Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Summertime, Birthdays, and the River

by Maggie Sefton

Twilight on the Potomac River 

I'm back in Northern Virginia celebrating family birthdays (four birthdays within 12 days) and enjoying Summertime's Last Hurrah, aka  Labor Day Weekend.  That weekend always seems to symbolize the "official" end of summer for everyone.  Kids return to school if they haven't started already, pools close in cities all across the nation,  and that ultimate symbol of Fall---the Football Season---officially starts.

I managed to squeeze in a few days down at the river house and daughter Maria joined me for part of that time.  We indulged ourselves in a favorite pastime---discovering and enjoying new restaurants.  New to us, that is.   We found two we particularly liked----one in Fredericksburg, Virginia, that lovely historic Colonial city south of Washington, DC, and the other in a small town farther east in Virginia's Northern Neck.  Both restaurants had female chefs and specialized in sourcing super fresh local ingredients----vegetables, fruits, fresh seafood----fish, shrimp, crab, oysters.


Another Fredericksburg cafe I've discovered.

In Fredericksburg we arrived a little after 5:00pm in order to make sure we got a table at Foode (pronounced  "foodeee").  Maria had a delicious vegetable plate and I had a hanger steak with a wonderful sauce with fat blackberries and a rich, creamy polenta that was to die for.

Farther east in the little town of Warsaw, Virginia, we came earlier to insure a table at Relish, another delightful culinary find that has been discovered via word-of-mouth, plus 5 star reviews on Yelp and other online review sites.  I had a beautiful broiled salmon with this marvelous Wasabi sauce with fresh fruit, believe it or not.  Maria had a beef loin that "melted" in her mouth.



DC Metro Area Madness at night

Both Maria and I congratulated ourselves on checking reviews online and following up on two fantastic   dining spots.  There are many more in this area which is a Getaway and Escape destination for many in the Northern VA/DC/Suburban MD  Metro Area Madness.   We will definitely go exploring again.


Are you hungry yet?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ellery's Mystery Cozy Contest

Hosted By Ellery Adams

It's the first of the month! Time for me to give away a $10 card to the bookstore of your choice.

This is how it works: I post a few lines from a cozy mystery. You post the title and author in the comment section. Then, I'll draw a random name from the winning guesses and post that person's name on this page and on Facebook by 10 p.m. on September 2nd.


Okay, here we go! Here are the lines from this month's mystery cozy:

"Let us see, Mr. Clever Poirot, just how clever you can be. Perhaps you'll find this nut hard to crack. Look out for Andover, on the the 21st of the month."



Ellery's helpful hint - This classic mystery has a school-themed title. A perfect read for back-to-school!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to Write a Mystery Without Really Trying (Okay, That's a Lie ... But I Lie for a Living)



by Leann

I spent a good portion of my life hoping to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Oh, I was an RN, worked in various areas of nursing, but that was for security, so I could help provide for my family. What did I truly want to accomplish? What would I do with this time on earth?

My "first" (actually 3rd) job was raising puppies (#1 I was a wife and mother and #2 I was a nurse. I bred Shelties to be specific—many, many Shelties. Messy job
and not profitable, but oh so fun. Nurses and moms are used to poop and pee, after all. But all along I knew what I wanted. I was just too afraid to admit it to myself. Fear of failure is a powerful thing.

As my two kids grew older, I remember one day pointing my finger at them and saying, "Find a job you love, find your passion," and suddenly the unconscious became conscious. Was I leading by example? No, I wasn't. I believe it was the very next day I went out and bought my first copy of Writers Digest.

That was in 1989. My first book was released in 2004. No, you cannot write a book without trying, and trying ... and trying some more. You must face rejection and
heartbreak and confront your ego. You must understand there is no correct way to write a book, but there are hundreds of wrong ways. The learning curve is steep, the pain, the exhaustion, the self-doubt will shut you down if you allow it. I repeat. You cannot write a book without trying very, very hard to learn what a "voice" is, to trust yourself after you have cut yourself to pieces over and over.

So, being a mother was the key to everything. I looked into their pre-teen eyes to offer advice and found answers for myself lying there. The first mystery I wrote, Pick Your Poison, turned out to be the first book published in 2004. How many times did I rewrite it? I'd guess a hundred. I believed in that book even when I didn't believe in myself. Then came the cat series and I have now published eleven books in two series. I love my fictional cats and in the new release, I have created a fur friend I wish I could have sitting on my lap right now. I hope you enjoy Clyde from The Cat, The Vagabond and The Victim as much as I do!

 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Relax, rejuvenate and refresh!

by Mary Kennedy                         
 
Last week, I did something I rarely do--I devoted a three day week-end to rest and relaxation at a fabulous hotel in Rehobeth Beach. No computer, no pressure to work, just a time to decompress and enjoy the beautiful weather at this popular seaside town.                       
 
I felt pampered from the first moment I saw our "garden room." A private garden, what could be better?          
                                                           
 

Every morning we had coffee and breakfast from a terrific buffet. There was no hurry to do anything, the ocean was waiting for us and it was only a few blocks away. It felt decadent, lingering over the newspaper and coffee, enjoying some great food. Best of all, I didn't have to cook it!                                          
                                                           
 
   I could relax and enjoy the scenery, throw a few bread crumbs to the koi in the pond and just kick back.           
 
 I could enjoy the "adults only" pool at the edge of the garden (there was a kiddie pool on another floor.)
                                                       
 
We could stroll along the boardwalk
or take a dip in the ocean--the water was perfect!
 
This is one of the first times I've ever left my laptop at home (sorry, laptop!), and it was wonderful to disconnect for a few days. In the evening, I could curl up with a book; the hotel had a great library filled with books,chess sets and games.          
                                                         
 
 
 And there were plenty of places to have coffee or wine after dinner and enjoy a good chat.
 

 
Was it worth it? Yes! Do you have a special place that you like to escape to, a place where all your worries are cast aside and you experience pure joy and relaxation? I hope you do. Here's wishing you a happy getaway!
 
Mary Kennedy

Friday, August 29, 2014

Celebrations of life are sweet -- if cake and Nillas are involved!

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

It was just under a month ago that our family celebrated my mother-in-law Mary's 100th birthday.  She was surrounded by her family (her children, her three favorite nieces, and me, my mother, and my sister-in-law).  Mr. L made a video. We all took loads of pictures.

 The nursing home provided pizza, punch, and we brought a wonderful (HUGE) birthday cake that was gobbled up in no time flat. A good time was had by all.  It was a happy day we will long remember.


Sadly, two days later, Mary suffered a devastating stroke. A week later, she was gone.

Wow. How could such a small lady leave such a big hole in our lives?

The Cozy Chicks sent us a lovely dish garden that we will enjoy for years to come. Every time we see it we think of Mary and of the friendships we've made with the wonderful women here on this blog.  (Love you guys!)

Mary loved Nilla wafers and hard candy. We bought her boxes and boxes of wafers and pounds and pounds of candy, which she shared with members of the nursing home staff.  When we cleared out her room, we found the last box of Nillas in a drawer. It hadn't been opened.

Truthfully, neither of us are fond of Nillas (I'd prefer a GIGANTIC OATMEAL COOKIE with walnuts and raisins!!!) so we aren't likely to eat them. But ... I know that other recipes use Nillas as a base.  Among them, bourbon balls.  Our friend Jean used to make bourbon balls and bring them to work every year at Christmastime. Boy, they sure were the hit of the office party.  (She did NOT spare the bourbon!) I'm sure Mary would have enjoyed bourbon balls (although she drank beer when she was younger, and white wine these past couple of decades).

I've made bourbon balls before, but I was wondering if there were other recipes out there that use Nillas as a base and that you guys have made and enjoyed.  I know I'd be pleased to know about them, and I'm sure those reading the comments would, too.  So, if you have a recipe, please share it.  (If I make one, I'll let you know the results.)

Thanks!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I sat behind you in English Class

Here we go, it’s high school reunions time when we hear the call of days past and feel the need to revisit out teen years...at least some feel that way.  


Maybe we want to go back because high school was a time when much that is good and bad about our identities is forged or better or worse.  If you ever thought of yourself as a jock, Valley girl, or math geek you probably first thought it in high school – probably because someone else called you it.  

Though, most of us have moved on from these identities to form longer lasting ones (e.g. mother, engineer, community activist) our high school identities hang around. I have a cousin who still has his library trophy award on the mantel. 
Reunions seem like a lose-lose proposition.  If you were a bit of an outcast the first time around, why in all that’s holy would you want to subject yourself to standing in a room full of people who made you feel that way.  If you were the prom king or star athlete, you probably aren’t anymore.
So then why do we go?  Maybe because it’s the same reason
why we would watch a Friends reunion show.  We know it wouldn’t be very good, but we still want to know how the story turned out.  All these people from high school were in the story of our lives when it was at its most intense…at least is seemed that way.  
None of us had any idea who we would be 25 years later (or even 5 years later), but now that that time has arrived we want to see how the stories played out. 
 Even when I’m watching a third rate movie on an airplane, I still want to see how it ends before they turn everything off at landing.
Also, I think I owed these people something. They made me better. Neither of my parents went to college and being a girl they didn’t think I needed to go either. But the kids I hung with in high school all had college plans so I wanted to go too. Peer pressure for the better.
So what about you? Are you in or out on high school reunions? Have you ever gone? Plan to go? Would not want to see those kids again for all the money in the world?

Let me know and I’ll give away two romance books from the answers.  
Hugs, Duffy 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Have You Ever Binged-Watched?

by Maggie Sefton



Have you ever binge-watched a TVseries of group of shows?  I have.
Actually, last year was the first time I did it.  My cable TV provider, Comcast, had a week of free, everything you want to watch one spring, and I binge-watched Showtime's super suspense, "Homeland."  Excellent times three.

Well, this year I did something different.  Since Comcast didn't offer a free week, I paid a small fee and binge-watched Season 1 and Season 2 of the Netflix produced series  "House of Cards."  As a lifelong Political Watcher who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC,  I loved "House of Cards" like a duck loves water.  :)   Hey. . .it's my town.  DC was "downtown" for me.

Why didn't I simply sign up for Netflix and watch "House of Cards" that way?  The same reason I haven't subscribed to Showtime or HBO or other premium channels.  I don't want to incur a regular monthly expense for something I would only use occasionally.   I see movies in the cinema every weekend when I'm in Colorado.  Netflix is great for people who don't go out to the cinema often, so
they can't  see as many moviews as I do.  And, second. . . I prefer seeing movies on the big screen.  Call me old fashioned,  but  the little screen TV and worse, the computer screen significantly
affects my experience.

Next month, September, when I return to Colorado----I'm back "home" in Northern Virginia visiting family and friends----I'll catch up with Season 3 of "Homeland."  And eagerly await,
the upcoming seasons of both "Homeland"  and   "House of Cards."  

P.S.   Don't you just LOVE Keven Spacey in that role of Master Manipulator and Politician, Frank Underwood?   Have you watched either of these hit series?    

Monday, August 25, 2014

ALONE TO ALASKA

by Kate Collins

I did it! I went by myself on the cruise that my husband and I were going to take next. It took four years before I had the courage to do it, but I'm delighted to report that even though I traveled alone, I met  wonderful women who quickly became friends. Yay!

I'd debated about the trip for at least a month and had finally asked for a sign. It was on the morning of my last book signing, with the deadline for reservations fast approaching, when I prayed, "If I should go, if this is good for me, then let someone say the word cruise to me today." And the very last woman in line for the signing thanked me and then out of the blue mentioned a cruise she had been on. Voila. There it was!

So before I left home to head for Seattle last week, I prayed for friends. And in the dining room on the first night onboard the ship, I found myself seated with seven lovely ladies from all over the continent. Most were single, and all were traveling alone. We met for dinner every night and we did some tours and sightseeing together. I was only alone when I chose to be. The best part of all was that each of us had come on a spiritual quest, and in each other, we found a sisterhood.

Alaska was fascinating. I saw breath-taking vistas, rain forests, glaciers, whales, sea lions, seals, and the majestic Tracy Arm fjord.



I even got to go on a dogsled adventure. Because there was no snow, the sled had wheels, but those dogs were so excited to run, they didn't care.




And at the end of it, we were able to cuddle 3 month old Alaskan husky puppies. I almost brought this little guy home with me!


I've come to understand that life is what you make of it. If you always see the negative in every situation, you'll be in for a rough ride. If you can find joy in life, even if it's for the littlest things, and express your gratitude, you're in for wonderful surprises.


Enjoy your day, friends.

And one more surprise.

Starting today, Monday, August 25th, you will be able to peer into the mind of Abby's wacky cousin Jillian through her diary pages, one page each day. She'll be offering fashion insights while a mini-mystery plays in the background involving your favorite sleuthing couple, Abby and Marco. Just a disclaimer: Jillian is who Jillian is. I take no responsibility for what she wrote.  You'll find the pages on my website: www.katecollinsbooks.com


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gone to the Birds

by Leann

When Hurricane Ike ripped through southeast Texas a few years back while we were living there, my beautiful giant elm tree was one of many felled by that storm. It was torn away from the earth by its roots and if it had fallen toward our house instead of toward the garage, it would have destroyed our home. We were lucky, for sure, but how I missed the birds that once lived in that tree. I would spend every morning saying hello to a woodpecker or a chickadee or a house finch and I never realized I would miss the birds so much.

Now that we are finally in our new home, we have a big white oak right on the shoreline and a front yard that's a virtual forest. I have been getting acquainted with new birds, some that I have never seen before. An osprey comes by at least
once a day and perches high up on an oak limb. He stares down at the water intently, sometimes only for a minute, sometimes for as long as five. Then he dives head first into the lake and comes up with a fish. Every time. I love to watch that graceful, daring dive.

Mr. Blue Heron roams the shore morning and night, patient, regal and beautiful. At first
when I would come outside, he would fly away immediately. Now he stays. He's wary, but he doesn't interrupt his hunt. Often it's a fish and sometimes it's a snake, but he gets his breakfast and dinner regardless.

Away from the water, wandering along the side of the road are the wild turkeys. They are so different looking that your "Thanksgiving" type turkey--unique and fast. I
had the chance this year to see a mother herding her young across the road. Such a good momma.

The birds that I find creepy are the turkey vultures. Like all carrion, when they're circling,
something has died. I don't want to know what. Or a load of garbage has been lost. Or they're just waiting around for death. Yes. Creepy and ugly. But they have a job to do.

We have the usual water fowl--ducks and geese and loons--but oddly enough my favorite birds are still the little ones. They stay all year, they fight with each other constantly like a dysfunctional family of tiny, feathered siblings, but they are amazing creatures with limitless energy. Maybe its their energy that makes me appreciate them so much.
One thing is for certain, these flying friends bring me a peace I haven't felt in a very long time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Help! My Nightmares Are Ruining My Sleep

by Mary Kennedy                        
                                                       
 
One of the most common questions my clients ask me is: how can I get a good night's sleep? There is no simple answer. People have insomnia for a variety of reasons, and as a clinical psychologist, I know that "mood disorders" (depression and anxiety) are one of the most common reasons for poor sleep.
 
Some depressed and/or anxious clients are so troubled by their nightmares they are literally "afraid" to go to sleep. This leads to a vicious cycle--insomnia leads to depression, depression makes it difficult to sleep, lack of sleep causes more severe depression etc. Troubled thoughts can easily lead to nightmares.  What we do in therapy is try to change these negative cognitions or thoughts, into more positive, realistic ones.
                                                          
 
People want to have "sweet dreams" like the one pictured above, but more often then not, they're plagued with nightmares or as the literature describes them "vivid, disturbing dreams." (Certain medications also cause "vivid, disturbing dreams," so it's a good idea to talk this over with your primary are doctor.)
 
People dream about being lost in a strange city at night, engulfed in a giant wave that appears out of nowhere, or they see themselves driving down a long narrow road that suddenly falls off a cliff. Sometimes they even picture themselves strapped into the passenger seat, in a car with no driver, as the car careens madly into a river.
                                  
 
Dark water often appears in dreams, along with threatening skies, thunderclouds, lightning flashes and waves that are straight out of a tsunami. The common theme is that the dreamer feels helpless, vulnerable, overwhelmed by her environment. All this is a metaphor for what is happening in her waking life.
 
The brain needs to dream to process the events of the day and try to make sense of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of information we experience. Sights, sounds, tactile sensations, bits of dialogue, random thoughts are all sorted into files. But when a nightmare takes over, the process is disrupted and chaos ensues.                          
                                                       
 
The brain tries to come up with a "story" to match the dreamer's troubled emotions and it usually invents some natural disaster or some environmental threat to explain it. Until you get to the bottom of what's really troubling you and what's keeping you awake, the nightmares probably won't let up. Either talk over your concerns with a trusted friend, or a mental health professional, but in any case, tell yourself you're going to turn this pattern around. Here's hoping all your dreams will be happy ones and you will wake up refreshed and energized, ready to take on the day.
 
Mary Kennedy




Friday, August 22, 2014

Earworms

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

Don't you hate it when a song gets stuck in your head and you can't stop thinking about it?

There are a few that I simply cannot stand that once I hear them, they bug me for days.  (Especially Puff the Magic Dragon.  Ooooh!  Gosh, I hate that song.)

But lately I've had an earworm of a different type.

It's no secret that I'm an insomniac. I'll wake up in the middle of the night and get an idea in my head and won't be able to get back to sleep, and sometimes it happens as early as 1 or 2 o'clock.  That makes for a very unproductive next day.

Lately songs have been coming into my head and I think about them over and over and ... suddenly I'm asleep and when I wake up, it's several hours later.  What's with that?  I'm not going to complain.

The songs?  California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Pappas and (of all things) I've Been Working on the Railroad.

How weird is that?

Anyway, it's working for me and I've been sleeping better for the past 2-3 weeks.

What earworms bother you?