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The Road Home for Thanksgiving

The Road Home for Thanksgiving

The road home for Thanksgiving was a long one when we lived in Harding County.

550 miles from Camp Crook, South Dakota to Le Mars, Iowa.
Speed limit 55, even on the interstate.

School dismissed an hour early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we were on our way by at 2:45. It was a 12 1/2 hour drive with 1 time change to slow us down. That meant we would arrive at my parents’ home around 4 in the morning if nothing went wrong.

Something always went wrong.
Not during the few remaining daylight hours spent on desolate stretches of highway.
Not when we drove through Rapid City where there was a gas station and motel at every exit.
Not before midnight when we were part of the steady stream of home goers on Interstate 90.

Our troubles lurked in the darkness, waiting for the wee hours of the morning until we neared the bridge over the Missouri River. Year after year, like clockwork, as we drove past Chamberlain and our car tires hit the bridge, snow began to fall. The snowfall grew heavier as the car climbed the hill on the east side of the bridge. When we crested the hill and hit the open prairie, the wind blew. By the time we reached Mitchell, sixty miles further on, we were driving through blizzard conditions. More than once–in fact I think every single year we drove the road home for Thanksgiving–we ended up in a cheap motel room somewhere between Chamberlain and Sioux Falls. We called my parents (remember, no cell phones) to update them, woke up the next morning, and hung around until the weather came on the television (again, no cell phones). Then we got in the car and drove the remaining 2-3 hours home.

Sometimes on drifted roads.
Sometimes through ice storms.
Sometimes in frigid temperatures.
Every time, we made it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner with our extended family.

Our experiences on the road home for Thanksgiving made their way into the first chapter of See Jane Dance!–with a few notable changes.

Jane’s parents live in Sioux City, so her trip home is a little shorter than ours was.
She is single so she makes the trip by herself.
She encounters bad weather on the way home from Thanksgiving.
She spends the night in her car instead of a motel.

She’s going to stay right there until the fall of 2022 when the publisher releases See Jane Dance! It’s a long time to be stuck in a car, but don’t worry. Jane’s mother, just like mine, loaded her down with Thanksgiving leftovers, so she won’t starve between now and then.

With Thanksgiving only a day away, neither will I!

Excuses and Updates from See Jane Run HQ

Excuses and Updates from See Jane Run HQ

Excuses and updates from See Jane Run! HQ are in order after close to a 2 month silence. They run the gamut from pathetic to praiseworthy. You can decide which ones belong in which categories as you run through my list.

  • House construction contractor woes. Specifically, the lack of a functioning heating system after months of repeated promises from the heating/cooling contractor that he would send someone “tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow stretched well into October. Cold weather was breathing down our neck, and I can’t write with someone breathing down my neck. Tomorrow arrived on November 9, when the work was finally completed to our satisfaction with the warranty filed and in effect. Wahoo!
  • The Great British Baking Show. Netflix began broadcasting Season 12 several weeks ago, so I had to rewatch the previous seasons to prepare for the momentous event. Kind of like having to rewatch previous seasons of Downton Abbey before a new season came out. Loyalty is a virtue, right?
  • Airplane travel. Hiram and I flew to Idaho for a week in October. After 2 1/2 years with my feet planted on terra firma, I underestimated the time involved in packing 3.5 ounce containers of liquids in quart zip lock bags, recovering from jet lag, and unpacking afterwards.
  • Online teaching. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the online college class I’m teaching. It’s just that it’s taking more minutes to do a good job on behalf of my students than anticipated, so there’s less time to write than anticipated.
  • West River Mystery Series progress. Stuff is starting to happen as the publication date for See Jane Run! inches closer. The first proof of the book cover arrived, and it makes me laugh. Marketing details like designing business cards (see above) and developing a marketing plan eat up hours and hours. Writing the first draft of See Jane Dance!, book 3 in the series, devours entire mornings and afternoons. I’ve reached chapter 5 of 50, which means much devouring remains to be done.

If you want more excuses and updates from See Jane Run! HQ, leave a comment below and I’ll try to oblige. Please indicate if you want a real or imaginary excuse and/or update. Fiction writers often struggle with that differentiation, so your guidance is appreciated.

The See Jane Run Guessing Game

The See Jane Run Guessing Game

The See Jane Run guessing game, at least for today, is all about the rock pictured above. Here are a few fun vacts about this geological wonder.

  • In real life, my students and I took more than one field trip to the rock. In the book, Jane explores it with her adventuresome uncle, her worried mother, and a stranger they picked up at the town dump.
  • In real life, my husband and I drove up to see the rock again during the South Dakota drought this past July. In the book, a rainstorm cuts short the picnic Jane and company were enjoying.
  • In real life, the rock is made of limestone. In the book it is, too. Why mess with a good thing?
  • In the book (and in real life) the rock bears the name of a famous building in Washington, DC.

Now for the guessing game. If you think you know the name of the rock, leave your guess in the comment box below. If you live or once lived near this rock and know it’s name, please don’t comment. Because if you know it’s name, you’re stating a fact rather than making a guess and are violating the spirit of the game.

In about a week, I’ll come back and amend this post with the name of the rock and the names of those who guessed right.

The View from Lone Butte

The View from Lone Butte

The view from Lone Butte plays a significant role in See Jane Run!, the first book in the West River Mystery Series. I’m not spilling the details here because I’d rather have you read the book once it’s available for purchase in June of 2022.

However, I will provide plenty of other tantalizing details. Here goes:

  • Hiram and I climbed Lone Butte this past July while staying with friends on their ranch that encompasses the butte.
  • It’s a pretty easy climb. If you know me, you may have already surmised that it had to be for me to attempt it.
  • The vegetation changes along the way. It becomes more desert than pasture higher up.
  • The butte is peppered with animal burrows. We didn’t see rattlers or any other kind of snake, so I keep telling myself they were rodent burrows. Faulty thinking, of course, as we didn’t see any rodents either. Still, faulty thinking can be a great comfort at times.
  • The view from Lone Butte is spectacular. On a clear day, a person can see for miles, Not just a few miles, but for 20 or 30, perhaps even 50 miles. Which means that a person standing on the butte can see Montana, two miles to the west; North Dakota, fifteen miles to the north; and  South Dakota to the south and east.

The day we climbed the butte, haze from the forest fires in the western United States limited the view. Even so, Hiram and I marveled at the beauty stretching before us. Standing there, I realized that the words used in See Jane Run! to describe this land were inadequate.


Each word describes a facet of the landscape. Even when combined, they can’t capture the view from Lone Butte and the northwest corner of South Dakota where the series is set. Still, I try. Why?

Because this place and the people in it captured my heart more than forty years ago.
Because the view from Lone Butte explains the transformation of the main character in See Jane Run!
Because it changed me.
And because, dear reader, there’s a chance it might change you.


So That’s Where the Can Opener Went

So That’s Where the Can Opener Went

So that’s where the can opener went.

That was my first thought when I cleaned out the dishwasher at our son and daughter-in-law’s house not too long ago. It was the can opener of my childhood and a good one at that. The narrow end made prying the caps off pop bottles on the rare occasions when there was pop in our house. The wide end made short work of opening mason jars filled with the fruits and vegetables Mom canned each summer. That end was put to use almost every night before supper.

But those memories weren’t the second thoughts that sprang to mind as I stared at it.

My second thought was of the jars of jelly and jam mentioned in See Jane Run! Teaching duties and solving mysteries don’t leave much time for Jane to make decent meals. She frequently resorts to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Her mother insisted on sending plenty of home canned jellies and jams with Jane when she moved. Her mom was quite sure that grocery stores didn’t exist in sparsely populated Tipperary County where Jane had accepted a teaching job. And that home canned fruits and vegetables were nowhere to be found.

Jane’s mom was wrong on both counts.

Tipperary County had three grocery stores, and almost every cook in the county spent August through September canning and freezing garden produce and lugs of fruit purchased from those three grocery stores. In See Jane Run!, she’s busy figuring out 1) how to teach country school, and 2) who the murderer is that she’s unaware of the county canning culture.

Which led to my third thought while staring at the can opener.

See Jane Can! would be an intriguing title for a future book in the West River Mystery Series. Canning could be a launching pad for flashback memories of canning with her mother. A broken canning jar or a purposefully damaged pressure cooker could be a murder weapon. If Jane has a can opener like the one pictured above, it could unfold more of the story of her dad’s illness.

That thought, the fourth if you’re counting, sobered me.

The writing on the can opener says it came from the Glenwood, Iowa Lumber and Coal Company. Glenwood is in Mills County, Iowa. My dad was the county extension director there when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The story of how the disease impacted Jane’s dad and his family is based on our family’s story.

“Mom,” my son said. “Why are you staring at the can opener?”

“It reminded me of something from when I was a kid.” I laid it on the counter and took a picture with my phone.

“Something good?” he asked.

“Something hard.” I smiled and put the can opener in the utensil drawer. “And very good.”