featuring guest mystery authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Friday, August 1, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR LYNN CAHOON

Multi-published author Lynn Cahoon writes stories that focus around the depth and experience of small town life and love. Learn more about Lynn and her books at her website/blog. 

Who slept here?
Growing up in Idaho, finding historical sites to visit is sometimes a challenge. We have wide-open spaces for camping and clear blue lakes and rivers for fishing, but most of our historical sites deal with the exploration and development of the west and the state.

Spaulding Mission is one of those sites. The long ago mission and school was said to be the farthest a white couple had gone inward from the west coast at the time. When a fellow traveler who settled a little closer to the coast in Walla Walla, Washington hadn’t heard from the couple, he set out to visit. Only the little house had been burned to the ground and the white settlers killed. The story is told to Idaho fourth graders every year.

Idaho’s first government was set in a historic mining town. Still active, Idaho City, though no longer the capital, now serves as a mountain tourist town.

We also had a lot of Lewis and Clark ‘stayed here’ sights.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to St Louis and they also laid claim to the Lewis and Clark adventure. However, my new home has more experience in dealing with and supporting historical sites. Probably because more history occurred here. We have the first prison ever in Illinois—even before Joliet—or at least a wall of the old prison. We have statues depicting the Lincoln Douglas debate and even a life size statue of the largest man to ever live.

History. My new hometown is steeped in the stuff.

My new series, The Tourist Trap mysteries, deals with history in a small tourist town. South Cove is home to one of the first Spanish missions and if Jill’s right, the wall in her garden is the original foundation for that mission. But there are a lot of people hoping that she’s wrong.

Check out Mission to Murder to find out more about the Spanish Missions dotting the California coastline.

Mission to Murder, a Tourist Trap Mystery

In the California coastal town of South Cove, history is one of its many tourist attractions—until it becomes deadly…

Jill Gardner, proprietor of Coffee, Books, and More, has discovered that the old stone wall on her property might be a centuries-old mission worthy of being declared a landmark. But Craig Morgan, the obnoxious owner of South Cove’s most popular tourist spot, The Castle, makes it his business to contest her claim. When Morgan is found murdered at The Castle shortly after a heated argument with Jill, even her detective boyfriend has to ask her for an alibi. Jill decides she must find the real murderer to clear her name. But when the killer comes for her, she’ll need to jump from historic preservation to self-preservation …

Thursday, July 31, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR NEIL PLAKCY

Canal in Yardley, PA
Neil Plakcy is the author of more than two dozen novels and short story collections. He’s here today to tell us about his home county of Bucks County, PA where his Golden Retriever Mysteries are set. Learn more about Neil and his books at his website. 

The River Towns of Bucks County, PA
When I first began thinking about the book that would become In Dog We Trust, the first of my Golden Retriever Mysteries, I wanted to set it in a small town where my hero could run into people he had known growing up. So I turned to my own hometown of Yardley, Pennsylvania as a model. However, my canvas has since spread to encompass a large part of Bucks County.

When I was growing up, Yardley was a small town surrounded by farmlands. Nestled along the banks of the Delaware River, its commercial days were long past. When I-95 came through, it became more easily commutable to Philadelphia and New York, and the area boomed.

Bristol is today a town of mansard roofs and gingerbread Victorians. Lions’ Park, at the foot of Mill Street, is a good place to consider the area’s commercial past. Sit on a bench at the water’s edge behind the stone riprap, and watch the tugboats, barges and container ships as well as powerboats and sailboats. Listen to The Bristol Stomp by the Dovells on your iPod, and practice your moves underneath the imitation covered bridge.

Yardley Friends' Meeting House
In Whom Dog Hath Joined, the most recent in the series, I send my human hero Steve Levitan and his cop pal Rick Stemper to Bristol to interview an elderly Quaker who was active in the anti-war protests of the 1960s. The area’s Quaker heritage is visible in the many Friends’ Meeting Houses.

From Bristol, follow the navy and orange signs, the color of Pennsylvania license plates, along Radcliffe Street to Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s home. The Manor offers guided tours and special events. My personal favorite is Sheepshearing Day in May.

Stroll through the house and the thirty acres of landscaped grounds, and travel back in time to the 17th century when most commercial traffic in this area was focused on the Delaware. The three-story brick manor house was rebuilt in 1939 to Penn’s specifications, and represents his lifestyle, which was more elaborate than the traditional unornamented style of Quakers of his time.

From Pennsbury Manor continue north, following signs to Route 13, and then Route 1 north. Veer off to the left to Route 32 north to Morrisville, which was almost the capital of the United States, due to the influence of financier Robert Morris.

If you look behind the 7-11 at the Mill Pond Shopping Center, you’ll find the old Delaware Canal, which once transported coal from the state’s mines by mule-drawn barge. Park there and walk down the towpath for awhile. Despite the highway nearby, the area is wild and quiet.

Continue north on Route 32, turning left and following River Road through Morrisville. Here the canal begins to run alongside the river, and across the Delaware you can see the gold-domed capitol and the skyline of Trenton, New Jersey.

The land is so low here and the river is so close you can almost reach out and touch it. Steve lives within walking distance of the Delaware, and often takes his golden retriever Rochester out there for walks. The narrow road and non-existent sidewalks inspired a couple of motor vehicle accidents in the books.

Main Street, Yardley, PA
Up ahead is Yardley, a small town of Victorian gingerbread and native brownstone, where I use many of the town’s landmarks in my fictional town of Stewart’s Crossing. There is only one traffic light in town, at the corner of Main and Afton. Stop for a beer at the Continental Tavern, which has been serving thirsty travellers at this intersection since 1863. I’ve recreated this bar as The Drunken Hessian in my books.

Lake Afton
The quaint Victorian library on Lake Afton, a mill pond just behind the pharmacy, was built by local residents in 1878; now children and adults use the library steps to change into their skates for a quick turn on the ice in the winter.

Old Yardley Library
Continue north on Route 32, River Road, which is overhung with oaks, maples and elms and is lined with purple and white phlox on long stems and the tiny pansies called Johnny jump-ups. My town of Stewart’s Crossing, like Brigadoon, hides there, just on the far side of the Scudder Falls Bridge.

At Washington’s Crossing, George’s hazardous trip is reenacted every year on Christmas Day, in similar flat Durham boats. Washington Crossing State Park contains a number of Revolutionary War era buildings, including restored homes, an inn, and a blacksmith’s shop.

Bowman’s Hill Tower, just inland from the river, was built of local stone in 1930 and now stands over a nice park with barbecues and picnic pavilions named for Revolutionary War heroes. The picnic grounds are green and rolling, and the slope is just right for little kids to roll down. Steve and Rick like to take their dogs to the park to run around and have fun.

The tower is open from April to November, and is the centerpiece of a 100-acre wildflower preserve. Drive up a curving road, or hike the trail up to the tower through woods that seem untouched since Washington’s day. Once you’ve reached the summit, take the elevator up inside the tower and climb the last 21 steps, through a narrow, curving passageway more reminiscent of medieval Europe than depression-era Pennsylvania, to the observation platform, 110 feet up.

On a clear day, you can see 60 miles in any direction, and you’ll understand why Washington sent his scouts to the top of this hill to watch for redcoats. The vista is of farms and fields, but increasingly you’ll see renovated half-million-dollar farmhouses and fake-colonial suburbs.

A few miles farther north, the canal passes over Jericho Creek in an aqueduct, one of nine along the 60 miles of canal. The canal is on your right now, and it’ll be there until you get into New Hope, where the only toll station regulated the flow of anthracite coal from northern mines to southern ports. Check into the Logan, a colonial inn on Main Street, established in 1727, and one of the five oldest continuously run inns in the US.

A restored grist mill in New Hope is the site of the Bucks County Playhouse. Composer Moss Hart was one of a group of investors who renovated the old mill and began putting on shows there. Actors such as Paul Newman, Larry Hagman, Grace Kelly, and Walter Matthau have appeared there.

The area around New Hope is honeycombed with country roads and antique shops. Spend a few hours exploring back roads from Lahaska to Lambertville, NJ, or just browse through New Hope’s peculiar blend of the touristy, the off-beat and the historic.

Afterwards, walk halfway across the bridge to Lambertville, and stop and look below at the eddies and swirls of the river current, which is fast and deep here. A powerboat towing a water skier is sure to pass, leaving a v-shaped wake, while you stand on the wooden walkway and feel the metal bridge reverberate with passing cars and trucks. You can see Bowman’s Hill Tower downriver—wave to the people standing on top. Maybe they’ll see you and wave back.

Whom Dog Hath Joined
Reformed computer hacker Steve Levitan still gets a thrill from snooping into places online where he shouldn’t be. When his golden retriever Rochester discovers a human bone at the Friends Meeting during the Harvest Days festival, these two unlikely sleuths are plunged into another investigation.

They will uncover uncomfortable secrets about their small town’s past as they dig deep into the Vietnam War era, when local Quakers helped draft resisters move through Stewart’s Crossing on their way to Canada. Does that bone Rochester found belong to one of those young men fleeing conscription? Or to someone who knew the secrets that lurked behind those whitewashed walls?

Whether the death was due to natural causes, or murder, someone in the present wants to keep those secrets hidden. And Steve and Rochester may end up in the crosshairs of a very antique rifle if they can’t dig up the clues quickly enough.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, a children's chapter book by Lois Winston

Wednesday posts generally feature decorating, health, or family budget articles. Today we’re veering from the norm, in part because today is the birthday of the real mom of Jack, Zoe, and Chase (Happy Birthday, Jen!) So it seemed a fitting day to announce the publication of The Magic Paintbrush.

Back in 2009 Lois Winston (who recently became a USA Today bestselling author!) came up with the idea for a chapter book for young readers. Shortly after she finished writing it, she sold the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, and as all of you know, her life has pretty much been centered around yours truly ever since (with the occasional detour to bring other characters into the world when I allows it.) Frankly, she pretty much forgot about The Magic Paintbrush.

Until she recently remembered it…

With all the war and turmoil currently going on in the world, she thought it was time to shake the dust bunnies off The Magic Paintbrush and make it available to young readers.

Without being preachy, The Magic Paintbrush addresses the issue of differences, in this case, a kingdom that is all pink at war with a kingdom that is all blue for longer than anyone can remember—so long that no one even knows what started the feud. It takes two children from another land to point out to the rulers of both kingdoms how we're really all the same inside and the benefits to getting along.

Now if only people in the real world would do likewise…

The Magic Paintbrush
When nine-year-old Jack and his seven-year-old sister Zoe are snowed in for days with nothing to do, their complaints land them in every guy’s worst nightmare—the kingdom of Vermilion, a land where everything is totally pink! At first Jack is mistaken for a spy from the neighboring kingdom of Cobalt, but Zoe convinces Queen Fuchsia that they’re from New Jersey and arrived by magic.

Queen Fuchsia needs a king, but all the available princes in Vermilion are either too short, too fat, too old, or too stupid. Jack and Zoe suggest she looks for a king in Cobalt, but Vermilion and Cobalt have been at war since long before anyone can remember. Jack and Zoe decide Vermilion and Cobalt need a Kitchen Table Mediation to settle their differences. So they set out on an adventure to bring peace to the warring kingdoms—and maybe along the way they just might find a king for the queen.

The Magic Paintbrush is suitable for children eight years of age and up to read on their own. Younger children will enjoy the story if it’s read to them. You can read an excerpt here

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR HALEY WHITEHALL

Haley Whitehall has been obsessed with telling stories since the age of four. Her addiction to the Civil War era came later, but proved no less potent. She earned her B.A in history from Central Washington University. Pairing her two passions, she writes historical romance with a touch of faith. Learn more about Haley and her books at her website

It is a pleasure to be on Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers again. I write Civil War era historical romance, and often my romances are interracial. Midnight Kiss is the third book in my Moonlight Romance series set in the South during Reconstruction.

I think food and romance go together quite well. I don’t write foodie romance, but even in my historical romance food naturally plays a part. Back in the 19th century women were expected to be better cooks than they are today. After all there was no such thing as McDonald’s!

In Midnight Kiss, Matt Seever hires April to be a nanny to his two children. He has been a widower for four years. She doesn’t mind cleaning up his messy house and cooking his meals, too. What she did not realize was flapjacks could lead to them sharing more than a meal together.

Matt can’t cook. Working as an officer on the steamer the Queen Bee, he had his meals provided for him. After he quit and took a job in St. Louis, Missouri working for his brother, his supply of good meals disappeared. Fate brought him and April together. He and his children like anything she cooks–but their favorite is flapjacks.

Old Fashioned Pancakes Recipe
(makes approximately 12 pancakes)

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1-1/4 cup milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan at 350. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

Midnight Kiss (Moonlight Romance, Book 3)
Unjustly accused of stealing, nanny April Windmire is turned out on the streets without pay. With no place to go and no friends, she stows away on a Mississippi River steamboat. Her hopes to hide through the journey to St. Louis are dashed when a handsome white officer finds her. But instead of turning her in, he takes her to his private quarters where she fights her growing attraction to a man she cannot have.

Matt Seever’s wife died four year ago, leaving him alone with two small mulatto children. But his job as an officer on the Queen Bee isn’t family friendly. He knows he needs a new wife, but no southern white woman will marry him. When April lands in his lap, his prayers are answered. Or are they? April’s not the trusting type and racial prejudice runs deep in post-Civil War Missouri. Just when Matt convinces April he loves her, his new family becomes a target and there’s no backing down from this fight.

Together, April and Matt must brave heinous race prejudice crimes to find an enduring love.


Monday, July 28, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER BOBBI A. CHUKRAN

Bobbi A. Chukran is the author of Lone Star Death and the "Nameless, Texas" story series. The first novella in the Lone Star Death series, Dye, Dyeing, Dead also features Aunt Jewel and the folks from Nameless and is coming in August. Read more about Bobbi and her work at her website and blog.  





Original Photos on Short Story Covers
When I launched my "Nameless, Texas" short story series, I wanted to tie them together visually. Although I write full-time now, I have been a visual artist/craft designer and still practice my creativity whenever I can. My writing uses one side of my brain and the photography/cover design uses the other. It's a good balance.

I love taking still life photos, so I decided to use some for the covers. With a (cheap) digital camera, I can take hundreds of photos and it costs nothing but time.  I then use Photoshop Elements for enhancing the photos and adding the text.

As I write the stories, I think about how they can be illustrated. My "Dewey Loudermilk & the Peckerwood Tree" cover was inspired by two healthy pecan trees that my neighbors cut down.  To remember the ancient trees, I took a series of photos, including the stump and logs that were left over. These incidents stuck in my mind, and it wasn't long before I had hatched a proper revenge story.  One of the photos ended up on the cover.

My "Aunt Jewel & the Poisoned Potlikker" cover features a colorful bowl and pitcher I use daily. I was "brewing" the story in my head while a pot of succulent collard greens simmered on my stove. I wanted it to evoke the feeling of down-home, handmade goodness. It's definitely a dish that Aunt Jewel would cook up for the annual Thanksgiving celebration. I often visualize her chopping, cooking and creating her meals on the pine butcher block countertop in my vintage kitchen.

The photo I used on my "Aunt Jewel and the Purloined Pork Loin" cover was one I took years ago at our former ranch house, right before Thanksgiving.  The pumpkin, pine table and ladderback chair evoke, for me, old-fashioned holidays, and I hope it will also evoke those feelings for my readers.

I intend to keep using my photography to spawn ideas for my stories, and my stories to spawn ideas for photos. Both of them enhance the other, and it just makes the whole process a little more fun.

Aunt Jewel and the Purloined Pork Loin
The women of Nameless, Texas are under the influence of their new favorite cooking show, The Butt Nekkid Texas Chef, and the annual Giving of Thanks community gathering may never be the same again. Things spiral out of control after Kendra Louise Harper offers to pick up some meat from a local farm for her Aunt Jewel, and turn hilarious when she and her friend, Jeffrey, end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and are snatched by two cross-dressing bank robbers.


Dewey Laudermilk and the Peckerwood Tree
When Dewey Laudermilk decides that his grandma’s old pecan tree has to come down, he won’t take no for an answer. Pretty soon, his hilarious redneck network is on hand to help with the process. Dewey's Grandma is heartbroken because she remembers when she and her husband planted that old tree, home to a family of woodpeckers (called “peckerwoods” by Mr. Laudermilk.) After a series of unfortunate accidents, and a mysterious illness, Dewey is reminded that sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone.


Aunt Jewel and the Poisoned Potlikker
When Kendra Louise Harper's Aunt Jewel decides to make a traditional "mess" of turnip greens to take to the annual Giving of Thanks community dinner and gathering in Nameless, Texas (population 2,354), little does she know that her special dish will become the source of widespread illness and even a death.



Friday, July 25, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR J.L. SIMPSON

Author J.L. Simpson describes herself as a diminutive English rose who was stolen away by a giant nomad and replanted in a southern land filled with gum trees and kangaroos. She quickly grasped the meaning of G’day and mate whilst steadfastly refusing all attempts to convert her to Vegemite. She loves sharing tales about unexpected twists of fate. Holding on to a steadfast belief every obstacle can be overcome, she spends her moments of solitude creating adventures where mystery and mayhem collide. Learn more about JL at her website.

A Cubist Faze

When I realized that a guest post would need to be something relevant to the blog I panicked. The days my husband doesn’t cook we eat take-out. I only go shopping for clothes with supervision because I have the worst taste in fashion, and craft is so not my thing. I failed art in high school!

However, here goes!  I love the idea of art and craft. In my youth I used to bang around in the shed with a hammer and nails building things. Thankfully no one ever asked what my things were. My mum taught me to knit when I was very young, and my first niece was the beneficiary of my efforts. I even made clothes for my own children, but I no longer have the patience or energy.

In an effort to discover my inner Leonardo Da Vinci I took up sketching and painting with my husband. My kids laugh at my pictures. I’ve been told I’m in a cubist faze. Knowing I can’t actually paint something that looks real I prefer to stick to designs, and squares are cool.

All of my siblings are brilliant at art and craft but I am the black sheep.  I’ve struggled to find a creative outlet that I can stick with long enough to master. I’m easily bored, and most things are repetitive and fiddly. However, I have finally found my niche, my thing, my creative muse. Writing. I love to make up stories. I can write about women who can do things that are beyond me or women who make my creative efforts look spectacular. I can take my stories anywhere I want and hopefully give people some escapism and a giggle along the way. I guess we all have a talent for something; it just takes some of us a while to find it.

Lost Cause
Daisy Dunlop loves a challenge, but heir hunting is supposed to be easy. She can deal with anything her new job throws at her, except the bullets, bombs, and working with P.I. Solomon Liffey. Her husband's best friend is supposed to be looking out for her, but when she uncovers Solomon’s biggest secret, he's the one who needs protection.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR KATHLEEN HEADY

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
EPIC nominee Kathleen Heady has lived in and traveled to many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. Learn more about her and her books at her website/blog.

My latest novel, Hotel Saint Clare, is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean but is partially based on my travels in Costa Rica, especially the Caribbean coast of that country. I moved to Costa Rica in the early 1990s to teach in an international school on the outskirts of San José. Less than a year later, I married another teacher at the school and we stayed in Costa Rica for another seven years. Since I lived there for so long, most of my favorite spots in Costa Rica tend to be off the beaten tourist track.

I much prefer the beaches on the Caribbean coast with its laid back Jamaican influenced culture. You don't see the highrise, luxury hotels on this coast. Things tend more toward small hotels and cabinas tucked in the rain forest, but still often only a few steps from the beach. When I first visited Puerto Viejo in 1992, there was only one telephone in the village. Now that has changed. Everyone has the latest technology, and Internet cafés are common. But you will still hear reggae music as you walk down the street, and your feet automatically slow down to a relaxed pace.

Rice and beans are traditionally served with almost every meal in Costa Rica, but on the Caribbean coast they’re cooked with coconut milk and are called by the English name, "rice and beans," rather than the Spanish "arroz y frijoles."
If you want to try making "rice and beans" at home, here is how you do it. A good friend who lives in Puerto Viejo sent me the directions, but you will have to use your own judgment and taste preference for quantities of ingredients.

There is nothing more refreshing than a cold fruit drink, and you find all varieties of them in Costa Rica, where they are known as "refrescos." They come in flavors such as blackberry, strawberry, pineapple, mango, papaya, and less well-known tropical flavors like cas, guanabana, and tamarindo. There is nothing better than ordering a refresco in a restaurant and hearing the whirring of the blender before your drink is brought to the table in a tall, cold glass.

Many people from temperate climates believe that they would miss the change of seasons while living in the tropics. I never found this to be so. There is a change of season, but it does not involve the temperature. Roughly, the rainy season lasts from May to the end of November, and the dry season from December to the beginning of May. I prefer the rainy season. It doesn't rain constantly. In fact, the mornings are usually dry. People who work outdoors start very early, at least by six a.m., to take advantage of the clear morning. This is also a good time to exercise. The rains come in the afternoon, and can be anything from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. There is truly nothing like the sound of the rain hitting the metal roofs that are so common in the tropics. And if you get wet, so what? You will dry soon.

The weather, the food and drinks are all part of life in the tropics, but the best part of living in Costa Rica is the people. Everyone you meet is friendly, open, and affectionate. You soon adjust to a hug and kiss on the cheek when you meet an acquaintance on the street, on a bus, or in someone's home. I was surprised to be hugged and kissed by students when visiting another teacher's home for a school activity, but I soon got used to it, and love the custom. As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura vida," or "pure life." This can be a greeting or simply an expression to say it all. Life is good. Enjoy it.

Hotel Saint Clare
Hotel Saint Clare is a Caribbean island paradise, a place filled with happy carefree people whose only concern is the pleasure of the tourists. But appearances can be deceiving. Greed, envy, jealousy, murder, lust… all can be found within the luxurious hotel. Nara Blake has landed a dream job at the Hotel Saint Clare, until the owner is murdered in his hospital bed, and her life changes in ways she would never have expected.


Someone wants her dead, and even with the wise counsel of the island shaman, she does not know who to trust and must rely on her instincts and her wits, as she always has.

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