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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


We’re always happy to have author Judy Alter stop by for a visit. Judy writes three different mystery series as well as historical fiction based on the lives of women in the nineteenth century American West. Today she’s here to talk about leftovers. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website

Leftovers—Save Them or Pitch Them?

My mother was a child of the Depression, and consequently she saved things all her life—bits of string, small pieces of aluminum foil, and leftovers. Oh my, did she save leftovers. When we had to clean out her fridge, my brother and I were astounded at the tiny jars of unidentifiable stuff on the back of shelves—some of it growing mold.

Once I had my own kitchen and family of four kids, Mom thought I was wasteful. She’d ask me what to do with a small dab of leftovers and, before I could answer, she’d say sarcastically, “I know, pitch it.” Truth was, that a small dab of something did little good when you’re feeding six or seven (unless you throw it in the soup pot).

Nowadays, living alone, I try to be more frugal. Recently, a chunk of boneless chicken breast stared at me when I opened the fridge, challenging me to use it. So I invented a quick way of doing chicken stroganoff. Here’s my rough approximation of how I made what I thought was enough for one and turned out to be two meals.

Make a cup of beef bouillon or use a cup of refrigerated broth. Pre-cook some pasta,, about a cup of whatever you have on hand. I used rigatoni because that’s what I had. Rinse it with cold water so it doesn’t stick and swish a little butter into it. Set it aside.

Sauté a generous cup of cubed chicken in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Dump in baby green peas to taste—or omit. When chicken is heated and beginning to brown, stir in one T. flour. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the broth in about two batches, waiting until it thickens enough to make a sauce. Add pasta. At the last minute, dump in a T. of sour cream. Stir and serve.

Your instinct may be to use chicken broth, but trust me, the beef gives it a more robust flavor. I liked this so much I ate it three nights in a row. Hope Mom was watching and smiling.

Murder at the Bus Stop
A Blue Plate Café Mystery

Dallas developer Silas Fletcher sees endless real estate opportunities in Wheeler, Texas if only he can “grow” the town. Blue Plate Café owner Kate Chambers likes her hometown just the way it is, thank you very much, without big box and chain stores. When Fletcher tries to capitalize on a thirty-year-old unsolved murder, Kate knows she must fight for her town, and she uses historic preservation of the old bus depot as one of her weapons. A suspicious death and a new murder make her also fight for her own life.

Buy Links

Monday, April 23, 2018


Antique Scherenschnitte design from 1763
When I first started designing crafts, I met a woman named Betty Christy who designed Scherenschnitte (pronounced shair-en-shnit-the). Below is one of her books. The word is German and means “scissor cuts.” Scherenschnitte is the art of creating paper-cutting designs.
One of Betty's books
You may be familiar with black silhouette cutouts. Prior to the advent of photography, people who couldn’t afford to have their portraits painted would often sit for a silhouette cutout to present to a loved one. Framed silhouettes are often found hanging on the walls of historical homes. Today street fairs and bazaars will often have a vendor snipping out black paper silhouettes. For a few dollars you can have one created of yourself, your children, or even your dog.

Traditional Scherenschnitte can also be far more complex than simple silhouettes and often employs rotating symmetry. Common themes were nature, folklore, and biblical stories. It was a popular art form in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century and was brought to America in the 18th century by Swiss and German immigrants, many of whom settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, now considered Pennsylvania Dutch country. (The Pennsylvania Dutch weren’t from The Netherlands. “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutshe”, which is German for “German.”)

However, the art of ornamental paper cutting has been around since the invention of paper and can be found in most cultures in one form or another. Examples can be found in China as early as the fourth century A.D. The Chinese called the art form Jianzhi, the Japanese called it Mon-kiri and the Poles called their craft Wycinanki.
Paper cutting design by Hans Christian AndersenSource: Odense City Museums
One famous paper cutter was Hans Christian Andersen. He often cut designs while telling his stories to his audience, displaying the finished artwork at the end of his tale. He’d often present his cuttings to friends as gifts. You can see some of his work at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.  

Betty Christy is no longer with us, but every time I see a paper cut design or silhouette, I think of her.

Friday, April 20, 2018


Today we’re joined by Lori Grenville from author P.J. MacLayne’s paranormal Free Wolves series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
Helping rescue unhappy female shifters from packs was just an ordinary day for me. But I can't believe she got me involved with saving the life of an alpha. Alphas and I don't get along. They despise what I stand for. So to think that she got me to put up my life as security for an alpha is craziness.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
That I stand up for the ones that can't stand up for themselves, give hope to those that have lost all hope. Sounds saintly, doesn't it? But I'm no saint, and sometimes I resort to less than legal tactics to get the job done.

What do you like least about yourself?
I don’t like being short and having to look up at everyone. I mean, hanging out with these big male wolf shifters can give me a literal pain in the neck.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
When she had me crawling into the bed of the most powerful alpha in all of North America, that was pretty weird. Of course, it was strictly business, and I made that clear to him from the get-go. Not that he was interested in me. Not as a bed partner, anyway. Still, it was a risky move on her part because it could have gone badly.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
Yep. She tried to talk me into having romantic feelings for the wrong guy. I set her straight, of course. Not that I have time to have romantic feelings for any guy.

What is your greatest fear?
That my undercover status will be blown in the middle of a job. If that were to happen, I wouldn’t be the only one getting hurt.

What makes you happy?
Besides the obvious of completing a rescue? Going for a run in wolf form in an old forest. I’d have to dodge shrubs and young trees as I darted from one patch of sunshine to another. I could stop and drink water from a clear stream whenever I got thirsty.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
The bit about my mother. I still want to locate her. If I could rewrite that part, I’d find her among either the Jaeger or Destin pack females. It would make for a happy ending. Or happier, maybe.           

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Elder Jaeger. He’s no alpha. How the heck does he keep one of his betas from challenging him for pack leadership? He’s got to have some dirt on them and I wish I knew what it was. It might enable me to do some manipulation of my own. For the betterment of the pack, of course.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Interesting question. Obvious answer would be Counselor Carlson, but I don’t think I could live with all the restrictions his position puts on him. What kind of life is it if you are surrounded by bodyguards all the time? I’ll say Elex Destin instead. He may have had a rough start in life, but he’s found what he loves to do and he’s good at it. And he won’t allow himself to be pressured to be something he isn’t.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Born and raised among the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, P.J. MacLayne still finds inspiration for her books in that landscape. She is a computer geek by day and a writer by night who currently lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. When she's not in front of a computer screen, she might be found exploring the back roads of the nearby national forests and parks. In addition to the Free Wolves’ stories, she is also the author of the Oak Grove series. Read more about her and her books at her blog.

And a Giveaway! In celebration of the release of Wolves' Gambit, one or more lucky people will win an e-book version of Wolves' Pawn, the first book of the series. You can enter here.  

What's next for you?
It's time for me to go into hiding for a while. Sit back, relax, recharge, wait for things to settle down. At least until I get chosen for another mission.

Wolves' Gambit
Wolf-shifter Lori Grenville was rescued from near-slavery and a brutal pack leader by the Free Wolves. To pay back the favor, she's dedicated her life to helping others in the same situation, leading shifters to safety and a new start, risking her life in the process. She's faced down alphas and has no qualms in undermining pack structure.

Now she's challenged with the task of restoring an alpha to his rightful place. If she gets it right, she can stop a war from ripping apart two packs and spreading across an entire state. If she fails, she'll be among the first to die.

There's still the option of walking away and letting the Jaeger and Destin packs destroy each other. That means she'll fail in her original mission of rescuing the daughter of the Jaeger alpha before the girl is forced into marriage for political gain.

Lori hasn't failed in a mission yet. This one may be the exception.

Although Wolves' Gambit is the third book in the Free Wolves series, each book can be read as a standalone.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I’m a city girl exiled to the suburbs. I’m much more comfortable in a concrete environment with mass transit than the land of malls and minivans. Maybe that’s the reason I have two black thumbs. With few exceptions, plants see me coming and commit suicide rather than suffer a prolonged death at my hands.

Heaven knows, I’ve tried to develop a green thumb, but I swear there’s a conspiracy in the Garden State. Whatever I don’t kill, the squirrels devour. Along the squirrel grapevine the word is out; my address is passed from varmint to varmint. They hold conventions in my driveway and feast on whatever I dare to plant, leaving my neighbors’ gardens full of flowers and produce but mine bare.

One morning I looked out my kitchen window to find a squirrel perched on my gas grill, a green tomato between his thieving paws. I went outside to shoo the little bugger away and check my two tomato plants that the day before had been loaded with green tomatoes. Every single tomato had been yanked from the vine, chomped a few times, then discarded in the dirt.

But every year hope sprang eternal, and I headed to the garden center for the makings of a vegetable garden. Finally, after years of gardening frustration I discovered the one plant that both defied my black thumbs and the squirrels—zucchini. The first time I planted zucchini, I made the mistake of planting three, figuring that if the garden gods were smiling down on me, one plant might survive. All three not only survived but thrived. And that’s a heck of a lot of zucchini.

The strange thing about zucchini is its rate of growth. In the morning it’s the size of your pinkie finger, and by evening it’s big enough to feed your teenager’s football team. There are only so many ways you can disguise a zucchini and fool your family into believing they’re eating something other than those green things taking over the backyard. So that first year I wound up giving away a lot of zucchini.

The garden gods continued to smile down on me until a few years ago when all of a sudden they turned their backs on me. I was used to picking zucchini out of my backyard, not the produce aisle of the supermarket. A fluke, I decided. Wouldn’t happen next year. But it did. And the year after that. For the past three summers I’ve harvested next to nothing--one or two zucchini at most. Which makes for very expensive zucchini when you add up everything I spend at the garden center to grow those plants. I decided to give up.

Then this past fall the one remaining tree on my property that hadn’t succumbed to old age, blight, or Super Storm Sandy, departed for that great arboretum in the sky. While at the garden center, searching for an inexpensive replacement, the horticulturist asked, “How’s your zucchini this year?”

He nearly brought me to tears. I missed my zucchini—the one plant that used to thrive in spite of me. He told me to cheer up. The bees were back.

Bees? Well, it turns out the reason I hadn’t grown any zucchini the last three years was that the honeybees had flown the coop. My zucchini wasn’t being pollinated. The horticulturist said the honeybees were coming back, and I should definitely plant some zucchini this spring and dust off all my zucchini recipes.

So if spring ever arrives in New Jersey this year, I’ll give zucchini one more try, but I’m hedging my bets. Along with sending up prayers to the garden gods, I’m offering some to the honeybee gods as well. We’ll see if come harvest time, my prayers are answered.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Catalina Island in the 1950s
Today we sit down with private investigator Skylar Drake from Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger’s Skylar Drake Murder Mystery Series.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
My life? I didn’t have much of a life after I lost my wife Claire, and Ellie, my beautiful three-year-old girl. They died in a house fire three years ago when I was undercover for LAPD. The circumstances were suspicious, and I started a lawsuit against the LAPD that got me fired. My dream is to open my own gym and find out who was behind the fire that killed my family. But you know, when I’m desperate to pay my bills, I work as a stuntman for Prestigious Studios. I still take on one of their gigs when money is low.  The work is fun. I get to meet many stars. Most (not all) are just plain folks with a special talent trying to live their lives.

Before these writers came along and threw a couple wrenches into my life, I was having nightmares from my time in Korea. Even with the distraction of interesting cases, I still wake up in a cold sweat— but only once in a while.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
About the time Lynn and Zeilinger wrote their first story for me I inherited a detective agency from my late wife’s brother. He’s going to be out of the picture for three to five years.

The LAPD taught me how to be a pretty good investigator, so I got together with my partner Casey Dolan. Our clients are happy in the end, some are saddened, but the mystery is always solved. I must say that my detective agency, D&D Investigations has brought in interesting cases. I’ve doubled the amount of cases and money since I took over the agency.

What do you like least about yourself?
I don't trust anyone except my partner Dolan and Lory Carrington, my secretary. Even good people need to prove themselves to me. It embarrasses me when they prove they can be trusted and I’ve treated them badly.

What is the strangest thing your authors have had you do or had happen to you?
Everyone seems to want me to date again, but I have trouble leaving the memory of Claire and Ellie behind me. Along with that, women whose first names end in "y" are unlucky for me.

These authors keep naming the interesting women in my stories with first names that end in "y.”  Take Mary Black in my latest case, Slick Deal. This lady is the spitting image of Ava Gardner.  But they’ve written her so I can’t get too close. She’s a sweet girl and a stunning beauty. I’ll have to find a way around the authors’ plot ideas.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
You should see the outlines these two make. It's horrific the way they have me fighting and getting beat up. I'd be exhausted to say the least. I don't always have to fight to get my point across. So I argue with them and try to get them to add more "reasonable" characters. They usually listen to me but only after the first edit.

What is your greatest fear?
Other than the outline? I'd say there are two things that I worry about in all four books:  One, that the bad guys gets away with the crime, leaving dead people in their path. It's never happened because I make sure the authors listen to me. And second, I miss not being in love, and worry love won't be in the stars for me... because of these word jockeys.

What makes you happy?
Memories of my wife and daughter and solving the unsolvable. And it's great to prove the "experts" wrong. I'm happy when my partner and I see eye-to-eye. Dolan and I go way back to our days at the LAPD, and since 1955 when I took over this business, we've worked well together, always have.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I would definitely change the names of the Femme Fatale's and not make their names end in "y". Many times I have to bite my lip, turn and walk away. Hey, it's not easy. Why you ask?  This may sound corny, but I'd like to fall in love again.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
In the first book, Slivers of Glass, I met FBI Agent Olivia Jahns. A gorgeous, smart and sexy women whose name doesn't end in "y". She keeps an eye on me and my partner. You’d think a lady like her could think outside the box once in awhile. Since she can't seem to do that, she could listen to me, but what woman ever does?

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Softy Moreno, a big time gangster in LA, He’s a really cool cat. I don't agree with his methods for getting things done. He's been my nemesis for four books now. I admire his charm with the ladies and his fortitude. When he makes a promise he never fails to follow through, good or bad. In Desert Ice he actually promised to get the person responsible for the violence that everyone blamed on him. And he did exactly that. Too bad the writers don’t let people like him tell their side of the story often enough.

Tell us a little something about your authors. Where can readers find their website/blog?

It amazed me how they make each book happen. They don't believe in just researching the mid-1950s. They have to experience each location before they put pen to paper. So they took me with them to rural Santa Rosa, California, pre-statehood Hawaii, gang-infested Las Vegas, and the sleepy town of Avalon, on Catalina Island. It's been a joy to travel with them and it's exciting to guess what they have planned for me. They each have a thing they call a website:

What's next for you?
I enjoy staying close to LA, where my office has easy access to the film and TV studios. Traveling by rail or flying out of the area is time consuming and expensive. So I hope for the next one they'll let me stay in L.A. or Hollywood. There's plenty of excitement in both cities, but with these two authors... one never knows.

Slick Deal
On the eve of the New Year, 1956, oil tycoon, Oliver Wright dies suspiciously at a swanky Hollywood New Years Eve party. Some think it was suicide. His death is soon followed by threats against the rest of his family.

Private Investigator Skylar Drake and his partner Casey Dolan are hired by an L.A. gangster to protect the family and solve Oliver’s mysterious death. Clues lead them to Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island, a Hollywood movie star playground. A high profile scandal, mysterious women, treason and more deaths complicate matters, putting Drake and his partner in danger.

Twenty-three miles may not seem far away but false identity and corruption on this island could squash their efforts to answer the question—How in the world can a dead man commit suicide?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


Today is tax day in the U.S., and I’m betting many of you are not in a very good mood, even those of you who are tax accountants. (I know a few tax accountants, and they’re all looking forward to a well-deserved vacation tomorrow.) If ever there was a reason for comfort food, today has to rank up there in the Top Ten.

In the award-winning romance, Hooking Mr. Right, heroine Thea Chandler knows more than a little about comfort food. She’s relied on it most of her life to help her cope with her difficult family dynamic and a wedding that ended before the “I do’s”.

So after you return from standing in line at the post office, head to the kitchen and whip up a batch of Thea’s Double Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Brownies. You have our permission to eat the entire pan. And if you’re really bummed today, do what Thea did and add a carton of Chunky Monkey to it. (Just don’t step on the scale for a few days!)

Thea’s Double Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Brownies
(Serves 8 to 10 -- or one, depending on mood)

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon flour
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces cherry preserves

Melt chocolate and margarine in microwave at HIGH for two minutes, stirring frequently until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside to cool. Stir 3/4 cup of sugar into melted chocolate. Blend in two eggs and vanilla. Add 1/2 cup of flour, stirring well until well blended. Spread into greased 9-inch square pan.

Using a blender, mix cream cheese, remaining sugar, egg, and flour until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon over brownie mixture. Spoon cherry preserves over cream cheese mixture. Run a knife through batter to swirl mixtures. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan. Cut into squares or bars.

Hooking Mr. Right
Can a butt-ugly alley cat named Cupid bring together two people driven apart by secrets and lies?

After writing a doctoral thesis that exposed fraud in the pop-psychology genre, thirty-two year old professor Althea Chandler sacrifices her professional integrity to save her family from financial disaster. She secretly becomes best-selling romance guru Dr. Trulee Lovejoy, self-proclaimed expert on how to catch a man, even though Thea's a miserable failure when it comes to relationships -- especially those with the opposite sex.

Burned by a failed marriage, Luke Bennett finds himself pursued by Dr. Lovejoy toting women after a gossip columnist dubs him New York's most eligible bachelor. When he at first mistakes Thea for one of the women out to snare him, sparks fly, but the two soon find themselves battling sparks of a less hostile nature, thanks in part to that alley cat. 

Luke believes he's finally found an honest woman. Unfortunately, Thea is anything but honest. She's got more secrets than the CIA and a desperate gossip columnist out to expose her. Cupid definitely has his work cut out for him.

Buy Links
paperback (includes bonus short story Finding Mr. Right)
Google Play 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Today I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite paintings, The Annunciation Triptych, also known as the Merode Altarpiece. It’s housed at the Met Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The medieval-looking structure, which opened to the public in 1938, is located in Fort Tryon Park on the northern end of Manhattan and overlooks the Hudson River.
The Met Cloisters
The triptych is credited to the workshop of Robert Campin, also known as the Master of Flémalle, and was painted sometime between 1427 and 1432 by him and at least two of his assistants. What fascinates me about this painting and all medieval art is the symbolism employed by the artists. There was a reason for each object and every color choice in medieval art. Some of the symbols in medieval paintings are familiar to us, such as the olive branch representing peace, but others have not stood the test of time and are unknown to most of us today except for biblical scholars and art historians.

For instance, note the mousetraps on the workbench of the third panel, which shows Joseph working in his carpenter’s shop. Why did the artist choose to show mousetraps instead of something else a carpenter might make? It’s because mousetraps, according to the writings by St. Augustine, referenced the cross as the devil’s mousetrap.

And we all may associate the apple with sin, thanks to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but did you ever wonder why it was an apple Eve gave Adam and not some other fruit? The answer may have to do with the fact that the Latin word for “sin” is “malus” and for “apple” is “malum.” Can't get more similar than that.

Color choice was never random in medieval paintings. Colors all had hidden meanings. White represented purity, innocence, and compassion. Black represented mourning and penance. Red represented power, victory, and shelter from illnesses and evil spirits. Blue represented faithfulness and spirituality and is most often the color used in the clothing of the Virgin Mary but interestingly enough, not in this triptych where Mary is wearing red. Yellow represented hope, renewal, truth, and light, but it could also represent traitors. Confusing, right? Purple, the color reserved for European royalty, was rarely used in medieval art because the technique to produce it was lost in the Late Middle Ages. (Although I have to wonder why none of the artists ever thought to mix red and blue paints.)

The Evangelists were each represented by symbols in medieval art: Matthew as an angel, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox, and John as an eagle. The lamb was a symbol for Jesus (the good shepherd), and the dove represented the Holy Spirit and resurrection. Goats were a symbol of oppressors and unrepentant sinners. The lion was a symbol of strength and wisdom and also could represent the sun.

Various objects in paintings also had meaning. Anchors represented hope. The lily represented purity. An eye, often pictured in a triangle with rays of light, stood for the all-seeing eye of God and could also represent the infinite holiness of the Trinity. The fleur-de-lis represented either the Virgin Mary or the Holy Trinity.

Gates in paintings had hidden meanings, as well. An open gate stood for the entrance to Heaven, a closed gate represented death or exclusion, and a broken gate was a symbol of the powers of Hell.

The three parts of the life cycle of a butterfly each represented something different. The caterpillar symbolized earthly life, the cocoon represented the tomb of Jesus, and the butterfly stood for the resurrection.

Books, harps, keys, pearls, coins, even rocks and towers, are symbolic images in medieval art. The objects depicted in these paintings were all placed within the painting for a reason. Learning the hidden meanings behind these objects is like solving an ancient puzzle. Once you know key to the puzzle, you’ll have an entirely new understanding of medieval art and artists.