselves, but what about when they’re facing an authority figure?  Here’s Carissa Rogers on raising strong daughters.

*** Myndi Shafer shares a heartbreaking post about the repercussions of calling someone fat.  And we should all shut up and quit asking women when their is due unless they’ve announced it publicly.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

*** Jenny Lussier sheds some insight on where she would be without books and reading.  What would your life look like?

*** For a follow-on, Pragmatic Mom (aka Mia Wenjen) has some great tips for encouraging kids to read.

*** If you’re a writer considering plotting vs. flying by the seat of your pants, here’s Kait Nolan on the myths of being a plotter.  It’s not as restricting as you think!

*** Kristen Lamb has tips to fuel up for NaNo, complete with a voodoo veve (and you know you have to click over to see what that is, don’t you?).  For our non-writing Readers, you can peek inside a writer’s brain and see how it functions during non-writing time!

*** And finally, Writers and Readers both should check out Mash Stories, a competition in which three random words are chosen as the writing prompt and you have to create a compelling flash fiction story using all of them. It’s quarterly, free to enter, with a shortlist and a winner’s prize. The shortlisted stories are great short reads, and they produce podcasts of the winning stories!

And me?  I’m fueling for NaNo by researching railroad speculation and creating my villain for Jim and Hannah’s next Shimmer of Time adventure.  Fun stuff!

Looking for Kids’ Books?

Hey all you children’s book lovers out there – look what I found!

Kid Lit Blog Hop
      It’s hosted over at Mother Daughter Book Reviews and if you’re looking for kids’ books, it’s the place to be – fantasy, history, multicultural, picture books and more.  Click the picture, then scroll down past the explanations and you’ll see thumbnails of a whole lot of new books to discover.
      And if you’re a children’s writer, read those explanations and add your book to the list.  Cheers!

Forget Hotels – Stay in an Irish Castle!

Skip the cozy Irish Bed-and-Breakfasts. Skip the Maldron and Jury’s Inn hotels.  Spend a night in a castle instead!

During our three weeks in Ireland, my search for a reasonably-priced hotel in Sligo brought up an unexpected surprise: the Markree Castle Hotel.

Markree Castle HotelIt’s more a large manor house than a true castle and it hasn’t been turned into a 5-star spa resort, but it was delightful. (And we couldn’t afford a 5-star resort anyway.)  The long entrance drive made me feel like I was coming up to Pemberly, or Netherfield at least.

This is after driving at least a half mile!

This is after driving at least a half mile!

A hint of what's to come in the entryway . . .

A hint of what’s to come in the entryway . . .

. . . and then this!

. . . and then this!

Stained glass windows in the great hall show the family’s genealogy and connections to royalty – that’s King John, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I along the top. Fireplaces abound in the main areas, and the staircases put you smack into Downton Abbey.

Here's the same hall from outside our room.

Here’s the same hall from outside our upstairs room.

The other downstairs rooms have been restored to Victorian times, if not earlier. Upstairs, bedrooms are scattered and clustered around twisty corridors leading to windows, sitting rooms, and unexpected stairways.

Look - even a servant's staircase!

Look – even a servant’s staircase!

The bedrooms ranged from our small one to spacious rooms with four-poster beds. And as long as you don’t want the grand scale, it was only about $10 more than the other hotels around, breakfast included. We ate dinner there, too, and while it wasn’t cheap, it was very, very good.

dining room

Markree Castle’s gorgeous dining room

So here’s the story to go with the castle:

The Markree keep and estate were owned by members of the Irish McDonagh clan until Cromwell’s forces beat the Irish down and took property as penalties for rebellion. An English officer named Edward Cooper was given the Markree estate as payment in 1666 – such are the spoils of war. BUT Cooper married the widow of an Irish rebel leader (she did it to protect her two sons). He and the widow never had children, so he adopted her two sons and guess who inherited? Yup, an Irish family!

The Coopers became Members of Parliament, representing Sligo at Westminster for the next hundred years. And . . . hmm, let’s pause for a smidge of history:

While Ireland had been under British rule for hundreds of years with ever-worsening punitive laws, there was a separation of sorts between the Kingdom of Britain (England, Wales & Scotland) and the Kingdom of Ireland. The Act of Union in 1800 brought them all together as the United Kingdom.

The story continues . . . the Coopers of Markree Castle were in strong opposition when the British Lords wanted to dissolve the Dublin parliament in 1800. What else would you expect by someone of Irish heritage, even if they had an English name? But it wasn’t appreciated by the Brits – all those who supported the Act of Union were awarded titles of rank, and the Coopers missed out. So there was no Sir/Lord Cooper, no coat of arms, nothing of nobility, just 36,000 acres of an incredible estate.horsesMarkree Castle spent more than 300 years being re-done and added to until the early 20th century, when most of the land was sold and the castle subsequently fell into disrepair.  Now it’s been restored with smaller grounds and a lovely garden, trails to walk and horses to ride, and a fantastic experience for traveling Americans like us.

One last note: a visit to two Irish/British websites (Manor House Hotels and Celtic Castles) shows a night in a castle or manor house will run anywhere from 90-1500 euro/pounds per night, depending on which building and what type of room.  Ours was at the €90 end, of course, but it puts an experience like this within reach.

So here’s my question for you:  if you got the chance to stay in a castle, where would it be and why?  Please share a dream with us!




Flashbulb Memories

Skellig Michael, our first time.

Skellig Michael, our first time.

If the weather is cooperative, we’re off at the Skellig Islands today, climbing a long, steep trail of steps and exploring an ancient monastery.

In the meantime, remember when I was guest blogging?  One of my gracious hosts was mystery author Kassandra Lamb, and we talked about Conner Prairie, the inspiration for my book setting.

Kassandra is so awesome that she’s helping me out again, giving you something to think about while I’m taking an overdue break from my computer.   She’s sharing some insights into the shocking moments our brains can’t forget – take it away, Kass!


While Jen is off gallivanting on a much deserved vacation, I promised to hold down the fort for her today.

Between her recent release of Through the Shimmer of Time and the 13th anniversary of 9/11 this week, I’ve had history on my mind lately.

We read about history, write about history, hear about it and sometimes even see it in the making on TV. But what happens when historical events become entwined with our own personal histories in our memory banks?

This often happens when an event is particularly shocking, tragic and/or strikes close to home for us emotionally. Our brains will record what’s called a flashbulb memory. We will remember, years later, where we were and what we were doing (and sometimes even what we were wearing) when we heard the news of such events.

My first flashbulb memory is from the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in 6th grade, and my class was outside playing softball during our Phys Ed period. We were called back in mid-game and told the news by our teacher. I can’t remember her name but I can see her face as she told us.

Challenger_Rocket_Booster_-_GPN-2000-001422 pub domain

Challenger explosion: I was eating dinner in a restaurant, when I saw this image on the TV over the bar. (image: public domain)

I have similar flashbulb memories of when I received the news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, and of course from 9/11.

These are called flashbulb memories because they are recorded so vividly, as if our brain is actually taking a picture of the moment. These memories, like those of traumatic events in our personal lives, tend to be more accurate than normal memory.

A lot of people find that counter-intuitive. If you’re emotionally upset, wouldn’t that interfere with recording the memory? Well, yes, most of the hormones released when we’re stressed do interfere, so there may be gaps in our memories of what happened. But another hormone, released in moments of extreme stress, enhances the recording of the memory.

Thus the flashbulb effect. A very vivid image, often a bit suspended in time, and often with details missing from the moments before and after it.

800px-Tribute_in_Light_memorial_on_September_11,_2010 by  Ekabhishek CC BY 2pt0 wiki

World Trade Center “A Tribute in Light” memorial. Photo: Ekabhishek, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

At 9:30 a.m. on 9/11/2001, I had just come in from feeding the horses (we had a small horse farm at the time) and was about to change my clothes to start my work day as a therapist. The front door opened and there was my husband, a government worker who should have been twenty miles away at his desk.

I remember standing at the top of the short flight of steps that went down to our foyer and asking him why he’d come home. I only remember bits and pieces of the conversation after that. But to this day, I can see him standing in that doorway, and I remember what I was wearing.

It used to be one of my favorite shirts. Now I don’t wear it often because it reminds me, on a very visceral level, of that day.

What flashbulb memories stand out in your personal history?

ZeroHeroFinalSmPlease check out my book, Zero Hero, which explores the unhealed wounds of 9/11 through a fictional mystery. I found it difficult but healing to write. Many readers have told me they had the same reaction reading it–difficult in places, but healing.

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 the media replays the videos of that day’s devastation, and a national hero’s life begins to unravel.

When the first responder–already struggling with delayed PTSD and addiction–is accused of murdering his former drug dealer, psychotherapist Kate Huntington finds herself going above and beyond to help him. As she and her P.I. husband set out to clear him of the charges, they are thrust into a deadly world of drugs, prostitutes and hired killers, and end up questioning who they are and what it means to be brave.

Image00005Zero Hero is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple iTunes.

Kassandra Lamb is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series. Zero Hero is the 6th book in the series, but is also designed to be read as a stand-alone.


It’s Jen again.  I’m obviously not around to comment here, but Kassandra will be!  Do you have particular memories of these history-making events?  Do you have a personal flashbulb moment you’d be willing to share?

Leave a comment below, and I’ll be back in a couple weeks!


Am I Coming or Going?

Time travel is great, but how about the ability to split yourself and be several places at once?

Photo by Michael Sean Terretta via Flickr, CC

I’ve been guest blogging to get the word out about Shimmer, and today I’m over with mystery writer Kassandra Lamb and the rest of the gang at Misterio Press.  They asked me to write about Conner Prairie itself – the living history park that was the inspiration for Through the Shimmer of Time.  And as a bonus for you, I even included some of the mistakes I almost made!

I felt like I was splitting myself when, at almost the same time, the uber-creative Coleen Patrick hosted my dilemma over just how much creativity I can really claim.  I thought it was Blog Stop #3, but gee, let’s go back and count.  No, it was #4, which means I’ve done . . . hmm, I’m not sure my brain has the energy to count.  I just know it feels like I’ve written more than I have in a l-o-n-g time, especially since Shimmer has been in edits and production for the last while.

Do you get the idea that my head is spinning out of control?  Me too.

I am immensely grateful for the chance to write and get the word out, though, and for bloggers who are willing to help.  Wouldn’t you agree they’re awesome?  So while I recover from all the deadline writing, would you show some support for my blog hosts and see what wacky things I’ve written for them?  Please click over and read (and comment!) on these posts:

  1. End-of-summer, back-to-school rituals.  Or not.  At Myndi Shafer’s Ordinary, Extraordinary Life
  2. “Booking a Time Travel Vacation,” in which I put in requests with a special kind of travel agent.  At Pauline Jones’ The Perils of Pauline: Life Happens. A lot
  3. Favorite “Olden Days” moments that captured my imagination, with another middle grade writer, Lynn Kelley.
  4. My struggle with creativity (and a look into how my mind works, if anyone is brave enough), over at Coleen Patrick’s Read. Smile. Repeat.
  5. And finally, we’re “Walking the Paths of the Past,” spotlighting Conner Prairie and the advantages of “being there” for historical research at Misterio Press.

But wait!  Don’t call yet!  For $19.95, you also get . . . . No, seriously, there’s one more Blog Stop to go – an actual interview about writing – scheduled to hit the blogosphere next week via Joanna Aislinn.  Watch for it!

PS:  Did you notice?  There’s a new tab at the top:  “Read an Excerpt!”  Click on it and see what Through the Shimmer of Time is all about.