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.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR RICKY BUSH VISITS BELIZE

Beachfront at Palencia, Belize
photo by Dave ten Broek
Ricky Bush hangs his hat down in Texas where he listens to the blues, writes about the blues, and plays the blues. His three published crime novels feature the crime fighting blues duo of Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden. Learn more about Ricky and his books at his website and blog.

Belize It

Howling Mountain Blues, recently released in March, represents the third book in my crime fighting bluesmen series. It also represents the first book in which I chose the setting before I had a story in mind.  With my debut, River Bottom Blues, I had a firm grasp on the story I wanted to tell, then I developed the characters, followed by setting as a final consideration. My characters were set for the second book, The Devil’s Blues, so I just needed to give them their antagonists and to where they would chase them.

A trip to Placencia, Belize in 2011 with my wife, one son, two daughters/husbands, and one-year-old grandgirl with one on the way fueled the idea to set a crime story in that tropical getaway. Setting a tale there was far from my mind at that time. Actually, I received word from a publisher interested in my debut during my trip, so creating a series was not concrete during that spell.

After finishing my second book I decided my bluesmen, Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden, needed to headline a blues festival in Belize. Of course, they’d have to run into trouble down there. So…I put them on a similar track that we enjoyed while in Placencia, with venue name changes, of course.

We stayed at the wonderful Los Porticos Villas, with a pristine Caribbean beach just out the front door. Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn was a short walk down the beach, replete with a tiki hut beach bar. Mitty and Pete had similar accommodations and booked a trip, as we did, up Monkey River to the jungle habitat of the howler monkeys (which prompted my book’s title) and ate the wonderful Kriol food at Monkey River Town’s ramshackle cafĂ©.  

Their snorkeling trip to Laughing Bird Caye mirrors our, except I watched my wedding ring slip from my finger and twist it’s way to the bottom of the ocean. Caught quite a sunburned, also. As we did, they enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Placencia (much less hustle and bustle than San Pedro.) We ate marvelous seafood at Rumfish, gelato at Tuttifruttia, bought food to cook from Ming’s Supermarket, and above all, we relaxed. Mitty and Pete experienced the same…until blues and trouble found them in paradise.

Howling Mountain Blues
When hotshot blues guitarist Wyatt “Earp” Ringold hires The Repeaters to back him up at a blues festival in Belize, Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden expect to find fun in the sun. What they don’t expect is notorious racketeer and blues enthusiast Big Bossman, who is anxiously awaiting their arrival.

The Bossman conducts his illicit activities from a hideaway in the jungles of Howling Mountain. A botched kidnapping has recently put him on the wrong side of a Mexican drug cartel, and he hopes to rectify the situation by mixing business with pleasure at the blues festival.

Knowing that trouble always follows Mitty and Pete, ATF agent Lenora Charles insists on tagging along for security detail. When she warns them that something doesn’t quite seem right in paradise, the laid-back band members don’t take her instincts seriously—leading to another kidnapping. Can the crime fighting bluesmen pull off a dangerous rescue mission in time?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

HAPPY APRIL FOOL'S DAY!

An illustration from the 1770s depicting pranksters tying a kite to old man's wig.
April Fool's Day is certainly an odd holiday, albeit not an official one. Did you ever wonder how it got started?

Although April Fool’s Day is not a religious holiday, one theory as to its origin involves Pope Gregory XIII. In 1582 he decreed the adoption of the Gregorian calendar (which he named for himself,) moving New Year’s from the end of March to January 1st. Word of the change traveled so slowly that people in rural areas continued to celebrate New Year’s Day in the spring instead of on January 1st. These country bumpkins became known as April fools.

Others claim this theory is completely wrong because the French traditionally celebrated the beginning of the year on Easter, not April 1st.

Another theory is that April Fool’s Day grew out of ancient European spring festivals of renewal. Often at these festivals people disguised themselves and played pranks on each other.

Yet another theory, according to Joseph Boskin, professor emeritus of American humor at Boston University, claims April Fool’s Day began with Roman jesters during the reign of Constantine I in the third and fourth centuries A.D. When jesters petitioned Constantine to have one of them chosen as king for a day, he agreed and turned over his empire to his jester Kugel for the day. As king, Kugel declared April 1st would forever become a day of absurdity. 

It turns out Professor Boskin was pulling a prank of his own when he told this story to the Associated Press back in 1983. The AP was not amused when they learned they’d been pranked.

Even though no one knows when or why April Fool’s Day began, it’s been going on for centuries in many countries around the world. So happy April Fool’s Day!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GRANDMA'S HOMEMADE #BROWNIES

According to Holidays-and-Observances.com,  March is Berries and Cherries Month. Those of you who follow this blog or have read any of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries know how much I enjoy combining chocolate with berries and cherries (and how much Anastasia loves eating them!) So today I’m featuring a recipe for Grandma’s Homemade Brownies. Not my grandma, though. The recipe comes from author Susan Lohrer and is featured in in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing. In the original recipe you can use chopped nuts, raisins, or cherries. Of course, I’m going with the cherry version. And Susan suggests for a lower-calorie version of this recipe, you can substitute applesauce for half the cooking oil, but I suggest simply cutting the brownies into tiny portions.

Grandma’s Homemade Brownies

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/4 cup cool water
1/2 cup (or more) dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place all ingredients in bowl in order given and beat on low speed until just mixed. Pour batter into prepared 9” x13” pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in brownies comes out clean.

Bake, Love, Write:
105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing
What do most authors have in common, no matter what genre they write? They love desserts. Sweets sustain them through pending deadlines and take the sting out of crushing rejection letters and nasty reviews. They also often celebrate their successes—selling a book, winning a writing award, making a bestseller list, or receiving a fabulous review—with decadent indulgences. And when authors chat with each other, they often talk about their writing and their lives. Recipes. Writing. Relationships. In this cookbook 105 authors not only share their favorite recipes for fabulous cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and more, they also share the best advice they’ve ever received on love and writing.

Buy Links
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Monday, March 30, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--PHOTO JAR

Let’s think outside the box—or in this case, the picture frame. There are many ways to display family photos. We don’t always have to place them in frames.

The next time you open a jar of applesauce, mushrooms, or even baby food, save the jar and lid. Soak the jar to remove the label. (You might have to use a product such as Goo Gone to remove any glue that remains on the glass.)

Measure the depth and circumference of the jar. You’ll need a photo that’s the height of the jar, minus the screw lid area and the width of the circumference. Scan the photo into your computer if you need to change the dimensions. Don’t worry if the width is too short. It’s the height that matters. You can compensate for the width by centering it on the printing paper or mounting it on a separate piece of paper after printing.

Place the photo upside-down in the jar. Screw on the lid. Using gem glue, glue a scrap of ribbon around the outer edge of the lid.

Friday, March 27, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHORS ROBERT AND DARRIN McGRAW

Today we have the mystery, science fiction, and fantasy writing team of Robert and Darrin McGraw sitting down for an interview. Read more about them and their books at their website.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?

Robert: I started freelancing for magazines and writing television scripts back in the 1980s. It was about twelve years ago that each of us independently started to be serious about writing fiction.

Darrin: Yes, I started working on a couple of fantasy novels around then, and at the same time he was writing a historical mystery which is slated to come out this year.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?

Robert: My first nonfiction book (Learning to Laugh at Work) was published in 1996, but Animal Future is the first novel we’ve published.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?

Robert: My nonfiction is traditionally published through a business publisher. Right now our fiction is entirely e-published online. I also wrote a traditionally published children's book, but it is currently out of print.

Where do you write?

Darrin: Our projects together tend to begin with brainstorming conversations while we’re sitting around the living room, and that part can take days or weeks until we have a plot ready to go. When it comes to actually generating chapters, I write seated at my desk, but he finds it more comfortable to use a stand-up desk or to type in bed.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?

Robert: If I don’t need to completely concentrate I might listen to music – usually classical.

Darrin: Upbeat music helps move the writing along. Paul Simon’s Graceland album is one we both happen to like.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?

Darrin: We tend to write about fantastical events, but characters can come from composites of real people: Huero, Shadow Guy, Susi, and the Himalayan sheep at the Karma Kabab are examples of characters who can be traced to real experiences.

Describe your process for naming your character?

Darrin: I do a lot of tinkering. Should this character be named Megan? Too ordinary. Mason? Too trendy. Mabel? Wrong decade. I let it simmer for a while before deciding. In any case her name will often end up being something else entirely, like Guinevere.

Robert: Usually my weird characters name themselves...although sometimes I'm introduced to one at a party.

Real settings or fictional towns?

Robert: I've done both. There are pros and cons each way.

Darrin: My preference is always to create a fictional place – it sounds like it takes less research. But you have to pay for it later by inventing the details from scratch.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?

Robert: In Animal Future, the cat is a little bit crazy; he speaks almost completely in literary quotations, especially Whitman and William Blake.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?

Robert: Do you mean, what would it be if I weren't so dang-near perfect?

Darrin: We both wear a lot of hats. No, I mean literally. I have a bucket of hats in the closet.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?

Darrin: Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. Certain books are unimprovable, and that is one of them.

Robert: The Voynich manuscript, because I'd love to hand it to a publisher and say, “OK, wise guy, let's see you copy edit that!”

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?

Both: We wish we’d started writing even earlier.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Darrin: Drivers who tailgate.

Robert: Drivers who drive too slowly in front of me.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?

Robert: A Gulfstream G650ER jet, a pilot, a runway.

Darrin: A web server with fiberoptic connection; a camera so I can post images on my website of this absolutely unspoiled paradise, with vacation packages starting at $8,999 for a limited time only; a team of travel agents to help take the reservations.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

Darrin: Picking up trash after company parties.

Robert: In graduate school, working all night at a convenience store and having to shovel snow off the parking lot at 3am. (It's slightly worse than being a test dummy for a cat-o-nine-tails factory.)

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

Robert: Not sure. I haven't finished it yet. Maybe it will be one of yours :O)

Ocean or mountains?

Robert: If possible? A humble 7-bedroom cottage in the Santa Barbara Mountains with a view of the Pacific. Rent-free.

City guy or country guy?

Darrin: We’re both in-betweeners; Manhattan is too much, Mojave too little.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Robert: On the horizon to the west, it's the Ortega Pass. To the east, it's my neighbor's trash cans.

Darrin: We are working on the second book in the Animal Future series – look for it this spring.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?

Robert: Please buy them. I don't want to have to work at that convenience store again.

Animal Future
In a near-future Southern California full of mentally enhanced animals, three unlikely companions— a Vietnamese-American policewoman, a well-dressed chimpanzee, and a fast-talking spy— find they have no choice but to combine their talents in order to stay alive. While being hunted by fanged assassins, corrupt officers, and some chillingly methodical robot snakes, the trio investigates what turns out to be a terrorist plot masterminded by unknown foreign interests.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

#BEAUTY WITH NICOLE--AT HOME SPA TREATMENTS

photo by Monik Markus
You don’t need to spend a fortune at a spa or on high-end beauty products to achieve spa-like results. Here are a few beauty treatments that cost little to nothing but produce exceptional results:

For Your Hair
Boil some jasmine rice in water. Drain the water, and save it. After you shampoo your hair, pour the cool rice water over the strands and massage into your hair. Allow to sit for five minutes, then rinse out. The rice water is rich in Vitamin B and antioxidants and will help add shine to lackluster hair.

For Your Face
Want a youthful glow to your face? Dangle upside down for three minutes a day to send blood to your face. The blood delivers oxygen and other nutrients.

Try a yogurt facial. Once a week add a thin layer of plain Greek yogurt to your face. Yogurt contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory probiotics which will help sooth sensitive skin.

For Your Hands and Feet
To counter rough hands and feet, give them an exfoliating mask. Steep a lemon slice in a cup of boiling water for thirty minutes. Mix four tablespoons of the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon of oats. Allow to sit for five minutes. Add 1/2 tablespoon each of glycerin and almond oil, then add a mashed banana.  Coat hands and/or feet with the mixture. Cover with plastic bags. Allow to sit for ten minutes, then rinse.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--COFFEE'S HEALTH BENEFITS

photo by Julius Schorzman
I’m an addict—a coffee addict. Over the years I’ve been told caffeine is bad for me. At one point years ago “they” were even saying something about a link between coffee and cancer and heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent studies not only disproved this but have found many benefits to coffee consumption. Here are a few of them:

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants. A University of Scranton study found that Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other source.

An Australian study found that muscles recovered faster after strenuous workouts when people drank several cups of coffee after exercising.

According to a study of 400,000 older adults conducted by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, people who regularly drink coffee are less likely to die from all causes than non-coffee drinkers.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that women who drank coffee were less likely to suffer from tinnitus.

Research conducted in Florida found that three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia in older people with mild cognitive impairments.

A Japanese study found that people who drank coffee on a daily basis had a 20% less chance of having a stroke than people who didn’t drink coffee. The study monitored over 83,000 adults between 45 and 74 years old.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that consuming coffee may protect against deteriorating eyesight.

Other studies have found coffee may protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease (including liver cancer.) Other studies find coffee can improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

Of course, drinking too much coffee does have its risks, including the jitters and insomnia in some people. The key is moderation. So use common sense, enjoy your java, and reap the benefits.