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, December 30, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON



As promised last week, author Lois Winston returns today to answer that burning question on everyone’s mind: what the heck is a mop doll? -- AP

Thank you, Anastasia. Death By Killer Mop Doll will be released next week, and the question I’m most frequently asked is, as you so delicately put it, what the heck is a mop doll.

Well, I am a delicate person.

You?

Of course. Now let’s get on with the topic of the day. We have readers staring at their monitors, holding their breath in anticipation.

All right. Without further ado, a mop doll is a doll crafted from a cotton string mop, those mops you often see janitors using in office buildings.

Yuck!

Hold on! These dolls are made from unused string mops, ones that have never come in contact with a bucket of Mr. Clean.

I knew that. I was just stating what our readers were probably thinking.

Right. As you know, Anastasia, crafters are very resourceful people. We’re constantly finding new uses for readily available materials, and cotton string mops are readily available in just about any hardware store, home store, or supermarket.

At some point in the late 1980’s, these dolls started popping up at crafts fairs, first in California, then spreading throughout the country. Suddenly, mop dolls were all the rage, and mop head manufacturers were selling tens of thousands of mop heads to craft stores. Like all trends, though, the mop doll craze eventually went the way of the pet rock -- until now, thanks to you and a certain assistant producer you meet in your latest adventure, Death By Killer Mop Doll.


The picture shows me with a mop doll at the Bouchercon mystery convention in St. Louis this past September (I’m the one who looks like she’s fighting a cold.)

Definitely not the most flattering picture you’ve ever taken, dear.

I know, but it’s the one that best showcases the mop doll.

Speaking of conventions, you have some exciting news for anyone who will be attending the American Library Association Mid-Winter conference in Dallas, don’t you?

That’s right. For anyone attending the conference (January 20-24 at the Dallas Convention Center), Midnight Ink will be raffling off the hand-crafted mop doll shown in the photo during the opening reception Friday evening, January 20th at 7pm. Librarians and reviewers in attendance are encouraged to stop by the Midnight Ink booth #1459 to register for the drawing. In addition, signed copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun and Death By Killer Mop Doll will also be raffled off.

And as mentioned last week, Lois will be going on a virtual blog tour throughout January to promote Death By Killer Mop Doll. As part of the tour, she’ll be giving away 5 copies of the book. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to any of the blogs on the tour or to today’s post. You can find the schedule for the blog tour on the sidebar to the right.

In addition, Lois will also be giving away 3 copies of
Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads.

Read more about Lois and an excerpt of Death By Killer Mop Doll at her website. -- AP

Thursday, December 29, 2011

FASHION WITH ERICA -- WEAR YOUR HOBBY


Vintage clothing is all the rage. If you’re a collector, fashion editor Erica Milano says wear that collection. Don’t hide it away. -- AP

What’s more environmentally friendly than recycling? Why should we limit our recycling to paper, cardboard, glass, and plastic? I wear mine. No, not like the Recycled Runway couture I showed you a few weeks ago. I’m talking about wearing items I find in places other than your typical dress shops and department stores. Do you have any idea the bargains you can find in second-hand shops?

Vintage clothing is generally considered any garment from the 1920’s through the 1980’s. Anything before the 1920’s is considered antique.

Don’t think of vintage clothing as used clothing. Think of vintage clothing as a timeless fashion collection.

Given the variety of trends that appeared over between the 1920’s through the 1980’s -- everything from flapper dresses to leisure suits -- there’s a vintage style for everyone, no matter your taste.

Right now fashions of the 1950’s and early 1960’s are popular, thanks in part to TV shows like Mad Men and Pam Am. You can find their influence in many new garments, but why not go for the originals? Finding such gems might be a bit difficult right now, thanks in part to the revival of everything from this period, but you might strike gold by trolling through closets at estate sales. Or ask your elderly relatives if they’ve kept any of their clothes from that period. They may be thrilled that someone is interested in wearing them.

Thanks, Erica. I’m waiting to see you come to the office dressed like Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. -- AP

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--DIY HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS



If your New Year’s resolutions include saving money, our money guru Sheila Conway has some ways to cut your cleaning costs. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. Not only are household cleaning products outrageously expensive, most are neither environmentally nor health friendly. Think about that tightness in your chest or the coughing spell that often accompanies cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. That’s because you’re breathing in toxic fumes.

So here are recipes for three DIY cleaners that will cover all your cleaning needs while neither affecting your health or our planet.

SCOURING POWDER
Use backing soda. It does a great job and is less abrasive than commercial scouring powders.

GLASS CLEANER
Mix a quart of warm water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a squirt bottle. Your windows and mirrors will sparkle, and your wallet and lungs will thank you.

ALL-PURPOSE CLEANER
Mix a cup of white vinegar with a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Add a few drops of tea tree oil. You can us this concoction to clean and disinfect all bathroom and kitchen surfaces except granite.

Great recipes, Sheila! For just a few pennies and a little time, we can all save big. -- AP

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- NON-ALCOHOLIC NEW YEAR’S HOT PUNCH


Planning a New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day party this year? Why not make a batch of Cloris’s non-alcoholic hot punch? -- AP

NON-ALCOHOLIC NEW YEAR’S HOT PUNCH

Ingredients:
(Note: for an alcoholic variation, add 1 qt. white rum)
1 qt. white grape juice
1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 qt. water
cinnamon sticks

Pour liquid ingredients into a large pot. Heat to a simmer. Serve warm with cinnamon sticks.

Monday, December 26, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- GLITTER FRINGE YARN SCARF



The weather outside is frightful. Why not curl up in a comfortable chair and knit an elegant scarf to wear New Year’s Eve? -- AP

GLITTER FRINGE YARN SCARF

Materials:
3 skeins Glitter Fringe Yarn
#11 knitting needles

Cast on 15 stitches. Knit 4 rows.
Next row (wrong side): Knit 3, purl 9, knit 3.
Next row: Knit.
Repeat last two rows until scarf measures 48” in length, ending with a wrong side row.
Knit 4 rows.
Caste off.

Friday, December 23, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON

In two weeks Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the critically acclaimed mystery series about yours truly (hence the series name of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries), will be released. So today I’ve invited Lois Winston, the author responsible for telling my stories, to talk about the new book. -- AP

Thank you, Anastasia. It’s a pleasure to be allowed to write about your adventures. Given your life and family, you make my job rather easy.

Hey, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives…or even what you inherit from them.

Very true.

So I understand with this book you’ve chosen to write about my foray into morning television. Why don’t you give our readers a bit to whet their appetites for the book?

In Death By Killer Mop Doll crafts editor Anastasia Pollack’s stress level maxes out when her well-intentioned mother meets and seduces TV producer Lou Beaumont. Suddenly, Anastasia and her fellow American Woman editors find themselves roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. However, not everyone involved enjoys the idea of the overhaul, and a disgruntled staffer takes action by trashing the studio set. When that doesn’t halt production, vandalism escalates to murder, and a member of the production team is found with one of Anastasia’s knitting needles plunged through his heart.

The network decides the show must go on, but morning TV turns crime drama as a blackmail plot is uncovered, and another body is found. Because Anastasia fears the killer might go after her and Mama next, she has no recourse but to launch her own investigation. Unfortunately, her snooping lands her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.

Don’t remind me! That was one harrowing experience, and unlike the time I found myself locked in a killer’s trunk, this time I didn’t have any of my trusty craft tools to help set me free.

Well, we don’t want to give away too much, but I suppose it’s safe to say that you did live to get involved in yet another murder investigation.

Yes, but readers will have to wait until next year for that one. Meanwhile, Death By Killer Mop Doll, will be available from all the usual suspects, both brick and mortar and online. For those of you who’d prefer the e-book version, that will be available next month.

Lois will also be going on a virtual blog tour throughout January to promote
Death By Killer Mop Doll. As part of the tour, she’ll be giving away 5 copies of the book. To enter the drawing, just post a comment to any of the blogs on the tour or to today’s post. You can find the schedule for the blog tour on the sidebar to the right.

In addition, Lois will be giving away 3 copies of
Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads.

And since I’m sure many of you are wondering exactly what a mop doll is, be sure to stop by next Friday when Lois returns with a bit of mop doll lore. Meanwhile, read more about Lois and an excerpt from
Death By Killer Mop Doll at her website. -- AP

Thursday, December 22, 2011

TIME SAVING HOLIDAY TIP


Wow, Christmas is only three days away. Are you frazzled yet? Have a list of last minute things to get done? If you’re having company over the holidays, I’m sure cleaning the house is on that list. Here’s a time saving tip beauty editor Nicole Emmerling came across. -- AP

To clean your toilets without scrubbing, drop two or more Alka-Seltzer tablets in each bowl. Let them fizz for 15 minutes while you tackle other chores. The bubbles will work at removing the grit. After 15 minutes, just flush for a sparkling toilet bowl.

Thanks, Nicole! There are few chores worse than scrubbing a toilet. I’m off to purchase some Alka-Seltzer. What about the rest of you? -- AP

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - FATS THAT MAKE YOU MORE THAN FAT


Health editor Janice Kerr is back today with another reason to avoid trans fats. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. It’s no secret that the holidays often see a spike in depression, but now a study of more than 12,000 participants in Spain suggests that people who eat a greater amount of trans fats are nearly 50% more likely to become depressed.

We all know by now (or should) that trans fats are bad for us. Now we have another reason to avoid them because there’s nothing like a double-whammy of depression amid all the fa-la-la.

So if you’re prone to depression over the holidays, watch what you eat. Stay away from all foods containing trans fats. Check the ingredients lists on the food you buy. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated,” don’t put that item in your shopping cart. Partially hydrogenated = trans fats.

Thanks, Janice. Readers, do you avoid trans fats? Will you now that you know they can contribute to depression as well as weight gain? -- AP

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- NO-BAKE CHEWY FUDGE COOKIES


Need some last minute holiday treats? Try Cloris’s No-Bake Chewy Fudge Cookies. -- AP

NO-BAKE CHEWY FUDGE COOKIES
makes 4 dozen

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups quick-cooking oats, uncooked
1 cup flaked coconut, packed
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar, cocoa, milk, and butter to a rolling boil. Boil for one minute. Stir in vanilla, oats, coconut, and walnuts.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto wax paper. Cool until firm.

How’s that for easy? Anyone going to try some? -- AP

Monday, December 19, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- PASTA ORNAMENTS



If you’re of a certain age, chances are back in kindergarten, Sunday school, or at a Brownie meeting you covered at least one cigar box with macaroni, probably as a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift. And chances are, you haven’t thought about crafting with pasta since then, even if mom or dad still has that cherished box sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Well, get out the pasta because I’ve got some great Christmas ornaments you’re going to want to make. These are so easy, you can do them with your kids. The most time consuming part involves waiting for the glue to dry. 


All you need in the way of materials are miniature pasta wagon wheels, tacky glue, wax paper as a work surface, a toothpick for applying the glue, and some perle cotton or thin ribbon for hanging loops.

The ornaments shown are approximately 5” - 6”. You can make yours smaller if you’d like. These ornaments were created without patterns. You can also use large cookie cutters as templates. If you decide to use the cookie cutters, trace them onto a piece of paper. Place the paper underneath the wax paper. Arrange the pasta in horizontal rows to fit inside the drawn shapes. Glue pasta together as described below.

I like the natural look of the pasta, but you can also spray paint your pasta ornaments in gold, silver, or any other desired color.


1. Arrange the pasta into the desired shapes.

2. Squeeze a puddle of tack glue in one corner of the wax paper.

3. Working in horizontal rows, glue the pasta in each row together. Allow the individual rows to dry. When completely dry, glue the rows together.

4. When the ornaments are completely dry, tie perle cotton or ribbon through hole at top of each pasta wheel for hanging loop.

Friday, December 16, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR CARIDAD PINEIRO


Back to join us today is award-winning author Caridad Pineiro, who also happens to be one of author Lois Winston’s favorite people, to talk about all she wants for Christmas this year. Read more about Caridad at her website.-- AP 

Every year my husband and I go through the same little dance at Christmas time.  He asks me what I want and I tell him nothing.  It’s a truthful answer and yet it never seems to satisfy him and so we begin the dance again.

Honestly, my hubby can’t really give me the one thing I truly want year after year.  What is that you might wonder?

Time.  Not like immortal time like my vampires in THE CALLING/REBORN series have.

More like time to just be free of work and responsibilities.

You see, in addition to the writing gig, which I truly love despite all the hard work, I still have my demanding day job.  That means long hours on a regular basis with very little free time and that “free time” is generally taken up by household chores and an assortment of other tasks.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  Many people I know are in the same boat.

But this year I am going to give myself and hubby that free time.  I am going to take a much deserved break from work this Christmas season!

Being that it is so precious, what would I do in that free time?  In a perfect world, I’d travel.  I’d love to visit so many different places and one of the nice things about being a writer is that I can vicariously travel to a great many locations and take you there as well.

For example, in my latest release, AMAZON AWAKENING, I take a trip to the Amazon rainforest and explore a very unusual “sacred space” which some believe may be the Garden of Eden.

To write the novella I did lots of research on the Amazon, which is truly a remarkable place.  Besides being immense (did you know it touches 9 countries in South America?), the rainforest is one of our most important ecosystems.  It contains over 50% of the world’s species of animals, insects and plants and is also one of the biggest producers of oxygen.

Truly amazing and I can just picture myself one day taking a boat trip down the Amazon, although I’d refrain from taking a dip.  I’ve watched one too many RIVER MONSTERS television shows about the many dangerous things in those Amazon waters.

Where else would I like to go?  Well, I’ve been lucky enough to climb up a Mexican pyramid despite my fear of heights.  That helped inspire AZTEC GOLD and THE FIFTH KINGDOM.

I love the Jersey Shore and have taken you to some of my favorite places there in THE LOST and the books in the SINS series.

But I still have to visit soooo many locations, like Ireland, Scotland, Tuscany, Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids in Egypt just to name a few.

In retrospect, as I consider the gift of time and all that I’d do with it, something occurred to me.  It’s one of those sayings you see here and again on little plaques and stuff and possibly corny, but I’ll leave you with this thought anyway, especially given the shopping frenzy we sometimes get caught up in during the Christmas season.

So here goes…

The important things in life are not things.

Have a wonderful and very happy holiday season!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- WELCOME YOUR GUESTS


Many of us will be traveling over the holidays; many others will have house guests. Travel editor Serena Brower offers up a few suggestions for making your guest feel welcome. -- AP

Have you ever stayed at the home of a friend or relative and spent the time living out of a suitcase on the floor? Annoying, isn’t it? Make your guests more comfortable by providing them with a drawer and closet space for their clothes.

If space is an issue, and your guests will have to live out of their suitcases, purchase a suitcase rack for your guest room. These are inexpensive and can be folded up and stored in the back of a closet after your guests leave. Living out of suitcase for several days is bad enough. Don’t make your guests get down on their hands and knees whenever they need clean underwear.

On a bedside table provide an alarm clock, box of tissues, and a small dish or tray for rings and other jewelry your guests will remove at night.

Make sure there’s a place where your guests can charge their cell phones.

Don’t forget to leave plenty of extra towels in the bathroom. No one wants a wet, naked guest making a mad dash to the linen closet.

Motion sensor night lights help guests navigate to the bathroom in the middle of the night without stubbing their toes or bashing their shins on furniture.

Splurge on some new pillows for the guest room. Don’t make your guests sleep on your lumpy discards. And make sure you provide extra blankets for those chilly night.

Thanks, Serena! Readers, do you do anything special to get ready for your holiday guests? Let’s hear from you. -- AP

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- METALLIC SNOWFLAKE TREE

Have you noticed the proliferation of brightly colored metallic Christmas trees this year? Thanks to TV shows like Mad Men and Pan Am, trends of the fifties and sixties are back in style for both fashion and home dec. One popular decorating trend from back then was the aluminum Christmas tree. You may even find one stashed away in a great-aunt’s attic or basement. If so, haul it out, and dust it off. Originals are selling at online auctions for several thousand dollars.

Decorating editor Jeanie Sims and I team up today with an idea for a retro Christmas tree centerpiece that pays homage to the aluminum Christmas tree.
 -- AP


METALLIC SNOWFLAKE TREE 

Materials
a few branches
white spray paint primer
silver glitter paint
foam paint brush
12” assorted metallic chenille stems
clear glass container
glass floral marbles
thread

1. Lightly mist the branches with the primer. (You can completely cover the branches in white, but Jeanie and I both like the shading and nuance that occurs from a lighter coat of paint.) When dry, brush on glitter paint.

2. For each snowflake you’ll need two chenille stems. Cut one stem into three 4” pieces.

3. Twist one 4” piece around the center of a second 4” piece.
4. Twist the third 4” piece around the center of the two pieces.
5. Cut six 1-1/2” pieces from the second chenille stem. Twist one 1/2” from end of each of the six spokes of the snowflake. 
6. Place the marbles in the container. Add the painted branches. Using the thread, tie the snowflakes to the branches.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHRISTMAS CUT-OUT COOKIES

Yesterday we used cookie cutters to make Christmas ornaments. Today Cloris presents her recipe for for using those cookie cutters the traditional way. -- AP 

CHRISTMAS CUT-OUT COOKIES


Ingredients:
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 can each chocolate and vanilla icing
 Christmas sprinkles


Bring butter and eggs to room temperature. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing well. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Roll out dough to 1/4” thickness. Cut out shapes. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees.

After cookies cool, ice tops with frosting. Dip in sprinkles. Allow icing to harden before storing cookies in tins.

Monday, December 12, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- COOKIE CUTTER TREE ORNAMENTS



Cloris uses cookie cutters to make cookies, but I have another use for them. Cookie cutters make great templates for making felt Christmas tree ornaments. Here’s how:

(Note: I used star shaped cookie cutters for the model, but these ornaments could also be made from tree, gingerbread man, wreath, or heart shaped cookie cutters.)

Materials:
two sizes star shaped cookie cutters, scraps of lt. brown felt, scraps of white felt, fabric marker, an assortment of 5mm pompoms, tacky glue, DMC #8 white Perle Cotton, embroidery needle, small amount of fiberfill.

1. Trace the larger cookie cutter onto the lt. brown felt. Trace the smaller cookie cutter onto the white felt. Cut out the three shapes.

2. Glue the white star centered over one lt. brown star. Glue pompoms randomly onto the white star. Allow to dry.

3. Using Perle Cotton and beginning at one point of the star, blanket stitch the lt. brown shapes together around the star, stopping before coming all the way around. Stuff a small amount of fiberfill into ornament, then finish the blanket stitch. Make a hanging loop of the Perle Cotton at top of star before trimming excess thread.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this week and a special thank you to author Laura Kaye for being our Book Club Friday guest author and offering a copy of North of Need to one of our readers. The winner this week is Khelsey Jackson. Khelsey, please email your mailing address to anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I'll forward it to Laura.

Friday, December 9, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR LAURA KAYE

A multi-published author of paranormal, contemporary and erotic romance, Laura Kaye’s hot, heartfelt stories are all about the universal desire for a place to belong. Laura is the author of the bestselling contemporary romance and award-nominated Hearts of Darkness and the bestselling and award-winning paranormal romance Forever Freed. North of Need, a contemporary fantasy romance, is the first in the 4-book Hearts of the Anemoi series. Read more about Laura and her books at her website.

Laura is offering a free e-book of
North of Need to one of our readers who posts a comment this week. Don’t forget to include your email address in your comment or check back on Sunday to learn if you’ve won. -- AP
  
Craftiness Runs in the Family

Thanks to Anastasia for hosting me here at Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers! I’m celebrating the recent release of my contemporary fantasy romance, North of Need, a book filled with sweet holiday magic, hot paranormal romance, and unique world building based on Greek mythology! Given all the fun crafts y’all talk about here, I thought I’d share a craft that I’ve been involved with… 

The women in my family have always been into crafts. My mom crocheted afghans and painted pottery from the time I was old enough to remember. Growing up, we had a family tradition on Thanksgiving: the men went to go watch football, and the women gathered around the kitchen table to make an annual craft: ornaments, flower arrangements, gingerbread houses, and jewelry among them.

When I got to my senior year of college and was way ahead on my required credits, I had a semester of coursework to take just for fun. So, I chose an English class on banned books, a historical archaeology class, an extra history class (I was a history major)…and an art class making stained glass windows.

Despite the cuts on my fingers and burning myself with the solder gun, I loved stained glass window making. My first window was huge. I called it Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. And I flew through learning the craft of making a stained-glass window and finishing that window in about eight weeks. I was so far ahead, I finished a second 18”-diameter circular window in the last four weeks of the semester.

And then I took all my tools home and taught my mom how to do it. She loved it so much, she went out and bought tools of her own. Together, we made tons of pieces, and that following Christmas, everyone received pieces of stained glass as a gift! (Some of the below Christmas village pieces are hers, and some mine) About that same time, my aunt got into painting old furniture. Shortly thereafter, the two of them actually started selling their furniture and stained glass at craft shows, and quite a few weekends were spent hawking the family wares in community centers, parks, and at festivals.

I haven’t made a window in quite a long time, but I think of those week nights and weekend days around my mom’s kitchen table making stained glass with fondness. When she died a few years back, I inherited all the pieces she’d made as well as her tools and a box full of glass—it’s all just waiting for me to return to it. Maybe I’ll wait till my seven year old’s a bit older—I can tell already, she’s got the family craft gene in her. And maybe it’ll bring the two of us together the way it did me and my mom…

So, tell me: Has crafting brought you closer with a friend or family member?

Thank you so much for hosting me! As a thank you for your readers, I’m offering this free holiday cookbook released by one of my publishers and featuring two recipes from me! Now, it doesn’t include North of Need heroine Megan’s snow cone recipe in it, but that one’s easy: big cup, spoon, then alternating layers of snow, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, and strawberry Gatorade. Try it! Eees goooood!

Thanks for reading!
Laura Kaye

Thanks for joining us today, Laura. Readers, post a comment if you'd like the chance to win a copy of North of Need, and don't forget to click on the link above for your free holiday cookbook. -- AP

Thursday, December 8, 2011

MEANINGFUL HOLIDAY GIFTS

According to one statistic I heard on the news, the average person will spend approximately $700 this season on holiday gifts. Whoa! I guess we here at American Woman are not your average people because my random, unscientific polling of my fellow editors didn’t produce a figure anywhere near $700. If your bank account is still feeling the pinch of the recession, here are some holiday gift-giving ideas that won't start you off in debt for 2012 from our staff. -- AP

From yours truly, craft editor Anastasia Pollack: Get crafty! Check out all the craft projects posted each Monday at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We specialize in crafts that take no special talents or expensive, hard-to-find tools and supplies. In addition, that handmade gift will probably take a lot less time than the time you’ll spend driving to the mall, trolling for a parking space, going from store to store, coping with the checkout lines, and bucking traffic.

From food editor Cloris McWerther: Edible items are always appreciated. Consider making something yummy and give it along with a binder filled with your favorite recipes.

From beauty editor Nicole Emmerling: Small nylon sachet bags are inexpensive and available in many colors at craft stores. Fill several with lavender potpourri and tie with ribbon for a thoughtful and sweet-smelling gift.

From health editor Janice Kerr: Fill small jelly jars with loose teas such as chamomile and mint. Add a tea strainer, and you have the perfect gift for a tea drinker.

From money guru Sheila Conway: Give of yourself. Provide a gift of time or experience. Promise to drive an elderly friend or relative on her errands or offer to do them yourself. Rake the leaves, clean the gutters, or clean her home. Offer to do her taxes if you have the expertise. These are gifts that will be cherished long after that box of chocolates is eaten.

From fashion editor Erica Milano: If you have a large family, consider one family gift rather than individual gifts for every member.

From travel editor Serena Brower: Invite a group of friends or family members on an outing. Whether it’s a trip to the zoo, a local sporting event, or a picnic at the lake, you’re certain to find something that fits your budget.

From decorating editor Jeanie Sims: Not every gift has to be brand new. Troll flea markets and garage sales, and you might find that perfect memory from a loved one’s past, whether it’s a vintage record album or a classic Barbie lunchbox.

And you won’t spend anywhere near $700 giving any of these gifts. So enjoy the holidays without going broke. What are some of the ways you keep holiday costs down? Or don't you? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- GINGERBREAD HOUSES

T’is the season for gingerbread house displays and competitions throughout the country. Decorating editor Jeanie Sims recently came across these gingerbread houses in Peddler’s Village, PA. I’m partial to the Winnie the Pooh one. What about you? -- AP





Have you ever made a gingerbread house? Let's hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- APPLE BUNDT CAKE

Cloris features on of my favorite versions of apple cake today. This is a great recipe for holiday entertaining. -- AP

APPLE BUNDT CAKE

Ingredients:
5 cooking apples
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup orange juice
4 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
confectioner’s sugar

Peel and slice apples. Place in bowl. Add cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix to coat apples. Set aside. Cream the butter and remaining 2 cups of sugar. Mix all other dry ingredients together. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture. Combine eggs, juice, vanilla, and almond extract. Slowly add to other ingredients as you continue to mix. Batter will be thick.

Grease and flour bundt pan. Place small amount of batter in bottom of pan. Add a layer of apples. Continue layering batter and apples, with batter as last layer.

Back at 350 degrees for 1-1/2 hours. Cool on wire rack 15-20 minutes. Remove cake from bundt pan. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

The only problem with this cake is that you can’t stop eating it. What do you think, readers? Anyone going to try it? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, December 5, 2011

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- PAINTED GLASS BALL ORNAMENTS


Painted glass balls add elegance to Christmas trees, but what if you have no talent? Fear not! Here’s a project that takes no talent but will look like you spent a fortune on designer ornaments.

Materials: clear glass ball ornaments (available at craft stores), DecoArt Americana Crystal Gloss Enamel paints in your choice of colors, ribbon for hanging loop.

1. Carefully remove the metal caps from the glass balls.

2. Squeeze small amount of paint into the ball. Rotate the ball to swirl the paint around the interior. Repeat with a second color of paint. Add a third color if desired.

3. Allow paint to dry. Follow manufacturer’s directions for heat-setting paint.

4. Reattach cap to ball. Add ribbon for hanging loop.



What kinds of Christmas ornaments have you crafted? Let's hear from you. Post a comment to enter the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, December 4, 2011

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to everyone who stopped by this week and a special thank you to author Karen McCullough for being our Book Club Friday guest and offering a copy of A Gift For Murder to one of our readers. The winner this week is Leslie. Leslie, please email your mailing address to anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I'll forward it to Karen.

Friday, December 2, 2011

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR KAREN McCULLOUGH

Karen McCullough is the author of eleven published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, and A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover. Coming soon is the electronic re-release of her Christmas vampire story, A VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series.

Karen is offering a copy of
A GIFT FOR MURDER to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog this week.
-- AP

Crafty Writers
Writing What You Know?

Any author who’s gone to a writer’s conference or workshop, or read a couple of books on the craft has heard the advice. “Write what you know.”

It’s a common-sense piece of writing advice.  You can create a deeper, richer, and more engrossing story when you draw on your own training, background, travels, employment, or other actual experiences to tell your story. It’s often the details, the kind you can only get from being there, that make a story ring true and pull the reader into the world you’re creating.

I followed that advice when I wrote the first book in my Market Center Mysteries, A GIFT FOR MURDER. This series is set at a large convention center/exhibition hall. Although I’ve never actually organized a trade show, I’ve attended a number of them, and covered others as a member of the trade press. I’ve talked to trade show organizers, listened to their stories, and heard about some of the challenges they faced. Of course none of them ever had to deal with a murder at a trade show, but it’s not a huge leap from the smaller problems to a really big one.

I made a few assumptions, of course, but most of them were grounded in my knowledge of how trade shows work, who comes to them, and the reasons they happen.  I just had to up the stakes a bit, and attribute fewer inhibitions to a certain individual to bring it off. Plus, you’ve got a rich background canvas. Those other, relatively more minor issues don’t go away just because our heroine had bigger problems. She still had to deal with all of it.

But my most recent release, MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS is a different kind of story. It’s a mystery, too, but a paranormal romantic mystery, with protagonists who are powerful wizards.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually met a real, live, magic-slinging wizard. That hasn’t stopped me from writing about them. What do I know that let me do that?

Well, I have read a LOT of fantasy literature. I began reading science fiction and fantasy in my early teens. After I worked my way through what I could find at home, I raided school and public libraries. In the nineteen sixties and early seventies, there wasn’t a huge amount of fantasy being published, until THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy changed everything. I found and devoured it while in college, and it was actually a life-changing event in many ways. One of the best ways was that fantasy became popular and publishers started putting out more of it. I slurped up all I could. Some of it was decent, some if bad, and some of it blatant rip-offs, but I met lots of wizards and wallowed in a nice variety of magical systems.

As a result, even though I’ve never met a wizard in person, I feel as though I’d known a number of them pretty well. I have a rich well of material to draw from in formulating my own system of magic. 

I also have something else that came into play when writing this story:  a basic knowledge of physics. Don’t get me wrong. One college course doesn’t make me any kind of expert. But between that and subsequent reading, I’ve maintained a grasp of some of the main principles of mass, gravity, acceleration and momentum.

Somewhere in the depths of my undoubtedly geeky mind, fantasy and physics mated to produce a system of magic my heroine describes as a sort of “subatomic psychokinesis.” Of course it’s not really as simple as that. I want there to be some actual magic involved as well.

But at least I’ve grounded it to some extent in what I do know.  I’ve also heard someone respond to the “write what you know” advice by saying you should “write what you want to learn about.”  That works for me!

Thanks for joining us today, Karen! Readers, if you’d like a chance at winning a copy of A GIFT FOR MURDER, leave a comment. And don’t forget to either include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP