New Writing Workshop!

March 20, 2023

Interested in writing about your ancestors? Next month I will teach a new, two-day class at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa. Writing Family Stories: Digging Deeper is scheduled for Saturday, April 15 and Sunday, April 16. Writers of all levels are welcome.

Memories make a wonderful starting point for writers wanting to capture family lore. Inevitably, however, we are stymied by gaps in the records or genealogical brick walls. How do we write about people we never knew? How do we find stories if an ancestor left behind only a single photograph or heirloom . . . or nothing at all?

In this workshop, students will explore several techniques to help address those challenges, including inquiry-based, speculative, and imaginative writing.

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

I love teaching at Vesterheim! For this class we’ll have special opportunities to find inspiration in artifacts that are not on display. I hope you can join me!

Chloe’s Lingonberry-Curry Stir-Fry

January 24, 2023

Usually Chloe and I are all about tradition in the kitchen, but sometimes it’s nice to mix things up a bit. Most recently, Chloe did so at the beginning of The Weaver’s Revenge.

As Roelke helps Chloe prepare for a road trip, her sister Kari arrives unexpectedly, prompting the following exchange:

“I didn’t expect to see you today, Kari,” Chloe said.

“Since you’re traveling, I brought Roelke dinner. Chicken pot pie.”

“That’s kind, but hardly necessary.” Chloe sounded mildly aggrieved. “I left plenty of food in the fridge, including a lingonberry-curry stir-fry.”

Kari looked aghast. “Lingonberry…what?”

“It’s actually quite good,” Roelke admitted, almost embarrassed by the admission.

I developed this recipe several years ago, and Mr. Ernst and I enjoy it as much as Roelke does! In addition to tasting good, it’s a quick and healthy meal. Scroll for the recipe.

The Sauce
Note: This recipe makes about 1 cup of sauce, which is enough for two stir-fries. I freeze half to have ready the next time I cook the dish.

1 10-oz. jar of Lingonberry preserves
4 T. white wine vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. minced garlic
3-4 T. curry powder

Stir all ingredients together until blended.

Beautiful, yes?

The Stir-Fry
For the version pictured below I used 14 oz. of vegetarian protein and 6 cups of mixed chopped vegetables (carrots, snap peas, broccoli, and bok choi.) You can use whatever your family favors.

To prepare, heat a large skillet and add enough cooking oil to lightly coat the bottom. Cook the veggie protein or meat as directed on the package, in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and cook for about three minutes, stirring frequently. Add half of the lingonberry-curry sauce (about 1/2 cup), mix in well, and bring to a simmer.

Serve over rice. These proportions make four servings.

Happy cooking!

Upcoming Virtual Programs

November 22, 2022

I have a couple of online presentations on the calendar – and you’re invited!

This richly-illustrated program will take you behind the scenes of the Chloe Ellefson mysteries that feature aspects of Norwegian culture and history. I’ll share why I decided to create Chloe as a Norwegian-American, and the themes that have shaped her evolving cultural identity. You’ll also see the special historic places, artifacts, and folk art—from Old World and New—that inspired Chloe’s stories.

As a special treat, we’ll be joined by Destinee K. Udelhoven, Executive Director of the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society. Destinee will explain the society’s Norwegian Connection, and share some special artifacts with us.

Courtesy Mount Horeb Area Historical Society

As many of you know, I’ve partnered with the MHAHS to offer a unique trip to Norway in May. After the program, Destinee and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about Folk Art, Fjords, & Fiddles: Exploring Southern Norway.

This free program will take place on Tuesday, November 29th, 2022, from 7:00 – 8:00 PM Central. Click HERE for registration information.

And if you like to plan ahead, here’s a sneak peak at a program coming in January.

This program will feature some of the immigrant voices featured in my nonfiction book A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons.

This free program will take place on Tuesday, January 4, 2023, from 7:00 – 8:00 PM. Click HERE for registration information.

Belgian Star Barns

October 10, 2022

While driving back roads in northeast Wisconsin as I researched the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, I encountered a handful of old Belgian structures featuring stars. Most of them were white, on the gable ends of barns.

Near Union, WI.

No one seemed to be sure of the custom’s origin, although some historians have speculated that they represented the settlers’ strong religious faith.

There are a handful of Catholic Churches in the region named Stella Maris (Our Lady, Star of the Sea), an ancient title for the Virgin Mary. It signifies protection and guidance.

Near Algoma, WI.

I chose to incorporate that idea into one of the book’s pivotal scenes. Last July, when participants on a tour of Belgian sites in the vicinity asked about star barns, I promised to share some photos.

Near Rosiere, WI.

I hope these shots will help you imagine the scene!

One of my favorites! Near West Kewaunee, WI.
And a star house! The brickwork on this beautiful home is astonishing. Near Rosiere, WI.

By the way…I’ve neglected my blog of late in order to focus on manuscripts in progress. I’ll try to do better. Happy autumn!

Folk Arts, Fjords, and Fiddles – 2023!

August 26, 2022

The third time’s a charm, right?

I’m thrilled to announce that trip details have been finalized for the upcoming Chloe Ellefson-themed tour of Southern Norway.

When I decided on a Norwegian setting for Fiddling With Fate, the 10th volume in my Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, I chose the area that enchanted me most.

In partnership with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, I invite you to join me in May, 2023, on a trip to the land of Chloe’s ancestors!

Click the image below to see what we have planned.

We’ve partnered with Borton Overseas for our 2023 adventure. The company began in 1894 as Sunden, Vanstrum, and Co., specializing in steamship travel for Scandinavian immigrants coming to the U.S. We’ll have over a century of experience supporting our trip!

Click HERE for itinerary, pricing, and registration information.

If you have specific trip and travel questions, you may also reach out directly to Amy, Borton’s Scandinavian Specialist.

Discounts are available for members of Sons of Norway, Swedish Institute, Danish American Center, and Norway House.

For the safety and peace of mind of all, the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society kindly requests that travelers be vaccinated against Covid-19 to participate in this tour. Please keep this in mind when registering.

You’ll find more information on our dedicated trip website, including more insight into some of the places we’ll be visiting.

I’m dreaming of Norway. You too? I hope you can join us!


April 12, 2022

In the first chapter of Lies of Omission, protagonist Hanneke Bauer parts company with a traveling companion when their ship docks in Milwaukee. Her friend says, You must promise to accompany your husband if he brings crops to sell in the city. We’ll have coffee and kuchen while you tell me all about the farm.

Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is a German tradition of long standing. The term suggests not just tasty food, but conversation and camaraderie as well.

There are, of course, many kinds of German cake. The first kuchen I learned to make called for a slightly-sweet yeasted dough with fresh fruit on top, formed in a skillet and baked in an antique cookstove.

Chopping rhubarb for kuchen at the Schottler house, Old World Wisconsin, 1981.

I recently baked a kuchen in Hanneke’s honor, using peaches and raspberries I had in the freezer.

I don’t have a copy of the recipe I used way back when, so I turned to the cookbook pictured below, compiled by the Pommerscher Verein Friestadt of Mequon, WI. (The Pomeranian Society of Friestadt is dedicated to preserving Pomeranian culture and history.)

Happily, I’m able to share the recipe with you!

Apple or Raspberry Kuchen

1/2 c. shortening
1-1/4 c. flour
1 T. sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
2 T. milk
3-4 cups of apples or raspberries
For Streusel: 1 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, 1 T butter, a little cinnamon (omit if using raspberries)
1/4 c. cream or evaporated milk

Mix the first five ingredients like pie crust, then add the beaten egg and milk. Pat in pan. Spread apples or raspberries over crust and spread streusel over the fruit.

Bake 375 for 30 to 45 minutes or until crust is light brown. About 10 minutes before it is done, pour the cream or evaporated milk over the top.

(Note: I omitted the cream and went very easy on the streusel.)

In Lies of Omission, Hanneke is offered a piece of kuchen at a very low moment:

Hanneke accepted it gratefully. Kuchen. She broke off a chunk, careful to catch the crumbs, and popped it into her mouth. The pastry was light with wheat flour, topped with crunchy crystals of sugar that perfectly complemented the tart goodness of diced rhubarb. She was poised to gobble the slice whole, but at the last moment she paused, broke what was left in two, and handed half back. “Why don’t we share.”

If you bake and perhaps share a kuchen, I hope the experience is equally satisfying!

Special Tour Announcement!

April 6, 2022

If you’ve read my latest mystery, Lies of Omission, you’ve met protagonist Hanneke Bauer, a newly arrived Pomeranian immigrant. Her story is set in 1855.

Hanneke’s new home is a fictionalized version of a real historic building once occupied by the Schulz family. The house, which has been restored at Old World Wisconsin, is a rare and fascinating example of an Old World architectural style.

Would you like to learn more? I have partnered with historian Alan Pape, and with Old World Wisconsin, to offer a special tour.

Participants will get a glimpse of Hanneke’s world, and see the spots where some of the action took place.

As a special treat, Alan Pape will share his knowledge of Pomeranian architecture in Wisconsin, including half-timbered houses, black kitchens, and other outbuildings. Alan served as restoration chief at Old World Wisconsin from 1971-1983, and oversaw the development of “Hanneke’s farm” at the historic site.

The tour will take place on Sunday, May 22, 2022, from 9 AM – 11AM.

Space for this unique experience is limited. The Wisconsin Historical Society is handling registration. Click HERE for more information and to book tickets.

I hope you can join us. I’m excited!

Belgian Sites Tour

March 4, 2022

I’m delighted to announce that the Belgian Sites Tour inspired by the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, is a go! The special event will take place—live and in-person—on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

A full day of programming by the amazing folks at the Belgian Heritage Center in Door County, Wisconsin will provide exclusive insights into the world Chloe explored in the the book.

Highlights include a Great Fire Presentation, a lunch featuring traditional Belgian food, and a guided bus tour of the Namur National Landmark Historic District. I’ll also provide a behind-the-scenes program about The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Space for this unique experience is limited. Click HERE for more information, and to register. I’m excited!

Winter Worship

February 13, 2022

Studying and imagining the past often helps keep my own life in perspective. In that spirit, since many are experiencing frigid weather, I share this poem:

Winter Worship

They arrived in November and found
no preachers in the settlement
of crabbed cabins, towering oaks, prairie.
Time dragged, full of cracked lips, frozen toes,
brittle sunshine, looming shadows.
Logs groaned, ice fractured, men cursed.
children burrowed hollow and dull beneath quilts.

Cora paid her tithes at the woodpile,
perched on a board in the snow,
ax clothed in mittened, frost-bit hands.
Chop and haul, chop and haul, bless
the warming muscles, curse the freezing sweat.
Then into the cabin to worship
at the cast iron altar, source of life yet
insatiable, glowing red as brimstone.

This selection is from my collection Balancing: Poems of the Female Immigrant Experience in the Upper Midwest, 1830-1930 (Little Creek Press, 2021).

(Top images courtesy Pixabay)

Creating Compelling Fiction

February 7, 2022

Have you ever wanted to write fiction? I’d love to share with you some tips and insights about the genre that has brought me so much happiness.

This virtual, two-part workshop will take place on February 23 & March 2, 7 – 8:30 PM (CST).

Sessions will include discussion and brief writing activities. Topics will include specific strategies for:

  • creating intriguing, complex characters
  • crafting a plot that keeps tension rising
  • instilling a sense of place, and using it to propel the story

Winter is the perfect time to sink into a creative project. Whether a beginner or a more experienced writer, I hope you’ll gift yourself the chance to grow!

For more information, and to register, click HERE.