Gratitude Giveaway!

February 7, 2017

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Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on this date in a log cabin in the ‘big woods’ near Pepin, WI. Laura’s beloved Little House books were some of the earliest I read as a child, and certainly influenced my career.

In gratitude, I’m giving away 15 personalized copies of my Laura-related Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight on Wednesday, 2/8/17. Winners will be chosen from entries here and on my Facebook page, and announced on Thursday.

Chloe’s Book Club Returns

February 6, 2017

I enjoyed discussing the Little House books with readers last year after Death on the Prairie:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery was published. I’ve had some requests to pick up where we left off.  What better time to start than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday month?

Dust off your copy of Little Town on the Prairie, and in a few weeks we’ll chat. I hope you’ll join the conversation!

Little Town on the Prairie

Chloe 8 Reveal!

January 30, 2017

I am delighted to share the news that I hit “Send” last night, turning in the manuscript for the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Mining For Justice.

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Chloe Ellefson is excited to be learning about Wisconsin’s early Cornish immigrants and mining history while on temporary assignment at Pendarvis, a historic site in charming Mineral Point. 

But when her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, discovers long-buried human remains in the root cellar of an old Cornish cottage, Chloe reluctantly agrees to dig into the historical record for answers.

She soon finds herself in the center of a heated and deadly controversy that threatens to close Pendarvis. While struggling to help the historic site, Chloe must unearth dark secrets, past and present . . . before a killer comes to bury her.

Pendarvis is a fascinating site, and Mineral Point is a fascinating town…perfect setting for a mystery!

Mining For Justice will be out in October, 2017, and is available for pre-order now (Amazon now; more vendors to come).

Gifts From The Heart

December 20, 2016

In A Memory of Musketsthe 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I had one of my Civil War-era characters, Rosina, make a housewife. In period parlance, housewives (or “hussies” as they were sometimes called) were little sewing kits. Women often made them as parting gifts for husbands, sons, or sweethearts who were leaving for war.

My dear friend Lynn has been studying antique housewives for years, and agreed to share photos of some of her favorites. The jpg files she sent were labeled “Gifts From The Heart.” I can’t think of any better title to convey the care and concern women stitched into these housewives.

Lynn wrote, “I love them all and often imagine the story in each one.” I’m grateful to her for sharing, and I hope they help you imagine the stories as well.

Look at the detail in this one.

Each housewife is unique. Lynn notes that the housewives were often the width they were because that is the exact size of bonnet ribbon ties, which were often used to line the housewives, along with fabric scraps.

Some women embroidered her soldier’s initials or regiment on the housewife. The stitching on this one identifies the owner as a member of the 1st regiment, company F. (State unknown).

By the end of the war, many of the housewives were well worn.

I love the fabrics used in this one—different, but clearly chosen to complement each other.

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This one was designed to be rolled up instead of folded.

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The strings on the first example below would tie the housewife closed. Pockets might hold a thimble, thread, a bar of soap, or some patent medicine. Flaps were added to store pins and needles. Some women tucked in a lock of their hair or a small image or note.

Lynn has also found newspaper clippings inside housewives. A clipping in one of the housewives in her collection was folded into a star shape.

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Each of these is a treasure. Each represents both the woman who made it, and the man who received it. In this holiday season, they are a reminder that gifts from the heart, however simple, are always the best.

Springerle

November 29, 2016

I love including food traditions in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  A Memory of Muskets features German heritage. Rosina, the main character in the historical plotline, brings her Bavarian mother’s springerle mold as a treasured memento when she immigrates to America.

People have been making beautiful springerle for centuries. Some food historians believe these cookies originated in pagan times among Germanic tribes. During Julfest, in the darkest days of the year, rich farmers sacrificed animals to the gods. Peasants made token sacrifices by offering cookies shaped like or decorated with animal designs.

The design is made in the surface of the cookie by pressing a mold onto rolled dough. (Or using a rolling pin carved with the patterns.) Today clay and wooden molds have been replaced by resin, and modern bakers make many different flavors.

springerle molds

I had never baked springerle before, and was eager to try it. My friend Andrea, an experienced springerle baker, gave me some tips. It didn’t sound too difficult, and I decided to bake them for the book’s launch party.

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A sample of Andrea’s beautiful springerle.

I made two kinds. The first was a version made with whole wheat flour and sweetened with sorghum, which was an approximation of what my character Rosina might have been able to make in the 1860s. The second was a fancy anise-flavored batch made with white flour and powdered sugar.

The project was a little trickier, and took a lot longer, than I’d anticipated.

I have limited counter space and use a narrow rolling pin. The first challenge was figuring out how thin to roll the dough, and getting it rolled perfectly evenly.

springerle

The second challenge was figuring out how hard to press the mold into the dough. The mold I’d chosen featured a woman spinning flax, which was perfect to reflect A Memory of Muskets. However, I had some trouble getting all the fine details to show up in the cookies.

springerle

springerle

The final challenge was producing cookies with neat edges. I don’t own a pastry cutter, so I used a pizza cutter and a paring knife.

First try. My edges need some work.

First batch after baking. My edges need some work.

I’m sure I just need more practice. Also, there are helpful tools available for purchase, such as rolling pin guides to ensure even (and proper) dough thickness, and cutters that eliminate the need for trimming the cookies.

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Historically springerle were leavened with hartshorn salt, also known as baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate). Experts say that cookies made with hartshorn salt have a crisper design, but a softer texture than those made with baking powder.

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I ended up taking three days to make each batch.  Day 1, make the dough and refrigerate overnight.

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Day 2, roll the dough, mold and cut the cookies, transfer to a cookie sheet, and let dry overnight. This step helps keep the design sharp during baking.

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Day 3, bake, cool, store.

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There are an amazing number of mold designs available, including many reproductions of historic molds. If you’d like to try making springerle, a quick Google search will provide recipes and all the information needed to mail-order molds and other supplies. A good place to start browsing is http://www.springerlejoy.com, but there are other good ones.

I can see why people get hooked on springerle. And yes, I did serve them at my launch party. Not one person mentioned crooked edges.

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Are you planning to bake springerle this holiday season? If so, I’d love to see pictures!

Gratitude Giveaway Winners!

November 21, 2016

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Congratulations to:  Rita AguilarGloriasue ArrizaSusan CarozzaKathi O’Brien HackettAngela-Scott HollandMelissa Keith, and Lois Scorgie. Each will receive a free trade paperback Chloe Ellefson mystery book of their choice, signed and personalized.

Thanks to all who entered the A Memory of Muskets 75 Days in Top 1% Gratitude Giveaway!  Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author page.

Gratitude Giveaway!

November 18, 2016

Thanks to my most wonderful readers, the seventh Chloe mystery is doing well!

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In honor of A Memory of Muskets ranking in the Top 1% of all US Book Sales for 75 days, seven lucky people will be chosen to receive a signed and personalized trade paperback copy of one of my seven Chloe Ellefson mysteries—winners’ choice.

To enter, leave a comment below before Midnight US Central time this Sunday, November 20th. Winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author page. Winners will be announced on Monday.

You can learn more about the Chloe series on my website. Good luck!

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The Schulz Farm – Part 2

November 11, 2016

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin is featured in my latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, A Memory of Muskets. Last time, I shared photos of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

But if you’ve read the book, you know that some of the action takes place in the yard.

The farm features many Old World elements. One change, however, is evident in the layout of the outbuildings. In Pomerania, the buildings would likely have formed a closed square. In Wisconsin, where available land was still plentiful, farmers kept the square formation but often spread the buildings out. (Another outbuilding would have formed the 4th side of the square.)

In the map of Old World Wisconsin’s German area below, the Schulz Farm is on the left. The farm at center bottom is the Koepsell Farm. It’s also Pomeranian-style, and shows a complete courtyard arrangement.

Old World Wisconsin

(Map courtesy of Old World Wisconsin.)

The building below is the Koepsel Stable (not to be confused with OWW’s Koepsell Farm. Farms exhibited at the site are named for the family that lived in the house; usually outbuildings came from different families). It was built in the Town of Lebanon, Dodge County, c. 1855.

Like the house, it is half-timbered. It features an exterior stairway and 2nd story exterior walkway. In the Old Country, when the courtyard was enclosed, animals kept there could take shelter from sun or rain beneath the overhang.

Loyd Heath - Stable b on the Schulz farm. By Loyd Heath.

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Notice the darker mortar on the 2nd story? That’s actually the original mud and straw mixture from the 1850s. The lighter color is mortar replaced at the time the building was moved to the site.

Koepsel Stable, Old World Wisconsin

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

A Memory of Muskets readers – this is the end of the stable featured in chapter 1.

The other impressive structure on the Schulz Farm is the Grube Barn, from the Town of Emmet, Dodge County, c. 1855.  Architectural historians consider this a transitional structure because it was built with a half-timbered frame, then covered with siding.

This is a grain barn, reflecting the period when wheat was Wisconsin’s cash crop. It has a central drive-through (the big center doors are closed in the photo). The two side areas were used for grain storage.

Grube Barn, Old World Wisconsin

 

Both of the outbuildings on the Schulz Farm have thatched roofs. The traditional thatch was rye straw, which has a waxy coating. German farmers grew rye for their own needs, and saved the straw for thatching or basket-making.

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German women used coiled rye straw baskets to hold round loaves of bread while rising prior to baking in a brick bakeoven.

In this interior shot you can see the barn’s half-timbered frame, and the underside of the thatched roof.

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After harvest, men used the central floor of such grain barns for threshing.

Old World Wisconsin

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Here, a farmer uses a flail to beat kernels of grain from the stalks spread on the floor. Some men also led horses or oxen over the grain to trample kernels free.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of one of the fascinating farms at Old World Wisconsin!

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

The Schulz Farm – Part 1

November 2, 2016

The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is employed as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum near Eagle, WI. Although most of the books are set at other sites and museums, Old World’s 67 historic structures give me lots to play with when I do set a mystery there.

In the new book, A Memory of Muskets, I featured one of my favorite places at the museum, the Schulz Farm. Come with me on a virtual tour!  (I hope that readers within driving distance will also visit in person.)

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm

It was one of the first places I worked when I started as an interpreter way back in 1982.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The house was built in the Town of Herman, Dodge County, in 1856, and has been restored to its 1860 appearance. The half-timbered (fachwerk) architecture reflects what the family had known back in Pomerania, where natural resources were already in short supply. The spaces between the timbers were filled with a mud/straw mixture, preserving wood.

KAE photo. Back of Schulz house.

The back of Schulz house.  The small opening on the left was a pass-through.  Vegetables could be passed into a pantry, and then down through a door in the floor leading to a root cellar.

The concept of a front lawn seemed wasteful to new arrivals.  The vegetable garden is in front of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Probably the most famous feature is the black kitchen, or Schwartz-Küche—a huge walk-in chimney constructed in the center of the house.

This photo was taken inside the black kitchen, looking back at the front door.

This photo was taken from the back of the house,  looking through the black kitchen to the entry and front door.

Inside the black kitchen is the entrance to a brick bakeoven. Below, the wooden door to the oven is sitting in the fire pit.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

On baking day a fire was built in the oven.  When the bricks were hot enough, the woman would rake the coals into the cooking pit below, rather than wasting them.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

At the same time, meat could be hung overhead to smoke. One fire, three jobs.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Looking straight up, inside the black kitchen.

As you can imagine, it was a difficult place for women to work—unhealthy and dangerous. Although common in Pomerania, historians know of only four homes in Wisconsin built with black kitchens.

Interior of the black kitchen in the Schulz farmhouse.

This photo conveys what it is like to work in the black kitchen.  (Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Women also had a separate cooking niche for smaller jobs.

An interpreter prepares dinner in the 1860 Schulz kitchen.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The cooking niche.

In 1860 the Schulz family had only been in Wisconsin for four years.  Their status is reflected in the furnishings.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

An immigrant trunk sits in the parlor, covered with a cloth. In time the family would have purchased new furniture.

The family could not set a space aside to use only as a formal parlor. This room was used for entertaining and sleeping.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Kids might have slept here.

The largest room in the house is shown as a workroom.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Weaving linen cloth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Schulz House at Old World Wisconsin.  Next time—the rest of the farm.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Why A Memory Of Muskets?

September 11, 2016

Readers often ask why I chose a particular historic site and theme to feature in a new Chloe Ellefson mystery. It has become tradition to share what I found special in each new book. Here are some of the elements found in the 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

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After four adventures away from home Chloe is back at her own site, Old World Wisconsin. I chose in particular to feature the Schulz Farm, which has been restored to its 1860 appearance. This is a fabulous collection of historic buildings, one of my favorite exhibits at Old World. The architecture reflects building styles in Pomerania.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The German Schulz Farm, 2016. If you look closely you’ll see gardeners repairing the woven garden fence, right by the house.

It was also one of the first buildings I ever worked, way back when. Flax processing is one of the major activities at the Schulz Farm. I was so excited to finally learn to weave!

Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

That’s me weaving linen, 1982.

After delving into Chloe’s background in earlier books, it also felt like a good time to learn about her friend Roelke McKenna’s heritage. The book includes a plotline that shares the story of the first of Roelke’s German ancestors to immigrate to Wisconsin—just as the American Civil War begins.

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Bishop & Son, Watertown, WI.  (Author’s collection)

Wisconsin has a strong German-American population, and I was pleased with the opportunity to share a bit about that cultural group. A key scene takes place at German Fest, Milwaukee’s huge annual celebration of all things German.

Welcome to German Fest

The book is set in 1983, the year  German-Americans celebrated the tricentennial of German immigration to America.

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The premise of A Memory of Muskets involves preparations for Old World’s first Civil War reenactment. This was fun because I once was responsible for coordinating Civil War events at the site. Activities often involved the German Schulz Farm. The 3rd Wisconsin Regiment and other top-notch groups presented thematic programs that reflected different aspects of the war on the Wisconsin homefront.

Civil War event, Old World Wisconsin

Reenactors marching through Old World Wisconsin’s Crossroads Village, sometime in the 1990s.

I was a reenactor myself for over a decade. It was a wonderful hobby. I learned a lot, had some amazing experiences, and made some special friends.

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Interpreting refugee life in  Tennessee with Sue (L) and Yulanda (R), 1995.

I also met my husband, “Mr. Ernst,” through reenacting. So yes, I have lots of special memories!

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We were wearing 1860s attire when we met in the Sanford House driveway at Old World. Two years later we revisited the spot before our period wedding at the site’s restored church. (I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the tintype artist who took this image.)

In the coming weeks and months I’ll share more detailed behind-the-scenes photos and stories. In the meantime, I hope this serves to pique your interest in Chloe’s latest adventure! Happy reading.