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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--KNIT GLITTER YARN SCARF

(Anastasia is in bed with a really bad cold. This craft project first appeared on the blog six years ago.)

Scarves have been a huge fashion accessory for several years now. Women (and many men) wear them year round, even in the heat of summer. However, this time of year we wear them not so much as a fashion statement but to keep our necks warm. It’s cold out there, people!

Because knitting has also seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years, there are many fashion-inspired yarns on the market and not just in the swanky, expensive knitting shops. You can find them in any craft store and even some big box stores.

Scarves are an easy beginner project for the novice knitter. You don’t need to worry about exacting measurements or following complex instructions. You can make it as wide or narrow, as long or short as you want, and if you choose a bulky yarn and large knitting needles, you can whip up a simple scarf in an evening.

This scarf is made with glitter fringe yarn, but you can choose any bulky yarn that catches your eye. Adjust your width and length as desired and buy additional skeins if you want a wider or longer scarf.

Note: Some yarns contain dye lots. If there is a dye lot on the label, always buy skeins with the same dye lot number.

Glitter Fringe Scarf

Materials:
3 skeins 40 gram Glitter Fringe Yarn
#11 knitting needles

Cast on 15 stitches. Knit 4 rows.
Next row (wrong side): Knit 3, purl 9, knit 3.
Next row: Knit.
Repeat last two rows until scarf measures 48” in length, ending with a wrong side row.
Knit 4 rows.
Caste off.

Friday, January 13, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR CASEY HAGEN

Casey Hagen is a contemporary romance author who believes in doing things her way, no matter what. A born-and-raised Vermont native, she claims to have Ben & Jerry’s in her heart and real Vermont maple syrup pumping through her veins. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

Picture it: November 30, 2014, 8:34PM. A writer sitting in a cozy living room, watching the snow fall, and exhausted, having just finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)…and her first novel.

Here I had written this book, a book I had been reworking for fifteen years…the book of my heart.

I’d enlisted eight beta readers to review. Armed with their comments and a good dose of stubborn, I reworked it. I’d polished it as much as I could and then I’d run it through four rounds of edits with four different editors. I had reread it at least thirty times, so many times I wanted to set it on fire. Then I shook in my slippers at the thought of putting it out there for the entire world to see.

With a taboo hero and heroine who had been high school teacher/student carrying on an affair the summer after graduation and then reuniting eight years later, I knew it would be a hard sell to a traditional publisher. A writer friend, both traditionally and indie published, offered to read my first fifty pages. Sure enough, she came back and said, “We should get together and brainstorm a safer back-story.”

But, but, but…I don’t wanna. It’s mine and you can’t make me. After raging a bit, stomping my foot in frustration hundreds of times, I put on my big girl pants and thought it through. Okay, she was probably thinking in terms of traditional publishing. So that meant I needed to go indie, right? I mean, that had to be my only option.

Here’s the thing…I like to buck the system. I like challenging the norms. I like leaving an impression, and what better way to shake things up? So, when the Romance Writers of America 2015 conference rolled around, I signed up to pitch my book to editors and agents. What’s the worst they could do? Say no and I’m out nothing.

On pitch day, I arrived at 8AM and didn’t leave until 5PM. I picked up five additional cancellations. I pitched seven times and had six requests for full manuscripts.

We won’t talk about pitch #7. I might have fought with the editor…a little bit, but she made someone cry so…she deserved it.

I was rejected six times, but I did not receive a single form letter rejection. Every editor/agent had scanned my profile/page on Facebook, checked my Twitter, and scoured my website. So, although I had been rejected, they had been interested.

Every last one thought I had something, but every last one also knew their publishing house wouldn’t allow it or in the case of the agents, they would have a hard time placing it with a publisher. They all advised me to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep building my following. Take my story and go indie.

Riding high on their praise, I did just that. The book sold okay. In all fairness, probably my fault. Marketing is the Devil! Then, a well-known author opened a publishing house and put out a call for submissions. The book could already be indie published. My eyes slid to a copy of my book baby, Sunset at Lake Crane. I queried the editor and received a request for the book. Then, I got an email telling me the book is good, but it could be great.

I was sent a list of changes they wanted. The biggest: instead of my heroine depending on her own bravery by making the choice to return to her hometown, consequences be damned, I was to make it so she was tricked into returning home. Basically I needed to turn my brave, smart heroine into a blind idiot.

I made most of the changes, but they were minor. I did not change my heroine. Some things just aren’t to be compromised. I sent my revisions with an explanation as to why I would not change her circumstances.

I got the inevitable, “Thank you, but no thank you.”

I was back to doubts and insecurity. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to enter the book in a contest. I dropped off the books at the post office, went to my car, then went back into the post office and asked if I could have the package back. They said no. Pesky federal regulations and such.

I wound up making the finals against two traditionally published books. Color me shocked…and terrified. But validated. And in October, I won that contest! Moral of the story: Never give anyone the power to make you question your story as I questioned mine. Write fearless. Go forth and be awesome.

Falling in Angels Falls
Alexa Dayne shocked everyone by refusing to join the family bakery business. She’s worked hard to prove that owning her own salon in upscale San Francisco is more than just a dream; it’s her passion. After years of round-the-clock work, Alexa craves both an escape and a new challenge. She’s determined to find both—in the wilds of Venezuela at Angels Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.

Ben Marx is running from brutal memories. A career soldier turned entrepreneur, Ben has slaved to make Steel Force Adventures a reality. On the cusp of success, he’s approached by a long-legged vixen seeking a guide through the Venezuelan jungle to Angels Falls. Her fearless determination is proof enough she’ll make the dangerous trek alone if he refuses.

The Angels Falls journey is one of renewal for Alexa and Ben. But when passions flare and hidden motives are revealed, the flames of heart-wrenching pain forge bonds between them—bonds destined to be tested by life’s harsh realities . . . after Angels Falls.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

#TRAVEL TO KEY LARGO WITH GUEST AUTHOR MICKI BROWNING

Today we’re joined by award-winning debut author Micki Browning, who has set her new mystery series in Key Largo. Micki is an FBI National Academy graduate who worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander.  Learn more about her and her book at her website. 

Paradise Found—In the Florida Keys

South of the Florida mainland, the Florida Keys dot the ocean like the spine of a massive sea dragon. Home to an eclectic mix of adventurers, families, and pirates, the archipelago stretches 135 miles from the tip of Key Largo to the southernmost point of Key West.

Each of the many keys has developed its own identity. Key Largo proclaims itself The Dive Capital of the Nation, while Key West invites the weird to go pro. In between are Key deer refuges, fishing meccas, resorts, mangroves, palm trees, and tiki huts. 

Best of all? This paradise doesn’t require a passport.

I set my debut mystery, Adrift, in Key Largo, the first and largest island in the chain. The only problem visitors encounter upon arrival is what to do first. Here’s an insider’s view.

Dive
While the view of the ocean is beautiful from a waterside tiki bar—and those are numerous—it’s what’s beneath the surface that will take your breath away. Want it back? Strap on a tank. The third largest barrier reef runs the length of the Keys and it is the only place in the nation to have coral reefs.

Key Largo is such a beautiful place to dive that in 1963 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established as the first undersea park in the United States. The park is home to 40 of the 52 species of coral found in the Atlantic Reef System—providing shelter to more than 600 varieties of fish and a 2-ton statue Christ of the Abyss (A little advice: don’t touch the statue. It’s covered in fire coral—imagine poison oak that burns.). The park runs glass-bottom boat tours, and snorkel and scuba trips for the more adventurous. The park also rents kayaks for leisurely paddles through the mangroves. There are even trails for those who don’t want to get their feet wet.

Enjoy the wildlife
No, I’m not talking about the club scene. Instead, consider a dip with dolphins at Dolphin Cove or get up close and personal with some tropical birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Refuge (bonus, it’s free!). Hike the trails at Dagney Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, and enjoy the habitat of many endangered species of mammals, butterflies, and birds.

Eat (and drink) like a local
Alabama Jack’s on Card Sound Road is a perennial favorite where the eclectic clientele can eat heavenly conch fritters and catch the occasional glimpse of a crocodile in the canal. Yes, you read that correct. The Keys have both alligators and crocodiles.

If you want to dress up a bit (which in the Keys means breaking out the sparkly flip flops), try The Fish House. Order the grand piano for dessert. It’s a white chocolate baby grand filled with chocolate mouse.

Speaking of chocolates… visit Key Largo Chocolates and Ice Cream for homemade confections that won’t last long!

Locals are split on breakfast and favor either Harriette’s Restaurant or Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen. Throw in the Conch House and you’ve got a triumvirate of good choices. Try the coconut muffin at Harriette’s. You’ll thank me.

Shop
The best of the Keys is often found outdoors, but sometimes you just want to take a bit of paradise back home. Two words: Shell World.  This sprawling mecca offers everything from tchotchkes to tasteful home design, artisan jewelry to the ubiquitous t-shirts for the grandchildren.
Savor the sunsets
You’re on vacation. Take a breath. Relax. Nothing reduces stress quite like taking in the sunset as it dips below the Florida Bay. It’s even better when shared with the one you love.

Every place you visit in Key Largo will have a bit of quirk, a lot of attitude, and natural beauty. One thing’s certain. Key Largo offers the perfect place to spin a yarn–especially if it involves the gin-clear waters off the coast, a fish-out-of-water character, and a mystery.

Adrift
A Mer Cavallo Mystery

Marine scientist Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after life in the Arctic, but when a ghost-hunting documentary leader vanishes during a midnight dive, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.  Determined to debunk paranormal explanations and salvage her reputation, Mer launches her own investigation. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

HEALTHY LIVING WITH AUTHOR JILL KELLY

Jill Kelly is a freelance editor, writer, and painter. She’s published four novels and three books on recovery. She also coaches writers through the publication process as well as coaching women wanting to recover from sugar addiction  Learn more about Jill at her author website and coaching website.

Creating a How-to Book out of a Memoir
Three years ago, I started writing a memoir about my journey through sugar addiction. I was comfortable with writing memoir as I had edited dozens (I work as a freelance editor). I had also written an earlier successful memoir, SoberTruths: The Making of an Honest Woman, which was a finalist in 2008 for the Oregon Book Award. 

But the more I worked on it, the more I could see that memoir was only part of what I was writing, that I had many things to offer the reader beyond my own story. In finding my way out of sugar and food addiction, I’d learned a great deal of helpful information and supportive ideas that I could share. So I shifted gears and created a hybrid book of my journey (memoir) and suggestions for the journeys of others (how to).

Here are some things I had to keep in mind as I was writing:

~I’m not an expert on anyone but me. At the same time, I’d done a lot of reading and research on many related subjects.

~I’m not qualified to advise anyone on how they should live. My PhD is in French literature, not psychology or social work or counseling. At the same time, I could describe what has worked for me. I could share my experience, strength, and hope.

~Facts and statistics aren’t very interesting to most people and don’t usually teach us much. Stories teach us a lot. As human beings, we learn best from stories. I could focus on telling stories. 

I started drafting the book by creating a list of close to 100 topics I could write about. Here are a few:

~Why diets don’t work
~What triggers us?
~How should we define abstinence?
~The need for a structured life in recovery
~How our culture sabotages the food addict
~Who this book is not for

Next, I began drafting something on each topic. When I’d written on all the topics and couldn’t think of any more, I set the project aside for about six months. I was working on a novel and it seemed good to shift to something else.

When I came back to the project, I worked first with the list of topics, moving them around and creating sections: my story, food-related issues, emotional issues, cultural issues; then I ordered the topics within the section.

Next I edited and polished, then asked several beta-readers to take a look and make comments. Then it was on to creating a Table of Contents and index, getting the book proofread, and hiring a designer for the production stage. I knew what I wanted for the cover: my two-year-old sugar-addict self.

There are as many ways to approach a nonfiction book as there are novels and I find it is an equally creative process. The most important part of the writing though is for me to remember that it’s much less about what I want to say and much more about what I want the reader to know and consider.

Candy Girl: How I gave up sugar and created a sweeter life between meals
Are you like I was? You often eat more than you intend to. Once you start eating sweets, you can’t stop. Food is the most frequent and constant pleasure in your life. If you don’t have the foods you love, you feel panicky.

Sugar and food addiction had me in its grip for decades. Then I discovered that food wasn’t the problem. How I was living my life was the problem. So I learned to build a sweeter life between meals, lost a lot of weight, and put food in its proper place. Part memoir, part how-to book, Candy Girl describes how I got off the merry-go-round of food compulsion and obsession and how you can too.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR DEBRA SENNEFELDER AND #QUINOA-SPINACH PATTIES

Soon-to-be debut mystery author Debra Sennefelder has two constant writing companions: her Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy. She's been an avid reader since childhood and found writing came naturally for her. When she's not writing, she loves to cook, exercise (yes, really) and read. Learn more about Debra at her website

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday and are looking forward to a great 2017. This is the time of year we make resolutions for change in our lives. From what my Facebook news feed looks like I'm pretty sure getting into shape is the number one resolution. Been there, done that and got the t-shirt. From my news feed (this is all very scientific, isn't it?) I also noticed that eating healthy is right up there with getting into shape. The two do go hand-in-hand but they can be overwhelming. In our over-scheduled lives with demands that pull us in multiple directions, how on earth can we magically make extra time each day to workout and cook healthy? I can feel those resolutions slipping away. But, wait! Eating healthy doesn't have to be hard or time intensive. I'm going to share with you one of my favorite recipes that doesn't take long to prepare.

Eating healthy is very important to me because I bake a lot of indulgent sweets because the sleuth of my soon-to-be published mystery series is a foodie and she's always in the kitchen whipping up something with way too many calories in it. Of course, as part of my research, I must bake what she's baking and I must taste it.

Quinoa-Spinach Patties is a healthy, easy recipe that is incredibly filling, so you won't be tempted to over-indulge. Quinoa is a potent grain that is packed with a long list of benefits including being very high in fiber and gluten-free, and spinach contains vitamins and is a good source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. I've paired the patties with green beans and roasted sweet potatoes, and I have dinner ready to serve after a long day of recipe testing for my mystery series or of writing.

These patties are perfect year round, but I'm finding I'm enjoying them right now more so because after a few weeks of baked goods and heavy holiday meals, the patties are refreshing, and while they are filling they are not heavy. 

Quinoa-Spinach Patties
1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1-1/3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups spinach leaves, chopped
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
dash of kosher salt
dash of pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add onion and cook for 4-5 minutes, until tender, stirring frequently. Add in quinoa and cook for 4 minutes or until toasted and lightly browned. Stir occasionally. Add in garlic, cook for 30 seconds, then add broth. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until liquid is fully absorbed (15-18 minutes).

Combine eggs, panko, salt and pepper into a bowl and set aside.

Stir in spinach, then spread out mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet and let cool, about 10 minutes. When quinoa mixture is cooled, spoon mixture into a large bowl and add goat cheese. Stir until combined, then add in eggs and panko mixture. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Shape mixture into 4 (4 inch) patties.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and place patties on the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Gently flip patties over and bake for another 10 minutes until lightly browned and thoroughly heated.

I serve the patties with roasted sweet potatoes which I simply cube and sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss with a little olive oil and roast until fork tender. I do drizzle a little balsamic vinaigrette on the patties.

Monday, January 9, 2017

#CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CROSS STITCHED SNOWFLAKE

There’s no denying it. Winter is here. When you’re stuck in the house, it’s the perfect time to finish those crafts projects you put aside ages ago to enjoy outdoor activities. Or you could start a new project. If you’re looking for a simple, quick cross stitch project, I’ve got just the thing for you.

This snowflake design stitches up in no time. It’s 2-3/4” x 2-3/4”, the perfect size for a sachet or bookmark. Or stitch a row of snowflakes across a set of pre-finished placemats to add some wintry fun to your dining table.

Choose an icy blue or green floss, such as DMC 3840, 598, or 955. Or go for an ombre look with DMC’s new Coloris floss in 4523, North Wind.

Friday, January 6, 2017

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR GINGER MONETTE

Award-winning author Ginger Monette enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Is Downton Abbey a Copycat of Pride & Prejudice?

One Sunday night while watching season 2 of Downton Abbey, it dawned on me: Downton Abbey is a copycat of Pride & Prejudice! Now, whether Julian Fellowes really did look to Jane Austen's classic as inspiration, I cannot say, but let's look at some of the similarities.

A houseful of daughters with no heir
Both storylines are built on the premise of impending doom due to the family's misgivings about the unfamiliar heir. In Pride & Prejudice, Austen placed a cast of five daughters at risk of being thrown to the hedgerows” should their father die before they are wed. Julian Fellowes chose three sisters for Downton Abbey's cast, although they seem more concerned for the future of their physical home and the general uncertainty brought about by the new heir rather than their personal futures.

Similar characters
Both Austen and Fellowes chose a heroine who is an obstinate, headstrong girl.” Downton Abbey's Lady Mary Crawley was never one to hold her tongue. And certainly Austen's Elizabeth Bennet never hesitated to voice her opinion on everyone and everything!

Perhaps the most similar characters in the two stories is a domineering matriarch. The outspoken dowager Lady Grantham is one of Downton Abbey's most colorful characters. But I believe Fitzwilliam Darcy's imperious aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, could have given even Violet Crawley a run for her money!

An attempted elopement
Both dramas include an attempted elopement that spawns uproar in the respective families. Readers are aghast when Austen's rogue, George Wickham, runs off with Elizabeth's younger sister, nearly ruining the Bennet family's reputation. Conversely, Downton Abbey fans cheered when daughter-of-the-manor Lady Sybil and chauffeur-servant Branson finally kissed. But their pairing and attempted elopement was scandalous nonetheless, and sent Sybil's sisters hurrying after her and their father into a thunderous outage.

Both Austen and Fellowes used the scandalous union as a clever plot device to not only create drama, but to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Would the scandalous pair remain together? How would the scandal drive future storylines and affect the other characters?

A grand estate
In both Pride & Prejudice and Downton Abbey, a grand house is a silent, yet central character. For nearly 200 years women have been swooning over Pemberley, the estate of Austen's heartthrob Fitzwilliam Darcy. And Highclere Castle's gold rectangular structure topped with corner towers and spires is instantly recognizable as the Crawley's beloved family home on Downton Abbey.

These lavish homes set our hearts to dreaming and become a beloved character in and of themselves. But the Austen/Fellowes parallels don't stop there. It is worth noting that the name Downton Abbey is suspiciously similar to Donwell Abbey, the name Austen chose for George Knightley's estate in her classic work, Emma.

An entailed estate with an unsuitableheir
In Pride & Prejudice, the unsuitable heir is the obnoxious rector William Collins, whose marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet is flatly refused. In Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley is a dashing, but lowly solicitor. And although both unsuitable heirs” go on to propose to other women, in the case of Downton Abbey, viewers are thrilled when the love struck hero and heroine eventually marry.

High society characters falling in love with, well, those not so high society
Fitzwilliam Darcy is downright disgusted with himself for falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet, a woman so decidedly beneath him. And in Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley is incensed that a man in trade will inherit her family home. But in the end, fans are delighted when love wins out for both couples.

We may never know if Julian Fellowes was inspired by Jane Austen, but certainly in both cases, the premise has enchanted millions and proven to be a blockbuster success in both literature and film.

Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes
A Pride & Prejudice Great War Romance (Volume 1)
Escape to the era of Downton Abbey and experience all the drama of World War 1 alongside literature's iconic Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. You'll watch their tender love unfold as they learn to work together and reconcile their differences at a field hospital only miles from the Front.

1916. World War 1 has turned French chateaux into bloody field hospitals, British gentlemen into lice-infested soldiers, and left Elizabeth Bennet's life in tatters. Her father is dead and her home destroyed. Never again will Elizabeth depend on a man to secure her future! But when an opportunity arises to advance her dreams of becoming a doctor, she is elated--until HE arrives....

Heartbroken. Devastated. Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy is left rejected by the woman he loved and reeling from the slaughter of his men on the battlefield. "Enough!" Darcy vows. "No more sentimental attachments!" But arriving at a field hospital to pursue a covert investigation, Darcy discovers his beloved Elizabeth training with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in an espionage conspiracy. With only a few months to expose the plot, Darcy is forced to grapple with his feelings for Elizabeth while uncovering the truth. Is she indeed innocent? Darcy can only hope....

Note: Darcy's Hope has a happy ending but continues in Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey.  In the sequel, readers will experience the full resolution of the mystery, and our beloved couple's love will face a new, tragic test.

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