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, December 31, 2015

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 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

HEALTHY LIVING--GUEST AUTHOR AMY SHOJAI, SERVICE DOGS & #PTSD

Photo Used With Permission: Service dog training for German Shepherd, image by domaco/DepositPhotos.com 
Amy Shojai is a nationally known authority on pet care and behavior, a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 30 nonfiction pet books. She also writes thrillers with bite!—including the dog-viewpoint thrillers Lost and Found, Hide and Seek, and Show and Tell. Learn more about Amy and her books at her website and blog.

Show and Tell, PTSD, & Pet-centric Characters
I’m a longtime reader and lover of all-things-pets and knew that dogs (and cats) would be part of my thriller series. But as a “pet journalist,” I also wanted to enlighten readers, not only entertain them. In Show and Tell, my two main characters share this burden and are a reflection of people and pets that I know.

Animal behaviorist September Day continues to suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) Many of us are very aware that military personnel face challenges from the experiences they’ve encountered in service to their country. In fact, anyone can develop debilitating stress from a past or ongoing traumatic experience. September’s flashbacks and panic attacks arise from an abusive relationship in her past. Since then, she’s been stalked, kidnapped by the abuser, and nearly burned to death when he tried to kill her.

In response, September turned her house into a fortress, shut herself off from the world, and became frozen by fear and unwilling to risk new relationships. September only begins to heal through working with animals and falls in love with Shadow, a German Shepherd who becomes her service dog.

Through Shadow’s viewpoint chapters, I wanted to showcase the fact that service dogs also suffer emotional challenges and even burnout. In real life, military dogs can also suffer from PTSD, and Shadow has been through so much, he’s also emotionally damaged. He feels responsible for keeping September safe. It’s “a good-dog’s job” to search through the house to be sure it’s safe, to become an 80-pound weight to hold September down until her panic fades, and to recognize and alert September prior to a flashback. But Shadow worries all the time that he might fail and lose his person forever—and be alone.

September’s mother is embarrassed by the panic attacks, and believes September just needs to toughen up. Outsiders raise eyebrows when Shadow acts like a dog rather than their pooch-perfect ideal, and are surprised there is no “service dog test/license” or tag/harness identification requirement. When September’s autistic nephew reappears, Shadow worries he’ll lose September and be returned to “his-boy.”

Shadow’s presence reduces September’s PTSD to manageable levels, and his early warnings of imminent episodes or danger boost her confidence. In turn, Shadow relies on September for the love and family he’s always craved. They are each other’s support, chosen family, and share an almost mystical connection. September refers to Shadow as her “heart.”

And then an intruder breaks into September’s house . . .

Show and Tell
An animal behaviorist and her service dog race a deadly storm to expose a treacherous secret others will kill to protect.

A blackmailer returns to sell a deadly cure.
A mother’s denial dooms millions of children.
And a dog shows true loyalty…when he runs away.

With her stalker finally caught, animal behaviorist September Day’s PTSD has abated and she’s begun to trust again. She dares to hope Detective Jeff Combs might become more than a friend, until his investigation into a dogfighting ring leaves her reeling.

Shadow wrestles his own demons. A German Shepherd autism service dog before losing his-boy to a health crises, Shadow found love and his true purpose working with September. Now his-boy is back—but changed—and Shadow fears he’ll be forced to choose.

When a desperate mom demands help, and Combs’s son disappears with his dog, September and Shadow must find the children before a devastating storm hits. But the children have a secret plan of their own. Only when September shows true courage, and a good-dog tells the truth, can they find their way home again.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--VICTORIAN CURRANT CAKE

The Victorians gave us many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas. This Victorian-inspired sweet bread, featured in Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing, is a perfect complement to your holiday dinner, whether you’re serving ham, turkey, or a beef roast.

Victorian Currant Bread
(adapted by author Barbara Monajem from a recipe featured in Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861.) 

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1-1/4 cups milk
1-1/2 cups currants
1/3 cup diced candied lemon peel (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and mix well. Add the currants and lemon peel and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Fill a greased loaf pan about 2/3 full and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out more or less clean.

Old-fashioned cookbooks don’t give specific information about pan sizes. This recipe made too much batter for one loaf pan. The remaining batter can be poured into a muffin tin or mini-loaf pans, but reduce bake time to 20–25 minutes.

Bake, Love, Write: 105 Authors Share Dessert Recipes and Advice on Love and Writing
An Amazon bestselling cookbook

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

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Monday, December 28, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR LEA WAIT AND THE #NEEDLEPOINT OF MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS

The emblem of Mary, Queen of Scots
Today we’re happy to have back Maine author Lea Wait who writes the Mainely Needlepoint Mysteries and the Shadows Antique Print Mysteries, as well as nineteenth century Maine-set historical novels for young people. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website

When I started writing the Mainely Needlepoint mystery series two years ago, one of the first things I learned was that Mary, Queen of Scots, had been a famous needlepointer. I’d grown up hearing stories about Mary: my grandmother had come from Edinburgh, where her family (the Stewarts/Stuarts) had lived for generations. She’d always believed Queen Mary was somehow related to us. (Our family home was just down the street from Hollyrood Castle.) So, of course, I started reading about Mary’s needlepoint.

I’d known castle walls were warmed by woven tapestries. But I learned that some were stitched by professional embroiders (most of them men) who lived and worked in castles. The clothing of noble ladies was also embroidered, as were bed hangings, curtains, valences, pillows and cushions, panels, purses ... almost any cloth that could be decorated. Wealthy and noble women also did needlepoint, although on a smaller scale.

Scotland-born Mary was sent to France when she was five, destined to be the bride of Francis, the Dauphin. She and her ladies learned needlework at the French court from her future mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici. One of the tasks of the court embroiders was to draw designs on canvas, silk or satin, for the noble women to embroider.

As an antique print dealer, I was fascinated to learn that the designs of flowers, birds and animals the women embroidered were copied from natural history engravings of the period.

Mary did marry Francis when she was sixteen and briefly was Queen of France, but Francis died only a year after their wedding. When she returned to Scotland to become Queen of the Scots, she brought with her a few servants from her French household – including two embroiders. Their work was needed in the cold stone Scottish castles.

Mary herself did needlepoint all of her life, but she is best known for the work she did during her long years of captivity. (Her cousin, Elizabeth of England, fearing Mary would act on her claim to the English throne, had her isolated in an English nobleman’s home.) Mary and the wife of her “host” in England, Bess Hardwick, spent hours each day embroidering. It was one of Mary’s few amusements.

Once she even covered a red satin skirt with embroidery of flowers as a gift for her cousin Elizabeth, hoping it would soften the queen’s heart. She embroidered gifts for friends. And before she was executed, she arranged for her needlework to be distributed among her friends and family.

In my latest book, Thread and Gone, I’ve managed to connect Mary’s needlepoint to the coast of Maine. How? To find out, you’ll have to read the book! (There’s a link to a free prequel on my website, www.leawait.com)

And if you want to know more about Mary’s needlework, I suggest Margaret Swain’s The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots, Santina Levey’s An Elizabethan Inheritance: The Hardwick Hall Textiles, or George Wingfield Digby’s Elizabethan Embroidery.

Thread and Gone
When a priceless antique is stolen, murder unravels the peaceful seaside town of Haven Harbor, Maine. . .

Angie Curtis and her fellow Mainely Needlepointers know how to enjoy their holidays. But nothing grabs their attention like tying up loose threads. So when Mary Clough drops in on the group's Fourth of July supper with a question about an antique needlepoint she's discovered in her family attic, Angie and her ravelers are happy to look into the matter.

Angie's best guess is that the mystery piece may have been stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots, famous not just for losing her head, but also for her needlepointing. If Angie's right, the piece would be extremely valuable. For safekeeping, Angie turns the piece over to her family lawyer, who places it in a safe in her office. But when the lawyer is found dead with the safe open and ransacked, the real mystery begins. . .

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

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!"

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

HEALTHY LIVING--PREVENTING HOLIDAY COLDS AND FLU

These cute holiday penguin guest towels could be harboring unwanted guests.
The holidays are upon us, and that means many of us are hosting family and friends in the coming days. It also means that it’s cold and flu season. Unless you’re a hermit who has been holed up in a cabin on top of a mountain or living in a cave somewhere without wi-fi, TV, or a daily newspaper, you know the importance of getting a flu shot and washing your hands well to ward off an onslaught of some nasty germs that want to invade our bodies this time of year. However, there are other steps you should take to avoid the spread of germs.

Even if you’re somewhat vigilant about washing your hands (really, how many of us actually scrub for the time it takes us to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, the suggested length of time for hand-washing?) you probably won’t kill every speck of e. coli or other illness-causing bacteria. Did you know those teeny-tiny specks of bacteria deposit themselves on your towels when you dry your hands?

Not only should you change your hand towels every day or two, it’s a good idea to assign a separate hand towel to each member of the family to prevent the spread of illness. Let each family member choose a color and stress the importance of them only using their own towel.

In addition, as pretty as your powder room holiday guest towels are, swap them out for disposable hand towels when you’re expecting guests. You never know what bugs your family and friends are incubating, and you don’t want them depositing unwanted gifts in your home.

Also, ditch the bar soap. Those cute snowflake and Christmas tree-shaped guest soaps you lovingly placed in a holiday dish on your powder room sink will also become a resting place for germs. Your best bet is to exchange the pretty soaps for a no-touch liquid soap dispenser.

Follow these simple rules, and you could avoid a lot of post-holiday coughing and sneezing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR BETTY GORDON

After careers as a dance instructor, sculptor, and legal assistant, Betty Gordon followed her dream to write books that would entertain and challenge readers. Learn more about Betty and her books at her website.

I greet the Christmas holiday season with the same delight as the young and the young at heart. I enjoy everything about these festive days: shopping, decorating, cooking, looking at neighboring Christmas lights, and visiting with family and friends.

Christmas is truly magical for me and filled with childhood memories: putting cookies and milk out for Santa, quietly sneaking into the living room by the Christmas tree to catch a glimpse of the jolly old man in the red suit, and baking cookies with my mother and grandmother, which inspired “The Magic Apron.”

I was also motivated to write this short story collection because of a love for the elderly who are lonely and need simple contacts from their loved ones (“The Phone Call”), a fondness for clowns who bring smiles and laughter (“Santa’s Clown”), a love of history and the mysteries of what is possible in this life and beyond (“Christmas Past: A Forgotten Bride”), the mysteries of a pirate ship and the mystical union of two lovers (“Eternity”).

Holiday Meatball Appetizer

8 oz. can pineapple tidbits (drained)
1 jar (5 oz) pineapple preserves
1 small jar honey dijon mustard
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed tight)
1 tsp. curry (optional)
1 pkg. frozen Italian meatballs

Place first five ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil.

Place meatballs in slow cooker. Pour the boiled mixture on top of meatballs. Cook 4 hours on High, stirring only twice.

The Magic of Christmas
This is a collection of five stories—suspense, fantasy, paranormal, and romance—which offer surprising twists and turns, embracing discoveries, hopes, and love. The include:

"The Phone Call"—One day and one minute in the life of Agnes Riley. Chicago winters can be cold and lonely for those in their twilight years. Case in point, ninety-one year old Agnes Riley.

"The Magic Apron"—A remarkable granny, a magic apron, and a tiny fairy guide a family toward forgiveness and unite them with love.

"Santa’s Clown"—Samantha covers her face with paint, wears a seductive sequined costume, pokes fun at sadness and creates laughter, but not everyone enjoys her antics in this tale that celebrates understanding and acceptance.

"Christmas Past, A Forgotten Bride"—A Christmas tradition and a young woman’s search for spirits lead to a story filled with fear, love lost, and mystical discoveries.

"Eternity"—Hurricane devastation, the Gulf of Mexico, a pirate ship, and a magical meeting between a handsome man and beautiful woman bring this story to life in an unexpected way.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--BIRDHOUSES

The other day I was out doing some last-minute holiday shopping when I happened to walk past a display of Christmas ornaments. The miniature birdhouse shown above caught my eye, and inspiration struck.

Like so many of you, I’m going to have family staying with me over the holidays. I have a long list of places I plan to take my family while they’re here, but on those days when we’re not off on some adventure, I don’t want the kids camped out in front of the TV for hours at a time. Of course, we can bake, but we can also craft.

So I headed over to my local craft store and purchased several unpainted wooded birdhouses, one for each child, and a few balls of jute twine. When I returned home, I grabbed a few pinecones and twigs from the yard and brought them inside to dry out. I already have plenty of outdoor paint left over from when we last painted our house, but outdoor paint can also be purchased at craft stores. The kids will have a blast making birdhouses, and they’ll be able to take them home with them and hang them up in their yard.

Many wooden birdhouses come with hangers. If the ones you purchase don’t, screw an eyehook into the top center of the roof before beginning. Attach wire for hanging after the birdhouse is completed.

Next, have the children give the birdhouse a coat of primer. Allow the primer to dry, then have them paint a base color coat. Older children will be able to glue the jute to the birdhouses. Make sure you have them use waterproof glue. For younger children, you might want to let them paint their birdhouses in different colors. Jute or twigs can be glued on for decoration afterwards.

For the roofs, break the scales off the pinecones and glue them in rows, beginning at the bottom of each eave and working in slightly overlapping rows toward the top. An alternative is to glue on rows of twigs or a combination of jute and twigs.

Friday, December 18, 2015

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR MELISSA KEIR

Melissa Keir has always wanted to be an author when she wasn’t hoping for a career as a race car driver. Along with being an author, Melissa is a wife and mother, an elementary school teacher, a movie reviewer, and the owner of a publishing company. Her home blends two families and is a lot like the Brady Bunch, without Alice. Learn more about Melissa at her website and blog.

Have Laptop Will Travel…

Laptops are my favorite writing tool. If I were to put a sticker on my laptop from each of the many destination sites it has been, the poor thing would be covered. I love that I can take my laptop and write anywhere. My favorite place to write (and where I’m writing tonight) is my bed. The king-sized bed has room enough for me to layback and type while my two doggies curl up at my feet. They are always around when I’m writing and keep me company. Even hubby likes to curl up with a book in bed while I write.

My laptop has allowed me to write on my honeymoon in Vegas, in the camper near the Michigan city of Cheboygan, where I enjoyed watching the ducks on the water and to my own living room couch. The only necessity is that I have Internet. So sometimes, I’m hanging out in a parking lot of the nearest library while I read and answer emails or post information on my blog. When I don’t have Internet…watch out! My darling hubby will tell you, I’m not the nicest person then!

Recently, I decided to stop teaching full time so that I would have more time for writing and the other work I do (publishing, radio movie reviews). I was finding that the downside of “have laptop will travel” is that I was grading papers during a family dinner at a restaurant, typing away during Hors d'oeuvres at my in-laws’ house and using every minute of my lunch to post and comment on blogs. There wasn’t time for my family or even myself.

Thankfully, I’ve found a way to balance my time on the computer.

Do you also use your phone or computer all the time? How do you step away from your computer to allow for time with family and friends?

Cowboys Forever
Six Women—Six Cowboys Forever
Six Cowboy Love Stories by the best-selling authors who brought you Cowboy Up 1&2

Claiming a Cowboy’s Heart by Melissa Keir
Even broken souls deserve a second chance at love…
Elementary Teacher, Michelle Alt’s faced untold trials in her life, yet she continues to do what’s right to make things better for the next generation.

Cowboy Veterinarian, Preston Hall has lost everything in order to follow his dreams and return to his grandfather’s small town practice.

These two broken souls recognize each other’s pain and come together to heal, but fear and misunderstandings send their blossoming relationship into a tailspin. Will they be able to put aside their pain to find the love of a lifetime?


Marry Me Again, Cowboy by Allison Merritt
An unlikely match made in Texas...

Greer Daily is happy running the ranch she inherited from her father until a resort opens up next door and unruly guests terrorize her livestock and destroy her fences. After she confronts two of them and the situation gets sticky, she finds herself venting her fury on sexy resort owner Guy Carter. But the smooth-talking cowboy isn't getting out of this mess easily. She wants reparations for her trouble.

Guy's first initial meeting with Greer could've gone better, but he hopes to placate her fiery temper by making amends for the fences. When a judge calls them out for being irresponsible and self-absorbed, then orders them to marry, Guy's whole world is upended. Their choices: Six months of marriage or a month of jail time. How bad can a few months with the queen of the cattle range be? Heaven if he can get her to bend, hell if she maintains her starchier than pressed jeans attitude.

Just as something deeper than friendship blossoms between them, Guy's personal assistant throws a wrench into the marriage of inconvenience. If Greer and Guy can't overcome that particular pothole, they have more to lose than their freedom--a lifetime of love.

Cowboy Apocalypse by Leslie Garcia
Can a former Marine and a Hollywood diva facing apocalyptic changes in their lives salvage new beginnings together?

When Stone Winters joined the Marines, he always meant to come home. A woman’s impossible dream kept him away so long that he doesn’t think there’s anything left—especially not when he meets Price Adams, a film star with another impossible dream. He just doesn’t think he’s up for that again.

Price Adams traded in a childhood on her grandparents’ ranch for Hollywood glitz in spite of being a teenage mother. Torn between the stardom she won and full-time custody of her daughter, she accepts one last role—in Cowboy Apocalypse, an inane movie about zombies being filmed on ranches around deep south Texas. Burned by men more times than she can remember, Price doesn’t want a man in her life—especially not one who looks down on her career and the courage she needs to let it all go.

Rock-n-Roll Cowboy by Autumn Piper
Never judge a rock band by its cover song.
A cowboy leading a rock band? Logan gets an earful from his dad every time he leaves the house to perform. His rock persona destroys his ranching cred with the old-timers, and sticking to the cowboy life instead of running off to Hollywood cost him his girlfriend. Yet, he dreams of success in both worlds, and he’s determined to find a way.

Melody agrees to run a publicity campaign for a local rock band, fully immune to the sexy lead singer’s magnetism—she had childhood experience with a rocker’s absences. Still, Logan is charming, and vulnerable. And persistent…

Logan can tell Melody’s PR plan is his passport to popularity. He has to keep his hands off her, or he just might blow his one shot at making it big.

A Cowboy's Princess by Sara Walter Ellwood
Oil and water don't mix...neither does Texas oil royalty and an ex-Navy SEAL turned rodeo cowboy until danger forces them together.

All retired Navy SEAL turned rodeo cowboy Justin Tanner wants is to get to his next rodeo when a vision in a pair of tight fitting jeans walks up to him and hands him his deepest desire on a silver platter—the deed to his father’s ranch, land her grandfather had swindled him out of.

Lacey Mackenzie is true Texas oil royalty, but when her grandfather dies and leaves her the keys to the kingdom, she finds herself with more enemies than friends and only Justin’s name as the one who can protect her, but can he after she discovers only the oil under his promised ranch can save her company. When her enemies attack, he’s duty bound to save her, but can he give her the one thing she wants after a hot night of passion—his heart?

Ride, Cowboy, Ride by D’Ann Lindun
Can they find freedom together?
A locked up heart.

After imprisoned in a federal penitentiary for ten years over a woman's betrayal, the last thing Lyle Landry is looking for is love.  A quick tumble?  Sure.  A cold beer?  Absolutely.  And then he's on to the rodeo circuit to reclaim his title.

Broke, busted and blue.

After her ex-husband leaves her high, dry and dead broke, another man isn’t high on Sarah Reed’s list. Especially a sexy ex-con who makes it perfectly clear he’s not interested in more than a one night stand. But his determination to make something out of himself impresses her more than she wants to admit, and she falls hard for the cowboy.

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