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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


It’s spring! Along with the tradition of spring cleaning, many people find themselves itching to spruce up their homes this time of year. Here are a few easy and inexpensive decorating hacks.

1. Rules were meant to be broken. Today’s absolute no-no is often tomorrow’s hottest trend. So don’t be afraid to experiment, especially when it comes to paint. Remember, paint isn’t permanent. If you don’t like it, you can always repaint.

2. And speaking of rules, where is it written that ceilings have to be white? Paint your ceiling the same color as your walls, several shades lighter, or several shades darker. Or choose an accent color. Or wallpaper. Or reclaimed wood. Think of your ceiling as your fifth wall.

3. Consider painting woodwork in a contrasting color instead of white.

4. Create an accent wall with wallpaper, reclaimed wood, a contrasting paint color, a faux finish, or even a mural.

5. Mix and match contemporary furnishings and accent pieces with vintage pieces, antiques, flea market finds, craft pieces, items you’ve collected on your travels, or an eclectic combination.

6. Don’t be afraid to use bold color choices in small rooms.

7. Chandeliers are not just for dining rooms. If you love bling, consider adding a crystal chandelier to your bathroom, bedroom, or walk-in closet. On a budget? Look for faux crystal chandeliers. Even imitation crystals will sparkle, and when hung high, no one will be the wiser.

8. Bookcase shelves are for books, of course, but break up the spaces with pottery, collectibles, and framed photographs to add interest.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Chocolate Butterscotch Pecan Blondies
Yields 24 brownies

2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. + heaping 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1-3/4 cups firmly packed lt. brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups flour 
2/3 cup butterscotch chips
powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 9” x 13” pan.

Melt 2 tsp. butter with 1/8 tsp. salt. Add pecans. Toss to coat. Spread on shallow baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool.

Place remaining butter and chocolate chips in microwave-proof bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in-between until chips are melted.

Combine salt, brown sugar, baking soda and vanilla in mixing bowl. Add chocolate mixture. Stir to combine. Stir in eggs, then flour. Mix until combined. Fold in butterscotch chips and pecans.

Spread mixture evenly into baking pan. Bake 22-25 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or allow to cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar.

Monday, March 19, 2018


This is a useful craft that requires no skill other than the ability to use a scissors and a bottle of glue. You don’t even have to draw a pattern because you use the cookie cutters as templates. The model shown used a 4”, 3”, and 2” heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Hang the air freshener in your car or closet or from a branch on your tree at Christmas time. The scent should last for several weeks. When the scent is gone, just add a few more drops of essential oil.

3 cookie cutters, same shape, in 3 different sizes, your choice of shapes
scraps of wool felt in 3 complementary colors
1” decorative button
9” 3/8” wide ribbon in complementary color
fabric or tacky glue and gem glue
essential oil, your choice of fragrance

Using the cookie cutters as templates, trace one of each shape on the felt and cut out.

2. Add a few drops of the essential oil onto the center of each shape. Use enough so that when the oil evaporates, the scent remains. Allow the oil to dry.

3. Using the fabric or tacky glue, run a line of glue around the back of the medium shape and glue centered to the large shape. Run a line of glue around the small shape and glue centered to the medium shape.

4. Using the gem glue, glue the button to the center of the small shape.

5. Fold ribbon in half and glue to back of large shape.

Friday, March 16, 2018


Today we sit down with Elaine L. Orr, author of three mystery series, plays, and literary novellas. Elaine also teaches online courses in self-publishing. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.

When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I knew I wanted to write fiction probably by middle school, but I didn’t figure out my path until I was in my late twenties and early thirties. I did a couple of “not ready for prime time” pieces, and learned a lot.

How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Like many of us, I needed to make a living and had no clue how to do that with writing. I gravitated to work that entailed a lot of nonfiction writing and editing. This taught me to think as I wrote, and helped me make the transition to fiction. I had written a lot by the time I was in my early fifties, and decided to self-publish later in that life decade. I wish I’d taken the plunge earlier.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m mostly self-published. I also work with a small publisher and did a nonfiction book with a history publisher.

Where do you write?
Early on, I wrote largely at home, often in the evenings. Now I write at a library, Starbucks, or in a place in Springfield, IL (where I live) called The Kreative Lounge. As a partial retiree, I need to get out of the house. Lately, I’ve tried not to write in places with food. I tend to take breaks with sweets – that’s not all that helpful.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
No music while writing. I find it more distracting than even conversations around me.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
Not much. I find basing anything on real life to be limiting. A couple of characters reflect aspects of my humor (especially Scoobie in the Jolie Gentil series), but that’s more because the humor feels natural to me. I also use some of my husband Jim Larkin’s poetry as Scoobie’s, so he sees some of himself in that character. Mostly, I simply like the poetry!

Describe your process for naming your character?
Jolie Gentil means pretty nice in French, and her dad is French Canadian. Scoobie was a deliberate choice, but I have not been rigorous in all my choices. I pick names because I like them, and discovered I use S as a first letter too much. In the River’s Edge series (set in southeast Iowa) I have Syl, Stooper, Sandi, and Shirley. Worse, I didn’t realize it until I put them at a table in the diner in book three. While I have always tried to be sure a character’s name goes with their background (no Irish characters named Sven), I’m now more careful about name similarities.

Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional towns similar to real ones. Ocean Alley, New Jersey (the Jolie books) is similar to smaller northern Jersey shore towns. River’s Edge is deliberately an amalgamation of some Van Buren County, Iowa towns. I’ll have the characters visit real towns – I think it helps readers identify with a region. However, I don’t want people writing to say things such as, “One-way traffic on A Street goes in the other direction.”

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Hmm. Stooper is a good friend of Melanie, the River’s Edge protagonist. He crafts headstones for graves. He’s also in transition from an affinity for alcohol, so he sometimes has a humorous perspective on sober life.

What’s your quirkiest quirk?
So many choices…My sister would say it’s that I like to tromp in cemeteries doing family history searching. But I have several cousins who think it’s odd that she doesn’t like to do that. I wonder if that’s why I made Stooper a stone mason who makes headstones? I would probably need some therapy to decide that.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
To Kill a Mockingbird, hands down. To be able to address important social issues while telling a riveting story is a gift. Harper Lee wrote it second – first she wrote Go Set a Watchman, which was only recently found and published. In it, Scout is an adult in the changing South. In some ways, it’s a more significant book. Some people don’t like it because Scout’s father, Atticus, is not a ‘perfect’ character. He is, however, wonderfully conflicted. You can see why Lee’s publisher asked her to do a book featuring young Scout. Some of the strongest scenes in Go Set a Watchman are Scout’s reminisces of her childhood. Read them both!

Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I had had the courage to earn less money and strike out as a fiction writer earlier. I had no clue how to do that. I probably needed the confidence of an earlier career and experiences to tackle writing well – to the extent that I do that.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who make excuses or complain a lot. Generally, people with many challenges find ways to overcome at least some of them. People who fret a lot are looking for excuses for life to be easier.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Cold water, shade, and a good book. I’m tempted to say chocolate, but I have pretty much traded seltzer water for sweets the last few years. Wait, can I have four? I would need a pen to jot notes in the books margins because all books bring new ideas.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I’ve been a babysitter, secretary, program analyst, telephone sales person, editor…I could go on for a page. I think because my parents were such positive people, I’ve been able to find things I like in any job. What’s hard is when people above you are overly controlling. When you let people think for themselves, work is better.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I mentioned Harper Lee’s books. Three that I have reread a lot are Pompeii by Robert Harris, Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, and Children of Men by P.D. James. I have not read nearly enough classic mysteries.

Ocean or mountains?

City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City woman, mostly.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I’ll keep writing, probably more cozy mysteries, but also more character-based stories. I think there is discovery in all books, not just mysteries.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m close to my family and have numerous friends, many of the latter I’ve met through volunteer work. It takes time to maintain relationships. All of my books feature friends. It’s worth the time to acquire and keep them.

The Unexpected Resolution
A Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery, Book 10

A midnight gathering, Army veterans who face repercussions of two different wars, and a startling wedding guest. Wedding days don't usually pack as big a surprise as Jolie and Scoobie's New Year's Eve nuptials. Scoobie never knew much about his family -- and after the way he grew up, who could blame him for liking it that way? A 9-1-1 call during the wedding changes everything. Jolie has to help Scoobie figure out what he wants to know, and determine who seems to want someone in his family dead. Knowing more about Scoobie's past could change their future together.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018


Today Blade Masters from Ana Morgan’s historical Western romance Stormy Hawkins joins us for a Q&A.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings? 
My mare Belinda and I traveled light and slept under the stars, always trying to outrun my memories. We kept to ourselves as we scouted for a ranch to call home. We didn’t need much: a barn for her and a place where I could bury my broken heart.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
My charm. By that, I mean a well-timed smile at a lady or a good-old-boy drink with a gent. This keeps trouble at bay and gets me what I want. Usually.

What do you like least about yourself? 
That I was taken in by Candy, my ex-fiancée. I prided myself on being a good judge of character. She fooled me completely, and then fooled my family.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
She forced me to confront my past, to return to St. Louis and face my fear of being humiliated again. I’d vowed never to do that, and she left me with no other choice.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I’ve not argued with her, mostly, I think, because I’d run on bitterness for so long. When she showed me Stormy’s ranch, and introduced me to Stormy’s family, something snapped. I couldn’t run anymore. Now, this got me into more trouble, but at least I wasn’t alone anymore.

What is your greatest fear?
Starting out, I was afraid of finding love. After love found me, I was afraid of losing it. And I almost did.

What makes you happy?
Now? A million little things. The fire in Stormy’s eyes when I tease her. The desire in her eyes when we go to bed. Losing at chess to her father, Zed. Running Bear’s biscuits. Riding out to check fences every day. And knowing that that crazy bull Sultan will never hurt anyone again.

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
Until I met Stormy, I’d always wished that I’d never shown Candy the mansion where I grew up. She changed after that day, turned conniving and greedy. But now, looking back, I wouldn’t have found Stormy if my past had been different.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Jonathan Vance. I’ve never cottoned to men who hit women, and he did worse to Stormy. I just wish I’d told Stormy the truth about who I was and what I wanted right off. Would’ve saved everyone a lot of worry.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
I’d love to trade places with Zed Hawkins for a short time. He homesteaded his ranch when free grazing was the norm, when the nearest neighbor was miles away. He raised Stormy to be a free spirit. But, as much as I admire Zed, I’d rather be Stormy’s husband. Did I tell you she’s expecting our first-born?

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Ana Morgan lives on a cattle farm in northwestern Minnesota, not far from where I live in Prosperity. She knows what it’s like to tend cattle, check fences, and soak in a hot bath on Saturday nights. She recorded my story, and now she’s focused on my sister Mary. Mary’s gotten herself into a heap of trouble.
You can learn more about Ana and her books at her website and blog.

What's next for you?
I was hoping to settle down. (Did I mention that Stormy’s expecting?) But something bad has happened to Mary. She’s missing, and I think she’s headed up the Missouri River toward Prosperity.

Stormy Hawkins
The Prairie Hearts Series, Book 1

Blade Masters has finally spotted his ideal Dakota Territory ranch, where he can live alone, forget his cheating ex-fiancée, and bury the shards of his shattered heart. All he needs to do is sweet-talk the ailing owner, and his spitfire daughter, into retiring.

If she weren’t desperate, Stormy would never hire a cowhand. She’s learned the hard way that she’s happier working her family’s ranch alone. But, the greedy banker who holds their mortgage just demanded payment in full—or her hand in marriage.

Will this handsome drifter protect her?  Or does he have designs of his own?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Today we sit down with Arabella Carpenter, amateur sleuth of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries by author Judy Penz Sheluk.

What was your life like before your author started pulling your strings?
I was recently divorced and getting ready to open my own antiques shop, the Glass Dolphin, on Lount’s Landing’s historic Main Street. Everything was going according to plan. Then Judy came along and the next thing you know, this big city developer is coming to town with plans to build a mega-box store. Can you imagine how upset all the indie shops on Main Street felt about that? I don’t know what Judy was thinking, bringing that man into our lives. Of course, murder ensued, and I found myself playing amateur sleuth.

What’s the one trait you like most about yourself?
I like to say authenticity matters, and it does, and not just in antiques. People should be authentic and honest. I’m proud to say that I have both of those qualities.

What do you like least about yourself?
Okay, I can be a bit irascible, is that what you wanted to hear? But it’s just because I’m passionate about things I believe in.

What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you?
Oh my gosh, where do I start? Beyond mixing me up in multiple murders, I’d have to say she keeps throwing me into situations with my ex-husband, Levon Larroquette. Those indigo eyes of his should be illegal.

Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about?
I’ve told her, on occasion, that I wouldn’t react a certain way, especially when it comes to Levon. So far, she’s listened to me.

What is your greatest fear?
Knowing Judy, she’ll have me accused of murder one of these days.

What makes you happy?
Good friends. A great antique find. The Hanged Man’s Noose’s Full Noose Nachos (to die for!).

If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why?
I’d have tried to make it with Levon. As much as we both hate to admit it, we’re meant for each other.

Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why?
Kerri St. Amour. She’s the editor of Inside the Landing and I know she’s the venom behind that anonymous blog, Outside the Landing. She’s always muckraking, that one.

Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why?
Sometimes I envy my best friend and business partner, Emily Garland. She’s confident and so tech savvy, and she’s in such great shape. She runs every day; she’s even run the Toronto Marathon. That’s 26.2 miles; can you imagine? But I think I’d really rather stay being me.

Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog?
Judy’s website is www.judypenzsheluk.com. She just did this complete overhaul to it, and it looks amazing. Though I have to say, there are no pictures of me on there. Pictures of her dog, Gibbs, a 2-1/2 year old Golden Retriever, he’s there. Not sure what to make of that.

What's next for you?
Judy’s hard at work on the third book in the series, but she’s superstitious about saying too much about it. She’s also working on the sequel to Skeletons in the Attic, her Marketville Mystery series. I have a small role in Skeletons and she’s brought me back for the sequel. I’m the only one of Judy’s characters who is in both her series. Take that, Gibbs!

A Hole in One
A Glass Dolphin Mystery, book 2

Hoping to promote the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, co-owners Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland agree to sponsor a hole in one contest at a charity golf tournament. The publicity turns out to be anything but positive, however, when Arabella’s errant tee shot lands in the woods next to a corpse.

They soon learn that the victim is closely related to Arabella’s ex-husband, Levon Larroquette, who had been acting as the Course Marshal. With means, opportunity, and more than enough motive, he soon becomes the police department’s prime suspect, leaving Arabella and Emily determined to clear his name—even if they’re not entirely convinced of Levon’s innocence.

Dogged by incriminating online posts from an anonymous blogger, they track down leads from Emily’s ex-fiancé (and the woman he left Emily for), an Elvis impersonator, and a retired antiques mall vendor with a secret of her own.

All trails lead to a mysterious cult that may have something to do with the murder. Can Arabella and Emily identify the killer before the murderer comes after them?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The other day I made pork chops in my Instant Pot, and they were the most tender pork chops I’d ever eaten. I’ll never again cook pork chops any other way.

Pork Chops with Apples and Carrots
(serves 4)

4 large pork chops 
1 tsp. shallot salt 
3 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
8 oz. sauerkraut
Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut in large chunks
6 carrots, sliced
1/8-cup apple cider vinegar
1/4-cup apple cider or apple juice
1 tsp. celery salt 

Turn Instant Pot to sauté. Add oil. Sprinkle salt on both sides of pork chops. When Instant Pot is heated, brown two pork chops at a time in hot oil, about 2 minutes on each side, then remove to a plate.

Add onions and cook until lightly caramelized. Turn off Instant Pot.

Add sauerkraut, apples, carrots, vinegar, and juice or cider. Sprinkle with celery seed. Top with pork chops. Seal the Instant Pot. Program the Instant Pot to pressure cook on high for 8 minutes.

Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Then move the Pressure Release to Venting to release the remaining steam.