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.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Friday, May 31, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR ALISON STONE

Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Alison Stone credits an advertisement for writing children's books for sparking her interest in writing. She never did complete a children's book, but she did have success writing articles for local publications before finding her true calling, writing romantic suspense. Learn more about Alison and her books at her website. -- AP 

Making Time

Thank you for hosting me on Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. I think this is the best title for a blog, ever. Anyway, it got me thinking how much I used to love to do crafts. I say “used to” because life and writing have gotten in the way over the years.

I have a beautiful cross stitch I completed for my wedding twenty years ago. I completed another two cross stitch projects announcing the births of each of my first two sons. I have a third cross stitch half completed for my daughter. She turned thirteen earlier this year. I also have an eight year old. I had to mention her or she’d feel left out. I never even purchased the materials to start a cross stitch for her. It makes me sad to think how days roll into months and months into years and we fall away from the things that used to bring us enjoyment.

Over time, I put the cross stitch aside, and picked up a notebook and found writing also brings me great joy. I’ve been fortunate to turn what started out as a hobby into my career, with the support of my hubby who brings in a steady income. J

My latest book, Plain Pursuit, will be out in June 2013 from Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense. In doing research for my suspense set in Amish country, I took a trip down to Conewango, NY. (I set my book in fictionalized Apple Creek, NY because, well, it has a nice ring to it.) My daughters and I stopped into a local shop and admired the beautiful handcrafts made by the Amish—everything from potholders to quilts. There’s something very tranquil about the country and the image of women gathered around a quilt or sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, the rhythmic motion of their hands as they stitch the fabric…

Taking the time to do things they enjoy…

All this talk of crafts, makes me want to take a trip to a craft store. Maybe I could start a wedding cross stitch. I figure I have a good ten years or more before my oldest gets married. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my next book. I hope you’ll check them out.

Is there any craft project you’d like to work on that you just haven’t made the time for lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. 

Plain Pursuit
Danger in Amish Country

When her brother is killed in a small Amish town, Anna Quinn discovers she's an unwelcome outsider. But the FBI agent investigating the case is right at home—because Eli Miller was born and raised in Apple Creek's Plain community. Eli left his Amish faith behind long ago, but his heart is rooted in a local cold case he can't forget—a mystery with strange connections to Anna's loss. Desperate to uncover the truth, Anna and Eli are faced with stony silences and secrets…secrets that someone wants to keep buried in the past.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--GUEST TRAVEL EXPERT KENDRA THORNTON


Full-time mommy to three Kendra Thornton was the former Orbitz director of communications and has traveled to 28 countries on 6 continents. She loves to write about travel and offer travel tips. Today she joins us to share some of her favorite tips on traveling healthy with your kids.

Family Fun In The Summertime: 5 Travel Tips

Summer is on its way. That means road trips and days at the beach with the kids. Before you soak in those rays, though, you have to get to your destination. That can be an adventure in itself! What do you do when the kids are hungry and screaming in the backseat? As a full-time mom who's roamed all around the country with her husband and kids in tow, I've put together some tips on keeping your family healthy, safe, and happy while traveling.

1. Eat Breakfast

If you're headed out for a full day at the amusement park, be sure your family eats a healthy breakfast beforehand. During sleep, your body is hard at work making repairs. All that energy needs to be replenished in order to function the next day. Aim for a serving of healthy protein, such as scrambled eggs, and complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy. If you're staying at a hotel, take advantage of the continental breakfast offered. Eat foods like whole-grain toast, oatmeal, and fresh fruit. Steer your family clear of sugary cereals and pastries. These provide little nutritional value and won't satisfy hunger for very long.

2. Pack Healthy Snacks

The munchies can hit hard while you're on the road. Instead of settling for greasy, salty convenience store snacks, pack your own healthy food. Keep a cooler stocked with juice, water, low-fat string cheese, Greek yogurt, apples, and celery and carrot sticks. Keep bags of trail mix and pretzels, too. Kids always hungry on road trips? Instead of constantly stopping for food, I like to surprise mine by packing their favorite cookies or candy. Keep in mind that if you must stop for something on-the-go you should still take the time to make healthy decisions at fast foods places!

3. Keep Hand Sanitizer Handy

Here's something to think about the next time your family uses a public bathroom at a rest stop or airport. According to an SCA survey, four in ten adults have admitted to not washing their hands after sneezing or coughing. Fifty-eight percent have seen other people walk out of restrooms without having washed their hands. Gross, right? Teach your children to lather up on the soap and wash their hands for at least twenty seconds under running water. Keep sanitizer on hand when soap and water are not available.

4. Maintain Regular Sleep-Wake Schedules

You know that crying baby on the airplane? Chances are, he's probably traveling during the hours when he's usually asleep. Disruptions in children's sleep-wake cycles can lead to episodes of crankiness. As much as possible, schedule flights, meal times, and rest periods around the usual times your family engages in them at home. There are a bunch of Orlando hotels in Walt Disney World that offer quiet hours to ensure their visitors get the proper night’s rest they need.

5. Make Time For The Adults

Mom, Dad, this is your vacation, too. Fit some grown-up time into your days. Enjoy cocktails at the bar or have a couple's massage at the spa. Many hotels have childcare options that you can utilize for a few hours. This way, you and your spouse will come away refreshed from the vacation instead of frazzled.

Use these tips to plan for a healthy, safe, and fun vacation with your family!    

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HEALTHY LIVING WITH JANICE--GERMY KEYBOARDS


Did you know that the average keyboard has more germs than a public toilet? Euwww, right? Since cold and flu germs are spread through touch more than any other way, get in the habit of disinfecting your keyboard and mouse. Wring the excess liquid from a bleach-free disinfectant wipe, then rub it over your keyboard keys, mouse, and mouse pad. While you’re at it, wipe down the other items on your desk, such as pens, pencils, rulers, scissors, tape dispenser, etc.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR DORI HILLESTAD BUTLER


Dori Hillestad Butler is an Edgar-award winning author of mysteries for children. Her Buddy Files series introduces Buddy, a crime solving therapy dog. She’s also been hard at work on a new series called Haunted Library which launches in 2014 and features a ghost boy named Kaz and a “solid” girl named Claire who work together to solve ghostly mysteries. Learn more about Dori and her books at her website. – AP  

Never has my personal life and my work life come together so seamlessly than while I was writing the Buddy Files books. I’d always wanted my own series. And I was lucky—a publisher I’d been working with for quite a few years had invited me to submit a series proposal. But I was having a hard time coming up with anything. That was about the time my dad’s health took a turn for the worst, and I had just learned that my oldest son would be moving from Iowa City, IA to Seattle, WA the following summer. I always knew my kids would grow up and move out one day, but I thought they’d move across town, not across the country! That was an adjustment. For me.

I knew I should be celebrating my son’s entry into adulthood, not mourning it. I realized I needed a new project to throw myself into. Not a writing project. Something else. I’d been hearing a lot about therapy dogs. I knew there was a therapy dog group in my community, and I was especially interested in the program where kids read to therapy dogs. A dog is a non-judgmental listener. He doesn’t care whether a child is reading at grade level or not. He’ll never laugh at a child who stumbles over a word. He just lies there and enjoys the story. And the child learns to associate reading with something positive.

What I missed most about my kids being little was reading to them. So I decided this was the perfect new project to throw myself into. I loved dogs; I loved kids; I loved books. I had a dog already, but I knew my dog wouldn’t make a very good therapy dog. So I went to the P-O-U-N-D (by the way, you should never say that word out loud in front of a dog) and adopted this guy:

Mouse
And I started training him to be a therapy dog. It was while I was training him that I got the idea to write the Buddy Files. A therapy dog comes into contact with a lot of different people…and all those people could have problems, or maybe mysteries, to solve.  I loved writing from a dog’s point of view.

Buddy
Like my real-life dog Mouse, my fictional character Buddy is a good and loyal dog. He loves everyone and everything.

But he tends to get a little distracted…especially when there’s food around.

“Pizza? I LOVE pizza. It’s my favorite food!”

“French fries? I LOVE French fries. They’re my favorite food!”

“Hamburgers? I LOVE hamburgers. They’re my favorite food!”

I get a lot of letters and e-mails from kids who want to know what is Buddy’s real favorite food. So here’s a recipe for Buddy’s FAVORITE dog treats:

Buddy’s FAVORITE Dog Treats

1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1 T. chicken bouillon granules
1 T. honey
1/3 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cup hot water
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (found in health food section)
3 cups flour

1. Preheat oven to 325°F and grease baking sheets.

2. In a large bowl, stir together oatmeal, bouillon, honey, and butter. Pour hot water over mixture, then allow to stand for about five minutes.

3. Add beaten egg, powdered milk and cornmeal. Stir well.

4. Add yeast and flour, a little at a time while mixing. Continue to stir thoroughly. Add more flour if necessary to make the dough very stiff.

5. Divide dough into three balls. Roll each ball out to a ¼ inch thickness. Cut dough into small squares (or use a dog bone cookie cutter) and place on baking sheet.

6. Bake at 325°F. If your dog likes softer treats, take them out of the oven after about 20 minutes and let them cool on wire racks or paper towels. If your dog likes crunchy treats, bake them for 30 minutes, then turn off oven and crack oven door, but leave biscuits in to cool and dry out.

Oh! And my real-life dog Mouse LOVES Buddy’s Favorite Dog Treats, too!

The Buddy Files

Monday, May 27, 2013

MEMORIAL DAY 2013

Graves at Arlington National Cemetery
Anastasia and the gang are taking the day off to honor all those brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR KIM CRESSWELL


Trained as a legal assistant, Kim Cresswell has been a story-teller all her life but took many detours, including working for a private investigator, running a graphic design business, and teaching computer classes at a local business school. After becoming disabled with Fibromyalgia and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, she returned to her first love, writing. Kim has a busy year ahead of her with three releases coming in 2013. Learn more about her and her books at her website. – AP 

CONFESSIONS OF A GAMER CHICK:   Love for a Good Story

I'm not much of a crafty type person, and I really don't enjoy cooking anymore. I wish I did. My children are grown and married, but over the years, one thing hasn't changed...

I am a gaming junkie. I have been since the '80s—the decade of big hair, leg-warmers, snap-crotch bodysuits (remember those?), acid washed jeans and authors Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins.

It was also a time when gaming evolved from arcade style games (Pacman and Space Invaders) to plot based games.

One of the first games I played was Kings Quest, an adventure game, the first of the series, which followed the fictional royal family of the Kingdom of Daventry. To show my age even more <grin> I played the game on a Commodore Amiga 500, a 16-bit computer which cost me $400.00. Ouch, what was I thinking?

photo: obsoletecomputemuseum.org/amiga500

Much like a great suspense or mystery novel, Kings Quest involved a quest, solving riddles, and completing tasks using logic and lateral thinking.

The main character, a brave knight, was motivated by the desire to protect his family and shield the innocent from evil. If he succeeded, he would become king and eventually throughout the game series, find his queen (yes, romance.) The villains created hardship for the inhabitants, threatened the security of Daventry, and battled to defeat other kingdoms.

photo: stockfreeimages.com

Fast forward to 2013.  I'm still a die-hard PC gamer and known to play first-person shooters (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) but I'm still drawn to adventure, fantasy and  RPG's (Role Playing Games.) 

Why?

Mystery. Suspense. I want the hero to triumph over the bad guys!  I want a Happily Ever After ending! It must be the writer and the reader in me.

As an author, what have I learned from years of gaming? A lot, in particular, the importance of story structure, GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict), pacing and plotting. If I get frustrated or stuck with the direction my plot is going, The Big List of RPG Plots by S John Ross (download it here) is an excellent resource and idea generator.    
Do you play games? What type of games do you play?
Let the games begin!

REFLECTION
Florida investigative reporter, Whitney Steel, has lived in the shadow of her legendary father long enough. To prove herself she needs to find the “Big” story.

She found it.

Now it may kill her.

After receiving a lead pointing to the world's first cloned human, now a small child, Whitney vows to unravel the truth. However, sifting through the facts proves to have dangerous results, including death threats and murder.

When she's nearly killed, but is saved by undercover FBI Special Agent, Blake Neely, he refuses to let her get in the way of his own objective—at least not right away.

Caught in a lethal game between a billionaire obsessed with genetic perfection, his hit man’s thirst for retribution, and a Colombian drug lord fresh out of prison determined to make Blake pay for his twin brother’s death over a decade ago…

Can they save an innocent child before it’s too late?

Faced with tough choices, with deadly consequences for many—Whitney soon realizes that sometimes a story becomes more than just a story.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--BUDGET VACATIONS, PART 2


Last week I talked about booking vacation homes and apartments to cut down on the cost of a vacation. Another big budget buster when traveling is food. Eating three meals a day at a restaurant can be very costly, especially if you’re traveling as a family. Here’s a tip for reducing those meal bills:

Eat where the locals eat. If you’re visiting a large city, check out the local coffee shops for breakfast. At lunch time, head for the food trucks and food carts that have the longest lines. Local residents go where the food is cheap and good.

Want something a little nicer for dinner? Before you go on vacation, visit online deal sites like restaurants.com, Groupon, and Living Social to stock up on discounted meal vouchers for restaurants in the places you’ll be visiting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

MONEY MATTERS WITH SHEILA--SUPERMARKET PRICING


Price check, aisle 2!

We all know that food is more expensive at convenience stores than in supermarkets, but did you know the same item might have multiple prices in a supermarket, depending on where it’s shelved?

The trend in supermarkets these days is to shelve the same item in several areas. For example, cheese is found both in the deli section and the dairy section. You can find nuts in the gourmet food section, the produce section, and the baking aisle. If you suddenly decide you’d like salsa with your chips but don’t want to walk all the way back to the condiments aisle, it’s convenient to be able to reach for a jar next to those chips. This added convenience can be costly, though. That salsa might be more expensive by the chips than the jar in the condiments section. Next time you go shopping, check the prices. You might find it worth your wallet to trek back a few aisles.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

COOKING WITH CLORIS--LEA WAIT'S MUSSELS STEAMED IN WINE & HERBS


Lea Wait is a Maine author who writes the Agatha-finalist Shadows Antique Print Mysteries staring antique print dealer and college professor Maggie Summer. Lea also writes historical novels for ages 8-14 set in nineteenth century Maine. For more about Lea and her books, visit her website and the Maine Crime Writers blog she writes with nine other Maine mystery authors.   

Mussels Steamed in Wine & Herbs
(as seen in Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding)

In Lea Wait’s Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding, her latest Shadows Antique Print Mystery, antique print dealer Maggie Summer heads for Cape Cod to help her friend Gussie with pre-wedding planning and jitters …. and although finding a body on the beach and having to prepare for a hurricane do complicate their task, Maggie and Gussie find time to share several meals of scrumptious fresh seafood while counting down to Gussie’s big day. One of their favorites is Mussels Steamed in Wine & Herbs. Easy to prepare, easier to eat, and delicious.

You’ll need 1-2 dozen mussels per person, depending on whether the mussels will be an appetizer or main course. This recipe will assume you’re using 4 dozen fresh mussels, and that you’ve scrubbed & debearded them (taken off the long “beards” that attach them to rocks) and removed any mussels that are open (open = dead) before starting.

Finely chop 8 large shallots, 2 large onions, and 8 large cloves of garlic, and sauté them in 3 tablespoons of salted (preferably sea-salted) butter in a large Dutch oven or the heavy pot you use to cook spaghetti.

When the vegetables are soft, add the mussels, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, and 3 cups of a dry white wine  like Chardonnay. Cover the pot and bring the wine to a boil. Steam until the mussels open – about 3 minutes.

Serve mussels in individual bowls or in one communal bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Be sure to have crusty French bread available to soak in the broth. Accompany with a glass of white wine. 

Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding
Antique print dealer Maggie Summer is happy to help her best friend Gussie with pre-wedding preparations on Cape Cod ... until she finds a body on the beach, and the close-knit New England community no longer seems so friendly. Why does the dead man's daughter say he died two years ago .. in Colorado? Who was supplying drugs to teenagers in town? Already nervous about a critical discussion she needs to have with the man in her life, Maggie immerses herself in the murder investigation and wedding plans ... and then there's another murder ... and a hurricane ... and Maggie herself becomes a target. Maybe this time around, Maggie's gotten herself in a little too deep.


Monday, May 20, 2013

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--GUEST AUTHOR AND PAINTER JERRIE ALEXANDER


Jerrie Alexander writes alpha males and kick-ass women with a hit of humor. Her latest romantic suspense is The Last ExecutionBut there’s another side of Jerrie, and today she’s here to tell us about it. Learn more about her and her books at her website. – AP 

Most people wouldn't guess I'm  a crafter, but they'd be wrong. I have my own work room where I sew, paint, make stuffed animals, and share my love of making things with my granddaughter. Shoot, back when they were popular, I made beautiful cigar box purses.

Writing romantic suspense and researching profiles of past killers has given me nightmares more than once. When I need a break, mainly for mental health, I either bake or paint. Out of respect for my ever expanding waistline, I decided to tell you about my painting. Lord knows, if I get to swapping recipes, I'll be testing them out shortly.

Does anybody remember Bob Ross? A lovely soul whose program on PBS always captivated me. Sadly, no matter how hard I tried, my talent paled in comparison.


Undaunted, I signed up for painting lessons. My first assignment was a butterfly. It wasn't bad. Not good but passable. Then came the sunflower. I looked for it but I must have hidden that horrible thing or perhaps thrown it away. The one thing I learned during that time was I love to paint flowers.

The instructor taught the "One Stroke" method, and soon I could actually recognize what I was painting on a canvas. Are they good enough to sell? My stars and garters...never. But that's okay, I couldn't part with them anyway.

When I'm working on an arrangement, my self-imposed pressures and worries fade into the background.

A bonus? My granddaughter will pull up a chair and join me. In fact, she's bought her own paint brushes. They live in a jar next to mine in the craft room.

I've included a couple of examples. A few are first drafts and the framed final picture. One is a yellow rose that I have practiced until the world looks level! I haven't mastered that particular bloom yet.

Whether I'm sewing, painting, or decorating a cake, I enjoy taking a break. Regardless of the finished product, it's rewarding. Then I'm ready to tackle my imaginary psycho who is lurking inside the pages of my next book.

I love hearing about other people's craft addictions. So I hope people will share their favorite hobby or pastime with me today.

The Last Execution
To survive, she must put the past behind her. To love, she must learn to trust.

Homicide detective Leigh McBride's first assignment with the FBI brings her face-to-face with a past she's tried hard to forget. And when her temporary partner, a cynical ex-marine, lights a fire in her she thought long-extinguished, her darkest secret is threatened.

Scarred both physically and emotionally, Special Agent J. T. Noble is a man of few words. He prefers to keep people at a distance—until he meets Leigh. He's attracted to her strength and drawn in by her secrecy. But in their line of work, secrets can be deadly.

When the killer they are hunting aims his vigilante justice at Leigh's past assailant, the fine line between right and wrong blurs. To heal the past—and find their future together—Leigh and J. T. must learn that only through trust and forgiveness can love grow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR AMANDA BALL/LEANN COSTON


Amanda Ball is a self-described musician, author, and filmmaker. Her mother calls her a professional juggler. Amanda grabs one project, works on it, then tosses it back into the air and grabs another project.  When not actively engaged in creative endeavors, she enjoys hot cars, cowboys, bass players, cooking, crocheting, photography, travel and things with motors. Her latest book is Famous...or not, written under her LeAnn Coston pen name. Learn more about Amanda at her Amanda Ball and LeAnn Coston websites and her blog. – AP

Living a creative life

I was listening to a speech once, when the speaker said: without art, life is nothing.

I hadn't thought of it that way. But, what would life be without the beauty of music, the entertainment of movies, the diversion of a book, without the expression of poetry, without the visual aesthetic of art?

What would life be with just work and the mechanics of life? A life without beauty would be no life indeed.

But, what is it to be the one chosen to bring the arts to life? When one is given a gift of talent, and uses that gift to connect to other people--in any way--that is an amazing achievement.

I live my life in pursuit of creativity. It started off in music. As soon as I could talk, I told people I wanted to be a "country western singer." It branched out from there, into learning many instruments, learning to sing, and it grew from there: songwriting, music business, publishing, producing, arranging, etc.

When I started college, I wanted to write. I tried and tried and tried. It took me ten years to figure out "how to pull a book out of a human," but when I was twenty-nine, I completed my first manuscript. When I was thirty-five, I was offered my first publishing contract.

Then, when I was thirty-six, out of the blue and with no warning, I was sitting with a dear friend in a bar, eating a blue cheese burger, and I announced that I had decided that I wanted to direct movies. I remember it vividly. It was in January, and the Sundance film festival was going on, and I wanted to be there so bad, I could taste it. The friend, Don, knows me pretty well. I expected him to laugh, thinking I was telling a joke. He didn't laugh. He seemed intrigued. He made some innocuous comment. I (thinking I was making a joke), popped off and said, "You wanna make movies with me?"

I got to the word 'movies', and didn't even finish the sentence, before he was nodding and said yes.

From that moment forward, it was full steam ahead. Any form of creativity, any time, anywhere.

I try to treat these gifts as reverent. To be one of the few, who has been chosen to bring art to the world...it's special.

I wish for you all joy, as you share your gifts and talents with the world.

Famous...or not
So, imagine this:

You’re sitting in your backyard, in middle-America, and you hear a noise. You look up. The Sexiest Man in the Universe hops over your privacy fence and runs across your yard. After a few seconds, about seven or eight paparazzi hop the fence and follow him. Now, that’s something you just don’t see everyday in Oklahoma.

As the commotion continues and dogs start barking, you can hear the chase going all through your neighbors’ yards. Finally, it quiets down again, and you look back at the magazine you were reading--the celebrity magazine showing the cover picture of the Sexiest Man in the Universe.

After a bit, you hear a noise, and Mr. Sexiest Man hops the fence--again! You realize he’s probably only eluding paparazzi, but part of you hopes he came around to see you just one more time. You nod at the open door to the lawn mower shed. He ducks inside. The paparazzi hop the fence again, but you tell them their prey has eluded them. With disgust, they walk down your driveway and leave.

So, with wry amusement, you walk across your own backyard to your lawnmower shed, where the Sexiest Man in the Universe happens to be hiding.

Even if this were the movies, meet-cutes don’t get any better than this.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--VACATIONS ON A BUDGET


Vacations are expensive, but we all need to get away every so often to refresh and rejuvenate. One way to cut down on the cost of a trip is to book your stay at a vacation home or apartment rental instead of a hotel. There are options for all budgets. You can book anything from a spare bedroom to a multi-million dollar villa. Although, if you’re looking for a multi-million dollar villa, you’re probably not worrying about your budget! You can find listings for rentals online. Two to check out are airbnb.com and homeaway.com.