Friday, July 21, 2017

My Dad's Sweaters

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett

Even though it's summer, I still wear sweaters ... a lot. First, the house is often cold because of the air conditioning. Mr. L likes it around 72. I could be happier at 75, but ... I just put on a sweater.

I have a LOT of sweaters. My Mum was into machine knitting and made a LOT of them. I have a couple I wear on REALLY cold days because they are really long (I think she must have made them extra-long), and ... I couldn't bear to part with them when she died.

When my Dad passed away almost nine years ago (how can he have been gone that long already????), Mum started wearing his sweaters. He had quite a collection and most of them came from England. Marks and Spencer to be exact. I'm sure my mother picked them out for him while they were on their frequent trips "back home" in England. He wore them from the 1970s through the early 90s and then for some reason stopped. (Maybe because he gained too much weight?)

Anyway, a couple of them hung in my mother's big walk-in closet. She had anemia and was cold 24/7, so she often wore three layers in the summer. Turtleneck, sweatshirt, sweater. I'd come over in the summer and it would be broiling in the house and she'd think it was just fine.

After she passed away, it was my job to clean out the house. I gave away nearly all her clothes, and she'd already done that for Dad, but hanging in the closet were two of his sweaters. I found even more packed away in a suitcase. In all, I think I kept at least ten sweaters. And I wear them. My favorite is one of Dad's. It's navy blue and it's got moth holes. They're tiny and don't detract from the cardigan's warmth. There were two green ones, which are in excellent shape, and they are HEAVY. I didn't wear them last winter, but I will this year.

I love those sweaters. They're a tangible remembrance of both my parents.

One winter day not long after Dad died, I visited my Mum on a snowy day. I was COLD. She handed me a polar fleece jacket that belonged to my Dad and said, "Take this. And when you're sad (I was crying every day back then, and I can be reduced to tears in a heartbeat when I think of either of them now) and when you're sad, wear this and wrap your arms around yourself and it'll be a hug from your Dad.

On a day when things don't go right, I put on that jacket or his sweater and give myself a hug. It's not as good as the read thing, but it'll do.

Are you sentimental about certain items of clothing?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

An Epilogue Is Like A Dessert

by Karen Rose Smith



I came from an Italian heritage of sitting around the table—talking, laughing and arguing—and making each meal at my grandmother's house an event. Dessert was always a meal extender whether it was cannoli for Christmas, fried dough balls dipped in honey for Easter or Sunday dinner chocolate cake. Dessert gave us extra time to sit at the table and enjoy each other's company. My mother followed the tradition. She was a third grade teacher. Often she would bake layer cake or sponge cake in the morning before we caught the school bus! We'd either use it that night or freeze it for dinner with company on the weekend. Just as she served a salad and crunchy bread every night for dinner, she would serve dessert.

I've followed my mother's and grandmother's traditions because I like to cook. When my son was small, we baked and sold fruit breads at craft fairs. I entered cooking contests. He helped me make at least a dozen different kinds of cookies for Christmas to give away. Each meal was topped with something home-made. Now, of course, life and diets have changed. Fruit is often our dessert of choice. But once in a while, besides for company, I bake desserts for us because we need something special to remind us of traditions I'll never forget.

For me as a novelist, an epilogue is like dessert. Epilogues extend the story. They tell you where the characters have gone and what they've accomplished after the murder mystery and the romantic angst is over! The epilogue is the icing on the cake or the creme fraiche on the blueberry bread. When I spend an entire book with my characters, I don't want to leave them. I want to know what their everyday lives are about after extraordinary circumstances have ended. So my books usually have epilogues. I hope you enjoy these extensions into my sleuth and hero and heroines lives...and enjoy them as much as a dessert!

Speaking of desserts...

My sleuth Caprice De Luca also likes to cook (along with home staging, taking in strays and finding them homes, and wearing retro fashion.)  In DEADLY DECOR, her neighbor encourages her to pick fresh blueberries and this bread is what I and Caprice created.  I hope you enjoy it!


CAPRICE'S BLUEBERRY VANILLA PECAN BREAD

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sour cream
4 teaspoons imitation vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk (1 1/2%)
2 large eggs
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, de-stemmed, washed and well-drained.  (I put a paper towel in a bowl and let them roll around on that before adding to batter.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees  Grease and flour two 8 1/2 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pans.

Beat all ingredients except nuts and fruit in mixer bowl (scraping bowl often) on mix or blend until batter is smooth...1 to 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir in nuts by hand and then fold in blueberries.




Pour even amounts into 2 pans.  Bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It’s hot everywhere!

 Savannah gets a bum wrap for the summer with everyone saying how hot it is and how humid and don’t you dare go to Savannah in the summer as it’s just terrible.

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a bunch of hooey. Here are ten great reasons to visit Savannah in the summer.

First off you’re never far from the water and that in it self is a mighty big plus. There’s a breeze and just looking at the wet makes you feel cool and if you get too hot you just jump right on in.

Second because of all that there water you can do whatever floats your boat. You can rent one of your own or just hop on board someone else’s.
Third there’s the beach. I ask you, is there anything more fun than play in sand? You can build with it or play on it and when you get too hot there’s that there water to jump right on in.

Then there’s the food!! Oh, Honey, the food! Down-home Southern cooking to the ever-present pralines, you won’t go home hungry. In the summer, it’s water-to-table coastal cuisine that takes top billing and should be at the top of your to-do list. A cool treat goes a long way in a Savannah summer, which may explain why Leopold’s Ice Cream has been doing such good business since
1919.

And Savannah comes highly recommended. Before he hit the big time. Sixty years ago, Elvis Presley shook his hips at a Savannah audience for the first time.

And they there’s the night life. Savannah doesn’t hide from its well-earned reputation as America’s most haunted city — and ghost tours help bring these legends to life. If you don’t believe in ghosts when you come you will when you leave.


And then there’s Slow-vannah to consider. You don’t have to be in a hurry to see Savannah. It’s the perfect place to stroll past the red-brick mansions and wrought-iron fences of Jones Street or the boutiques and galleries in City Market.

There’re plenty of other reasons to come to Savannah in the summer and with a little luck you won’t come across any of those pesky bodies that Reagan and I keep running into. You all have a great summer now, ya’ hear.












Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Home With Family

by Maggie Sefton



Daughter Christine and family at granddaughter Natale's high school graduation a little over a year ago.  



Hello, Everyone!  I'm still here in Northern Virginia visiting old friends and family presently in Vienna, Virginia, that lovely suburban area not that far from Washington, D.C. as well as the surrounding area.  Last week I was able to visit with youngest daughter Maria and her family and over the weekend I visited daughter Christine and family plus  daughter Melissa who is normally in Manhattan.   It's so great to be around everyone.



Daughters Maria and Melissa cooking last Christmas in my friend Diane's beautiful kitchen.  

Melissa is starting the process of actually moving from her Upper West Side, New York City apartment to Northern Virginia.  After fifteen years---yes, 15---of living in Manhattan and enjoying it, Melissa has begun to miss the opportunities to be with family more than than she was enjoying Manhattan.  We all change, don't we?  What we might have enjoyed doing fifteen or even ten years ago may no longer seem enjoyable anymore. . .or, not enjoyable enough to make up for missing the closeness of family.  


Astronaut daughter Serena preparing for  NASA underwater training a year or so ago.

Frankly, I willingly admit I love, love, LOVE being able to give my daughters and grandchildren real hugs whenever I return to visit my old hometown area of Northern Virginia.  Oh. . .and sons-in-law, too.  Don't want to forget them.  :)  I have GREAT sons-in-law.  Not bragging or anything.   

I started my visit on July 5th by staying with my dear childhood friends Diane and her husband Les in Vienna, Virginia.  Tons of memories are recounted, for sure.  Along with all the new and exciting things on everyone's horizons.  We all need new challenges, don't we?

I'm curious, Cozy Chicks Readers and Friends.  Are any of you living apart from most of your family or close friends?  

Monday, July 17, 2017

SUMMER HARVEST CUBAN STEW

By Mary Kennedy 
                                                          
 
This is a wonderful summer recipe and I found it on Anthony Bourdain's show.  It's vegetarian and it wasn't even one of his regular recipes.
 
While visiting in Cuba, he was invited to dinner and the main dish was pork (very popular in Cuba, he said) along with this stew served over rice. The hostess said her daughter was vegetarian and she always kept a big pot of stew on hand for her.                 
 
I tried it and loved it. I made it in the crockpot, and you'll have to guess at the amounts. The main thing is to use all your summer vegetables.
 
I started with about 4 cups of veggie broth (I like the low sodium "Better than Bouillon" kind.)                           
                                                     
 
Then I add chopped zucchini, tomatoes (I'll use canned tomatoes in the winter, but now I'll use fresh), carrots, corn, a cooked, diced sweet potato (to give it some thickness and texture) and raw spinach. I just let it cook down in the crock pot for a few hours.
 
                                                         
The trick, of course, is to use whatever you like. One of my friends makes this every week and adds finely shredded raw cabbage and sweet peppers.
 
This freezes really well and I think I like it better on the second day. Another friends always summer yellow squash, as well as zucchini and she adds a can of tomato soup while it simmers in the crock pot for the last hour.
 
And a touch of Worcestshire sauce is good (just a touch, don't forget, it's VERY salty). And I put in bunches of fresh parsley and freshly ground black pepper. You can add a tiny bit of red pepper flakes for heat, if you like things a little spicy.
 
This is my once-a-week "go-to" recipe and I'm trying to stock the freezer with as many pints of this as I can. I know I'll be glad to have this over the long cold winter.
 
Hope you give this a try!! Bon appetit!
 
Mary Kennedy

Friday, July 14, 2017

What am I doing wrong?

by Lorraine Bartlett / Lorna Barrett / L.L. Bartlett

Everybody always says that I get good stuff at yard/garage sales. I've had quite a few successes with fun things like teacups, teapots, tea paraphernalia, hand-painted dishes, etc.

Here's a cup I got on Sunday when I happened across a sale in my neighborhood. Got it for a buck.






One of my readers said, "I sure would love to go to a garage sale you have." She would have had that opportunity yesterday except ... it got rained out.  My Mum's neighbor and I have been planning to have a sale for weeks.  For the past two weekends the weathermen said, "40-60% chance of rain" and guess what?  GORGEOUS WEATHER both weekends. So we didn't believe them when they said, "40-60% chance of rain" for yesterday. Wouldn't you know -- it POURED.  Neighbor had to haul her stuff in after only 15 minutes. I had all my stuff in my garage, but after two hours and only a few "customers" I gave up. It's supposed to be 80% chance of rain tomorrow. I don't think I'm going to bother to open. And I don't want to open on Saturday when the weather is supposed to be beautiful because I want to go to a community sale.

Mr. L (who didn't want a garage sale to begin with) is such a great guy. He said, "Keep everything up until next week and try again." (I moved everything around so that he could part his car in the garage and I'll park mine outside.)

But getting back to the sale,  I had the last of the stuff from my Mum's estate--mostly kitchen stuff--in the sale. (I'd been saving it in case my brother bought a condo then he wouldn't have to buy all new kitchen stuff. I don't think that's going to happen because Florida has a LOT of bugs and my Sister-In-Law said, "I'm not going where there are A LOT OF BUGS." Having been to Florida and stayed for a while, I know just how terrifying finding a Palmetto bug next to your bed can be.)

And guess what sold?  My Mum's kitchen stuff. Not the vinyl records, not the DVDs, certainly not the books (not many--I have a real problem parting with books) and not much of anything that was mine. There's good stuff out there, most of which came from my "catch-and-release" program. I bought stuff at sales thinking I could use it and then found I had no place for it. Like that pretty scallop suncatcher. Or the shabby chic roses print. (I actually had two the same and decided to part with one.) Or the lace runners and tablecloths (also duplicates).

Mr. L turned out to be the big winner. He collected old license plates, but when an antiques dealer asked to buy them, he said yes. He would have given them away for Free if I hadn't been there to negotiate. We're talking some (in very good condition) from 1913. (Mr. L doesn't like to haggle.) He made enough money on those license plates for us to have a 2-martini lunch tomorrow.

What did I sell so far? An ornamental shelf (another couldn't find a home for it item), print cartridges for two different printers my cats broke that I had to toss, and a bar of sandalwood soap (it was a three-pack of soaps and sandalwood wasn't my favorite). A grand total of $4 in 2.5 hours.

So I'll be back in the garage soon hoping to find new homes for my old stuff. And if not ... there's always Goodwill.

What's on your treasure list when you hunt for bargains?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why I Began A Hobby In Photography

by Karen Rose Smith




I'm always looking for inspiration. When I'm inspired, writing flows more easily. My interest in photography began with pictures I took on research trips to remember everything about the settings.  It wasn't difficult to take beautiful pictures of the Red Rocks in Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon as well as the sage, columbine, jack rabbits and big horn rams in Wyoming and Montana.  I even managed a photo of a black bear!  Back home, those photos became my screen savers because they brought back memories and helped me add details to my manuscripts I might not have remembered otherwise.



I began taking lots of photos when my BFF visited with her daughter and when close friends visited with their children. Instead of just having the pictures for memories, I ordered prints and for two years filled albums for each of them for a different kind of personal Christmas present they could treasure.



We had two inside cats at that time and I always enjoyed trying to capture their antics.  Now we have four inside felines and two feral strays we are working on socializing.  Most of my photos these days are of all of my cat babies.








In my reader newsletter, I insert photos of our cats, of our gardens, and of the dishes I cook.  That way when a reader asks me about a recipe in my mysteries, I also have a photo to accompany it. I also began shooting photos for my blog and Facebook.  One of my past times is gardening.  Over the years my husband and I have planted seasonal perennials and annuals to keep color blooming from spring through fall.  I usually begin the season with photos of my daffodils, hyacinths and then roses. Soon I found that our hummingbird garden helped me actually take photos of hummingbirds if I was patient.  Butterflies on zinnias were easy to capture.


Memories are precious.  Taking pictures helps me hold onto them as long as possible.  I can honestly say each picture I take enhances my writing because I note that bee on a sunflower, realize the infinite shades of green in my gardens, appreciate the crystalline blue of the sky, the ruff of fur around a cat's neck, a quirky smile on a child.  Seeing and saving photos and filling my mind with the beauty all around me aids the creative process daily and adds richness to my life.





P.S. I use a Cannon Powershot to take almost all of my photos.
















Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Favorite Summer Food


It’s July and the best time ever to buy food! Farmer Markets are amazing of course and a feast for the eyes as well as the belly but even the local grocery is bursting with yummy things in season.
I know you can get most fruits and veggies all year long in the grocery store but then they’re trucked in from who knows where. But now...it’s local yummy all the way.

My fave summer thing is watermelon. I keep watermelon in the fridge all summer long. I get hungry and go whack off a chunk for an instant snack.

Then there’s the corn. I just love corn on the cob. I have my fave oven recipe below if you want to give it a go. I cook up a dozen ears and have them on hand all week long. Ears with yellow and white together are the best IMHO.

And of course there are homegrown tomatoes. A tomato sandwich
is amazing. No need for bacon, just cut up a tomato and add a smear of mayo and there’s nothing better. My daughter grows tomatoes in with her flowers so
she has a steady supply.


So what about you? Do you have a fave summer fruit or veggie? One you look forward to each summer? Do you grow your own fruits or veggies? Got a fave summer recipe to share? 

Oven corn on the cob

Shuck the corn, smear with butter, put on a piece of foil. Add garlic salt, sprinkle of oregano, basil, parmesan cheese. Roll up and wrap tight and bake at 400 for 30 min. Simply delish!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wireless Problems

by Maggie Sefton


Potomac River at dusk,  just a block away.  


Sorry for this late post, Cozy Chicks Readers and Fans.  The wireless connection I had
with my laptop down by the Potomac River went kaput early this morning.  After several tries, I finally decided to simply pack up and load my things---suitcases, backpack, frankly everything I'd just brought down to the River House last Friday---and, drive right back up to Northern VA.  Yep.  You heard that right.  Right where I started.

Sigh. . .stuff happens, as they say.  (I will not repeat the actual saying ).  And, our lives have become way more complicated with wireless devices----laptops, phones, iPads, etc----over these past 10 years.  It's like we are all dragging around this invisible electronic tail.  Dragging it behind us.  Stirring up the dust.  And creating more opportunities for our devices---and our schedules---to go Kaput!  Have any of you experienced "equipment problems" recently?  

Monday, July 10, 2017

WHERE HAS SUMMER GONE?

 By Mary Kennedy                   
                                                          
'
Is it just me, or is summer slipping away? Something must have happened to those long lazy days I dreamed about--they've disappeared! I don't know how I missed this, but I just put my head up from the computer long enough to notice that summer is sliding out.
 
Okay, here's my first clue. The 4th of July has come and gone.  Let's face it, this never bodes well. Somehow after the 4th, the days and weeks are speeded up, like someone pressed the "fast forward" button. And before you know it, it's the dreaded September.
                                                          
 
Clue #2 I'm seeing a LOT of sales on summer clothes, including bathing suits. Oh no! Are all those wonderful days at the lake and ocean really over? (okay, they only existed as a fantasy, but still, a girl can dream, you know?)
 
Clue #3 God help us, I'm seeing Fall/Winter clothes in the stores and online.  I saw a mannequin in a parka, for heaven's sake. A parka! It's 86 degrees here in the northeast and headed up to the 90's next week. I don't want to see anyone dressed up like the Michelin man, it's too depressing.
 
Clue #4  People seem to have given up (or completed) their "summer projects." My local plant store has a huge sale on perennials and annuals. I suppose people have already filled their garden. And really, how much impatiens does one person need? Unless you're a serious gardener or have a yard the size of Versailles, a few flats will do nicely.
                                                      
                                                    
Another thing I've noticed. There are LOADS of Mason jars on sale. Did people think they were going to spend the summer in Maine making jam or canning fruit? (like Kerry Washington on the TV show SCANDAL).
                                                          
Sometimes the "idea" of doing some serious canning is more appealing that actually doing it. If you bought a ton of jars and still have them empty in your cupboard, don't despair. They make nifty drink glasses with a hole punched in the lid for a straw.                  
                                                            
 
If you're still dreaming of a summer getaway, there's still time. I know it's high season at the beach, but in just a few weeks, prices will drop and the beaches will be less crowded. And you'll still be able to soak up some rays and save a few bucks.
                                                            
 So my advice is, don't despair, wrap up those projects you really wanted to accomplish. Say adios to the ones you don't, and plan a fun week-end (or more!) someplace. It will cheer you up and September will be here before you know it. And yes, I plan on taking my own advice!
                                                            
 
Have a great "rest-of-summer." As they say, it's not over till it's over!
 
Mary Kennedy

Saturday, July 8, 2017

SPOTLIGHT SATURDAY: Life On Victoria Square

By Lorraine Bartlett

My Victoria Square Mystery series has had a few ups and downs. It came out like gangbusters in 2011--and bam bam--two of the books hit the New York Times bestsellers list.  But then ... there was a nearly four-year lag from the time One Hot Murder came out and Dead, Bath and Beyond was published.

A lot of readers forgot about Katie Bonner and Artisans Alley.

I'm now writing the series with a co-author, but nobody told me my first co-author only had a one-book contract. I assumed we'd write the rest of the books in the contract together. Since her life had taken another turn, I had to find another author. Meanwhile, Victoria Square was once again taken out of the publishing schedule. My agent found the wonderful Gayle Trent (who also writes as Gayle Leeson and Amanda Lee), and we're hard at work on the next book in the series. (So far not titled.) We're back on the publishing schedule, but not until December 2018.  That's 18 months from now. So the big question is -- will readers forget about Katie and Artisans Alley once again?

Hopefully not -- because I've begun a companion series called LIFE ON VICTORIA SQUARE. In the Victoria Square Mysteries, Artisans Alley takes center stage, but the merchants--and their businesses--are just as intriguing. They all have stories to tell ... and that's what the Life on Victoria Square companion series is all about.

I began the series featuring Ray Davenport, the former homicide detective who has retired and opened a gift shop on Victoria Square.  In CARVING OUT A PATH, a young shoplifter not only swipes a couple of hand-carved figurines from Ray's Wood U shop, but barrels into and injures Katie Bonner, manager of Artisans Alley. Upon his escape, the police are called, but before the ink is dry on the report, the boy’s grandmother drags the would-be thief back to return the purloined items. She’s got an agenda and great expectations. Can Ray come through in a pinch?

The second installment, A BASKET FULL OF BARGAINS, comes out on Tuesday. This one features Gilda Ringwald-Stratton, owner of Gilda's Gourmet Baskets. Iris Drake is an odd duck. She knows everyone at Artisans Alley arts-and-crafts arcade, but nobody knows her. When she walks into Gilda’s shop on Victoria Square, she’s a stranger there, too—but not for long. Yet she hasn’t to come to Gilda to buy her wares—she’s there to sell some of her own. All goes well until Iris’s secret is exposed. Should Gilda step in to make things right, or walk away from an unpleasant situation?

I've already written a third story (now available for Pre-Order, and to be published on September 8th) called THE BROKEN TEACUP. I hadn't meant to feature Katie Bonner in any of the stories in this series, but I was inspired by a teacup I bought an an estate sale. Katie Bonner needs a pick-me-up one cold and gloomy fall day, and the US Mail delivers—literally. A mysterious package arrives at Artisans Alley with her name on it, but the return address is obscured and the treasure inside, a beautiful bone china teacup, is broken. Before Katie can open the accompanying card, she’s called away and one of the vendors mistakes the package for trash. Katie makes a quick rescue, but the card is gone. Who sent the cup? What is its significance? Can Katie solve this mini mystery?

I'm already plotting the next story, which will come out in either late December or early January.  My goal is to write a new story every three months -- at least until the new novel comes out.

If you've enjoyed the Victoria Square Mysteries, perhaps you'll enjoy Life On Victoria Square, too.

To find out more about the stories, please check out my website.