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Spring Shopping by Kathleen Bridge

I love vintage shopping and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I love it in the summer. I love it in the fall. I love it in the winter. But I especially love it in the Spring. Shopping for antiques and vintage is something my mother and I have been doing for decades. So, when I called Mom up and said it was time to go to our favorite outdoor market at our favorite shop in Melbourne, Florida, she was all for it.

The weather was perfect. Temperatures in the mid-70s, just a few clouds in the sky, and a light breeze off the Indian River Lagoon. Once a month the shop does an outdoor market, bringing in new vendors that fill the parking lot. This would be their first spring market of the season. And yes, even in Florida, we shop for seasonal items to decorate our cozy domiciles. The shop itself sells items that fulfil both my mom’s and my taste. Mom is into primitive Americana and I’m a fan of vintage, shabby, well-worn, rustic, and unusual—one-of-a-king things I can put in my small cottage by the sea.

My mother collects nineteenth-century wooden butter molds and I collect nineteenth-century cloth books on poetry, history, natural sciences, and fiction. Continue reading “Spring Shopping by Kathleen Bridge”

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Trash or Treasure by Carlene O’Connor

I grew up in Ohio, in a family of four. My grandparents on both sides also lived in Ohio and it was about a four-hour drive (felt like forever to us) in either direction to visit them. These long drives were before iPods and iPads and DVD players in cars. My father didn’t even like to play music. It was either boring news, silence, or arguments. My sister and I were left with books, playing I Spy, or SEE ABOVE: (Arguments). On the trip to my father’s parents in Ashtabula Ohio, there were two things we looked forward to on the ride. One was McDonald’s half-way through, (double cheeseburger, large fries, vanilla shake) and the other was just before we turned on the road to my grandparents’ house. It was a large white barn set off the road with a giant sign: TRASH OR TREASURES.

Trash or Treasures was basically a large flea market in a barn. Filled with dusty shelves and old items, for me it was truly like being on an adventure in search of treasure. I loved getting lost in the dark over-sized barn, searching the shelves for a bit of magic, something that sparked or spoke to me, pawing through glass bottles, and door knobs, and old photographs of strangers. Continue reading “Trash or Treasure by Carlene O’Connor”

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Baking Shows Unleashed My Inner Cake Boss by Ellery Adams

I love baking shows. There’s something so satisfying about having dinner and then settling down on the sofa to watch professional or amateur chefs battle it out on Chopped, The Great British Bake Off, Zumbo’s Just Desserts, Master Chef, Cupcake Wars, and Worst Cooks in America.

I remember the first time I tried to make one of Mary Berry’s cakes. I’d seen an episode of The Great British Bake Off featuring Mary’s Victoria Sandwich, and after reading countless literary references to the Victoria Sandwich and Victoria Sponge, I was dying to try my hand at one.

I made the cake. It was tasty. When I made it for the second time, I put my own spin on it. I used lemon cake because I thought it would go nicely with the raspberry jam. After that, I used homemade strawberry buttercream instead of jam. I figured that it was my duty as an American to tinker with a traditional British dessert (insert wink).

Next, I focused on Paul Hollywood’s bread. Using his recipes meant learning to translate grams into ounces, the meaning of strong flour, and learning that bicarbonate of soda is baking soda and that caster sugar is granulated sugar.  I began baking bread. It filled the house with such incredible aromas that I thought I’d never stop.

I didn’t exactly stop, but I was sidetracked by another show. This time, it was Nailed It! After my family watched the first episode, my daughter turned to me and said, “Let’s make everything they make.” I thought this was a crazy and wonderful idea.

The two of us started with the pigs in the hot tub cake and continued baking every weekend afterward. We gave away all the cakes and received just as much joy out of sharing the love and the sugar as we did baking together.

Continue reading “Baking Shows Unleashed My Inner Cake Boss by Ellery Adams”

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Hand Me A Spoon By Carlene O’Connor

“I’m the fastest spoon player in the world.” That’s the first thing Johnny “Bongos” Horgan said to me when we connected by phone. A Mallow man, (County Cork, Ireland) he’s been playing the spoons since he was a child. His father was a drummer, his mother a dancer, and his Uncle played the spoons, so for sure it was already in his genes. But it wasn’t until he was a young lad laid up from a car accident, that he really started practicing his craft. “Buckets, the railing of my hospital bed, table-tops, I started drumming on everything I could find,” Johnny said to me. There was nothing else to do—six months of healing from injuries didn’t leave him much choice. And the folks of Ireland have benefited ever since. “I work hard at it,” Johnny stressed several times during our interview. “I’ve even studied Michael Flatley’s footwork so I can imitate his rhythms with the spoons. I still practice. All the time.” He plays seven nights a week both locally and around the U.K. and also teaches others to play. He’s been on Irelands Got Talent, but not the Late Late Show— so if any dear readers have any television connections, why he’d be happy to appear.

Unless you’ve traveled to the Emerald Isle, or other parts of the U.K., maybe you’ve never met anyone who played the spoons or even knew such a thing existed. It wasn’t until I saw a musician in Dublin who brought the rhythm of Stomp alive with a simple pair of spoons, that I took it seriously. I was flabbergasted and immediately hooked. I’ve never done anything with a spoon beyond use it to eat and accidentally drop it on the floor. This man’s entire body morphed into a sounding board as he worked those spoons up and down like magic. Continue reading “Hand Me A Spoon By Carlene O’Connor”

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Surprising Uses For Lavender by Donna Kauffman

I had such a wonderful time researching all things lavender for my brand new Blue Hollow Falls release, LAVENDER BLUE. I am fortunate to live near two lavender farms and the owners of both were very helpful in explaining some of the processes used behind making the lavender products they sell. In the book, the women who own Lavender Blue are embarking on that same mission, and learning curve is steep!

I’m sure you know or have seen lavender used in things like soaps, bath salts, sachets, and the like. I thought you might enjoy learning some of the surprising (at least to me!) things I learned you can also make with lavender or uses for the sweet smelling plant.  Here’s my top five! Continue reading “Surprising Uses For Lavender by Donna Kauffman”

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My Favorite Hobby by Julia Henry

I enjoy several hobbies, but my favorite is knitting. I am the only grandchild who learned how to knit from my grandmother, so it’s a lovely way to remember her. But I’m not sure my grandmother would approve of some of my knitting habits. I recently went through my stash, and the depth of the problem came to the surface.

 

Orphaned yarn. I bought some thick wool at a fair a few years ago. The color is between red and coral. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I have started a poncho and a sweater, and ripped them both out. I’m determined to use this yarn, but wish I’d gone for the off white or gray. Any ideas would be welcome. Continue reading “My Favorite Hobby by Julia Henry”

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Knitting a Mystery by Sally Goldenbaum

Have you ever wondered why so many cozy mysteries revolve around food or knitting or gardening or bookstores? Why isn’t a plain old murder enough? Who needs herbs or bamboo needles or a trowel when you have a dead body?

I explored the question with the four protagonists in the seaside knitters society mysteries, Izzy, Cass, Birdie and Nell, and I wondered how they’d be different if they didn’t knit, if they were simply “the seaside women.”

Here’s what I think:

I think the knitting provides a centering for their friendship, and has been instrumental in how it has grown. Izzy’s yarn shop is a place to bring Nell, Cass, and Birdie together regularly. It gives them a ready-made place to interact, to gossip, to develop their friendship in new ways. In How to Knit a Murder, the knitting room even provides a place to welcome a newcomer to town. To knit her into their lives. And to help her when she is accused of a horrible murder.

Knitting also provides a metaphor for the way Nell, Birdie, Cass, and Izzy think. As they knit a pattern, they carefully and methodically knit together the pieces of a puzzle—a body in a mansion, a new woman in town, scandals reborn in an online newsletter, high school secrets, once buried, brought to life: all pieces knit together to solve a murder.

And lastly, yarn is simply so tangible and visceral and sensual that it provides a feeling that can soften the harshness of murder and at the same time heighten and stimulate the senses. It injects a sensuousness into the mystery, just like writing about food does. Sinking ones fingers into a basketful of Izzy’s buttercup yellow cashmere yarn, for example, or savoring Nell’s garlic grilled shrimp salad with fresh flakes of basil sprinkled on top—and clinking together four glasses of Birdie’s chilled pinot gris—are sure ways to stimulate and sharpen the senses and help the knitters of Sea Harbor explore the intricacies of murder. Continue reading “Knitting a Mystery by Sally Goldenbaum”

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Rules for knitting by Sally Goldenbaum

People often ask me about knitting, assuming, I think, that I know a lot about it because my mysteries revolve around a group of women whose deep friendship was knit together over. . .well, over knitting.

But the truth is, I don’t know much about knitting. Accept that I can barely sit down to watch television or go on a long car trip or meeting without my stash beside me—unfinished mittens and baby hats and sweater sleeves just waiting for a cuff.

I’m a passionate knitter, rather than the expert kind. And that’s why I have my own rules for knitting, really simple ones that somehow will take care of any other rules you need. And there’re only two.

  1. Find a cozy yarn shop

One just like Izzy’s (in the Seaside Knitters Society mysteries) in which friendly wonderful people work, and will sit with you patiently while you rip out rows and knit them back again and again or explain nicely that casting on isn’t the same as fly fishing. A person who will help you line up a sleeve with a sweater, and one who can make you smile when your cat uses an almost-finished sock as a miniature soccer ball.

  1. Find a knitting group

Online? A church? Or a group that meets every Tuesday morning in a yarn shop over coffee and shared patterns and caring bodies gathered around a table.  Or start one yourself. There are knitting groups everywhere and they make the art and craft of knitting a wondrous, sometimes therapeutic, and always fun adventure.

I discovered one on Cape Ann recently, a group of women sitting in comfortable chairs near a window. I watched from a distance while they laughed and chatted and passed around yarn to feel and patterns to look at. The saleswoman said that they’d been meeting for years—women of different ages — mostly strangers in the beginning. But as the months and years flew (and finished sweaters and hats and prayer shawls and chemo hats flew off their needles), the bonds grew. Now if a member doesn’t show up for a week or two, someone calls and checks on her, and when a birthday is revealed, it’s celebrated over needles and yarn and chocolate cake. And when someone is sick, chicken soup magically appears at that knitter’s door.

Community of the best sort. And all around needles and yarn, knitting and purling. And good caring people.

A mysterious woman arrives in picturesque Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, and the Seaside Knitters welcome her into their cozy world of intricate patterns and colorful skeins. Unfortunately, nothing frays a warm introduction like cold-blooded murder . . .

With her shy manner and baggy jeans, Rose Chopra becomes an unlikely superhero the night she stumbles into Izzy Perry’s shop and inadvertently saves a shipment of yarn from water damage. When the Seaside Knitters help the enigmatic handywoman settle into town and find work at a popular real estate company, Rose proves she can fix just about anything—until a potential homebuyer is killed and she becomes entangled in murder . . .

The moment controversial entrepreneur Spencer Paxton is found dead in a pricey ocean-side house, accusations fly at the last person on the property—Rose. But the Seaside Knitters have their doubts. After all, Spencer’s political aspirations as well as his company’s plans to pave over Sea Harbor’s historic art district with luxury apartments earned him some very real enemies . . .

Now, Izzy, Birdie, Nell, and Cass must swap knitting for sleuthing as they struggle to move the needle on a twisted homicide case causing turmoil across town. As tensions build in the sleepy New England community and Rose’s secret past unravels, the ladies face an unsettling realization—true victims aren’t always the ones buried six feet under . . .

Includes a knitting pattern

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Knitting, Writing, and Making Friends by Sally Goldenbaum

One of the great unexpected perks of writing cozy mysteries is that of forming new friendship. It happens in lots of different ways. Some I get to meet in person at events, and that’s truly wonderful.

And some come from my search for the one perfect pattern to include in the book I’m working on at that moment. In addition to finding patterns, I have found lovely people behind those designs.

Examples (just a few):  While writing a holiday themed mystery, I was on the lookout for an ornament pattern that the seaside knitters could work on. I quickly fell in love with Linda Dawkins’ fanciful knit animals and toys on line. (Linda lives on a farm in South Africa with her family and lots of animals. Check her out on Ravelry) Being the generous soul she is, she sent me her a pattern for a sailboat ornament for the seaside knitters to hang on their tree.

For another book, a PhD student who designed knitting patterns as a break from studying, allowed me to use her ‘shipwrecked shawl’—renamed in the book and presented as a gift for Izzy on her wedding day.  And in yet another book, a talented yarn shop manager in Kansas City agreed to design a wedding shawl afghan the knitters could work on for a wedding anniversary in the book.

And when I was looking for a ‘girl-sized’ pattern so Birdie could knit a sweater for her granddaughter, Cheryl Erlandson, owner of In the Loop yarn shop in Plainville, MA, designed the perfect one for Gabby. Continue reading “Knitting, Writing, and Making Friends by Sally Goldenbaum”

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Holiday Crafting by Linda Reilly

Need a spare? Here’s one to share!

Most of my days are spent hunkered over my computer, pounding away at my current work-in-progress. But once a month, I get together with the crafts group at my apartment community for laughs and crafts and general camaraderie.

Since some of us (ahem…) don’t sew, we look for projects that are fun, economical, and not terribly hard to make. If possible, we like to make them in one sitting, which is why this particular project was absolutely perfect for our October meeting! One of my crafty gals, as I like to call us, found some instructions online (thank you smartschoolhouse.com!) for making toilet paper pumpkins:

Materials:

  • Roll of toilet paper (any size, but I like plumper ones)
  • 1 fat quarter (for the pumpkin I used tie-dyed orange)
  • Cinnamon sticks (or branches cut from a tree)
  • Fake or silk leaves

I confess that until a few months ago, I had no idea what a fat quarter was. It wasn’t until I went to a friend’s quilting show that I stumbled on them: a fat quarter is a piece of fabric that measures 18” by 22” and is used widely in quilting. If you were to purchase a yard of material from a bolt of fabric and divide it into equal quarters, one would be a fat quarter. But anyway, here’s how to put together your TP pumpkin:

  • Place the toilet paper roll in the center of the fat quarter
  • Starting with one corner, tuck the fabric into the center of the roll (if you fold it slightly as you go along, it makes the lines in the pumpkin)
  • After the fabric is firmly tucked into the center, simply add some fake leaves and a cinnamon stick (or tree branches) — there’s no need to use glue unless you feel you want to secure it a bit. On my first try, I’d cut a slender branch from a tree, but then thought it was too skinny. Luckily, I had a scrap of brown felt, so I wrapped it around the branch and glued it together to form the stem.

A tip: If you’re not crazy about the way it came out the first time around–no biggie! Just unwrap the whole thing and start over until it looks right to you.

I think these darling TP creations make whimsical hostess gifts, don’t you? Plus…when you need an emergency spare, it’s right there! (I placed ours on the back of our bathroom tank) J

With some extra doodads I had, I made a TP kitty and a snowman. I think they’ll make ideal holiday gifts for Lara and Aunt Fran at the High Cliff Shelter for Cats. I wonder which of the cats will tear them apart first! Continue reading “Holiday Crafting by Linda Reilly”