featuring guest 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, May 5, 2016

#FASHION--GUEST AUTHOR ANDREA R. COOPER ON #GEM STONES


Andrea R. Cooper grew up creating stories and never stopped. Now she’s married with three kids and hundreds of make-believe characters. Learn more about Andrea and her books at her webiste and blog. 

Costume Jewelry or Not

I love gemstones. When I was a kid, my mom bought me a birthstone ring. For hours on boring car rides or sitting in church during long-winded sermons, I would watch the light catch the garnet.

When my grandmother passed, I inherited a few of her of her pieces of jewelry. One was a dark purple gemstone necklace. Everyone said it was fake, but I wanted to make sure. I took it to the jeweler and found the gem was a blood-red garnet. Not worth a ton, but more than just a piece of glass. I was so excited that it was also my birthstone, almost like it was meant to be mine from my grandmother.

And in case you missed it, a woman on Hard Core Pawn brought in her grandmother’s gems for appraisal. She was hoping for fifty or a hundred dollars to help pay for the funeral. All but one of the stones was worth anything. All but one were glass. But the last one was a Burmese Ruby and they offered her $10,000. The price per carat of this beauty is $15,000—so worth a lot more than they offered her. This story ended happily because the woman took a chance to find out if her grandmother’s stones were worth anything and received more than enough to cover the funeral expenses.

A Burmese Ruby is pictured above.

Most people think of diamonds, rubies, and sapphires as the most expensive gems, but I pulled the top ten most expensive gemstones in the world. And while a diamond is in the list, it’s unique.

10. Tanzanite – Only found in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Cost: $600-1000 per carat.

9. Taaffeite – Few gems ever found so far.
Cost: $1,500-2,500 per carat.

8. Black Opal – Black in opal is rare
Cost: $2,300 per carat.

7. Benitoite – another rare stone and not usually more than a carat.
Cost: $3,000-4,000 per carat.

6. Red Beryl – also called scarlet emerald because it’s made of beryl as are emeralds, but the color is rare and expensive.
Cost: $10,000 per carat (when cut)

5. Alexandrite – a color-changing gem
Cost: $12,000 per carat

4.  Jadeite –  not to be confused with jade.
Cost: $20,000 per carat

3. Musgravite
Cost: $35,000 per carat.

2. Painite
Cost: $50,000-60,000 per carat.

1.Pink Star Diamond – Of course, a diamond had to make the list, right? The Pink Star diamond was found in South Africa and was 59.6 carats. It sold for $83,187,381— which I’m pretty sure is the most anyone’s ever paid for a diamond or any other rock that I know of.
Cost: $1,395,761 per carat.

So next time you think a piece of jewelry is fake or glass, it might not be. The only way to tell, unless you’ve bought it yourself, is to get an expert to examine it.

Bibliography:

Stolen Hearts
Secrets can’t be hidden forever.

Trained to be a thief from a young age, Crystal is driven to do whatever it takes to find evidence against the man who had her parents murdered. She's given up her name, love and even her face in pursuit of justice. When Crystal is forced on a blind date with the cop who is investigating her, she finds herself playing a dangerous game of hearts that could land her in a prison cell.

Kade is in search of a new life, after losing his partner. He's taken a new job, in a new city, and met a new girl. In order to keep his fresh start, he will have to catch an elusive thief targeting one of the largest corporations in the country. Desperate to forget the failures of his past, Kade has no intention of failing.

When Crystal steals Kade’s heart, will this thief pay for her crimes?

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS--GUEST AUTHOR RABBI ILENE SCHNEIDER

Rabbi Ilene Schneider is one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S. and also the author of the award-winning Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries. Now she’s finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up, recently retiring from her day job to devote herself to writing. Learn more about Ilene and her books at her website. Today Ilene joins us to talk about failure.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who thought she could sing, despite all evidence to the contrary. Instead, she was the student whom the music teacher told to “mouth the words” in school assemblies.

She also thought she could play a musical instrument. After all, her grandfather had been a professional saxophone player in Paul Whiteman’s society dance band in the early 1920s, and her father had been in the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, as was her cousin. Then she was introduced to the recorder in fourth grade. All she could produce were squeaks.

Fast-forward about forty-five years. The little girl’s sons turned out to have some musical talent. The older played guitar and did ear-splitting renditions of punk rock. The younger one played violin at age five, switched to piano, and then switched again to guitar. He could play by ear, had perfect pitch, and composed as well as played. His singer/songwriter type songs are similar to Leonard Cohen’s: wonderful melodies combined with incomprehensible, metaphysical lyrics.

When the younger boy was still taking piano lessons, he never practiced. “Just imagine,” his teacher would sigh, “how accomplished he could be if he practiced.”

“I have a great idea,” said the little girl, now a woman who should have known better. “I’ll teach by example. I’ll take piano lessons, and when my son sees me practice, he’ll do the same.”

Big mistake. Yes, I was that little girl who was supposedly a mature, intelligent woman who had rid herself of self-delusional behaviors. I somehow managed to forget that I cannot translate the sounds in my head to my vocal cords or an instrument. I have no sense of rhythm. I have no idea if a note is too high or too low, too sharp or too flat. My fine motor skills aren’t great – I stopped trying to make my own clothes when I realized I couldn’t follow the lines when cutting a pattern – and I can’t coordinate my two hands to do different things simultaneously. My small hands can barely stretch to an octave, and I had to hit the notes using my long nails.

I think the first song we learned was “Jingle Bells.” It sounded like a dirge.

And my son was right: practicing, especially scales, is BORING.

Scheduling time for lessons became difficult, so I stopped taking lessons. The teacher, an older European woman who was classically trained, celebrated by retiring.

Maybe it’s not my most humiliating failure, or my most serious, but it haunts me still.

Unleavened Dead
Two members of Rabbi Aviva Cohen’s congregation are found dead, victims, they say, of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. But Aviva has info that leads her to doubt it was an accident. Then, police suspect Aviva’s niece’s partner in a hit-and-run death. Aviva is sure the woman is innocent, even though her SUV has a body-sized dent on the hood. As she looks into the two disparate cases, Aviva discovers they may be connected, and her amateur sleuthing takes a sinister turn that involves sexual abuse of teenage girls, money laundering, stolen identities, and an FBI investigation. Once again, her curiosity has put her life in jeopardy.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

FAVORITES, FAILURES & FRUSTRATIONS WITH AUTHOR LOIS WINSTON

Every so often we like to change things up a bit on the blog to keep it fresh and interesting. Today we kick off with a new feature: Favorites, Failures & Frustrations. For FF&F we’ll feature guest bloggers who will pick one of the three topics to discuss.

For Favorites they’ll talk about something they love and why they love it. This could be a favorite person in their lives, a favorite book, a favorite place they’ve lived, a favorite pastime, etc.

For Failures our guests will discuss things they’ve tried and failed at and what they’ve learned from the experience.

And finally, in Frustrations you’ll read about those things that set our nerves on edge or drive us crazy—everything from the writer dealing with a sagging middle in her latest novel to the dieter trying to shrink an expanding middle.

Our inaugural segment begins with Anastasia’s author Lois Winston sharing one of her favorite pastimes.

My Favorite Pastime
I love Broadway theater, both musicals and plays, but especially musicals. I would have loved a career on the stage. Unfortunately, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, and I can’t act. Those facts were made abundantly clear to me the one and only time I ever tried out for a school production. Talk about a humiliating moment!

But I digress. This post is about my favorite pastime, not one of my great failures in life.

Growing up outside of Manhattan, I was exposed to theater in my early teens. Back then you could buy what were called Student Rush tickets. My best friend and I would take the bus into Manhattan and for little more than the cost of going to the movies, we saw live theater productions with some of the most famous stars of Broadway.

The first show we ever saw was Promises, Promises with Jerry Orbach. You might remember him as the father who kept Baby in the corner in Dirty Dancing or as Detective Lennie Brisco in the original Law & Order series.

Times have changed, though, and going to a Broadway show has gone from a typical monthly date night for my husband and me to a splurge we treat ourselves to only a few times a year. The reason? A ticket to a Broadway show now costs about ten times what a movie ticket costs—and we all know movie tickets are no longer cheap! What did you pay to see the new Star Wars movie a few months ago? Yowza! I’m a Netflix gal and hadn’t been to the movies in ages. Talk about sticker shock!

Sometimes my husband and I are lucky enough to score half-price tickets (more on that in a moment), as was the case a few weeks ago when we saw Bright Star, the new musical written by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) and Edie Brickell, wife of Paul Simon.

If you’ve ever been to New York, you probably know about the TKTS booth in Times Square. Get on line (a very, very long line), wait a few hours, and you can buy half-price tickets to that day’s shows if there are any tickets available. Often if a show is in previews, you can see it at half-price before it becomes a hit, and tickets are impossible to get at any price.

But here’s a little secret that few people outside the New York metro area know. It’s called Playbill.com, and you can buy half-price tickets to many shows days or weeks ahead of time and without waiting on that long line in Times Square.

So if you’re planning a trip to New York in the future, treat yourself to a show without spending an arm and a leg through the normal channels that also add another 25-30% service charge on top of those already expensive tickets. And to save even more money, print out the offer and bring it to the box office instead of ordering by phone or online.

Some of my all-time favorite shows (in no particular order):
Wicked
Something Rotten
The Producers
Ragtime
Chicago
Les Miserable
Peter Pan
South Pacific
The King and I
Miss Saigon
Showboat

and now...
Bright Star

What about you? Do you have a favorite show you’ve seen on Broadway or at a regional theater?
~~~
USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at her websiteSign up for her newsletter  here.


Monday, May 2, 2016

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--SLEUTHING WOMEN...AND AT LEAST ONE OF THEM CRAFTS!

Anastasia here again! Remember a couple of weeks ago I told you about Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries? At the time the boxed set was available for pre-order. It's now on sale everywhere. Just to refresh your memory, this all came about as a result of an idea author Lois Winston had awhile back. And if you love mysteries, you’re going to love this! 

Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries is a collection of full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in the set is the first book in an established multi-book series—a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars. 

Titles include:

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder…

Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.

Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery by Judy AlterReal estate isn’t a dangerous profession until Kelly O’Connell stumbles over a skeleton and runs into serial killers and cold-blooded murderers in a home being renovated in Fort Worth. Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman boyfriend Mike and protect her two young daughters.

In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.

The Hydrogen Murder, a Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—A retired physicist returns to her hometown of Revere, Massachusetts and moves into an apartment above her friends' funeral home. When she signs on to help the Police Department with a science-related homicide, she doesn't realize she may have hundreds of cases ahead of her.

Retirement Can Be Murder, A Baby Boomer Mystery by Susan SantangeloCarol Andrews dreads her husband Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than having an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it—until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach.

Dead Air, A Talk Radio Mystery by Mary Kennedy—Psychologist Maggie Walsh moves from NY to Florida to become the host of WYME's On the Couch with Maggie Walsh. When her guest, New Age prophet Guru Sanjay Gingii, turns up dead, her new roommate Lark becomes the prime suspect. Maggie must prove Lark innocent while dealing with a killer who needs more than just therapy.

A Dead Red Cadillac, A Dead Red Mystery by RP DahlkeWhen her vintage Cadillac is found tail-fins up in a nearby lake, the police ask aero-ag pilot Lalla Bains why an elderly widowed piano teacher is found strapped in the driver’s seat. Lalla confronts suspects, informants, cross-dressers, drug-running crop dusters, and a crazy Chihuahua on her quest to find the killer.

Murder is a Family Business, an Alvarez Family Murder Mystery by Heather HavenJust because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez, has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve.

Murder, Honey, a Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie HansenWhen the head chef collapses into baker Carol Sabala’s cookie dough, she is thrust into her first murder investigation. Suspects abound at Archibald’s, the swanky Santa Cruz restaurant where Carol works. The head chef cut a swath of people who wanted him dead from ex-lovers to bitter rivals to greedy relatives.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR DEBRA H. GOLDSTEIN

Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus. Her short stories and essays have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies. Learn more about Debra and her books at her website. 

Book Club Friday as told by Heidi Shapiro to Debra H. Goldstein
Can we talk? I mean, after all, this is a Book Club Friday on Lois Winston’s blog, but here at Sunshine Village Retirement Center we talk about everything when we get together. We do that no matter whether it is Book Club Friday, Mah jongg day or you name it. Luckily, because we have a lot to say, Sunshine has daily activities thanks to the staff and our own Carolyn Holt.

Carolyn used to be the children’s librarian at the Wahoo, Alabama Library but since she moved into Sunshine Village, she’s become the place’s greatest cheerleader. She spurs all of us to participate in everything she creates. The staff and the residents love her.

I go to the Book Club meetings to pass time. I like them well enough, but my passion is my Thursday Mah jongg game. I’ve played Maj with the same group of women since we were newlyweds. Back then, we all had young children and owned houses on Diaper Row. Our houses got bigger, the kids grew up, and eventually we all moved into Sunshine Village. After having been in a weekly game for almost forty years, I figure I’ve eaten at least 400 slices of Karen Berger’s marble swirl pound cake. It’s delicious. Far better than the stuff I put out from the grocery store when I host the game.

That’s right. We take turns having the game every fifth week. I invite everyone to my apartment, but a couple of the players, who only have a room here at Sunshine Village, use the game room. I’m not wild about playing there because it always has a table of men playing poker and sometimes they get a bit loud.

Their noise and rudeness is one of the reasons I prefer my larger independent living apartment. The other reason is I haven’t felt completely safe since poor Charlotte Martin was murdered in Carolyn Holt’s room – just a few hours after Charlotte came back into her daughter’s life.

Charlotte was gone for twenty-six years before she showed up out of the blue at her daughter Carrie’s corporate legal office. According to Carrie, they talked and Charlotte left Carrie with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once thought about killing Carrie’s father. How anyone would want to harm the former minister of the Oakwood Church is beyond me, but I’m getting off track because before Carrie could talk to her father, her mother died.

Carrie is at odds with the detective on the case. She doesn’t want me to know that he used to be her live-in lover, but there aren’t too many secrets in Wahoo and I’m good at getting to the bottom of those that do exist. That’s why I’m glad Carrie finally agreed to let me and the other Mah jongg players help her find out who killed her mother. Maybe, if we succeed, she’ll take an interest in my son. He’s not a doctor, but he is an excellent lawyer and sadly, an eligible thirty-year-old widower.

Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery
Carrie Martin's precarious balancing of her corporate law job and visiting her father at the Sunshine Village retirement home is upset when her mother appears, out of the blue, in Carrie's office twenty-six years after abandoning her family. Her mother leaves her with a sealed envelope and the confession she once considered killing Carrie's father. Carrie seeks answers about her past from her father prior to facing what is in the envelope. Before she can reach his room, she finds her mother murdered and the woman who helped raise her seriously injured.

Instructed to leave the sleuthing to the police, Carrie's continued efforts to discover why someone would target the two most important women in her life quickly put her at odds with her former lover--the detective assigned to her mother's case. As Carrie and her co-sleuths, the Sunshine Village Mah jongg players, attempt to unravel Wahoo, Alabama's past secrets in this fast paced cozy mystery, their efforts put Carrie in danger and show her that truth and integrity aren't always what she was taught to believe.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#TRAVEL THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR WITH GUEST AUTHOR JANET DAWSON

Janet  Dawson has written two novels featuring Zephyrette Jill McLeod – Death Rides the Zephyr and the latest, Death Deals a Hand. She is also the author of twelve novels with Oakland PI Jeri Howard, most recently Cold Trail, a standalone suspense novel, What You Wish For, and numerous short stories. Learn more about Janet and her books at her website. 

Meet the Zephyrette

I’ve written two books in my historical mystery series featuring Jill McLeod, who is a Zephyrette.

I can see the puzzled look on your face. What’s a Zephyrette?

A Zephyrette is a train hostess, something like an airline stewardess, or flight attendant, as we call them now.

Many of the luxurious streamliner trains of the post-World War II era had such attendants, but only aboard the train called the California Zephyr were these young women called Zephyrettes.

The California Zephyr was jointly operated by three railroads, from 1949 to 1970. The trains ran daily between San Francisco and Chicago, through spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The journey took two and a half days, and the Zephyrette was onboard for the whole trip.

My books are set in December 1952 and April 1953. Dwight Eisenhower had just been elected president. The Korean War was still raging. It had been less than eight years since the end of World War II. Rock ’n roll was in its early days. It’s the heyday of train travel, before everyone had one or two cars and the interstate highway system was built. Air travel wasn’t as common.

Jill, the protagonist of Death Rides the Zephyr and Death Deals a Hand, is the only female member of the crew. Her job is to keep an eye on things during the journey, make announcements, and cater to the passengers’ needs, keeping them comfortable and happy. She walks through the train every few hours and observes what’s going on aboard the train, alert to any potential problems, ready to provide solutions.

Who would be better placed to do some amateur sleuthing? In the course of two books, Jill has done her share, wielding those problem-solving skills.


Want to send a telegram from the Western Union office at the next station? The Zephyrette would take care of that. Reservations in the dining car? Check. Apply first aid to that scrape on your kid’s knee after he takes a tumble off his seat? Check.

Want to find out who killed the passenger, and why? Jill does that, too.

How did someone like Jill become a Zephyrette? She was required to have a college degree or nurse’s training, have a good character and be unmarried. Jill is all of these. She’s a graduate of the University of California. She was planning to get married but those plans were derailed. She didn’t want to teach or work in her father’s office. Riding the rails on the California Zephyr looked like a good plan for Jill, until she decides what to do with the rest of her life.

Writing the books was great fun and involved roaming around on historic trains as well as taking the Amtrak version of the California Zephyr, which has a different route through California but the same route between Winnemucca, Nevada on to Chicago.

I can read about Ruby Canyon in Western Colorado, but there’s no substitute for seeing it from the train, with the setting sun turning the cliffs red. It’s wonderful to wind through Gore Canyon deep in the Colorado Rockies, with the nearly frozen Colorado River just below the tracks.

There’s also no substitute for primary sources, in this case two former Zephyrettes living in my vicinity. One of these ladies worked on the trains in the late sixties, the other in the early 1950s, the time period I was writing about. One evening I met these two ladies and sat with them as they talked over old times and memories of their travels aboard the California Zephyr. The material I got was invaluable, and I hope it rings true in the books.

So meet Jill McLeod, the Zephyrette. All aboard for adventure!

Death Deals a Hand
Zephyrette Jill McLeod is back on the rails, aboard the fabled train called the California Zephyr. Heading west from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area, Jill looks forward to reuniting with family members and the new man in her life. She’s learned to expect and deal with just about anything on the train, from troublesome passengers to long-lost relatives to high-stakes poker games. But the stakes just got even higher: Death has a seat at the table.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

NATIONAL PRETZEL DAY--FRUITY CHOCOLATE PRETZEL CLUSTERS #RECIPE

Today is National Pretzel Day. Yes, there truly is such a holiday, albeit an “unofficial” one. It began in 2003 when then Pennsylvania’s governor Ed Rendell declared April 26th as National Pretzel Day because pretzels have been such an important part of the state’s history and economy.

No one knows for sure the exact origin of the pretzel. There are several differing accounts, but most people attribute its creation to Christian monks. One claim is that in 610 AD an Italian Monk invented pretzels as a reward for children who learned their prayers. The strips of baked dough were folded to resemble arms crossed at the chest and called “pretiola,” which means little rewards.

Another source claims the pretzel hails from a monastery in southern France. A third claim says the looped pretzel was related to Greek Ring bread used for communion in monasteries a thousand years ago.  

Pretzels were introduced to North America in the 19th century by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants (who were actually from Germany, the “Dutch” a corruption of “Deutsche,” which is German for German.) Many of these immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and began operating handmade pretzel bakeries. The pretzel’s popularity quickly spread.

In the 20th century soft pretzels became a staple sold on Philadelphia street corners. The average American eats about a pound and a half of pretzels a year, but the average Philadelphian eats twelve times that amount. Philadelphia even boasts a Pretzel Museum.

Although pretzel popularity quickly spread throughout the country in the 20th century, Pennsylvania remains the center of the $550 million dollar American pretzel industry, producing about 80% of the nation’s pretzels.

Fruity Chocolate Pretzel Clusters

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

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

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

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