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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - GUEST SCRAPBOOKER AND AUTHOR MOLLIE COX BRYAN


Today we welcome back Mollie Cox Bryan, author of the Cumberland Creek Mysteries featuring freelance reporter Annie and the ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop. After years of working as an editor and writer for nonprofits and corporations in the DC area, Mollie gave it all up for the "glamorous" life of a stay-at-home mom and part-time freelance writer. Read more about Mollie and her books at her website

Mollie is offering a copy of Scrapped, the latest book in her mystery series to someone who posts a comment. Don’t forget to either leave your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. – AP

Reflective Scrapbooking

When I look over the pages of the old scrapbook I most cherish, my young grandmother stares back at me from the black-papered pages. Photos were obliviously taken on special days. High school graduation. A dance with a beau I don’t recognize. Gram holding her favorite dog and guinea pigs. If she had only journaled along side those photos, I'd know exactly what was happening. What kind of a day was it? How was she feeling? Who was that young man? What were her hopes and dreams?

Notes and labels are scattered here and there, but not any that were reflective, giving me a more personal glimpse. But one of the notes makes me smile every time I think of it. There is a photo of what looks to be a skinny but handsome young man with his leg propped up on a car. The note says William Snowwhite, Jr. On a closer look, it's my grandmother dressed up as a boy. (Yes, Snowwhite was my Gram’s maiden name and her father's name was William.) What was that all about? Why was she dressed (so well) as a man? She was obviously enjoying herself. But I'll never know the circumstances.

These days, scrapbookers have co-opted the term "journaling" as a way for people to write a little about the event in their lives that’s happening on the page. Often, it’s a simple description of the person or of the event. What I like to see and read are more personal reflections.

Where should the scrapbooker start to add in personal reflections?

Begin with some of the questions I ask in this blog post.

What kind of a day is it? Not just weather, but was there excitement, pride, sorrow in the air?

How are you feeling? Not just your health, but are you hopeful, joyous, longing for something? How about the other person in the photo? Ask them how they are feeling, what they are thinking.

What are your or the person’s in the photo hopes, dreams, goals?

After all, one of the reasons we paste photo to paper, is deeper than simply making it look pretty. It's to leave behind a legacy. Let's not leave our descendants wondering why we are wearing that tacky dress and donning a silly grin, or why we have a photo of that particular pie, or God forbid, why our otherwise very traditional grandmother is dressed like a man in the 1930s.

When you scrapbook, do you journal? Please leave me a comment and you'll be entered to win a signed copy of the my latest book Scrapped (Cumberland Creek Mystery #2)


About Scrapped (Cumberland Creek Mystery #2)

The ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop are welcoming an eccentric newbie into their fold. A self-proclaimed witch, Cookie Crandall can whip up a sumptuous vegan meal and rhapsodize about runes and moon phases with equal aplomb. She becomes fast friends with her fellow scrapbookers, including freelance reporter Annie, with whom she shares shallow roots in a community of established family trees. So when Cookie becomes the prime suspect in a series of bizarre murders, the croppers get scrappy and set out to clear her name. Annie starts digging and discovers that the victims each had strange runic patterns carved on their bodies - a piece of evidence that points the police in Cookie's direction. Even her friends begin to doubt her innocence when they find an ornate, spiritual scrapbook that an alleged beginner like Cookie could never have crafted. As Annie and the croppers search for answers, they'll uncover a shockingly wicked side of their once quiet town - and a killer on the prowl for another victim.

Buy Link

Don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Scrapped. And don’t forget to either leave your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. – AP 

Friday, December 28, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST MARIA GRAZIA SWAN


Our guest today is author Maria Grazia Swan. Maria was born in Italy and has lived in Belgium, France, Germany, California and Arizona—but stay tuned for weekly updates of Where in the World is Maria Grazia Swan? Maria won her first literary award at the age of fourteen. Maria has written short stories for anthologies, articles for high profile magazines and numerous blogs tackling love and life. She engaged her editorial and non-fiction skills for Boomer Babes: Tales of Love and Lust in the Later Years and is now writing romantic suspense. She currently has two novels available as ebooks: Love Thy Sister and Bosom Bodies. Learn more about her at her website. -- AP

An Italian Version of the Great American Novel

For me, the dream of writing a great novel smoldered in my subconscious from the time I read my first book in Italy, written in Italian. My family moved to Belgium. There I read my first book in French. And while I did write some short stories, even managed to win an award, I was too young and too language-challenged to work on The Novel. Time flies regardless if you’re having fun or not until one day you’re sitting in your empty nest in front of a computer, and you say to yourself, “This is it, the perfect time, the perfect place.” For me, that epiphany came after I moved to the United States. I was suddenly consumed with the need to write the Great American Novel. The fact I wasn’t American was a small bump in the road.

And so it began. Soon I realized the English language wasn’t my biggest problem. Heck, you can ask your friends, you can consult an Italian/English Dictionary. You can even go to Google for translation. I said translation, not necessarily interpretation. But again, just a small bump in the road to fame and fortune.

While a writer can conjure text out of thin air, common American cultural references don’t come easily to someone who grew up in small European towns. There were no school buses or afternoon classes. We went home at one o’clock with several hours of homework, which we had to complete because the teachers actually checked it. Never even heard of football or proms. No idea what a corsage was. Few had phones, TVs or even refrigerators at home, and for transportation we used bicycles. Anyone dating before the age of sixteen was considered a bad kid, although parents, friends and neighbors used other choice descriptions. Religion ruled our lives. By religion I mean Catholicism, which was the only game in town. Until I was sixteen, the only black or Asian people I’d seen were in magazines or in the slide shows the missionaries used to solicit donations.

I could go on, but I’m sure you can see how my Great American Novel was shaping up to be not American at all. In my vernacular, Americanisms and cultural references were all but nonexistent. I vowed to overcome this, to find a way to write my story. And I did. My main character, always Italian-born, uses her background to tell her story and bring her experiences to life, in English. So this version of the Great American Novel will come to you  by way of a European import with a decided Italian accent.

Bosom Bodies:
Italian-born Mina Calvi has a way of finding trouble, but when she offers to help a friend by moonlighting at Bosom Bodies restaurant, it’s trouble that finds her. The body of the restaurant manager is discovered on the beach, a hit and run victim, and Mina’s VW Bug is impounded as the vehicle used in the crime. Stunned beyond belief, Mina is suddenly up to her ears in assault, betrayal, smuggling and murder. Now the police are watching her. The mob is targeting her. And who comes riding to her rescue on a metal steed—none other than the cook at Bosom Bodies, the mysterious Diego. Is he more than a bad cook and a good lover? Is he protecting her, or setting her up? Scared, clueless and on her own, Mina struggles to reclaim her life and stay two steps ahead of the those stalking her, but it’s a treacherous path and she’s losing ground fast.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

BEAUTY WITH NICOLE - FADE-OUT


Does your hair color fade between colorings? To make your color last longer and fade less, wash your hair in cool water. Hot water opens hair cuticles. When this happens, color washes away. And if you absolutely can’t stand washing your hair in cool water, especially in the winter, wash it less frequently. Most people don’t need to wash their hair every day or every other day. Once or twice a week is sufficient.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DECORATING WITH JEANIE - WINTER SPRUCE UP


Take a deep breath! Christmas is over. Sometime within the next week or so you’ll start packing away all the holiday decorations and taking down the tree. For many of us, our homes look really bare and drab at that point, and we get the decorating bug. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders to spruce up a room.

One of the hottest decorating color trends is gray. Gray is both sophisticated and modern and is a great neutral color for walls. You can create some really dramatic looks by filling a gray wall with a grouping of black and white photos framed in black wooden frames of varying sizes. Frame some full size, others with white mats. Use family photos or landscapes or a combination of both.

Don’t have any black and white photos? You can easily create them from your color photos by printing them out yourself on your computer or having them printed at your local photo shop. Or look for calendars with images of old photos. The photo above is of the Flat Iron Building in New York, taken in 1913. I plan to frame it, along with several others from a 2012 calendar, to make a grouping for my dining room.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS...

Cross stitch design by Lois Winston
featured in the December 2002 issue of The Cross Stitcher magazine

A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS
Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.



The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.



When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.



The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.



With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!



"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"



As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.



And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.



He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.



His eyes--how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.



The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!



He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.



He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!



He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"


Sunday, December 23, 2012

THIS WEEK'S BOOK WINNERS

Thanks to all who stopped by this week and special thanks to our Book Club Friday guest author Jo Robertson. Jo offered e-copies of her two Christmas novellas to two of our readers who left comments. The winners are Shelley and Loucinda McGary. Ladies, please email me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com so that I can put you in touch with Jo to receive your books.

Friday, December 21, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR JO ROBERTSON


When her Advanced Placement English students challenged her to quit talking about writing and "just do it," Jo Robertson wrote her first completed manuscript, The Watcher, which won the 2006 Golden Heart Award for romantic suspense. She's authored six indie published romantic and historical thrillers and three novellas. Read more about Jo at her website.

Jo is offering one e-copy each of her two Christmas novellas, The Perfect Gift and The Hitman’s Holiday to two readers who post comments to the blog. Be sure to include your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP

The Shepherds Returned to Their Flocks

Happy holidays, everyone, and a big thanks to Lois for inviting me to visit today!

Although I'm not particularly religious, I've always been fascinated by the Christmas holidays, the varied ways we celebrate them, and the traditions that grow up around these stories.

Luke records the version of the birth of the Baby and recounts the tale of the shepherds. 

You know the story – the long trek to Bethlehem to be taxed, the no-room-in-the-inn scenario, the cave and the manger, the angels and the shepherds.  But because angels with wings and holy seraphim seem more metaphorical than literal to me, I always found what those shepherds did after visiting the manger more interesting than their actually getting there. 

Ah, those brave shepherds! 

Since the concept of a shepherd and his or her flock has universal application, I was intrigued by what they did next.

They returned to their flocks, Luke says.  And although they told the glorious news and sang praises for God’s gift, they did return to their flocks. 

Interesting.

They didn’t rush out to build a holy tabernacle.  They didn’t write up the story and publish it in the Bethlehem Daily Journal.  Nor did they try to sell their sheep and get a higher fee for them because they’d seen the actual babe in the manger.

You see how crass and commercial my mind runs?

No, instead the shepherds returned to their flocks. 

They went about the daily business of sheepherding, or shepherding if you prefer.  Sheep, you see, are rather stupid animals.  My father-in-law was a sheepherder and used to regale us with tales of the sheep and their rather dumb antics.  In real life apparently, sheep really need someone to shepherd them about.

I like to think of myself as a shepherd, and if we’re all shepherds like those ancient commoners, what represents our “flocks”?

Teachers teach.  Parents parent.  Presidents preside.  Grandparents – ah yes, they simply spoil.  Readers read.  Writers write.  And so it goes.

Although I’ve actually been to the Grotto and the hillside in Israel, I’m not particularly concerned whether the shepherds visited a real hillside cave and found a new-born child two thousand years ago, or whether it’s a beautiful metaphor for a religious belief. 

But I do care about the message. 

The shepherds returned to their flocks.

Thinking about those shepherds gives me new resolve to return to my “flock,” whether it’s my family, my career, my church, my hobbies.  Or right now – to rededicate myself to my writing.

We’re about to herald a new year.  The thought of an entire year stretching out before me unblemished by my blunders and mistakes is really intriguing.  I want to rush out and write something on that pristine year ahead!  I want to slough off the old and begin anew!

Like the shepherds, I want to return to my flock.

What about you, readers?  What would you like to renew your energies toward?  What would you like to rededicate yourself to?  If you are the shepherd in your life, what’s the “flock” you’re returning to?

The Perfect Gift
When her husband dies unexpectedly Jane Stark is left with four young boys and a mother-in-law who hates her. When she finds herself pregnant with the longed-for baby girl her husband wanted and ex-detective Rick moves in next door, Jane doesn't know whether to be happy or overwhelmed with the changes life has handed her.


The Hitman’s Holiday
Logan is a professional hit man. He finds the Christmas Season the dreariest and most boring of the year, but this particular year he gets caught up in a holiday jingle that lodges in his mind. When he gets an unusual December contract, he follows a sassy twelve-year-old and her odd companions through the Bronx ... and serious trouble.
This assignment brings Logan face to face with the concept of how far he can go on this dark path before there's no turning back. Is it already too late for redemption?


Readers, if you’d like a chance to win copies of Jo’s Christmas novellas, post a comment. Leave your email address or remember to check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP

Thursday, December 20, 2012

FASHION WITH TESSA - TIP OF THE DAY



Tomorrow is the first day of winter, and that means if you haven't started already, you'll soon be fighting the static cling battle where a good deal of the day will be spent tugging at your skirts or pant legs. Annoying, right? Not to mention how unsightly and unprofessional you look when your clothes are clinging to your pantyhose, dress socks, or tights.

The trick to keeping the cling from happening in the first place is as simple as a safety pin. Attach a small safety pin to the inside of your skirt lining, slip, or pant hem. The metal acts as an electricity conductor and will prevent the static cling from occurring.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DECORATING WITH JEANIE - HOLIDAY CLEANING TIPS


Six days to Christmas. If you’re having company for the holiday, you’re probably thinking about all the cleaning you need to do to make your home presentable. And that’s probably just adding more stress to your already stressed life. The key to getting everything presentable is accepting that no one expects your home to look like a showplace except for one or two nasty relatives who are going to complain about something no matter what you do. My suggestion is don’t invite them, but if you really, really have to, treat yourself to a glass of wine before they arrive, then ignore them.

The first thing you need to do is accept that you don’t have to clean every room from top to bottom. Close the doors of the rooms where you won’t be entertaining. That means you don’t have to fret about piles of laundry or unmade beds. Entertain your guests in your living room, dining room, family room/den, and kitchen. Clean the powder room for their use. If you have a finished basement, send the kids down there to play. They’re not going to care if the floor is covered with toys. Even if you’ve straightened up the room, it won’t stay straightened up for long, so why waste time and energy?

If you’ve got a sink full of dirty dishes, stick them in the dishwasher, and run the dishwasher while you’re tackling the other rooms.

For the rooms where you’ll be entertaining, do a clutter sweep. Dump the stuff that has accumulated on all horizontal surfaces and the floors into laundry baskets. Then stick the baskets in a closet, storage area, or your garage.

Next, dust the furniture and vacuum the carpets. Voila! You’re finished with everything except the kitchen and bathroom, and it probably took no more than 15 or 20 minutes.

For the kitchen, clear off your countertops and kitchen table. Items that can be stored in cabinets, drawers, and the pantry should be put away. Wipe down the countertops and table. Clean the stovetop. Sweep, then wash the floor. Take out the trash. You don’t need to do anything beyond that. Remember, you’re serving Christmas dinner. The kitchen is just going to get messy and dirty again. What you’re really striving for here is to have clean, uncluttered prep and staging areas.

Finally, clean your powder room or whichever bathroom you designate for guests. This means cleaning the toilet, sink, and floor. Make sure the towels are fresh and the sink area is free of personal grooming items other than hand soap. If this is your one and only bathroom, remove tub toys and other personal family items you normally leave out but make sure you have a box of tissues and extra rolls of toilet paper within easy reach. If you keep a basket of magazines in your bathroom, remove them. You don’t want guests lingering or taking refuge to get away from those nasty relatives. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

COOKING WITH CLORIS - CRANBERRY CARAMEL APPLE BREAD PUDDING


One of the ways you can get a leg up on your holiday dinner is to use your slow cooker. This recipe takes virtually a couple of minutes to prepare and makes a yummy side dish in place of stuffing or potatoes to complement your turkey or ham. It’s also great for a New Year’s Eve buffet.

Cranberry Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

1 loaf cubed day-old Pepperidge Farm caramel apple bread

2 cups milk

4 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup dried cranberries

Place cubed bread in slow cooker. In a mixing bowl, combine the next 6 ingredients, beating until smooth. Stir in cranberries. Pour mixture over bread, stirring gently to combine. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.

Monday, December 17, 2012

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA - CHRISTMAS RIBBON CANISTER


Bringing cookies or other treats as a hostess gift? Maybe those yummy cookies from last Tuesday's blog post? Why not leave the hostess with a little treat after the goodies are consumed? I’m sure she’ll find lots of uses for this lovely Christmas canister.

Christmas Ribbon Canister

Materials: empty coffee container; assorted ribbons in various widths, colors, and patterns; scrap of cardboard; scrap of batting; scrap of Christmas print fabric; length of rattail cording; tacky glue

1. Wash and dry container.

2. Cut lengths of ribbon 1/4” longer than circumference of container. Beginning at the bottom and working up, glue ribbons around container, varying colors, patterns, and widths. Overlap ends.

3. From the cardboard, cut a circle to fit inside plastic lid.

4. Glue batting to one side of cardboard. Trim.

5. From the print fabric, cut a circle 1” larger in diameter than the lid. Make 1/4” cuts around the perimeter of the circle every 1/2”.

6. Center fabric over batting and place face down on flat surface.  Run a line of glue around edge of cardboard. Glue fabric to back of cardboard.

7. Glue fabric covered circle to top of lid. Glue rattail cord around edge of fabric circle.

8. Fill container with cookies, candy, or popcorn.

Friday, December 14, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY - GUEST AUTHOR CAROLA DUNN


Our guest today is Carola Dunn, author of 20 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (England 1920s), 3 Cornish Mysteries (Cornwall, c. 1970), and 32 Regencies (all over the world, early 1800s). She was born and grew up in England and has lived in the US for more decades than she cares to count, presently in Oregon, where her dog, Trillian, walks her by the Willamette River daily (not including the past few weeks as during their last walk Carola carelessly managed to break four bones in her foot.) Read more about Carola at her website. – AP 

I must apologize to devoted readers of Lois's blog. It is crafty and I am not. Nor are most of the characters in my mysteries (not in that sense, at least).

I used to knit, decorate stuff with shells, make mobiles, even paint  a little (my painting is definitely craft not art). I've been taught to crochet at least three times but it never stuck.

Looking back, I think I stopped crafting when I ceased to own a TV. It's great to create things when you can watch at the same time, but I spend that time reading, and it just doesn't combine well. Or maybe when I started writing full-time, all my creativity was channeled into that.

Having confessed my craftlessness, I now recall that my first Cornish mystery, Manna from Hades, begins with some knittery. My protagonist, Eleanor Trewynn, is collecting donations for her charity shop:

"We put in several frogs, Mrs Trewynn," said Miss Annabel Willis anxiously. "You did say they were well received?"

 "Very well indeed, Miss Annabel. They sold in no time. My thanks to both of you for your hard work and generosity." Eleanor lifted the big cardboard box, whose faint, sweet fragrance bore out the logo on its sides: Co-op Tea. It was more awkward than heavy.

"It's a pleasure to do what little we can to help," the elder Miss Willis assured her from her wheelchair, her knitting needles clicking away tirelessly, producing yet another green and yellow frog.

Later, when the Detective Inspector is looking for evidence in the shop:

Scumble stood glowering at a bin of colourful woolly animals. A grass-green, yellow-bellied, goggle-eyed frog grinned back at him.

Eleanor's next-door neighbour, Nick, paints, but he's an artist, not a crafter. However, when he's suspected of murder in the second book, A Colourful Death, in seeking to clear him  Eleanor spends a night at an artists' commune. Some of the residents are crafters, a potter, a knitter, a shell-worker, all on a commercial scale.

The nearest anyone gets to crafting in the third of the series, The Valley of the Shadow, is a bit of prospective sanding and polishing. A farmer donates an ancient wooden cart-wheel, and Eleanor knows someone will buy it for a decoration once her friend Jocelyn, the vicar's wife, has cleaned it up.

I seem to remember an occasional character knitting in the twenty Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, too. It was quite a fashionable occupation in England in the 1920s.

All in all, my books are not quite so devoid of handicrafts as I thought when I embarked on this essay. And I promise I'll have another go at making things when I retire from writing—if that ever comes to pass.

Valley of the Shadow
“The sights and sounds of the coast of Cornwall come alive in The Valley of the Shadow. The rescue of a drowning Indian man leads to a race against time to rescue his family, trapped in the smugglers’ caves on the rocky shore. Feisty retiree Eleanor Trewynn enlists her fellow villagers in tracking down those responsible for abandoning the refugees — but will the smugglers find her first? Dunn gives us a thoroughly enjoyable, cozy suspense novel — one with a social conscience.” —Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI


Thanks for joining us today, Carola, and we all wish you a speedy recovery from your broken foot bones. -- AP