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, September 30, 2013


Today we welcome Jessie Crockett, sharing her recipe for Maple Blondies. A nearly life-long resident of the Granite State, Jessie claims to adore black flies, 98% humidity and snow banks taller than the average grandmother. Her debut mystery, Live Free or Die, won the 2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery. She’s now writing the new Sugar Grove Mystery series. Learn more about Jessie and her books at her website. 

Every job has its hazards. For mystery writers one of them is research. There are plenty of us who head out to the firing range to get the feel for weaponry or go on ride-alongs with local law enforcement. I’ve heard other writers talk about the lengths they will go to in order to determine if some of the action scenes they’ve written are physically possible. Some of us pull over to the side of perilously steep roads and peer over the embankment wondering how it would feel to tumble down it and whether or not a body could be completely hidden at the bottom.

But in my experience there is one sort of research that is more dangerous than all the others: Recipe testing. I am currently writing a cozy series with a culinary bent. The series is set on a family farm in New Hampshire and the main character is a sugar maker. As in maple sugar. And, of course, maple syrup.  I’m sure you can understand the risks I’m facing.

You can imagine how hard it is to force myself to taste and tweak and taste some more. Keeping ahead of the calories is a constant struggle. I use my treadmill, walk the beach and park as far away as possible from the entrance of any store. With taste testing for the next manuscript underway I may be forced to take up weight-lifting just to break even.

Even worse is the way my bad influence has dragged others down this dark path. Over the past couple of years my family and friends have courted danger right along with me by taste testing dish after maple-flavored dish. Perhaps the most difficult thing to endure was the maple martinis which left us shaken and stirred.

So in the end, has it been worth the time invested and the risk to waistlines and blood sugar? I’ve included one of the recipes Dani Greene, the protagonist in Drizzled with Death, enjoyed so you can judge for yourself—if you dare.

Maple Blondies

I stick or 1/2 cup butter
3/4  cup light brown sugar
1/4  cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray an 8” x 8” baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a saucepan heat the butter and brown sugar over low heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the maple syrup, egg, and maple extract. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the contents of the saucepan. Whisk together until smooth. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake for 22-28 minutes.

These are meant to be soft, even a bit undercooked by most baking standards. If this is not to your liking, increase the baking time by three-minute intervals until a desired degree of firmness is achieved.

Drizzled with Death
A Sugar Grove Mystery

Meet Dani Greene – a fourth- generation maple syrup maker dealing with a first-class troublemaker…

The annual pre-Thanksgiving pancake-eating contest is a big event in Sugar Grove, New Hampshire. It’s sponsored by the Sap Bucket Brigade, aka the firefighters auxiliary, and the Greene family farm provides the syrup. But when obnoxious outsider Alanza Speedwell flops face first into a stack of flapjacks during the contest, Greener Pastures’ syrup falls under suspicion.

Dani knows the police—including her ex-boyfriend—are barking up the wrong tree, and she’s determined to pull her loved ones out of a very sticky situation. The odds may be stacked against her, but she’s got to tap the real killer before some poor sap in her own family ends up trading the sugarhouse for the Big House…

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Sunday, September 29, 2013


Do you realize there are only 86 days until Christmas? Time to start thinking about all those gifts you need to give. Why not start by stitching up some Christmas cross stitch ornaments? This little gingerbread guy would be the perfect accompaniment to a platter of cookies when you need to bring a hostess gift to a Christmas party or for Sunday school teachers, scout leaders and teachers. And if you don't have time to haul out your sewing machine for finishing,  stitch on perforated paper for a no-sew ornament. -- AP

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and co-operative education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario until taking early retirement and switching career paths a few years ago. Her debut novel, Between Land and Sea, is a September release. Learn more about Joanne at her website. – AP

A Different Kind of Mermaid

I am probably one of the few people on this planet who couldn’t read past Chapter 1 of the first Harry Potter book. As for vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies and other such creatures, well, let’s just say I prefer to keep my distance. Instead, I like to curl up with historical and contemporary women’s fiction, psychological thrillers, cozy mysteries and memoirs.

So, I surprised myself and everyone in my circle when I signed up for a series of creative writing workshops with science fiction author Sarah Totton. While I hadn’t read any of her short stories or novels, I was inspired by her work ethic and persistence. Sarah entered the Writers of the Future Contest seventeen times before finally winning the grand prize. As I took notes and participated in the exercises, I observed the rapt attention and fascination on the faces of my fellow students. Unlike me, they were not feverishly writing or asking questions about literary techniques; they were mentally plotting paranormal romances and young adult dystopian novels.

And then the wheels started turning.

Could I write fantasy?

While driving home one evening, I thought back to my favorite fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. The sad ending of the original version stayed with me, and to this day I still feel sorry for the mute ex-mermaid who could only smile when the handsome prince married someone else. All the while, knowing that the prince’s wedding morning would only bring heartbreak and seal her fate as “foam on the crest of waves.”

As for being a daughter of the air...

 “You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.”(Hans Christian Andersen, 1836)

Good deeds. Striving for three hundred years. And maybe, just maybe, she might obtain an immortal soul!

I wanted the little mermaid to marry the prince and live happily ever after. But when the Disney version was released, I still wasn’t happy with the ending. I realize now that I wanted to read about a different kind of mermaid, one who could lead a happy and successful life, with or without the prince. And maybe one who wasn’t quite so young or so beautiful.

Keeping this vision of an older and wiser mermaid firmly in mind, I wrote Between Land and Sea, the first book in the Mediterranean trilogy.

Between Land and Sea
After giving up her tail for an international banker, Isabella of the Mediterranean kingdom is aged beyond recognition. The horrified banker abandons her on the fog-drenched shores of southwest England, leaving her to face a difficult human journey as a plain and practically destitute fifty-three-year-old woman. 

With the help of a magic tablet and online mermaid support, Isabella evolves into the persona of Barbara Davies. Along the way, she encounters a cast of unforgettable characters, among them former mermaids, supportive and not-so-supportive women, deserving and undeserving men, and several New Agers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


photo by David J. Fred

You’re bloated. Whether it’s from “that time of the month” or some other reason, you know you’re going to have a devil of a time getting into those skinny jeans or that slinky dress you want to wear this weekend—even with a Spanx or two. What to do? Try drinking some chamomile tea. Chamomile relaxes the muscles around your intestines, and the water from the tea will improve your digestion. The two combined will shrink your bloated belly.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


photo by Alvesgaspar

Do you bruise easily? Did you know that pineapple helps heal bruises? Pineapple contains a compound that soothes skin inflammation, but you don’t rub it on your skin. You eat it. The next time you smack your shin or bump your thigh, eat a cup of pineapple chunks and drink water throughout the day to speed up the healing process.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Chicken Apricot Salad

Serves 2-4, depending on accompaniments

1/2 rotisserie chicken
1 small zucchini
5 grape tomatoes or 1/2 small tomato
10 dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon honey Dijon mustard

Skin and debone chicken. Cut chicken meat into small pieces. Chop vegetables into small pieces. Cut apricots into small pieces.

Mix together, chicken, vegetables, apricots, and walnuts.

Combine mayonnaise and mustard. Fold into other ingredients.

Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


How festive is this wreath? I recently came across it while wandering through a gift shop. It would be so easy to make. All you need is a Styrofoam® wreath in your desired size, some rolls of curling ribbon in a variety of colors, a pair of scissors, and some straight pins. Large rolls of curly ribbon are available at party stores for a few dollars.

Cut 36” lengths of ribbon. Curl each piece from the center outward. Insert a pin in the center of the ribbon and pin to wreath. Repeat until wreath is completely covered. Make longer or shorter streamers by adjusted the length of the ribbon cut.

Some ideas:
For a bridal shower wreath use either all white ribbon or the wedding colors.

For a baby shower use pastel colors or pinks for a girl, blues for a boy.

Make a Christmas wreath with red and green ribbons.

Make a Valentine wreath with white, pink, and red ribbons.

Make a 4th of July, Labor Day, or Memorial Day wreath with red, white, and blue ribbons.

Make a wreath in shades of gold, yellow, orange, and brown for autumn. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Barbara Monajem started writing at eight years old. She has wandered from children’s fantasy to paranormal and historical romance, with mystery thrown in whenever she can make it fit. Learn more about Barbara and her books at her website. – AP

Why a Native American hero?

The reason goes back all the way to my childhood. I grew up on the west coast of Canada in a land of cedar trees and totem poles, and the First Nations art of that region has always had a powerful effect on me—it grips my solar plexus and won’t let go.

Much later, after moving to the American South, I spent a lot of time visiting prehistoric sites—mostly what are called Indian Mounds—in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri. I relish the sense of the sacred one gets while visiting these mounds. I found them inspiring, and ages ago I started a mystery which began with a girl who had been drugged and left on the top of one of these mounds.

Later still, for several years running, my family spent several Christmas vacations in Arizona, visiting a friend who taught school on the Navajo Reservation. I had read several of Tony Hillerman’s fabulous mysteries about that area, which made visiting there doubly interesting. I read up on Navajo culture. We went on long walks and visited Anasazi ruins. We ate fry bread and Navajo tacos.

Put all this together, and somehow I ended up with a story about Constantine Dufray, a telepathic half-Navajo who was born out west but moved to New Orleans when he was eight years old, and grew up to become both a rock star—because New Orleans is the home of such great music—and a vigilante in the kinky little city of Bayou Gavotte. He came into being over the course of several versions of the story which began on the Indian mound. He was a secondary character (who almost took over) in the first two books of the Bayou Gavotte series. Eventually I knew more or less who he was, what had happened to shape him, and also what sort of woman could handle him. Finally, I got to write his story—Heart of Constantine.

Heart of Constantine

Vigilante Native American rock star Constantine Dufray has hit rock bottom. His telepathic abilities have spun out of control, and destructive rumors about him run rampant. Some are true—he caused a violent cop’s suicide, and telepathy destroyed his marriage—but he didn’t poison his wife, and he couldn’t have caused riots at his concerts, killing his fans…or could he? Now an unknown enemy is trying to frame him for rape and murder. 

Aura reader Marguerite McHugh finally gets a close encounter with the mysterious star, but it’s nothing like she expected. When Constantine finds her after she’s been drugged at one of his shows, she’s pulled into his quest for the truth. As dangers mount and murders pile up, Constantine and Marguerite are forced into an ever more intimate relationship. Only by facing their fears and working together can they unmask the killer before more innocent people die. 

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013


ICW Dismal Canal

Norma Huss, today’s guest, calls herself the Grandma Moses of Mystery. She published her first novel just before reaching her 80th birthday. She has since written and published several other books. She stops by today to talk about sailing the Intracoastal Waterway and the Dismal Swamp Canal during Hurricane Hugo. Learn more about Norma at her website. 
Sailing the Dismal Swamp Canal to Hurricane Hugo
When our group of sailboats headed south in 1989, we didn’t plan on meeting a hurricane. Our month-long plan was to sail the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) from Baltimore, Maryland, on Chesapeake Bay through the Dismal Swamp Canal to Morehead City in North Carolina before we turned back for the return trip.

My husband Dick and I sailed Cloud Nine, our 36-foot Cape Dory, accompanied by young friends Cathy and Bill. We joined an informal cruisers’ group and sailed south to Norfolk, Virginia. There we passed the United States Naval Station with sightings of lots of ships including an aircraft carrier and a submarine. We anchored overnight near the Norfolk city marina before entering the 51-mile Dismal Swamp Canal. The slowest boat in our group made only four knots. That’s four nautical miles per hour, a bit more than four miles on land. And, with two locks to raise or lower us eight feet and slow us down, it would be a long day.

There’s a lot of history about the entire ICW, but especially for the Dismal Swamp Canal. As we motored past trees, the branches sometimes nearly meeting over our heads, we appreciated the serenity of no commercial traffic, and the closeness of nature. But as we looked at that heavy stand of trees, we realized that in the late 1700s, this area was swamp land, murky and hidden.

But our young country needed a way to transport goods overland before the advent of railroads and highways. The Dismal Swamp Canal was built entirely by hand, using slaves from nearby farms who worked with saws, axes, picks, shovels, and back-breaking labor. The canal was begun in 1793 and opened in 1805. Originally the canal had five or six locks and was only deep and wide enough for flat boats or rafts. In 1829 it was widened and deepened. Today it is rated to handle boats with a six foot draft, but there have been a year or two, or three, since we traveled the canal, that it was closed due to shallow water.
anchored out

After we left Dismal Swamp Canal and continued south on the ICW, we heard about a storm, Hurricane Hugo, heading toward South Carolina. We couldn’t turn and head north with enough speed to outrun a hurricane. We headed west to Bath, NC. Our entire group tied up to a dock near a small marina, sat on the lawn, and plotted. We would strip sails and everything exposed off our boats. We would put out anchors, and tie down the boats to each other and the dock with our heaviest lines, rather like a spider web. And we did. After we had everything shipshape, the marina owner came over.

“You don’t know it,” he said, “but there used to be a wood mill here.” Since anchors couldn’t hold in a bottom of shifting wood chips, he recommended anchoring out in the waterway. He even volunteered to ferry us back to land so we could stay in the local bed and breakfast during the storm. Most of us took him up on it.

We spent a very worried night, listening to the news telling us that Hurricane Hugo was heading west. We didn’t like that one bit. However, come morning, we discovered the hurricane had shot straight through and gone so far west we were well to its east, and except for strong winds, completely out of it.

sunset on the way home
Later, after putting out boats back together, we saw damage at our next stop at a New Bern, NC, marina. Boats had sunk in their slips. One boat had bounced up and down against the deck until the friction had rubbed a hole in the bow of the boat. In South Carolina, the damage was extensive, with boats piled up across roads from the waterway, and into city yards. Five years later on another trip farther south, we stopped at a marina that had only opened that week after finally repairing all the damage from Hurricane Hugo.

That adventure didn’t scare us away from boating. That sailboat was our first, but we subsequently had two more boats, both tugboat-style cruisers. And, my love of boating inspired the amateur detective in my latest mystery, Death of a Hot Chick. She loves everything about boating, even polishing teak.

Death of a Hot Chick
A Cyd Denlinger Mystery - A young widow trying to survive, a ghost with an agenda, and the boat they share.

Violent death comes suddenly to Smith Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay fishing village with intertwined and lasting relationships.

Cyd Denlinger wants to forget her late, philandering husband, keep her family from running her life, and regain her commercial boat captain's license. What she doesn't want is to be involved with an old flame OR a ghost. But the nagging ghost offers a trade that’s hard to resist.

"Find my killer!" she demands. In exchange, Cyd will own the boat Snapdragon. Easy for a ghost to offer something she can't use. Not so easy to solve a murder with too much help from family and friends. Not too safe either, especially when Cyd wonders: was the killer's target his victim, or her boat.
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013


photo by Dahola

We generally don’t focus on gardening here, but we are all about doing things in an environmentally conscious way whenever possible. You know those weeds that crop up through your driveway and pavement cracks? Sometimes no matter how much you dig and yank, you can’t get them out down to the root, right? And if you don’t get the root, they’ll just grow back. So you have to resort to using some expensive and toxic chemical to kill them. Or do you? I just read about a fabulous weed-killer that’s safe for you, your kids, your pets, and the environment. It’s that old stand-by, vinegar. Fill a spray bottle with the stuff and squirt away. Bye-bye weeds! 

Monday, September 16, 2013


Erin Farwell is the author of Shadowlands, a mystery set in 1927 Chicago, Illinois and St. Joseph, Michigan. Her short story The Carver will be published in the All Hallows’ Evil Anthology to be released later this month. Learn more about Erin and her books at her website.

For Cabel Evans, the worst part of serving as an officer during the Great War was surviving. Although he returned home a hero in the eyes of many, he knew this was a lie. What kind of hero lived when his men and best friend died fighting over a few yards of muddy ground?

For almost three years he pretended to be normal, that all was well. He took over the reins of the family business in Chicago, became engaged to a woman he had loved before the war, and lived his life to meet his family’s expectations. The charade succeeded until the horrors of the war merged with the stresses of his life. In a moment he barely remembers, his control shattered with devastating results.

Running from his families and his memories, he traveled to New Orleans. There on the docks he found others like himself, men too damaged by the war to have a place in society. Here he found acceptance and the back-breaking work left him too exhausted to dream. This is how he lived for days, months, years, until the family lawyers found him. Through their urging he accepted the legacy his grandmother bequeathed him, the family’s summer house in St. Joseph, Michigan.

He returned home, still exiled from his family by the broad expanse of Lake Michigan. He wanted to die or be given a reason to live. He wanted to be left alone.

His housekeeper had other plans.

Marta Voss has known Cabel since he was born. She and her husband Jorge have worked and lived in the St. Joseph house for over thirty five years. While Marta understands that Cabel is in pain, she only puts up with his self-imposed isolation for so long. When a fellow veteran comes to call, she takes him to Cabel rather than respect her employer’s demand for privacy.

What she doesn’t realize is that this veteran wants Cabel’s help in solving his daughter’s murder. The police have told Walter Arledge that Kittie’s drowning was accidental, but he believes she was killed. Cabel doesn’t want to get involved but he owes Walter a debt of honor and so he agrees to help.

In the end, Marta gets her way, though not how she expected. Cabel seeks answers from the coroner, the girl’s employer at the Silver Beach Amusement Park, and the manager of a speakeasy in Chicago. While Cabel is off on each new venture Marta waits anxiously at home, thrilled that he is finding his way but terrified at what might happen to him. Still, she does what she can, taking care of the house, cooking his food, washing his clothes, and making batches of his favorite cookies, molasses crinkle.

For in the end that’s all she can do.

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Molasses Crinkle Cookies
Yield: approximately 4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup soft shortening
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt           
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ginger
granulated sugar

Mix shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses thoroughly. Blend all dry ingredients except the granulated sugar. Stir into shortening mixture. Chill.

Heat oven to 375°. Roll dough into 1-1/4” balls. Dip tops in sugar. Place balls, sugared side up, 3” apart on greased baking sheet. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until set but not hard.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Today we have a guest crafter joining us, Christine Freeburn. Christine’s The Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery series brings together her love of mysteries, scrapbooking, and West Virginia. When not writing or reading, she can be found in her scrapbook room or at a crop. Learn more about Christina and her books at her website and blog. – AP

Scraplifting 101

Like with most creative pursuits, there are times where nothing looks right. Writers have writer’s block. Scrapbookers get scrapbooking block, and that’s where scraplifting comes in. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, scraplifting is when scrapbookers copy a layout design they’ve seen in a magazine or in an online gallery when they want to create but nothing on a page looks right. Scrapbookers can also be inspired by an album cover, book cover, or advertisement they’ve seen.

Today, I’m scraplifting the lovely cover of Designed to Death, the second book in my Faith Hunter Scrap This Mysteries Series. I love the color combination and the dimension the stacked embellishment gives the “layout.” (see cover above.)

I stuck to the same color palette of the cover—blues, greens, yellow—and mixed in some red since the topic is the Disney Fantasy ship (doesn’t say Disney without some red.) For the torn photo element, I used two photos of the ship and put them at an angle with the ends touching to give the same effect.

photo border
For the embellishment cluster, I used one premade embellishment, separating it into three parts so the page had a cohesive look. I had a lot of Disney themed stuff, but the brighter colors didn’t work and I wanted more of a “travel” theme for the page. I removed the twine string from the tag and cut off the phrase element.

The main piece of the tag became the sun overlapping the photograph part from my inspiration design. I tucked the base of the tag behind the periwinkle border and overlapped the circle portion so a portion rested on the yellow photo mat.

The saying was used in place of a title at the top of the page. The twine became the yellow circle border used on my inspiration piece. I loved how one embellishment could fill the role of three separate ones from the scraplift.


in pieces

on page

To finish off the page, I used washi tape (my “Disney red” addition) to mimic the border of the bottom page. Instead of a wave embellishment, I used a die cut I made with Pack Your Bag cartridge for the Cricut.

And here is my completed layout, the design scraplifted from the cover of Designed to Death.

Designed to Death

Faith Hunter planned the perfect event at her grandmother’s shop, Scrap This, featuring local scrapbooker and Life Artist Diva, Belinda Watson. But the extravaganza goes up in a cloud of glitter when Belinda and her cousin, Darlene, brawl over scraplifted designs. Faith attempts to break it up but only makes things worse. Then when Belinda turns up dead behind the Scrap This store, Faith’s involvement goes viral.

As accusations against her turn vicious, Faith sets out to prove her nemesis Darlene committed the crime, only to realize they are both innocent. Now they must team up or the murderer’s plan will come together seamlessly with the frenemies sharing a jail cell—or worse, a funeral.