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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- TIP OF THE DAY


Here’s a handy little tip from travel editor Serena Brower that could save you a huge headache at some point. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! This actually happened to someone I know. He’d just purchased a $40 BART card. After swiping the card to go through the turnstile, he stuck it in his pocket -- the same pocket that held his digital camera. For those of you not familiar with the California Bay area metro system, you need to swipe your card before going through the turnstile to board the train and again to leave the station once you arrive at your destination. The cost of the trip is automatically deducted from your card.

When my friend went to use his card to leave the station after he exited the train, the turnstile refused to open. The read-out screen said his card was invalid. Unbeknownst to him, his camera had demagnetized the strip on his card.

The same can happen with credit cards, ATM cards, or any other cards that contains a magnetic strip. You also want to keep your credit cards, ATM cards, and transit cards away from your smart phone, and never place any cards with magnetic strips back-to-back so that the magnetic strips touch each other.

Good to know, Serena! Thanks for the Tip of the Day. -- AP

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- GUEST DECORATOR AND AUTHOR LEA WAIT

Maine Author Lea Wait writes the Agatha-nominated Shadows Antique Print series, (Shadows at the Fair, Shadows on the Coast of Maine, Shadows on the Ivy, Shadows at the Spring Show, and Shadows of a Down East Summer) and historical novels for young people. Today she visits Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers with some great tips for decorating the walls of your home. Visit Lea at her website for more information about her and her books.  -- AP   

Any decorating magazine will give you advice on wall colors, furniture styles, carpets versus rugs, and what window treatments to use. 

Seldom mentioned, although always pictured in the rooms displayed as examples, are the paintings and prints on the walls.  Occasionally, especially when they appear in particularly unusual arrangements or frames, they are footnotes. But, generally, you are left on your own to find the perfect pictures for your walls.

So, let me give you a little advice. First, my credentials: since 1977, either part-time or full-time, I’ve been an antique print dealer. My mother was an artist; my husband is a photographer and artist. So I’ve lived with art all of my life. I buy it, I sell it, and I know how to hang it. And I can teach you enough, even in this short article, to get you started toward making the art on your walls define you as a smart, classy, intelligent person with impeccable taste.

First, here are the things you should never, ever buy or hang on your walls:

1. Art from a chain store. This includes the bin art at a photography or framing store. 

2. Any frame made of plastic or glass.

3. A reproduction of any kind, unless you are under 25 and it is a museum shop poster.

    4. Art that matches your couch or drapes.

5. Any art that you hate, for any reason.

6. Religious art – unless you are very religious, and you are going to hang it in a private part of the house. (I’m not anti-religious, and I’m also assuming your religious art is not a Leonardo da Vince or another of the great masters. If it is, pardon me. You may hang it in your dining room.)

7. Any art that is “cute.” Cute is not classy.

OK. Now, what are you going to hang? 

You have three choices. The first choice is to hang things which are not, officially, art, but which become artistic when hung together as a collection . A group of fly rods, antique or modern (but the older the better). A half dozen decorative plates. (Not with Hummels on them. Perhaps all blue and white, or brown and white.)  A collection of framed campaign buttons. You get the idea. Something that is distinctive, interesting, and that no one else will have on their wall, framed and hung well.

The second choice is to hang paintings. Paintings are generally expensive, but that doesn’t mean having your own gallery of oils or water colors is impossible. Look for paintings you love while you’re on vacation. Look at yard sales. Look at flea markets, at auctions, at antique shows. You may well have to re-frame your treasures, but they’ll be worth it if you love them. Don’t buy something assuming you’ll make a fortune. Chances are you won’t.  Keep in mind the basics: Signed paintings are worth more than unsigned. Damaged paintings can be acquired for very little, but repairs can be expensive. (Cleaning, not so much.)

You can acquire a group of, say, small 19th century unsigned paintings of flowers and fruit (popular subjects for ladies to paint) for perhaps $50 each. Hang them as a collection and your home has a cachet like no other. Plus – you’ll have had the fun of the chase.

And as for prints, your third option: they’re perhaps the easiest to find. Check antique print dealers, “paper shows,” antique shows, and, again, flea markets, and auctions. Nineteenth and early 20th century prints were often bound in books, so antiquarian book dealers should be on your list. Prints of astronomy, flowers, birds, shells … they’re often the ones you see in those perfect room settings in magazines, all matted and framed.

And if you’d like to know more about antique prints, and finding them, have I got a mystery series for you! My Shadows Antique Mystery Series, starring antique print dealer Maggie Summer, follows her through the world of antique print buying, selling, and collecting, as well as solving murders (not always a part of that business.)  Each chapter begins with a description of a print and its value.  Read all 5 books in the series – and you can not only decorate your walls – you can talk about them with expertise!

Great tips, Lea! Thanks so much for joining us today. Readers, have any of you decorated your walls with unique items? Let’s hear from you. -- AP

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY--COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE, PERFECT TOGETHER


Food editor Cloris McWerther is off looking at colleges with her daughter this week. In her place I’m posting this Tip of the Day that I came across because coffee and chocolate are two of my major food groups:

TIP OF THE DAY:
When making chocolate desserts, substitute brewed coffee in place of other liquids for a deeper flavor.

Anyone game to try it? Let’s hear from you.  -- AP

Monday, June 27, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- ESPRESSO BEAN TOPIARY


Today I’m repeating one of the crafts that appeared last year when the blog was in its infancy and had far fewer regular readers. The Espresso Bean Topiary is a quick and easy craft that produces a finished product that looks anything but quick and easy. Try substituting dried beans for a slightly different look and color scheme or make several topiaries using a variety of different sized pots and foam cones. -- AP

ESPRESSO BEAN TOPIARY
Materials: 3” x 6” craft foam cone; 6” cinnamon stick; dk. brown acrylic paint; satin finish acrylic sealer; ¾ cup espresso beans; tacky glue; 3” clay pot; floral foam; Spanish moss; 1” foam brush; 4 strands raffia in color of your choice.

Note: Allow paint, glue, and sealer to dry between steps.

1.  Poke a hole for cinnamon stick in bottom of cone.

2. Paint cone with dk. brown paint.

3.  Glue cinnamon stick into hole in bottom of cone.

4.  Beginning at bottom edge of cone and working up, glue beans side by side in rows around cone.

5.  Apply sealer to beans.

6.  Glue Spanish moss over floral foam.

7.  Tie raffia into a bow and glue to front of pot.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Sarah E. Glenn for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of All This and Family, Too to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Melinda Leigh. Melinda, please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, I’ll forward the information to Sarah, and she’ll mail the book to you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR SARAH E. GLENN

Our Book Club Friday guest today is author Sarah E. Glenn who discusses the story behind the story of All This and Family, Too. To learn more about Sarah, visit her website, blog, and Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @saraheglenn.  


Sarah is offering a copy of All This and Family, Too to one lucky reader. Just post a comment this week to be entered into the drawing. Check back Sunday to see if you're the winner. -- AP

Cynthia Leach is a professor of astronomy. She’s also a new vampire whose sire has been destroyed by vampire hunters. Cynthia believes that she can keep her family safe by moving them across the country to a gated community in Irvine, California, but instead learns that the deeds of vampires can be restricted.

Astronomy isn’t a nighttime science any more, and the department chair demands that she teach day classes. She rescues a runaway who soon learns too much to be discarded. Her grandmother becomes the romantic rival of the president of the homeowners’ association, and now the president is determined to run Grandma out of town. Worst of all, the vampire hunters are persistent ones – who have followed Cynthia to her new home.

If you like vampires, stories with strong female characters, or just hate the pettiness of some gated communities, All This and Family, Too has something to offer you. Cynthia is an extraordinary character in an ordinary world, and she is ill-equipped to handle it.

Part of the inspiration for this book came when I saw the HOA covenant of my wife’s boss. He paid her to type it up for him, and I was surprised to discover that the deed restrictions went far beyond keeping your lawn mowed and turning down the music after 11 PM. Many lifestyle guidelines were included. The covenant controlled the types of outbuildings (sheds, barns, etc.) residents could own for esthetic concerns. Some hobbies were forbidden, because they could potentially lower the resale value of the house – and thus affect the value of their neighbors’ homes.

When I did more research, I found that many covenants are more demanding. Houses could only be repainted in certain, very specific, brands and colors? Landscaping plants could only come from pre-approved lists? If you didn’t follow the rules, you could be sued, or even foreclosed on by your own neighbors! In the hands of a power player or a petty person, these rules make fine tools to abuse.

From there, it was only a short step to a story: what if you were forced to move to a place like this, and the people in charge were abusing the rules for their own purposes? What if you had to stay there to keep your family safe? Worse: what if you couldn’t afford to move out, even if you learned it wasn’t as safe as you’d hoped?

Now imagine this happening to a vampire.

You just never know from where inspiration for a book will come. Thanks for stopping by today Sarah! Readers, don't forget to post a comment to enter the drawing to win a copy of Sarah's book. -- AP

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- GUEST TRAVELER, AUTHOR ANNE VAN

Visiting today is artist, fashion designer, and travel author Anne Van to tell us about her time in Japan. If you’d like to know more about Anne’s Japanese adventures, you can read her story Going Underground, in The Best Women’s Travel Writing of 2011. You can also find  more travel stories on her blog. -- AP

Sensoji Temple's Famous Thunder Gate in Tokyo, Japan

My unfailing sense of direction always added another dimension to my love of travel. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d managed to get lost. That was before I landed in Tokyo. Talk about a test of my navigational skills. The city was a labyrinth of alleys and side streets, and guess what? The streets didn't have names! The address numbers were really block numbers. Confused? Welcome to Japan. 

The famous Sensoji Temple was at the top of my Tokyo must-see list. Sun poured through my hotel window and I knew I’d picked the perfect day to visit the famous site located in Asakusa. I asked my Japanese friend, Keiko, to draw me a map to follow once I got off the subway station. I thought I had nothing to worry about. Keiko was a native, so how could I possibly get lost?

Easy. I got off at the station, turned left, and ran into a market where endless stalls of merchandise bombarded me. Beautiful textiles blew in the wind like flags. Then a row of stalls full of amazing handbags caught my eye. I was so dazzled by all the styles that I didn’t realize I had wandered way off course. After purchasing a beautiful embroidered wallet and matching coin purse, I finally came up for air. I reached into my pocket for Keiko’s map. Empty! “Crap,”  I said to a lady in a blue floral dress. She smiled and waved good-bye as I walked back toward the street. Sweat dripped down my face as I struggled to remember the landmarks Keiko had drawn on her map. Was it turn left at the bookstore?  

I headed down the main boulevard with complete faith that my incredible sense of direction would somehow kick in. I’d turn the corner and see the famous Thunder Gate of Sensoji Temple. After wandering down several alleys I could no longer deny I was lost. I stuffed down my pride and made my first attempt to seek help. A nice woman with a colorful shopping bag looked like a good candidate. “Excuse me, do you speak English?” She shook her head and quickly walked away.

Several more housewives walked by, but I continued to strike out. Then I saw two teenage girls in their school uniforms. They must have studied English. “Hello, do you speak English?”

One of the girls nodded her head. “Are you lost?”

“Yes, I’m trying to find the Thunder Gate.”

The girl and her friend were all smiles as they walked me to a main street that led directly to the temple. Now that they’d pointed the way, I found my destination in no time. I looked at my watch. It was already 3:30. How could I have been shopping for two hours? Knowing I had to meet Keiko for dinner at 5:00 way on the other side of town, I snapped a few pictures and waved good-bye to the Thunder Gate.

Safely back in Shibuya, I met Keiko for dinner with just five minutes to spare. I  tried to hide the evidence that I did anything more than visit the temple.   

I settled in and ordered octopus for dinner while Keiko suspiciously eyed my purse with the plastic bag sticking out. “So what did you think of the temple?” 

“An amazing experience, so spiritual.”

Keiko gave me a knowing grin. “Yes, I can tell. Your face is glowing. What did you see that made such an impression on you?”

“The Thunder Gate was amazing. I loved how the enormous paper lanterns swung back and forth in the breeze. But I especially liked the red leather purse with the chrome buckles.” Oops.

Moral of the story: when you are traveling abroad, don’t be afraid to admit when you’re lost. You won't end up with octopus on your face like I did.

Anne, if only more of the population with Y chromosomes would take your advice! Readers, how many of you have been to Japan? How many plan to go some day? Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book by our Book Club Friday guest author.  -- AP

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--$$$ SAVING CHICKEN TIP

We’ve been on a bit of a chicken kick this month. Money guru Sheila Conway and food editor Cloris McWerther joined forces to bring you another money-saving tip when buying chicken. -- AP

If you watch any of the cooking shows on TV, many recommend that you buy cooked chicken to save time when making recipes, like salads, that call for cooked chicken. Whether you purchase the cooked, packaged variety or roasted chicken from the deli department, you’re going to pay a lot more for that chicken than cooking it yourself.

What? You say you don’t have the time to cook chicken? If you’ve got less than 15 minutes, you’ve got the time to poach chicken breasts. Here’s how:

Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a skillet. Add water or chicken broth to cover, plus a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme. Put lid on skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Here’s another hint: Buy the chicken breasts when they’re on sale. Poach and freeze individually for future recipes.

Great ideas, ladies! Thanks for sharing. 
 What do you think, readers? Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book by our Book Club Friday guest author.-- AP

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- GUEST AUTHOR/COOK KIMBERLEY TROUTTE

Food editor Cloris McWerther is taking a much-deserved vacation this week. Filling in for her is author Kimberley Troutte with Tortilla Espanola recipe with a tapa twist. Kimberley is the author of Catch Me in Castile and Soul Stealer, both published by Samhain Publishing. Read more about Kimberley at her website. -- AP

Thank you for inviting me, Anastasia. It is so good to be here!

Since we are nearing the one-year anniversary of my book, Catch Me in Castile, I thought I’d bring a Spanish story and a recipe.

First the story…

Once a long time ago, a young bride and her handsome groom went on a trip to Spain. As they explored the ancient castles, the bride was swept away by the romance and the beauty all around her. There was so much history right there at her fingertips. She imagined living here five hundred years ago when Queen Isabella sent a young Columbus in search of new lands. The land where the bride was born. It boggled her mind.

She ventured just outside the thick castle walls and looked down. There at her feet were bits and pieces of pearly-white bones. Wondering what kind of bones these were, she picked up a few and carried them to the tour guide.

“Excuse me? What animal did these come from?” the bride asked in her halting Spanish.
“Human,” was the shocking answer.

The bride nearly swallowed her tongue. As she grappled with what to do with parts of PEOPLE—no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t drop them, could she?—she sputtered, “But…but there were so many... Why are there human bones all over the ground?”
The guide explained that in olden days dead bodies were sometimes just tossed over the castle walls.

Ewwww.

As she scrubbed her hands clean, a bold and beautiful idea came to her:
What if a 15th Century ghost from Queen Isabella’s Court haunted one of these castles? What if the lady was pushed out of the tower, but can’t remember what happened? What if an American woman who is at her wits-end is the only one who can see the ghost and the two of them must solve an ancient and a modern-day murder mystery? Ah-ha.
Catch Me in Castile was born.

Oh, and the bride lived happily ever after.

Now, here is an easy tapa recipe called Tortilla Espanola (Spanish Omelet).

Tapas are Spanish appetizers.  They can be cold, such as mixtures of olives and cheeses, or warm, such as fried baby squid.  In Spain, you can go to a swanky tapas bar and order enough tapas to make a meal. I love this idea because I am a big snacker and like to try all sorts of interesting foods, but tend to fill up before my entrée arrives.

The Tortilla Espanola is one of the most common dishes served in Spain. And can be eaten as a light dinner, but for our purposes, we are going to make it into a tapa and serve it with baguettes so that guests can make mini-sandwiches with it.

Ingredients:
·6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
·1 whole yellow onion
·5-6 large eggs
·2-3 cups of olive oil for pan frying
·Salt to taste

Also, you can add diced ham, chorizo, red or green peppers, or tomatoes.

Directions:
Slice the potatoes into 1/8” slices. Chop onions into 1/4” pieces. Mix potatoes, onion and salt. In a large non-stick pan heat the olive oil on medium-high. When the oil is ready for frying, spread the potatoes and onions evenly over the surface. Cook until potatoes are done then remove mixture from the oil with a slotted spoon.
Whisk eggs in a large bowl and add the potato-onion mixture.
Pour 1-2 tbsp of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan (appox.  9-10”). Heat on medium. Stir the potato-onion-egg mixture once more and pour into heated oil. Spread evenly. When the eggs have cooked around the edges, carefully lift one side of the omelet and peek. You want the bottom to brown while the inside of the mixture remains slightly runny. When the bottom is brown, put a plate on top of the pan and flip the omelet over onto the plate. You may need to add a little more olive oil to the frying pan to keep the omelet from sticking. Then carefully slide the flipped omelet back into the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 2 minutes.
Carefully slide the omelet onto a plate and cut into 1.5” squares and serve with a sliced baguette.
Deliciosa.
Thanks, Kimberley! My mouth is watering from just reading the recipe! Readers, what do you think?  Post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book by our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, June 20, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- GUEST KNITTER AND AUTHOR LESLIE LANGTRY

Author Leslie Langtry stops by today as our guest crafter. Leslie is a dedicated knitter and the author of hilarious, romantic, mysterious mysteries about a family of assassins. She assures me, though, that she personally has never assassinated anyone, either professionally or for recreation, with her circular needles. Read more about Leslie at her website. -- AP  



I Knit - Ergo My Characters Knit

I love to knit.  My grandmother knitted and crocheted and taught me how to make a chain when I was little.  Of course, she didn't teach me what to do with it or when to stop, so by the time I finished, my crochet chain circled the house half a dozen times.

Five years ago, I decided to teach myself to knit.  I bought the book, STITCH N BITCH by my new idol - Debbie Stoller, some yarn and needles and spent the Thanksgiving break making my first swatch.  For the next two years - I knitted rectangles.  I've since come a long way adding purses, a gargoyle ski mask for fellow writer Jana DeLeon, and a huge praying mantis.



 Since I knit, which means all the cool kids knit, I decided that my characters must knit too.  In my Greatest Hits Series, about the Bombay Family of Assassins, characters in three of my books are knitters and actively knitting.  Even the dude.  He's a master at it.

In 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, for example, soccer mom/assassin Gin Bombay knits a lot.  She tells a sneering teenager in a doctor's waiting room (he teases her for knitting, "My grandma knits!  What are you knitting, Grandma?")  "I'm knitting a cock ring.  Your grandma ever knit that?"  In one of my favorite scenes ever, she strangles a bad guy with circular knitting needles and sadly observes that now she has to destroy the scarf she was knitting on it so there wouldn't be any DNA evidence.

Leslie's gargoyle ski mask for author Jana DeLeon


Cy Bombay - Carney with a Ph.D. in philosophy (and resembles Daniel Craig) is a master knitter in I SHOT YOU BABE.  On a trip to Mongolia, he's excited to get some lush fibers to knit and felt a bag for his cousin Missi.  This mirrors life as I spend hours at my favorite yarn shop, stroking the buffalo yarn and wishing I could afford it.  To their credit - the Yarn Shoppe has never asked me to leave - no matter how weird this looks. 


Praying Mantis


Perhaps my favorite inclusion of my favorite hobby is in the third book, STAND BY YOUR HITMAN.  Missi Bombay - the family's assassin and inventor is a contestant on a cheap, Canadian knock off of Survivor.  For one of the challenges, the teams are presented with two telephone poles, sharpened to points on top, and colored rope.  Missi figures out that she and her teammate have to manipulate the huge poles to knit the rope into a swatch that misspells a clue.  That was the hardest scene I've ever written about knitting.  It's hard enough to explain to knitters what to do, but to explain how to hold two telephone poles and a huge rope and make them knit?  I'm still not sure I nailed it.


I will always knit.  So will my characters...or else.

Thanks for stopping by, Leslie! And by the way, readers, the next book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by Lois Winston and starring yours truly is Death By Killer Mop Doll. Check out the deadly object on the cover in the sidebar. And don't forget to post a comment to be entered in the drawing for a book from out Book Club Friday guest author this week. -- AP 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Tina Gallagher for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of Misguided to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is E.F. Watkins. E.F., please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, I’ll forward the information to Tina, and she’ll mail the book to you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR TINA GALLAGHER


Today’s Book Club Friday guest author is Tina Gallagher. Tina writes contemporary romance novels and non-fiction. Tina began writing as a young girl. In-between softball, basketball, and music lessons, she and her best friend would create their own "happily ever afters" for their favorite soap opera couples. After a while, the soap operas lost their appeal, but the writing never did. Tina lives in Northeast Pennsylvania and is an active member of the Pocono/Lehigh Romance Writers. To learn more about Tina, visit her website
Tina will be giving away a signed copy of Misguided to one of our readers who leaves a comment this week. -- AP

Finding Inspiration

When people find out I’m a writer, they usually ask where I get my story ideas.  Actually, ideas come pretty easily…sometimes it’s as simple as reading a story and wondering “what if this happened instead of that?”  In fact, I often have snippets of potential characters’ conversations running around in my head as ideas come to mind. 

What I have more of a problem with in the writing process is the setting.  In fiction, the setting can be just as important as any character and needs to be developed just as well in order to make it come alive.  And it’s not just the city or town the story takes place in that needs to be described, it’s everything.  Unless my characters are going to have all those conversations that are running through my head in a one room shack, I need to find places for them to go, and I need to describe those places well.  

Since setting is so important, I try to notice things everywhere I go.  Restaurants, parks, schools, houses, hotels, roads…pretty much everything.  You never know what can be used in a story somewhere down the road. 

In my new release, Misguided, Jake takes Cassie for a romantic New Year’s Eve dinner at a hotel that was formerly a passenger train station.  While the town Misguided is set in is fictitious, the hotel is not.  I based it on an actual hotel located in my hometown of Scranton, Pa. 

The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel was formerly known as the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Station, whose routes stretched across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.  This six-story landmark was constructed in 1908 and considered one of the most beautiful terminals in the East, having been built as a showplace for the company’s central business offices and doubling as a depot.  It has been listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places since 1977.   

The last train left this station in 1970 and for ten years, the building fell into disrepair, falling victim to vandals and the elements.  After extensive renovations, it reopened on New Year’s Eve 1983, emerging with all the grandeur of the original station, plus so much more. 

The care that was taken throughout the restorations is evidenced throughout the building.  The Grand Lobby, which originally served as the station’s waiting area, boasts a barrel-vaulted Tiffany stained-glass ceiling, Siena marble walls, and a mosaic tile floor.  Surrounding the walls are 36 tile murals that depict scenes along the railroad’s lines, starting at Hoboken Station and ending at Niagara Falls.  Above the dining room walls are a dozen matching stained glass lamps, all but one is original to the old station.

Today, the Grand Lobby holds a fine dining restaurant and a wine bar.  This structure is truly a feast for the eyes.  If you’re ever passing through Scranton, be sure to make a stop at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel.  Grab a cocktail, settle into a comfy chair, and check out the history.

Thanks so much, Tina! I will definitely have to put this train station/restaurant on my Must See Someday list. What about the rest of you? Want to have dinner at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment, and you could win a copy of Tina’s latest release. -- AP

Thursday, June 16, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- GUEST TRAVELER, AUTHOR CARA MARSI



Carolyn Matkowsky, who writes as Cara Marsi, is the author of romance short stories, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. Her latest book is Murder Mi Amore. Today, though, she’s here to discuss travel safety with us. Read more about Carolyn/Cara at her website. -- AP 


PERSONAL SECURITY IN ITALY
When I travel, whether in the United States or other countries, I’m always very careful and vigilant about my personal safety. Some might say I’m paranoid.

My husband and I visited Italy in 2006. We went alone, but planned to meet a cousin from Arizona and another cousin from Australia there. I’d visited once before, with my parents, in 1965. At that time the world was a safer place, plus I was young and didn’t worry much about personal safety. Because my grandparents are from Italy, I know a lot about the history and what sights to see. To prepare for this latest trip, I read all I could about security in Italy.

Italy is a country of pickpockets, on the streets, on the subways, everywhere it seems. Everything I read cautioned tourists to guard their wallets and their valuables. As I read, I became even more paranoid. It didn’t help my paranoia when my dentist told me the story of a friend of his, a very wealthy woman who wore scads of gold and diamond jewelry all the time. This woman and her family were in Italy for her daughter’s wedding. Before the woman left for Italy, people advised her not to wear her expensive jewelry. But she didn’t listen. During her visit, muggers knocked her down a flight of stairs and took all her jewelry. She was badly injured. 

Here are my personal safety travel tips, especially when traveling overseas:

Leave the good jewelry at home. I did this even before my dentist told me that disturbing story. Other than my wedding ring and a few other small pieces, I wear mostly costume jewelry when I travel. And I closely guard the few pieces of good jewelry I take.

1. Leave your passport in the hotel safe. Make a copy of the photo page of your passport and carry that with you.
 
2. When I travel, I take along a very small purse, just big enough for a few credit cards and some money and those few small pieces of good jewelry I might carry. The wallet-sized purse has a long strap that crosses over my chest. I wear the tiny purse under my clothes. The strap is long enough that the purse itself is visible where it’s within easy reach for me, but not for any pickpockets. I carry a larger handbag with a strap that also crosses over my chest. I don’t put anything valuable in the larger purse. A little too cautious? Maybe.
 
3. If you don’t have an in-room safe, get a safety deposit box from the hotel. I can’t stress this enough. On my last trip to Las Vegas, I took my new Kindle. Suddenly I had something else I needed to secure. No one would steal a paperback you leave in your room. But a Kindle? Hell, yes. My hotel had a small daily charge for the in-room safe. I paid it to secure my Kindle.  

My precautions in Italy were well-founded. While there, we witnessed an attempted pick pocketing. We were walking down a very crowded sidewalk when a man suddenly started shouting at a young woman. He actually slapped her in the face. Seems he saw the young woman with her hand in the purse/backpack of an American tourist. Indeed, the purse was unzipped. The whole incident caused quite a commotion until the police arrived.

Once, when my husband and I stopped for a drink at an outdoor café near Trevi, my husband put his camera on the table. Our waiter made him put it away because thieves run by and grab items off tables.

Another time my husband had his money out to pay for something. The clerk cautioned him to keep his hand down and not show the money because thieves come by and grab money out of your hand.

So, you see, I might be a little paranoid when I travel, but my caution is justified. Thankfully, maybe due to luck, maybe to our precautions, we weren’t the victims of a crime while in Italy.

Thank you for the great travel advice, Carolyn! I have my own tales of traveling in Italy I could tell, but that was way back in my college days. Looks like nothing has changed! Readers, do you have a travel tale you’d like to share with us? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP