Beautiful Smoky Mountains

I grew up in a small town in northern Idaho, and I loved the mountains. I have great memories of hikes I took with my grandpa, as well as treks up the mountains to pick huckleberries with my mom and dad. To this day, I can still remember the smell of huckleberry bushes. As we drove up the rugged roads, we’d stick our noses in the air to catch the scent of those wonderful berries. And when we smelled them, we’d holler for the vehicle to be stopped so we could get out and hunt them up.

Almost thirty years ago, I left Idaho in pursuit of my dreams, and I moved to Tennessee. Here, I met my husband, and he introduced me to another range of mountains. The beautiful Smokies. They have some similarities to the Rockies, but they’re also different in their own right. The shades of green are definitely different, and I’ve never smelled huckleberries in the Smokies. Regardless, I fell in love with the mountains all over again.

My husband took me on a trip to Gatlinburg, TN, for one of our first anniversaries. The town has its own charm–as does Pigeon Forge and some of the other outlying cities. We took a drive ‘up the mountain’ to a place I’ll cherish forever. If you’re familiar with my books and my writing, you’ve probably heard this story before, because I can’t stop talking about it! We ended up in Cades Cove.

When he told me we’d be going to a place that only had a one-way road that looped from one end to the other, and that everyone had to drive around it slowly, I wondered why. He talked it up as if it was the best thing in the world. Honestly, I thought it sounded horribly boring. As much as I appreciate pretty scenery, putting along on a one-way road didn’t sound too appealing. I wanted excitement and adventure–like I knew I could get at the nearby theme park.

I learned a valuable lesson on that venture. My husband was right. It was the best thing in the world. Cades Cove transported us back in time to a simpler life. One that was unhurried and pure. The cove sits in the middle of the mountains. Acre after acre of land that was once farmed and loved by the people who lived there. Some of the original cabins still remain, along with a mill, several churches, and cemeteries with the graves of those who’d called the cove their home. The unsurpassed beauty of the land touches my heart every time I go there.

We return to Cades Cove every year. I’ve memorized much of it, but I’m never any less in awe of the splendor. It had to have been difficult for the residents of the cove, when the states of Tennessee and North Carolina decided to create a National Park that included the Cades Cove land. I doubt it was easy to put a price on the land they loved, then leave it behind and go elsewhere. Some residents were able to stay, yet I’m sure it wasn’t the same.

All that being said, I’m glad that the past has been preserved in the cove. When I learned about the hardships that the residents endured during the Civil War, I was compelled to write about it. Here’s a link to the first book in my Smoky Mountain Secrets Saga: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZYYY5WK I did my best to capture what life was like for those families, and to this day, I feel like I can sense them walking by my side when I visit the cove.

Every place in this world has a story to tell, and I hope that you’ll make a trip to the Smoky Mountains and specifically, Cades Cove. Be sure to have your camera handy, so you can capture its majesty. It’s a little bit of Heaven on Earth with some wildlife thrown in for good measure. You might see a bear or two, as well as deer and turkeys. If you like to hike, there are plenty of trails you can take. Some will lead you to remote cabins, and others are simply for the sake of enjoying nature. More than anything, you’ll come away, content, with an appreciation for the simpler things in life.

In my opinion, that alone is worth the trip!

Are You Puzzled?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved puzzles. Mainly, jigsaw puzzles, but I’m also fond of word games like crosswords and word searches. I’ve heard that doing those keeps your brain active, and as I grow older, that becomes more and more important. My parents are in their eighties and still sharp as ever, so I’m hopeful that I’ve inherited their sharpness genes.

So what is it about jigsaw puzzles that draws me in? Maybe it’s because I like to fix things, and if I see something all discombobulated, I want to make it right. Plus, it’s so much fun watching an image come together. I don’t know about you, but I get a happy thrill every time I put a piece in place. I guess it’s good that it doesn’t take much to amuse me!

My first puzzle memory is from when I was about six years old. We lived in Spokane, Washington at that time, and there was a local fair a short distance down the road from us. It was one of those sorts that was likely put on by the high school and run by teenagers. They had all kinds of games and activities for children. I can’t remember what the particular game was that caught my eye, but the prize for winning the game was a puzzle. They were used puzzles donated by the organizers of the event. Used or not, I didn’t care. Trouble was, I didn’t have any money and couldn’t play the game. So, was that a good memory? Oddly, yes, since it makes me smile to remember it. I didn’t get a puzzle from that fair, but my desire for jigsaw puzzles never left me.

I have quite a collection now, and many of my puzzles have been put together more times than I can count. Most of them have 1,000 pieces, and I can usually put them together in a few days’ time. I like to work on them in the evenings after a day of writing. It helps me relax, but it also allows me time to gather my thoughts for my next day of writing.

I like the puzzles that have interesting pieces–those that aren’t a typical shape. They make the entire process more challenging. However, I also appreciate pieces that fully interlock. So, I guess you could say, I love any type of puzzle.

I recently put together the most tight-fitting puzzle I’ve ever encountered. So tight that I could hold it up in the air while it still had a lot of pieces missing. Hopefully, you can see what I mean in this photo.

Yep! You can see right through the middle, and nothing fell apart when I held it up. Crazy! This is the kind of puzzle that wouldn’t even need glue if you decided to frame it.

I always start by putting together the border. I think that’s pretty typical, thought my son tells me it would be more challenging if I didn’t. From the picture on the box, I also know what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. Again, my son tells me not to look at the image to increase the challenge of putting it together. I try that sometimes, but there are certain puzzles that stump me and I have to look.

I think my writing style is similar to the way I construct puzzles. I know how I want a story to start, (thus the border), and I know how I want it to end. (Like the finished picture). But the middle often takes me in different directions. I may add a piece that takes me down an unexpected road. Those little surprises makes the process so much fun! A character who I think is minor becomes a major part in putting together the puzzle of my story.

I suppose I also like to fix the discombobulated lives of my characters. I promise a happy ending–eventually–but they usually go through many challenges on their way to attaining it.

Thank you for reading, and I’d love to hear your ‘puzzling’ stories, too!

Write on!

The Love of Cotton Candy

Isn’t it amazing how a simple smell or taste can take you back to your childhood? Of course, some of those reminders might be bad, like the flavor of nasty-tasting medicine, or the odor that lingered when you accidentally stepped in a pile of doggy doo while out trick-or-treating. Yep, that happened to me!

However, I want to talk about a good memory!

When I was a child, my parents would take me to one of those home-town carnivals that came through town every year around the Fourth of July. The carnival was part of a community festival called Frontier Days. In addition to the carnival rides and games, there was also a parade. I’ve seen photos of me and my siblings dressed up as pioneers in a make-shift covered wagon. I was very young then, but it was memorable enough that I recall thinking we were pretty awesome.

Now, back to the whole smell and taste thing. The simple thought of that particular event immediately sparks memories of an assortment of smells: Popcorn, the sawdust spread on the ground beneath some of the stomach-churning rides, mud from the rain that always seemed to dampen the celebration every year, beer, and cotton candy.

Cotton candy.

My first memory of popping some of that fluffy confection into my mouth comes from one of those Frontier Day’s celebrations. I clearly remember my aunt, Judy, telling me the proper way to eat cotton candy. She said that in order to avoid getting completely sticky, you needed to pull off a small amount and literally pop it into your mouth, doing all you could to avoid touching your fingers to your lips and getting them wet. Putting your mouth directly on the spool of fluff was a no-no. Especially if you planned to share your treat!

I didn’t do such a good job instructing my grandson.

The photo is a little blurry, but you get the idea! I tried to teach him to ‘pop,’ but he dove right in!

Now that I’m older, I like getting sticky even less, but I still love cotton candy. Recently, I discovered a new kind of ice cream that has rocked my world! Kroger brand has cotton candy flavored ice cream called Mermaid Sparkle. It’s to die for. Best of all, you can eat it with a spoon and you won’t get sticky.

Sure, there are many foods I enjoy, but I can’t think of any others that produce so many wonderful memories. Our lives are a patchwork of memories, and I feel it’s important to cherish all of them. I’ve learned a lot from my past. Not only how to properly eat cotton candy, but after my other experience, I know to watch where I walk on Halloween.

Life is a journey, and I want to thank you for sharing these memories with me!

God bless!

Becoming Our Parents

I’m sure you’ve seen the great commercials on TV about people who are becoming their parents. I laugh at the ads because I can completely relate to them.

I don’t know when the transition takes place, but it definitely happens. Not only in the things we do, but for me, I see the transformation in the mirror. So often, my mom smiles back at me. I have many of her mannerisms, and when we talk on the phone, we frequently sound alike. We have the same vocal tones, and we oftentimes sigh or laugh at the same time and sound identical.

So, there’s the physical transformation, but what about the mental transformation? When do we start behaving like “old fogies.” Even that dated term validates what I’m saying. When I was young, I felt so up-to-date and “in-the-now.” When my parents did something silly or forgetful, I’d just chalk it up to their age. Now I’m the one doing ridiculous things and forgetting what day of the week it is.

I suppose it has everything to do with the brain. As we age, we process things differently. And, we considerably slow down. We wake with aches in our bodies that we can’t explain and groan with that first step we take out of bed.

I guess what surprises me the most is my change in attitude. Things I used to think were funny or entertaining on TV, I see now as dumb. I get frustrated when I drive down the road and have to listen to the loud thumping of the music coming from the car next to me. As a youth, I likely would’ve thought it was cool. So, yes, I’m becoming an old person. Sigh . . .

On the bright side, I have so many stories to tell. With all the years I’ve lived, (boy, I’m really sounding ancient!), I’ve accumulated massive amounts of life experiences. I feel I’m capable of giving my children and grand-children advice from all that life-lived knowledge. The same kind of advice my parents gave me. I may have thought some of the things they told me were foolish, but I’ve come to realize that they were usually right. (And if you’re reading this now, Mom and Dad, don’t gloat!)

I’m blessed that my parents are still living. I can go to them when I need to talk, and I continue to listen to their advice. They’ve inspired me time and again! I pray that I can do the same for my children, and that they’ll always turn to this “old person” whenever they need me. Besides, I count on them to help me manage all the difficulties I face with every new-fangled gadget that’s released. I’m still learning new ways to fully use my phone. It took me until about three years ago to part with my flip-phone. (Should I be hiding my head in embarrassment?)

The photo above is me and my dad at the zoo in 2019, and the one to the right is my Mom at her 80th birthday celebration in 2018. Unfortunately, they live a great distance from me, but in that respect, I’m grateful for my new-fangled phone. We can talk as long as we want and we don’t have to incur hefty long-distance charges! If you’re as old as I am, you’ll remember the days when it was cheaper to call after 7:00 p.m. It’s nice not to have to worry about the time of day when making a call.

Going back even farther in time, do you recall the days of party lines? No, they had nothing to do with politics! Households had shared telephone lines, and you could pick up your phone and hear your neighbor talking to someone. Of course, if they knew you were on the line interrupting their call, you’d get fussed at. Rightfully so!

I appreciate the advancement in technology, but I often miss the good ol’ days. The new phones have great benefits, but it makes me sad to see so many people with their faces glued to their phones. They’re missing out on the real world before them. So, please, take it from this old fogey. Put your phone down and look at what’s around you, and if you’re in a restaurant, talk to the person you’re there with, not the one on your screen.

From someone who loves to write historical fiction, take the time to enjoy the simplicities in life. A walk in the woods, a picnic by a lake, watching the sun set (or rise), or enjoying a board game with your family. (The old-fashioned, non-electronic type).

We’ve seen our share of frustrating times this past year, but never lose hope! Life is good!

God bless you all!

To Review or Not to Review

I don’t ever like to say something bad about anyone or anything, but on occasion, it’s good to let people know if you’re disappointed with something. For example, there have been two times in my life that a manufacturer has changed a particular food product that I enjoy. Supposedly, they’ve made it “new and improved” and “better-tasting.” In the two instances I’m referring to, I completely disagreed with the manufacturer. So much so that I wrote a letter to one stating my disappointment in the change, and the other, I made a phone call and left voicemail. I suppose you could say I’m passionate about food, and when a beloved recipe is altered, I find it disappointing.

Of course, my grievances did little good. They didn’t say, “Oh, my goodness, Jeanne Hardt doesn’t like this new recipe, so we’d better go back to the old one!” I don’t have that kind of pull. Although, I did get a coupon from the manufacturer I wrote to for future products. Still, I would have rather had the original item before the recipe changed.

So, where am I going with all this? Well . . . as an author, I can say without a doubt that positive reviews are always welcome and appreciated on my “product.” Hopefully, none of my books will leave a bad taste in your mouth or the desire for a change in my recipe. It would be wrong of me to say, “Don’t write a review if you didn’t like my book,” regardless of the fact that I prefer reading the positive comments! Not everyone has the same taste in literature, and I’ve gotten my share of negative reviews. Honestly, even they can be helpful. I never respond to any review, because that’s not my place to do so, or the purpose of a review. Still, I put my mind to what was said and ask myself if there’s something I need to improve. Most of the time, I simply accept that my style isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

The main purpose of a review is to help a potential new reader decide if they want to give the book a try. So, with that being said, reviews are important to those potential readers. They might base their decision solely on the rating of that book or a particular comment that a reader has made. Because of that, I encourage you to post reviews. I believe that many venues will also allow you to post a rating alone, without a written review, which is also good.

If you’re unsure what to write, simplicity is best. It’s as easy as saying, “Great story.” “Captivating.” or “A page-turner.” Those kinds of comments are always appreciated, and hopefully, you’ll feel that way about what you read. Most importantly, honesty is best.

There are a few things I’d caution you NOT to do:

1. Don’t give away secrets. Nobody likes spoilers, and if you tell the big ‘aha’ moment in the book, you’ll be spoiling it for the potential reader. So choose your remarks carefully. If you like or don’t like a particular character, it’s fine to say, but don’t give away what that particular character does. We all like to be surprised, don’t we?

2. As an author, I’m so blessed to have friends that read my books. And, of course, I hope that never changes! If you know an author and post a review for their books, it’s a good idea not to say, “this author is my friend,” in the context of the review. It can affect the validity of your review, because the reader might think you’re simply being kind to your friend by saying something nice about their book.

Authors wouldn’t have careers without readers, and we appreciate each and every one of you! We strive to write stories you’ll treasure, and we thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts.

Who is Vern Harpole?

It was a fun and exciting new experience to write a fiction book based on an actual person. I was blessed to have a good friend who gave me the freedom to expand her grandfather’s story and ‘fill in the blanks’ so to speak in areas of his life that the family is unsure of exact details.

In “His Heart’s Long Journey,” you’ll travel with Vern as he seeks out answers to his past and also strives to move forward with his love interest, Margaret Jordan. Margaret is a strong-willed woman with her own troubled past, and the last thing she wants is the attention of a man.

When my friend, Ann, told me her family’s heart-wrenching story, I was compelled to write it. It was hard for me to believe that someone could experience all that Vern went through in his young life. As I wrote, I felt I really knew him. He became alive to me, and I hope that when you read this series, you’ll feel the same.

I also became fond of schnecken while writing this story. The trade of being a baker was passed on to Vern from the family who took him in at a very young age. Mr. Hinze was a German baker who taught Vern all he knew. Schnecken is a German sweet roll, similar to a cinnamon roll. I found a wonderful recipe online while researching German pastries. You can find it on the food.com website.

This is an actual photo of Vern in his baker’s garb. I didn’t see this photo until after I wrote the series, but I was surprised to find how much he looked the way I’d imagined him.

If you haven’t read “His Heart’s Long Journey,” I hope you will. It’s so much fun to travel in the footsteps of the past and share in the lives of others. Book one, “Forsaken by Love,” can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082QWKM56

Free Download!

I’m happy to say that today thru Tuesday, November 10th, you can download “Forsaken by Love” for FREE from Amazon! I hope you’ll enjoy Vern’s journey. The book is based on a true story that one of my friends graciously shared with me. When she told it, I knew I had to write it! I’m thrilled she allowed me to tell it.

Free Download! Forsaken by Love

During this ‘stay-at-home’ time, it’s nice to be able to virtually travel to another time and place.

I’m happy to say that today thru Wednesday, you can download “Forsaken by Love” for FREE from Amazon! I hope you’ll enjoy Vern’s journey. The book is based on a true story that one of my friends graciously shared with me. When she told it, I knew I had to write it! I’m thrilled she allowed me to tell it.

 

Appreciating the ‘Simple’ Things

I’ve lost count of how often I’ve said, “We’re living in crazy times.”

For anyone who has lost a loved one from this virus or is currently ill with Covid-19, I’m sure the words to describe it would be much harsher than ‘crazy.’

We’ve all experienced loss. As it is with this new virus, sometimes it’s unexpected and tragic, other times, it comes from a lengthy illness or simply because we’ve reached the age that our bodies shut down. But even when we have the chance to prepare ourselves emotionally for the moment we’ll have to let go of the person we love, we’re never ready. We don’t want to lose anyone we cherish.

Life never guarantees another day. That’s something else I’ve heard and said for as long as I can remember. The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom in being told to appreciate the simple things and enjoy every moment with the people I love.

Since there’s more than enough gloom and doom in the media, I don’t want this post to be about the negative aspects of what we’re facing. I want to express the good I see in being alive every day. In addition, I’d love to hear from you and know what you enjoy the most in your day-to-day living.

I love that first sip of coffee that’s waiting for me the instant I walk into my kitchen. I’m grateful for the electricity that continues to flow through my home, even when I’m sleeping, so that my automatic coffee maker comes on at the right time. And speaking of electricity–that alone is something to cheer from the rooftops!

I have hot water for my shower and to readily wash my hands umpteen times each day. Electricity powers my laptop, so I can continue to write, and it recharges my phone, so I can stay in touch with family and friends. It keeps my refrigerator cold, so my food doesn’t spoil, and it keeps the food in my freezer frozen for the long haul.

I have a sweet husband who’s happy to go out and do the grocery shopping and other necessary tasks like picking up the mail. As for me, I stay comfortably at home, writing. And what a blessing that is! I still get to escape with my characters to other times and places, and I’m graced with wonderful emails and messages from readers who thank me for taking their minds off the current issues. If that’s not a good reason to smile, I don’t know what is. Thank you, readers!

I have a loyal dog who gets me moving when I’ve been sitting too long. We may only go out into the yard, but at least I’m getting out of the house for a few minutes. He’s been overly happy lately, because I never leave him.

I bought the ‘Stay at Home Dog’ shirt months before this virus came to be. At the time, I thought it was simply cute, but now, it’s fitting. He loves being at home, and I’m thankful he’s here.

I have word games on my phone to entertain me when my brain needs a rest from writing, and jigsaw puzzles that I love to put together. The bigger the better. I even dug out some puzzles that I’ve had since I was a little girl. The photo at the bottom of this post is one of them. I try to challenge myself by not looking at the picture while I’m working them, but I still like to start by putting the border together. My son says I shouldn’t do that. He’s trying to get me to work them from the middle out, but I have yet to try that. With one exception… I found a border-less puzzle that not only didn’t have a border, it also had five additional pieces, just to throw me off! It was called an “Impossible” puzzle, but I’m happy to say that I mastered it. Such fun!

I’ve been taking the time to experiment with new recipes, and I’ve also cooked things that I hadn’t made in years. Like old-fashioned tapioca pudding. It’s so good when it’s hot off the stove! And if you want a wonderful treat, cook up some stove-top chocolate pudding and put it over vanilla ice cream. It’s delicious. Even better than hot fudge.

I’m grateful that I’ve not lost touch with my church friends. I sing in the church choir, and we’d been practicing for an Easter cantata, but of course, that didn’t happen. Still, we meet once a week on Zoom. We don’t sing, but we lift each other up in prayer and share how our lives are going. Eventually, when we can get back together again, we’ll sing the cantata. Easter should be lived every day of our lives, so even though the date might not be the ‘right’ one, the message always is. God is gracious and still in control, and though we might not understand why we’re going through these troubled times, He knows. His love never leaves us.

Maybe we all needed the opportunity to take a deep breath and slow down. Even so, I hate to see anyone suffer. I’d like everyone to be able to get back to work and doing what they love.

So, tell me what makes you smile, and what you love the most! We’ll get through this together and be stronger for it.

Free Download – Island in the Forest!

Today thru Monday, in celebration of the soon-to-be-released book 5 in the Shrouded Thrones series, book 1, Island in the Forest, is being offered as a free Kindle download from Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BJ2P283

Island in the Forest

Olivia has lived her entire life behind the walls of Padrida, a kingdom unknown to the rest of the world. As the king and queen’s only heir, she is destined to rule. Though given all that she needs, she wants only one thing.

Freedom.

Boredom plagues Prince Sebastian of Basilia. The realms have been at peace for more than a century, and he has little to occupy his time. He journeys to Black Wood, seeking adventure. The dense forest has a dark reputation, and Sebastian intends to uncover the truth of the many horrific tales that have troubled him since childhood.

He finds something else entirely.