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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CHRISTINE FINLAYSON

Christine Finlayson spends her days conjuring up fictional characters—and devising ways to get them into trouble. When she’s not at the computer, she loves to photograph all things weird or wild in nature, explore the trails and beaches of the Pacific Northwest, and compete in triathlons. Learn more at Christine and her books at her website and nature blog

Where did my creativity go . . . and how do I get it back?

On New Year’s Day, my daughter set out her painting supplies: three canvases, a full set of colors, new paintbrushes, and an artist’s palette.

“I’m ready,” she announced, squeezing out the first tube of paint.

“Don’t you want to sketch things out first?” I suggested. “Decide what you’re going to put on each one?” After all, she only had three canvases, and they weren’t cheap. If she made a mistake . . .

“Why?” She gave me a puzzled look. “I’m making art. I’ll just see what happens.” And with that, she dipped her brush into the paint and started tinting the canvas brown. Out came Bilbo Baggins.
I saw no fear in her, no anxiety that the critics might not like her rendition. Instead, she breathed excitement. It was time to CREATE. Oh, the joy!

I envied her.

When I was my daughter’s age, I’d loved creating things, too. I wrote and illustrated picture books, made puppets, sewed doll clothes, experimented with Styrofoam balls and sequins, and spent endless hours crafting dollhouse furniture. (Note the book and old-fashioned typewriter in the photo!)
But somewhere on the road to adulthood, the pure joy of creation—the spontaneity and whimsy—had disappeared.

So on that cold January day, I wondered: Was it too late to add a New Year’s Resolution? I want my creativity back.

Creative Writing
Like most fiction authors, I rely heavily on imagination. Without it, stories wouldn’t come alive. But after my first mystery novel, Tip of a Bone, was published, life became more complicated.

Creative writing time had to be balanced with book promotion. Under the steady stream of numbers—Sales up? Fans? Likes?—anyone’s creativity could falter. And mine had. It became harder and harder to shut off the analytical left brain and let the right brain roam.

I wanted 2014 to be different, a year of thriving creativity. So after that New Year’s Day epiphany, I decided to try four things and see what happens. Maybe you’d like to join me in this experiment!

#1. Find the quiet. 
When our minds fill with clutter—errands, appointments, bills to pay, emails to answer—it’s tough for creativity to break through. Not surprisingly, my writing is most productive when I leave town . . . suddenly, there’s a quiet space inside, ready to be filled with innovative ideas. Recognizing this, I’ve planned several writing retreats this year. I’ll head to the Oregon coast and take time to watch the waves roll in.

When leaving town isn’t an option, I’ll do morning pages, the quickest way to get rid of those nagging thoughts. I’ve vowed to slow life down, too—stop and smell the roses, savor that cup of coffee, and watch squirrels play from my office window.

#2. Make a bucket list.
As the Queen of To-Do lists, I have papers littering every flat surface, each one with tasks to complete. But this year, I’ve added a “Things I Want to Do” list.

By giving wishes and yearnings equal weight—missions to check off—I’m hoping to do more of them. Arrange a Police Ride-Along? Check. Attend Left Coast Crime? Coming up. Sip daiquiris in Hawaii? On the docket.

Have you made a list of things you want to do this year? (For inspiration, check out BucketList.org. You’ll find all kinds of interesting ideas, including: Draw funny faces on eggs, take pole dancing classes, swim under a waterfall, and visit Pompeii.)

#3. Do things that are frightening.
I’m not talking about haunted houses and horror movies—but saying “Yes!” to adventure and stretching outside of our comfort zones. Doing any new, intimidating activity makes us feel more alive. Last year, for the first time, I zip-lined through the jungle and had a book published. Both scary. Both stimulating.
This year? I may canoe through the Canadian wilderness, swim across a river (an organized event), or explore a seedy neighborhood to research a character. Whatever your adventures are, know that shaking things up can spur creativity. Get ready!

# 4. Exercise more regularly.
Working as a writer (or any desk job) means hours of sitting still. The new wisdom suggests that sitting is terrible for our health, but it can also stagnate the mind. Shifting from mental tasks to physical activities forces the brain to move in different ways.

As a triathlete, I’ve learned that training takes time, but the regular swims, bikes, and runs also enhance my creativity. More than once, I’ve had “Aha!” moments in the middle of a workout—That’s where my story needs to head! Now I can fix that scene!  It’s wonderful to be able to solve sticky plot problems—while moving.

2014 will be the Year of Creativity. Let the experiment begin!

I appreciate this chance to visit Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers today, and I’d love to hear from you. What inspires your creativity? How do you keep it flowing? And what do you do to jumpstart creativity when it falters?

Tip of a Bone
Buried bones, a missing eco-activist, and a deadly fire? It’s not what Maya Rivers bargained for when she moved to the Oregon coast to reunite with her brother Harley. Yet when Harley is accused of an unthinkable crime, Maya insists on adding “amateur sleuth” to her career options. She soon discovers an eerie clue…but the closer she gets to the truth, the the closer a murderer follows.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--THE SEA OF CORTEZ WITH GUEST AUTHOR JINX SCHWARTZ

The Sea of Cortez
Jinx Schwartz traveled the world for fun and work before dropping out to become a cash poor cruiser in Mexico. She has written eight books, including the award-winning and bestselling Hetta Coffey series. Once upon a time she bought a yacht and met the man of her dreams. Kinda like Hetta. Learn more about Jinx and her books at her website and blog. 

Thanks, Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers, for inviting me to share my love of the Sea of Cortez, and the adventures of Hetta Coffey.

Hetta Coffey is a sassy Texan with a snazzy yacht, and she's not afraid to use it!
Since she is a self-employed engineer, she can live and work from that boat, and in book two of the Hetta Coffey series, Just Add Salt, she heads for Mexico. Just Add Trouble finds her rounding the Baja peninsula and cruising into the Sea of Cortez.

Also known as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez, if viewed on a map, appears to be a lake-like body of water surrounded on three sides by Mexico, and open to the Pacific Ocean on the south end. When John Steinbeck wrote, in his Log From the Sea of Cortez, “The Sea of Cortez is a dangerous body of water and is prone to sudden and violent storms,” Hetta hadn't even arrived yet! She hasn't help matters.

And true to its reputation, the Sea can be a nasty piece of work when heavy north winds or summer hurricanes blow, but most of the time it is pure magic. There isn't a day when you don't see teeming fish, exotic sea birds, pristine beaches, and the haunting beauty of desert islands surrounded by turquoise water.

The author at her desk onboard the High Jinx
Living aboard my winter home down here, High Jinx, I love the peaceful anchorages and warm weather, even those times when old John was dead-on and we get the you-know-what kicked out of us. Of course, when it is actually happening—usually at three a.m. on a moonless night—I swear I'm going to buy a condo, but so far we are still hanging in there after twenty-three years.

In Just Add Trouble, Hetta Coffey finds herself also embracing the Sea of Cortez and its glories, but as she is wont to do, she runs into a sea serpent all too soon. But that's Hetta. When she bought a yacht as a man-trap in Just Add Water, who knew what manner of well-known substance would hit the propeller? And that she would actually meet the man of her dreams, only to have him take on a project in the Middle East and leave her to discover that Mexico ain't all lounge chairs and Margaritas on the beach.

La Paz is High Jinx's home this winter, and I am happily aboard writing Hetta's sixth escapade, as yet untitled. I'll do my best to keep her out of trouble, but the woman is, once again, beyond even my control!

Just Add Trouble
A globe-trotting engineer with adventure in her soul, Hetta Coffey is determined to solidify her relationship with her long-distance boyfriend, Jenks Jenkins. What better place for a romantic interlude than aboard her yacht in Mexico's hauntingly beautiful and solitary Sea of Cortez?

But where Hetta goes, trouble follows, and chaos is sure to ensue. After a run-in with a couple of sea serpents that threaten to rock the boat, she nevertheless decides to take on a project in the port city of Guaymas. After all, Jenks is headed back to Kuwait, so why not cash in on the best of both worlds by picking up a few pesos while living aboard her boat in Mexico?

Once again Hetta's indomitable spirit, stubborn independence, and penchant for deceit will keep the reader in stitches as she launches herself and her best friend Jan into a sea of trouble.

A pesky parrot, a drunken aunt, and a shadowy figure who is handsome in a "criminal sort of way" lead to murder, mayhem, kidnapping, and run-ins with several federal agencies on both sides of the border.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--WHAT YOUR HANDWRITING SAYS ABOUT YOU WITH GUEST AUTHOR JUDITH MEHL

Judith Mehl incorporates her experience as a member of the American Association of Handwriting Analysts and past editor of the organization's journal in her Kat Everitt Handwriting Analysis Mystery series. Today she shares a little about handwriting analysis and her latest release with us. Learn more about Judith and her books at her website.

A sample of your handwriting might get you off the hook for a murder, or make you a prime suspect, as it does in my Kat Everitt mystery series. Handwriting analysis is also a way to know more about the people around you. If you want to understand your troublesome boss, or assess that new man’s potential for a lasting mate, learn a little handwriting analysis.

Our handwriting reveals our inner selves because it’s a projection of personality. How we write reveals our potential at the time we write. Careful study is required of the hundreds of traits, but some characteristics stand out like a zebra in a lion’s den. Showing a particular trait increases the risk that someone will act on it, but not the certainty. Keeping all that in mind, you can improve the way you deal with people when you know more about them and yourself.

In the 1700s handwriting analysis became popular with such diverse writers as Balzac, Edgar Allen Poe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens. George Sand and Albert Einstein became known handwriting analysts. Come and join this august group by learning a little about the written word. Here are a few tips to start:

                A rightward slant is the most natural way of writing and signifies an expressive person. A marked, though not extreme, rightward slant suggests a person who wallows in sentimentality. A strong leftward slant shows caution and a degree of emotional withdrawal.

                Generally, the bigger the letter “y” lower loop, the bigger the sex drive.

                How a person crosses the lower case “t” can reveal level of confidence, dominance, and energy. A t-bar that slants down to the right can signify a very dominant and controlling person.

In each book in the Kat Everitt Handwriting Analysis Mystery series, the chapter beginnings highlight one handwriting clue that is expanded on in the chapter—helping readers guess which character is the killer. Readers can also collect these tips to help them learn more about themselves and people around them. Even more tips are available on my website: http://www.judymehl.com under the Tidbits section.

Game, Set, Murder
Amateur sleuth Kat Everitt pinpoints the killer of a tennis tournament manager through handwriting analysis. Readers can follow the written clues to learn more about the suspects, or more about themselves. As the story unfolds, the killer fears discovery and attacks Kat to deter her from pursuit in this mystery on a university campus in the Pocono Mountains. The journey, fraught with tension, takes the readers through the foibles of university life and tennis mania, and introduces new, unforgettable characters.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--S'MORES MARGARITA RECIPE FROM GUEST AUTHOR ADELE DOWNS

Adele Downs writes contemporary romance inside the office of her rural Pennsylvania home. She is a former journalist, published in newspapers and magazines inside the USA, UK, and Caribbean. Learn more about her and her books at her websiteToday Adele joins us to share a recipe for S’mores Margarita and tell us about her newest release.

S’mores Margarita
This decadent recipe for S’mores Margaritas from author Adele Downs, courtesy of Sauza® Tequila, is guaranteed to warm any cold January night. Enjoy this confection with kick while snuggling by a cozy fire. Posted with permission.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
6 parts Sauza® Blue Silver 100% Agave Tequila*
4 parts chocolate liqueur (like Godiva® Chocolate Liqueur)
½ cup chocolate syrup
⅓ cup cream
Ice

To garnish:

 Mini Marshmallows
 Toothpicks
 Chocolate-Marshmallow Creme Sauce (Blend & warm chocolate sauce & marshmallow fluff)

*If Sauza® Blue Silver isn’t available, try Sauza® Silver

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Pour into prepared glasses rimmed with Chocolate-Marshmallow Creme Sauce. Garnish with a skewer of mini marshmallows. Salud!

For more Sauza® Tequila recipes, visit http://us.sauzatequila.com/

Kissing Her Cowboy
A Lunchbox Romance Short Story

A cowboy with a fractured back and a cop with a broken spirit heal on a Texas ranch with the help of a stallion named Big Blue.

Treymont Woods is forced to take light duty work around Breezy Meadows Ranch after a rodeo accident. While Trey’s body heals, he offers riding lessons to Houston locals on the greatest horse that ever lived, Big Blue. When police officer Daisy Phillips arrives for her first session, sparks fly. But her invisible wounds run deep, making it hard for her to form connections. Kissing Her Cowboy is the story of two broken people who heal on the road to their happily ever after.



Monday, January 27, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--WOVEN FELT PILLOW

Woven Felt Pillow

Materials:
(Note: Material amounts will vary depending on size of finished pillow.)
Four colors of felt, non-woven iron-on interfacing, pillow form or polyfill, basic sewing supplies, DMC #5 Perle Cotton in contrasting color, embroidery needle.

1. Determine size of pillow you want. Cut a piece of iron-on interfacing two inches larger than finished pillow. (Example: if you want to make a 12” x 12” pillow, cut the interfacing 14” x 14”.)


2. Cut a series of felt strips 1” wide by length of interfacing.

3. Place interfacing on flat surface with fusing side up. Alternating two of the felt colors, pin strips of felt to top of interfacing.

4. Beginning at top, weave alternating strips of remaining colors in and out across pinned strips.

5. Remove pins and carefully turn pillow top over on ironing board. Fuse interfacing to felt per manufacturer’s directions.

6. Trim edges even.

7. Cut backing fabric the same size as pillow top.

8. Using one strand Perle Cotton, blanket stitch around pillow, leaving opening for stuffing. Insert pillow form or stuff with polyfill. Blanket stitch opening closed.



Friday, January 24, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR SIBELLE STONE

Sibelle Stone is the pseudonym for award-winning romance author Deborah Schneider. As Deborah she writes Western and Americana romance novels. As Sibelle Stone she writes historical romance with paranormal elements, (things like magic, witches and evil Druids) and Steampunk with incredible machines. It’s the same person, but with two different sides.Deborah is employed by one of the busiest libraries in the country in a job that involves arranging programs with authors, storytellers, musicians, dancers and jugglers. Sibelle is independently wealthy and therefore doesn’t have a day job. She enjoys reading books, but likes writing them even more. She prefers wearing costumes that include amazing hats. Learn more about Sibelle at her website. 

Thank you to Anastasia for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. I love books, crafts and writing, so it’s a great place to visit.

My first full length Steampunk romance, Prudence and the Professor, has been published. I’ve been working on this book for several years, as I took breaks to write and publish other stories. But, Prudence and Gerritt (the Professor ) kept pulling me back to their story. I simply couldn’t shut their voices in my head up.

I need to confess a secret. I love Steampunk. I haven’t discarded my intense attraction to writing Western romance, but Prudence and the Professor morphed into a strange combination of Victorian age, alternate history with fantasy elements set in the Civil War era of the American West.
What’s Steampunk? It’s a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction, sometimes also called science fiction. It is set in a world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century.

Often, when I’ve heard people search for a quick shorthand for defining the genre, they say, “Wild, Wild West” is Steampunk. Both the movie and the television series clearly illustrate the elements found in a Steampunk. And both are set in the American West.

When I first discovered Steampunk, I was attracted to the reference to the Victorian era. Most of the books I’ve written have a setting between 1848 and 1888. I love the clothing, lifestyle and proper rules and etiquette of that age. When I’ve set my books, although they are in Montana, they are also clearly in the mid-19th century. So when I heard about a sub-genre of literature and an artistic movement that included fashion, music, and other elements that focused on the era, I was fascinated.

So how do Westerns fit into this technological age of steam? Easily, I think. Consider that the Victorian era coincided with the exploration and settlement of the West. There are so many possibilities for creating stories that are set in the wild, unexplored wilderness beyond the Mississippi. With Steampunk, a writer has the freedom to rewrite history, to include magic, technology and a fantastical world all in the same work. The possibilities are endless, and they excite me.

I chose a mining town in Montana Territory in 1863 because the Civil War actually opened up opportunities for invention. The Industrial Revolution was already taking place in the United States, and the war meant more inventors applying for patents.

Of course, I take my story beyond the typical inventions of the time to include Mechos, arc guns and cannons and even a sky ship. After all, what’s the fun of writing a Steampunk book if you can’t play with all the fun elements?

Prudence and the Professor
In this rollicking steampunk romance from an award-winning author, a Civil War widow travels to Montana territory in search of adventure and independence. She takes a position as a personal secretary to an eccentric inventor. The handsome professor is not what she expected, and while he’s drawn to the raven haired beauty he must develop his newest invention to meet a critical deadline that could change the course of the War-Between-the-States.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST AUTHOR SALLY WRIGHT

photo by Phillip Capper of Wellington, NZ
Reviewers have compared Sally Wright's work to that of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. High praise, indeed! Learn more about Sally and her books at her website. 

A Traveler’s Tale

Places haunt me–water and hills and woods, ruins and houses with good bones and character that whisper secrets I can’t hear.

The mind’s eye is a powerful faculty. I can still see a tiny arched wooden bridge over a miniscule shivery stream edged with wild watercress, beside a dark forest, in front of a wood-beamed cottage in Connecticut I haven’t seen since I was four.

Places give me plots, too–sometimes by raising questions, like, “If someone were on this island alone, how could I murder him?” The Ben Reese mystery, Pride And Predator, ended-up being the answer to that question.

Which means traveling influences a lot of how I write. Breeding Ground, the new Jo Grant mystery, was born years ago on a book tour visit to Lexington, Kentucky. I decided then to set part of the Ben Reese Watches Of The Night there, and as I did research, staying in beautiful old farmhouse B&Bs, where the owners told me the houses’ history, and stories about local characters, it made me want to write a new series immersed in that lush green world where Thoroughbreds graze the ridges and hills.

I rode horses for years, so that was part of the appeal. And most of the people who raise them in Breeding Ground (who’re connected to three family businesses–a hands-on broodmare farm, an equine pharmaceutical company, and a ma-and-pa horse van manufacturer) were fun for me to write about.

But the serendipity of travel makes books change course and become more complex and authentic. As I researched the back-story in Breeding Ground–the French Resistance (all over France, all through WWII), and the US OSS that helped them–I became overwhelmed. Fortunately, a history professor gave me a book on the Resistance in the Loire Valley alone. But I didn’t have anyone in France who could help, and I needed to do work there.

It was in a small B&B in an old mill in the Loire Valley where I was given a gift I’ve been given before–the kind that saves books.

Sitting beside black-and-white ducks, green glass river sliding by, the mill owner spoke of the Resistance in the Lorraine with real knowledge and passion. He’d filled the whole mill with WWII books, and though we talked for hours, it was his description of a real event in the village beyond the mill–and the local reaction in 2010 (that I put straight into Breeding Ground) that gave me the perspective I needed.

So. Without the travel, would I have written books? Yes. Except for one made-up location, I set the first Ben Reese in places I’d seen as a child, and used the pictures in my head. But the rest of the novels wouldn’t have as many levels, or take readers to that many interesting places–in their minds’ eye.

Breeding Ground
In Lexington, in 1962, Jo Grant, an architect, who put her work aside to nurse her dying mother (only months before her brother dies,) has to run the family broodmare farm she’d rather leave behind–when another casualty from WWII turns up in need at her door, traumatized by his work with the French Resistance–right when she and a WWII OSS vet are trying to stop the killer of a friend caught in the conflicts of another family horse business in the inbred world of Lexington Thoroughbreds.




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--LACK OF MARITAL COMMUNICATIONS WITH PROTAGONIST MITZY MAVEN

photo by Lewis Ronald
Healthy living involves healthy communication—whether between a patient and doctor, coworkers, neighbors, spouses, or just about anyone. Lack of communication can lead to stress, and we all know that leads to all sorts of medical problems.

Today we welcome Mitzy Maven, the protagonist of suspense author Jennie Spallone’s Window of Guilt. Mitzy communicates just fine. Too bad the same can’t be said for her high school friend Laurie and Laurie’s husband. Learn more about Jennie and her books at her website. 

Hi. I’m Mitzy Maven and I’m slumped on the back seat floor of my friend’s SUV as I secretly type this email into my IPAD. As a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I’ve seen my share of bad guys. But I was truly freaked out, as my mom would say, when my high school friend cajoled me into tailing her husband. Marital infidelity? Shady business dealings? The well runs deeper than that. We’re talking marital communications, here.

Laurie’s not the easiest person to communicate with. Granted, she’s a kind, compassionate person who adores her husband, son, and puppy. But that tongue of hers can bite! She looks for hidden meanings in the most inane conversation. And if your actions don’t meet her specifications, she’ll try to change you.

Example: Laurie’s husband, Ryan, is a health insurance adjuster. Type A personality guy who one day just up and quit the business. Laurie was plenty steamed. Who, in these tough economic times, just walks out on his job, with a family to support?

Laurie attempted to wrestle the facts from her husband, but Ryan wasn’t talking.
The harder she pressed, the more he withdrew. I urged Laurie to minimize her anger and frustration by meditating. Heck, she already does yoga, so I figured this was no great stretch – no pun intended!

But Laurie refused to acknowledge her own anger issue so that her husband would feel “safe” enough to confide in her. Arguments ensued, to the point that their young son complained of “bad energy” in the house. Even the dog reacted to the negativity by peeing on the furniture!

Ryan’s approaching the car now. Before I log off, I gotta say that two hot heads don’t a reasonable decision make! I truly hope that Ryan’s only problem is learning to communicate with his wife without feeling vulnerable.

Window of Guilt
Chicago real estate agent Laurie Atkins is gardening beneath the relentless August sun when her dog's frantic barks divert her to a dead body sprawled on the front acreage of her Wisconsin summer home. She rushes inside to phone the police, but the body disappears. Laurie begins to doubt her own sanity. Then the unidentified body turns up on the driveway of Helga Beckermann, her devious neighbor.

When her emotionally withdrawn husband skips town on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Laurie uncovers truths she’d rather deny. Her family in peril, Laurie enlists the help of two women she thinks she can trust: former Chicago Tribune investigative reporter Mitzy Maven, and tough-talking CPD detective Maggie O’Connor.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

COOKING WITH CLORIS--CHOCO CHUNKS & CHIPS COOKIES WITH AUTHOR KAREN ROSE SMITH

After writing romances for twenty years, award-winning author Karen Rose Smith is excited to see her Caprice De Luca home-stager mystery series published.  Her sleuth reflects many of her interests—interior decorating, cooking, retro fashion, gardening and most of all, taking in stray animals.  Learn more about Karen and her books at her mystery and romance websites and her blog. Today Karen stops by to tell us about her new mystery series and share with us one of her sleuth’s favorite cookie recipes.

What are some of my best memories with my mom and my grandmother? Baking bread, watching pizza dough rise, rolling biscotti.  I still have my mom's recipe boxes and turn to them often.  My sleuth Caprice De Luca in Staged to Death comes from a large Italian family who likes to cook.  Writing these mysteries returns me to my childhood in many ways, to family dinners with aunts, uncles and cousins, to those wonderful aromas wafting through the house, to the conversation, laughter and even arguments around the table.  To give my readers an additional recipe to those in Staged to Death, I developed Caprice's Choco Chunks and Chips Cookies.  My family and friends think they're a hit and I hope you do, too.

Caprice’s Choco Chunks and Chips Cookies

1/2 cup salted butter softened                             
1/4 cup peanut butter                                 
1 cup packed brown sugar                                   
3/4 cup granulated sugar                         
2 large eggs                                    
1/8 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz milk chocolate  (I use two 3 oz Dove bars broken into small pieces or chunks.  These bars break or cut up easily.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

In a mixer, cream softened butter and peanut butter.  Mix in brown sugar and granulated sugar until creamed.  Add eggs and mix well.  Add cinnamon and vanilla.  Add baking powder and baking soda.  Blend well.  Add 2 cups of flour, a quarter cup at a time with mixer on low speed, constantly scrapping bowl.  Stir in the other cup of flour, a quarter cup at a time, by hand until completely blended.  Stir in chocolate chips and chunks.

Roll into 1 1/2" balls, place on cookie sheet 2 inches apart and press down slightly with palm of hand.  (I usually put 12 on one cookie sheet.)

Bake 11 – 12 minutes until golden brown and set.  (The type of cookie sheet you use can affect the baking time.  Darker cookie sheets bake faster.)

Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit a minute on a cool surface.  Remove from pan.

Recipe makes about 30-36 cookies.  Let cool until the chocolate hardens.  Unless you eat all of them gooey warm!

Staged to Death 
Welcome to Kismet, PA, where home stager Caprice De Luca helps her clients shine in a lackluster real estate market—and where someone may only be in the market for murder...

Caprice De Luca has successfully parlayed her skills as an interior designer into a thriving home staging business.  So when her old high school friend Roz Winslow asks her to spruce up her mess of a mansion to perk up a slow buyer's market, Caprice is more than happy to share her skills.  But when Roz's husband Ted is found skewered by one of his sword room's prized possessions, it appears the Winslows have a few skeletons in their palatial closets.  With the stage set for murder, Caprice will discover she can track down an antique tapestry and a cold-blooded killer with equal aplomb—as long as she's not the next victim...

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Monday, January 20, 2014

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CROSS STITCHED FLORAL HEART




The weather outside is frightful. Why not curl up in your favorite chair and cross stitch a Valentine floral heart? With three and a half weeks before Valentine's Day, you have plenty of time to whip up several. After stitching, sew the design into a pillow sachet with lace trim. or stitch a row of floral hearts for a Valentine's Day fingertip towel. Have another finishing idea? Why not share it? We’d love to hear from you.

Friday, January 17, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR ERICA RIDLEY

The author  on one of her solo trips
Travel editor Serena Brower is taking over Book Club Friday today to introduce you to a very adventuresome author. Erica Ridley learned to read when she was three, which was about the same time she decided to be a writer when she grew up. When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest. Learn more about her and her books at her website. Today she’s here to tell us about her adventures in South America and traveling the world solo.

Bolivia: The new Paris?

Authors are often instructed to “write what you know”, but when you’re writing fantasy, that advice necessarily goes right out the window. . . Or does it?

Let’s see how well fact compares to fiction:

In Midwinter Magic, Jack goes solo to a third world country. This is a bad idea.

FALSE
I’ve traveled solo to dozens of countries, and would highly recommend anyone with wanderlust to do the same. Traveling alone has allowed me to live life as an adventure, and to make amazing new friends on three different continents. In 2012, I sold my house and moved to Costa Rica “for a year” . . . and haven’t looked back. (Getting caught in Snowmageddon 2014 when I flew north for the holidays didn’t exactly make me regret that decision, lol.)

Latin Americans are friendly and welcoming, even to American gringos.

TRUE
While I haven’t (yet) set foot in every country in Latin America, every place I have visited is home to some of the nicest people on earth . . . although they might take umbrage with the U.S.’s co-opt of the word “American.” Many countries around the world view the Americas as a single continent, and all of its inhabitants therefore American, be that North American, South American, Central American, etc. As with anywhere, there are better and worse places to traipse around on your owni.e. Disneyland vs Detroit (sorry, Detroit!)but it wouldn’t be at all unexpected for a total stranger to offer a ride, a meal, even a place to crash for the night to a traveler in need.

(For a real-life example, ask me about the time I inadvertently spent three days alone in Nicaragua with only $30 in my pocket . . .)

Jack is trying to right some wrongs. In real life, locals would reject interloper assistance, right?

FALSE
Dunno about you, but I personally wouldn’t reject no-strings free money . . . or free toys for my kids, or free medicine for sick relatives, or free labor around the house. I think a lot depends on attitude and intent. In my experience, many rural Latin America communities have a strong sense of community. They may not have extra money, but as long as they’ve got time and two hands, they’re more than willing to help each other out at the drop of a hatand therefore wouldn’t take offense to someone else doing the same.

Volunteers
Sure, if some egocentric group comes along like, “This is how we do XYZ in our country. You must now convert your life and your culture to mirror ours.” Then, yeah, you should expect resistance. But if you’re helping someone else achieve the goals they want for themselves, you’ll likely be welcomed with open arms. If you have the means and/or the time, volunteeringwhether locally or abroadis a great way to pay it forward.

Life seems to move at a much slower pace in rural Latin America.

TRUE
Top five causes of traffic jams within three miles of the macadamia farm where I live:
1. Cow crossing the road

2. Herd of cows crossing the road

3. Chickens crossing the road

4. Pizotes (coatimundi) crossing the road

5. Sloths crossing the road

Accidentally knocking over your guardian angel is the one weird trick to finding true love.

*COUGH*
Most people manage to muddle along without clothes-lining their divine intervention, but Jack’s head appears to be a little harder than most . . .

Midwinter Magic
After an eye-opening congressional hearing, former corporate shark Jack Morgan redirects his ill-gotten gains toward charity work. However, his attempts to bring holiday cheer to a Bolivian village meet with one disaster after another: canceled flights, crumbling luggage, implacable customs officials. His plans disintegrate further when he runs into a sexy tourist with . . . wings?

As Jack's guardian angel, Sarah Phimm has her work cut out for her. When his latest volunteer mission risks his life, she's forced to reveal herself to him—but only in part. She can't risk him knowing the truth. He's everything her immortal heart desires, but can never have. She soon discovers that keeping him safe amidst death bridges and tumbling telephone poles is far easier than guarding her heart.

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