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See Jane Run into 2021

See Jane Run into 2021

See Jane run into 2021. Or to be more accurate, see me dance for joy because the revisions to See Jane Run! requested by the publisher are done. That means the manuscript is off my plate for a few months as it’s now with book coach Anne Fleck for a consistency edit. She’ll check it over to see how the book flows with t he odd bits that have been added and those that have been removed. Once she’s done, I’ll look over her suggestions and decide what and how to incorporate them.

If you’re looking for an editor, I highly recommend her. Not because she’s my daughter, but because she’s really good at what she does. Her website is being revamped at the moment, but if you need a good fiction book coach or editor, you can contact her at

Back to what I was talking about. Writing time’s going to be scarce in January as I’m teaching some virtual workshops. I’m hoping for a little time for polishing first draft of See Jane Sing!, but I’m not banking on it. Teaching workshops is tiring and time-consuming. They also pay very well, so I’m not complaining. By the end of January 2021, I will have earned more income than in all of 2020. Maybe that’s why I’m dancing for joy.

Before 2020 runs out, I want to say thank you to all of you for your encouraging messages throughout this writing journey. It began over 10 years ago when I first wrote the idea down in the notebook pictured above. The theme, the names of characters, and the story have evolved since then, but my reason for writing has not. You are the reason I keep working to get the West River Mysteries published. Which is going to happen in 18 months. Here’s the timeline for the first three books in case you missed it before.

Summer 2021: See Jane Run!
Fall 2021: See Jane Sing!
Winter 2022: See Jane Dance!

After that, the plan is to publish a book a year until I run out of ideas. So here’s to running into 2021 and beyond! I hope you’ll run with me.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.


Christmas Baking and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Christmas Baking and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Christmas baking and sweetened condensed milk are a dynamic duo for six weeks during the holidays. However, this combination can lead to problems for those who live in rural areas.

I became acquainted with some of those problems during the first fall we lived 23 miles from the closest grocery store and 70 miles from a full service supermarket. Some of those problems were, and perhaps still are:

  1. Thinking far enough ahead to add sweetened condensed milk to the shopping list you’re making for the October trip to the big city* because you’re pretty darn proud of yourself for remembering to write down Halloween candy.
  2. Realizing, once you get back home, that you should have tripled the number of cans needed for Christmas baking so there are enough for the recipes you will inevitably forget to consult.
  3. Having the October shopping trip postponed on account of winter weather making an early appearance. Which means that in the future Halloween candy and sweetened condensed milk should be on July shopping lists, right under watermelon and sweet corn.

I never had enough sweetened condensed milk for Christmas baking. So finding Sylvia Padden’s recipe for a substitute version in the Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book felt like the best Christmas present ever. For some reason, stocking the pantry with powdered milk was never a problem. And even though powdered milk isn’t known for deliciousness, Christmas baking and sweetened condensed milk aren’t affected by its taste.

Condensed Milk Substitute

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons powdered milk

Dissolve sugar in hot water. Thoroughly mix in in powdered milk. Let cool 5-10 minutes before using.

*For citizens of towns with less than 100 residents, communities with populations greater than 1000 qualify as “big cities.”

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country school Christmas programs were a big deal and still are where country schools still exist. That’s why preparing for the Christmas program plays a major role in See Jane Sing! In fact, the progress of the program is a device I use to drive the story’s sense of urgency. Jane wants to solve mystery before the Christmas program as the morning after the big show she will go to her parents’ home in Iowa for Christmas break.

But enough about that.

The purpose of this post is to focus on the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes in the above picture. But first, a word about the amazingly adorable models, Shawn Burghduff and Mary Philippe, who were third graders when they nabbed their starring roles in that year’s program. The picture evokes equal parts joy and sorrow when I see it. Joy to have been their teacher for three years and sorrow over Shawn’s death due to a freak illness when he was not yet thirty. When See Jane Run! is released, it will be dedicated to him.

Give me a minute to stop crying.

Okay, I’m back with some fun facts about the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes.

  1. I made the costumes. Except for Mrs. Claus’s striped apron and Mr. Claus’s black belt. Their parents supplied those.
  2. When we moved to Iowa, the music teacher borrowed the costumes every year for the third grade Christmas program.
  3. Before the first borrow, I made a white, ruffled apron and matching mob cap for Mrs. Santa.
  4. My daughter wanted to be Mrs. Santa Claus for Halloween when she was in second grade. I bought granny glasses, washed and ironed the costume, and boom, it was ready. She was adorable, and my propensity to save costumes was vindicated.
  5. I still have the costumes. They’re too big for my grandkids, ages 2 and 4, but that doesn’t stop them from playing dress up in them.
  6. Every time the costumes come out, I think of Shawn and cry happy tears.

Give me another minute to find a tissue.

Okay, I’m back with one last observation related to fictionalized scenes about country school Christmas programs. They take me a long time to write and use a lot of tissues.

Go figure.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Those words were ringing in my ears today as I created a sequencing activity to send to my Wisconsin grandkids, ages 8 and 5. It was precisely the sort of thing I often set out for my country school kindergarten through second grade students in the 1980s.

Because once a teacher, always a teacher is absolutely true, I’ve created virtual version of the activity for Gravel Road readers. Below are 7 pictures of our home addition construction taken on 7 different days. See if you can put the pictures in numerical order from first to last. Each picture has been assigned a letter to make the process easier. Those who leave their answers in the comment box below will be given a virtual smiley face sticker.*

Like I said, once a teacher, always a teacher. And this teacher knows that students of all ages love stickers.

Picture A:

Picture B:

Picture C:

Picture D:

Picture E:

Picture F:

Picture G:

*If any of my former country school students complete this activity by themselves or with their own school-aged children, they receive not just 1, but 2 smiley face stickers.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.


East River, West River, and More

East River, West River, and More

East River, West River is a phrase familiar to past and present citizens of the Dakotas. Everyone else in the world is most likely oblivious to East River, West River talk. If you’re among the oblivious ones–a group that included me until my husband and I moved to South Dakota–this  quick tutorial is designed to enhance your understanding of a concept foundational to See Jane Run! and its sequels.

  1. The river referred to is the Missouri, which divides South Dakota into two neat halves. My spit spot Mary Poppins nature has always been grateful to have lived in South Dakota rather than in North Dakota, where the divide between east and west is messier.
  2. East River refers to counties east of the Missouri. West River refers to those west of the Missouri. Pretty simple, right?
  3. East River has farms. West River has ranches. Always remember that the words “farm” and “ranch” are NOT synonyms.
  4. East River is populated by farmers. West River is populated by cowboys. DO NOT confuse the two.
  5. The cultural divide between East and West River is far wider than the Mighty Missouri.

Last week I met with an editor who’s interested in publishing See Jane Run! and future books in the series. Exciting, yes, but all I can say until a contract has been signed is that things look promising. One reason is because the editor has an affinity for the region of the country where See Jane Run! is set. He has lived in both Dakotas and Montanas, so he gets the whole East/West, Farm/Ranch, Farmer/Cowboy business. Upon reading the manuscript, he immediately identified the culture shock experienced by Jane, the book’s protagonist and amateur sleuth, as a crucial element of the story.

Something we discussed in our 2 hour virtual meeting was how to communicate that element effectively. One easy way, I realized as we talked, was to change the series’ name from “The Tipperary County Mysteries” to “The West River Mysteries.” Not only does the change magnify the cultural divide, it also expands the setting from a single fictional South Dakota county to anywhere west of the Missouri River. Oh, the possibilities!

Whether you live East River, West River or up a creek without a paddle, I’d love to hear what you think of the change. Also, I promise to make a big announcement with all the juicy details once a book contract has been signed.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.