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Crafts

A Hobby for People Who Are Terrible at Hobbies by Tamara Berry

I’ve always wanted to have a hobby. One of my favorite things in the whole world is when people find something that brings them joy, and then they commit to doing it with their whole hearts. I’m often a spectator at things like Renaissance Fairs, quilt shows, bicycle rallies, ghost hunting tours, and the like because I adore seeing people unapologetically doing their thing.

…which is what makes it so difficult that I’ve never been able to find a “thing” of my own. I could cheat and say that reading is my hobby (hey, it counts!), but it’s hardly the stuff that makes for a good cozy mystery backdrop.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to find the right hobby. Last winter, I took up knitting. The winter before, it was cross stitching. There’s a sewing machine somewhere in the deep recesses of my storage closet, languishing alongside a miniature Victorian dollhouse I tried to build from one of those kits. I’ve baked (not very well). I’ve played sports (see above). I even took up jogging for a while (that one was a mistake). In the end, it turns out there’s only one thing I return to time and time again: extreme dot-to-dots.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dot-to-dots don’t count as a hobby, even if you put the word EXTREME in front of it. (Not even if you write it in all capital letters.) But these books have been my tried-and-true way to relax and unwind for years. Like the adult coloring book craze (which, yes, I’ve also tried), you can detach your brain and create something from nothing without any sort of skill or training. And because my mind isn’t fully engaged on the task, I can often work out tricky mystery plotting problems while I do it.

Someday, I’d like to find a more traditional—and productive—way to spend my downtime, but while there are kids in the house and books to be written, I find that this fills in the gaps just fine. Plus, I’m now amazing at drawing straight lines between two points.

 

“Don’t miss out on this first in a promising series!” —Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author

When something goes bump in the night . . . it’s most likely a plumbing problem, or something equally mundane. But fake medium Eleanor Wilde is happy to investigate and cleanse your home of spectral presences—for a fee. Hey, it’s a living . . .

Ellie has an ailing sister to care for, and working as a ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts helps cover the bills for both of them. When she’s lucky, it also pays for the occasional tropical vacation. Her brother doesn’t exactly approve, but Ellie figures she’s providing a service. On her latest job, though, she may be in for some genuine scares.

The skeptical, reserved, and very rich Nicholas Hartford III has flown her all the way to his family’s ancestral estate in England—supposedly haunted by a phantom named Xavier. Nicholas thinks it’s all just as much a crock as Ellie’s business is, but the fact remains that something is causing the flashes of light, mysterious accidents, and other apparent pranks in the chilly, eerie castle. His mother is sure that Xavier is real, and he’s willing to employ Ellie if she can get to the bottom of it and put a stop to the nonsense.

While the food and accommodations are somewhat disappointing (dorm-room furniture? Really?), Ellie is finding it an adventure to get to know this eccentric family and their houseguests, and to poke around in the nearby village for clues. But when an actual dead body appears—and subsequently disappears—at Castle Hartford, she’ll have to apply her talent for trickery and psychological insight to solve a flesh-and-blood murder.

“When a saucy pseudo-psychic is hired to rid an ancestral estate of its alleged resident ghost, things are bound to get interesting. Add to that a charming English village, an eccentric family, and a killer on the loose, and Séances are for Suckers delivers a winning blend of mystery and the paranormal, with a little humor and romance thrown in for good measure. Don’t miss out on this first in a promising series!” —Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author of the Witchcraft Mystery series

“A mystery with a haunted castle? What’s not to love? Tamara Berry weaves a fun story with likable characters and a plot that kept me guessing until the end.” —Rose Pressey, USA Today bestselling author of the Haunted Vintage Mystery series

Paper Mache Crafting by Leslie Meier

Papier-mache, who knew?

Recently, I found myself caring for four grandchildren (ages 3-13) on the hottest day of the summer. It was close to one hundred degrees and so hot and muggy that even going to the pool, as we usually did every afternoon, seemed impossible, especially considering the fact that the house has central air.

That said, I had to find something to amuse the kids during the long afternoon. The three-year-old went down for a nap, the thirteen year old headed for his room with his cell phone, and that left me with the six-year-old and the ten-year-old. What to do? Continue reading “Paper Mache Crafting by Leslie Meier”

Carving Out Some Family Time by Isabel Ashdown

 

Like many writers, I’m a workaholic, forever struggling with the concept of ‘downtime’ because my office and home are one and the same.  When you’re self-employed, there’s always something you could be doing at your desk – editing that last chapter, plotting out the next book, researching crimes, updating the website or Twitter or Instagram or Facebook … It’s fair to say, my working week is a long one, and the end of the To-Do list never really comes.

 

 

But as well as being a writer and workaholic, I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend, and as a result, I’m occasionally dragged away from my desk and instructed to relax.  To have fun.  I come from an artistic family, so for me, true relaxation means making and creating, and this is where the pumpkin carving began – a few years ago, one fateful Halloween, when I was up to my eyes in deskwork and my husband Colin was away from home.  For the first time ever, the task of carving the Halloween Jack O’Lantern fell to me.  ‘You have to do it,’ my two (then) small children demanded.  ‘But I have a deadline,’ I complained.  ‘What’s a deadline?’ they asked, straight-faced.  And with that, I realised my deadline could wait.  I shut the office door and headed for the kitchen, where we set about the pumpkin, trying to work out which knife would serve best without taking off the top of my thumb. Continue reading “Carving Out Some Family Time by Isabel Ashdown”

Magic Bath Bombs By Tara Sheets

Messy, crafty, colorful art projects are my catnip!  Many years ago, when bath bombs first became a thing, I visited a store in Downtown Disney called Basin, and it was overflowing with barrels of bath bombs in every color of the rainbow.  I was like a kid in a candy store, except the candy was kind of expensive and I couldn’t eat it. Instead, I could buy it and wash it down the drain. Genuis!  So that one trip to the bath bomb store was all it took.  I fell in love so hard.  After that, I became obsessed with learning how to make my own.

I made many mistakes along the way.  One time my hands were blue for days because I used the wrong soap dye.  Another time, I made a huge batch and accidently put too much water in the mix, which set off the “fizz” factor, which caused them to melt all over my kitchen.  And let’s not forget the time I accidentally made Hawaiian plumeria chicken noodle soup for dinner because the pot somehow got perfume oil in it.  Those were dark days.

But now I have a tried and true recipe for you.  It’s called Juliette’s Lavender Bath Bombs.  Juliette Holloway is the main character in my upcoming release, Don’t Touch My Petunia, the second book in The Holloway Girls series.  She has garden magic, and she makes magical bath products to help people feel good.  This recipe doesn’t call for a dash of magic, but if you happen to have some, go ahead and toss it in!

Continue reading “Magic Bath Bombs By Tara Sheets”

Holding onto a Hobby By Jody Holford

One would think that I wouldn’t have time for more with working full time, having a family, writing, reading, and trying to fit in sleep, but there’s always room for a little something extra. Well, not always, but because I’m a fairly restless person, I like to keep myself busy even when I’m already doing something. While we watch television shows as a family or even when I watch with just my husband or friends, I tend to have a pen and paper in hand.

I like to create fun doodles that are inspired by books, quotes, and lyrics I love. I recently started a set of country music quote doodles because I’m incredibly enamoured with that style of music right now. Below, I’m sharing some of the doodles I’ve done. The one on the left is from Alice in Wonderland, one of my favorite stories to quote. The middle is the start of one I did for Deadly News, my first cozy mystery book. The one on the right is a doodle for my good friend, Sarah Fox’s book.

Continue reading “Holding onto a Hobby By Jody Holford”

Hamilton Christmas Novellas: The Inspiration by Donna Kauffman

Second chances.  I love them, and not just for my characters.  In the case of my Hamilton Christmas trilogy, the second chance is for the stories themselves. I was thrilled when my editor told me that Kensington was going to gather the three holiday stories I’d set in my fictional town of Hamilton, stories that had originally been tucked away in three separate anthologies and bring them out again as solo novellas, so readers could enjoy each one of them on their own.

As I re-read the stories again, in preparation for their release, I couldn’t help but reflect back to where I was in my life when I first wrote these stories.  At the time, I was living in a heavily developed suburb of our nation’s capital, raising two boys amidst piles of football, soccer, and lacrosse equipment, with two terriers also underfoot as well as an assortment of rescue parrots I was fostering at the time for good measure. My life was never boring, and I loved my furry, feathered, and sports-obsessed tribe.

Admittedly, the raucous chaos that was my daily life did make me dream of quieter spaces.  Annual trips out to the Blue Ridge mountains in the western part of Virginia provided a much needed tranquil respite, and I dreamed of living out there full time once I’d launched the two-legged members of our tribe from the nest.

I wrote the Hamilton series with that dream in mind.  The town and the county in these stories might be fictional, but in every other way, Hamilton, Virginia is the place I wanted to go to set down new roots, launch a new life.

In the first story, Unleashed, Emma Lafferty owns her own pet-sitting business. You can only imagine where that idea came from! When she takes on a holiday assignment from the wealthy owner of Hamilton Industries, she looks forward to a holiday spent in the old man’s weekend estate in the mountains surrounded by his menagerie of animals, including basset hound Jack, Great Dane Martha, and the African grey parrot, Cicero.  She doesn’t anticipate meeting the conglomerate owner’s nephew or getting pulled into a bit of local intrigue about a secret Lionel Hamilton is harboring, one that his nephew, Trevor Hamilton, is determined to uncover. She definitely didn’t plan on falling in love.

Continue reading “Hamilton Christmas Novellas: The Inspiration by Donna Kauffman”

Easy Peppermint Holiday Craft by Amanda Flower

 

 

If you’re like me, you start thinking about the holidays when the children go back to school and you start to think about everything that you have to do to get ready for the December gauntlet. One thing that I respect most about the Amish is their embrace of the simplicity, so this year, that is my focus for the holidays. I have already told my family some of my ideas about how I plan to scale back from what I usually do.

One of those plans is making my decorations easier. Peppermint Christmas trees are quick and easy craft that will brighten up your house, but not take it over this holiday season. If you use tacky glue that doesn’t require a glue gun, it’s a great craft to do with kids. Kids make great helpers. Since I have no children, my cats pitched in. The craft couldn’t be easier and has one simple step. You can add more decorations to your tree if you want. However, I kept my trees simple in the spirit of the Amish.

Supplies:

  1. Styrofoam trees
  2. Peppermint candies
  3. Glue

  Continue reading “Easy Peppermint Holiday Craft by Amanda Flower”

Jane Fonda and Spice Cake by Edwin Hill

Nothing quite says fall to me like a New England fair, and my favorite one of all is the Sandwich Fair in New Hampshire, which takes place every year over Columbus Day Weekend. My uncle lives in Sandwich – where much of my first novel, Little Comfort, takes place – and I’ve been going to the fair for as long as I can remember. One of the most memorable years for me is 1981, when I was eleven.

That year, the whole town was abuzz because filming had completed on the movie version of On Golden Pond, which was shot on Squam Lake, and was due to be released in December. People had stories about seeing Jane Fonda at the local general store, or hearing Katharine Hepburn talking as she walked in the woods. The filmmakers were trying to keep a lid on the location of the lake, which the locals agreed to in theory – except they talked about it all the time. 

I didn’t much care about the movie. What I did care about was my spice cake.

Like most fall fairs in New England, the Sandwich Fair is an agricultural fair, meaning there is sheep shearing and oxen pulls and, yes, bake offs. I proudly baked up a spice cake for the junior competition. So what if it was a tiny bit lopsided and I may have forgotten the ginger when I mixed it up? Who cares if the Tupperware I stored it in tipped over during the drive from Massachusetts? I’d made it. It tasted good. I knew I’d win. Continue reading “Jane Fonda and Spice Cake by Edwin Hill”

Why I Brew Beer By Peter Brandvold

I brew beer for the same reason men and women have been brewing beer since they started pounding on tom-toms and genuflecting before the sun gods—because I like the taste of a good, heady pail of suds. Aside from a little slap ‘n’ tickle on a hot August Saturday night with the radio turned low, you just can’t beat a good beer buzz. It’s almost as much fun as wrestling pterodactyls.

Brewing beer probably wasn’t as enjoyable back when men and women had so many other tasks on their calendars, like killing supper and holding the wolves at bay. It was probably just another damn thing they had to do. A necessary one if they relied on beer because they couldn’t trust their water, as was the case for some civilizations. No, really!

Of course, for me brewing beer is a hobby. Like most hobbies there’s the obligatory explanation that it distracts me from my day job—writing—and helps me relax. That’s a somewhat spurious notion for me, however. I’m one of those rare, enviable schleps who loves his day job. Writing for me is fun and it helps me relax, and there’s the added benefit that the occasional paycheck helps hold the wolves at bay.

I like brewing beer because I relish the complicated simplicity and the long elemental tradition of the age-old task. What is more basic and natural than scooping up a handful of malted oats, giving it a good sniff, drawing that oaty aroma deep into your lungs, then dropping it into the converted meat grinder and churning up the grain so that the bouquet grows even more sweet and lush as the finely ground hulls and kernels separate and drop into the bucket below the funnel spout?

That grainy tang is right out of my fond childhood and teenage memories of late July grain harvests back on my grandfather’s farm in North Dakota. It’s akin to the memory-loaded smells of lilacs in a country cemetery, the greasy tang of old cars, and the Magic Marker and chalk-and-varnish scent of old schoolrooms. (I don’t know what schoolrooms smell like today; do computers have an odor?)

Beer brewing is addictively simple yet complicated. In a nutshell, you grind the grain, add water, stir, boil, throw in some yeast and hops, let sit, and—voila!—you’re in the suds! Take it from me–any idiot who flunked seventh-grade algebra and whose girlfriend had to get him through physics can do it. The complication, and thus the fun, arises when you start experimenting with different grain combinations and hops combinations, different mashing temperatures, and when you decide you want to brew beers from different eras. I love researching old recipes to find out what kind of beer, say, Thomas Jefferson brewed and quaffed. (He added corn to his favorite recipe.) Continue reading “Why I Brew Beer By Peter Brandvold”

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