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.

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Monday, February 24, 2020

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--ROMEO AND JULIET, THE MOB & A BARBIE DOLL

By Lois Winston

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but I recently received something that reminded me of a love for the ages, and I felt compelled to share it to keep the lovers’ story alive.

My aunt passed away two-and-a-half years ago, and my cousin is still sorting through cartons of her possessions. Recently she came across the double-portrait above and asked me if I wanted it. I immediately said yes.

The portrait is of my great-uncle Jack and Mae, the love of his life. Uncle Jack lived with my grandparents. My grandmother was his younger sister. Those of you who have read some of my blog posts here and at other sites over the years may remember that my grandfather worked his way up to captain of the Essex County, NJ police force, beginning in the nineteen-twenties through the late-fifties. During that time he was responsible for the apprehension of many gangsters, including Dutch Schultz.

My grandfather suffered a heart attack as a fairly young man. I’m not exactly sure when, and there’s no one left alive to ask, but I believe it was sometime in the late thirties or early forties, prior to World War II. Mae was the nurse who cared for him after he was released from the hospital.

Uncle Jack and Mae fell deeply in love, but there were two major problems that prevented them from marrying. One was a difference of religion, something completely unacceptable at the time. The other was that Mae came from a mob family.

Grandpa had enough of a conflict of interest with a bootlegging brother down in Atlantic City, but at least they were estranged. Uncle Jack lived with my grandparents. Marrying Mae would jeopardize my grandfather’s career, not something that could be risked during The Great Depression when jobs were so scarce.

The lovers accepted these obstacles, continuing to love each other but never marrying. Uncle Jack continued to live with my grandparents. I don’t even know if my uncle and Mae ever consummated their relationship. That’s not something anyone ever spoke of, even in hushed tones that a curious kid like me, who loved to eavesdrop on the adults, ever overheard (not that I would have understood the topic at that young age.)

Then the unthinkable happened. Mae had an accident. The details are fuzzy (and again, I have no one to ask.) I don't know if it happened before I was born or after, but I remember being told she had fallen down a flight of stairs. Was this the truth or a sugar-coated lie told to a young child? I don’t know, but the incident left her paralyzed from the waist down. 

From that day on, Uncle Jack took care of Mae. He visited her at her one-room apartment every day. He did her shopping, cooked her meals, probably even helped her bathe and dress. On weekends he often brought me with him. I called her Aunt Mae.

I never saw Aunt Mae anywhere but sitting on her bed in her apartment. She spent her days watching television, doing handcrafts, and reading true romance magazines. The doll pictured here is dressed in clothing she made. It was a Christmas present when I was eight years old and one of only two dolls that survived when we moved from the city to the suburbs when I was eleven.

Aunt Mae died on Thanksgiving Day several years after my grandfather passed away. I don’t remember the exact year, but I think I was ten or eleven, perhaps a bit older. I learned of her death by once again eavesdropping on the adults. My grandmother had received a call from one of Mae’s relatives. She, my aunt, and my mother were gathered in the kitchen, preparing dinner. The men were in the living room. The women decided not to tell Uncle Jack until after Thanksgiving dinner.

Uncle Jack continued to live with my grandmother after my grandfather’s death. When she died, he moved in with my aunt and lived with her, her husband, and my cousins until his own death many years later. No matter where he lived, the portrait of him with his love always hung in his bedroom opposite his bed where it was the last thing he saw when he went to sleep each night and the first thing he saw when he woke in the morning.

Friday, February 21, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--A LOOK INTO THE WORLD OF THE GYPSY TRAVELLERS WITH MYSTERY AUTHOR SASSCER HILL

Multi-award winning author Sasscer Hill was involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for most of her life. She sets her novels against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing. Her latest book, a standalone mystery-thriller based on the con artists known as Irish American Travelers, is a departure from that world but not from horses. Learn more about Sasscer and her books at her website.

I’d like to tell you a little about the strange culture of the American gypsies known as Irish American Travellers.

My new novel, Travels of Quinn, a dark-cozy mystery, is based loosely on the largest clan of these people in the US, located only thirty-five minutes from my house. Some might remember a reality show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” It was filmed in the town, Murphy Village, South Carolina. 

The culture of the Travellers is strange, to say the least. Children are taken out of school no later than seventh or eighth grade. Girls stay at home and are locked into marriage contracts, often when only five years old. Locally, we've seen little girls with diamond engagement rings, and they are always dressed to kill. Full makeup, and "big hair" with teasing, mousse and extensions, and sometimes even wigs. These people are extremely insular, sticking to themselves, and avoiding outsiders as a way of preserving their culture. 

Like grifters, the men and boys travel out of state, during warm weather, running home improvement swindles. Many Travellers speak a secret language, a mixture of Gaelic and English called “Cant”– useful when pulling off a scam. But many people who know them say most Travellers are honest hard-working people. 

Researching this story, I met with law enforcement officials including the head of the county detention center and a criminal defense attorney who represents Travellers. I met with the county prosecutor, and the judge for the second Judicial Circuit in South Carolina, who has presided over their cases. I was so fascinated by these people, I wanted to drive into Murphy Village and see if the stories about their McMansions and the trailers they often continue to live in were true.

People told me, “Don’t go there, it’s dangerous. They will run you out. You could even get hurt!”

 But we all know writers are crazy, so off I went with my iPhone video camera and my husband at the wheel. Murphy Village, called “Tinkers Town” in my novel, had one way in with cross streets ending in cul-de-sacs or dead ends that forced us to make awkward K turns to get out. That made me feel vulnerable, except no one bothered us. 

As promised, there were McMansions, trailers, and numerous statues of Catholic saints in the yards outside. A number of huge front doors had orange stickers on them. We couldn’t imagine what those were for. We drove slowly through the village for at least twenty minutes shooting video, and no one cared. The place was dead quiet, and I decided the people who’d uttered dire warnings didn’t know what they were talking about.

Imagine my shock the next morning when the newspaper announced that the day we’d been there, twenty-two people in Murphy Village had been arrested on fraud and racketeering charges. No wonder nobody bothered us! We just got lucky. Oh, and those orange stickers? They were forfeiture notices. The feds were confiscating these people’s homes.

Imagine if you will, the story of Quinn O’Neill, a nineteen-year-old woman who was born into this culture. Imagine she wants out, but she’s torn with indecision. Her parents signed her into a marriage contract to a young criminal she doesn’t love. But does she really want to leave everything she knows and be ostracized by her family? Is there a way she can escape?

Travels of Quinn
Born an Irish American gypsy Traveller, Quinn’s father and step-family raise her to be a con artist. Can she escape a dreaded marriage contract and a life of crime?

Jailed for theft, Quinn pays restitution by working on a horse farm. Unfamiliar with horses, her love for them surprises her. They make her hope for a better world.

Until the farm’s owner is brutally murdered and Quinn is the prime suspect.

On the run, Quinn uses every scam and con she knows to save herself. Can she find the real killer before she’s imprisoned for life or murdered because she knows too much?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--CELEBRATING NATIONAL CHOCOLATE MINT DAY


Today is National Chocolate Mint Day, a holiday dedicated to all those lovers of chocolate mint. And what better time to celebrate a day that extols chocolate mint than right in the middle of the Girl Scout Cookie season?

Who doesn’t love those Thin Mint cookies?

Did you know that Thin Mints have been around since 1953 and are still the most popular of all the Girl Scout cookies? Bet you can’t eat just one!

However, if you can exercise a bit of self-control and not gobble up that entire box in one sitting, there are quite a few ways to use Thin Mints in baking. Here’s one of them:



Super Moist Thin Mint Cupcakes

Yield: 12-14 cupcakes

Ingredients:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 lg. eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
8 Thin Mints, crushed

Note: eggs and buttermilk should be at room temperature before adding.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with cupcake liners and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together first five ingredients and set aside.

Beat eggs, sugars, oil and vanilla until smooth. Alternating dry ingredients and buttermilk, gently stir into sugar/egg mixture. Don’t overmix. Fold in crushed Thin Mints.

Spoon batter evenly into cupcake liners, filling only halfway. Bake 18-21 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean.

Allow cupcakes to cool completely before icing with your favorite chocolate icing.

Monday, February 17, 2020

CALLING ALL FICTION WRITERS!

Lois Winston, the author who delights in dropping dead bodies in my path, is one of the founding members of Liberty States Fiction Writers, a multi-genre organization. On April 4th LSFW will be holding their 11th annual writing conference. This year’s event will take place at the Holiday Inn in Clark, NJ (exit 135 of the NJ Parkway).



The conference will feature a line-up of more than a dozen authors and industry professionals who will share their expertise and experience during a full day of education and networking, offering something for writers at all stages of their careers and whether traditionally published, small press published, indie-published, hybrid, or those seeking to become published. Workshops will focus on craft, business, promotion, and indie-publishing.

Lois will be speaking on “Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Three Essential Building Blocks of Every Novel, Synopsis, Pitch, & Back Cover Copy.

Keynote speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre, formerly Director of Author Services and Self-Publishing at Rakuten Kobo and now Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital, will give a two-hour presentation on “More Power, More Options, More Control Over Your Path to Success.”

In addition, there will be editor and agent appointments and a marketplace to meet freelance editors, cover designers, and formatters. A book fair, open to the public, will take place at the end of the day.

Lunch is included in the conference fee, and discounted hotel rooms are available. More information and registration can be found here

Friday, February 14, 2020

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY FROM AUTHOR GINNY B. NESCOTT

Author Ginny B. Nescott loves to read. She’s especially a sucker for laughter, mystery, romance, a wonderful kiss, warm hugs, flowers and chocolate—not necessarily in that order. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Love doesn’t have to be neat and candy coated. It wasn’t for Native American businessman Michael, or Southern-born Paige and especially for her divorced aunt, or even a lovesick barista. Adopting a twitchy rescue cat added to their confusion. Love just needs to breathe and blossom.
  
Starting with Ground Hog day, my holiday novels weave to Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day. I fell in love with the characters and wintry setting in this series, so much so that my husband took me to stay in a Victorian B&B in the same mountain area from the books. That weekend at he was my own personal Groundhog Man and the only “fleeing” I did was to explore the snow-covered parklands. My health has been a struggle since then, but I have those images from a loving man. I’m lucky. We all are, partnered or no. 

The truth is love comes in so many forms: the kind smile of caring teacher, the squeezing hug of a happy child, the frail hand brushing over a creased photo of an old friend, and the pulse of a heart thrilled to be near another. Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day with more than chocolate and flowers. Let’s celebrate it with a laugh and with appreciation of all those around us.

Happy Valentine’s Day to each and every one of you!

A Paige in Cupid’s Book: A Valentine’s Day Romance
Paige Holiday, Book 2

“His touch could melt the snow surrounding her...

After leaving her life in Atlanta, Amelia Paige Myers landed on the doorstep of her aunt’s inherited farmhouse in the dead of a Pennsylvania winter. Instead of a quick fix, Paige’s temporary home was hoarded to the rafters and needed serious work. Her new-found love “interest” is there to help but distracts her with his sizzling touch. She's not sure if Michael Yotahala Lukas is a rebound or the real thing. Their budding romance and a fast approaching Valentine's Day inspire Paige to do a little matchmaking for her aunt.

Clocks, a cat, roses, and a cranky aunt who doesn't believe in love—things never go according to planned, and time is running out. Paige could sure use a page from Cupid's book.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

MEET AUTHOR HELEN HENDERSON'S WINDMASTER LEGEND HERO

Today we sit down for a chat with Iol of the House of Cszabo from author Helen Henderson’s Windmaster books.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I don’t know who this “author” is that you say controls of my life. The ruling council of the House of Cszabo is made up of eleven men, all senior officers of either land caravans or sea-going vessels. Ever since I knocked on the guild master’s door, petitioning to apprentice to Cszabo, the council has ruled my life. I have seen Lady Helen called an author. If it is her of which you speak, she just chronicles events as they are told her.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
By personality and training, I make a good first officer. I’m happy to be the second-in-command, but skilled enough to assume the helm if circumstances require it. Because of my talent for organization, the leader of my guild chose me to run the summer gathering of the trading houses.

What do you like least about yourself?
I wish I was more skilled in the ways of diplomacy. I’ve learned that not just members of other trading houses can sabotage a trade or business arrangement, but members of my own guild as well. Those who are in essence my kin can betray even quicker than your enemies.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
During a crossing of Botunn Loghes, the winds died and my ship, Loch Bird, was becalmed. All of a sudden, wind filled the sails. Not by an act of nature, but by my passenger who turned out to be the Oracle of Givneh traveling incognito. Not only is the Oracle the head of a community dedicated to service to others, he is a mage.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Lady Helen merely recounts the story. As long as she is accurate, there is nothing to argue with her about. It is not her fault if fate sends storms in my path.

What is your greatest fear?
As a member of the House of Cszabo, I fear failing my assignments and letting my house down by not returning home from a sail with a profit. As a junior officer, there is always the fear in the back of my mind that I will make the wrong decision and cause the loss of my ship and crew.

What makes you happy?
Although a sailor, I do enjoy the occasional ride on horseback. Because of my rank, my personal space aboard ship is limited. I can’t bring enough books to read, so my one personal belonging is my guitar. There is a simple joy in fingering intricate cords. Playing music not only helps pass the long hours aboard ship when not on duty, my crew seems to enjoy the tunes. 

What I would say makes me happiest is spending time with my friends. I don’t have many but treasure the ones I do have. I count Subcommander Pelra of the House of Pirri and Conall of the Bard Guild among them. No matter how far apart we are or the length of time of our separation, when we meet it is as if we never parted.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
In Windmaster Legend as Lady Helen penned the tale, I am pursued by members of my own house and trapped on a ledge halfway up a cliff with no escape except a leap into space with only the ocean below. If I could rewrite those few moments of my story, I would not have Lady Pelra on the ledge with me. She would not be hunted by her own kin, but happily learning magic on the Isle of Mages.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
This question is easy to answer. There is only one person I wish I had never met—Ensign Leod of the House of Cszabo. Not that I would have allowed Leod to force himself on any woman, but I interfered when he would not accept Lady Pelra’s rebuff of his advances. Leod’s kin on the ruling council provides him the power to get what he wants, or to ruin those who refused him. Because of him, I lost my ship, my rank... my future.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
This question took some thought. It might be my captain on the ship where I earned my stripesThen I’d have the gold bracelets of rank that I’ve worked so hard for. Or it could be Faeld, acting First Seat of my house council. But then I’d have to deal with all the internal politics of those trying to take my position.

I guess I’d choose to trade places with Conall. I expect soon he will be receiving his master’s knot from the Bard Guild. Not only will be allowed to travel, but wouldn’t have to ration his time in order to be able to play music. Although the Bard Guild is not immune from having detractors, those who do so too aggressively find themselves the topic of an unflattering ditty.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Although the author of several local histories, and numerous articles on the topics of American and military history, antiques and collectibles, Lady Helen’s first love is fiction. Her work in the museum and history fields enables a special insight into creating fantasy worlds. The descendent of a coal-miner's daughter and an aviation flight engineer, her writing reflects the contrasts of her heritage as well as that of her Gemini sign. Her stories cross genres from historical westerns to science fiction and fantasy. In the world of fantasy romance, she is the author of the Dragshi Chronicles and The Windmaster Novels. In her books, she invites you to join her on travels through the stars, or among fantasy worlds of the imagination.

Learn more about her and her books at her website.

What's next for you?
My fate... my future... is up to the reader of Windmaster Legend. Lady Helen presents three possible fates and the reader gets to choose the one they prefer.

Windmaster Legend 
A forbidden love. An impossible quest. The accusation of witchcraft.
Can love survive?

What history and time may conceal sometimes refuses to stay lost in memory. Windmaster Legend reveals the story behind the legend of the star-crossed lovers, Iol of the House of Cszabo and Pelra of the House of Pirri.

Fate conspired to keep Iol and Pelra apart. Friendship is allowed between members of competing trading houses, but nothing more. He loves the sea and wants his own ship. She hates the deep blue and has worked too hard to allow her dreams to be sidetracked by the lure of magic. Despite a beautiful woman on his arm every night, Leod wanted the one he couldn’t have—Pelra. His kin on the ruling council did more than put him on the fast track to his own ship. It provided him the power to fulfill his desires, or to ruin those who refused him.

Exiled to distant posts, given impossible challenges, and subject to Leod’s machinations, Iol and Pelra only have the hope of a future together to sustain them. But can their love survive the accusation of witchcraft?

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Monday, February 10, 2020

#COOKING WITH CLORIS—GINGERBREAD COOKIES: THEY’RE NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Who says gingerbread cookies have to be confined to Christmas? For those of you who love gingerbread and are planning to make cookies for Valentine’s Day, why not switch out the heart-shaped sugar cookies this year for Valentine gingerbread people instead?

Basic Gingerbread Cookie Recipe
Yield: approximately 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
3/4 cup brown sugar (either light or dark)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat eggs and butter in stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and molasses.

Combine dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients.

Form dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Roll dough to 1/8” thickness on well-floured surface. Cut out gingerbread girls and boys. 

Place cookies on greased baking sheet and bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Cool on wire rack.

Decorate using store-bought icing tubes or get really fancy by making your own royal icing in various colors and use icing bags and decorative tips.