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

Friday, August 31, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR JUDY ALTER


Our guest today is award-winning novelist Judy Alter who has written fiction for both adults and young adults, primarily about women in the nineteenth-century American West. Judy no writes contemporary cozy mysteries. Trouble in a Big Box, her third Kelly O’Connell mystery, follows Skeleton in a Dead Space and No Neighborhood for Old Women. Learn more about Judy at her website and her two blogs, Judy's Stew and Potluck With Judy.

Judy is offering a copy of Trouble in a Big Box to one of our readers this week who posts a comment to the blog. And don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you've won. -- AP


The Jessica Fletcher Problem

Remember when mystery writers talked about the Jessica Fletcher problem, from Murder, She Wrote? Why were there so many murders in tiny Cabot Cove? As I started the third Kelly O’Connell Mystery, I faced sort of the same problem. I think it’s inevitable with a cozy series—sort of, why do bad things happen to good people?

I had to ask myself why Kelly, a realtor and the mother of two young girls, keeps bumping into so many crimes. Her new husband, Mike, says that she has a real talent for trouble. She maintains that she’s looking out for her beloved neighborhood. He, once a neighborhood police officer and now a detective, says she should let the police do their work and stay out of things. She argues that she would if they’d move fast enough and act on the tips she gives them. Kelly has been vandalized, almost shot, and almost asphyxiated. What kind of new trouble could I get her into?

I wanted this to be Mike’s book, for a change, so in the opening pages, he’s badly injured in an auto accident; a young girl in the other car, which sped though a stop sign, is killed; the driver of the other car escapes on foot before the police get there. Once she knows Mike will be all right, though he faces a long recovery, Kelly, a born nurturer, sets out to help the family of the dead girl. She sees that as concern, not intervention in police business, but she meets a hostile reception from the victim’s twin sister.

They say you should listen to your characters, and they’ll tell you what to do, so I listened…and they did, with a little help from current local headlines when a big-box store tried to move into Fairmount, the fictional Kelly’s neighborhood. There were the threads of my story: Mike, who is powerless to keep Kelly out of trouble and physically unable to protect her and the girls; someone who begins to stalk Kelly (is it that small-time criminal who was driving the car or the dead girl’s sister?); and the fight to prevent the big-box store from moving into the neighborhood. Who knew they were tied together and Kelly would end up in danger of taking a one-way trip to Mexico? Working all that out was the fun of writing—though at the time it was less fun than hard work.

I hope you enjoy Kelly’s adventures. Mike’s right—she has a real talent for trouble.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Judy. Readers, what do you think of Jessica Fletcher syndrome? Are you able to suspend disbelief and enjoy a good cozy? Let's hear from you. One lucky reader will win a copy of Trouble in a Big Box. -- AP

Thursday, August 30, 2012

TRAVEL WITH SERENA - CAMPING TIPS


My idea of a vacation is not having more work than I have when I’m home, but I know many people love camping. If you’re one of them, travel editor Serena Brower has some tips for making your next camping trip as enjoyable as possible. -- AP

1. Know what poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak look like. Too many people don’t and wind up spending their camping trip scratching. Bring pictures with you or download pictures to your smart phone. Know which plants grow in the area where you’ll be camping.

2. If you’re out hiking, drink plenty of water, even if you’re not thirsty. You need to continually replace the fluids from perspiration to avoid dehydration.

3. Don’t pack the world into your backpack. If it weighs more than 25% of your weight, it will wear you out.

4. In wooded areas, make sure your extremities and head are covered. That means wearing long sleeves, long pants, socks, and a hat to protect against ticks, mosquitoes, and those poisonous plants.

5. Leave the scented soaps, shampoos, and lotions at home. They attract all sorts of unwanted guests like bugs and bears.

6. Going to bear country? Store all food and even toothpaste in bear-resistant containers in shaded areas.

7. Don’t drink the water! That stream or lake might look pure as the driven snow, but you don’t know what microscopic microbes are swimming around in it. The last thing you want are intestinal problems when you’re miles from indoor plumbing. Bring your own water.

8. Pitch your tent away from trees. That tree might look perfectly healthy, but could be rotten out inside. One strong wind could topple it, and you don’t want it toppling on you or your family while you sleep.

And people wonder why I don’t like camping? Just saying… 
Readers, post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA - CREATING A PERSONAL FINANCIAL BUDGET


Today we have the folks at Happy Health visiting to discuss personal financial budgets. Happy Health provides useful lifestyle and product information, including home security reviews. Check them out at their website. -- AP 

Creating A Personal Financial Budget

Many people will go through life without ever putting together a budget for their household expenditures. Many others have created a budget but don't keep it current when they experience a change to income or expenses. This is too bad because knowing exactly what income you make and what your monthly expenses are is one of the key pillars to financial success. A well-managed budget ensures that one does not spend their way into consumer debt.

Early last year I had the opportunity to help a friend with her monthly budget. She was hopelessly in debt. After working with her on a monthly budget we, put a plan together to control her spending and help pay off her cards. Most importantly we checked her monthly progress against the budget we prepared. It was very hard for her to make the changes she needed to make but as every month went by she started to get better and better and staying with her budget. Even more exciting was that she was able to figure out ways to save even more money from her personal expenses.

Many people's financial dreams are ruined by their personal debt. Not all debt is incurred based on bad decision in incurring consumer debt. There are many people who have been dealt with some bad luck such as health problems and have been forced into debt just to ensure that they have appropriate health care. Regardless of how you have incurred your debt it is important to put together a personal budget to ensure that you have a plan for your future financial success.

I've spoken with many people who make a lot of money and they often think that they don't need a personal budget. I could not disagree more. In fact these types of people I believe need a budget more than others.  The reason for this is that while they make a lot of money including an excess of discretionary spending money they spend almost everything that they make. What they should be doing is carefully watching what income they make and their expenses and making sure that a respectful amount of their income is being reinvested into cash flow producing assets instead of wasted on expensive goods and services that they did not really need.  With a proper plan and good budget those who make a lot of money are able to continually reinvest their wealth producing a cascading flow of cash flow.

Make time out of your busy schedule to ensure that you have a personal budget. More importantly take time out of your schedule to make sure that you compare your budget to your actual real monthly expenditures. The road to financial success is not easy but ultimately it is very rewarding. Ensuring that you have a plan including a monthly budget is a step in the right direction in ensuring that financial success is not just a dream but a reality.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - GUEST AUTHOR AND FOODIE LUCY BURDETTE


We're giving Cloris a much needed day off today and welcoming mystery author and foodie Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib.) Lucy is a clinical psychologist and the author of ten mysteries. Death in Four Courses will be available September 4th. Publishers Weekly has said, "Anyone who's ever overpaid for a pretentious restaurant meal will relish this witty cozy."  You can learn more about Lucy and the Key West food critic series on her website or facebook or on Twitter. She also blogs at Jungle Red Writers and Mystery Lovers Kitchen. -- AP

My Mysterious Foodie Life
by Lucy Burdette

When people ask me if I'm a great chef (which happens more and more since I've started writing about food), I tell them I'm a good solid cook but that I really excel as eating. And this came in my DNA, as a short vignette will illustrate.

Several years ago, my extended family was gathering for a weekend. When we visit my husband's family, we must remember to take golf clubs, tennis rackets, ping pong paddles, whiffle balls and bats, and so on. So quite naturally, my husband was concerned about what to pack for my family's get-together.

"What kind of sporting equipment will we need?" he asked my cousin.

"With our crowd, all you need is a knife and fork," my cousin told him.

With that level of foodie enthusiasm in my blood, joining the ranks of culinary mystery writers felt like a natural to me. I'm a long time fan of Diane Mott Davidson's culinary mystery series. Her main character, a caterer named Goldy, makes cooking sound so satisfying and pleasant. She never seems to grow tired of mixing up enormous batches of cookies or casseroles or scones or chili. Cooking is her job, but it's also her passion and her way of containing anxiety or fear or sadness.

I too wanted to create a character with a powerful emotional connection to food and family. Hayley Snow's job is to review Key West restaurants for a new style magazine, Key Zest. But when she's not eating out, she's cooking for her friends and talking food with her mom.

In book two of the Key West series, Death in Four Courses, Hayley is sent to report on a conference of important food writers. As a new reviewer, she's terrified that she'll be compared to her writing idols and found lacking. And she's made the mistake of inviting her mother down from New Jersey for the weekend. As she puts it, having her mom tethered to her side while tackling her first major journalistic assignment feels like watching a falling soufflé through the oven door.

By the end of story, she's come to some conclusions about her job; I'll let her tell you about them:

"While food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who'd be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt."

And now, with no guilt at all, I give you Hayley Snow's strawberry-rhubarb cake:

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping
Ingredients:
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 cup strawberries, chopped

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. flour
4 tbsp. rolled oats

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the egg. Sift together flour and baking soda and add this to the creamed mixture with the milk and vanilla. Fold in the rhubarb and strawberries. Pour into greased 9-by-11-inch pan. Blend topping ingredients with a pastry blender until pea-sized and sprinkle on top of the cake. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes

Oh, how I wish my rhubarb crop had survived last summer's hurricane! This recipe sounds so wonderful, I may have to break down and buy some rhubarb at the supermarket. What about you, readers? -- AP 

Monday, August 27, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - MAP DÉCOUPAGED PICTURE FRAME

Zoe at Liberty State Park

       
Summer vacation is either over or just about over for most of the country. If you're like me, you probably took lots of photos while on vacation. Instead of hiding them all away in a photo album, here's a great, easy craft to keep the memories fresh all year long.

Map Decoupaged Picture Frame

Materials: wooden picture frame, road map, craft stick (optional,) foam brush, scissors, découpage medium, tweezers (optional.)

Directions:
1. Cut out sections of the map into manageable pieces, about 3" - 4" in length and wide enough to wrap around the frame.

2. Using the foam brush, apply découpage medium to the wrong side of the map cut-outs.

3. Position a map cut-out on the frame, wrapping around to the inside and outside so that all exposed sections of the wooden frame are covered. Use the tweezers to aid in placement.

4. Eliminate wrinkles, air bubbles, and excess medium by gently pushing down on the cut-out with your fingers or the craft stick, working from the center outward. Remove any excess medium with a damp cloth.

5. Glue the next section of map onto the frame, overlapping the first piece slightly. Repeat until entire frame is covered.

6. Allow decoupage to dry completely. Once dry, apply several coats of découpage medium to the entire surface, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR SUSAN SANTANGELO


Today we have a return visit from Susan Santangelo, author of the Baby Boomer Mysteries. An early member of the Baby Boomer generation, Susan Santangelo has been a feature writer, drama critic and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in the New York metropolitan area, including a stint at Cosmopolitan magazine. A seasoned public relations and marketing professional, she has designed and managed not-for-profit events and programs for over 25 years, and was principal of her own public relations firm, Events Unlimited, in Princeton NJ for ten years. She also served as Director of Special Events and Volunteers for Carnegie Hall during the Hall's 1990-1991 Centennial season.
  
A portion of the sales from the Baby Boomer Mysteries is donated to the Breast Cancer Survival Center, a non-profit organization based in Connecticut which Susan founded in 1999 after being diagnosed with cancer herself.  Read more about Susan and her books at her website. -- AP 

Location! Location! Location!
It’s a major selling point when home buyers are looking at properties to buy.

And for me, location is just as important in fiction. As an avid mystery reader, I find myself more willing to take a chance on a new author I know nothing about if I’m attracted to the locale where the book is set.

When I started writing the Baby Boomer mysteries, I created the Connecticut town of Fairport. It’s a thinly disguised version of Fairfield, where my family and I lived for many years. And, yes, we lived in an antique house, just like the principal characters in the series, Carol and Jim Andrews. But because Fairport is a fictional place, I was free to populate it with restaurants, churches, stores, and street names to my heart’s content, as long as they all worked into the story line, without any current Fairfield resident (or, heaven forbid, an elected town official!) contacting me to say that I hadn’t gotten the description down correctly.

Believe me, that can happen. Don’t ask me how I know, please. Just trust me. I know.

But when I started to write Book 3 in the series, Marriage Can be Murder, I wanted to include a destination wedding, so I had to move the location out of Fairport. Where did I decide to have the wedding take place? Somewhere I’ve always loved -- the island of Nantucket.
   
I discovered when I started doing some research about Nantucket that the entire island is designated as a National Historic Landmark. I never knew that. Nantucket is affectionately referred to as The Little Grey Lady of the Sea because of its many grey-shingled buildings and frequent fog. The island is 14 miles long by 3.5 miles wide, and is 27 miles out to sea. Nantucket is 30 miles south of Cape Cod, and has a year-round population of approximately 10,000. The population increases to about 50,000 during the summer months, which is Nantucket’s peak tourist season. There are great shopping opportunities at this time of year. Don’t ask me how I know this, either. But, trust me, I know.

Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world from the mid-1700s to the late 1830s, and was made famous by Herman Melville in his classic novel, Moby Dick. Ok, I’ll confess I’ve never read that book. But I’m sure it’s on my to-be-read pile, somewhere in my office. And I did see the movie starring Gregory Peck, so that counts, right?

Some atlases describe Nantucket Island as crescent-shaped. To really get the picture, take your right hand and fold in all your fingers but the thumb and index finger. Then rotate your hand to the left, palm down, and voila – your own Nantucket island. Madaket is where your thumb is -- a tiny community with its own harbor, gorgeous houses and beautiful beaches. Follow your thumb to the right – that’s Madaket Road, which eventually leads you into the town of Nantucket, approximately where your thumb opens as it heads toward the index finger. Picture that opening as the town, and Straight Wharf, where the ferries to and from the mainland dock.

More than 800 houses on Nantucket were built before the American Civil War, and I decided the primary site for my mystery would be one of them. I named it the Grey Gull Inn. You won’t find this inn on Nantucket, because it’s the product of my over active imagination. And then I really had fun -- I gave it some history. Here’s what Carol Andrews, my protagonist, finds out about it from the Grey Gull Inn website:

“The inn was built in 1825 by Nathaniel Grey, a whaling captain, as a gift to his new bride, Charity. Tragically, soon after the couple moved into the house, Charity was found dead at the bottom of the house’s circular staircase. An inquest determined her death was a tragic accident. Captain Grey never recovered from the shock of his young wife’s death, and legend has it that he continues to live in the house, searching in vain for his bride. The building was converted in the 1980s to a 10-bedroom inn. The current owners are siblings JoAnn and Skip Wallace, who are direct descendants of Captain Nate, as he was known in the family. They completely refurbished the structure in 2006, adding a new wing to the inn with six more guest room suites.”

I placed the Grey Gull Inn right in the center of Nantucket town, close to historic Main Street, Nantucket’s primary shopping district. I gave it a full-service gourmet restaurant and one of the most notable wine lists on the island. But I didn’t give an en suite bathroom to the older part of the inn, where the Andrews family is staying.

Why? Well, I won’t tell.
  
Here’s the back cover blurb for the book. See if you can figure out a clue.

Book Three of the Baby Boomer mystery series, Marriage Can Be Murder, brings the Andrews family to Nantucket. Carol is thrilled when daughter Jenny announces her engagement. She’s dreamed of planning her daughter’s wedding since the day Jenny was born. But with only two months to pull together a destination wedding on Nantucket, Jenny insists on hiring Cinderella Weddings to organize the event. Father-of-the-bride Jim objects to the cost, and Carol objects to having her opinion ignored. When Carol finds the wedding planner dead at the bottom of a spiral staircase at a Nantucket inn, and the husband of Carol’s BFF Nancy is accused of her death, Carol has more to worry about than getting to the church on time!

If you can’t figure out the clue, you’ll just have to check out Marriage Can Be Murder for yourself. The Grey Gull Inn is open and ready to receive your reservation! But be sure to call ahead for the ferry, if you want to bring a car.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Susan. One of these days I hope to get to Nantucket. -- AP

Thursday, August 23, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - GUACAMOLE SKIN CARE


Giving yourself a guacamole facial is a great idea, but did you know that eating guacamole can also reduce signs of skin aging? Add salsa, and you add wrinkle-reducing antioxidants. Party on!

GUACAMOLE FACIAL

1. Scrape half a large avocado or a whole small avocado into a bowl and mash with a fork until the consistency is creamy.

2. If desired for oily skin, mix in a tablespoon of olive oil or honey or a raw egg white.

3. Wash your face with warm water to remove make-up and dirt.

4. Apply a thin layer of the avocado paste with your fingertips, rubbing the paste into your skin until your face is completely covered. Be careful to avoid eyes and hair.

5. Leave the avocado mask on your face for 15 minutes or until the mixture is completely dry.

6. Rinse your face with warm water to remove the mask. Don’t scrub. Splash cold water on your face once all the mask is removed to close your pores. Pat your face dry with a towel.



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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - MELON SAFETY


Today, a safety tip when it comes to melon. -- AP

Remember all those tainted cantaloupes last year? People all across the country became ill with listeria. Some died. Many people wondered how you could get sick from eating a fruit where you don’t eat the rind. Think about it: the melon sits in dirt and is also handled by many people from the time it’s picked until you bring it home. In the case of last year’s listeria outbreak, the soil was contaminated, but anyone touching a melon can also contaminate it with listeria, e coli, salmonella, or any number of other bacteria.

In the case of the listeria-infected cantaloupes, even after the source of the listeria was determined and melons were removed from supermarkets, people still got sick. Listeria has a very long incubation period, much longer than many other food borne bacteria, sometimes as long as two months.

Yet, here it is summer, and you can’t beat a sweet cantaloupe on a hot summer day. Here’s how you avoid getting sick: WASH THE RIND! That’s right. When you slice through the melon, any bacteria on the rind will transfer to the knife and from the knife to the melon meat. Washing the rind with an antibacterial dish detergent, will kill any bacteria on the rind.

Simple solution, isn’t it? So don’t be afraid to enjoy that cantaloupe this summer. Or any other melon, for that matter. But do wash the rind before cutting into them.

This is one of those tips that makes so much sense, I feel like smacking my head for not thinking of it! Thanks, Janice! Readers, p
ost a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ANASTASIA TAKES OVER COOKING WITH CLORIS FOR THE DAY


Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention, especially when you’re sorely in need of a trip to the supermarket. The other day I found myself alone for dinner after a long day at work. I was too hot and tired to cook and not up to tackling the rush hour supermarket lines. So I grabbed the assorted dregs from the fridge and wound up with a rather tasty meal. Cloris was quite proud of me. She’s always telling me to keep an open mind when it comes to salads. Here’s what I came up with. -- AP

ANASTASIA’S REFRIGERATOR ODDS & ENDS SALAD
(serves 1, multiply ingredients for more)

Ingredients:

1 cup baby spinach
1 hardboiled egg, sliced
1 small ripe avocado, cut into chunks
1 slice extra sharp cheddar cheese, torn into bite size pieces
1/2 cup blueberries
2 teaspoons Italian vinaigrette (or whatever salad dressing you have on hand)

Plate the spinach. Arrange the egg slices around the spinach. Add the avocado, cheese, and blueberries. Sprinkle dressing over salad.

Serve with croutons or crackers if you can find any in the pantry.

The beauty of this salad is that you can make all sorts of substitutions and still have a great meal. No spinach? Use lettuce. No blueberries? Use sliced strawberries, chopped apple, or dried fruit. No avocado? Add a can of artichoke hearts. No cheddar? Use any other cheese. So what kinds of odds & ends salads have you made? Post a comment for a chance to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Monday, August 20, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - SPOON DOLL PUPPETS




In keeping with featuring some kids crafts throughout the summer, here's a project that first appeared on the blog back in its infancy. 

What kid doesn’t love puppets? These spoon dolls are easy to make and make great puppets for impromptu puppet shows. -- AP

Materials
12” wooden spoon; 6-1/2” x 16” piece of fabric; 3” x 4” flesh-colored felt; 3/4-yd. 1-3/4” wide gathered lace; 4” length of 1” wide gathered lace; 1/2-yd. 1/8” wide satin ribbon; acrylic paint: flesh, dk. flesh, pink and black; acrylic satin varnish; paint brushes; curly doll hair; 4” straw hat; 1” miniature butterfly; paint brushes; tacky glue; low-temp glue gun; graphite paper; pencil; basic sewing supplies

1. Paint spoon bowl, sides of bowl, and approximately 1” of the handle below the bowl with 2 coats flesh paint, allowing paint to dry between coats.

2. Print out face and hand patterns, enlarging face pattern box to 1-3/4” wide and hand pattern box to 2-1/4” wide.

3. Using graphite paper and pencil, ransfer face pattern to the bowl of the spoon.

4. Paint the mouth pink. To make eyes and freckles, dip the brush handle end into paint and dot eyes in black and freckles in dk. flesh. Allow to dry.

5. Apply 2 coats of satin varnish over painted areas.

6. Sew a length of wide lace to the bottom long edge of the print fabric. Using a 1/4” seam, sew the short ends of the fabric right sides together. Press under remaining long edge 1/4”.

7. To make the dress, run a gathering stitch along the pressed edge of the fabric. Gather tightly around the spoon directly under the bowl. Apply a small amount of tacky glue to hold the fabric to the spoon at the neck.

8. Gather a 6” length of remaining wide lace. Tie tightly around the neck over the gathered fabric for a collar.

9. Gut two hands from the flesh felt. Glue a hand to either side of the dress as shown in photo. Cut the 1” lace in half. Glue each half over a hand to form cuff.

9. Using tacky glue, glue lengths of doll hair to back and edges of spoon.

10. Using the glue gun, glue hat to the back of the head and butterfly to hat brim.

11. Make a bow from the ribbon. Glue to center front of collar.

Great rainy day activity, right? What else do you do with your kids on rainy summer days? Let's hear from you.  -- AP

Sunday, August 19, 2012

This Week's Book Winner

Thanks to all who stopped by this week and special thanks to Kathy Bennett, our Book Club Friday guest author. Kathy offered an e-copy of A Deadly Blessing to one of our readers who left a comment. The winner is Vicki Batman. Vicki, please contact me at AnastasiaPollack@gmail.com to make arrangements to receive your book.

Friday, August 17, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR KATHY BENNETT


Our Book Club Friday guest today is Kathy Bennett, a woman who is no stranger to murder and mayhem. A retired twenty-one-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, her authentic crime experience results in arresting stories. Learn more about Kathy at her website.   http://www.KathyBennett.com

Kathy has generously offered an electronic copy of A Deadly Blessing to one of our readers who posts a comment. -- AP

Authentic Crime…Arresting Stories

I'm thrilled to be a guest here on the Killer Crafts  & Crafty Killers blog. When pondering what I'd blog about, I considered discussing all the wonderful crafts I make and the clever tips I could offer about making a microwave oven out of plastic grocery bags. The only problem is, that once I became a police officer and subsequently retired from that career and became a novelist, I don't have time to do crafts anymore. And to set the record straight, I never knew how to make a microwave oven out of plastic grocery bags. I made that up.

When I was doing crafts, I used to like to paint ceramics, sew, and make latch-hook rugs. Okay, this was way back in the 1980's. Since I'm obviously out of the 'crafty loop,' I've decided I'll have to talk about Crafty Killers instead. The only problem is, I don't think I've run into a 'crafty killer.' Dumb killers, yes. Crafty? No.
But today I'll talk about a surprising killing I ran across when working as a police officer.

It was about nine at night when my partner Kathy and I, (yes, two Kathy's in a black and white police car…affectionately known as the 'K' car) got a radio call of a shooting that had just occurred at a gas station in a questionable part of our division. The call was assigned as 'Code 3,' which meant we were to utilize our lights and sirens while responding. There was only one problem. Although we'd done the mandatory lights and siren check prior to leaving the station, when we flipped on the siren, it didn't work. The lights were functioning, but the siren was dead.

So with Kathy driving at break-neck speed, I had our public address system (microphone) in the police car activated. Yes, I made loud wailing siren-like noises into the mic as we weaved in and out of traffic. Luckily, we met up with another officer working by himself who was responding to our call and we explained our situation to him and he took the lead with his working siren. 

While en route to the scene, we got the information that the suspect in the shooting was a female wearing brown pants and a tan top. When we arrived at the scene, there was our suspect standing outside of a pick-up truck. Kathy and I, along with the other officer, took the female into custody. As soon as she was handcuffed, I went into the mini-mart attached to the gas station to find our victim.

Paramedics were already working on him. The man had been shot in the chest, and I remember thinking it must have been a very small caliber gun because the hole wasn't that big and there was almost no blood. The victim was crying and sobbing that he was dying. I was kneeling by his head trying to comfort him and telling him not to worry, that he'd be fine.  Before long, the paramedics took him away and Kathy and I set up a crime scene as a precautionary measure, although both the paramedics and Kathy and I thought our victim was going to live…except he didn't.

About thirty minutes after the ambulance left, the lieutenant in charge of detectives showed up and commended Kathy and me for our foresight into setting up the crime scene and getting there so quickly in time to arrest the suspect.

Yeah, if he only knew that we'd made good speed with me howling into the P.A. system in our police car and the crime scene was set up more as following procedure than our thoughts the victim would die. We took his compliment and never said a word. We may not have been crafty, but we weren't dumb either.

LOL, Kathy! I'll bet you have hundreds of stories just like that. Readers, would you like to ask Kathy a question? Or leave a comment? If you do, you'll enter the drawing for a chance to win an e-copy of A Deadly Blessing. And don't forget to check back on Sunday to learn if you're the winner. -- AP

Thursday, August 16, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - TEETH WHITENING

If you still haven’t been convinced to eat lots of raw fruits and veggies, beauty editor Nicole Emmerling has one more reason for you. -- AP

That’s right, Anastasia. Raw fruits and vegetables actually brush your teeth in a natural way. They enhance the production of saliva, washing away sugars and food particles and preventing staining.

Another great tip is to avoid staining foods such as coffee, tomato sauce and red wine for 48 hours after you’ve used a whitener. Your teeth are more porous right after whitening and more susceptible to discoloring.



And here's a tip for you coffee drinkers (Are you listening, Anastasia?) Adding milk with at least 2% milk fat to your coffee will produce fewer coffee stains on your teeth. The larger molecules in milk wrap around the coffee's dark pigments, helping to keep them from sticking to your teeth. Latte anyone?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DECORATING WITH JEANIE - MELON VASES

Chances are, if you’ve ever done any summer entertaining, you’ve hollowed out a watermelon and used it as a bowl for serving fruit salad. Today Jeanie offers up another decorative use for melon rinds. -- AP

Anastasia, this is such an easy way to create a casual centerpiece. You can use a watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, or other melon.

1. Slice off a thin piece from one end of the melon so that it will stand.

2. Cut a four inch diameter hole from the opposite end.

3. Scoop out the melon flesh.

4. Insert a cup of water into the hollowed out melon.

5. Add fresh cut flowers.

What a great idea! I can envision these in the center of tables for a garden party or bridal shower or just a quick way to fancy up a weekend barbecue. What do you think, readers? -- AP

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - SUMMER SQUASH & TOMATO PANZANELLA


I eat a lot of salad in the summer. When it's hot, I don't want to heat up the kitchen or eat anything hot. I absolutely love this take on a panzanella salad from Cloris. -- AP

SUMMER SQUASH & TOMATO PANZANELLA

Ingredients:
1 stale baguette, cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Swedish dill mustard
3 large tomatoes, cut into 1” pieces
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 cup baby spinach
1 cup fresh perlini mozzarella

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place on cookie sheet. Back 15 minutes or until golden brown, turning once.

Place vegetables, bread crumbs, and mozzarella in large bowl. Whisk together remaining oil, vinegar, and mustard. Pour over vegetables, etc. and toss to coat. Let sit 30 minutes before serving.

Doesn't that look and sound yummy? Who's going to try it tonight? -- AP

Monday, August 13, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - GUEST AUTHOR AND CRAFTER JOANNA CAMPBELL SLAN


Today we're happy to have back author and crafter Joanna Campbell Slan. Her newest series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—begins with Death of a Schoolgirl, a mystery featuring Jane Eyre as an amateur sleuth. Death of a Schoolgirl is a Mystery Guild Featured Alternate Selection. Slan is also the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, including the Agatha-Award Finalist, Paper, Scissors, Death. Visit her at her website and see her craftwork at Pinterest. -- AP


The Forgotten Art of Hair Work Jewelry

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Poets have long described how lovers would exchange a lock of hair as an act of devotion. For centuries, admirers have clipped a “souvenir” lock of hair from the body of a famous person. Historians track preserved postmortem hair from such notables as Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe, George Washington, and Andrew Jackson to name a few. But in the 1700s and 1800s, it wasn’t enough to tuck a lock of hair inside a handkerchief for safekeeping. Mourners longed to keep these locks of hair close to their persons, and thus mourning jewelry became fashionable. At a time when few people lived to see old age, these pieces served as a tangible reminder that love is eternal even though life is short, momento mori (“remember you must die”). 

To display these locks of hair, jewelers created special pieces. This is a photo of a brooch that I own, one inherited from my grandmother. You can see the lock of hair in the center. I do not know whose hair is displayed, only that the person was beloved.

Creative women found another way to stay close to their loved ones. Just as so many of us do handicrafts as a token of our love, these women made hair jewelry. In my latest book, Death of a Schoolgirl, the first in a new series called The Jane Eyre Chronicles, a teacher offers to weave a piece of hair jewelry to give to the family of a deceased student. She has done the same with locks of hair from her own dead brother.

Most hair-work was done on a frame, but a repurposed hat, hat box, or decanter could be used as well.  The frame required a smooth surface so the hairs wouldn’t snag and a hole in the center, of a size large enough that a finger could be inserted.

Here are pictures of what these looked like: http://www.victoriana.com/Jewelry/victorian-hair-jewelry.html

Preparation

The hair was first boiled in water with a lump of soda. After it dried, it was divided into groups of fifteen to thirty strands all of the same length. At one end of these strands, a thread and weight were tied. At the other end, the hairs were bound together with glue.

Shaping the Piece

Once the strands had been properly prepared, the weaver would find a suitable pattern. Ladies magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book offered these. The actual weaving took place on a frame, with the passes of strands building the designs.

Moulds offered another way to create hair jewelry. Hair would have been applied around the outside of the mould to form shapes such as acorns or tubes.

Although today’s crafter might find this handiwork unappealing, when we imagine ourselves in another era, we can begin to see the attraction of hair jewelry. In a time when movies, videos and recordings didn’t exist, and when photographs and portraits were rare, hair work offered a way to remember and cherish those who had passed over.

To see more examples or to learn more, go to:

Thanks for joining us today, Joanna. You remind us that crafters can and do craft with any material! -- AP

Sunday, August 12, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK GIVEAWAY WINNERS

Another busy week here at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers! Thanks to all our guests and to everyone who stopped by. I'd also like to give a special shout-out to author and quilter Annette Mahon who so graciously offered advanced reading copies of St. Rose Goes Hawaiian to two of our readers who posted comments. The winners are cyn209 and Patricia Stoltey. Ladies, please send your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so I can forward them to Annette.

Friday, August 10, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR JENNY MILCHMAN


Today we're happy to have Jenny Milchman as our Book Club Friday guest author. Jenny is a suspense writer from New Jersey whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, will be published by Ballantine in January. Visit her at her website and blog. -- AP

Sisyphus? He’s Got Nothing on Writers

Right now, as I sit typing this piece for Lois’ terrific blog, my debut novel will be coming out in just shy of six months. OK, it will be out in five months, three weeks, and two days, but who’s counting?

I am.

Another timeframe I could share is 11 years. That’s how long it took my novel to sell.

And why I do call it a debut novel instead of a first? Because the book that’s coming out isn’t my first. Or even my second, or third. It’s my eighth.

That’s right. I have six other novels, which are probably destined to remain in a cyber-drawer. A seventh, which nearly sold before the eighth. And then the one that finally resulted in a magic combination of…something that led to a deal.

What was that something? Well, I can say for sure it isn’t only the book itself. My seventh novel had enough oomph to make it all the way to the publisher at the helm of [insert name of publishing house here]. The book that’s coming out I guess also had that oomph factor, plus happened to land in the hands of someone who could navigate the morass of editorial board and marketing and publicity departments and top brass and take it all the way across the finish line.

There were some pretty bleak moments before the fateful day came when my agent—my third agent, whom I call my forever agent—called to say, “I have some good news.”

One day I remember in particular happened when I was driving through a blizzard to see [insert name of big superstar author here]. I’d been attending readings and signings by authors I loved for years in the hopes of learning how they had done it, or just drawing inspiration from the fact that they had.

But on this particular occasion, I was lost. And late. And I had left my two children at home in the care of my husband, and my older one was sick.

What kind of mother was I, leaving her sick child to pursue this clearly futile dream? What I was doing that particular night wasn’t even tied in any tangible way to achieving the dream. But what else could I do? I was desperate. I had all the pieces in place. An agent who believed in me. A book editors wanted to buy. And still no offer. What was it going to take?

That’s what I said—no, cried—on the phone to my husband, who, in addition to the myriad other roles he played in this quest of mine, was also willing to serve as GPS to his tech-challenged wife. At least I’d asked how our daughter was first.

“She’s better,” my husband said softly, directing me through the snowy streets, tethered by an invisible series of satellite signals that lit my way.

It’d be fitting—like something out of a novel when the arc is finally nailed—if that night had turned out to be the key piece that fell into place, allowing my book to sell. But it wasn’t. In fact, if I’m recalling correctly—and I am; these events are seared into my soul, as much a part of me as a brand—there was still well over a year left before the magic happened.

I look back on my years of rejection, and frustration, and oftentimes despair, in two ways.

  • First, I believe my work really wasn’t ready for most of that time. I would’ve said it was, of course. But one of the things I worry about in the compressed time scale of indie publishing is a loss of the writer’s apprenticeship. If I hadn’t been forced to write all those books and drafts, I wouldn’t have. Too hard. Waaay too hard. I wanted readers! I wanted to be an author. But if I’d been published much sooner, my work would’ve been the worse for it—and so would I as a writer.

This article elaborates on the above. (And it even quotes John Mayer, so how can you go wrong?)

As for the second point, I believe in a sort of fated meant-to-be so this might get a little wiggy.

  • The editor who bought my debut novel has a brilliant, visionary view of fiction. And a mindset that uniquely fits what I hope to do as a writer. Not that there aren’t many incisive editors out there—I’ve met several others at my publishing house alone. The talent accumulated in the haloed and hallowed halls of publishing is not to be believed. But if I had wound up with any of the editors who came heartbreakingly close to buying my work, then I would not be with the editor I’m meant to be with. Someone who knows what I want to accomplish without words even being exchanged—funny, for two book people—and who can tell when I’ve gotten there.

I have met many indie writers who approach their path with the dedication and seriousness our craft deserves. Multiple rounds of readers. Critique groups. Workshops and conferences. Freelance editors. These are necessary resources before you’re likely to have a book that will truly draw in readers. And, to get a little wiggy again, before you arrive at the point on your writer’s journey when you are finally ready to be published.

I want to hold out a flag and wave it for indie writers who put together the team a good book deserves, and the others who are banging their skulls against the brick walls of traditional publishing, and tell them not to worry if it takes a little while.

Eight novels and eleven years.

You’re probably doing all right.

Jenny, you're an inspiration to every struggling writer. Best of luck with your debut novel. -- AP