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, September 28, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR - MIA FISHER


Today we welcome Mia Fisher as our Book Club Friday guest. A prolific writer who spent many years writing Inspirationals, Mia crossed over to the dark side to write mystery/suspense and paranormal romance in 2008. To learn more about Mia and her books, visit her website.  -- AP

What's The Point?

On occasion I am asked why I chose to write a mystery/suspense series regarding a Native American Behavioral Science Unit.  Doesn’t the FBI already have its own Behavioral Science Unit?  Yes, they do, and there are lots of mystery/suspense books out there that talk about Quantico and what goes on there.  But having written about Native culture for twenty years and being married to a full-blooded Cheyenne/Lakota, I was always interested in the insular bubble that was  - and often remains – reservation life.  I’d like to say that it was some lofty ideal about wanting to expose the high rates of unsolved crimes in Indian Country but – in the beginning – that wasn’t it at all.
Ultimately, we can blame my late husband. The first book in the NABSU series, Blood Roles, was his idea, not mine.  We’d been watching CSI (Yes, I am a Grissom fan…), and Robert said something to the effect of, “You know, it’s too bad there’s no type of behavioral unit or special officers for Indians because I think we kill each other for totally off-the-wall reasons.  It would be cool if somebody could explain why skins do what we do.”

That comment piqued my interest. We totally ignored what we were watching and discussed what the ideal scenario would be for a special unit having to deal with Native American crimes. I started researching and before long I had enough material for not one book but six.  
Reservation crime is not only extremely violent on numerous levels, it many times goes unsolved for the simple reason of the lack of manpower – that and the reality that many crimes are hidden under the guise of activism or because one family member wants to protect another.  Unsolved rapes are rampant on reservations all over the country and while there’s only been one recorded Native serial killer with the FBI, there are crimes on reservations that have yet to be solved because nobody wants to know the answers to the questions that the crimes raised.  These facts alone easily led to the development of Blood Roles – a book I knew mainstream publishers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Having written Native based romance for years, I knew how publishers felt about that particular genre. And given that this wasn’t your average romance, I was prepared for Blood Roles to be a hard sell, which, inevitably, it was.  More than once I was told that readers weren’t interested in crime amidst Indians and just as many times I was shot down with the reality that some editors just didn’t like interracial romance. It makes them nervous in our politically correct world, especially when prejudices on the part of other cultures are revealed. And given Blood Roles subject matter reveals that and more, it was an uphill battle all the way.

Yet, the issue of killing over bloodlines aside, I knew that the story of Taylor and Andie would capture readers because they’re ultimately relatable.  They’re real, so to speak.  They’ve made their way in their worlds, built solid careers and suddenly find themselves having to face each other under bizarre circumstances.  Ultimately, theirs is a romance built on familiarity, a familiarity that’s based upon Andie’s contempt for Taylor making a decision that upset both of their lives and her inability to completely forgive the man for his sheer stupidity.  That and awesome sex. 
It took close to a year, but I finally found a fledgling publisher that was willing to publish Blood Roles.  Everything was ready to go; there were big plans for the series – a book tour, public appearances, even a coveted script conversion was discussed.  Then life got in the way. 

In 2011 my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness and within three months he was gone.  Everything was put on hold and once the dust settled from hospital, life support, funeral, family situations, and the like, I found myself having to gear up for a book premier without the person who’d sparked the whole series in the first place.  To say that was hard would be an understatement.
But I believed in Blood Roles. I believed in my characters and what they stood for.  The NABSU series itself was a gamble, and thankfully it paid off. My fans loved Blood Roles – I get at least twenty to thirty emails a week asking me when the next book hits the shelves.  People are not only enamored with the relationship between Taylor, Andie and Marty, they’re captured by the harsh realities that surround the White River Killer case itself.  In this day and age, that situation literally could be anywhere – not for the same reasons, of course, but ultimately, does a killer ever really need a reason?  Blood Roles is a book that I highly recommend, not because I wrote it but because it will give the reader a view into a world they never even knew existed and might give them something to think about, especially since that world is not fictional.

Blood Roles buy link

Thanks so much for joining us today, Mia! -- AP

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TRAVEL WITH SERENA - MUSEUM DAY


Looking for something to do this coming Saturday? How about taking in a museum? Whether your tastes run more toward natural history, architecture, folk art, or painting and sculpture, hundreds of museums all across the country will be offering free admission on September 29th. To find a museum near you and get your free passes, visit Museum Day.   

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DECORATING WITH JEANIE - KIDS & CARPETS


Remember when you were little and relegated to the kids' table in the kitchen for family celebrations? This was not always because grandma didn't have enough room for the kids in the dining room. Often it was because she didn't want turkey gravy spilled on her dining room carpet.

Family gatherings should be family gatherings -- all in one room when it comes to mealtime, even if you have to add a few card tables to extend the dining room table.

But what about that rug? No one wants turkey gravy or cherry pie on the seeping into that hand-knotted Persian.

Instead of buying a traditional area rug for the dining room, think a bit outside the box. Outdoor rugs come in all different styles, colors, and sizes. Some are even reversible. And they're usually much cheaper than their indoor counterparts, especially if you buy them at the end of the season. But best of all? Spills are much easier to deal with.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - GRILLED CANTALOUPE


GRILLED CANTALOUPE

The calendar tells us it's no longer summer, but Mother Nature is still heating up most of the country, and we're still heating up our grills. For something a little different, try grilling cantaloupe as a side dish with chicken.

Preheat your grill to medium.

Wash the melon skin well, then cut in half. Remove the seeds, then cut each half into four slices.

Rub the slices with olive oil. Grill covered, about 2 minutes per side.

Monday, September 24, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - MAP PHOTO MAT


A few weeks ago I showed you how to showcase a vacation photo by decoupaging a frame with a road map. Here's an even easier way to give a bit of pizzazz to a vacation photo.

Materials:
photo frame, pre-cut mat or cardboard the same size as frame, an old road map, ruler, craft knife, glue stick, photo, photo tape

Directions:
1. If your frame didn't come with a pre-cut mat, create one by cutting an opening in the cardboard slightly smaller than the photo you plan to use.

2. Cut a piece of the road map slightly larger than the mat.

3. Apply glue to the surface of the mat. Glue the map to the mat. Allow glue to dry.

4. Turn the mat to wrong side. Using the craft knife, make angled cuts in the map in each corner of the cutout. Trim the four sides of the map to 1/2" from the interior opening of the mat.

5. Apply glue to map, then fold edges around to wrong side of mat.

6. Trim map even with outer edges of mat.

7. Tape picture behind mat. Insert mat into frame.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNER

Thanks to all who stopped by this week and special thanks to our guest author Larissa Reinhart who offered an advance reading copy of Portrait of a Dead Guy to one of our readers. The winner is Acemommy. Please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so I can pass it along to Larissa.

Friday, September 21, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR LARISSA REINHART


Our Book Club Friday guest today is award-winning author Larissa Reinhart. Larissa considers herself lucky to have taught English in Japan, escaped a ferocious monkey in Thailand, studied archaeology in Egypt, and survived teaching high school history in the US. She loves small town characters with big attitudes, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. When she’s not writing about southern fried chicken, she writes about Asian fried chicken at her blog about life as an ex-expat. Learn more about Larissa at her website. 

Larissa is offering an advance reading copy of
Portrait of a Dead Guy to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog. Don't forget to check back on Sunday to learn if you're the winner. -- AP


Do Good Girls Love Bad Boys? Uh, Yeah

The other night, while watching an episode of Girls, my husband turned to me with a look of such concern and disgust, I immediately clicked out of Pinterest and focused on my distraught betrothed.

“Why,” he sputtered, “do nice girls think they like bad guys?”

I refrained from delivering some smart-mouth remark, but instead of returning to pinning other people’s pictures, I gave his question a moment’s thought. The Good Girl-Bad Boy axiom is older than the reclaimed hills we live on. Drooling over bad boys isn’t just a rebellious need to overthrow our Electra complexes. It’s more to do with the Alpha male so inherent in bad boys. Which is why, as writers and readers, we love our fictional bad boys. They’re swimming with Alpha pheromones, and we can dip our toes in their testosterone without actually getting wet. Theoretically.

I decided to distill some classic bad boys into three camps. The Troublemaker. The Brooder. And the Unknown Quantity.

We all knew a troublemaker in school, didn’t we? Some of us even tried dating them in high school. These were the guys that made mischief, but could sweet talk their way out of it or were clever enough to never get caught. Think Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind. A smooth talking Charlestonian, Rhett had no problem selling guns and butter to the north. He got by on his good looks and charisma and could even charm the pants (or giant hoop skirt) off a wily schemer like Scarlett O’Hara.

In my mystery Portrait of a Dead Guy, my artist heroine, Cherry Tucker, finds trouble with three bad boys. She has recently annulled a Vegas wedding with Todd, who appears to be a nice guy, albeit not the sharpest hammer in the sack. However, Cherry suspects Todd may be using a dumb blonde act to lower her prickly defenses. He has a gift of inserting himself in Cherry’s life before she realizes what’s happening. Todd is my troublemaker. An amateur poker player and faux-leather pants wearing drummer, he’s got a few aces up his sleeve that tips him into troublemaker territory.

I picture Rochester from Jane Eyre as the classic brooder. Brooders like to play hot and cold with a gal’s heart. Not because they can’t fall in love, but because they have mysterious pasts they must never reveal. Like a crazy Jamaican wife locked in the attic. Don’t we just love the strong and silent brooder? They keep us wondering what they’re thinking and feeling, setting our little over-analyzing hearts on fire.

In Portrait of a Dead Guy, Cherry’s old college flame, Luke Harper, has secrets he keeps buried beneath a dry sense of humor. Brooder may as well be tattooed to his forehead beneath his unruly dark curls. Testosterone wriggles out his pores. His tight jeans could cause flash fires. He’s a man of little words, smoky eyes, and deep dimples. His motives are suspicious and his lips are dangerous...

And then there’s the Unknown Quantity. Is he actually dangerous or just loves to walk on the wild side? Ranger from the Stephanie Plum One For the Money series comes to my mind. The man is dangerous and sexy as the dickens. He’s not one to settle down, but seems to like having Stephanie around, whether in his bed or fighting bad guys. Like the brooder, we’re never certain of his feelings and like the troublemaker, he enjoys getting her into sticky situations. However, the brooder and the troublemaker eventually will reveal their intentions (or lack thereof), whereas the unknown quantity... well, maybe he’ll never be Mr. Mom, but he sure is a lot of fun.

The number three bad boy in Cherry’s life is the mysterious Mr. Max, hailing from an unidentified ex-Eastern Bloc country. He struggles with English, but happily finds our streets paved with gold. Besides running a den of illegal gambling, Mr. Max knows French, art, and Civil War history. He’s a man of exceptional taste with a ruthlessness simmering beneath his robust frame. Is he toying with Cherry to throw her off the trail of his illicit pursuits or is he entertaining other feelings for the scrappy artist?

Who are your favorite fictional bad boys? Do they fall into one of the three categories of The Troublemaker, The Brooder, or The Unknown Quantity? Or do you have a category of your own?

Thanks for joining us today, Larissa! Readers, weigh in on bad boys or anything else for a chance to win an advance reading copy of Portrait of a Dead Guy. -- AP

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - NATURAL HEEL THERAPY


Are your heels dry and cracked from a summer spent wearing sandals? Here’s a natural way to exfoliate them. Use fresh pineapple or kiwi skins. Rub the fleshy part over your heels for about five minutes. Then rinse, dry, and moisturize. The fruit contains bromelain which is a meat tenderizer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE - TAKE A DEEP BREATH!


Is there anyone out there who doesn't feel stressed at some point during the day? We all deal with way too much stress in our lives. One stressful situation that occurs on an almost daily basis for anyone living in a metropolitan area is the stress of traffic. Being caught in a traffic jam, whether you need to be somewhere you have an appointment to keep or a backseat filled with complaining, hungry, irritable kids, sets those stress hormones soaring.

So here's a tip:

The next time you're stuck in traffic, practice some deep breathing exercises. Take a deep breath, then exhale slowly to the count of four. Do this several times. Deep breathing creates a road bloke against those stress-causing hormones. You've heard of the phrase fighting fire with fire? Now you can fight one road block with another road block.

And once you get out of that traffic jam, head to the store to buy yourself some lavender, mango, or lemon scents. These fragrances contain a chemical called linalool which helps banish stress when you inhale it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI BUNDT CAKE


For the first time in years, my zucchini crop wasn't. Normally my one zucchini plant practically devours the state. This year? Nada! For those of you with the usual overabundance of zucchini this time of year, here's a repeat of one of my favorite zucchini recipes.

CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI BUNDT CAKE

6 Tbsp. cocoa

2 Tbsp. butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs 

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated zucchini, packed

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray bundt pan with non-stick baking spray with flour.

Set aside 1/8 cup flour. Combine remaining flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. Mix together cocoa, butter, and sugar. Beat in eggs, oil, and vanilla. Blend in grated zucchini. Add flour mixture.

Toss chocolate chips with remaining flour. This helps keep chocolate chips from all sinking to the bottom of the cake batter once the cake is in the oven. Fold chocolate chips into batter.  Pour batter into prepared bundt pan.

Bake for about 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean.

Let cake cool for several minutes, then unmold onto cake plate to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Monday, September 17, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - T-SHIRT PILLOWS


Marta Hayworth writes about the arts, personal finance & more at http://www.grouphealthinsurance.org. Today she guests at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers with directions for making a pillow from an old T-shirt. -- AP


5 Steps to Make a Cushion From an Old T-Shirt

Maybe you have some old t-shirts that you have been thinking about tossing in the rubbish, but they are just so hard to part ways with. These special t-shirts have special meaning and you wish you could do something with them to hang on to them for some wonderful memories. Well, guess what? You can! Instead of wasting these shirts, why not pick out the ones that are really special and recycle them into something comfortable like a cushion that you can have on your bed or sofa?

What You Need
What you need to begin your cushion project are a few memorable t-shirts that are special to you, a needle and some thread, a good pair of scissors, and more old t-shirts for some filling for your cushion.

Step One: The first thing you need to do is turn your t-shirt inside out. The reason for this is that your seams don’t want to be showing and will be hidden when you turn the shirt back right side out.

Step Two: Next you will want to sew the bottom of the t-shirt together so that it’s shut. You create the bottom seam of your cushion by going right across the center part of your t-shirt which is parallel to the hem on the shirt. You need to repeat this going back again so make sure your seam is good and strong. The fabric that is leftover from the middle part of the t-shirt to the hem of the shirt can be used later as stuffing for your cushion when you turn the t-shirt right side out.

Step Three: Next you want to take the sleeves of the t-shirt and sew them both shut. You do this by sewing right up to the shoulder so that the arm hole is closed completely.

Step Four: Next put your hands right through the neck of the shirt and pull it back to have it right side out. The fabric that was excess you can now use as the filling and your cushion should be of a rectangular shape. At this point, if you want your cushion to be a little fuller, add some more t-shirt to the inside and stuff it tighter before you sew the end product all together.

Step Five: The last step is to sew the neckline back together and your cushion is complete!

You have successfully recycled an old, but nice t-shirt and made a comfortable throw cushion out of it. There are lots of things you can do now that you are done. You can decorate your new cushion however you want to. You can go and get some sequins from the store and decorate your cushion this way or you can get some fabric pens and have it decorated just the way you want. What about embroidering? If you know how to embroider, you can put your name or something special on your cushion in embroidery that will keep that t-shirt special for a specific reason. Whatever you choose to do, you now have a special cushion with your special t-shirt and you didn’t even have to throw it away! Do this for all your t-shirts! Who knows, before you are done you may have all your friends and family bring you t-shirts to make into cushions too!

Thanks for joining us today, Marta. Readers, you may also want to sew your pillows using a sewing machine for tighter seams and stuff them with polyester fiber-fill for a smoother finish. -- AP

Sunday, September 16, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNERS

Another busy week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers! Thanks to all who stopped by and special thanks to our two guest authors, Kathleen Ernst and Sandra Parshall, both of whom offered giveaways. The winner of her choice of one of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson books is Merry Lu. The winner of a copy of Bleeding Through by Sandra Parshall is Mary Frances Roya. Ladies, please email your mailing addresses to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so Kathleen and Sandra can get your books to you.

Friday, September 14, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR SANDRA PARSHALL


Sandra Parshall writes the Dr. Rachel Goddard mystery-suspense series, in which the tall, beautiful veterinarian is paired with the tall, handsome Deputy Tom Bridger. The newly published fifth in the series, Bleeding Through, was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its "nerve-wracking suspense" combined with "a twisty mystery." Visit Sandy's website and read her Wednesday blog posts at Poe's Deadly Daughters.  

Sandy has generously offered to give away a copy of Bleeding Through to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog. -- AP

Why do heroes have to be tall?

How many current crime novel heroes can you think of who are short?

Maybe the more cerebral detectives who never get down and dirty with villains can find success without being hulks (or hunks), but if the book has any action, both writers and readers prefer a physically imposing protagonist. Six feet tall at a minimum. Well-muscled, with six-pack abs. Strong enough to handle anything thrown at him.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher seems to have set the standard. Reacher is a fantasy figure, so big you could see him coming from a mile away, and so strong he could probably stop a speeding SUV in its tracks. When the news came out that Tom Cruise will play Reacher in a film, virtually all the protests – and there were plenty of them – centered on Cruise’s diminutive stature. Tom Cruise is about five-seven. He has been married to two tall women who wore flat-heeled shoes when they went to events with him and were still noticeably taller than he was. Tom Cruise is a talented actor, but he’s little. How can he possibly play the supersized Reacher?

Maybe he’ll stand on a box, the way Audie Murphy and some other mini-actors have done in their films. If the filmmakers fail to create the Reacher aura around Cruise, Lee Child fans will nod with satisfaction – See? We were right. – and go back to the books, where Reacher remains as tall as a basketball player and as strong as Mr. Universe, with mythically enormous hands.

Most writers don’t go as far as Child does, but we do like to portray our male protagonists as big and strong. My own hero, Deputy Tom Bridger, is six-feet-plus and in good shape. There’s just something about a tall, broad-shouldered man that says, “Step aside and let me take care of this.”

Height and strength are also common attributes of many female protagonists, particularly those who work in law enforcement and have to face off with the bad guys. And, of course, they’re young. Many are stunningly beautiful. One reason I love Barbara Havers in the Elizabeth George novels is that she doesn’t fit the mold. Barbara is short and dumpy and not terribly attractive. You will notice, however, that she partners with Tommy Lynley, who is not only tall and handsome but a titled aristocrat to boot.

I love Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli because she has frizzy hair, unimpressive stature, and a plain face. (Even so, she ends up with a tall, dark and handsome FBI agent husband.) Look at the way Rizzoli has been transformed for TV, though. In Rizzoli & Isles, she’s played by Angie Harmon, a willowy six-footer with flowing hair who wouldn’t be less than gorgeous on her worst day.

In recent years we’ve seen an increase in heroines who are middle-aged and older, most of them appearing in cozies. That these books have an audience and the characters have devoted admirers is proof enough that not everybody wants to read about near-perfect female characters.

Male characters, though, still face a high bar. Literally.

How do you feel about this? Could you take an action hero seriously if he were described as five-seven, with a slight paunch and an ordinary face? Or do you want fantasy when you read fiction?

Thanks for joining us today, Sandy! Readers, would you like a chance to win a copy of Bleeding Through? Post a comment to enter the drawing. And don't forget to include your emai or check back on Sunday to see if you're the winner. If we can't get in touch with you, we have no way of getting your book to you. -- AP

Thursday, September 13, 2012

TRAVEL WITH SERENA - SCORING UPGRADES


When it comes to travel reservations, it never hurts to ask. Many a traveler has received an upgrade to a better room or a lower price just by asking. If you don't ask, you'll never know if it was possible, and you could lose out on a nice perk.

Even if you've booked a great online deal, check the rates again before you leave on your trip. If the rates have gone down, call the hotel and ask if they'll match the lower rate.

Is it your birthday or anniversary? Sometimes if you mention that, you'll get a complimentary upgrade. You increase your chances of an upgrade if you arrive later in the day. That way, you can benefit from any cancellations the hotel has received earlier in the day.

Always smile and be nice to the desk clerk. It's not her fault if the computers are acting up or the rooms didn't get cleaned on time. Let her know that you appreciate her efforts on your behalf. If another customer has just reamed her out, she might just reward you with an upgrade.

By the same token, if you have a problem with your room, complain nicely. Hotel staff put up with a lot of bitchiness from customers. If you complain in a calm manner, letting the staff know that you know it's not their fault that the toilet keeps running or the ventilation system has two settings - Antarctica or Sahara - you may just find yourself moved to a better room or have your night comped.

These tips also apply to car rentals and in (very) rare instances, flights. Just remember what your grandma used to tell you -- you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY - BAKING SODA


Most of us only use baking soda in our baking or to absorb odors in the fridge and freezer. However, baking soda is one of those kitchen staples that has a myriad of uses.

Mix up a paste of it with a little water, and it will remove stains from coffee mugs and get rid of those metal utensil marks on your plates.

For plastic storage containers that no longer smell all that fresh, soak them in a solution of 4 tablespoons baking soda to one quart of warm water.

Instead of tossing that box of baking soda that’s been absorbing fridge and freezer odors all month, pour the baking soda down the drain and run some warm water to keep drains from smelling.

Hate the smell and mess of silver polish? Use baking soda instead. Make a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water. Using a clean cloth, rub the paste onto the silver. Rinse thoroughly and dry.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - ROASTED GRAPES APPETIZER


Have you ever thought of cooking grapes? The next time you have company, serve this delicious appetizer.

Roasted Grapes

Ingredients:
red seedless grapes
olive oil
parchment paper
thinly sliced French bread
goat cheese
chopped nuts (your choice of almonds, walnuts, or pistachios)

Allow goat cheese to come to room temperature.

Pluck the grapes from the stem. Toss in olive oil, then spread on parchment lined jelly roll pan or baking sheet with sides. Sprinkle with salt. Roast in 450 degree oven 15 minutes.

Spread goat cheese on bread slices. Spoon roasted grapes and the pan juices on each slice.

Tips for Buying Sweet Grapes: Always buy grapes with bright green stems and a a white frosted coating to the fruit.

Monday, September 10, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - GUEST AUTHOR KATHLEEN ERNST


Today we're happy to welcome back author Kathleen Ernst. The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen’s twenty-fourth published book.  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott.  Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. 

Leave a comment for a chance to win any one of Kathleen's Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy.  For more information, visit Kathleen at her website or blog.  To learn more about Vesterheim’s folk-art classes, visit http://vesterheim.org/index.php. -- AP

Danish Needle Lace

Handwork in all its many forms is dear to my heart, as I’ve discussed here before in 2010 and 2011.  I love featuring different types of crafts in my books.  As a former museum curator, and author of a nonfiction history, twenty historical novels for young readers, and three mysteries set at historic sites, I’m particularly interested in everyday domestic folk-arts.  So is Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my adult series. 


 As I began planning the latest installment, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, I thought about which type of handwork I might spotlight.  I chose hedebosøm, a type of Scandinavian needle lace that originated in Denmark. 

Hedebo incorporates button hole stitches, thread rings, and pyramids to make decorative motifs.  The example below comes from the collection of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.


The Light Keeper’s Legacy finds Chloe researching the history of Rock Island in Lake Michigan.  She’s agreed to create a furnishings plan for Pottawatomie Lighthouse, which is the oldest light station in Wisconsin. 


Upon arrival, Chloe finds a body on the beach, wrapped in an old fishing net. Hoping that the young victim drowned accidentally, Chloe initially leaves the investigation to the local deputy sheriff and continues with her own work.  She becomes fascinated with a peaceful meadow on the island, once site of a bustling fishing village.

I created a fictional woman, Ragna Anderson, for the historical mystery that twines with Chloe’s modern one.  Ragna is a Danish immigrant, and the best netmaker on the island.  She also excels at hedebo.  Ragna’s memories of making lace provide a sharp contrast for her new work making heavy fishing nets…and when life in Wisconsin doesn’t turn out quite as the family had hoped, she turns again to lacemaking.

Handwork reflects Ragna’s changing fortunes within the mystery, from delicate needle lace to heavy netmaking and back again.  A piece of hedebo becomes an important talisman in the modern timeline as well, connecting past with present.

To gain a better understanding of the art, I took an introductory hedebo class from Roger Buhr of Decorah, Iowa.  In the space of a single workshop I discovered that while the fine work inset into old linens would take lots of time and patience to execute, the basic stitches are quite simple.  Roger has designed a number of motifs that work well as Christmas ornaments. His patterns are easy to follow and can be done in different sizes.  I used embroidery floss for the examples below.


The simple ornaments I’ve made aren’t comparable to the exquisite work done by experts.  Still, working through the looping stitches helps me feel a connection with the women who once brought such skills from Europe to the New World.

Do you enjoy handwork too?  What draws you?  The creativity, the meditative quality of repeating stitches?  Do you also think about the roots of your favorite folk-art, and the nameless women who helped it evolve?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for joining us again, Kathleen! Your guest posts are always so interesting. Readers, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of one of the Chloe Ellefson books, leave a comment. And don't forget to check back on Sunday to see if you're the winner. Unless you leave an email with your comment, we have no way of contacting you. You need to contact us. -- AP