Checking after WAY too long...

It's already January - a new year - and so many things have changed, so much has happened - it's hard to contain it all in one paragraph, one post. My life has been filled with motherhood, teething, buying our first house, homeschooling, snows, summer nights, bulb planting, picking up co-op pomegranates and fresh bread, cooking, author events, tomato picking, friends, family, and fellow writers and authors. I stand here and wonder where all the days went, the frosty mornings, the summer rains and afternoons hiking in the mountains.

And here we are again, starting so many things over.

I hope to start posting regularly again, and speaking again, and all those wonderful things authors do to keep their books alive and their topics fresh.

In the meantime, I've updated some badly needed privacy changes in our family's personal blog, so if you try to access it you'll notice you need to enter your email address to do so. If you haven't yet, and would like access to our family site (we welcome visitors!), would you please send me your email address so I can put you on the approved guest list?

I've tried to guess some of you who visit and add you already, but I might not have gotten your email address right...

Anyway, I'd love to hear from and know how your New Year is shaping up!

As for us, we all have sniffles, Seth is teething and learning not to throw toys, Ethan is making motor sounds and begging to watch a John Deere video, and it's dark and rainy outside. A perfect night for curling up next to a tissue box and doing... this. :)

Captured moments


How quickly the moments pass - how the slant of the sun changes - little eyelashes, joyful smiles, ridiculous chatter, "I can do it myself!" - naps and snacks, baths and picking up crumbs off the kitchen, pretending to play the flute with a toothbrush, kisses on a sweet, strawberry-blond baldish baby head.

Store these up, my friend, and write them. On your paper, on your computer screen, on your heart.

They stretched out on the blanket for a quick picture, and Seth reached over and grabbed at Ethan's shirt. Ethan took his hand with his beautiful, proud "big brother" smile - totally uncoached by us - and Athos snapped the moment into two-dimensional color.

Whatever it is, do like Mary the mother of Jesus - and "ponder these things in your heart."

I have never been so happy.

Lost and Found

Ever lost something you reeeeally needed? I do. All the time.

If you've ever looked for those car keys or that cell phone (my case) until you found it - or until you're half crazy - then you know that familiar feeling of desperation.

Check out my blog entry posted by author Valerie Friesen Comer on being lost... and then found.

Interview by Valerie Friesen Comer


Thanks to author Valerie Comer for this interview following the release of "Yellowstone Memories" - one in a series of Barbour's "Romancing America" collection!

An excerpt from "Yellowstone Memories"


 - from the novella "Black Widow" - an excerpt


Chapter 1
1891                   

“Whoa, there, boy—easy. Easy,” Wyatt Kelly whispered, tightening the reins as Samson eased his way through the squeaky stable gate in the shadows. “Not a sound. Shh. That’s it.” He clucked softly and pulled the large stallion to a stop, listening. Straining for any sound in the chilly, moonlit night.
            A weak shiver of dry grasses rattled together in the wind, a skeletal and foreboding sound. The distant flutter of an owl’s wings, the faraway squeak of a field mouse. All cold and autumn-chilly under a brilliant, frost-white moon.
             The same bright moon that had hid its face in a mournful sliver the day the Cheyenne murdered his family so many years ago. Leaving their bodies crumpled on the prairie grasses, and skinny Wyatt Kelly bawling his eyes out. Shaking in terror.
             The only thing he’d brought with him to his uncle’s ranch as a lonely child was his father’s mare and gentle, loyal Samson, her only wobbly colt. Wyatt had spent his younger years crouched in the stable, talking his lungs out to Samson.
            And Samson listened, blinking great liquid eyes. 
            The only part of his family, save the distant and skeptical Uncle Hiram, that remained intact.
“That’s it, Samson,” Wyatt whispered, pulling on the reins. “Quiet, old boy. We’ll be back before you know it.” He pulled off his cowboy hat to hear better as he turned back toward the ranch house, which lay darkened with night, its windows black.
            He held his breath as he flicked the reins slightly, urging Samson ahead, step after silent step. Wincing with each slight patter of gravel under Samson’s massive hooves, or the faint groan of leather saddle and reins. The clink of metal stirrup against boot, the squeak of the chilly lantern handle.
            Wyatt’s palm turned clammy against the cold barrel of his Winchester rifle as he eased Samson past the log smokehouse and barns, keeping his head down and reins taut. Past the ranch hands’ quarters and the long log fence, cold wind fluttering his black coat around him like a shroud. Wyatt didn’t trust any of the ranch hands—none of the stable boys or Irish washerwomen. Not the sour-faced cook who turned out apple tarts and hearty stews. And especially not the mysterious Arapaho girl who’d come from a French trapper’s colony in Idaho, all her Indian beads and braids hidden under her bonnet and demure white-and-blue cottons. Her cool demeanor unnerved him; Uncle Hiram swore a married girl that young and alone looking for work must be up to no good. After the gold, even.
            And yet she trained horses like nobody he’d ever seen. “Jewel,” folks called her—for no one really knew her name—brushed and braided and combed manes and tails, hauled feed and scrubbed troughs, poured water and broke the skins of ice that formed across the surface of the water barrels on frosty mornings. Wyatt and the stable boys would pause, mesmerized, as she trained and saddlebroke the wildest, most cantankerous colts from the end of a slim leather tether—moving in graceful circles, her long skirts and shawls swishing and beaded necklaces making a bell-like clinking, like iced branches in the winter wind.
            But not even Jewel had a clue where he was headed tonight. He hadn’t spoken a word—just slipped out to the ticking of the mantel clock, lifting his Winchester rifle from above the fireplace.
            If only he could get to Crazy Pierre’s old homestead in time to find the gold.
            First. While everyone else—his uncle, the Crowder brothers, gold-thirsty prospectors—slept soundly, blissfully ignorant. Stumped once again by Crazy Pierre’s insane old ramblings.
            But not Wyatt Kelly. For once in his life, he’d figured something out.
            Wyatt’s hands trembled as Samson clipped softly down the ridge and through the grasses, leaving the ranch behind in crisp stillness. He lit the lantern, making spiny shadows across the prairie hills, and urged Samson to a slow trot as the giant teeth of the Rockies bit into the horizon. Vast and ghostlike.
            Keeping his hushed secret with silent, brooding eyes.
#
Crazy Pierre DuLac’s ramshackle cabin, its roof cracked open from a windstorm, lay just over the stream and beyond the ridge—just a few miles from the Yellowstone National Park boundary. Nestled just down the ridge from Uncle Hiram Kelly’s cabin, where Wyatt forked straw and scrubbed stalls and hated the stench of cow manure and dust—and, frankly, his life in general. After all, there wasn’t much else he was good at, except reading dusty legal volumes, taking care of Uncle Hiram’s lousy bookkeeping, settling his uncle’s debts, and trying not to let the prize bull gore him.
            “A silly bookworm,” Uncle Hiram grunted when he saw Wyatt sitting over one of those heavy legal books or volumes of agricultural sales, peering down through his glasses and moving his lips in quiet thought. “That’s what you are. You’re not your father, Wyatt—that’s for sure. No, sir. Amos Kelly was a real man. A real man with hair on his chest.”       
Wyatt would bristle to himself and pretend not to notice, dipping his pen in ink and scratching out a few notes about syllogistic fallacies and mathematical equations to show the rise in wool prices versus the growth in corn equity. Trying to hide the embarrassing bloom of red that spread over his face.
            But not for much longer.
Crazy Pierre, rumors whispered, had buried all the gold he’d bought from the Indians for a pittance about fifty years ago. Gold nuggets the Sioux probably stole from Ezra Kind and his bunch after they panned a wagonload of it out of ice-clear rivers in the Black Hills back in 1834—and left a frantic message for help carved in sandstone.
A fellow named Thoen found Kind’s message in South Dakota in 1887, giving authenticity to the theory that the gold was real—and plentiful.
Wyatt clucked to Samson and paused to let a screech owl flap out of the way, reigning in the horse when he reared slightly. He slipped his hand in his coat pocket and unfolded a battered sheet of ledger paper where he’d penned Ezra Kind’s message from the Thoen Stone as accurately as he could:

Come to these hills in 1833Seven of us — Delacompt — Ezra Kind — G. W. Wood — T. Brown — R. Kent — Wm. King — Indian Crow — all dead but me, Ezra Kind — killed by Indians beyond the high hill — Got our gold. June 1834 — Got all the gold we could carry — our ponies all got by the Indians — I have lost my gun and nothing to eat and — Indians hunting me.

“All the gold we could carry.” Wyatt repeated the words to himself in a whisper, trying to imagine the sheer quantity of gold that would weigh down seven full-grown men. He shook his head, mentally adding zeros to his wildest numerical dollar value.
Locals said that two winters after Ezra Kind scratched his note into rock, Pierre met a group of Sioux Indians hauling a frayed burlap sack full of glittering nuggets up to a trading post in Montana.
Twelve new long rifles, a thick stack of cast-off wool army blankets, and the pocket watch he’d swiped off a dead banker sealed the trade, so the legend spun—and the Indians handed over the loot to Pierre. After all, what good was a bag of glittering rocks when winter snows blew into the drought-thin teepees, and the buffalo had been driven so far southeast by the Chippewa that hunters brought home little more than prairie dogs?
Pierre, in his infinite wisdom, celebrated his purchase with a drunken bar brawl in Cody. When he woke up in his straw-tick bed a few days later, he had no idea how he’d gotten home from Cody—or where he’d buried the gold.
Snows fell heavy across the northeastern corner of Wyoming during the hard winter of 1836, and March passed before young Pierre finally dug out of his cabin and tried to find where he’d hidden his stash.
And for fifty solid years, Crazy Pierre dug holes all along the East Fork River.
Lending credence to the fact that he might have been. . .well, just plain daft.
#
The local folk had long given up the idea of finding the gold—if there ever was any gold at all—since fifty years was a long time for loot of that magnitude to sit around. But just before the US Army took over Yellowstone National Park, which lay just across the creek from Pierre’s place, rumors began to spread that old Pierre had hit pay dirt. Or found it.
1886—a mere five years ago.
Folks spotted him in the saloons swilling whiskey like a madman, exuberantly buying up land and horses and dropping wads of cash. When he heard that the army had taken over the park and vigilantly hunted down poachers, Crazy Pierre boarded up his cabin, sent a sealed letter off to some relatives in the northwest, and died in a bar fight over a card game in Deadwood, South Dakota, three weeks later.
Leaving everybody scratching their heads over the gold.
Crazy Pierre indeed. Wyatt carefully folded up the paper and slipped it back in his pocket, fingering the rusty metal key ring that clinked against the lining of his coat. Brilliant Opportunist Pierre was more like it. Folks said the pocket watch he traded the Indians didn’t even work right—and the glass casing was broken.
And now, if his hunch and the battered old keys told the truth, Wyatt was about to find out.
He eased Samson under a stand of low-growing trees and quietly dismounted, turning his head this way and that to listen for any sound of mountain lions or coyotes—or worse, intruders. But he heard nothing save the wind in lonely trees, rattling thin branches against the crumbly sides of Pierre’s cabin.
“Wyatt?”
            He jumped, fumbling with the keys and dropping them in the underbrush. He jerked up the lantern and swiveled his head around, but saw no one but Samson. Samson whinnied again nervously and pawed the ground—an eerie sound.
“Shh, old fella.” Wyatt patted Samson’s head as he snatched up the lantern[AF6] , leaving his rifle tied to the saddle. “We’ll be quick. You’ll see. I’ll be in and out of here in a few minutes, if the coffer’s where I think it is.” He turned back at Samson’s grunt of disapproval and stroked the sleek brown flank, whispering sweet nothings in Samson’s velvet ear. “And you’ll get your oats when we’re done. I promise.”
Wyatt scrabbled in the dried grass and moss for his keys, scolding himself for being so clumsy. Why, just yesterday he’d dropped them in the stable, and it had taken him hours to frantically track them down—under a clump of straw and mud. Wyatt Kelly, the most accident-prone man alive—who once nearly bashed his head in by stepping on a garden rake.
            Wyatt tucked his Colt revolver tighter into his holster and stepped over snarls of ancient roots as he strode toward the cabin, holding up the lantern. He leaned close to the broken window, darkened with age, breathing in the dank, musty smell of old boards and forgotten rooms. Mice-eaten panels and a caved-in roof.      
A shudder passed through Wyatt with tingly horror as he passed his light on dusty cobwebs, which hung from the ceiling in opaque sheets, quivering in the breeze from the broken windows and roof. He trembled slightly, leaning against the mossy shutters for support.
Spiders. The thought of slender arachnid legs churned the long-eaten brisket in his stomach, making him wish he’d gone to bed without dinner. But if stalking through spiders’ nests is what he had to do to find Crazy Pierre’s gold, so be it. Wyatt loosened his collar, feeling nervous sweat prickle under his hat.
So long as he could keep the blood in his head and put one boot in front of the other.
Wait a second—was that a light from inside? Or merely the reflection of his own lantern? Wyatt forced his glasses deeper on his nose and leaned closer, squinting against broken glass to see better, and felt a brittle tree root give way under his boot. When he scrambled to his feet, banging his shoulder against a crooked shutter and nearly bashing the lantern against the stone-and-log wall, the light had vanished.
Wyatt turned the lantern this way and that against the shattered glass, feeling a nervous ripple down his spine.
“Calm down, for pity’s sake,” he scolded himself, annoyed at his shaking hands and clammy cheeks. “It’s your own reflection, man. Pull yourself together and get in there before Kirby Crowder does.”
Wyatt squared his timid shoulders and marched around to the front of the cabin.
            Well, well. What do you know. Wyatt tamped the smooth soil at the base of the old door with his boot, that tense quiver traveling down his spine again. Pierre’s had visitors. And recently.
            The last time Wyatt had come to the cabin, windblown soil and leaves covered the threshold, piling up so deeply over the old ruin of a door that he’d had to shovel before it pushed open—and even then with difficulty.
            A strand of torn cobweb inside flickered in the lantern light, blowing.
            His heart thrummed as he pushed the door open with a long and plaintive creak, wishing he’d unstrapped his rifle and brought that with him, too. He held the lantern in one hand and swiped at cobwebs with the other, observing the mess: The chimney lay in ruins, a stack of broken and charred stones, and the floor had heaved and cracked from tree roots. Making the ancient table tilt and smash into the wall. An old branch still hung from the gash in the roof, splitting the ceiling open. Wyatt looked up through frosty wire-rimmed glasses, holding his breath, and saw starlight.
            A rough stone staircase led down to the old root cellar, its chilly interior dank with age. Lantern light splashed down the uneven steps in bright slants, glowing against old broken barrels and glass jars. The bright red hairs on the back of his neck tingled with the eerie sensation of being watched—and yet he saw no one, heard no breath or movement.
            Wyatt swiped the lantern back and forth, making shadows slant and bend, but the root cellar remained wordless and clammy. Gravelike and silent.
            And then—a bump, a sound. A scurrying.    
He froze on the last step, motionless. Stilling the squeaking lantern handle and swinging globe with his free hand.
            But as he swiveled around, his wobbly lantern beam illuminated nothing but empty, dusty shelves. Old barrels and feed sacks in the corner. An ancient pair of boots. Wyatt kicked one, and a mouse darted out of the boot and into a crevice in the wall.
            Wyatt shuddered, jumping back in disgust.
            An abandoned Smith & Wesson revolver gleamed back from an empty shelf, which lay sticky with cobwebs, and Wyatt picked up the revolver in surprise. No dust on the barrel, and the stock looked well kept and polished.
            Why had it been left behind? A relic from a gold digger a few years past, forgotten? It couldn’t have been Crazy Pierre’s. Not in such good shape, with no dust or rust.
            No matter. There was no time for speculation. Not now, when he stood so close to the box that had eluded him for years.
            Wyatt dropped the revolver back on the shelf, feeling his fingers tremble with excitement. He counted the rotten oak shelves, measuring over exactly two feet, and then pried out a loose board from the floor below. Then another. The next board split in his hand, crumbling with a tinny sound onto something beneath the boards.
            His heart stood still as the lantern beam illuminated a dusty box.
            An ancient wooden box with rusty metal braces and a lock just the right size to fit a key in Wyatt’s hand.

"Sushi" Kindle sale!


If you've been waiting for a sale, here's one: A Kindle sale on the "Southern Fried Sushi" series at Christianebooks.com.



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