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, March 30, 2017


Suzanne Stengl has been telling stories since she was a child. Then, it was stories about fairies and mermaids, told to her sisters when they were supposed to be sleeping. As a teenager, she wrote long diary entries and short pieces of fiction that no one ever read. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at her website. Today Suzanne is being interviewed down in the Galapagos

Hello everyone. I’m American Woman travel editor Serena Brower and I’m here with Suzanne Stengl, the author of light paranormal cozy mystery novella The Ghost and Christie McFee.

I found Suzanne in the little village of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristóbal in the Galapagos Islands. Or as they say here, Las Islas Galápagos.

We’re enjoying some ice tea in an open air restaurant beside the ocean and watching the sea lions lazing on the beach.

SB: I’m glad to finally meet you, Suzanne. Do you have time for a few questions about your book, The Ghost and Christie McFee?

Suzanne: (pouring a pitcher of water over her head…) I have all the time in the world.

SB: It’s really hot here, isn’t it?

Suzanne: It sure is. Forty-five degrees Celsius. In the shade.

SB: Whoa. (fanning herself) What’s that in Fahrenheit?

Suzanne: You don’t want to know.

SB: I understand you have some pretty authentic details about scuba diving in your book?

Suzanne: Yes, authentic. I’ve experienced every one of them.

SB: I’m beginning to understand how hot it would be wearing a 7 mil neoprene wet suit in this heat. Do you really need a wet suit? The water doesn’t look that cold.

Suzanne: The water temperature here ranges from 64 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface, depending on the season. Of course it gets colder as you go deeper. So you need a wet suit.

SB: If it’s as low as 64 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s similar to the temperature of Lost Lake, isn’t that right?

Suzanne: Yes, it’s similar. And in both places, in a wet suit, the temperature is perfect – once you’re underwater. It’s beautiful. (She looks out at the ocean.) There’s a wreck right here, in the harbor.

SB: A wreck?

Suzanne: A sunken ship. It makes an artificial reef. A place for algae to grow and invertebrates like barnacles and corals and oysters. They provide food for the smaller fish, and then the smaller fish in turn provide food for the larger fish.

SB: (fanning herself) I don’t know how the tourists can stand wearing a wet suit until they get in the water.

Suzanne: Most tourists live aboard boats and dive from them. Their sleeping quarters are air-conditioned. (She dumps another pitcher of water over her head.)

SB: Do the staff care about you doing that?

Suzanne: No, they’re used to me.

(The waitress brings another pitcher of water, and another pitcher of ice tea, and sets them on the table.)

Suzanne: Muchas gracias.

SB: OK, let’s talk about your book. The opening scene in The Ghost and Christie McFee has your heroine on a dive boat. And she’s seasick. Have you personally experienced that?

Suzanne: I sure have. We did an 8-day tour aboard the Yolita here, in the inner islands, with a group of 16 passengers and 5 crew. Every one of the passengers got sick on the first day. Including Rolf.

SB: Rolf is your husband?

Suzanne: Yes, he is. He’s a traveler.

SB: You’re quite the traveler too, I must say.

Suzanne: No, I’m not. I’m a tourist. There’s a difference.

SB: Then, you’re quite the tourist.

Suzanne: I’m the tourist from hell. (She dumps more water over her head.) I should have known I’d get seasick, since I also get carsick, and bus sick, and avoid roller coasters. And like I said, everyone got sick for a day. But since I’m so good at being seasick, I did it for the full eight days.

SB: That must have been horrible!

Suzanne: Parts of it. Parts of it were great. The food was excellent. Although it would have been even better if I hadn’t been so nauseous. And the passengers aboard the Yolita were incredible. Mostly young travelers, all interesting people. The sixteen of us would sit around the big table for meals. For the first few days, French was the default language and then we changed out a few passengers and the default language became English. We had Italian, Swiss, British, Swedes, one guy from California, and the French.
Blue-Footed Booby
Every day we walked different trails on different islands and saw the endemic plants and animals.

It was a mixed blessing, being on shore. No seasickness, but the heat was extreme. For me, anyway. Before I left the boat, I’d soak my shirt so I could be cool for a time. At the end of the hike, I’d walk into the ocean. I love my Tilley hat . . . because I can dip it in the water and douse my head, when it isn’t possible to jump in completely.

SB: When would it not be possible to jump in completely?

Suzanne: If it was a beach that the sea lions had claimed. They can be territorial.
SB: (glances uneasily at the sea lion occupying the bench in front of her.)

Suzanne: I don’t know why they love those benches, but they do.

SB: Okaaay . . . So, you slept aboard the boat? Weren’t you seasick while you were trying to sleep?

Suzanne: Yes. Some nights, when we were making a long open water crossing between islands, it was especially rough. Many of us would lie on the sundeck and watch the stars.

SB: And that helped the seasickness?

Suzanne: Yes. The stars don’t move so they are a reference point. It’s like focusing on the horizon in the daylight. And it was fun, lying there with everyone. Kind of like a pajama party.

SB: Hmmm. But with being so seasick, weren’t you afraid you’d be sick while you were diving? That couldn’t be good.

Suzanne: It’s a real leap of faith, for someone like me – a non-adventurous tourist – to sit in a zodiac fully loaded with dive tank, 7 mil neoprene and 13 pounds of weights. And feeling nauseous. If you throw up underwater, it’s important to keep the regulator in your mouth.

SB: ewww.

Suzanne: Otherwise, you’ll drown. But I learned to deep breathe until we tipped over the side. And then all of a sudden, I was underwater and no longer rocking and I was out of the heat. My head was instantly clear and, for about 30 to 40 minutes, life was normal. At least, it was normal for my head and my stomach. The rest of the world was not normal.

SB: Not normal?

Suzanne: No, it was amazing. Sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, sharks, rainbows of fish. And when we weren’t diving, we were snorkeling. Snorkeling with the little penguins is something I will remember forever.

SB: Too bad you can’t forget about this heat. Can you pass me that water jug?

Suzanne: Sure. Help yourself.

SB: (dumping water over her head) I’m glad it’s not this hot in Bandit Creek.

Suzanne: ¡Yo también!

SB: Does your heroine Christie McFee get over her nausea and learn to love diving?

Suzanne: You’ve just read the first chapter so far, right?

SB: Yes.

Suzanne: Then you’ll find out in chapter two. More ice tea?

SB: Please!

The Ghost and Christie McFee
A new diver, an underwater ghost town, two ghosts—

Even though Lost Lake is renowned for claiming the lives of divers searching for the legendary gold buried in its depths, Christie McFee is determined to explore the Lake’s underwater ghost town. And when a ghost from the past convinces her to join the treasure hunt, she throws her usual caution overboard. 

Sure that the talk of ghosts is strictly for tourists, Gaven St. Michel, local Divemaster, is confident he can keep Christie’s lovely body from being added to the Lake’s count—until another ghost appears amid the watery graves in Bandit Creek. 

Will Gaven be able to protect Christie as she drifts deeper into the murkiness of this unsolved mystery from long ago?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Last week we talked about natural beauty treatmentsusing coffee grounds. Today we’ve got some household uses for those same used grounds.

Many people recycle their used coffee grounds by dumping them onto their composting pile. Coffee grounds make excellent “green” matter because they’re rich in nitrogen. In addition, the coffee attracts beneficial worms. However, there are quite a few other uses for those coffee grounds once you’ve gotten your daily (or in my case, hourly) caffeine fix.

You can make fertilizer with used coffee grounds. The coffee adds nitrogen and potassium to the soil and boosts magnesium to help keep plants healthy. Simply mix the grounds with grass clippings or brown leaves and spread the mixture around your plants. You’ll need to add lime or wood ash to the mix to encourage blooms and fruit, though, because without it your fertilizer will lack calcium and phosphorous.

If you just need to lower the pH levels in your soil for hydrangeas, azaleas, and rhododendron bushes, sprinkle used grounds around the base of the plants.

If you don’t like using salt to keep from slipping on your icy steps, sidewalk, or driveway and have found kitty litter creates too much of a mess, try substituting used coffee grounds.

Got furniture scratches and nicks? Dip a Q-Tip into wet grounds and dab to hide the marks.

Before you clean the ashes out of your fireplace, cover them with damp grounds. This will minimize the ash dust created when you sweep out the hearth.

Used coffee grounds will absorb odors in your refrigerator and freezer in much the same way as baking soda. Place a small open container of used grounds in the back of your fridge. Swap out with newer used grounds once a month.

Coffee grounds are a natural abrasive. Replace harsh chemicals with used coffee grounds to scour away stuck-on food from dishes, pots, and counters.

Want an antique look for cloth, paper, needlework or other arts and craft projects? Wet coffee grounds are an excellent natural dye. Add water to the grounds and soak the material until the desired shade is achieved.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Anyone who has read about me in Lois Winston’s Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series knows that I love cupcakes and muffins—both baking them and eating them. As the food editor at American Woman magazine, where Anastasia and I work, I not only bake up my own confections, but I get to sample ones from various bakeries and food companies across the country, all looking for a thumbs-up mention in the magazine. (Check out the various flavors of the adult-only liqueur cupcakes in Decoupage Can BeDeadly.)

As you might imagine, I have an extensive collection of cookbooks. (Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a cookbookaholic.) Today I thought I’d share with you my latest purchase, The Sprinkles Baking Book: 100 Secret Recipes from Candace's Kitchen by Candace Nelson.

For those of you who don’t recognize the author’s name, pastry chef Candace Nelson was the founder of Sprinkles, the very first cupcakes-only bakery, opened in 2005. She’s also been a judge on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. (Watching baking shows is high on my list of guilty pleasures.)

However, I've found this baking book too special to shelve with the rest of my collection. It’s not only filled with wonderful recipes for all sorts of delectable cupcakes, muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, and other desserts, it’s part art book due to the wonderful photographic images. In my home it now resides in a place of honor on my coffee table, easily within reach for perusing whenever the urge strikes.

In The Sprinkles Baking Book: 100 Secret Recipes from Candace's Kitchen, which is also Candace’s first cookbook, you’ll not only find 100 of her favorite recipes, including 50 Sprinkles cupcake recipes, she’s even created a few new cupcakes especially for this book. My favorite is the crème brûlée. And if all that weren’t enough, there are even some guest recipes from various Sprinkles fans such as Barbara Streisand, Reese Witherspoon, and Julia Roberts.

Buy Links

Monday, March 27, 2017


Spring is finally here! Are your crocuses and daffodils blooming yet? Have you picked up your pansies at the gardening center and freshened up your flower beds? If you live in a part of the country where winter still has it’s cold grip on you, why not curl up on the couch and celebrate spring vicariously with some cross stitched pansies? This 3” x 3” design (when stitched on 14-count fabric) will help you forget all that snow and bitter temps. And just maybe, by the time you finish stitching it, spring will have arrived in your neck of the woods.

Happy stitching!

Friday, March 24, 2017


Cj petterson is the pen name of Marilyn A. Johnston whose publication credits include two contemporary romantic suspense novels as well as nonfiction and fiction short stories that have appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a mystery series. Today cj sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about her at the Lyrical Pens blog. 

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?  
After I retired from Chrysler in 2001. My job required a lot of travel and long hours, and when I retired, I had the time to do something else. I took a class at the University of South Alabama in 2003 called “Storming the Walls of the Publishing Industry,” got positive feedback on the first seven pages I wrote, and was hooked on learning as much as I could to scale those walls. Those seven pages became the start of my second novel that was published in 2015.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? 
My first three short-story memoirs were published in 2008: “Don’t Ride the Clutch” in Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women, “The Blue-Eyed Doll” in Christmas is a Season 2008, and “Dancing with Daddy” in Christmas Through a Child’s Eyes.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?  
I am traditionally published so far, but looking into indie publishing for the novella I’m working on.

Where do you write? 
My Dell computer is in a bedroom I converted to an office that I share with my photographer son and his Apple computer and a slew of other equipment and furniture.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?  
I like to listen to music without lyrics. My son likes the white noise of a fan so I have both going on when I write.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?  
About fifty-fifty. There is a part of me, real or wished-for, and/or my personal adventures in all of my female protagonists. That’s especially true in one of my romantic suspense novels. I once spent five-and-a-half days whitewater rafting in Colorado and a year later spent two days driving a doors-off, stick-shift Wrangler on a Jeep Jamboree off-road adventure in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The protagonist in my romantic suspense novel Choosing Carter enjoys some of these same adventures.

Describe your process for naming your character? 
That’s a challenge always. I read newspapers, magazine, obits, and do Google searches, but I would never use a complete name from anything I’ve read. I want character names to reflect their nationality or where they live. Because I correlate words and names as musical, my character names have a rhythm. The names are, hopefully, a bit unique even if they do, I am sure, really belong to somebody somewhere…Mirabel Campbell. Bryn McKay. Carter Danielson. Anders Olsson.

Real settings or fictional towns?  
I have to say both, but even the fictional ones are based on real places I’ve been to or lived in. My short story, “Bad Day at Round Rock,” is a historical fiction piece based on real events that took place in 1878 in the real cow town of Round Rock, Texas.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
I think of quirky old Talley Munroe, the unwashed prospector in “Bad Day at Round Rock,” who dreams of finding a hidden cache of stolen gold then loses both his life and the gold when he finds it.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
I used to do all my ironing wearing high heels, but I do very little ironing now and I’m wearing aerobic trainers. However, I still love to hang my laundry out to dry on the clothes lines outside my laundry room.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I would love to have written Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, because I think it’s the ultimate romance novel.

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? 
I wish I had started college in my teens or twenties instead of waiting until I was thirty-seven and divorced.

What’s your biggest pet peeve? 
People who assume they know what I’m going to say or do in a given situation…and then I do it! Ticks me off to be so predictable.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? 
Survival things . . . a way to make potable water, a way to fish, and my Bible.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? 
I worked in the labor relations department of a large corporation early in my career. My boss was almost intolerable. I started every morning with a prayer that I could get through the day without quitting or getting fired. As sole provider for my mother and my son, I couldn’t afford to do either. I felt like I was in jail.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? 
There are too many to choose from, so I’ll pick the one that hooked me on action, adventure, and historical stories: Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. I was about ten years old when I read that one. It took me several weeks one winter, but once a week, I tramped through snow (seriously) to the Mark Twain Library in Detroit to read it. Sounds a lot like the old saw of walking five miles to school, barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways, but hey, the story absolutely fascinated me.

Ocean or mountains? 

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Slightly citified country girl.

What’s on the horizon for you?
Gosh, I hope there are more novels, either the second book in a possible detective series or a stand-alone. But I’m not a fast writer. I’ve never been able to throw words at a piece of paper and then go back later for edits. Like computer coding, the next scene doesn’t work for me until the one before it is as good as I can make it . . . at the time. Of course, it gets changed later. Writing that “decent first draft” means it takes me a long time to complete a novel. I know. I know. Hiring a development editor could speed up the process.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? 
I am especially happy with “Bad Day at Round Rock,” and was thrilled when the publisher accepted it with a one-word edit. Everything in the story about Sam Bass is as true as newspaper reports and lore have made it. The character Lilly Malmstrom is a composite of my imagination and my black-haired, blue-eyed, maternal grandmother, Selma, who emigrated alone from Sweden in 1904 at the age of 18 and truly did have to work off a debt because her money was stolen on the ship.

Seven authors contributed short stories to The Posse. The are Lyn Horner, “The Schoolmarm's Hero”; Frank Kelso, “One Way or Another” and “Tibby's Hideout”; Charlene Raddon, “The Reckoning”; Chimp Robertson, “Headed for Texas”; Jim Stroud, “Savage Posse”; Chuck Tyrell, “Set a Thief”; and of course my own “Bad Day at Round Rock”.

Check out the trailer here. 

The Posse
The Posse is an anthology of Western human interest short stories that includes cj petterson’s historical fiction “Bad Day at Round Rock.” The Posse has the action you’d expect from stories about cowboys in the old Wild West, but it’s not your average shoot-em-up Western anthology, and “Bad Day” is not your average Western story:

When the outlaw Sam Bass robbed the Union Pacific train of $60,000 in uncirculated gold pieces, he set off a chain of events that culminated in a “Bad Day at Round Rock.” Men lose their lives seeking their fortunes, outlaws are shot down in the streets, an innocent man is accused of murder, and a girl becomes a woman in a story of history, mystery, myth, greed and love torn from the pages of West Texas history.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017


If you’re looking for natural beauty products, look no further than your used coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are a great exfoliating body scrub. Simply mix with some warm water and your favorite all-natural oil, then scrub from head to toe.

To make a natural alpha-hydroxy, antioxidant facial mask, combine two tablespoons of used coffee grounds, two tablespoons organic cocoa powder, three tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream, and a heaping tablespoon of honey. Mix together and apply to your face. Sit back and relax while the natural elements work their magic on your skin.

Coffee grounds will also remove built-up residue from hair care products. Before shampooing, massage a handful of used grounds into your hair. The coarse texture of the grounds will release the product residue without damaging your tresses.

Want to get rid of that cellulite? Try coffee grounds. Scrub coffee grounds mixed with warm water over cellulite affected areas of your skin for ten minutes twice a week. You should start to see results in about a month.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


photo by Guy Sie from Utrecht, Netherlands
Helen Bennett is a freelance writer previously employed in the healthcare sector for many years, with a varied career that took in many aspects of helping people, particularly in matters relating to diet, nutrition and fitness. She joins us today to discuss the benefits of keeping a journal.

Could Writing a Journal Be Good for Your Health? 

If you have aspirations to succeed as a writer, than journaling everyday could change your life. Many successful writers choose to keep a journal: the importance of keeping a journal is something that Virginia Woolf wrote extensively about, sharing in her letters: 'My belief is that my habit of writing this for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments...I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing to my casual half hour after tea.' Other famous literary journal writers include Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag and CS Lewis. The more you write, the more your writing skills will increase, and for writers of memoir journals, provide important lessons in chronology and forming a solid narrative arc. However journal writing is not just for writers because it does so much more than simply improve the quality of your writing: it can also improve mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Here are just some of the health benefits of keeping and regularly updating a journal:

Immune System Boosting Properties
It might seem illogical, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that jotting down just a few sentences in your journal each day can actually help to boost your immune system. University of Texas at Austin Psychologist and Researcher James Pennebaker has conducted extensive investigations into the power of journal keeping, and found that regular journaling strengthens the T-lymphocyte immune cells. By strengthening your immunity you will increase your overall health, reducing your likelihood of suffering from colds, the flu, and other contagious viral illnesses. What's more, additional research has also shown that journaling can help reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. It is thought this works because conditions such as these can be aggravated by external stressors: as journaling minimizes your stress levels, it reduces the impact that stress can have on your physical health. 

Reduce Levels of Stress and Anxiety
Reducing your levels of stress and anxiety is thought to be the biggest health benefit of writing a regular journal. This is why individuals who have experienced stressful life events (such as the death of a friend or family member, the trauma of addiction, of a long term health condition) are often encouraged to keep a daily journal. Because the act of writing unlocks the logical and analytical left side of your brain, it frees up the creative right side of your brain to process the emotions that you have experienced throughout the day whilst the left side is distracted and occupied. Journaling is an excellent way to clarify your thoughts and feelings, particularly about events that make you feel confused and anxious, and find solutions to problems more effectively. For individuals working in high pressure environments or living otherwise stressful lives, writing about your anger, frustration and pain can help to relieve the intensity of those emotions and enable you to look at them with a calmer and more logical mind (which means you are more likely to find a worthwhile solution to your stressors and ultimately live a more enriching life).

Pick Up Your Pen
Many people that are new to journaling often ask where they should start: the simple answer is to just pick up your pen and start writing! There is no right or wrong thing to write about, only what is right and wrong for you. From a scientific point of view, the most effective journaling is undertaken on a daily basis and lasts for around 20 minutes each day: this will enable you to be enveloped in the full cathartic effect of the experience. Ensure that you have a quiet and private place to write, and keep your journal safe from prying eyes: if you feel your journal may be read by someone else, you will unconsciously censor your thoughts, and this will remove many of the benefits of the open stream of consciousness journal writing experience.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Award-winning mystery author Cynthia St-Pierre has had both recipes and short stories published in many magazines and collections. Today we’re joined by Cynthia’s favourite heroine Becki Green. Learn more about Cynthia and her books at her website and Becki on her blog. 

Spring feels like potent magic, doesn’t it? All that was frozen dead thaws and comes back to life. Ta-da!

There are recipes that I find miraculous in the same way. One of them is Chia Cereal. With just 1/4 cup of dry seeds and 3 more ingredients (the last two items are  just my choice of milk and sweetener that everyone adds to cereal), a nourishing morning meal materializes. Now that I think about it, does one count water as an ingredient? Not really. So 3 real ingredients and, voila! Breakfast!

Seeds, water to swell them, so very much like the magic of spring!

The mouthfeel of Chia Cereal is like tapioca pudding. Tiny orbs (tinier than tapioca) in a pudding-like base, neutral to sweet, and delicious with the additional sweetness of cashew milk and a drizzle or two of my favourite amber syrup.

Chia Cereal happens to be vegan and raw but please don’t be anxious about these terms. They just mean that Chia Cereal is healthy, good for the environment, great for animals and full of digestion-boosting enzymes because it hasn’t been heated above 118ºF.

Chia Cereal
Yield: 1 serving but multiplies well (and also does long division)

1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup water
Cashew milk
Raw agave syrup

Whisk the chia seeds into the water in a cereal bowl. Whisk continuously until the cereal starts to thicken and smoothen. Then you can replace the whisk with a spoon and stir occasionally. Whisk and stir for a combined total of 10 min.

Pour on cashew milk to taste and drizzle with agave syrup.

A Killer Necklace
Who is the dead woman at the bottom of the stairs?

When Weather Network star Gina Monroe arrives in Black Currant Bay for her wedding shower, all is bliss. But happiness turns to horror when Gina and close friend Becki find the hostess with her head bashed in.

Strange things come to light when Gina and Becki are asked to sort through the dead woman's belongings. Just who was this woman? And why did frumpy Louisa have a closet full of vintage couturier clothes?

As the investigation continues, the danger increases. Arson reveals the hiding place of a fabulous sapphire necklace, which leads to more questions and ramps up the risk for Gina and Becki. A killer is determined to keep the identity of the dead woman a secret—even if it means killing again.

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Monday, March 20, 2017


March is National Craft Month. I believe that people are born creative. Just watch any baby or toddler exploring his surroundings, and you’ll see what I mean. Unfortunately, most adults start squelching that creativity (Don’t touch!) in their children early on. Eventually that innate creativity is so suppressed that it’s nearly impossible to retrieve. So why are we then surprised when our kids prefer to sit around for hours, staring at a computer monitor or TV screen? 

Solving problems and resolving conflicts require creative thinking. Creativity needs to be nurtured in order that today’s children grow up to become tomorrow’s leaders, but too many outside forces are at work, influencing our children to “color within the lines.” Now think about this: people who color within the lines never learn to think outside the box. It’s that outside the box thinking that finds solutions to the world’s problems.

One of the ways we can help our children continue to grow their creativity is to encourage them to craft, beginning at a very early age. The first step is to have creative materials around the house for children to use. Keep ample supplies of paint, glue, markers, chenille stems, craft sticks, pompoms, and other basic craft materials handy for those “I’m bored; there’s nothing to do” days.

Instead of buying another video game for that next birthday party or special occasion, buy craft kits. Keep a few kits on hand for rainy days, for when your children’s friends spend the night, or just for an impromptu surprise. Encourage children to make gifts for family members’ birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. instead of buying gifts. Instead of hosting a child's birthday party at Chuckie Cheese, consider a home crafting party or one at your local craft store.

Remember that your children’s efforts don’t have to be perfect. Always praise the attempt and encourage children to continue creating. The act of crafting develops small motor skills and hand/eye coordination. Creativity helps grow our brains. By encouraging your children to craft, you’re giving them an incredible foundation for future endeavors.

All it takes for children to learn to love crafting is an environment in which they can satisfy their creative nature. Nurture that inborn talent, and you’ll help your children grow into creative adults that just might wind up solving many of our planet’s problems.

Friday, March 17, 2017


Jan Scarbrough writes heartwarming contemporary romances about family and second chances, and if the plot allows—horses. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town Southern charm to her books, and the excitement of a horse race or a competitive horse show. Learn more about Jan and her books at her website.

A Romance Novel Can Have a Big Impact
Can you name a novel that has influenced your life in some way? For me, that novel was Katherine by Anya Seton. I found the book in the high school library and read it for a book report. The novel transported me into a world I’ve loved ever since—medieval romance.

We were big into “theme” back then in English class. Published in 1954, Katherine was not simply a romance or an adventure. It was not your “typical bodice-ripper.” Katherine described the personal growth of the main character. This classic romance novel tells the true story of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Here is part of the description from the book’s Amazon page. “Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue.”

Near the end of the book, Katherine is in the depths of despair. Then she meets Julian of Norwich (ca. 8 November 1342 – ca. 1416), an English anchoress who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics of the day.

Later in the story, she reveals to a priest what she learned from the anchoress: “It was this you said, and Lady Julian has told me too. ‘Our dearworthy Lord said not, Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted, but He said, Thou shalt not be overcome!’ Father Clement, of all the teachings, this seems to me the most beautiful.”

As a teenager, those words touched me— Thou shalt not be overcome! I even used the words when I spoke to a youth-led, church service. For the rest of my life, through the ups and downs of everyday living, I have tried to keep these quotes from Julian of Norwich close to my heart.

Because of Katherine, I fell in love with the time period and all things medieval. I took medieval history in college, and researched the time period for my own novels. I aspire to write a novel some day that will touch a reader’s heart as Katherine touched mine.

Other Interesting Facts
Anya Seton (January 23, 1904 – November 8, 1990) was the pen name of Ann Seton Chase, an American author of historical romances, or as she preferred they be called, "biographical novels".

If you’d like to read a nonfiction account of Katherine, try the Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess ofLancaster by Alison Weir. 

Anne O'Brien has written another novel about the love affair of Katherine Swynford and John of Lancaster called The Scandalous Duchess released in 2015. 

My Lord Raven
Knights of the Royal Household
To protect what little family she has left, Lady Catrin Fitzalan switches places with her cousin when King Edward orders the pious girl to wed his royal champion, a vicious knight called the King’s Raven. Rumors abound that this savage is responsible for the deaths of Lady Catrin’s father and brother. How can she allow her sweet cousin to wed a murderer?

Bran ap Madog, bastard son of a Welsh prince, has devoted his life to serving the English king. His badge is the raven, a creature that feeds off rotting spoils, just as Bran feeds off the spoils of war. Now he wants a reward for his service: a wealthy wife and the land and power she can bring him.

But there’s another side to the rapacious black birds Bran has chosen for his badge. Social and family-oriented, ravens mate for life. Which gives them something Bran never had—a family, a sense of belonging, and a rightful place in the world. Bran has fought for everything he’s ever had. But his last battle, with his new wife, may cost him the one thing he isn’t prepared to lose: his heart.

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