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Creativity

Easy Centerpieces by Lena Gregory

When Gia Morelli flees New York City and escapes to the outskirts of Central Florida’s Ocala National Forest, she uses the last of her savings to buy a small house and open the All-Day Breakfast Café. Her best friend, Savannah Mills, helps her set up and decorate the café. Before Gia arrives, Savannah makes blue and white gingham curtains, dark blue tablecloths, and cushions with zipper covers for the light-colored wood chairs. She also adds a few strategically placed paintings of local scenery and hangs a hand painted, wooden open/closed sign in the front window. Savannah does an amazing job creating the comfortable feeling of home Gia was striving for.

Unfortunately, Gia doesn’t share Savannah’s creative talents. She’s also out of money, so when it comes time to make centerpieces, she has to come up with something cozy but inexpensive. With very little time left, Gia decides on an easy, inexpensive idea that anyone can make, even her.

Gia loves the beach. Although she hasn’t had much free time since arriving in Florida, she does manage to sneak away for a little while, and when she does, she heads straight for the ocean. She walks along the beach with a bucket in hand, collecting anything she finds that catches her interest; beach glass, seashells, small rocks, twigs, beach grass, driftwood, even a length of old fishing net. After that, she strolls through town and hits up the antique shops, and even the dollar stores, and picks out a variety of glass containers, mason jars, and small candles.

When she gets back to the café, she sifts through all of the interesting things she found on the beach and sorts them into jars. Some jars get candles in the center—of course, she’s careful not to put anything flammable in those. Others get beach grass or twigs sticking out the top. If the jars have no fun decorations on them, she ties a ribbon or a leather cord around them.

When she’s done, she sets a jar in the center of each table, then she creates a setting on the counter behind the register. She spreads a small bit of fishing net on the counter and arranges the jars among pieces of driftwood. With the lights dimmed and the candles lit, her customers can enjoy an intimate setting with their meals.

Continue reading “Easy Centerpieces by Lena Gregory”

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How to Get Cozy in the Winter by Kirsten Weiss

What better way to get cozy than with a book, preferably curled up on a couch in front of a crackling fire, mug of hot chocolate spiked with something at your elbow? If that book happens to be a cozy mystery – even better! There’s just something comfy about immersing oneself in an imaginary small-town murder, knowing wrongs will be righted.

But another way I like to get cozy in the winter is to take refuge in the kitchen. The warmth from the oven toasts the room, and the scent of baking wafts through the entire house. Pie is something I’ve always found to be, if not cozy, then comforting.  That’s why I set my new cozy mystery, The Quiche and the Dead, in a pie shop. The scent of baking sweets and savories, the warmth of the kitchen, and the clatter and laughter of diners.

Val and her buddy Charlene from The Quiche and the Dead are better known for baking pies. But they’re not above sipping the occasional cocktail while watching Stargate reruns. Here’s one of their (and my) favorite winter warmers – the Reformed Firefall. The Firefall was invented at Yosemite’s historic Ahwahnee Hotel. Every time I go there, I ask the bartender for the recipe, and every time I leave, I manage to lose the cocktail napkin it’s written on. So, here’s my own, simpler, version – the “Reformed” Firefall.

Reformed Firefall: Add a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey to a cup of hot chocolate. Stir with a cinnamon stick and top with whipped cream and a pinch of cinnamon. Top yourself with a fluffy blanket, and enjoy!

 

Is Val’s breakfast pie the quiche of death?

Owning her own business seemed like pie in the sky to Valentine Harris when she moved to the coastal California town of San Nicholas, expecting to start a new life with her fiancé. Five months—and a broken engagement—later, at least her dream of opening a pie shop has become a reality. But when one of her regulars keels over at the counter while eating a quiche, Val feels like she’s living a nightmare.

After the police determine the customer was poisoned, business at Pie Town drops faster than a fallen crust. Convinced they’re both suspects, Val’s flaky, seventy-something pie crust maker Charlene drags her boss into some amateur sleuthing. At first Val dismisses Charlene’s half-baked hypotheses, but before long the ladies uncover some shady dealings hidden in fog-bound San Nicholas. Now Val must expose the truth—before a crummy killer tries to shut her pie hole.

 

 

 

 

 

Watercolor painting by Karen Rose Smith

After my dad retired, he took up acrylic and watercolor painting. When he passed on, I kept his paints and decided to try my hand at both. I found I enjoyed the watercolor medium best. There is a challenge in using different kinds of paper, combining colors that take on a life of their own when mixed with water, and creating just the right effect. Life got busy back then, and writing took up more and more of my time. I left the art behind for years.

But last year, with my love of cats a major passion, I decided to pick up my brushes again and try feline portraits. For me, the fur is the most difficult aspect. The eyes which are the easiest for me are truly the windows to their souls. Since we have six rescued inside cats (Halo, Paddy, Zoie Joy, Zander, Freya and London) as well as care for two ferals, I’m constantly around cats.  I love them like children.  I have studied them for hours and hours and constantly photographed them.  That helps when trying to catch their expressions, their fur variations and their beauty.

Painting with music or an audio book playing in the background is relaxing. I forget about everything else and focus on the cat or cat photo in front of me. Since family and friends are cat lovers too, the watercolor paintings make wonderful presents.

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Author Post – by Leah Marie Brown

Leah Marie Brown, at four years old, asking Santa for an electric typewriter and a slingshot.

 

Grace Murphy was a latchkey kid.  The protagonist of Finding Colin was the only child of a single, working mother, which means she grew up spending a lot of time alone and learning how to fend for herself.  Now, grown-up and truly on her own, Grace dreads the Holidays.

I was also a latchkey kid. I grew up in the 1970s as the only child of a single, working mother.  I wore second-hand clothes and an itchy piece of yarn with my housekey attached to it around my neck.  In other words, I feel Grace’s pain.

I was more fortunate than Grace, though.  My mother worked her slender fingers to the bones to make my Christmases special, to fill them with traditions and memories I now cherish.

She started the first tradition when I was an infant, barely a month old: she took me to visit Santa (which, later, I discovered was a family friend in a rented costume).  As I grew, she took me to Lion Store at the Franklin Park Mall in Toledo, Ohio.  My visit with Santa was always a carefully planned and executed event.  First, mom made me write Santa a letter, thanking him for his generosity and politely asking him for my heart’s content (a slingshot topped that list for six years until I finally gave up and asked for an Evel Knievel doll instead).  Next, I would put on my best dress and mom would style my hair (once, in massive Princess Leia buns, cringing).  After delivering my carefully worded wish list and squeezing on my main maned man, Mom would treat me to an ice cream sundae at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, an old-time ice cream shop with player piano and perky employees in 1900s period dress (straw boaters and suspenders!).

Mom made a lot of things an event – like baking Christmas cookies. I have vivid memories of pressing tin cookie cutters into chilled dough and decorating the finished products, wonky angels with neon yellow frosting, fat, jolly Santas dipped in pink icing and finished with two silver dragees for eyes.  We would wrap up the best cookies and deliver them to my grandpa, singing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs as she maneuvered the frozen streets in her orange Plymouth Horizon.  The rest of the evening would be spent playing Scrabble.  I would make it through one round and then fall asleep on the sofa listening to Bing Crosby sing White Christmas and the two people I loved best in the world playfully arguing over words. Continue reading “Author Post – by Leah Marie Brown”

Flip-flops at Christmas by Susan Fox

When I was a little kid, my family was just me and my parents. Mom and Dad were sun-lovers, and as anyone who’s been to Victoria, B.C. in winter knows, you see buckets of rain and very little sun. So we snowbirded down to Mexico in a tiny aluminum camper. Christmas Day meant waking in a hammock slung between a couple of palm trees, playing tourist, lying on the beach with my parents (slathered with tanning lotion, not sunscreen), and cooling off in the ocean.

When I reached school age, Mom and Dad pulled me out of class to jaunt south. My teachers were okay with it because I was a top student. They gave me the assignment of drawing pictures and writing stories about what I saw and did. Here’s a sample page. On the left, those are fish boats on the beach. On the right is our camper under a coconut palm.

Our Mexican Christmases ended when an older cousin of Mom’s, a single woman, moved out from Saskatchewan. The holidays are family time, and we couldn’t desert her.

So we suffered through the rain and chilly temperatures, but I loved all the wonderful traditional activities. We picked out a fresh, outdoorsy-smelling tree and decorated it with ornaments—both purchased and home-made—as well as strings of lights and strands of silver tinsel. The kitchen filled with the scent of baking cookies and fruitcake. Presents were snuck into the house and wrapped in secret, to slowly accumulate under the tree. Continue reading “Flip-flops at Christmas by Susan Fox”

Favorite Tradition by Jules Bennett

By far, my favorite holiday tradition is eating breakfast on Christmas morning at my parent’s house. You know how holidays can be such a rush of going from one place to another? One meal to the next…wishing you’d worn those elastic pants?

My sister had a brilliant idea several years ago to cut down on the feeling of being rushed every evening from one family member to the next. She’s a master cook and thought maybe we should get together for Christmas breakfast instead of dinner because so many of our family members do dinner.

Wait, her plan got even better. Not only does she prepare a fabulous breakfast on Christmas morning, we all show up at my parent’s house in our pj’s. That’s right. We drive to their house in our snazzy pajamas and bedhead then all huddle on the floor around the tree and pass out presents. Just like when I was a kid!

I love this tradition for so many reasons, but the main one is that I am totally a kid at heart when it comes to Christmas. What’s better than being *cough* nearly forty years old and being childlike all over again…and with good reason!

Another reason I love this is because my kids are making lasting memories. I think it’s so important to instill those treasures in the next generation. No matter your tradition or the holiday you celebrate, children need to see why that particular moment is special to you. My kids get a kick out of seeing my sister and me acting like big kids. It’s such a fun time.

Let’s discuss the food. Oh, mercy, is my sister an amazing cook. We have from scratch cinnamon rolls with gooey icing, breakfast casserole, biscuits and gravy, French toast, wassel (for those of you who don’t know, this is a fabulous, hot, cinnamon/fruity drink made of angel wings and heaven).

I don’t know about you all, but I’m hungry! I hope whatever tradition you have, you continue making memories with those you love. Continue reading “Favorite Tradition by Jules Bennett”

The Inspiration behind Death by the Sea by Kathleen Bridge

As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to the sea, so when we moved to a small barrier island on the east coast of Florida, it felt like coming home. I immediately knew my By the Sea series would take place in Melbourne Beach. The island is on what the locals call the Treasure Coast. After researching the history of area, I found that back in 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships laden with hundreds of millions of dollars in silver, gold, and precious jewelry had been shipwrecked near the island’s Sebastian Inlet. Salvagers, had scored not only from the bounty of the shipwrecked fleet, but also on a nearby beach that had once been a survivor’s camp for the Spanish fleet. Even today, salvagers are finding treasure.

I was also intrigued by a town on the island named Indialantic By the Sea. The name was formed from a combination of the two waters that surround the barrier island, the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. After scouring local antique shops and used bookstores for information on area, I came across two old 1926 postcards of the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel, a sprawling white stucco Spanish-style hotel and resort that later changed names as the Tradewinds Casino. The resort fell into ruin and was torn down, but now lives on in my series as an old family run hotel trying to stay afloat in modern times, barring numerous hurricanes and murdered guests.

Continue reading “The Inspiration behind Death by the Sea by Kathleen Bridge”

Subhuman by Michael McBride

“Scientists are closing in on warm caves under Antarctica which could support secret life”

(http://www.businessinsider.com/warm-caves-under-antarctica-which-could-support-secret-life-2017-9)

Life always finds a way. There’s no other rational explanation for how anything can survive in Antarctica, a continent where the winter is spent in total darkness and at an average temperature of more than fifty degrees below zero. We’re talking about an environment as barren and desolate as the surface of the moon, and yet trapped beneath the ice is an amazing biome unlike any other on the planet.

The world might be dead aboveground, but it is alive with volcanic activity below. Geothermal heat is responsible for keeping entire networks of lakes and rivers from freezing at depths of more than two miles beneath the surface and, as we’re only now learning, the formation of systems of caves warm enough to support higher orders of life. In addition to bacteria and fungi, soil samples have demonstrated traces of DNA from algae, mosses, and small animals, among them species of unknown origin not found anywhere else in the world.

While exploration of the caves has only just begun, some speculate that these warrens could potentially cover the entire continent beneath the ice, connecting them with the site of the recent discovery of a 13,000 year-old meteorite containing fossilized bacteria theorized to be of extraterrestrial origin. Combining an isolated subterranean ecosystem with organisms that shouldn’t have otherwise survived is a recipe for disaster.

It’s this precise scenario that forms the basis for the first book in the Unit 51 Series, Subhuman, in which a team of scientists discovers that something terrifying has survived beneath the ice, something that’s not entirely human. I challenge you to imagine the possibilities presented by this article and then read Subhuman—coming this November from Kensington Publishing, available wherever books are sold—and you’ll soon learn that far worse things than death await us below.

Continue reading “Subhuman by Michael McBride”

The Amish Quilting Circle and Sister’s Day: an idea is born

Where do you get your ideas? is probably one of the most asked questions of authors. Ask a hundred of them and you will get a hundred different answers. And those answers will be different if you ask them the next day. Why? Because ideas are all over. I pull from personal experiences, people I know, people I see, stories I’ve heard loved ones tell, and more.

Most writers are introverts, which makes me something of an odd duck. I’m an extrovert and have no problem talking to people. One of my favorite things to do is get people telling stories and see what comes out. This is no different with the Amish. I am blessed to have Amish friends who live in Lancaster County, and I love to hear them tell their stories. See, most Amish don’t get on the telephone and chat up their friends all afternoon long. Most stories are shared in person. Sisters’ Day, after church, out to supper (yes, my Amish friends love to eat out), and even just an afternoon sitting in the shade while peeling apples or shelling peas.

Sisters’ Day is a wonderful phenomenon where sisters (go figure) get together for all sorts of activities. They can have cookie exchanges, make comfort patches, go shopping, or just sit around and eat and talk.  The Sisters’ Day I got to experience was a canning day. The sisters split the cost of supplies and canned a whole bunch of soup. We all worked together chopping, mixing, boiling, and sealing the jars. And did I say a whole bunch? We canned over eighty quarts of soup!

Sisters’ Day is where I heard about an Amish group of women who had banded together because none could have children. It’s also where I heard about an Amish woman who was trying to adopt two little English girls and the troubles they faced. I heard about a widow who was marrying her husband’s best friend in order to have help taking care of her children. There were tales of Amish men abandoning their wives, Amish wives abandoning their husbands, and a host of other problems that most of us wouldn’t dream the Amish face. Trouble conceiving, fertility treatments, special needs children, dietary problems, husbands and wives losing that honeymoon feeling. It’s all there and more.

I have often said that I take ideas from the “English” world and imagine how the Amish would cope, but The Quilting Circle stories are unique as they came straight from the Amish themselves.

Continue reading “The Amish Quilting Circle and Sister’s Day: an idea is born”

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