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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”

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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

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”