Sunday, December 26, 2010

Brule' & One Nation at the Rose Parade, January 1st, 2011

The award-winning contemporary Native American group, Brulé, is proud to announce their participation in the Tournament of Roses Parade, January 1, 2011, with One Nation, a Native American float, one of only a few in parade history. The 122nd Rose Parade themed Building Dreams, Friendships, and Memories, will take place on Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 8:00 a.m. (PST). This celebrated event is broadcast live on ABC, Hallmark, HGTV, KTLA, NBC, RFD-TV, and Univision, and is seen in more than 200 international territories and countries.


Brulé founder Paul LaRoche, enrolled member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, has performed as the contemporary Native American recording artist for the past 15 years. LaRoche’s unique life journey has brought him to this position as host of the One Nation float. The 2011 Tournament of Roses theme, Building Dreams, Friendships, and Memories, ties in closely with LaRoche’s personal mission that started when the course of his life was forever altered with the discovery of his Lakota heritage.

Adopted at birth LaRoche grew up in white, middle-class America and didn’t discover his true heritage until he was 38. On Thanksgiving Day 1993, LaRoche was reunited with his brother, sister, and extended relatives. Overwhelmed by the experience, he returned to the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation where Brulé was born, a musical synthesis of the two worlds he has lived in. LaRoche has long since dreamed of bringing a message of hope and healing to worldwide audiences through the stirring music and dance of the Brulé entourage that has criss-crossed the country with him for 15 years.

Brulé is now one of the top-selling Native American recording artists with more than a million CDs sold worldwide, and has earned seven Native American Music Awards (NAMMYs) since 2002. Their live performances are currently receiving rave reviews as “a Native American experience of sight, sound, and soul” at the RFD-TV Theatre in Branson, Missouri. LaRoche is also producer and host of Hidden Heritage, a weekly television series that highlights “positive, uplifting stories from Native America” on the RFD-TV cable network.

As Paul has shared, "Being part of the One Nation float is indeed an honor, but the real story is the opportunity to showcase Native America as one nation, to step forward onto this stage with the whole world watching."  Tribal representatives from American Indian tribes will accompany the One Nation float dressed in their tribe's regalia.  It is Paul's vision for all Native ambassadors to come together in a gesture of unity onto this unprecedented stage in an historic, breathtaking visual of Native America.

Viewers can cast their vote for the favorite Rose Parade float online at or and look for the "Viewer's Choice" link. 

All this week I'll be marking the countdown to January 1st and watching Brule' perform on top of the One Nation float along the parade route in sunny Pasadena!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

"For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
and His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6

Have a blessed & Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Author Joy DeKok Reviews "Hidden Heritage...the Story of Paul LaRoche"

Minnesota author Joy DeKok writes a unique and interesting blog titled Beliefs & Books, where she selects a book and not only writes a review, but interviews the author as well, giving added insight into the author's background and perspective.  On Friday, December 17, 2010, Joy posted her interview with me and her review of Hidden Heritage. 

To read the interview and book review, go to

In August I had the pleasure of spending time with Joy at Julie Saffrin's writer's retreat in northern Minnesota at Julie's cabin.  Here's Joy and Mick waiting for yet another beautiful sunset on Dead Lake.  I can say firsthand both summer and winter, the sunsets are breathtakingly beautiful. 

Joy is the author of Rain Dance, Under His Wings, and three children's books.  Visit her at  Thank you, Joy!


Monday, November 29, 2010

On Your Mark; Get Set; GO!

As I've shared before, my next book project is one that takes a look at the eight-year career of Rookie, the K9 partner of Officer Joaquin Guerrero from Saginaw, Michigan. 

    In Saginaw--a city plagued with gang violence--Officer Guerrero created Precinct 131, a program for pre-D.A.R.E. kids to "say no to gangs, guns, drugs, and violence."  School kids across mid-Michigan bonded with Rookie, an affable German shepherd, and collected Rookie dolls, puppets, and patches.  On 9/11 Officer Guerrero and Rookie responded to Ground Zero to help in the search efforts.  Working unprotected in the crushed tower debris, Rookie later died from cancer and received an honorary memorial service.

Joaquin and I have talked about different options in the publishing world--traditional publishing vs. self-publishing--and since I am without an agent as of this moment (unless I get The Call soon!) we decided the best route to go was with Beaver's Pond Press in Minneapolis.  Joaquin also mentioned that he would like to have the book available for the 10th anniversary of 9/11...which is obviously next September.  That means the manuscript has to be written by May or June 2011.  And that would be the "final draft'...not the "first draft'! 

So yes, I have my work cut out for me these next six months.  I actually got a good start on the first few chapters last week when I retreated to the Lunds/Byerly's cabin in northern Minnesota for three full days of writing.  I brought notes, pictures, & video clips that Joaquin had given me, and even a stuffed "Rookie" for inspiration.

My set-up with a view of the lake
I spent all of Friday reading through the news clippings and watching Joaquin's video that he took at Ground Zero.  Then I started writing fragmented sections about 9/11 in the manuscript.  Mid-afternoon I took a break and walked over to the fireplace to warm up, thinking about everything Joaquin must have seen at "the pile".  I happened to look down at a basket of books and noticed a picture of the twin towers.  Here was a coffee table book from 1983, "New York...City of Many Dreams" filled with pictures of New York...and in almost every picture the twin towers stood out prominently, as they always did. 

I knew it was more than coincidence.  Things like that always are.  And to explain, this is a company cabin, where many families use it every year.  People bring games and books and leave for others to use and enjoy.  In all the years we've stayed at the cabin--including a week this summer--I've never seen the book there before.

To me it creates excitement, a sense I'm on the right path.  It encourages me to forge ahead and get the story down on paper.  Joaquin's purpose in writing this book is give tribute to K9 handlers and their dedicated partners all across America, dogs like Rookie that work hard and risk their life night after night for nothing more than a ball or pat on the head. 

This is the least I can do for them.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Full Plate

As I look at the calendar (in disbelief!), wondering how on earth it can be November already, I feel like my desktop is like a Thanksgiving Day dinner, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the works. In other words, I have a full plate.  Here's a sample of what's crossed my desk in the last few months:
  • Prairie Promises, published in September in Talking Stick-Volume #19, a literary journal
  • Lost Letters (the article) appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of RFD-TV The Magazine
  • A Special Gift appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of RFD-TV The Magazine
  • Lost Letters (the story) will be included in Award Winning Western Tales, an anthology published by Moonlight Mesa Associates, with a January 2011 release date
  • Bad River, the article, will be in the Jan/Feb issue of RFD-TV The Magazine
  • Press release and promos for the Michael Franzese event, The Good, The Bad, The Forgiven
  • Press release for Brule's appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade, January 2011
  • Copy for Brule media kit, an impressive color packet and video collection showcasing the stirring dance and music of the Brule' entourage
  • Intro letter for Brule' sent to the 580 recognized American Indian tribes, inviting representatives to appear with Brule' in Pasadena on January 1st at the Rose Parade
  • A Passion for Youth, appeared in the Winter issue of the Trinity Trumpet
And looking ahead, these still cover my desk:
  • Cries on the Prairie (same story as Prairie Promises but with a different premise)  for the Lake Region Review
  • The Quarry, short-short story for the Writer's Digest contest
  • Holy Name Chapel, the next article for RFD-TV The Magazine
  • Michigan & Rookie...Guardians of the Night, my current book project
As I've shared before, MI & Rookie is the remarkable story of Joaquin Guerrero, a cop and his K9 partner Rookie, dedicated to serving their community as the eyes and ears of the night in Saginaw, Michigan. 

In fact, I've decided to escape next week "up north" to the cabin on Lower Whitefish Lake.  There's nothing like shutting out the world and spending four full days in solitude writing.  No errands to run, no emails or Internet.  Just my notes from Joaquin and my laptop.  Well, and my thesaurus.  Okay, and a dictionary.  You get the picture. 

So if you can't get a hold of me next week, I'll be cozied up in the cabin, the beautiful lake out my window, hard at work...and lovin' it!  (Unless we get another foot of snow and I can't get there...)  And when I get home it'll be time to enjoy that delicious Thanksgiving Day dinner, all thanks to the wonderful deli at Lunds & Byerly's! 


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Michael Franzese - The Good, The Bad, The Dinner

As I shared in the last post, the hubby and I fixed dinner on Saturday for former New York mob boss, Michael Franzese.  Cooking for a former crime boss put a little pressure on the cooks, of course, wanting to keep our guest of honor happy.  We had about 20 people over, including the couple from our church (Jerry & Muff) who had heard Michael Franzese speak in Florida and arranged to have him come to Lakeville.  The hubby came up with a menu that I thought sounded more like a Meat Fest:
  • bruschetta (John's world-famous recipe)
  • shrimp cocktail
  • spaghetti and red sauce (prepared by friends Dan & Chris)
  • dry-aged top sirloin steak
  • BBQ ribs (again, John's world-famous variety)
  • swordfish
  • butterfly shrimp
  • Italian meatballs (believe it or not, I make a pretty decent Italian meatball for a Scandinavian!)
  • garlic bread
  • Tator Tot hotdish (an old Minnesota standby)
  • pumpkin & spice bars (from Muff & Stephanie)
  • chocolate cake (from Nygren's wedding the prior weekend!)
When John announced the menu to all the guests, Michael said, "Well that sounds good John, but next time I come can you expand the menu a little?"   

Everyone enjoyed a nice relaxing afternoon, visiting with Michael and his brother-in-law, Dean Garcia, who travels with him to most of his events.  Both men said they appreciated a home cooked meal, versus going to a restaurant.  The dinner went over well, and to my surprise, nearly everything was eaten! 

Of course the real purpose of Michael's visit was to share his unique and compelling story.  No one walks away from the mob and lives to tell about it.  But in 1993 Michael Franzese broke all the rules by walking away from the mob--and through a woman of faith--became a changed man, transformed by God.

Michael is a gifted speaker

The sanctuary was full all 3 times Michael spoke

A one time captain in the La Cosa Nostra, Colombo crime family in New York City, Michael spoke to full-house at Trinity Evangelical Free Church and received a standing ovation all three times.  His story is captivating.  Chills up your spine, captivating.  In 1986 Fortune Magazine listed a ranking of "the 50 biggest Mafia bosses" in New York's crime families and Michael was rated #18, the youngest man on the list.  As Michael states, "the mob life is a very violent life and when you're part of the mob, you're part of the violence."  Today of those 50 men, 43 are dead, 3 are in prison, and Michael is out of prison, free to share his remarkable story of forgiveness with audiences all across the country.  It's a testament as to how God can change a man's heart--from the dark and deadly world of the La Cosa Nostra--to a man on a mission with a message he calls, The Good, The Bad, The Forgiven. 

John, Michael, Barbara (Dean in background)

Thank you Michael, for taking time away from your family to travel across the country and share such an incredible story. 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Michael Franzese, Former NYC Mob Boss, Coming for Dinner!

Michael Franzese, former mob boss of the Colombo crime family is coming to Lakeville, Minnesota to share his powerful testimony at our church, Saturday, October 30th at 7 PM and Sunday, October 31st at 9 & 10:30 AM; Trinity Evangelical Free Church, 10658 210th St. W., Lakeville, MN.  A gifted speaker, Michael discloses the details of his life-changing conversion from a man with a past to a man with hope for the future. You won't want to miss this dramatic true story of God's transformational power.


Michael grew up as the son of the notorious Underboss of New York's violent and feared Colombo crime  family.  Intelligent, handsome and ambitious he quickly rose within the ranks of organized crime.  It was a life filled with power, luxury...and deadly violence.  Then an innocent young woman walked into Michael's life.  Her beauty captivated him.  Her faith in God saved him.  It's a story with a powerful lesson:  Nothing is too bad that it can't be forgiven--life can begin again. 

Michael's compelling story has been featured on high profile media including FOX News, Life Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Sports Illustrated, LA Times, 48 Hours, The Today Show, ABC Primetime, NBC Nightly News, and ESPN. 

Michael documented his dramatic life story in a biography:  Blood Covenant:  The Michael Franzese Story.  To find out more about him, check out his website at

The hubby and I are on the committee to help coordinate and promote the event, but our biggest test will come when we try to cook an Italian dinner for Michael and his traveling companion.  It's going to be a group effort...we have Italian friends who will make the sauce, we have a recipe for spicy Italian meatballs, and the hubby makes bruschetta that's out of this world, seriously.  And just for fun, we'll throw in a casserole of Tator Tot or Wild Rice hotdish for him to try...something pure Minnesotan! 

All kidding aside, this looks to be a remarkable evening with Michael.  We are looking forward to hearing his amazing testimony and if anyone is anywhere close to Lakeville, Saturday-October 30th or Sunday-October 31st, we invite you to join us!

Barbara & Hubby, a/k/a, the Italian chef! 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Women Writing the West

Howdy!  I can use that greeting again--even though I'm not in Wyoming--because I am officially now a member of WOMEN WRITING THE WEST.  I may not live in The West (yet!), but I live west of the Mississippi, which will have to do for now.  As their welcome letter states, "Women Writing the West is a dynamic group of individuals who write, edit, publish, and produce the western women's experience is an association with which to be reckoned."  This is an organization I found out about back in May from Kaye Roll, one of the ladies I met at the Literature & Landscape of the Horse Retreat in Wyoming. 

Over the summer I browsed through their website a few times, and somehow stumbled onto a website for Moonlight Mesa Associates, a small publisher in Arizona that happened to be sponsoring a short story contest.  It was their 2nd annual "Cowboy Up Contest!" and the criteria included: 
  • western theme,
  • 3,000 words max,
  • must involve a cowboy or two--or other western character(s). 
My first thought was, "Hmm, I don't really write in the western genre...what kind of a story could I possibly come up with for this contest?" 

Two seconds later I turned back to my desk and spied the list of article ideas from Paul LaRoche for the RFD-TV Magazine.  Starting this spring, the editor of RFD-TV had asked Paul to submit a short article for each issue.  Since Paul's talents are primarily in music, he asked for a little help.  He sent me a list of ideas and I write the articles.  I had just finished, "Lost Letters", a short piece about Paul's adoption papers being lost in his mother's writing desk for years.  And then the light bulb went off...

Duh!  Take the title of any one of these articles and write a completely fictionalized story to match!

So that's exactly what I did...I started a brand new version of "Lost Letters."  I wrote the first draft and took it with me to the Black Hills for our annual camping trip.  We stayed in a different campground this year, one surrounded by a forest of tall Ponderosa pines.  Each morning I heard the wind whisper through pine needles.  The beauty of the dark green needles contrasted against the bold blue sky stunned me each day.  Slowly I started putting the pieces of my story together, defining my characters.  Throughout the week the setting all around contributed to my story in scattered moments.  Pink patches of clover, granite spires, sunlight casting lace patterns on the ground below, distinct scents of clover and pine.  I scribbled down notes, thoughts, images. 

After we returned home I finished my story and sent it off to the contest, not really sure if it met the style of the western genre but deciding either way it was good writing practice.  Then last week I received word that "Lost Letters" is a Finalist (how 'bout a yahoo!) in the contest and Moonlight Mesa Associates announced plans to publish an anthology in 2011 titled "Award-Winning Western Tales" with selected stories from the contest.   I'll find out next week if "Lost Letters" is one of the top three winners, but right now I'm just tickled it placed as a Finalist.

In my eyes, Women Writing the West opens a window to a whole new world of writing possibilities!

To learn more about Women Writing the West, go to

And to learn more about Moonlight Mesa Associates, go to

Blessings to writers, western and otherwise!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Prairie Promises

Here's my winning entry, Prairie Promises, based on an actual event from 1870 when my great-grandparents lived in a small cabin on the shore of Horse Head Lake near Parkers Paririe in Otter Tail County.  Notes from our family history show that Charls and Carolina Veden had staked a claim on eighty acres, across the lake from another family whose short time as settlers on the Minnesota prairie ended in tragedy that winter...

               Prairie Promises

        A strange noise stirs me, but my bones are simply too tired to move. I drift back to my dream…I am still in Sweden and we have yet to make our long journey to America. Elot is sitting beside me, holding my hand in his, My sweet Corena, we will have a wonderful life in America, I promise. Here we have no hope. In America there is so much land, even a poor soul like myself can own his own farm…
       The crackling sounds come again. Our cabin creaks routinely as it settles, especially on such cold winter nights. The grand white farmhouse with a pillared front porch that Elot promised is for now a primitive cabin. We have cupboards for a kitchen, a private room for Elot and I, and a loft for the older children. I sense Elot turning over and his movements awaken me further. No doubt it is time to add wood to the stove. The past seven days have been colder than I thought possible, even living in Sweden. It’s our first winter at Horse Head Lake and min godhet, we burn wood nonstop, day and night.
         A waft of smoke strikes my nose and I sniff. Smoke.
         In an instant my eyes open, senses alert. I sit up in bed. “Elot!” I grab his shoulders and shake hard. “There’s smoke!”
         “Ja? Vad är det?”
         “I smell smoke, Elot! Hurry!” My bare feet hit the floorboards and I turn to the cradle next to our bed. I snatch Sadie into my arms and grab her blanket. Elot opens the bedroom door and a thunderous burst of brightness fills my view. Orange and yellow flames dance across the width of the cabin, blocking the cupboards and only door. The log wall behind the stove is engulfed in a fiery glow that roars back with danger.
         I cling to the bedroom doorway, shaking, protectively pressing Sadie’s face into my bosom. Elot rushes to the ladder and scrambles halfway up. “Hans! Louisa! Wake up!”
         The terror in his voice pierces my eardrums, sending me into a panic. The heat is intense, tall flames pulsate in rapid, rhythmic motions forming a barricade to our only way out. “Elot! What do we do?!”
         Hans and Louisa climb down the ladder and stand behind Elot. “Pa!” Hans cries. “How do we get out?”
        Stricken with fear Louisa’s cries turn to screams, her blue eyes glisten with tears.
        “We have to run through the flames to the door,” Elot shouts. “It’s the only way!”
        “No!” screams Louisa. “No! I can’t!”
        “We can’t wait, it’s too late…” Elot says, watching the fire consume our handbuilt home.
         The baby wakes, and sensing danger begins to cry. “Shhh,” I say between sobs, trying to calm her when I know the logs are too thick…the few windows too small.
         Elot’s whiskered face is covered in sweat and fear. He looks much older than his thirty-three years. “I’ll take Hans and Louisa through first,” he says, “and then I’ll come back for you and the baby.”
         Louisa clings to Elot, all the while screaming, “No, Pa!” Nine-year-old Hans tries to be brave, but the raging fire is too intense and all I see is my frightened little boy.
         “Give me the quilt,” Elot shouts between coughs.
         I reach for the wool quilt on our bed. Ma gave it to us the day we said our vows, May 1, 1861. Elot puts it around them, Hans on one side, Louisa on the other. “We must go quickly,” he shouts above the fire. “Now!”
        Barefoot they race into the flames. I cover my face, unable to watch. Sobs overtake me as I clutch the doorframe. Seconds later Elot is at my side, the handstitched quilt singed black. “Corena!” He grabs my arm and throws the quilt over us. “Now!”
        Elot leads me forward. The heat is powerful. Instinctively I pull back. “Hold your breath!” Elot puts one arm behind me and pushes. The floorboards burn my feet. I can’t hold my breath and smoke fills my lungs. I cough, blinded from the heavy quilt, burning now on top of us. Elot pushes me again and I collapse into the snow next to Hans and Louisa. The burnt remnants of our wedding quilt hisses against the snowbank.
        Icy air fills my lungs, stinging deep inside my chest. I turn to the children, crying and shaking in the frigid night air. Elot falls to his knees, gasping for breath between gut-wrenching coughs.
        “What do we do, Elot?” I ask, watching our dreams vanish into billowing smoke. All our possessions are inside, everything we lovingly carried with us to America.
        “We must…walk to…Charls and Carolina…the lake.”
        “Across the lake? We are barefoot!” I say. “The snow is too deep. My feet have burns.”
        “We will freeze, Corena, we must get help.” Elot struggles to stand. “Hans, Louisa, come. We must walk to Vedens, across the lake. Carolina will have the stove going…warm quilts for us. Hurry now.”
        Elot takes a few steps toward the lake. He cries out in pain and leans into a tree for support.
        “Elot, what’s wrong?”
        He turns away from the children. “My feet…are burned too.”
        Light from the fire show the blisters on Elot’s feet and my gut wrenches. I try to calm the children. “Listen, listen…Pa will lead the way for us. Hans, you follow and hold Louisa’s hand. I will be right behind you. Go now, follow Papa.”
        Moonlight illuminates the surrounding prairie in a bluish haze. We near the shoreline where the lake has frozen and thawed and then froze again. Jagged shards of ice cut my tender flesh. Snowdrifts rise and fall like white ribbons. Beneath us the ice creaks in an eerie moan, momentarily halting the children’s wimpers. In the distance a wolf howls, followed by the rushing wind across the open lake.
       Sadie fights me, wanting down. It takes all my strength to keep her in my arms. Louisa’s shawl slips from her shoulders and I pull it up. Our thin cotton gowns are no match for the frigid January night.
       The lake is long and narrow. We cross where it is the shortest distance, yet on this night it seems too far. I look back, the glow visible through the trees. Above us, heaven’s stars hang in intricate lace patterns. I can no longer feel my feet or legs. Each step is difficult, laborious. Panting and breathless, the children fall and I help them up. Elot can barely walk. I can make out the darkened shape of the Veden cabin, see the smoke coming from their chimney.
       One more step, Corena.
       Keep going.
       My mind plays tricks on me. I realize now Louisa and Hans are helping Elot. He cannot walk on his own. We reach the shore and struggle to climb over the piles of snow.
        “Louisa, run to the cabin for help! Hans, help Papa!” I try to shout, but the words float softly from my throat.
        Soon I hear voices. “Ǻ kär Gud i himmel!” Oh, dear God in heaven!
        Ah, our Swedish friend, Charls Veden. We are saved.
                                    * * *

       I think of the pretty flowers that filled the wild prairie our first summer at Horse Head Lake. Elot was so proud to own land. Eighty acres, he said to me, just like I promised. He took me to the site he’d chosen for our cabin. Already a new life was fashioning within me. I picked a handful of flowers; purple ones, others pale pink, tall yellow ones, like droplets of sunshine, imagining our life in this land called Min-ne-sota. Elot cut the thickest trees to use for the logs, to keep us warm in the harsh winter, he said. We stayed with Elot’s cousin Josephine in Parkers Prairie until our cabin was built. A difficult woman at best, she bossed me around like a servant. At first I was afraid to move to the wilderness. I heard stories of Indians attacking settlers and the great uprising in ’62. But after a summer living under Josephine’s thumb, Elot couldn’t finish the cabin soon enough.
        My own cries wake me. Elot passed first. Charls hitched up his team and went to town to fetch Doc Hanson but it was too late. The gangrene set in and there was no chance. Charls crossed the lake the morning after the fire. In hushed voices I heard him say he followed a trail of flesh the whole way.
       Hans and Louisa lay still in the other bed. The doctor says their suffering is nearly over. Charls will make the coffins. Only little Sadie will live to see spring come. I hear her bubbly laugh with Carolina in the rocker. So young, so innocent. A midwife, Carolina came for the birthing. She will care for Sadie until my sister comes. Until the wild flowers fill the prairie once again.
                                   * * *

I remember going with my parents to visit the Veden homestead on Horse Head Lake as a young girl, and hearing the story that day, how my great-grandfather Veden had to build all the coffins for the family.  Even then, as a young girl I tried to imagine what it must have been like to walk across the frozen lake after escaping the fire, barefoot, in the darkness of a winter night, wearing only thin night clothes.  Had the husband promised the wife a better life if she came with him to America? 

As with most immigrants, they came despite the many dangers...

...and I wonder, would I have had the courage to come, as a young mother with little ones? 


Jackpine Writers' Book Launch for Talking Stick-Volume 19

This Saturday, September 18th, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch party for the Jackpine Writers' Bloc newest edition of the Talking Stick, a literary journal they publish annually.  Each volume is comprised of winning and selected entries from their call for submissions that go out to Minnesota writers each spring.  The contest is open to works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  I am honored to say my short fiction piece, Prairie Promises, took first place in the fiction category, and is featured in the Talking Stick-Volume 19 on Page 5! 

The hubby and I drove up to Park Rapids to attend the afternoon party.  Surprisingly, there were a number of Twin City writers who had made the drive up to picturesque Park Rapids.  It was my first chance to meet members of the Jackpine Writers Bloc and pick up my copy of the Talking Stick.  It was also fun to see some familiar faces, such as Candace Simar, Sharon Harris, and Susan Spindler.  Susan's piece, A Second One, took first place in the creative nonfiction category.  Another writing friend, Barbara Farland, who also has Wadena roots, had her poem Widows' Banquet included.  This year's contest had a grand total of 324 submissions from 165 writers all over Minnesota!

Several authors had book tables, and it was fun to mingle and meet new writers, like Nona Carlson, Donna Trump, and Marsha Porter.  After a time of refreshments, we were invited to read our published pieces.  There is something special in hearing each writer read their own piece.  We had a mix of serious and humorous pieces.  

Susan Spindler, reading her winning entry, "A Second One"

If you have time, check out the web pages for the Jackpine Writers Bloc and the Talking Stick:

All in all, it was a great day of building new friendships. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Top of the World Moments

This August the hubby and I joined four other couples on a motorcycle trip across the beautiful expanse of Wyoming.  We started in the Black Hills and made a circle tour out to Yellowstone and back.  Come to think of it, back in May I spent five days riding horseback near Laramie, and on this trip I rode motorcycle for five days clear across the state.  Kind of a contrast in "rides", but both offered stunning views of Wyoming's ever-changing landscape. 

Western side of Big Horn Mountains

We were blessed with perfect weather, beautiful scenery, wonderful food, and a safe journey throughout the entire trip.

Bob & Kay, Clint & Diane, Bob & Judy, Hubby & I, Todd & Char
Circle Tour Gang
Our route started in Hill City, South Dakota and took us up to Sheridan, Wyoming where we spent the first night in a cozy little motel.  That evening we walked down to the Main Street Tavern where we listened to Clint, a retired police lieutenant, tell stories from his early days as a cop.  By the end of the night our jaws were sore from laughing, and we crawled into our beds tired, but happy. 

The next morning we hopped on the bikes and began the climb in elevation as we rode across the Big Horn Mountains, west and north to Red Lodge, Montana, and then south into Wyoming again through the Beartooth Pass. 

This stretch of Highway 212 that makes up the Beartooth Pass zig-zags along the edge (and I do mean edge!) of the mountains in Montana and Wyoming at 10,900 feet in elevation with absolute breathtaking views.  At the top, the mountain landscape levels off into a wide plateau, with colorful wild flowers at every turn--pinks, reds, yellows, blues, purples--sometimes right next to a patch of snow.  In the distance icy mountain lakes reflect the clear blue sky, surrounded by rock-strewn ridges.  Part of me wondered if it looked the same as when the mountains were carved during Creation.

It was truly a top-of-the-world moment that took my breath away.  (Or was it the Wyoming wind??)  As a writer, it made me think about some of my top-of-the-world moments, like having a book signing for Hidden Heritage with Paul LaRoche on the plaza at America's majestic Mount Rushmore National Monument.  Or winning a week-long residency at the Devils Tower National Monument.  Or completing my first novel, Seeds of Salton.  True top-of-the-world moments are rare...but that's what keeps me focused, keeps me motivated to write, until I reach that next 'moment' in my writing journey. 

Our stay at the top of the world on the Beartooth Pass was short.  We needed to continue on and get to our destination before darkness settled over the mountains.  We arrived in Cooke City, Montana, just before dusk and settled into our hotel.  Later we walked up the quiet Main Street to the Miners Saloon where we once again ended our day with good food (seriously the best pizza ever!), a glass (or two) of Merlot, and lots of laughs, thankful for another day of safe travels.     

Cooke City, Montana
So, let me ask you...what are some of your top-of-the-world moments??  Please share!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Writers Retreat on Dead Lake

I had the good fortune of being invited back to my writer friend's cabin on Dead Lake.  Author Julie Saffrin and her husband have what I consider the "perfect" cabin.  Unlike some of the more popular lakes in Minnesota with one cabin about every 20 feet of shoreline, Dead Lake in Otter Tail County has a minimal number of homes even though it is a very large lake. 

The weather was perfect each day...beautiful sunshine, warm temps, a nice breeze off the lake.  (And let me tell you, "perfect" and "weather" rarely coincide on the same day in Minnesota!)  The Saffrin's dock is surrounded by cattails on both sides and there aren't any other cabins or homes visible...which I love.  Earlier this year I wrote a historical fiction piece titled, "Cries on the Prairie", about a tragedy in 1870 that actually happened on Horse Head Lake in Otter Tail County.

On Friday afternoon I went down to the dock alone, the cattails were dancing in the wind, I saw several eagles flying overhead, and it made me this what it looked liked for my great-grandparents when they homesteaded on Horse Head Lake in 1870?  Maybe...maybe not, but it made me feel like I was seeing what they could have seen from their cabin.  Goosebumbs...

By the way, I entered "Cries on the Prairie" in the Writer's Digest Short Story Contest, and have another six weeks before I find out if I placed or not. 

My real goal in coming to the retreat was to work on Michigan and Rookie...Guardians of the Night, my next book project.  I was able to get a lot written for Chapter One, including writing in a dog's POV for the first time ever!  Anyway, I needed a quiet place to allow myself to get this book started...and Julie's cabin offered that for me.  It's amazing what you can accomplish in a couple days without any interruptions!

Author Joy DeKok joined Julie and I for the weekend.  As all writers know, when so much of our time is spent alone, it is all the more rewarding to come together as friends and lift each other up in our writing journeys.

Let me give a plug for both Julie and Joy; please check out both of their websites: 

Julie Saffrin, at, author of the forthcoming book, BlessBack, Those Who Shaped Your Life. 

Joy Dekok, at, author of Rain Dance, Under His Wings, and several children's books.

All for now and blessings to all,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sundance, Wyoming...Town of One Author's Dreams

The hubby and I have been spending time in the beautiful Black Hills every summer since 2003 when we stayed in the historic Franklin Hotel, downtown Deadwood.  We were there to attend the grand opening of Kevin Costner's Tatanka museum, since Brule' was the guest performer for both day's opening festivities.  We followed that visit up the next summer with the Kevin Costner motorcycle ride from Sturgis to Tatanka, and another Brule' concert on the Tatanka property, overlooking the valley below. 

Starting in 2005 we found a campground near Hill City, adding another day or two each year to stretch out our visit.  One year while studying the map I noticed the hills actually spread a short distance into the eastern edge of Wyoming.  The town of Sundance, Wyoming caught my eye. 

Sundance...what a cool name!  It sounded so cool in fact, I told the hubby we had to check it out that summer. 

We hopped on our Harley and took scenic Highway 16 west from Hill City into Wyoming, coming into Sundance from the south on Highway 585.  My expectations were high; it was Sundance, after all.  Sundance, Wyoming, even.  As we drove down Main Street I studied the typical store fronts, and I have to say they looked "ordinary."  Honestly, I was a bit disappointed.  The hubby turned and said, "This is where you want to live?"  I had to admit there was no magical sensation or pounding heartbeat to indicate this was anything other than an average small town, except for that fact Henry Longabaugh, a/k/a the Sundance Kid, did spend time in jail there once, thus the nickname that followed him. 

Me and The Kid, July 2010
Downtown Sundance

The famous Sundance Film Festival, however, is in Utah, where the celebrities and Hollywood types all flock each September.  Sounds exciting, but I think I'll stick to "my" Sundance in Wyoming, where my affection has re-blossomed having visited there several times now.  Situated at the base of the Bearlodge Mountains, Sundance has a picturesque backdrop that pulls you in and a quaint, western appeal I can't really put into words.  My dream is to one day have business cards that say:

Barbara Marshak
Sundance, Wyoming

Until that day comes, however, my life is centered in plain ol' Minnesota where the hubby and I have good jobs, a nice home, lots of friends and close family.  Yeah, bottom line, I'm pretty lucky to be right where I am. 


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hill City Book Club

Granted, Hill City, South Dakota is a long way to go to visit with a book club, but since the hubby and I camp in the beautiful Black Hills just south of Hill City every summer, it was only a short ride into town from our campground.  Paula DeMars, Library Director of the Hill City Community Library, invited me to lead a discussion with their book club about Hidden Heritage...the Story of Paul LaRoche. 

Since Paul, a/k/a Brule', has performed several times in the Hill City area, readers of the book were eager to hear a little more about Paul's family and their transition from Minnesota to South Dakota; from mainstream America to Native America. 

I chose five discussion points in the book:

1 - The prologue with Sister Mona Kirwan, the nurse who was in charge of the nursery when Paul was born and remembers both his mother, Arlene, and taking care of Paul as a newborn.

2 - When Paul and his family are returning to Lower Brule from Pierre on their first visit to the reservation, it is late at night on a gravel road that follows the Missouri River.  What did Paul, Kathy and their kids think, to see the reservation like that for the first time? 

3 - The decision to include Chapter Five - The Ancestors Speak, which tells a quick review of the history of the Lakota people using Paul's ancestors listed in his lineage, including Paul's great-great-great-grandfather Strikes the Ree, an influential Yankton chief.

4 - The fact that Paul wants everyone to realize it took both worlds to create his story and his music; the love of his adoptive family and the heritage of his birth family, together created Brule'.

5 - The story of Hidden Heritage touches people on multiple levels:  race, culture, adoption, a love story, and following a dream. 

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the members of the book club.  It was a wonderful evening, both with the discussion time and enjoying some tasty treats.  A great big "Thank you!" goes out to Paula and the Hill City Library for inviting me to speak to their group.  It was a fun evening!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rez Ride 2010

Lucky me--it's time to pack up the camper and head west once again!  This two-week adventure will be a combination of A)  part Rez Ride 2010, B) part family vacation, and C) part Harley ride through Wyoming with friends.

A) What is the Rez Ride 2010 you ask?  Let me share... Hidden Heritage-the TV show features 13 episodes per season, one of which is a motorcycle ride through reservation land in South Dakota.  In 2009, our inaugural season, we filmed segments in three locations:  the Black Hills, Bear Butte, and the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Because Paul LaRoche has only a short window of time to break from his live performances and film the ride, it's a little tricky to schedule with other people's vacations.  In 2009 we only had three bikes participate for the Rez Ride, but it didn't stop us from having a blast.  Due to the late hour we had an unplanned overnight stay in Sturgis and spent several hours on the patio of the Holiday Inn, telling stories and laughing until our sides hurt. 

Shane LaRoche, videographer and audio technician, did a fantastic job handling the camera and audio equipment.  It's not as easy as you think, considering he has to capture footage of the bikes riding through the curves and turns on the always busy Needles Highway.  Heading out to the Pine Ridge Reservation was a little easier with a straight road and less traffic, with the Wounded Knee Memorial as our destination.  Little did we know that the Wounded Knee Memorial Run--in honor of Chief Big Foot and the American Indians killed in the Wounded Knee massacre--was enroute to Wounded Knee.  Moments after we arrived roughly one hundred bikers rolled in and parked their bikes, having started the run in Fort Yates, North Dakota.  The timing couldn't have been scripted any better.  With cameras rolling, we captured footage of the ceremony in honor of those killed at the massacre in 1890.  We all had the sense that it was no accident for us to witness and share such a moving ceremony as part of the Rez Ride 2009.                                                                                    

This year, in 2010, our plan is to capture footage and scenery on the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Reservations in central South Dakota along the famous Lewis and Clark Trail.  And as of today we've upped participation in the ride to four bikes! 

B) For our family vacation we'll spend one week at the Horsethief Campground south of Hill City.  Our youngest son David will join us, along with another family and their three kids.  We'll do some of the typical family traditions, sightseeing, little bit of tourist shopping, and end each day with dinner back at the campground, followed with an evening campfire.

One author note:  On Tuesday, July 27, I've been invited to speak to the Hill City Book Club at the Hill City Library.  We'll be discussing Hidden Heritage...the Story of Paul LaRoche.  Since many people in Hill City are fans of Paul LaRoche and Brule', it should be a fun evening!  I am looking forward to our discussion. 

C)  On Sunday, August 1st, four other couples will join John and I for a circle tour through Wyoming.  We're leaving from Hill City and taking some of the back roads west to Sheridan, then up to Cooke City, Montana.  From there we head south into Yellowstone National Park and will spend one night in Grand Teton, Wyoming.  Next we head east to Buffalo, and back to Hill City on the fifth and final day.  We'll finish up our vacation with a couple days of riding in the always-beautiful Black Hills before returning to Minnesota. 

My husband and I have been going to South Dakota at least once--and quite often twice--every summer since 2003...and each year part of the reason has involved Hidden Heritage and/or Brule'.  On that note, let the adventure continue!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Real Poetry--Wyoming Style

When I won a residency at the Devils Tower National Monument back in 2008, I had the good fortune of having lunch with several members of the Bearlodge Writers group, who cosponsored the residency together with the park.  One member, Pat Frolander, (back row, lavender sweater) also worked at the park and served as my liaison, graciously greeting me when I arrived in Wyoming on the heels of an early winter storm. 

Pat lives on a ranch in Sundance, Wyoming and writes poetry.  Real poetry.  A couple posts ago I shared my feeble attempt at poetry during the Landscape & Literature of the Horse Retreat I attended back in June at the Vee Bar Ranch west of Laramie.  (Okay, yes, I feel drawn to Wyoming and use any excuse to venture westward!) 

I'll be the first to admit, however, there's a difference between Pat's poetry and mine.  In fact, Pat's poem "Denial" was recognized in June by Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate 2004-2006, in the American Life in Poetry.  With Pat's permission, here is her poem:


He called it "his ranch,"
yet each winter day found her beside him
feeding hay to hungry cows.

In summer heat
you would find her in the hayfield--
cutting, raking, baling, stacking.

In between she kept the books,
cooked, cleaned
laundered, fed bum lambs.

Garden rows straight,
canned jars of food
lined cellar walls.

Then she died.
I asked him how he would manage.
"Just like I always have," he said.

Amazing!  Through a minimal amount of words I can picture each decade of this woman's life.  Anyway, Pat shared her good news with me earlier this week, and I felt it was worthy to pass on.  If you by chance pick up a copy of Grassland Genealogy (Finishing Line Press, 2009) you will see that Pat's writing style is in one sense heartwarming, like "Requiem In Lace", and in another sense frank and forthright, such as "Wringer Washer", a short poem that speaks of a woman's tenacity. Pat shares a way of life in the contemporary west through fragmented sentences and rhymes that speak to the heart and draws the reader to her spirit.

As we all know, one of the best things in attending writers events is connecting with other writers.  And sometimes the 'connecting' goes deeper than we first realize.  Like finding out Page Lambert, the author/speaker who facilitated the retreat I attended in June, is a former member of the Bearlodge Writers and helped found the residency...and happens to be a good friend of Pat's. 

Maybe as our world gets smaller (as it sure seems to!) Wyoming will get closer to Minnesota and I won't have so far to drive next time! 

(*Group photo is by Alice Liles, Muleshoe, TX; Landscape & Literature of the Horse Retreat, 2010)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Seconds Matter

Those who live in or near my hometown of Wadena, a picturesque farming community in north-central Minnesota, are familiar with the neat yards and tree-lined boulevards, similar to many other Midwestern towns.  That all changed on Thursday, June 17th, when an F4 tornado ripped through Wadena.  The tornado hit with such ferocity that it destroyed a good portion of the town in a matter of seconds.

Thankfully there was enough time to send out warnings for residents to take cover, including my relatives who still live there.  My sister's home was only two houses away from the tornado's path, yet hers had no damage.  My brother was a patient in the Tri-County Hospital and he was escorted to an underground tunnel for safety. 

In the southwest section of town--my old neighborhood--over two hundred homes were damaged or destroyed.  Stately oak trees that stood for generations in the cemetery were uprooted or twisted off at the base.  The county fairgrounds, complete with century-old buildings and beautiful trees was devastated.  The municipal pool--by far the most popular spot all summer--was in ruins.  Sections of the community center and agriculture building were wrapped around other business, literally ripped from the foundation and swept away.  School buses and rail cars were tossed around like toothpicks.

The high school (senior high, junior high, and district office) had the roof ripped off and authorities later found the building had started to crumble.  Plans were in place for an all-school reunion the following day, which would have meant many more people in the school. It was eerie to walk down a street a block from where I grew up that was unrecognizable.  Trees my dad planted (bottom left photo) in our back yard were toppled. 

The outpouring of help has been incredible.  First responders and volunteers came to help from communities statewide.  Wadena will rebuild, much the same as other communities that have been hit by a devastating force of nature.  That's when we realize it is the people who are at the heart of each town--big or little--who make the difference, reaching out, helping each other across this great nation of ours. 

So on this Fourth of July it seems all the more appropriate to give thanks to our military friends and families who dedicate their lives and sacrifice more than we'll ever know in the name of freedom.  I'm thankful to live a country with God and freedom at our very core . . . and I'm thankful for the type of upbringing I had in a small town like Wadena. 

Happy Fourth of July to all,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vee Bar Highlights

Howdy!  (FYI, that's how you greet someone in Wyoming.)

Let me backtrack for just a minute...last Christmas I received a beautiful travel journal from our daughter Summer & her husband, Grant.  Knowing I was already registered for the Literature and Landscape Retreat at the Vee Bar Ranch in Wyoming, I saved the journal specifically for my trip west. 

Right after returning home from Wyoming, however, I had a chain reaction of events that kept me from having access to my computer, subsequently delaying any posts or making a fun photoshow, like Page, Jenny and Alice did.  And now, since a whole month has passed, I thought the best way to share the experience is to simply make a list of some of the highlights.  (My new journal even had a space to record the highlights!)

Day 1 - listening to the rushing of the Little Laramie Creek & the birds singing, watching the sun going down--all from the Adirondack chair on my front porch, with a glass of wine in hand.

Day 2 - watching the wranglers--Tommy, Darcy, Dave, Connor, Brent--bring in the whole herd of 60 horses from the pasture to the corral

Day 3 - riding bareback on Jello with Tommy telling stories; the beauty of the Little Laramie River Valley in every direction

Day 4 - a few, brief moments where I felt like I belonged in the saddle with Lollipop! 

Day 5 - writing the poem, Little Laramie

Day 6 - view from the camp up on Centennial Ridge at the neighboring Deerwood Ranch, about 9,700 feet elevation

Added to that were all the nice people I met, sixteen writers from all over the US and two from Canada, plus Page and Sheri who facilitated the retreat, and all the wonderful staff at the Vee Bar.  As I get back on track here at home and relive some of my thoughts from Wyoming, I'll share more about this unique experience.