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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Anastasia and her fellow editors wish to remind everyone to drive safely tonight and don't forget to appoint a designated driver if you plan to toast in the New Year with bubbly.
We want to see you all happy and healthy in 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR LINDA TOWNSDIN AND BLUEBERRY WILD RICE PANCAKES

Linda Townsdin writes the Spirit Lake Mystery series set in Northern Minnesota. She worked for years in communications, most recently as writer/editor for a national criminal justice consortium in cybercrime, tribal justice and public safety issues. She blogs and is published in several anthologies. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

In my Spirit Lake Mystery series, photojournalist Britt Johansson will do anything to protect the ones she loves, and get her story.

Her younger brother, Little, owns Little’s Café. He has his finger on the town’s pulse. If the situation calls for physical healing, something that’s frequently necessary with Britt, he breaks out the antioxidant ingredients and makes green smoothies.

If comfort food is needed, especially after someone in Spirit Lake has been murdered, he whips up a batch of blueberry wild rice pancakes or chicken wild rice hotdish. If morale is low, he bakes cinnamon rolls and when the aroma wafts through town, everyone shows up smiling. His berry pies have a similar effect.

Little’s Blueberry Wild Rice Pancakes

Ingredients
1 cup cooked wild rice (Little uses hand-harvested wild rice, not cultivated)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanila
3/4 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
Nonstick vegetable spray

Combine wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients, pour together and stir until combined. Add blueberries. Preheat griddle and spray with vegetable spray. Cook pancakes until bubbles appear, then flip. Serves 4. Great with maple syrup and warmed mixed berries!

Focused on Murder
Britt Johansson is a photojournalist with a big heart and bad attitude, who works for the northern bureau of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

It’s the dead of winter and Britt’s following the murder of a local coed, but the sheriff thinks he’s already found the bad guy, a Native American kid from the reservation with a history of trouble.

Britt’s not so sure, and keeps digging until she makes a discovery that lands her in the crosshairs of an international crime ring that uses the US/Canadian border, and an Indian reservation for its dirty deeds.

This time she’s in way over her head.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST CRAFTER AND AUTHOR JOANNA CAMPBELL SLAN

Anastasia's semi-organized craft closet
Did you make a New Year’s resolution to organize your craft supplies? Today national bestselling and award-winning author Joanna Campbell Slan has some tips to help you fulfill that resolution. Joanna recently released Handmade, Holiday, HomicideBook #10 in the mystery series featuring ace scrapbooker Kiki Lowenstein. She also writes the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series, featuring characters who recycle, upcycle, and repurpose items to turn trash into treasure. Learn more about Joanna and her books at her website

Organizing Your Stash
 “If you can’t find it, you might as well not own it,” says Kiki Lowenstein, the fictional protagonist of my Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series.

She’s right. As a crafter, I have tons and tons of supplies. When I lived in a big house, they were well-organized. However, since then I’ve downsized several times—and keeping stuff organized is a challenge. It is so irritating to search high and low for that perfect craft product that I know I have…somewhere. But it’s even worse when I buy craft supplies only to discover I’ve duplicated my stash!

Combing the Internet, I’ve come up with these great organizing tips. There’s nothing new here, but they are all ideas I tend to overlook when I’m in a hurry. I plan to use these in the order I’ve listed them, and I’d love to hear from you! What are you doing that works and what doesn’t?

Start by Seeing What You Have

Drag everything out. Choose a day when you won’t have distractions or interruptions. Spread things out, so you can really see what you’ve got.

Dump the packaging. Packaging is designed to protect the product and to take up a lot of room on a shelf. You’ll save valuable space by getting rid of all that excess. Plus, you’ll discover whether those ink pads are dry, the glue container is empty, and so on. (Tip: I wind ribbons around flat pieces of cardstock. Saves tons of space because they can be stacked on their side in a plastic file container!)

Sort by type of object. For example, put all the papers in one place, tools in another. Make the categories as broad as you can initially.

Toss the trash. Let’s face it, most of us crafters can turn straw into gold, but along the way we accumulate … well … garbage. Stuff that’s ruined and can’t be saved. Send it to the recycling or trash bin.

Give away duplicates. You really don’t need SIX pairs of scissors, do you? (I thought not.)

Set aside what you don’t want, don’t need, and realistically won’t use. Be ruthless! Corral all this stuff in a box that you can carry so it’s easy to donate to your locate schools or community center. (Tip: Why not organize a swap with other crafters?)

Store with an Eye to Functionality

Buy a labeler if you don’t own one. It’s the BEST investment you can make! I like the Dymo LetraTag series.

Measure twice. Too often we run out and buy containers, only to discover they won’t fit, won’t stack, and won’t hold what we need to store. Instead, take careful measurements, both of your space and your items.

Buy containers that match, in multiples. If you store things in matching containers, they’ll always look neat. (Tips: Square containers are more useful than round, as are containers with straight sides versus sides that curve under. Try stacking your new containers. Also, try prying off the lids. If they come off too easily or not easily enough, re-think them.)

Sort and label. Do the labels right away! It will save time in the long run. Label the front and the top of each container.

Group like items, separating small from large. I keep all my small bits of paper in plastic storage bags by color. When I need a small piece, that’s where I go first, rather than cutting into a big piece of paper. I also keep all my pieces of wood in one big plastic bin. Inside that bin, I use plastic baggies to keep the small pieces together.

Store according to use. If you rarely use something, don’t give it prime real estate. Pack it away in your garage or up in the attic.

Create a site map. Make a list of where you’ve tucked items that you use infrequently. List also those items that are grouped with other supplies. For example, you might want to put your chalks in with your colored pencils, but two labels would be confusing. So list your chalks on the site map.

Sure, it takes time to organize your crafts. But that time will pay you dividends by saving you time, money, and frustration!

Handmade, Holiday, Homicide,
a Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery
Super-crafter Kiki Lowenstein is cramming as much into the ho-ho-holiday season as she can. But Kiki’s ambitious plans come to a crashing halt when her student, Eudora Field, drops dead at the start of one of Kiki’s community center classes. An overeager security guard is convinced that Eudora didn’t make her transition without help. Now it’s up to Kiki to determine who was nice, and who was very, very naughty, indeed.


Friday, December 26, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR PATY JAGER

Today we sit down with author Paty Jager for a round of Q&A. Learn more about Paty and her books at her website and blog.

What genre/genres do you write?
historical and contemporary western romance, historical fantasy romance, action adventure with romantic elements, mystery

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
When my children started school I decided to take my interest in writing to another level. That’s when I wrote my first mystery. One that has yet to be published and may never. It was after that, I discovered Romance Writers of America and learned how to hone my writing and learned the business side of writing.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
It was nearly fifteen years from the time I started writing novels to when I had a western historical romance published by a small romance publisher.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m a hybrid author. I’ve had over ten books published with the above mentioned press. Since 2011 I’ve been getting my rights back to the books and self-publishing them as well as self-publishing new releases.

Where do you write?
Right now, until we get our house built, I write on a 2 foot by 4 foot table in our 200 sq. ft. cabin. When the house is finished, hopefully by New Years, I’ll have a wonderful office to write in. I’ve been gathering Native American decorations to help put me in the mood of my current mystery series, Shandra Higheagle Mystery.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
I like to write with music. The type depends on what I’m writing. I listened to Mayan, Incan, and Mexican while I wrote the Isabella Mumphrey Action Adventures. With my Native American historicals, I listened to Native American music. For the historical romance books, I listen to bluegrass music. My mysteries are written to Native American and jazz music.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
I would say about half of my plots and characters have been sparked by real life. Either from people I know or songs or the radio. My first contemporary western romance Perfectly Good Nanny started by listening to a talk show on the radio. The DJ was talking about how children had ordered items online and the parents didn’t know until the merchandise arrived at their door. I used this premise and had a young girl order a nanny over the internet without her single father knowing until the woman arrived. Then I placed them on a rural cattle ranch and used my ranching knowledge to show the day to day living of the characters. That is just one way I’ve used my real life in a book.

Describe your process for naming your character?
A process? I didn’t know there was one… Actually, if a character doesn’t pop into my head with a name already, I start jotting down what I do know about them, and then I pull out a baby name book, and look up names in the nationality I’ve given the character. As for secondary characters, their names just pop into my head as I’m including them in the stories.

Real settings or fictional towns?
I use both real and fictional towns. If I’m dealing with history, I like to show ghost towns before they became ghost towns. And if the research I’m doing for a book shows a unique thing about a place or it is needed to show something unique for the story, I use real settings of towns. My Action Adventure series was set in Guatemala, Mexico City, and Arizona. I’ve not been there, but I needed the real settings for the stories so I connected with people in those areas and did lots of research.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Quirkiest quirk…Isabella Mumphrey in the action adventure series has a “survival” vest. It’s a fishing vest with lots of pockets. She keeps items and her survival tin (an Altoids tin with a small signal mirror, 2 X-acto blades, 3 yds. of nylon string, 2 magnetized sewing needles, a Fresnel magnifier, safety pins, and 2 ft. of aluminum foil folded into a small square. Mini magnesium fire starter and tinder tabs. One inch candle, 2 quart-sized zip-lock bags, a glass vial of 20 water purification tablets, 50 ft. of braided fishing line on a sewing bobbin, plastic tube of hooks and swivels, 10 ft. of 24 gauge snare wire) in her vest pockets. 

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
Wow, my quirkiest quirk… I have to have hot chocolate in the morning like others have coffee or my day doesn’t go well.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
Nora Roberts’ The MacGregor Brides.  The characters in her series are so real. The books held my interest and I’ve read them many times. Characters are what make me remember a story and that’s what I try for when I write a story. Memorable characters.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
My do-over has to do with college and how naïve I was.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who talk during meetings or workshops when the speaker is talking.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Chocolate, a pen and paper to write down stories.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I was a receptionist for a male chauvinist doctor who told raunchy jokes.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I have several bests.  Books mentioned above by Nora Roberts and A Tarnished Knight by Kathy Otten.

Ocean or mountains?
That’s tough! I grew up in the mountains and love them, but I also love visiting the ocean.

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Definitely country! Grew up on 200 acres near a town of 200 people and now live on 280 acres in a community that only has a post office.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’m launching the Shandra Higheagle mystery series in January with Double Duplicity. Book two, Tarnished Remains comes out in February and book three, Deadly Aim will be released in March. After that I have the third book in the Halsey Homecoming releasing and another mystery and an Isabella Mumphrey Adventure book.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
You can preorder Double Duplicity now for the low price of $.99.

Double Duplicity
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she’d witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent. With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever, but just as determined to discover the truth.

Detective Ryan Greer prides himself on solving crimes and refuses to ignore a single clue, including Shandra Higheagle’s visions. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Ryan believes in them and believes in her. Together they discover the gallery owner wasn’t the respectable woman she’d portrayed. Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'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!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR JUNE GILLAM AND GOULASH RECIPE

June Gillam is a poet and novelist who lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills and teaches writing at a California community college. She loves to cook and sprinkle food and beverages into her Hillary Broome suspense novels, House of Cuts and House of Dads. Set partly in Ireland, the third in the series, House of Eire, will be released in 2015. Learn more about June and her books at her website.

Are you tired of turkey and ham after the holidays?

Consider this easy and delicious ground beef, macaroni, and tomato sauce dish—make ahead and it’s even better the next day. My Irish mother used to make, it and we called it goulash in our family. Years later, exploring my father’s Czechoslovakian heritage, I ate at Little Prague Café in San Francisco. The chef was kind enough to share his recipe for authentic Czech goulash. I was shocked to learn it contained mostly cubed pork, an equal amount of onions, and its red color came from plenty of paprika instead of tomato sauce.

In House of Dads, the second book in my Hillary Broome suspense series, old Aunt Helena cooks a mild goulash the same way my mother, did but Aunt Helena becomes offended when her recipe gets superseded by her niece Violet’s cooking up a different authentic Czech-style goulash. House of Dads reveals the impact of Violet’s dangerous alternative to my mother’s mild and delicious dish!

Tasty and Mild Goulash
Serves 4-6. Good to double for leftovers.

This takes an hour and a half to prepare from start to finish. You can add more or less of the ingredients, to taste.

Ingredients:
A half pound bacon
One yellow onion, chopped
One green bell pepper, chopped
One teaspoon garlic salt
One pound lean ground beef
Two tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste)
One cup of frozen or canned corn
Two or three 8 oz. cans Del Monte tomato sauce
One cup of water
One pound package of small elbow macaroni, cooked and drained (or add two extra cups of water and throw dry macaroni into the pot to cook along with the rest of the ingredients)

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. 

In the remaining grease, fry the onions and bell pepper, sprinkled with garlic salt. When the veggies are soft, add in ground beef. Add chili powder and fry on high heat until beef is browned.

Add corn and tomato sauce plus water and simmer for ten minutes.

Add cooked macaroni and bacon and simmer all for an hour, stirring very gently so as to not mash up the macaroni.

Serve with garlic bread and green salad. Yum! Great the next day.

House of Dads
When a powerful California developer collapses at a funeral, Hillary Broome's caught in a network of jealousy, greed and secrets that could topple financial institutions and destroy families. In the midst of deciding whether to elope with detective Ed Kiffin, she's forced to investigate suspected foul play from disgruntled homeowners, mortgage bankers, and family members spiraling downward into homicidal madness that puts other lives in danger, as well.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATERS WITH GUEST AUTHOR LIESE SHERWOOD-FABRE

Awarding-winning author Liese Sherwood-Fabre knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD she joined the federal government and had the opportunity to work and live internationally for more than fifteen years—in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Learn more about Liese and her books at her website.

How to Make an Ugly Christmas Sweater
Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and other events have become all the rage in recent years. While my own informal research indicates these sweaters have a history back to the 1930s, it wasn’t until 2001 when three men in Vancouver, Canada created the first “Ugly Christmas Sweater Party,” the outrageous fad truly took off.

Now, every December, more and more people are faced with coming up with one for some holiday event. You can now even run 5K in one!

The thing is, where do you get one? No worries, I have instructions on how to “make” an ugly Christmas sweater:

1. Knit one. My grandmother knitted and tried to teach me. I could never tell my “knit” from my “purl,” so this is not option for me, but there are instructions available for those more talented than I. A word of caution: if you are reading this blog and haven’t started the sweater yet, aim for next year.

2. Make one from a kit. Yes, Virginia, ugly Christmas sweater kits do exist! I found a display in my local grocery store along with a completed example.

3. Decorate a regular sweater. Similar to the kit approach, but pick out your own items from a local hobby store. Don’t forget the glue gun!

4. Order online. Entire websites dedicated to ugly Christmas sweaters abound and offer a variety of sizes and styles to suit all tastes.

5. Purchase one. Department stores cater to the upscale crowd, but if you’re not willing to pay top dollar, hit the local thrift stores as soon as they put out the holiday items. These one-of-a-kind sweaters go fast. I found a pink one complete with a fake fur collar a few years ago.

6. Outbid everyone. After seeing a spot on a morning news show about a bidding war for one particular sweater, I imagined what would happen if two people headed to the same party unknowingly tried to beat out the other in an online auction. Thus, Reindeer Wars was born.

Regardless of how you make your sweater, the fun is in the kitsch: extra bling, tacky trim, and even battery-operated parts. So get your ugly on and have a happy holiday season!

Reindeer Wars
Tina has a tendency to go a little overboard when decorating for the holidays, but Brian decides her skills are just what he needs to get into the Christmas spirit. Can this budding relationship survive when they find themselves in a knock-down-drag-out competition to win the office’s “most outrageous holiday sweater?”

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Friday, December 19, 2014

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR MAGGIE LE PAGE

Maggie Le Page lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her partner and two children. Coming from a background in finance and education, writing wasn’t on her agenda until she made the fatal comment, “I could write something like that.” She is far less naïve about writing these days. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

In celebration of the release of The Trouble With Dying, Maggie is offering a  digital copy of the book to one lucky commenter. Tell us if you’ve ever had a near death or out-of-body experience, or a moment of clairvoyancy or premonition and what happened. But please leave your email address in your comment. Otherwise, we have no way of contacting you if you win.

I love this time of year.  The decorations, the preparations, the excitement in the air... For me, Christmas is synonymous with family—and a whole raft of traditions we’ve built up over the years.

But a couple of Christmases ago I looked around and wondered: what would it be like if I suddenly lost it all? What if I woke up and couldn’t remember my family, or our Christmas traditions, or even my own personality? It got me thinking. So, of course, I did what any self-respecting writer would do and forced a character into that situation, then waited to see what would happen.

What happened is The Trouble With Dying, which has just been released.

The Trouble With Dying starts when Faith Carson wakes up to find herself in a coma. Obviously I use the term ‘wakes up’ loosely. She doesn’t remember her past, doesn’t know her name, and she has way more problematic issues than getting ready for Christmas.

Issues like...how to wake up. How to remember what happened. How to make sure she doesn’t wind up dead. (Sorry, can’t give too much away. Oh, okay. I’ll give you a hint in the blurb below...)

While writing Faith’s story I spoke to a range of people who’d had near death and out-of-body experiences. And the one thing that stood out for me was that most of these people were able to tell me things they’d heard and seen while unconscious (even flatlining); things that were later confirmed as correct by medical staff. They were things that could not be explained away as guesswork or imagination.

Which was great news for me! It added credence to The Trouble With Dying’s premise.

My second piece of great news was learning that comas don’t necessarily follow a set pattern or timeframe to recovery. Comas are specific to each person’s circumstances. From a storytelling perspective, this was pure gold. The Trouble With Dying was on its way.

All it needed was a few of my favourite angles—love, conflict, clairvoyance, skulduggery, and the age-old life after death question—and I had a novel even my partner wanted to read! Possibly a bit heavier on suspense than your standard chick lit read, but sometimes the characters tell the writer how it needs to be written rather than the other way round. (Shrugs.) I’m okay with that.

And now The Trouble With Dying is out! It’s been released just in time for another Christmas, one where, thankfully, I remember everything that’s special to me and am grateful for it all.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your mid-winter festivities (or mid-summer if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere like me) be relaxing and full of unforgettable memories.

The Trouble With Dying
When Faith Carson wakes up on a hospital ceiling looking down on her body in a coma, it’s a bad start to the week. A very bad start. She has no idea who she is or how she got there or why, and the biggest mystery of all is why she married the schmuck who wants her ventilator switched off.

As if that’s not enough, Faith has a dead gran haunting her, a young daughter missing her, and one devilishly delicious man making her wish she could have a second chance at life. And maybe she can, if she finds a way back into her body and wakes up by Friday. But if she doesn’t, this will be her last bad week—ever.

Nate Sutherland decided long ago he’d settle for friendship if he couldn’t have Faith’s heart. But now, as she nears death, he’s going to have to listen to his feelings in a whole new way—and act. Because if he doesn’t, this week will be the worst damn week of his life. He’ll lose everything he’s ever loved.