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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Friday, July 30, 2010


Our Book Club Friday author today is mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig. Elizabeth writes the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink, and as Riley Adams, she writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin. Her latest book is Delicious and Suspicious, which releases July 6, 2010: When a food scout from a cable cooking channel is murdered, it's only natural for restaurant owner Lulu Taylor to take it personally. After all, her barbeque restaurant served the scout's last meal. But danger lurks as Lulu investigates the crime. Will she clear the restaurant's name, or is she next to be skewered?

Elizabeth can be found blogging daily at
http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com, named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010. You can read more about her at her website and follow her on Twitter: @elizabethscraig. -- AP


One reason I enjoy the online writing community is discovering all the different ways that writers create a first draft and how they approach the revision process.  Each person has their own individual method.

What works for me (the first draft):

I do an initial brainstorming on paper for ideas.

I set up a Word folder with the working title of the manuscript.  In that folder, I have a character file, a file for random ideas, a title idea file, a file with the ideas I brainstormed, and the manuscript itself.

I have a One Note notebook for the manuscript.  (Microsoft’s One Note that came with my Office 2007.)  It’s good for listing things I need to research, character descriptions, setting descriptions, my clues and red herrings, etc.  It’s basically my reference for information I need to access quickly (without searching through my manuscript.)

I have a storytelling voice, so I treat the draft as if I were transcribing a story that I’m telling someone. It’s conversational. The story unfolds in an easier way that way. I ask myself “what if” as I go along.

Sometimes, as I write, I’m not happy with the direction I’m taking the story in. I start taking the story in a new direction at that point and flag the point where the storyline changes so that I can come back and fix the text before that point during the second draft.

I mentioned that I have a “random” file in my manuscript folder in Word.  Occasionally I’ll get ideas for the story, or bits of dialogue that would be for a different part of the story.  I put these ideas in the random file.

I don’t like big outlines, but I do like small ones. I’ll sketch out what I want to accomplish for the next page. It’s got to take the plot somewhere.

When I finish my writing for the day, I make a note of where I need to pick up the next day. I never read the text I wrote the day before. It completely messes me up—it not only makes me feel insecure about the project, but it slows me down.

What keeps me going during a first draft?

I’ve learned to write anywhere and with any noise level. This helps tremendously since some days I’m doing my writing on the go. The ability to adapt to any environment I’m in makes the writing go faster.

Also—I think it’s really, really important to set an attainable goal for yourself.  If that’s a page a day, then that’s what you need to make.  I think meeting our goals really motivates us to keep moving forward.

I write every day—even on weekends.  Otherwise, it’s too hard for me to jump back into the project.


I read the whole manuscript from start to finish.  I used to do this on paper, but now I do it on the computer—which saves me a lot of time.  I use Word’s Track Changes feature (click on “review” at the top of a page and then turn on Track Changes) to make comments to myself. 

I look for big errors first, then I do a search for smaller mistakes.  If I happen to see typos, etc, I’ll change them as I go.  Otherwise, I’ll just worry about them later.  So for the first sweep, I’m usually looking for scenes that are out of order, continuity errors, boring scenes or rambling dialogue, weak characters, pacing problems, lack of description, etc.  When I find these issues, I make a comment in the margin with Track Changes.   Usually I’ll either open a new Word document and write a separate correction for the problem scene (without referring again to the original document…which seems to make my rewrite too similar to the original), or I’ll rewrite the scene on paper and type it back in later.

I’m more nitpicky on my next pass through the document.  I look for phrase repetition, word repetition, poor choice of words, unvarying sentence structure or dialogue structure—and I fix it.  I know the favorite words I like to use, and I do a “find” for them in the manuscript and replace the words with other words, or reorder the sentence.

Then I read the manuscript again (usually out loud.)  And then…I read it again (a few more times.)  With each pass, I make changes.

Finally, I put in the chapter breaks and put a header with my name, a suggested title (or not…sometimes I just say something like “Memphis Barbeque 2”), and the page number. 

This is what works for me.  But I’m very curious about other writers’ methods and always consider adapting my method to make it more efficient or more organized.  If there are any writers reading this blog, what works for you?

Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m sure many of our readers found it fascinating to get into the head of an author and see how you work. -- AP

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Beauty editor Nicole Emmerling offers us 10 tips for looking younger today, and who among us doesn’t want to thwart the march of time? -- AP


Some things you can’t change, like your genes, but many of us have some bad habits that make us age quicker. Break those habits to slow the aging process. Here are 10 things you can do for younger looking skin.

1. Stop smoking! Aside from being really bad for your health, smoking creates wrinkles, especially around your mouth.

2. Stop tanning! Again, like smoking, tanning is really bad for your health. It’s the leading cause of skin cancer. It’s also the leading cause of wrinkles.

3. Use sunscreen! (See above.)

4. Keep make-up light! Too much foundation, concealer and powder actually makes you look older and can exaggerates the flaws you’re trying to hide.

5. Drink less! Alcohol increases the level of inflammatory agents in your bloodstream which hastens skin sagging.

6. Don’t ignore your neck, chest, and hands! They age along with your face. Use the same products on your neck and chest that you do on your face. Treat them as one. Twice a month use your microdermabrasion product on the back of your hands. Use hand cream with SPF 30 every day and a retinol product on the backs of your hands every night.

7. Get a decent amount of sleep each night! Lack of sleep causes stress, and stress shows on your face. Also, it’s while you’re sleeping that your body repairs the day’s damage.

8. Stop eating junk food! By replacing processed foods with high-protein foods and whole grains, you’re providing nutrients to your hair, nails, and skin, as well as your body.

9. Start exercising! Exercise releases tension and stress, which shows up on your face. It also increases blood flow to your skin.

10. Don’t forget to exfoliate! The older you get, the longer it takes for dead skin cells to slough off. Dead skin cells are what create dull looking skin.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Health editor Janice Kerr has a wake up call for everyone with a fast food addiction. Sure blew my mind! -- AP


There’s been much talk in the media lately about the amount of sodium ingested per year by the average American. We also take in way too many calories and grams of fat, which has contributed greatly to our spreading girth. As the number of fast food restaurants grew over the last three or four decades, so did the numbers on our scales. Fast food is quick and easy, but it’s also deadly. It’s a leading contributor to heart disease and diabetes and many experts believe it to be a factor in the increase of certain cancers.

Below you’ll find calorie, fat, and sodium counts for some popular fast food meals. Pay attention to the salads. Just because you’re eating salad at a fast food restaurant, doesn’t mean you’re doing your body any good. That said, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but keep in mind that the daily recommended amounts of calories, fat, and
sodium for adults are --

calories: 1500-2000
fat, 50-65 grams
sodium, 1500 mgs.

Big Mac: 540 calories, 29 grams of fat, 1040 mgs. sodium
Quarter Pounder with Cheese: 740 calories, 42 grams fat, 1380 mgs. sodium
Lg. Fries: 500 calories, 25 grams fat, 350 mgs. sodium
Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken: 370 calories, 20 grams fat, 970 mgs. sodium

Burger King Whopper with Cheese: 770 calories, 48 grams fat, 1450 mgs. sodium
Double Whopper with Cheese: 1010 calories, 65 grams fat, 1530 mgs. sodium
Original Chicken Sandwich: 630 calories, 39 grams fat, 1390 mgs. sodium
Lg. Fries: 540 calories, 27 grams fat, 830 mgs. sodium
Tendercrisp Chicken Garden Salad: 410 calories, 23 grams fat, 1060 mgs. sodium

KFC Famous Bowls: 700 calories, 32 grams fat, 2260 mgs. sodium
Chicken Pot Pie: 690 calories, 40 grams fat, 1760 mgs. sodium
Lg. Popcorn Chicken: 550 calories, 35 grams fat, 1600 mgs. sodium
Double Crunch Sandwich with Crispy Strip: 490 calories, 20 grams fat, 1190 mgs. sodium
Tender Roast Sandwich: 410 calories, 30 grams fat, 790 mgs. sodium

Taco Bell
Grilled Stuft Beef Burrito: 700 calories, 10 grams fat, 2110 mgs. sodium
Chalupa Chicken Baja: 390 calories, 23 grams fat, 760 mgs. sodium
Gordita Chicken Baja: 320 calories, 15 grams fat, 750 mgs. sodium
Volcano Nachos: 1000 calories, 62 grams fat, 1930 mgs. sodium
Chicken Quesadilla: 520 calories, 28 grams fat, 1440 mgs. sodium
Fiesta Taco Salad: 770 calories, 41 grams fat, 1650 mgs. sodium

6” Chicken & Bacon Ranch: 570 calories, 28 grams fat, 1190 mgs. sodium
6” Big Philly Cheesesteak: 520 calories, 18 grams fat, 1570 mgs. sodium
6” Cold Cut Combo: 410 calories, 16 grams fat, 1450 mgs. sodium
6” Tuna: 530 calories, 30 grams fat, 930 mgs. sodium

Pizza Hut
Personal Pan Cheese Pizza: 590 calories, 24 grams fat, 1290 mgs. sodium
Personal Pan Supreme Pizza: 720 calories, 36 grams fat, 1680 mgs. sodium
Lg. Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Pizza (1 slice): 380 calories, 17 grams fat, 1050 mgs. sodium
Lg. Meat Lover’s Pizza (1 slice): 440 calories, 23 grams fat, 1270 mgs. sodium

Grande Java Chip Frappuccino (2% milk): 350 calories, 14 grams fat
Grande Tazo Chai Crème Frappuccino (2% milk): 310 calories, 3 grams fat
Apple Fritter: 420 calories, 20 grams fat
Blueberry Scone: 460 calories, 22 grams fat
Double Iced Cinnamon Roll: 490 calories, 20 grams fat
Plain Bagel: 300 calories, 1 gram fat

Yikes! That was certainly an eye-opener, Janice. I guess we’ll all think twice the next time we have a fast food craving, especially those of us trying to lose a few dozen pounds or so. Comments, anyone? -- AP

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yesterday I gave you some ideas for entertaining home birthday parties on the cheap.  Today Cloris will offer creative suggestions for feeding those little tykes. -- AP

Hi!  Cloris here.  After the kids’ shirts are designed and while they’re drying, it’s time to feed the hungry horde assembled around your table.  Prepare peanut butter and jelly, tuna, egg salad, or deli sandwiches ahead of time.  Use a soft sandwich bread.  Have a selection of large cookie cutters in a variety of shapes on hand.  Let each child choose the shape he wants for his sandwich.  Depending on the age of the kids, they can either cut out their own shapes by pressing the cookie cutters into the sandwiches or do so with help from you.

For dessert whip up a batch of my No-It’s-Not-Cheating Surprise Cupcakes ahead of time, but don’t ice them.  Have several different flavors of canned frosting available in bowls.  Let the kids ice their own cupcakes by dipping them into the frosting and twisting as they pull the cupcakes up. 

Then set out bowls of sprinkles, chopped cookies, chocolate chips, and candies for the kids to decorate their cupcakes.  You can also serve them dishes of ice cream and let them make their own sundaes.  An ice cream cone inverted on top of a scoop of ice cream becomes a clown hat.  The kids can “glue” candy decorations onto the cone with a dab of icing and press candy eyes, a nose, and a mouth into the ice cream “head.” 


It’s OK to use a cake mix sometimes, and when you’re baking for a kid’s party, it’s definitely one of those times.

1 box yellow cake mix
2 eggs
2 c. sour cream
24 chocolate kisses, unwrapped or 24 small washed and hulled strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with cupcake papers.  Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir together with large spoon until well blended.  Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each halfway.  Press one kiss or one strawberry slightly into center of each cupcake.  Spoon remaining batter to cover evenly, filling cups to ¾ full.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until tops spring back when touched.  Allow to cool a minute or two before removing from pan.  Cool completely before giving to kids to ice and decorate.

What creative ways have you entertained kids at a party?  Let us hear from you. -- AP

Monday, July 26, 2010


Cloris and I got together for today’s and tomorrow’s blog posts to share with you ideas for a creative kid’s birthday party.  Some people might be able to afford renting out Chuckie Cheese for the afternoon or bringing three dozen ten year olds to the local Cineplex for the latest 3-D animated movie (at $15 a pop!)  However, most of us aren’t rolling in that kind of dough.  We’re more the Play-do and pizza dough types.

So what do you do when it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of your very own chip off the old block?  I’ve heard some parents say that their kids can only invite a small number of friends to a birthday party -- five kids for the fifth birthday, six for the sixth, seven for the seventh, etc.  Yeah, right!  Try explaining that to a six year old when he asks why he isn’t invited to his friend’s birthday party.  How do you think he’s going to feel when he’s the only neighborhood kid not invited to a party because the birthday boy is turning six and can only invite six friends? 

Instead of limiting the number of kids and causing all sorts of hurt feelings and possibly years of therapy (don’t we parents always get blamed for everything?), plan a party that doesn’t cost the equivalent of your next mortgage payment.  Invite all your kid’s friends to a crafting party.

Here’s how you do it:
Forget the goody bags filled with candy and cheap plastic do-dads.  Instead, buy inexpensive T-shirts at your local crafts store.  The craft chains usually sell these 5 for $10 and often run sales where they’re even cheaper.  Depending on the age of the kids, you can buy supplies for sponge painting, rubber stamping, or painting.  For very young kids buy fabric markers.  Supply buttons, pompoms, or “jewels” for embellishment that the kids can glue onto the shirts.  Just make sure you buy paints, inks, and glue made specifically for working with fabric.  Many white glues aren’t waterproof.  Read the labels. 

Working outside at a picnic table is ideal, but if the weather isn’t cooperating, make sure you cover your floor with a plastic drop cloth and use one on the table.  I’m sure I don’t have to remind you how messy kids can be. 

Once you’ve protected your floors and furniture, let the kids have fun.  They’ll have a blast creating their own shirts and take home a party favor that won’t break or be consumed within five minutes of leaving.

The shirts shown in the photo were sponge painted.  The kids drew the various shapes on a Miracle Sponge, then cut the shapes out.  Miracle Sponges are compressed cellulose sponges that expand in water and are perfect for sponge painting.  You can find them at your local crafts store.  Don’t want the hassle of drawing and cutting out shapes?  Buy pre-cut sponges that come in a variety of fun shapes.

What creative ways have you entertained kids at a party?  Let’s hear from you. -- AP

Friday, July 23, 2010


Today's Book Club Friday guest is Claire Hanover, owner of a part-time gift basket business in Colorado Springs, CO, and the creation of mystery author Beth Groundwater. In addition to the two already published Claire Hanover books and a new contracted third one, Beth writes the Rocky Mountain Adventure mystery series featuring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. That series will debut with Deadly Currents in March, 2011. To find out about new releases and appearances and to enter a contest for free mystery books, sign up for Beth's email newsletter at her website: http://bethgroundwater.com/ -- AP

Claire Hanover’s Tips for Creating an Effective Gift Basket

Anastasia Pollack has kindly invited me to give her blog readers some tips about making effective gift baskets. I can tell you that after the adventures I had in Beth Groundwater’s To Hell in a Handbasket, I am ready to return to my basement workroom and just create gift baskets for a while!

One of the gift baskets I put together during that time was a sympathy basket for Angela Contino, whose daughter was killed on a Breckenridge, Colorado ski slope. Here’s what I remember of a conversation between my daughter Judy and me about that basket:

“Thank you cards and a pen won’t fill a basket,” Judy said. “What else do you have in mind?”

“Some soothing things, like scented candles or a book of uplifting poems. Are the Continos religious?”

“Catholic. Nick doesn’t go to church much, but his mom attends mass every Sunday.”

“Okay, some religious poetry or a book about taking your grief to God, or something like that. And some soft music. A gift basket should have something for every sense—taste, smell, sight, touch, and sound. What kind of music do Nick’s parents enjoy?”

Judy thought for a moment. “Classical, I think.”

“Good, I’ll ask at the stationary store where we can find some nice CDs.”

This conversation covers two of my most important guidelines for creating gift baskets that will be appreciated and remembered. The first is to really know the recipient’s interests and tastes. That way you can tailor the basket’s contents to match, the same way I took into account Angela Contino’s Catholic religion and enjoyment of classical music. The second guideline is to include something for all the senses. The music was for Angela’s ears, the scented candle for her nose, and later I found some soothing chamomile herb tea for her mouth.

I usually pick one main color and two complementary accent colors for each gift basket. In this case, I found a dyed wicker basket that matched the colors in the Contino ski house living room so the basket could be used to hold reading materials later. They have a dark green leather sofa and stone-inlaid coffee table and fireplace, so dark green, gray, and brick red were the colors woven into the basket. I also used those colors for the decorations—a fancy bow and dried flowers, and for the lining, a soft, woven wrap scarf that could be used to warm a grieving woman or to drape decoratively over a chair later.

The basket couldn’t take away Angela Contino’s grief, but it let her know that we were thinking of her. It may have brought her some comfort, and it contained useful items such as the pen and thank you cards that she could use in the days ahead. And, while delivering that basket to the Contino home, I happened to discover an important clue to the mystery of who killed Stephanie and why!

With gift baskets, it is truly the thought that counts. I encourage everyone to put together gift baskets for special occasions, and don’t worry about it looking amateurish. To read the rest of my Tips for Making Perfect Gift Baskets, visit the Articles page of Beth Groundwater’s website at http://bethgroundwater.com/ . Also on her website are reviews, excerpts, discussion questions, and more information about her books, and a schedule of her appearances. She writes a blog, too, at http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/ .

I’d love to answer here any questions you have about gift baskets, and Beth will be available, too, to answer questions about her mystery books and writing.

You can purchase To Hell in a Handbasket and A Real Basket Case by ordering them at your local bookstore, or by going to one of the following links:
Thanks for visiting today, Claire. Gift baskets make such lovely, thoughtful presents. I’m sure our readers will want to try making one the next time they need to give a gift. -- AP

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Did any of you see The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? Great movie and one you should all add to your Netflix queue. Serena drops by today with a places you really need to visit right here in the USA. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia. Often we ignore the beauty of our own backyards. Do you have any idea how many New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty? How many Californians have never seen a redwood? We always seem to want to travel away from home when home has so much to offer, no matter where we live.

So before you schedule your next vacation away from home, think about all the places
around home you’ve never visited and take advantage of where you live. Here’s a list of 25 incredible places around the country to get you started:

The Grand Canyon
New York City
Grand Teton National Park
Niagara Falls
The Blue Ridge Mountains
The Smokey Mountains
San Francisco
Sequoia National Park 
Mt. Rushmore
Washington, DC
Historic Boston
The Everglades
Yosemite National Park
Finger Lakes
Monument Valley
Charleston, SC
Zion National Park
New Orleans
Historic Philadelphia
Kennedy Space Center
Mystic, CT
Amish country, PA

Thanks, Serena. If I only had money for a vacation…
What about the rest of you? Are there spots in the US you’d like to visit or places you’d recommend that aren’t on Serena’s list? Let's hear from you.
-- AP

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Sheila Conway, American Woman’s Go-To Money Guru is back today with another way to save. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia. Today’s money saving tip seems almost too obvious to mention. However, it’s amazing how many consumers don’t think of it.

Plan your weekly menu around your supermarket’s shopping circular. By doing so, you can save big each week. All it takes is a few minutes time. Sit down with the weekly circular and your shopping list.

Try an experiment for a week. Except for milk (which never goes on sale), only buy those items that are on sale for the week. I’m willing to bet you’ll have plenty of variety for whipping up breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week, yet have a huge savings at the end of the week.

And to save even more money, don’t forget to enroll in your supermarket’s saver program. You’ll save an additional amount beyond the sale price on many items.

Great advice, Sheila! So who’s game to take the challenge with me? One week of meals prepared only from the items advertised on sale in the weekly flyer. Let us know how much you saved over your normal weekly shopping. -- AP 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Yesterday I promised you a to-die-for dessert from Cloris.  Have your taste buds every had an orgasm? They will with this baby. In honor of the upcoming Coffee Day celebrations July 24th, here’s Cloris’s Magical Mystery Mocha Cake. -- AP


3/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
2T butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
4T cocoa
1T  instant coffee (optional, depending on how strong a mocha taste you want)
1 cup cold espresso or coffee (make it double strength for a stronger mocha taste)
1 cup either chocolate chips, dried cherries, dried raspberries, walnuts or combination of any of these

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together first 4 ingredients.  Melt chocolate and butter.  Add milk and vanilla.  Stir to blend.  Add to flour mixture, stirring well until batter is smooth.  Mix in chocolate chips/dried fruit/nuts.  Pour into greased 8” x 11” pan.  Combine remaining sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, and instant coffee.  Pour evenly over batter.   Pour cold espresso over sugar/cocoa mixture.  Bake for 40 minutes.

For an even more decadent dessert, serve with a scoop of java chip ice cream. Just plan to diet for the rest of the month.

Have a favorite dessert that sends your taste buds into ecstasy? Let's hear from you.  -- AP

Monday, July 19, 2010


Before I talk about today's craft project, I have a little shout-out for author Lois Winston because it's really all about me. For those of you eager for a little taste of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, Lois has launched her newly redesigned website, and you can now read an excerpt from Chapter 1. Just click on over to http://www.loiswinston.com -- AP

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post:

Did you know that July 24th is Coffee Day?  Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love my lattes, but I’ll bet you didn’t know you can craft with coffee, too. Here’s a quick and easy project in celebration Coffee Day. 

Materials: 3” x 6” craft foam cone; 6” cinnamon stick; dk. brown acrylic paint; satin finish acrylic sealer; ¾ cup espresso beans; tacky glue; 3” clay pot; floral foam; Spanish moss; 1” foam brush; 4 strands raffia in color of your choice.

Note: Allow paint, glue, and sealer to dry between steps.

1.  Poke a hole for cinnamon stick in bottom of cone.

2. Paint cone with dk. brown paint.

3.  Glue cinnamon stick into hole in bottom of cone.

4.  Beginning at bottom edge of cone and working up, glue beans side by side in rows around cone.

5.  Apply sealer to beans.

6.  Glue Spanish moss over floral foam.

7.  Tie raffia into a bow and glue to front of pot.

Since Coffee Day falls on a Saturday this year, why not throw a Coffee Day party? Invite your coffee loving friends. Make one Espresso Bean Topiary for each guest.  Group the topiaries in a row down the center of your table as a centerpiece. After the party, give one to each guest as a gift.  Tomorrow Cloris will have a to-die-for dessert you’ll want to serve at your Coffee Day party. And of course, it’s made with coffee.

Have you ever used an unusual material in a crafts project? Let's hear from you. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Thanks to all who stopped by this week at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. We hope you'll come back often and also tell your friends about us. We have lots of exciting posts and guests planned for the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Sheila Lowe for being our Book Club Friday guest author and for offering a copy of one of her books to one of our readers who posted a comment this week. The winner this week is Pennyt. Pennyt, please email your mailing address to me at anastasiapollack@gmail.com. I’ll forward your address to Sheila, and she’ll mail your book to you. Happy reading! -- Anastasia

Friday, July 16, 2010


Our guest author today at Book Club Friday is Sheila Lowe. Sheila has one of the most interesting professions I’ve ever come across. She’s a handwriting analyst and has given that profession to the amateur sleuth she created in her Claudia Rose mystery series. Sheila is giving away the book of your choice from her series to someone who posts a comment this week. You can learn more about Sheila at either of her two websites, Www.claudiaroseseries.com or Www.sheilalowe.com, and you can follow her on Twitter: @sheila_lowe. -- AP


On my eighth birthday, my favorite gift was a book by beloved British children’s author, Enid Blyton. The Rockingdown Mystery was part of a series featuring four kids a little older than me, who had all sorts of scary, mysterious, wonderful adventures. That’s when my lifelong love of mystery fiction was born.

I was fourteen when my family moved to America and I started writing my own stories. The Beatles were just getting famous and as I was an insane Beatlemaniac, my stories were about the Fab Four, and I was married to Ringo. Yeah, man, grotty. My new friends at Fremont junior high in Anaheim were impressed with my fishnet stockings and Carnaby Street togs, and they champed at the bit, waiting for each installment—heady praise, gave me an inflated sense of my own worth, no doubt, but loads of fun.

Throughout my high school years I read a gothic mystery a day—no wonder my grades were lagging—and along the way, a desire to write my own mystery novel began to simmer. I tried my hand at a historical mystery-romance, thinking that my writing followed the style of my favorite author of the time, Victoria Holt (don’t laugh!). Fast-forward a lot of years...

About ten years after having two non-fiction books published on handwriting analysis, which is my main profession, I finally got my wish to publish a mystery. Well, that makes it sound easy, and it was anything but.

Some of the thousands of handwriting samples I’ve analyzed for psychologists, attorneys, law enforcement, businesses, and just plain folk were novel-worthy tales that contained the seeds of a good mystery, and I found one that particularly resonated. Still, it was another seven years of rejections, revisions, and heartbreaks before that first mystery, Poison Pen, saw print. But when it did it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and that led to a contract with a big publishing house, and here we are, three years later with the fourth book in the series, Last Writes, about to be released on July 6th. My love of mystery reading continues unabated and so does my love of writing them.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Sheila!
Remember, if you’d like a chance to win a copy of your choice of a book from Sheila’s Claudia Rose series, post a comment to the blog. And don’t forget to check back tomorrow to find out if you’re the winner.
-- AP

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Assistant fashion editor Erica Milano stops by today to discuss fashion faux pas. I hope none of my favorite clothes made her list because I sure can’t afford a wardrobe make-over any time soon! -- AP

Hi everyone! Erica here, taking over for Marlys -- as usual. Too bad I can’t take over her salary, given that I do all her work.

Anyway, I thought we’d discuss fashion faux pas today. Ever see someone walking down the street and wonder if that person ever looks in a mirror? Admit it. We all have. I’m a plus size woman, so I know that it’s not easy to find flattering clothes, but as my Nona often tells me, “Anything worth having is worth working for.” Of course, Nona is old school (or maybe I should say old world) Italian, and like so many other Italian grandmothers, wears nothing but black dresses.

You don’t have to be a plus size women to fall into the fashion faux pas abyss, though. Here are a few of my pet peeves, no matter your size or gender.

Saggy Pants Syndrome -- I don’t care if you’re looking for street cred or your own plumbing show on HGTV. No one is interested in seeing your underwear or butt crack, guys. It’s so not sexy. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite -- a huge turnoff. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to
American Idol for showcasing that old dude singing his Pants On The Ground song. Right on, Grandpa!

Two Sizes Too Tight Trauma -- This bit of advice is for both guys and gals. News flash: Too tight is so not right. Let’s leave a little bit to the imagination, people. Most of you don’t have the bodies to be showcasing every bulge, anyway. Besides, there are some bulges that really need to be hidden. I’m talking to all of you beer bellies and muffin tops out there.

The Letting-It-All-Hang-Out-Gang -- Again, most people just don’t have the bodies for this. Cover up, ladies. Do the world a favor and spare us your belly fat and tramp stamps.

The Walking Billboard Look -- There’s nothing wrong with T-shirts with saying, but choose those sayings wisely. First impressions are lasting impressions. That pink and rhinestone T with “B*TCH” emblazoned across your boobs may very well be the reason you don’t get that job, raise, or promotion. And I’m not talking about wearing such inappropriate garb to the office. You never know who might see you in the evening or on the weekends. 

Thanks, Erica. Blunt but so right on. Anyone have a favorite fashion peeve to share? Let’s hear from you. Remember, if you post a comment this week, you're entered in the drawing to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author.-- AP

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Flower pots are not just for flowers and plants. I use them all the time for various craft projects, some for my own column and some for executing many of the ideas thought up by our decorating editor Jeanie Sims. If you don’t know by now, Jeanie is also our “green” editor. She spends much of her off-time hunting around for castaways to repurpose. The other day she came into the office with an armload of old clay pots and a huge bag of buttons, both about to be tossed by a neighbor getting ready to move to a retirement community.

Jeanie’s idea? Use the pots as storage containers.  My idea? Let’s use the buttons to decorate the clay pots. Thus was born Button Pots. This is such an incredibly simple craft that even a young child can do it and wind up with professional looking results.

A word of caution, though, especially if you’re going to have children help with this project: purchase a non-toxic, non-flammable, water-soluble glue. Some glues made for gluing glass, plastic, and metal emit fumes that can cause really nasty side effects. These are the glues that kids sniff to get high. Craft stores carry safer glues. Make sure you buy the safe kind. -- AP

Materials: terra cotta pots in various sizes; clear acrylic sealer; tile cement or glue for plastic/metal/glass; assorted buttons without shanks; felt; marking pen.

1.  Make sure pot is clean (scrub well in soapy water, rinse, allow to dry.)

2.  Coat the inside and outside of the pot with clear acrylic sealer.

3.  Place the dry pot on a scrap of felt. Trace around base of pot to draw circle. Cut out the circle inside traced line so that circle will fit over pot base without sticking out beyond the bottom edge.

4.  Glue felt to bottom of pot.

5.  Glue buttons randomly around pot.

These pots can be used in just about every room of your house because clay pots come in a myriad of sizes. Some suggested uses -- storing magazines cooking utensils, bathroom or kitchen towels, office supplies, or sewing supplies; as gift basket containers; to store cosmetics, manicure supplies, combs and brushes. We  used the sample in the photo as a napkin holder.

How would you use a button pot? Let’s hear from you! Remember, if you post a comment this week, you're entered in the drawing to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


First, let’s get one thing straight -- ALL of Cloris’s desserts are to-die-for delicious. However, when it comes to chocolate ice cream, Cloris has come up with a recipe that is the piece de resistance of chocolate ice creams. -- AP


2 C. heavy cream
2 C. whole milk
1/2 C. cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
1/2 C. sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
1 T. almond extract
3 oz. chocolate pudding
1/4 cup chocolate fudge sauce
1/4 cup chocolate cake icing
1/2 cup chopped fudge brownie
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Stir cream, milk and cocoa in medium saucepan over medium heat until mixture almost boils. Reduce heat to low. Beat egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract until light yellow and smooth. Beat in 1/4 cup cream/milk/cocoa mixture. Slowly stir egg yolk mixture into remaining milk/cream/cocoa mixture. Cook over low heat until mixture thickens. Fold in pudding, fudge sauce and cake icing. Cool completely. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker. Freeze following manufacturer’s instructions. Five minutes before end of freezing cycle, add chopped brownies and chocolate chips. Serve soft or transfer ice cream to airtight container and place in freezer until firm.

So what do you think? Too much of a good thing? I say no way! There’s no such thing as too much chocolate, but let’s hear from you. Post a comment this week, and you’re entered into the drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday author. -- AP

Monday, July 12, 2010


Guest designer Sparkle from The Sparkle Studio is filling in for me today with (what else?) a sparkly craft! You can find lots more craft project's at Sparkle's blog. -- AP

Sparkle’s Peace Hanger
Designed by Sparkle

I have a stash of craft supplies that I have collected and never used.   So sometimes, it is a good exercise for me to use only things from my stash without going to the store for more components.  For me, this is a “stash only” project. Maybe you have some similar things in your stash.

You need:
·    a surface: I used a scrap piece of wood that I sanded smooth, you could also use a canvas or a piece of watercolor paper
·    a piece of fabric big enough to cover the front of the surface (you could also use paper)
·    Mod Podge/ flat brush
·    Big & Glitzy Glitter Glue
·    Ribbon to match either the fabric or the Big & Glitzy: about 1 1/2 yd.
·    #2 pencil
·    computer and printer
·    drill and drill bit

Try this:
1.     Drill holes in the top corners of the surface.
2.     Mod Podge the fabric to cover the  front of the surface.  Trim as needed.  Set aside to dry.

3.  On the computer, type Peace.  Make it in a font you like and size it to fit your surface.  Print it.

4.  Turn the paper over.  Scribble the lines of the word with the #2 pencil.

5.  Place the pattern pencil side down on the fabric covered surface.  Trace the word, transferring pattern lines to fabric.

6.  Cover pattern lines with Big & Glitzy.  Let dry.

7.  Use ½ yd or ribbon for hanger.  String ends through holes in surface.  Tie knots in back.  Use remaining ribbon to make a bow. Tie it to the ribbon on one side just above the plaque.
This is a quick and easy project to give as a gift or hang on your own wall.  Select colors that you like or have in your stash.
Glitter on!

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sparkle! I'm sure you've inspired many readers to tackle their crafts stash. So let's hear from our readers. What have you made from your stash? Everyone who posts a comment this week is entered in the drawing to win a book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP