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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

GROUNDS FOR #BEAUTY

If you’re looking for natural beauty products, look no further than your used coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are a great exfoliating body scrub. Simply mix with some warm water and your favorite all-natural oil, then scrub from head to toe.

To make a natural alpha-hydroxy, antioxidant facial mask, combine two tablespoons of used coffee grounds, two tablespoons organic cocoa powder, three tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream, and a heaping tablespoon of honey. Mix together and apply to your face. Sit back and relax while the natural elements work their magic on your skin.

Coffee grounds will also remove built-up residue from hair care products. Before shampooing, massage a handful of used grounds into your hair. The coarse texture of the grounds will release the product residue without damaging your tresses.

Want to get rid of that cellulite? Try coffee grounds. Scrub coffee grounds mixed with warm water over cellulite affected areas of your skin for ten minutes twice a week. You should start to see results in about a month.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

HEALTHY LIVING--FREELANCE WRITER HELEN BENNETT ON THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING A JOURNAL

photo by Guy Sie from Utrecht, Netherlands
Helen Bennett is a freelance writer previously employed in the healthcare sector for many years, with a varied career that took in many aspects of helping people, particularly in matters relating to diet, nutrition and fitness. She joins us today to discuss the benefits of keeping a journal.

Could Writing a Journal Be Good for Your Health? 

If you have aspirations to succeed as a writer, than journaling everyday could change your life. Many successful writers choose to keep a journal: the importance of keeping a journal is something that Virginia Woolf wrote extensively about, sharing in her letters: 'My belief is that my habit of writing this for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments...I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing to my casual half hour after tea.' Other famous literary journal writers include Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag and CS Lewis. The more you write, the more your writing skills will increase, and for writers of memoir journals, provide important lessons in chronology and forming a solid narrative arc. However journal writing is not just for writers because it does so much more than simply improve the quality of your writing: it can also improve mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Here are just some of the health benefits of keeping and regularly updating a journal:

Immune System Boosting Properties
It might seem illogical, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that jotting down just a few sentences in your journal each day can actually help to boost your immune system. University of Texas at Austin Psychologist and Researcher James Pennebaker has conducted extensive investigations into the power of journal keeping, and found that regular journaling strengthens the T-lymphocyte immune cells. By strengthening your immunity you will increase your overall health, reducing your likelihood of suffering from colds, the flu, and other contagious viral illnesses. What's more, additional research has also shown that journaling can help reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. It is thought this works because conditions such as these can be aggravated by external stressors: as journaling minimizes your stress levels, it reduces the impact that stress can have on your physical health. 

Reduce Levels of Stress and Anxiety
Reducing your levels of stress and anxiety is thought to be the biggest health benefit of writing a regular journal. This is why individuals who have experienced stressful life events (such as the death of a friend or family member, the trauma of addiction, of a long term health condition) are often encouraged to keep a daily journal. Because the act of writing unlocks the logical and analytical left side of your brain, it frees up the creative right side of your brain to process the emotions that you have experienced throughout the day whilst the left side is distracted and occupied. Journaling is an excellent way to clarify your thoughts and feelings, particularly about events that make you feel confused and anxious, and find solutions to problems more effectively. For individuals working in high pressure environments or living otherwise stressful lives, writing about your anger, frustration and pain can help to relieve the intensity of those emotions and enable you to look at them with a calmer and more logical mind (which means you are more likely to find a worthwhile solution to your stressors and ultimately live a more enriching life).

Pick Up Your Pen
Many people that are new to journaling often ask where they should start: the simple answer is to just pick up your pen and start writing! There is no right or wrong thing to write about, only what is right and wrong for you. From a scientific point of view, the most effective journaling is undertaken on a daily basis and lasts for around 20 minutes each day: this will enable you to be enveloped in the full cathartic effect of the experience. Ensure that you have a quiet and private place to write, and keep your journal safe from prying eyes: if you feel your journal may be read by someone else, you will unconsciously censor your thoughts, and this will remove many of the benefits of the open stream of consciousness journal writing experience.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS—GUEST CHARACTER BECKI GREEN WHISKS UP CHIA CEREAL FOR A REVITALIZING SPRING BREAKFAST

Award-winning mystery author Cynthia St-Pierre has had both recipes and short stories published in many magazines and collections. Today we’re joined by Cynthia’s favourite heroine Becki Green. Learn more about Cynthia and her books at her website and Becki on her blog. 

Spring feels like potent magic, doesn’t it? All that was frozen dead thaws and comes back to life. Ta-da!

There are recipes that I find miraculous in the same way. One of them is Chia Cereal. With just 1/4 cup of dry seeds and 3 more ingredients (the last two items are  just my choice of milk and sweetener that everyone adds to cereal), a nourishing morning meal materializes. Now that I think about it, does one count water as an ingredient? Not really. So 3 real ingredients and, voila! Breakfast!

Seeds, water to swell them, so very much like the magic of spring!

The mouthfeel of Chia Cereal is like tapioca pudding. Tiny orbs (tinier than tapioca) in a pudding-like base, neutral to sweet, and delicious with the additional sweetness of cashew milk and a drizzle or two of my favourite amber syrup.

Chia Cereal happens to be vegan and raw but please don’t be anxious about these terms. They just mean that Chia Cereal is healthy, good for the environment, great for animals and full of digestion-boosting enzymes because it hasn’t been heated above 118ºF.

Chia Cereal
Yield: 1 serving but multiplies well (and also does long division)

Ingredients
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup water
Cashew milk
Raw agave syrup

Whisk the chia seeds into the water in a cereal bowl. Whisk continuously until the cereal starts to thicken and smoothen. Then you can replace the whisk with a spoon and stir occasionally. Whisk and stir for a combined total of 10 min.

Pour on cashew milk to taste and drizzle with agave syrup.


A Killer Necklace
Who is the dead woman at the bottom of the stairs?

When Weather Network star Gina Monroe arrives in Black Currant Bay for her wedding shower, all is bliss. But happiness turns to horror when Gina and close friend Becki find the hostess with her head bashed in.

Strange things come to light when Gina and Becki are asked to sort through the dead woman's belongings. Just who was this woman? And why did frumpy Louisa have a closet full of vintage couturier clothes?

As the investigation continues, the danger increases. Arson reveals the hiding place of a fabulous sapphire necklace, which leads to more questions and ramps up the risk for Gina and Becki. A killer is determined to keep the identity of the dead woman a secret—even if it means killing again.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--HOW CRAFTING CAN SAVE THE WORLD

March is National Craft Month. I believe that people are born creative. Just watch any baby or toddler exploring his surroundings, and you’ll see what I mean. Unfortunately, most adults start squelching that creativity (Don’t touch!) in their children early on. Eventually that innate creativity is so suppressed that it’s nearly impossible to retrieve. So why are we then surprised when our kids prefer to sit around for hours, staring at a computer monitor or TV screen? 

Solving problems and resolving conflicts require creative thinking. Creativity needs to be nurtured in order that today’s children grow up to become tomorrow’s leaders, but too many outside forces are at work, influencing our children to “color within the lines.” Now think about this: people who color within the lines never learn to think outside the box. It’s that outside the box thinking that finds solutions to the world’s problems.

One of the ways we can help our children continue to grow their creativity is to encourage them to craft, beginning at a very early age. The first step is to have creative materials around the house for children to use. Keep ample supplies of paint, glue, markers, chenille stems, craft sticks, pompoms, and other basic craft materials handy for those “I’m bored; there’s nothing to do” days.

Instead of buying another video game for that next birthday party or special occasion, buy craft kits. Keep a few kits on hand for rainy days, for when your children’s friends spend the night, or just for an impromptu surprise. Encourage children to make gifts for family members’ birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. instead of buying gifts. Instead of hosting a child's birthday party at Chuckie Cheese, consider a home crafting party or one at your local craft store.

Remember that your children’s efforts don’t have to be perfect. Always praise the attempt and encourage children to continue creating. The act of crafting develops small motor skills and hand/eye coordination. Creativity helps grow our brains. By encouraging your children to craft, you’re giving them an incredible foundation for future endeavors.

All it takes for children to learn to love crafting is an environment in which they can satisfy their creative nature. Nurture that inborn talent, and you’ll help your children grow into creative adults that just might wind up solving many of our planet’s problems.

Friday, March 17, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR JAN SCARBROUGH

Jan Scarbrough writes heartwarming contemporary romances about family and second chances, and if the plot allows—horses. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town Southern charm to her books, and the excitement of a horse race or a competitive horse show. Learn more about Jan and her books at her website.

A Romance Novel Can Have a Big Impact
Can you name a novel that has influenced your life in some way? For me, that novel was Katherine by Anya Seton. I found the book in the high school library and read it for a book report. The novel transported me into a world I’ve loved ever since—medieval romance.

We were big into “theme” back then in English class. Published in 1954, Katherine was not simply a romance or an adventure. It was not your “typical bodice-ripper.” Katherine described the personal growth of the main character. This classic romance novel tells the true story of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Here is part of the description from the book’s Amazon page. “Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue.”

Near the end of the book, Katherine is in the depths of despair. Then she meets Julian of Norwich (ca. 8 November 1342 – ca. 1416), an English anchoress who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics of the day.

Later in the story, she reveals to a priest what she learned from the anchoress: “It was this you said, and Lady Julian has told me too. ‘Our dearworthy Lord said not, Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted, but He said, Thou shalt not be overcome!’ Father Clement, of all the teachings, this seems to me the most beautiful.”

As a teenager, those words touched me— Thou shalt not be overcome! I even used the words when I spoke to a youth-led, church service. For the rest of my life, through the ups and downs of everyday living, I have tried to keep these quotes from Julian of Norwich close to my heart.

Because of Katherine, I fell in love with the time period and all things medieval. I took medieval history in college, and researched the time period for my own novels. I aspire to write a novel some day that will touch a reader’s heart as Katherine touched mine.

Other Interesting Facts
Anya Seton (January 23, 1904 – November 8, 1990) was the pen name of Ann Seton Chase, an American author of historical romances, or as she preferred they be called, "biographical novels".

If you’d like to read a nonfiction account of Katherine, try the Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess ofLancaster by Alison Weir. 

Anne O'Brien has written another novel about the love affair of Katherine Swynford and John of Lancaster called The Scandalous Duchess released in 2015. 

My Lord Raven
Knights of the Royal Household
To protect what little family she has left, Lady Catrin Fitzalan switches places with her cousin when King Edward orders the pious girl to wed his royal champion, a vicious knight called the King’s Raven. Rumors abound that this savage is responsible for the deaths of Lady Catrin’s father and brother. How can she allow her sweet cousin to wed a murderer?

Bran ap Madog, bastard son of a Welsh prince, has devoted his life to serving the English king. His badge is the raven, a creature that feeds off rotting spoils, just as Bran feeds off the spoils of war. Now he wants a reward for his service: a wealthy wife and the land and power she can bring him.

But there’s another side to the rapacious black birds Bran has chosen for his badge. Social and family-oriented, ravens mate for life. Which gives them something Bran never had—a family, a sense of belonging, and a rightful place in the world. Bran has fought for everything he’s ever had. But his last battle, with his new wife, may cost him the one thing he isn’t prepared to lose: his heart.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

MEET DIANA BENEDICT'S FIESTY HISTORICAL HEROINE


An automaton from the Centre International de la Mécanique d'Art
Diana Benedict lives in a small suburban Colorado city a mile away from where she grew up. She loves studying magic and history and will take any opportunity to combine them into a good story. She once tried to work a spell inspired by a tale her great aunt told her and has always felt lucky that it only turned her fingers green for a week. Learn more about Diana and her writing on her website.

My name is Francie Wolcott. I am eighteen, three years away from my majority. My parents died in a carriage accident, leaving my brother and me orphans. We made our way from Philadelphia to San Francisco to make a place with my father’s family by traveling with a carnival using the fortunetelling automaton my brother built.

That was going very well, and I found I had a taste not just for traveling but for entrepreneurship. Then a woman died in front of the automaton and wouldn’t pass over, her spirit preferring instead to make her home in the automaton. The machine had been a marvel before, with its gears and carefully crafted mannequin. Now, it is positively magical. And the quality of the fortunes is much improved.

My Uncle Jasper, God bless him, is so involved in his mechanical workshop that details like propriety escape him. And, although I was perfectly comfortable traveling in the carnival, lots of people think carnies are liars and thieves and murderers. Some are, my brother and I found that out, much to our consternation. The rest are just people making a living the best they know how.

Grandmother Wolcott, who took us in, was horrified when she found out how we traveled and that we actually worked for our passage. She forbade me from taking the automaton anywhere. I have to have a place to live, so I have no position to argue from.

When Cousin Cate took me to a Suffragette Salon, I saw lots of working women there. I never understood why women aren’t supposed to work. My mother worked in our family’s mercantile store. I worked there, too. But Grandmama says that women of our station are to marry a mature man, raise children, and make a beautiful home that is a credit to their husbands.

Even before I heard Selina Ellen Solomons, a famous suffragette, speak, I think I should rather die than be trapped that way. I would rather see the world. That’s still my plan--to travel the world with Madame LaFontaine, the ghost that has taken up residence in my brother’s automaton.

Miss Solomons tells women to avoid the myths that men will tell them about why they shouldn’t work. Things like “Women are morally superior and pure and better than any other man. Engaging in politics will ruin you or make you any less womanly than you are.”

Knowing that women are working every day to achieve the vote and manage their own lives makes me that much more certain I want my own life. Not that I don’t want children, I just want to see the world before I settle down.

Now, I just have to find a way to avoid the dinner parties Grandmama takes me to where the older men do everything but check my teeth in their eagerness to marry me and father children upon me posthaste.

Perils for Portents
America in the 1890s is a land of dreams for anyone brave enough and strong enough to make them come true.

After Francie Wolcott’s parents die, leaving her and her genius younger brother, Rooney, penniless, she intends to tour the world with the fortunetelling automaton he built. But first she must bring Rooney to their uncle in San Francisco, where he will have a place to happily tinker and invent things.

With no traveling funds, Francie and Rooney join a traveling carnival heading west, using the automaton as an attraction to pay their way. All goes well at first—until a real ghost takes up residence in the automaton. As the fortunes become eerily more accurate, Francie believes real success is finally within her grasp, but the machine’s prognostications also implicate the carnival manager, Big Jim, in a murder.

Intent on murdering Francie to keep his secret safe, Jim pursues them across the country to the boomtown of San Francisco. Francie must use all her wits and skill to stop him if she has any hope of achieving her dream of independence and of protecting her and her brother from Big Jim’s clutches.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

SPECULATIVE FICTION AUTHOR JAMES AUSTIN McCORMICK

James Austin McCormick is a college lecturer from Manchester, England and in his free time enjoys writing speculative fiction, mostly science fiction, horror and a little sword and sorcery fantasy. He is also a particular fan of classic Gothic and Victorian horror tales and is currently in the process of writing updated versions of these with a science fiction spin. Learn more about James and his books here.

I love travelling and the experience of being amongst a different culture. I first lived abroad in 1996 when I taught in Prague for six months. Before then I’d never tried to learn a language. My extremely shady employer just dropped me off on the outskirts of the city, at a hotel where no one spoke any English, gave me a cheap map of the city and several addresses where I’d be teaching and told me I started on Monday (I arrived Saturday afternoon). I had to learn some Czech pretty quickly as I couldn’t even ask for my mail at first. I spent a very anxious weekend trying to learn my way around the place and learning as much basic language as I could. At first, I just memorised lots of sentences from a travel guide, but the effort started to pay off.

After that experience I’ve always made an attempt to learn as much of the language as I could before going to another country. After the Czech Republic, I lived in Taiwan for two years where I taught at university, then five years in Japan where I was a teacher at a high school. I’ve been back in England now for twelve years, but the urge to take off again is very strong. If it were possible, I’d like to live somewhere new every couple of years, not so easy now, however, with two young daughters in school.

I think this is the reason I enjoy writing space opera so much. In my Dragon science fiction series, Sillow, the main character, is a restless, elf-like individual who spends most of his time off world, exploring strange planets and mysterious places. Every day is unpredictable, every day an adventure for him.  A great deal of the enjoyment I get from writing these stories is the pure escapism it provides me personally. Cold, grey, rainy Monday mornings in Manchester tend to be best as the imaginative spur I need. The latest book, Dragon: The Prisoner of Valathia, will be out in June this year. There’s a stronger fantasy element this time around as Sillow investigates a mysterious and very ancient artifact discovered in a small mining system.

Dragon: The Tower of Tamerlane:
As a reluctant agent, Sillow is called upon to undertake his first mission, investigate the Tower, a high-tech prison complex along with the oligarch who runs it, a mysterious nobleman who calls himself Tamerlane.

Seeking evidence to prove Tamerlane is responsible for a series of terrorist attacks, Sillow quickly uncovers the sheer scale of his plans, a lethal military strike on all four humanoid home worlds. Caught and imprisoned however, the Sylvan finds himself helpless to warn the Alliance of the coming danger.

All the while, something has been evolving, growing stronger inside the Tower, something intangible yet far more dangerous than Tamerlane ever could be, a being implacably opposed to all life in the galaxy.