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The Unexpected Farmer By Amanda Flower

Because a lot of my novels are involve Amish characters, I spend a lot of time writing about farms and farmers, but I’m not a farmer. I never had any plans to be a farmer. However, two years ago a friend needed help with his farm, and I loved his vision. Instead of a traditional farm, he is creating a habitat farm where birds, bees, butterflies, and animals can live and rest. It’s not only a peaceful place but a place that will help the more traditional farmers around him by keeping the pollinators, which farmers need for their crops, in the area healthy.

When I heard his plans, I offered to help and found I loved it. I love being outside and working on the land, planting things and watching them grow. This year, we installed a new small barn and bluebird houses. One of the three bird houses has bluebird eggs, and the eggs should hatch any day now. I cannot wait to see the baby chicks, and I will be sure to share photos on my Facebook page. Continue reading “The Unexpected Farmer By Amanda Flower”

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Has New Claim to Flame By Christin Brecher

EXTRA, EXTRA:  AUTHOR TRIES CANDLE-MAKING

Stella Wright, the hero detective in my series, the Nantucket Candle Maker Mysteries, was born to make candles.

I was born to buy them.  That is, until I met her.

After spending time with Stella during early days of the series, I became eager to try her craft.  She has that effect on people.  Stella worked at the island’s Whaling Museum during high school and was drawn to Nantucket’s production from whale oils of the whitest and brightest candles, which lit the finest homes around the world in the late 17th / early 18th centuries. As a youngster, she also helped her mother run a small perfume shop on town’s Center Street, now the location of her own store, the Wick & Flame.  These days, she crafts beautifully colored and uniquely scented candles I wish we could all enjoy.

Inspired by this multi-talented woman, I discovered Keap, a small candle company based out of Brooklyn which runs workshops at their headquarters. When I arrived for an evening class, I joined a group of enthusiasts of different ages, skills and backgrounds, including a young couple on a date (hope those two made it because that was a cute date.)  Everyone wore a smile, which grew wider when we were offered wine and pastries. Continue reading “Has New Claim to Flame By Christin Brecher”

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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