Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson’

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).

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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Chloe’s Book Club: On The Banks Of Plum Creek

June 22, 2016

Plum Creek is one of my favorites. As a child, I loved the notion of living in a sod house, loved vicariously playing in the creek, loved the image of Laura frolicking on the roof among prairie flowers while Ma irons below. And yes, while I’ve had some quibbles with Ma, I do give her full credit for moving in with grace after being informed the deal is done.

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Laura’s descriptions of the new home are enchanting:

The creek was singing to itself down among the willows, and the soft wind bent the grasses over the top of the bank.

Red and blue and purple and rose-pink and white and striped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing glory to the morning.

The book is full of childhood adventures (and misadventures). And, this is the book that gives us Laura’s nemesis, Nellie Olson.

But not all of the challenges are child-sized. Laura made poignant use of foreshadowing to set readers up for the crop tragedy.

Grasshopper Notice

Display at Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

Early on, when Laura laments having cattle instead of horses, Pa promises that they will have horses again one day.

“When, Pa?” she asked him, and he said, “When we raise our first crop of wheat.”

When Ma says living in the dugout makes her feel like a penned animal:

Never mind, Caroline,” Pa said. “We’ll have a good house next year.  …And good horses, and a buggy to  boot! I’ll take you riding, dressed up in silks! Think, Caroline—this level rich land, not a stone or stump to contended with, and only three miles from a railroad! We can sell every grain of wheat we raise!”

Then Pa buys lumber for a new house (and windows, and a stove)  on credit, with a promise to pay when he sells his wheat crop. It’s difficult for repeat readers not to shout, “Don’t do it, Pa!  The grasshoppers are coming!”

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Garth Williams’ illustration.

The enormity of the multi-year disaster the Ingalls family faced when their crop was devoured is hard to absorb.

But as always, faith, hard work, and a determination to make the best of things lead to a happy ending. Ma and Pa demonstrate perseverance to their daughters. It’s one of Wilder’s favorite themes, but understandably so; somehow, crisis after crisis, the Ingalls family did survive.

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Today Wilder fans can visit the dugout site on the banks of Plum Creek.

Is Plum Creek one of your favorites too? What did you like, or dislike? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

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Next up for discussion:  By The Shores Of Silver Lake.

A Memory of Muskets – Sneak Peek

February 17, 2016

After working for a year or more to write a manuscript, it’s always exciting to see the cover! Here’s the design for the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery.

Memory of Muskets

And, here’s a sneak peek at what’s inside.

Curator Chloe Ellefson is happily planning to spotlight home-front challenges and German immigrants at Old World Wisconsin’s first Civil War reenactment—but her overbearing boss scorns her ideas and proposes staging a mock battle. And when a reenactor is found dead at one of the historic site’s German farms, Chloe’s boyfriend, cop Roelke McKenna, suspects murder.   

The more Roelke learns about reenacting, the more he fears that a killer will join the ranks at Chloe’s special event. Then Chloe discovers a disturbing secret about Roelke’s Civil War-era ancestors. Together they struggle to solve crimes past and present . . . before Chloe loses her job and another reenactor loses his life.

Kathleen ErnstMuch of A Memory of Muskets takes place at Old World Wisconsin.  After several adventures in other locations, Chloe needed to get back to her own site. In the way-back days (1980s) I coordinated Old World’s Civil War event, with some dedicated reenactors providing the programming. I also was involved in reenacting myself.

Plot-wise, I felt it was time to learn more about Roelke McKenna’s background. Roelke is of German descent on his mother’s side, so I chose to focus on the experience of his forebears.

Can you imagine making the enormous decision to immigrate, only to face civil war? Some new arrivals had left Europe in part to avoid conscription, and wanted only to create a new home and live in peace. Others wanted to prove their worth, and support the government which had provided them a home.

Many readers say they particularly enjoy the Chloe mysteries that feature a historic plot strand braided with the contemporary mystery. In A Memory of Muskets you’ll meet Rosina, one of Roelke’s ancestors. (And for my Nordic friends—yes, it was tempting to write about the 15th Wisconsin, composed of Scandinavian immigrants! Perhaps another time.)

Death on the Prairie readers know that Chloe has a troubling experience in an old building at the end. She’ll confront that issue in the new book.

I’ll share more when the publication date (October, 2016) approaches. However, the book is already available for pre-order. (Including from independent bookstores!)

I love writing the Chloe mysteries, and sharing special places and stories. I wouldn’t be able to keep going without you wonderful readers.  Thank you!

Laura Land Tour: Bonus!

February 14, 2016

It’s been great fun to showcase the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites featured in Death on the Prairie: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery. There are also a few sites I wasn’t able to include (much as I wanted to).

If you’re driving from Pepin, WI, to Walnut Grove, MN, an easy detour takes you to the Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum.

Methodist Church Museum

In 1873, Almanzo Wilder’s parents moved their family from New York to Spring Valley, MN. Six years later Almanzo moved to South Dakota, where he married Laura. After multiple tragedies, Almanzo’s parents evidently encouraged Almanzo, Laura, and daughter Rose to recuperate in Spring Valley. They arrived in May, 1890, and stayed until October, 1891.

Methodist Church MuseumThe museum includes exhibits about the extended Wilder family, as well as other items of local interest.

If you’re heading west, and have even more time for a detour, consider a stop in Vinton, IA, where Mary Ingalls attended the Iowa College for the Blind.

Mary Ingalls School Site

I understand there are exhibits inside. The old building was closed for repairs when I visited, but I enjoyed imagining Mary on the campus.

Mary Ingalls School Site

And finally, Farmer Boy readers should keep the Wilder Homestead in Malone, NY on their travel wish list.

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Almanzo’s boyhood home has been beautifully restored.

Wilder Homestead

We owe another debt of thanks to the local residents who formed the Laura and Almanzo Wilder Association, and purchased the land in the 1980s. Archaeological studies determined that the house was original.

Wilder Homestead

During my tour, it was very easy to picture the Wilder family in those rooms. (Alas, no interior photos allowed.) My favorite moment may have been examining the parlor wallpaper for traces of stove blacking.

The original outbuildings were gone, so the Wilder Association has replicated those structures. They relied on sketches Almanzo made for Laura when she wrote Farmer Boy.

Wilder Homestead

Since so many scenes from Farmer Boy take place in the barns, that part of the tour was equally poignant.

Wilder Homestead

The site is also special because the local landscape remains rural.

Wilder Homestead

Wilder HomesteadI expect the Wilders saw deer in the orchard too.

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AMeet Caroline: An American Girln aside:  Malone, NY, is not close to any other Laura sites. However, it is an easy drive from Sackets Harbor, NY, setting for my Caroline Abbott books from American Girl.

And, I’ve yet to visit the Keystone Area Historical Society in South Dakota.  Carrie Ingalls lived here for 35 years, and the museum’s collection includes family memorabilia. I think another road trip is in order…

Laura Land Tour: Mansfield, MO

February 12, 2016

I will admit that when my sister and I began planning visits to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, I was most excited to see the places I’d read about in Laura’s Little House books. That did not include Mansfield.

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After visiting? All I can say is that it is a very special place.

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Wilder fans know from The First Four Years that Laura and Almanzo faced many hardships and tragedies in South Dakota after their marriage. They moved to Florida, but weren’t happy and moved back. After hearing good things about Missouri, Laura, Almanzo, and daughter Rose traveled to Mansfield in 1894. They brought the few possessions saved from the fire that destroyed their tree claim house, and $100 to buy land.

The family settled on a rocky ridge one mile east of Mansfield, and moved into a run-down, windowless log cabin. (They also lived in town for a period.)  Laura and Almanzo worked together for years, as time and money and energy permitted, to create the lovely farm and 12-room house. They lived happily on Rocky Ridge Farm for the rest of their lives.

If you drive from Mansfield, you’ll approach the property just as the Wilders’ friends did.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Almanzo built the house with Laura’s wishes in mind. For example, all of the kitchen counters were designed to accommodate her five-foot height. It’s a delight to see examples of his carpentry skills. He also set up a clever pipe system that brought spring water inside, through the wood stove to warm, and into the kitchen sink.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When Almanzo built the chimney, he included several stones exhibiting fossils.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

The house interior looks as if Laura just stepped out for a moment. If you’ve read the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the PrairieChloe’s reaction to seeing the Wilders’ bedroom mirrors what I felt on my first visit. (Sadly, photos are not permitted inside.)

I can show you the small back porch (to the left in the photo below) that was featured in a key scene.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Here’s the view when you step into the porch and look to the left.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When strolling the grounds, it’s easy to imagine Laura and Almanzo there.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They planted the orchard. I was sorely tempted to take a windfall apple home. (I didn’t.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

There is also a museum on the property. Pa’s fiddle, Mary’s nine-patch quilt, and hand-written drafts of Laura’s books are among the many treasures on display. (Sorry—again, no photos permitted.) The Wilder Home Association is currently constructing a new museum a short distance away, which will help restore the period landscape around the farmhouse.

In 1928 Rose gifted her parents with the Rock House, accessible from the farmhouse on a trail through the woods.  Rose wanted to provide Laura and Almanzo with more modern conveniences. Laura began writing the Little House books here.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They missed the farmhouse, though, and moved back in 1936.

The area landscape today is much like it was in Laura’s time. It’s easy to see why she loved the region so much.

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Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried nearby in the Mansfield Cemetery.

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Laura’s writing career began in Missouri—not as a novelist, but as a regular contributor to the Missouri Ruralist. Her articles paint a pictures of the Wilders’ life in Missouri. You can read a collection in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writing From The Ozarks.

To learn more about Laura’s homesites, I highly recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William Anderson.

To learn more about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, visit their website.

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the armchair tour!

Laura Land Tour: Independence, KS

February 5, 2016

The Kansas prairie is the setting for Little House On The Prairie, the second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House series. Today, fans can visit the site where the Ingalls family briefly made their home.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Laura was only two when the family began the trip to Kansas. Decades later she relied on her parents’ memories to write Little House On The Prairie. She wasn’t sure of the actual spot where her family settled. It wasn’t until 1969 that local historian Margaret Clement succeeded in identifying the location.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

As at Walnut Grove, MN, the homesite was part of a family farm. Property owners and volunteers created a replica of the Ingalls’s cabin at what is now known as the Little House on the Prairie Museum, and offer Laura fans a warm welcome.  I’m grateful!

Independence Cabin

The interior is simple, and suggests how the family’s cabin might have appeared.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

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Laura fans will recognize this replica of Ma’s china shepherdess.

One of the features that helped identify the spot was an old hand-dug well. Historians believe it was the one dug by Charles Ingalls and a neighbor.

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A couple of other historic buildings have been moved to the site, including this one-room schoolhouse.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

A display shared information about doctoring in Laura’s day. (Fans will remember that the family was tended through illness by Dr. George Tann, a black physician.)

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

I love Laura’s descriptions of seemingly endless prairie in the book. The area is mostly farmland today, but a prairie has been re-established across the road.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

If you’ve read Death on the Prairiemy latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, you may recall the dramatic scene at the Kansas site involving Chloe and her sister Kari. Chloe went to cool down along that treeline in the distance.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

I’m happy to report that my sister and I had a fine time when we visited.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Logistically, it’s difficult to visit the Laura homesites in the order they appear in the books. However, the Kansas site is only about three and a half hours from Mansfield, MO, where Laura and her husband Almanzo spent most of their married years. Travelers might want to consider including both sites in one loop.

For more information about the Kansas site, visit the Little House on the Prairie Museum.

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

Next stop:  Rocky Ridge near Mansfield, Missouri!

Laura Land Tour: De Smet, SD – Part 2

January 28, 2016

As I mentioned in my last post about De Smet, avid Laura Ingalls Wilder fans can easily spend more than a single day in the area.

De Smet banner

I suggest picking up a copy of the booklet “Explore De Smet,” a walking and driving guide to many of the sites mentioned in, or relevant to, the books set in South Dakota.

Explore De Smet

It’s fun to walk the streets and discover the locations of homes and businesses Laura mentioned in her books. In addition to the guide, interpretive signs help visitors get their historical bearings.

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The signs are nicely done, with period advertisements or photos, a location summary, and a quote from the pertinent book.

You can visit the Loftus Store.  In The Long Winter, Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder risked their lives to bring wheat back to the town’s starving residents, only to have storekeeper Loftus try to cheat his customers by asking an exorbitant price.

Loftus Store

After exploring the town, jump in your car to see sites in the area. The Big Slough, described in By The Shores of Silver Lake, is located just south of town. It’s much smaller than it was in Laura’s day, but worth a stop.

 

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I also wanted to see Silver Lake, but had a hard time finding it. Finally one of the Historic Homes guides gave me good directions. A lane into a small industrial area led to a vantage point where I could see the lake.

De Smet

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One of my favorite places in all of Laura Land is the Memorial Site, one mile southeast of De Smet.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Site De Smet

An interpretive kiosk marks the site.

In 1880 Charles Ingalls (Pa) filed a homestead claim for this land. The Memorial is in one corner of that original property.

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The tiny cottonwood trees Charles planted for his family are still there, and now enormous.  It is very special to walk among them.

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Ingalls homestead memorial

For hands-on fun (especially with kids) you can also visit “The Ingalls Homestead:  Laura’s Living Prairie” right up the hill.

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Homestead brochure

Laura married Almanzo Wilder in 1885. The site of their homestead is on private land, but a sign marks the spot.

Wilder Homestead De Smet

Wilder Homestead De Smet

Many Laura fans also visit the De Smet Cemetery, as Chloe Ellefson does in Death on the Prairie:

Chloe drove next to the De Smet Cemetery, a peaceful place on a hilltop between the town, a remnant slough, and farmland. It didn’t take long to find the graves of Ma and Pa, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. Then – “Oh.” She stopped in front of a low stone that said simply, Baby son of A.J. Wilder.

De Smet Cemetery

“Why?” she demanded softly. Why just note the father? Why was Laura’s name left off the stone? The omission was exasperating, perplexing, and terribly sad. Even sadder was the fact that Laura and Almanzo had evidently not named their son.

But…perhaps Laura named him in her heart.

If you visit, you’ll find stones for Laura’s parents and sisters nearby.

When my sister and I toured De Smet for the first time we also wanted to see where Cap Garland was buried. Again, a guide at the Historic Homes gave us great directions (to a different cemetery), and described the stone so we could find it easily.

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The guide also suggested we visit the area where Almanzo took Laura courting. We were running out of daylight—but that only made it easier to imagine the couple getting to know each other during buggy rides.

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(Photo by Barbara Ernst)

If you’d like to see more I highly recommend Discover Laura, the official blog of Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. It features a virtual tour of De Smet, family artifacts, and site news. (Here’s a post about Cap Garland and his family.)

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

Next stop:  Little House On The Prairie museum in Independence, Kansas!

Old World Wisconsin Locations Guide

May 13, 2015

As the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series grows, I thought it would be helpful to provide a single list of Old World Wisconsin locations that appear in the books.

(Special note:  This Sunday, May 17, I’ll be sharing a preview of the next Chloe mystery, Death on the Prairie, at Old World.  The 4 PM program is free of charge, but why not come early, buy a ticket, and tour the site? You can visit the highlighted buildings, and enjoy springtime activities throughout the outdoor museum.)

SPOILER ALERT: the notes below reveal information about the plots.

OWM – Old World Murder (#1)
THM – The Heirloom Murders (#2)
TOD – Tradition of Deceit (#5)

(Books # 3 & 4, The Light Keeper’s Legacy and Heritage of Darkness, do not include scenes set at Old World.)

Crossroads Village

St. Peter’s Church – The series begins with Chloe walking into the Village and visiting this structure. (Note: The Swiss house mentioned in OWM, is imaginary. All other buildings mentioned in the series are real.)

St. Peters Church, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

I took this photo on my first visit to the site, in 1981. It’s hard to remember the church without its fence.

Four Mile Inn – Chloe sometimes attends the morning briefing held for the interpreter in the basement, which is closed to the public.

Yankee Area

Sanford Farm – The large barn across the road from the farmhouse was the scene of a murder in THM.

As you travel from the Village to the German area, you will see a marshy kettle pond to the right. In Chloe’s time, her office building—Education House—was located out of sight on the far side of the pond. (That’s where I worked for many years.) The area is now closed and not accessible.

German Area

Schottler Farm – During the early 1980s, ski trails were maintained on the site. In TOD, Chloe takes a break from stress by skiing out to this farm, ostensibly to check the stove. (In reality she enjoys baking kuchen and making notes about trouble in Minnesota.)

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler house, 1981. The farm looks much better now, with gardens and fences and more outbuildings!

Norwegian Area

Kvaale Farm – This farm plays a key role in OWM. Chloe visits the farm while searching for the missing ale bowl, and Roelke is called to the farm after an alarm is triggered one night. The climax scene takes place in the farmyard. Be sure to visit the stabbur, where Chloe found the bowl (the 2nd story is not open to visitors) and the barn where Chloe tries to hide from Joel. Inside the house you’ll find an ale bowl on display on a high shelf.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

Finnish Area

Ketola Farm – Chloe especially loves the sauna, which is the first small building you’ll encounter. In THM she visits to enjoy some quiet time after-hours, and gets locked inside.

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Much more detailed Locations Guides for Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders are available on my website.

Old World Wisconsin is a great place to visit any time, any season. Happy wandering!

Old-Time Molasses Cake – 1930s (Gluten Free)

May 12, 2015

Welcome to Cooking With Chloe! The celebration of food explored in Tradition of Deceit continues.  This week we have another wonderful recipe from Gold Medal Flour, Old-Time Molasses Cake. Colette B. tried the recipe for us.

Molasses Cake 1 Molasses Cake 2

The verdict: An absolutely delicious gingerbread…better than my great-grandmother’s recipe!

Colette adapted the recipe for those with a gluten intolerance. (In general I ask test-bakers to stick to the recipe, but I knew this would be helpful for many readers.)  Her notes and photos are below:

I just followed the directions! Super easy!

I did, however, make a few substitutions to this recipe. Because I have a gluten intolerance, I used gluten-free flour rather than Gold Medal flour and added 1 ½ teaspoons of xanthan gum. (I mix my own blend of GF flour, but I recommend using King Arthur brand of GF flour if you buy your flour.)

I also used butter rather than shortening and used plain, unsweetened kefir in place of the “thick sour milk” called for in the recipe. I read that buttermilk is also a common substitute for thick sour milk, so that might work too. I don’t think any of these substitutions had any effect on the recipe…it was great!

This recipe is quite similar to my great-grandmother’s gingerbread recipe, which is one of my family’s favorites, but it was a richer-tasting cake because of the “thick sour milk” (or kefir or buttermilk). The Gold Medal recipe was easy to follow and quick to make; it produced a very smooth batter and ultimately a moist gingerbread that had a lot of molasses and mild spice flavor. And the kitchen smelled wonderful while the cake was baking 🙂 We all loved it!

Photo 1: Butter, sugar, molasses, egg. If it wasn’t for the raw egg, I would have eaten this…it smelled so good!

Molasses Cake 1

Photo 2: Dry ingredients ready to be mixed in.

Molasses Cake 2

Photo 3: Batter all mixed and ready to pour into pan.

Molasses Cake 3

The only issue I had was the baking time. The recipe says to bake at 325 for 50 minutes, so I did. After 50 minutes, the edges looked and felt like they were done, but the center still was not fully baked; the cake had a dip in the center because of this. I put the heat up to 350 and left the cake in for another 15-20 minutes. At that point, the center was baked but still dipped; I felt that it could have used a bit more cooking but didn’t want to leave it in any longer since the edges were a bit crisp on top. I think that baking the cake at 350 for maybe 40-50 minutes would result in a more even bake.

Photo 4: The cake at the end of the baking time called for in the recipe. It’s a little hard to see, but you can just make out the dip in the middle of the cake where the batter isn’t quite set.

Molasses Cake 4

Photo 5: The finished cake. Yum!

Molasses Cake 5

Many thanks to Colette for doing a trial run of this recipe for us—and especially for making a gluten-free version!