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, March 30, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR JAYNE ORMEROD

Jayne Ormerod writes what she knows—small towns (influenced by her childhood growing up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and beach settings (a result of 28 years as a navy spouse, always living within a flip-flop’s throw of the ocean.) Thanks to a youth spent reading Nancy Drew and an adulthood devouring the words of Janet Evanovich, she can now write about amateur sleuths, wacky escapades and dead bodies with a modicum of authority. Her first cozy mystery, The Blond Leading the Blond, was released in October, 2011. Learn more about Jayne by visiting her website or blog.   

Jayne has graciously offered a copy of
The Blond Leading the Blond to one of our readers who posts a comment. And a warning to all, be sure you’re not drinking coffee or anything while reading this guest post. I was and nearly sprayed my keyboard and monitor!
-- AP


You’re Never Too Old to Stop Learning
By Jayne Ormerod

You may think it odd when I tell you I haven’t flown since the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Actually, I haven’t flown since well before then, and only because a short notice event (a funeral) prevented me from making the journey via what experts consider the less safe (but it keeps for wheels on the ground) option, my SUV. It’s not that I have allowed terrorists to frame my fear, but that I have developed my own fear based on experimentations with gravity conducted as a child. I pretended to be a graceful red Cardinal and took flight out of a tree—and promptly landed in a painful heap on the cold, rocky ground. This attempt at flying necessitated a trip to the ER, which meant I couldn’t attend my best friend’s birthday party that afternoon. (I was more upset about missing the pony rides than having to wear a cast for six weeks, but I digress.) My point is if a little, lithe me couldn’t maintain a state of airborne-ness for more than two seconds, how can a behemoth piece of metal carrying a hundred people be able to soar at 34,000 feet without crashing to the ground?

But alas, writers must travel. Often long distances, and sometimes on short notice. A few weeks ago I found myself needing to get from Point A to Point B, which was 600 miles away, in the most expedient manner. Only now my fears were compounded by tales of aggressive and frightful TSA screenings accompanied by threats of TSA jail if I did not conduct myself in a strict and regimented manner like that portrayed in “The Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld. But needs must, so I booked a ticket.

At the airport, I piled my traveling belongings into gray tubs and avoided making eye contact or chatting up the screeners, as instructed by my husband and son, world travelers both. Thus I was surprised when a TSA agent spoke to me.

“Your jacket,” she said.

“Coldwater Creek,” I answered, looking down and once again praising my choice in selecting the sage-green velvet jacket with big showy snaps down the front. I was quite proud that I found something that could be paired with a cute pair of shoes that I could slip on and off easily, thus avoiding complications with both TSA and TFP (The Fashion Police.)

The stern-faced TSA spoke again. “You have to take your jacket off and put it in the bin.” She nodded towards the gray bin in my hands. “The snaps, they’re metal…”

That was all it took for me to hit my internal panic button. I dropped the bin, reached into my purse, fished around for a second, then yelled in a tone of voice one usually reserved for announcing a fire in a crowded theater, “Oh my god! I left my wallet at the Pizza Hut Counter!” Thus my actions of grabbing all my traveling belongings and shoving my way back through the line of passengers seemed to be warranted.

It’s not that I suddenly freaked at the thought of flying in an airplane. Nor had I suddenly freaked out at witnessing the elderly lady in front of me being hauled away because they’d found nail clippers in the pocket of her carryon. My freak out was because there was no way in H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks I was going to remove my clothes anyplace but in the privacy of my own bedroom. For you see, underneath my stylin’ jacket I had only a turtleneck…or what appeared from the neck up to be a turtleneck, but was merely the collar of a sweater in what’s known in women’s fashions as a Dickey. And if I took my jacket off, I had nothing underneath but a two-sizes too-small bra with yellow sweat stains and nothing to hide my muffin-top of skin that oozed over my tight corduroys and glowed like a fluorescent Martian.  

I raced in the direction of the Pizza Hut counter and ducked into the nearest restroom where I locked myself in the back stall. With shaking fingers, I unzipped my overnight case and dug around for an alternative outfit. Something with nary a metal snap, button or zipper. I had two choices, my sleek, satin nightie or my ratty, tattered, torn and stained, but comfy and comforting sweatshirt. My writing sweatshirt. The one I put on when I snuggle up with my laptop at 3 a.m. (it’s a menopause thing) and kill people (that’s not a menopause thing, but a mystery writer thing) in my latest work in progress.

I obviously opted for the sweatshirt. And after having removed my nail clippers from my purse and tossing them into the trash bin (thank goodness I remembered they were in there), I once again headed for the gate. Only this time I had lost my Sophisticated Traveler swagger and now felt more like someone heading out to 7-11 at midnight to buy a bag of Nacho Doritos. Fingers crossed I would make it through the screening process without further incident. 

As luck would have it, I ended up in the same line as the stern-faced TSA agent as before. Only this time, she nodded at me and cracked the barest hint of a smile.
           
It was then I realized the saying printed in sassy red letters on the front of my writing sweatshirt isn’t the best thing to be wearing when being scrutinized by no-nonsense people looking for hijackers attempting to sneak weapons onboard a plane.

You see, my favorite writing sweatshirt says, “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word. ~ Al Capone”

So even at my advanced age, I learned two things that trip. First, never, ever wear a dickey under a snap-front jacket when going through a metal detector at airport screening, and some TSA agents do have a sense of humor. 

Now that had to be one of the funniest guest posts we've had! Thanks for visiting with us today, Jayne. Readers, what did you think? Have any TSA stories to tell? Post a comment for a chance to win a copy of  The Blond Leading the Blond. -- AP

Thursday, March 29, 2012

FASHION WITH TESSA -- DRESS FOR HEIGHT

Those of us who are vertically challenged are always looking for ways to look taller. Today fashion editor Tessa Lisbon offers some suggestions for creating the illusion of height. -- AP

Wear scooped necks and wide lapels to draw attention to your face. When people are looking at your face, they’re not fixating on your height (or lack of it.)

3/4 sleeves give the illusion of a higher waistline, so your legs will seem longer.

Wear hemlines that graze the knee. Showing some leg will make your legs look longer.

Wear shoes that match your leg color. If wearing black stockings, choose black shoes. If wearing nude stockings, choose neutral colored shoes. Contrasting shoes break up your leg line and make you look shorter.

Tailored clothes won’t overwhelm your petite figure, but blocks of solid color for shirts and skirts or pants can make you look boxy and segment your body. Try small to medium scale prints instead.

And here I’ve been avoiding prints for years because I thought solid colors would make me look taller! Who knew? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - PREGNANCY

Health editor Janice Kerr has invited Katie Moore to guest blog today about pregnancy and childbirth. Katie is an active writer within the blogging community who discusses maternity, motherhood, prenatal health, childbirth and other topics within this niche.  If you have any questions or would like to connect with Katie please contact by visiting her blog, Moore From Katie or her twitter @moorekm26.  -- AP

Bringing Baby into the World

Pregnancy is a beautiful experience and from the moment a woman realizes she is pregnant until the day she goes into labor, her life is completely changed. For both first time moms and moms that already have children, labor shouldn’t be intimidating. Some simple preparation can help mothers remove fear of the unknown that can otherwise cause worry.

Immediately after a woman finds out she’s pregnant, she should call her doctor and set up an appointment. She should eat right, stay active and take care of herself as best she can. This promotes a healthier pregnancy, which can result in a healthier baby and a healthier delivery. As delivery day draws nearer, women can prepare by doing things like packing her hospital bag in advance and installing her infant car seat so she doesn’t have to worry about those things when labor begins.

Probably the simplest way all pregnant women can prepare for childbirth is by learning what signs to look for when labor begins. Once contractions start, she should time each one. She needs to know how long each lasts, the length of time between contractions and the pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Her doctor will need this information when she comes into the hospital to give birth.

Other things that are important regarding childbirth but that often fall to the back of a pregnant woman’s mind include things like cord blood banking and circumcision. Though these procedures are often done soon after birth, mothers should make a decision on these options well before delivery day. Also, women need to consider how many visitors they are comfortable having in their room and whether or not they want to ask their doctor to instill a visiting hours rule for her. Some moms can’t find it in them to ask their guests to leave and will ask their doctor to do it for them, so she doesn’t offend her loved ones.

Thanks for joining us today, Katie. Readers, want to share your pregnancy experiences? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- CHOCOLATE CHERRY PRETZEL CLUSTERS

Want a quick sweet treat perfect for a hostess gift? Try these chocolate cherry pretzel clusters. -- AP

CHOCOLATE CHERRY PRETZEL CLUSTERS

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups dried cherries, chopped
1-1/2 cups chopped pistachios
2 cups broken-up pretzel sticks
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. In a medium size bowl, stir together cherries, pistachios, and pretzels.

Place chocolate in a medium sized microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave an additional 30 seconds. Continue stirring and microwaving for 15 seconds until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Add fruit/nut/pretzel mixture to chocolate, stirring to completely coat. Place heaping tablespoons of mixture onto baking sheet. Chill to set (about 15 minutes) before serving.

And although tempting, don’t gobble them all up in one sitting! 
Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, March 26, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- PERSONALIZED PHOTO ALBUM

Scrapbooking is a lot of fun, but it can also be very time consuming and expensive. Sometimes we just want to stick the snapshots in the photo album to preserve them without making each page into a work of art. Yet it would be nice to have a photo album that didn’t look like every other photo album, right?

The answer is to decorate the cover of your photo album. The one shown above took under a half hour to create.

For the sample, I chose a fabric covered photo album, 6-3/4” high x 7-3/4” wide, but you can use any size you want. Cut a piece of natural linen 1-1/2” smaller than your album in both directions. Fringed the edges 1/4” on all four sides.

Cut a piece of acid-free self-stick adhesive to fit inside the fringed area. Remove the protective paper from one side. Apply the adhesive side to the wrong side of the linen fabric. Remove the second paper backing, then position the linen centered on the album cover.

I used a printed fabric with country hearts, but you can choose fabric with any motifs you like. Remove paper backing and apply self-stick adhesive to the back of the fabric. Cut out the motifs. Remove the second layer of paper, then apply the motifs randomly over the linen. Let some motifs extend beyond the perimeter of the linen.

Using jeweler’s glue, glue buttons randomly around the motifs.



Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Friday, March 23, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR JANIS SUSAN MAY PATTERSON

Our guest author today is Janis Susan May Patterson who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. Learn more about Janis and her books by visiting her websites: www.JanisSusanMay.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com. -- AP

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How: Roadmap for a Story

Back in my long-ago journalism days we had a mantra of questions that had to be used on every story – Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I was raised in a newspapering family, so that was drilled into me from toddler years.

When I decided to start writing novels, I was pleasantly surprised to find that those same queries – with just a little rearranging of emphasis and timing – fit quite well into books of any genre, be it romance, mystery, whatever. Those six questions are the backbone of a story.

They fit especially well into mystery. In The Hollow House, an historical cozy murder mystery, I had two ‘Who’ questions – Who was the killer, and Who was the heroine? As she admitted from the first, she was using another name and running away from something. What was equally split – What happened at the Stubbs mansion and What was the heroine hiding from?

When was pretty obvious; the action in the Stubbs mansion unfolded in front of the reader. The When (and the What and the Why) of the heroine’s past was doled out in small bites. The Where of the story was again fairly obvious, but done with care. I am a firm believer that the location of a story is as much a character in the action as any of the breathing participants. Sometimes more. Nearly all the action in The Hollow House takes place inside the Stubbs mansion, and I did that for two reasons. First, that was the only logical place I could get and keep all my disparate characters in one place long enough to interact. Second, it was a crafty bit of subtext and nuance to show how constrained and restricted women’s lives were at the time. The Hollow House takes place in 1919.

Why and How are usually the biggies and they wind up the story. The cause of death may have been a simple gunshot, but How did the murderer get into a position to do that and not get caught – at least until the end of the book? Or, to use a different twist, How asks which way was the murder committed and How was it done. Why is pretty much self explanatory, as it is part of the reasoning process by which the sleuth solves the mystery as well – in many cases – the reason for the story itself.

In other genres the correlations are still there, but not necessarily quite so straightforward. In my March 12 release, Inheritance of Shadows, a traditional Gothic romance, there are two mysteries – What happened to the heroine’s father, an author of high fantasy novels, twenty five years ago and What is happening to the heroine now? Who is responsible and Why is he/she/they/it doing it? (I’m not giving away any hints!) Where is again as important as any human character, in this case a grand Connecticut estate and a small, exclusive college.

When again is two-fold; What happened twenty-five years ago and How does it correlate to what is happening now? In the case of Inheritance of Shadows, the heroine’s very perception of reality is challenged; is the fantasy world her father created, the world that still draws fans to his books and inspires costumed conventions, truly and absolutely fictitious?

I’m not telling the solution to either book. When you read, use Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How to see if you can see the author’s thread of thought. If you write, try Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How as a starting point for your outline. It works.

Thanks for joining us today, Janis! -- AP 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - READ MY LIPS!


I’m not sure how much stock to put into this, but beauty editor Nicole Emmerling came across an article about an interesting book recently. See what you think. -- AP

Lipsology: The Art & Science of Reading Lip Prints by Jilly Eddy brings an entirely new meaning to “kiss and tell.” According to the author, lip prints are an indicator of one’s personality. The author has collected over 10,000 lip prints, along with the owners’ personality traits and come to some interesting conclusions.

For instance, someone with diamond-shaped lips is accomplished and gives generously to her community. Have corners that point up with open spaces between the edges? You’re multi-talented and hate boredom. A wavy upper lip is a sign of creativity and imagination.

Believable? Or as believable as phrenology? I came across a magazine article about the book and its author but an Internet search for the book turned up no hits. Maybe it hasn’t been published yet. But whether you believe a lip prints is an indicator of personality or not, you have to admit, it’s kind of an interesting concept.

It certainly is, Nicole. Skeptic that I am, though, I’m lumping this with reading head lumps. -- AP

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SPECIAL WEDNESDAY GUEST CAMILLE MINICHINO

Today we welcome back Camille Minichino, retired physicist turned writer, who’s filling in for our health, finance, and decorating editors today. Read on to learn how she’s covering all those areas in one guest post.

Camille has 3 releases this spring: A re-issue of
The Hydrogen Murder as an e-book; the second in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, The Probability of Murder (writing as Ada Madison); and the sixth in the Miniature Mysteries, Mix-Up in Miniature (writing as Margaret Grace.) Learn more about Camille at her website-- AP
Playful Research
It's wonderful to be back on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers.
The Wednesday schedule is perfect for me, because I can talk about finance, health, and decorating with a single topic: puzzles!
Finance: my games and puzzle books budget is bigger than my chocolate budget, and that's saying something.
Health: the best medical journals say that, just as ingesting omega 6 oils is good for your body, doing puzzles and brain teasers is the best thing for your mind. They tell us that the number of connections in our brains is the same as the number of leaves in the rain forest (I know who counted the neural connections; I don't know who counted the leaves), and we need to keep them active. Good enough for me.
As for decorating, puzzles make up a major portion of our décor. They're all over the house (see photo at left,) and the best completed ones have a permanent place on our walls. One of those pictured is a solved cryptoquote:
"Accept that some days you're the pigeon and some days you're the statue."
Besides keeping our minds active, we get wisdom for the ages!
It made sense, then, that on the road to turning every aspect of my life into a mystery series, I've created Professor Sophie Knowles, a college math teacher and avid puzzler, who makes up puzzles for magazines. So now I have another excuse to surf the 'net for riddles, word play, number games, and brain teasers.
Doing puzzles and working out brainteasers and riddles is addictive. I challenge you to go to http://www.sharpbrains.com/teasers/ and not hang around for awhile.
You can test your divided attention skills by making sure the red ball doesn't hit the blue wall, while at the same time ensuring that the orange ball hits the orange wall. You can exercise your brain by naming two objects for every letter in your complete name, or by looking around you and finding 3 red things that will fit in your pocket and 4 blue things that won't.
There's a lot of discussion these days about transfer of skills—are today's gamer-kids perfecting hand/eye coordination and learning valuable strategizing tips that will serve them well in a future career? Some say yes; others say yes, if they make a career of gaming. It's too soon to tell.
Has my lifelong puzzle making and solving made me smarter or mentally more healthy?
I can't tell!
But I do know that I'm having a lot of fun.
You can share in the fun at Sophie's puzzle page, where she posts a new challenge every first Tuesday of the month at http://www.minichino.com/puzzles/?p=278.
Here's a special one for you today, however. Solve these word pictures, or "droodles," and win a prize! To get you started, the first one is solved for you.
1. U CONT OL R
Answer: you are out of control.
2. LOV
3. GESG, GSEG, GGES
4. O ER T O (this one is included in "The Square Root of Murder")
5. ORSEMAN (this one is included in "The Probability of Murder")
6. COMTAXME
7. GR 12" AVE

Send your answers to camille.minichino@gmail.com by Friday March 23 at noon PST for a puzzle-related prize.

Thanks for joining us today, Camille, and not only reminding us how important it is to keep our minds sharp, but giving us some fun ways to do so. -- AP

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES


In the winter, tomatoes don’t have the flavor they do when picked right from your summer garden. If you’d like tomatoes with intense flavor, try this recipe from Cloris. -- AP

SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES
(serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
8 large plum tomatoes
cooking spray

Combine the sugar, olive oil, and seasonings in a large bowl. Slice tomatoes in half. Toss in oil mixture to coat.

Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, on tray. Roast in pre-heated oven at 200 degrees for 7-1/2 hrs.

Wouldn’t this be perfect served over angel hair pasta and sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan cheese? -- AP

Monday, March 19, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- A KILLER MOP DOLL AT LEFT COAST CRIME

Are you attending Left Coast Crime in Sacramento? Author Lois Winston, unfortunately, will not be there. However, one of her mop dolls, along with signed copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun and Death By Killer Mop Doll, will be attending in her stead. If you’ll be at Left Coast Crime, you may be lucky enough to win the mop doll shown above and the books at the LCC annual charity auction.

Left Coast Crime will be held March 29th - April 1st. The auction benefits the Sacramento Library Adult Literacy Program, which serves the entire Sacramento City/County region with 29 libraries, representing a population of more than 1.4 million people.

To learn more about Left Coast Crime, visit their website

Sunday, March 18, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week, and a special thanks to Melinda Leigh, our Book Club Friday guest author. Melinda offered a copy of She Can Run to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner is Sheila W. Boneham. Sheila, please send your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so I can forward it to Melinda.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

SEEN ON THE NYC SUBWAY


How cool is this? We don't normally do a blog post on Saturdays, but thanks to Google Alerts, author Lois Winston recently discovered this photo posted at Underground New York Public Library, and we decided we had to share it with our readers. Sure hope the woman didn't miss her train as she stood so engrossed in that book about me! -- AP

Friday, March 16, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR MELINDA LEIGH


Our Book Club Friday guest author today is Melinda Leigh who describes herself as a fully recovered banker, wife, mom, lifelong dog lover, and second degree black belt in kenpo karate. She is also the author of She Can Run, a kindle bestselling romantic suspense released in November 2011 from Montlake Romance. Her next book, Midnight Exposure, will be released in June 2012. Find out more Melinda at her website.

Melinda is offering a signed copy of She Can Run to one of our readers who posts a comment this week. -- AP

More Than Man’s Best Friend

In She Can Run one of my characters, a police dog reject, struck a chord with readers. In fact, Henry nearly stole the show from my hero. When I wrote the book, I had no idea how much my love of dogs would influence his character. Nor did I anticipate how much readers would fall in love with him.

No one can pinpoint exactly when humans first domesticated dogs, but archeologists suggest it was around 15,000 years ago, when people first started living in settlements and wolves would likely have been attracted to our garbage. Dogs and humans share a similar social structure. Perhaps these similarities helped the two species to bond. Since then, canine genes have been manipulated into an array of breeds bred to perform specific tasks.

Dogs have become an invaluable asset to humankind. They herd cattle and sheep and protect livestock from predators.  Guard dogs protect owners and their property. Hunting dogs help their owners find and retrieve game, or as it was historically known, dinner.

Their superior canine senses make them far better scouts then their human counterparts. Canine soldiers sniff out explosives, drugs, or other substances for the police and military. Police dogs tackle criminals, control crowds, and search buildings.  Dogs have been used by military forces since the BC years. The Romans and the Greeks trained large breed dogs to fight in battle. The Conquistadors employed Mastiffs to terrorize conquered peoples. Military dogs have been used as messengers and to haul equipment. They’ve even been used to drag wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Dalmatians are mascots for firehouses, but in the times when fire rigs were pulled by horses, the dogs would protect the horses and equipment. They also ran ahead of the rig to clear a path for the horses.

Search and rescue dogs find survivors in disasters, and their bond with humans is so strong, that when they find only the deceased, the dogs become depressed. Over 100 dogs worked tirelessly at Ground Zero.

Today, dog jobs are even more varied. Dogs can tell the hearing-impaired when the fire alarm is going off, the phone is ringing, or someone is knocking on the door. They help blind people navigate a seeing world.  Service dogs turn door knobs or fetch items for the physically handicapped, motivate chronically sick children to take their medicine. Dogs are good for our health.  Simply being around pets lowers blood pressure.

My two dogs don’t have a specific job (other than crumb patrol), but I can’t imagine my house without them. They are truly members of our family and a constant source of pleasure and companionship.

If you’re looking to add a canine companion to your household, please visit your local animal shelter. Dogs don’t deserve to be discarded after all they’ve done for us.

Thanks for joining us today, Melinda! Readers, if you’d like to read about Henry, post a comment for a chance to win a copy of She Can Run. -- AP

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - EAT YOUR WAY TO FEWER WRINKLES

We all know veggies are good for us, but did you know they reduce wrinkles? Hear what beauty editor Nicole Emmerling has to say. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. Broccoli, peppers, and spinach are great wrinkle reducers, especially those little eye wrinkles we all hate. And while you’re eating more broccoli, peppers, and spinach, add lean proteins to your meal. Lamb, chicken, and beef produce collagen.

I don’t suppose there’s any benefit to eating fudge sundaes for dessert? Oh well… Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: SLOW COOKER SAFETY

Those of you who frequent this blog know that Cloris is fond of slow cooker recipes. The slow cooker is the working woman’s best friend. However, it’s come to our attention, that many of you may not know the best ways to use your slow cooker safely. So today Cloris is stepping in to offer a few slow cooker tips. -- AP

1. The great thing about a slow cooker is that you can set it in the morning, leave the house, and return to a cooked meal. However, any time you plan to be away from home, make sure you only use the “low” setting on your cooker. Save the “high” setting for when you’re home.

2. Only fill your slow cooker two-thirds of the way. As the ingredients cook, they expand. Fill a slow cooker too full, and you could have an overflowing mess on your hands. The spill may even ruin your slow cooker if the liquid spills over any of the electrical parts.

3. Avoid checking your recipe too often. Each time you remove the lid, heat and steam escape. Check too often, and you’ll have to increase the cooking time to compensate.

Happy safe slow cooking, everyone! And post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- POTA BRATA (IRISH FLAG SOUP)

St. Patrick’s Day is this Saturday. Why not whip up a batch of Cloris’s Irish Flag Soup to serve after watching the parade? -- AP

POTA BRATA (IRISH FLAG SOUP)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large onions
3 large carrots
3 large stalks celery
6 cloves garlic
1-1/2 qts. vegetable broth
3 tablespoons dried sage
salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onions, carrots, and celery. Chop the garlic. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in the oil until the onions become translucent. Add the broth and bring to a boil, scraping browned bits of vegetables from the bottom of the pot. Add seasoning. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Puree soup in batches in a blender before serving.

Wouldn’t this taste yummy with some fresh baked bread on a cold winter day? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, March 12, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- YO-YO SHAMROCK PIN

Yo-yo’s are one of the easiest fabric crafts to make and a great way to use up fabric scraps. They're also the featured craft in Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the next book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, but you'll have to wait until January for that! However, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, here's a quick and easy shamrock pin made from three yo-yo’s. For those of you who are frequent visitors to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, you might remember this craft from last year, but I thought it was cute enough and appropriate enough to repeat it here today.  -- AP

YO-YO SHAMROCK PIN
Supplies
cardboard
compass
scissors
scrap of green print fabric
fabric pen
quilting thread
sewing needle
three lt. green 3/8” buttons
12” DMC 6160 green Memory Thread
fabric glue
 glue gun and glue sticks

Using the compass, draw a 4” diameter circle on the cardboard. Cut out the circle.

Using the cardboard circle as a template, draw three circles on the wrong side of the fabric. Cut out the circles.

With the wrong side of the fabric facing up, fold the edge over 1/4". Using a running stitch, sew around the entire circle close to the fold line. Pull the thread tightly so the fabric cinches up. Flatten and shape the yo-yo. Run the needle through the center back. Now stitch a button over the center of each hole.

Arrange the three yo-yo’s as shown in the photo with then overlapping each other slightly. On the wrong side, tack the yo-yos in place.

To form stem, twist the ends of three 10” pieces of Memory Thread, then braid. Fold braid in half and twist together from fold out to ends. Twist cut ends together, securing with a dab of fabric glue. Allow to dry.

Using the glue gun, glue the cut ends of the stem just below the center back of the shamrock. Glue the pin back in place, centered directly above the stem.

Whether you’re Irish or not, do you put on the green for St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s hear from you. Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, March 11, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week, and a special thanks to Debra H. Goldstein, our Book Club Friday guest author. Debra offered a copy of Maze in Blue to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner is Pam. Pam, please send your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so I can forward it to Debra.

Friday, March 9, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN


Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of several award winning short stories including “Legal Magic” and “Malicious Mischief.”  Her debut mystery novel, Maze in Blue, was published in 2011.  "Maybe I Should Hug You" won a 2009 Alabama Writers Conclave Nonfiction Award.  A revised version was published online as "More Hugs, Less Fear" by MORE Magazine in April 2010.  For more information visit Debra’s website or drop her an email. 

Debra is offering a copy of Maze of Blue to one of our readers who posts a comment this week. -- AP  

Crafting My Writing

I’m so jealous of Anastasia.  Give that woman a scrap of anything and she can craft it into a masterpiece.  Cloris and her food skills irk me, too.   For crafts or cooking, I not only need to stick to a pattern or recipe, but I limit my efforts to things that come with colored pictures.  Only when I write am I like Anastasia or Cloris.

Whether writing a short story like “Legal Magic” or my debut mystery novel, Maze in Blue, my pattern or recipe calls for the same outcome:  give the reader a light fun time.  To do that, I always start with the same basic ingredients:  my slightly skewered sense of humor, a fact pattern and locations that readers can relate to, and characters that you either quickly identify with or want to murder.

In Maze in Blue, a murder mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, headlines scream “University of Michigan co-ed murdered” and the intrigue begins.  The main character, Denney Silber, only wants to enjoy football games, concerts, and sorority life until her good friend, Helen, is killed in the office of the faculty member Denney most despises.  Her plans now awry, Denney feels compelled to solve Helen’s murder.  She quickly realizes that she can’t trust faculty members, friends, or even the cute guy in Poetry 331.

Although Maze incorporates University of Michigan locations, its faculty offices, sorority activities, and local watering hole universally translate to ones found on any college campus.  Interestingly, it seems that the characteristics of at least one of the students may have been those of you or your roommate.     

Craftwise, because Maze in Blue is a beach, airplane, or just before you turn off the light to go to bed read, I used short chapters and lots of dialogue to keep the pace moving.  Just as I grab a cozy mystery to forget the seriousness of my day job, I want readers to have that same relaxed experience.  The goal is for you to have “fun” with my fiction and to subconsciously think about its more serious themes.

Theme and emotion are more obvious when I write non-fiction.  For example, in “Maybe I Should Hug You,” I wrote about our feelings turning 50, becoming our mothers, and having to address issues we would rather avoid.  In non-fiction, I use elements to make you think or comfort you while my fiction lets you escape.     

I’d like to be like Anastasia or Cloris in more ways, but I’m glad a little of their skills show up in my writings.  Let me know what you think.

Thank you, Debra! And readers, if you do tell Debra what you think, you’ll be entered in the drawing for a copy of Maze of Blue. So let’s hear from you. -- AP

Thursday, March 8, 2012

TRAVEL WITH SERENA -- TIP FOR WINTER DRIVING

For those of us not lucky enough to live in warmer climes and still stuck dealing with winter, travel editor Serena Brower has a car safety tip for driving in snow and ice. -- AP

Most likely you have emergency items in your car -- jumper cables, a first aid kit, roadside flares. But do you travel with a bag of sand or kitty litter? You should. If you ever find yourself stuck on an icy patch, the sand or kitty litter will get you on your way in no time. Just sprinkle it around your tires, and you’ll have the traction you need to be on your way.

Great tip, Serena. Readers, how many of you are off to buy a bag of sand or kitty litter? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

DECORATING WITH JEANIE -- CURTAIN TIE-BACKS

Decorating editor Jeanie Sims is always thinking outside the box. Today she gives us some unique ideas for curtain tie-backs. -- AP

In any crafts store you’ll find dozens and dozens of themed cut-out wooden shapes to paint and decorate.

For a unique curtain tie-back, first paint the edges of the unfinished wood. Then cover the shapes with coordinating fabric or wallpaper. Use a craft knife to trim the fabric or paper close to the edge of the shape. Glue the shape to the center of a piece of ribbon or fabric strip.

Screw a cup hook into the edge of the window frame to attach the tie-back.

Want something even simpler? You can also find already painted wooden shapes at the crafts store, but these will generally work best for children’s rooms, bathrooms, and kitchens. Choose shapes that coordinate with the theme of the room. 

What a fun idea, Jeanie! Thanks for sharing. Readers, post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS -- GUILTLESS FRENCH FRIES

Who doesn’t love French fries? Trouble is, we all know how bad they are for us. Leave it to Cloris to find a way for us to have our French fries without the guilt. -- AP

GUILTLESS FRENCH FRIES

Ingredients:
4 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cut up unpeeled potatoes into thick julienne strips. Mix together remaining ingredients in large bowl. Toss potatoes into mixture, coating thoroughly. Spread potatoes onto baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees until potatoes are golden (about 25 minutes.)

These are definitely going on tonight’s menu. What about you, readers? Will you be trying guiltless fries? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, March 5, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA-- NATIONAL CRAFTS MONTH

March is National Crafts Month. So I thought I'd update a blog originally posted when Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers was in its infancy. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and many of you may have missed it the first time around. -- AP

It’s no secret that I think more people should do crafts.  If people didn’t craft, I’d be out of a job, and with all the debt Dead Louse of a Spouse dumped on me before cashing in his chips, the last thing I need is to lose my job!  So it will come as no surprise that I’m all in favor of adults and kids alike stepping away from the video games and picking up glue guns and paint brushes.  Besides, crafting might just save the world some day.

All right.  You can stop snickering.  I really mean it, and here’s why:

Creativity is a skill that needs to be nurtured in order for our kids to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.  Solving problems and resolving conflicts require creative thinking.  Although children are born with wonderful curiosity and creativity, very early on both tend to be squelched.  With outside influences trying to make children conform to a prescribed norm, our homes should be a center for our kids to have the freedom to express themselves.  Sometimes it’s just way better to color outside the lines.

The more kids see their parents engaging in creative pastimes, the more likely they’ll want to join in.  Keep ample supplies of paint, glue, markers, paper, chenille stems, craft sticks, pompoms and other basic craft materials handy for those “I’m bored; there’s nothing to do” days, and forget about the mess they’ll make.  We all need the freedom to make messes.

Finally, you can help spread the crafting message to others.  Instead of buying another video game the next time your child is invited to a birthday party, consider purchasing a craft kit or craft supplies instead.

So how do you promote creativity in your own kids?  Share your experiences with us.  What’s worked for you and your family and what hasn’t? 
Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Sunday, March 4, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week, and a special thanks to Sue Swft, our Book Club Friday guest author. Sue offered an e-copy of Lord Devere's Wardto one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner is Jane R. Jane, please contact me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com, and I'll put you in touch with Sue.

Friday, March 2, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR SUE SWIFT


Today we welcome best-selling, award-winning author Sue Swift, a.k.a Suz deMello. Sue has written over fifteen novels in numerous genres including romance, mystery, paranormal, historical, contemporary comedy, and erotic, plus several short stories and non-fiction articles. In addition, she’s both a freelance editor and a senior editor for Etopia Press. Learn more about Sue at her blogSue is offering an e-version of Lord Devere’s Ward to one of our readers who posts a comment. -- AP


Researching Historical Novels
I wrote the first draft of Lord Devere’s Ward by drawing upon my experiences traveling in England, reading other Regency romances, most notably Georgette Heyer, and studying the manners, mores, and art of the time.

I love to write historical romances mostly because of the research. I love history, especially the way people used to live. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those starry-eyed nostalgia freaks who longs for the “good old days.” I know well that the old days were not good. We live in a wonderful period in history and in a great society, (to rip off LBJ). We have antibiotics, clean air, healthful food, and drinkable water. I’m especially grateful because I lived in China, a developing country, for the better part of a year. China’s air pollution is famous, but few Americans seem to be aware that the water isn’t drinkable without boiling it.

That was also the case in Regency England, but people weren’t aware of bacteria—the germ theory of disease wasn’t completely formulated until later in the century. But they knew that foul water was bad, which accounted for the popularity of tea as well as gin and ale.

I placed the book in 1820, toward the end of the Regency period, and on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, so I had a lot of fun researching the clothes and food of the time.

When researching and writing a novel, I like to base plot points on some unique aspect of the era. In Lord Devere’s Ward, the art of the time precipitates a plot twist late in the story. I don’t want to reveal it, because it’s pretty important, but I will say that because few people were literate, the news and events of the day were often communicated via cartoons and broadsides that were pasted to shop windows, walls, and pillars.

I invite you to delve more deeply into this fascinating time and place by looking at some of the resources available online. I particularly like Candice Hern’s website and the Jane Austen’s World blog. Enjoy!


Blurb of Lord Devere’s Ward:


His honor or his passion…


Orphaned Kate Scoville is trapped in a tower prison by her scheming uncle, who plans to wed her to his loathsome son to gain control of her fortune. Plucky and resourceful, Lady Kate escapes to London to beg help from her guardian, the elderly Earl of Devere. But once she arrives, Kate is astounded to find that the Earl has died and his son has inherited–and her new guardian cuts a very dashing figure.


Quinn, the present Earl, remembers Kate from his childhood as an awkward child he loved to tease. But his father’s ward has grown into a beautiful young woman, and when she comes to him in need, he finds his thoughts far from honorable. Duty demands he offer his protection, but their attraction is irresistible, and the temptation of the dark-haired beauty may be too much for even an honorable man to resist…


Excerpt:
Badham Abbey, Wiltshire, England
January, 1820

"God, help me!"

Kate Scoville kicked and flailed her feet, struggling to grip the tower wall with her oversized boots. She whispered a hasty prayer in the chance that the Almighty paid attention to her small corner of His world. Wearing clumsy, borrowed gloves, she grasped the rope tied to the attic window and pushed her boots against the side of the tower, seeking purchase on the wall.

At last, her toes found a mortared joint between two massive blocks of stone. She breathed deeply until her racing pulse steadied. The chill air knifed her lungs. She could see her breath, small puffy clouds, when she exhaled.

She looked down and gulped. Three far stories below her, the slate roof of the abbey gleamed, pale and frosty in the moonlight.

She tried not to utter curses damning her wretched uncle, whose treachery had brought her to such desperate straits. First he'd torn her away from her beloved home in Somerset. Then he'd nagged her to marry his beef-witted son, Osborn, until she thought he'd drive her quite out of her mind. Locking her in an icy tower attic until she cooperated had been the proverbial last straw.

She inched her boots down the tower wall. The short sword she wore on her belt beat against her side with every halting step as her cape flapped around her knees. She finally attained her immediate goal: the abbey's second-story roof. Still clasping the rope, she crept across the slippery slates. If she reached the edge of the roof without mishap, she'd climb down to the ground by way of a convenient vine or tree.

At the end of the rope, she released it with a shaky, nervous hand. A few steps later, her feet flew out from under her. Yelping, she fell with a bump to slide down the pitched roof, scrabbling for a hold.

Scant feet from the brink, she plunged into a black gap. Her cape caught on the rough edges and timbers of the roof, breaking her fall. Despite her clinging garb, she plummeted through the hole, too shocked and frightened to scream.

Intrigued? Want to read more? Post a comment, and you could be the winner of an e-copy of Lord Devere’s Ward. -- AP