the blog of Anastasia Pollack, crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth
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.
Note: This site uses Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
welcome back Mollie Cox Bryan, author of the Cumberland Creek Mysteries featuring
freelance reporter Annie and the ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop.
After years of working as an editor and writer for nonprofits and corporations
in the DC area, Mollie gave it all up for the "glamorous" life of a
stay-at-home mom and part-time freelance writer. Read more about Mollie and her
books at her website.
Mollie is offering a copy of Scrapped,
the latest book in her mystery series to someone who posts a comment. Don’t
forget to either leave your email address or check back on Sunday to see if
you’ve won. – AP
When I look over the pages of
the old scrapbook I most cherish, my young grandmother stares back at me from
the black-papered pages. Photos were obliviously taken on special days. High
school graduation. A dance with a beau I don’t recognize. Gram holding her
favorite dog and guinea pigs. If she had only journaled along side those
photos, I'd know exactly what was happening. What kind of a day was it? How was
she feeling? Who was that young man? What were her hopes and dreams?
Notes and labels are scattered
here and there, but not any that were reflective, giving me a more personal
glimpse. But one of the notes makes me smile every time I think of it. There is
a photo of what looks to be a skinny but handsome young man with his leg
propped up on a car. The note says William Snowwhite, Jr. On a closer look,
it's my grandmother dressed up as a boy. (Yes, Snowwhite was my Gram’s maiden
name and her father's name was William.) What was that all about? Why was she
dressed (so well) as a man? She was obviously enjoying herself. But I'll never
know the circumstances.
These days, scrapbookers have
co-opted the term "journaling" as a way for people to write a little
about the event in their lives that’s happening on the page. Often, it’s a
simple description of the person or of the event. What I like to see and read
are more personal reflections.
Where should the scrapbooker
start to add in personal reflections?
Begin with some of the questions
I ask in this blog post.
What kind of a day is it? Not
just weather, but was there excitement, pride, sorrow in the air?
How are you feeling? Not just
your health, but are you hopeful, joyous, longing for something? How about the
other person in the photo? Ask them how they are feeling, what they are
What are your or the person’s in
the photo hopes, dreams, goals?
After all, one of the reasons we
paste photo to paper, is deeper than simply making it look pretty. It's to
leave behind a legacy. Let's not leave our descendants wondering why we are
wearing that tacky dress and donning a silly grin, or why we have a photo of
that particular pie, or God forbid, why our otherwise very traditional
grandmother is dressed like a man in the 1930s.
When you scrapbook, do you
journal? Please leave me a comment and you'll be entered to win a signed copy
of the my latest book Scrapped
(Cumberland Creek Mystery #2)
About Scrapped (Cumberland Creek Mystery #2)
The ladies of the Cumberland
Creek Scrapbook Crop are welcoming an eccentric newbie into their fold. A
self-proclaimed witch, Cookie Crandall can whip up a sumptuous vegan meal and
rhapsodize about runes and moon phases with equal aplomb. She becomes fast
friends with her fellow scrapbookers, including freelance reporter Annie, with
whom she shares shallow roots in a community of established family trees. So
when Cookie becomes the prime suspect in a series of bizarre murders, the
croppers get scrappy and set out to clear her name. Annie starts digging and
discovers that the victims each had strange runic patterns carved on their
bodies - a piece of evidence that points the police in Cookie's direction. Even
her friends begin to doubt her innocence when they find an ornate, spiritual
scrapbook that an alleged beginner like Cookie could never have crafted. As
Annie and the croppers search for answers, they'll uncover a shockingly wicked
side of their once quiet town - and a killer on the prowl for another victim.
Buy Link Don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Scrapped. And don’t forget to either leave your email address or check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won.– AP
Our guest today is author Maria
Grazia Swan. Maria was born in Italy and has lived in Belgium, France, Germany,
California and Arizona—but stay tuned for weekly updates of Where in the World
is Maria Grazia Swan? Maria won her first literary award at the age of fourteen.
Maria has written short stories for anthologies, articles for high profile
magazines and numerous blogs tackling love and life. She engaged her editorial
and non-fiction skills for Boomer Babes: Tales of Love and Lust in the Later Years and is now writing romantic
suspense. She currently has two novels available as ebooks: Love Thy Sister and Bosom Bodies. Learn more about her at her website. --
An Italian Version of
the Great American Novel
For me, the dream of writing a great novel smoldered in my
subconscious from the time I read my first book in Italy, written in Italian. My
family moved to Belgium. There I read my first book in French. And while I did
write some short stories, even managed to win an award, I was too young and too
language-challenged to work on The Novel. Time flies regardless if you’re
having fun or not until one day you’re sitting in your empty nest in front of a
computer, and you say to yourself, “This is it, the perfect time, the perfect
place.” For me, that epiphany came after I moved to the United States. I was
suddenly consumed with the need to write the Great American Novel. The fact I wasn’t
American was a small bump in the road.
And so it began. Soon I realized the English language wasn’t
my biggest problem. Heck, you can ask your friends, you can consult an Italian/English
Dictionary. You can even go to Google for translation. I said translation, not
necessarily interpretation. But again, just a small bump in the road to fame
While a writer can conjure text out of thin air, common American
cultural references don’t come easily to someone who grew up in small European
towns. There were no school buses or afternoon classes. We went home at one
o’clock with several hours of homework, which we had to complete because the teachers
actually checked it. Never even heard of football or proms. No idea what a
corsage was. Few had phones, TVs or even refrigerators at home, and for
transportation we used bicycles. Anyone dating before the age of sixteen was
considered a bad kid, although parents, friends and neighbors used other choice
descriptions. Religion ruled our lives. By religion I mean Catholicism, which
was the only game in town. Until I was sixteen, the only black or Asian people
I’d seen were in magazines or in the slide shows the missionaries used to
I could go on, but I’m sure you can see how my Great
American Novel was shaping up to be not American at all.
In my vernacular, Americanisms and cultural references were all but
nonexistent. I vowed to overcome this, to find a way to write my story. And I
did. My main character, always Italian-born, uses her background to tell her
story and bring her experiences to life, in English. So this version of the
Great American Novel will come to you by way of a European import with a decided Italian accent.
Italian-born Mina Calvi has a way of finding trouble, but when she
offers to help a friend by moonlighting at Bosom Bodies restaurant, it’s
trouble that finds her. The body of the restaurant manager is discovered on the
beach, a hit and run victim, and Mina’s VW Bug is impounded as the vehicle used
in the crime. Stunned beyond belief, Mina is suddenly up to her ears in
assault, betrayal, smuggling and murder. Now the police are watching her. The
mob is targeting her. And who comes riding to her rescue on a metal steed—none
other than the cook at Bosom Bodies, the mysterious Diego. Is he more than a
bad cook and a good lover? Is he protecting her, or setting her up? Scared,
clueless and on her own, Mina struggles to reclaim her life and stay two steps
ahead of the those stalking her, but it’s a treacherous path and she’s losing
Does your hair color fade
between colorings? To make your color last longer and fade less, wash your hair
in cool water. Hot water opens hair cuticles. When this happens, color washes
away. And if you absolutely can’t stand washing your hair in cool water,
especially in the winter, wash it less frequently. Most people don’t need to
wash their hair every day or every other day. Once or twice a week is
Take a deep breath! Christmas is over. Sometime
within the next week or so you’ll start packing away all the holiday
decorations and taking down the tree. For many of us, our homes look really
bare and drab at that point, and we get the decorating bug. A fresh coat of
paint can work wonders to spruce up a room.
One of the hottest decorating color trends is gray.
Gray is both sophisticated and modern and is a great neutral color for walls.
You can create some really dramatic looks by filling a gray wall with a
grouping of black and white photos framed in black wooden frames of varying
sizes. Frame some full size, others with white mats. Use family photos or
landscapes or a combination of both.
Don’t have any black and white photos? You can easily
create them from your color photos by printing them out yourself on your
computer or having them printed at your local photo shop. Or look for calendars
with images of old photos. The photo above is of the Flat Iron Building in New
York, taken in 1913. I plan to frame it, along with several others from a 2012 calendar,
to make a grouping for my dining room.
Thanks to all who stopped by this week and special thanks to our Book Club Friday guest author Jo Robertson. Jo offered e-copies of her two Christmas novellas to two of our readers who left comments. The winners are Shelley and Loucinda McGary. Ladies, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can put you in touch with Jo to receive your books.
When her Advanced Placement English students
challenged her to quit talking about writing and "just do it," Jo
Robertson wrote her first completed manuscript, The Watcher, which won
the 2006 Golden Heart Award for romantic suspense. She's authored six indie
published romantic and historical thrillers and three novellas. Read more about
Jo at her website.
Jo is offering one e-copy each of her two Christmas
novellas, The Perfect Giftand The Hitman’s Holiday to two
readers who post comments to the blog. Be sure to include your email address or
check back on Sunday to see if you’ve won. -- AP
The Shepherds Returned to Their Flocks
Happy holidays, everyone,
and a big thanks to Lois for inviting me to visit today!
Although I'm not
particularly religious, I've always been fascinated by the Christmas holidays,
the varied ways we celebrate them, and the traditions that grow up around these
Luke records the version of
the birth of the Baby and recounts the tale of the shepherds.
You know the story – the
long trek to Bethlehem to be taxed, the no-room-in-the-inn scenario, the cave
and the manger, the angels and the shepherds.But because angels with wings and holy seraphim seem more
metaphorical than literal to me, I always found what those shepherds did aftervisiting the manger more interesting than their actually getting
Ah, those brave shepherds!
Since the concept of a
shepherd and his or her flock has universal application, I was intrigued by
what they did next.
They returned to their
flocks, Luke says.And although
they told the glorious news and sang praises for God’s gift, they didreturn
to their flocks.
They didn’t rush out to build
a holy tabernacle.They didn’t
write up the story and publish it in the Bethlehem
Daily Journal.Nor did they
try to sell their sheep and get a higher fee for them because they’d seen the
actual babe in the manger.
You see how crass and
commercial my mind runs?
No, instead the shepherds
returned to their flocks.
They went about the daily
business of sheepherding, or shepherding if you prefer.Sheep, you see, are rather stupid
animals.My father-in-law was a
sheepherder and used to regale us with tales of the sheep and their rather dumb
antics.In real life apparently,
sheep really need someone to shepherd
I like to think of myself as
a shepherd, and if we’re all shepherds like those ancient commoners, what
represents our “flocks”?
Teachers teach.Parents parent.Presidents preside.Grandparents – ah yes, they simply
spoil.Readers read.Writers write.And so it goes.
Although I’ve actually been
to the Grotto and the hillside in Israel, I’m not particularly concerned
whether the shepherds visited a real hillside cave and found a new-born child
two thousand years ago, or whether it’s a beautiful metaphor for a religious
But I do care about the message.
The shepherds returned to
Thinking about those
shepherds gives me new resolve to return to my “flock,” whether it’s my family,
my career, my church, my hobbies.Or right now – to rededicate myself to my writing.
We’re about to herald a new
year.The thought of an entire year
stretching out before me unblemished by my blunders and mistakes is really
intriguing.I want to rush out and
write something on that pristine year ahead!I want to slough off the old and begin anew!
Like the shepherds, I want
to return to my flock.
What about you,
readers?What would you like to
renew your energies toward?What
would you like to rededicate yourself to?If you are the shepherd in your life, what’s the “flock” you’re
The Perfect Gift
When her husband dies unexpectedly Jane Stark is
left with four young boys and a mother-in-law who hates her. When she finds
herself pregnant with the longed-for baby girl her husband wanted and
ex-detective Rick moves in next door, Jane doesn't know whether to be happy or
overwhelmed with the changes life has handed her.
Logan is a professional hit man. He finds the
Christmas Season the dreariest and most boring of the year, but this particular
year he gets caught up in a holiday jingle that lodges in his mind. When he
gets an unusual December contract, he follows a sassy twelve-year-old and her
odd companions through the Bronx ... and serious trouble.
This assignment brings Logan face to face with
the concept of how far he can go on this dark path before there's no turning
back. Is it already too late for redemption?
Tomorrow is the first day of winter,
and that means if you haven't started already, you'll soon be fighting the static cling battle where a good deal
of the day will be spent tugging at your skirts or pant legs. Annoying, right? Not to
mention how unsightly and unprofessional you look when your clothes are
clinging to your pantyhose, dress socks, or tights.
The trick to keeping the cling from happening in the first place is as simple
as a safety pin. Attach a small safety pin to the inside of your skirt lining,
slip, or pant hem. The metal acts as an electricity conductor and will prevent
the static cling from occurring.
Six days to Christmas. If you’re having company for
the holiday, you’re probably thinking about all the cleaning you need to do to
make your home presentable. And that’s probably just adding more stress to your
already stressed life. The key to getting everything presentable is accepting
that no one expects your home to look like a showplace except for one or two
nasty relatives who are going to complain about something no matter what you
do. My suggestion is don’t invite them, but if you really, really have to, treat
yourself to a glass of wine before they arrive, then ignore them.
The first thing you need to do is accept that you
don’t have to clean every room from top to bottom. Close the doors of the rooms
where you won’t be entertaining. That means you don’t have to fret about piles
of laundry or unmade beds. Entertain your guests in your living room, dining
room, family room/den, and kitchen. Clean the powder room for their use. If you
have a finished basement, send the kids down there to play. They’re not going
to care if the floor is covered with toys. Even if you’ve straightened up the
room, it won’t stay straightened up for long, so why waste time and energy?
If you’ve got a sink full of dirty dishes, stick them
in the dishwasher, and run the dishwasher while you’re tackling the other rooms.
For the rooms where you’ll be entertaining, do a
clutter sweep. Dump the stuff that has accumulated on all horizontal surfaces
and the floors into laundry baskets. Then stick the baskets in a closet,
storage area, or your garage.
Next, dust the furniture and vacuum the carpets.
Voila! You’re finished with everything except the kitchen and bathroom, and it
probably took no more than 15 or 20 minutes.
For the kitchen, clear off your countertops and
kitchen table. Items that can be stored in cabinets, drawers, and the pantry
should be put away. Wipe down the countertops and table. Clean the stovetop.
Sweep, then wash the floor. Take out the trash. You don’t need to do anything
beyond that. Remember, you’re serving Christmas dinner. The kitchen is just
going to get messy and dirty again. What you’re really striving for here is to
have clean, uncluttered prep and staging areas.
Finally, clean your powder room or whichever bathroom
you designate for guests. This means cleaning the toilet, sink, and floor. Make
sure the towels are fresh and the sink area is free of personal grooming items
other than hand soap. If this is your one and only bathroom, remove tub toys
and other personal family items you normally leave out but make sure you have a
box of tissues and extra rolls of toilet paper within easy reach. If you keep a
basket of magazines in your bathroom, remove them. You don’t want guests
lingering or taking refuge to get away from those nasty relatives.
One of the ways you can
get a leg up on your holiday dinner is to use your slow cooker. This recipe
takes virtually a couple of minutes to prepare and makes a yummy side dish in
place of stuffing or potatoes to complement your turkey or ham. It’s also great
for a New Year’s Eve buffet.
Cranberry Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
1 loaf cubed day-old Pepperidge
Farm caramel apple bread
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries
Place cubed bread in slow
cooker. In a mixing bowl, combine the next 6 ingredients, beating until smooth.
Stir in cranberries. Pour mixture over bread, stirring gently to combine. Cover
and cook on low for 3 hours.
Bringing cookies or other treats as a hostess gift? Maybe those yummy cookies from last Tuesday's blog post? Why not leave the hostess with a little treat after the goodies are consumed?
I’m sure she’ll find lots of uses for this lovely Christmas canister.
empty coffee container; assorted ribbons in various widths, colors, and
patterns; scrap of cardboard; scrap of batting; scrap of Christmas print
fabric; length of rattail cording; tacky glue
1. Wash and dry container.
2. Cut lengths of ribbon 1/4” longer than
circumference of container. Beginning at the bottom and working up, glue
ribbons around container, varying colors, patterns, and widths. Overlap ends.
3. From the cardboard, cut a circle to fit inside
4. Glue batting to one side of cardboard. Trim.
5. From the print fabric, cut a circle 1” larger in
diameter than the lid. Make 1/4” cuts around the perimeter of the circle every
6. Center fabric over batting and place face down on
flat surface.Run a line of glue
around edge of cardboard. Glue fabric to back of cardboard.
7. Glue fabric covered circle to top of lid. Glue
rattail cord around edge of fabric circle.
8. Fill container with cookies, candy, or popcorn.
Our guest today is Carola Dunn, author of 20 Daisy Dalrymple
mysteries (England 1920s), 3 Cornish Mysteries (Cornwall, c. 1970), and 32
Regencies (all over the world, early 1800s). She was born and grew up in
England and has lived in the US for more decades than she cares to count,
presently in Oregon, where her dog, Trillian, walks her by the Willamette River
daily (not including the past few weeks as during their last walk Carola
carelessly managed to break four bones in her foot.) Read more about Carola at
her website. – AP
I must apologize to devoted
readers of Lois's blog. It is crafty and I am not. Nor are most of the
characters in my mysteries (not in that sense, at least).
I used to knit, decorate
stuff with shells, make mobiles, even painta little (my painting is definitely craft not art). I've
been taught to crochet at least three times but it never stuck.
Looking back, I think I
stopped crafting when I ceased to own a TV. It's great to create things when
you can watch at the same time, but I spend that time reading, and it just
doesn't combine well. Or maybe when I started writing full-time, all my
creativity was channeled into that.
Having confessed my craftlessness,
I now recall that my first Cornish mystery, Manna from Hades,
begins with some knittery. My protagonist, Eleanor Trewynn, is collecting
donations for her charity shop:
in several frogs, Mrs Trewynn," said Miss Annabel Willis anxiously. "You
did say they were well received?"
"Very well indeed, Miss Annabel.
They sold in no time. My thanks to both of you for your hard work and
generosity." Eleanor lifted the big cardboard box, whose faint, sweet
fragrance bore out the logo on its sides: Co-op Tea. It was more awkward than
"It's a pleasure to do what little we can to
help," the elder Miss Willis assured her from her wheelchair, her knitting
needles clicking away tirelessly, producing yet another green and yellow frog.
Later, when the Detective
Inspector is looking for evidence in the shop:
Scumble stood glowering at a bin of colourful woolly
animals. A grass-green, yellow-bellied, goggle-eyed frog grinned back at him.
Eleanor's next-door neighbour, Nick, paints, but he's an artist, not a
crafter. However, when he's suspected of murder in the second book, A Colourful Death, in seeking to
clear himEleanor spends a night
at an artists' commune. Some of the residents are crafters, a potter, a
knitter, a shell-worker, all on a commercial scale.
The nearest anyone gets to crafting in the third of the series, The Valley of the Shadow, is a
bit of prospective sanding and polishing. A farmer donates an ancient wooden
cart-wheel, and Eleanor knows someone will buy it for a decoration once her
friend Jocelyn, the vicar's wife, has cleaned it up.
I seem to remember an occasional character knitting in the twenty Daisy
Dalrymple mysteries, too. It was quite a fashionable occupation in England in
All in all, my books are not quite so devoid of handicrafts as I thought
when I embarked on this essay. And I promise I'll have another go at making
things when I retire from writing—if that ever comes to pass.
of the Shadow
“The sights and sounds of
the coast of Cornwall come alive in The
Valley of the Shadow. The rescue of a drowning Indian man leads to a
race against time to rescue his family, trapped in the smugglers’ caves on the
rocky shore. Feisty retiree Eleanor Trewynn enlists her fellow villagers in
tracking down those responsible for abandoning the refugees — but will the
smugglers find her first? Dunn gives us a thoroughly enjoyable, cozy suspense
novel — one with a social conscience.” —Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books
& Music, Okemos, MI