Thursday, March 30, 2017

Quilts, Home and Family

by Karen Rose Smith


I am doing research on quilts for my second Daisy's Tea Garden mystery set in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania--MURDER WITH CINNAMON SCONES.





But my interest in quilts began many years ago when an Amish woman crafted one for my mother. I still use it today. The stitching and handwork is beautiful.


During my research visits to Amish country in Lancaster, I recognized the most popular designs--Sunshine and Shadows, Log Cabin, Wedding Ring and Star. But there are so many others--Jacob's Ladder, Bars, Tumbling Blocks, Pinwheel and Double Wedding Ring, to name a few.






A special type of quilt is an "Album Quilt."  This is a quilt that the the stitching is particularly intricate and it tells a story of one person's life or of a generation's history.  Each block signifies a significant even in life.  It could be a quilt a grandmother begins for a grandchild when she is born. Each milestone in her life would have a symbol up to her wedding day.  Then it would be a wedding present.  The antique album quilts are much sought after and sell at auctions for a hefty price.

Quilts have an ambiance of their own. They seem to go with cozy nights, home hearth and family.






A friend made me this modern-type quilt featuring some of my book covers. I treasure it.








Quilts also give comfort.  They bring back memories of a slower time, caring when I was sick, family time on a winter evening while we watched TV.







Do you use quilts in your home?  Do you quilt?




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No Boys Allowed!


It’s spring and we are all dying of cabin-fever so a friend of mine suggested we do a girl’s trip! Take off for a few days, just the gals, and have some fun.

I have to say this totally works for me. There have been a few suggestions of Las Vegas, Nashville, NYC, New Orleans. I’m all for the New Orleans idea. I’ve never been, always wanted to go, it’s warm and they have ghosts and voodoo and great food. Hey, what’s not to like!

And the girl thing sounds amazing. Don’t get me wrong, guys are great but there is just something more relaxing with just us gals. We can talk girl things like getting older, saggy boobs, flabby butt, new clothes, old hair, makeup...you get the idea.

And then there’s the shopping. Sweet mother, going shopping with a man is just not right. Guys know what they want, go into the store, buy said item and leave. Really? That is not shopping that’s running an errand. Shopping takes hours interrupted by lunch and a coffee stop and a dessert stop and maybe a wine stop.

And then there’s what to watch? When the guys are around it’s some adventure, shoot-em-up cop thing. The girls watch Love Actually for the millionth time, or just sit and talk and never even know what’s on the blasted TV.

And then there’s where to eat. Men what burgers and steak and whole cow over an open flame. The girls go for some salad place or fish or that new pasta place on the corner.


So what about you? Have you ever done the girl’s getaway
weekend? Did you love it? And where did you go?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Another Era

by Maggie Sefton



For today’s post I decided to write about another era.  Scrolling through my photo files gave me the idea.  This old photo shows my maternal grandmother Gertrude holding her first child, my aunt Anna.  My mother, Benny, was the youngest in the family of girls.  The woman standing beside my grandmother is her older sister, Alice, who is holding her first child, Harold.


My grandmother was born in Southern Virginia in 1890 when women still wore corsets and long skirts.  But no frilly or hoop skirts for the women in that era in the semi-rural area where my grandmother grew up.  These women worked around their farms or small land-holdings.  Most people in that era didn't own large tracts of land.  The little city down the road was Chase City,  and like all other towns and farms and land-holdings  in that area of Virginia, it was situated in the super fertile rich land called the Tidewater area.  

Tidewater Virginia runs from the Atlantic Ocean on the East, due West approximately one-third of the way across the state to what's called "the Fall line."  That's where the land starts its rise toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian chain.  Waterfalls occur along that line.  Little Falls is one on the way to Northern Virginia and another is Great Falls which is larger and more impressive and beautiful.  It's well worth a visit if you live near Northern Virginia. 


Above is a photo of my mother when I was a young college student attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  That was several years ago, folks.  :)

Readers of the Cozy Chicks Blog have read me saying over the years that my grandmother lived in the house with my mother and me as I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, literally a stone's throw across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.  My childhood friends, two sisters, Nancy and Diane, grew up across the street from me.  As far as I was concerned (and my friends as well), D.C. was "downtown." So, we had the benefit of growing up learning a lot about what ordinary life was like for people---our parents and grandparents---who grew to adulthood in the very early years of the 20th Century----1905 to 1910, for example.  I’ve always thought that for a child who was born to become a novelist, this was an ideal childhood.  I grew up with a reference to an earlier historical time right there in my own home.   And my grandmother Gertrude loved to answer questions.  :)   

Monday, March 27, 2017

MYSTERIES, CLUES AND SECRETS

By Mary Kennedy                   
                                                                
 
Clues, secrets, red herrings, they're all part of mysteries. A very important part!
 
 It's always a challenge to figure out much to reveal and how much to keep hidden. I try to give out clues a little bit at a time in my mysteries. It's a fine line, trying to keep the reader interested and engaged in solving the mystery and yet not overwhelm her with too many details.

                                                        

One of my writer pals compares dropping clues this way.  "Pretend you're going into a dark room. It's pitch black. You see some lamps here and there and you turn them on one at a time. Each time you switch on a lamp, a little circle of light appears in the room.  With mysteries, it's the same thing. Every time you drop a clue, you're illuminating another part of the plot and you're closer to solving the crime."

 Hmm. I like that image and often use it when I'm plotting one of my mysteries.
                                                           

When I wrote DEAD AIR, (now in audio!) the victim was an annoying, self-styled "Guru" who had loads of enemies. He had scammed people out of money, betrayed both friends and business partners and duped his ex-wife.

How would I narrow the field?

I decided to drop clues here and there, as my friend suggested.
                                                            

The classic way of plotting a mystery (as any mystery fan knows!) is to make sure each suspect has sufficient means, motive and opportunity to solve the crime. At least this gives the sleuth a starting point. Of course, this isn't always straightforward. A 90 pound little old lady, for example, might not have the "means" to tackle a 300 pound victim, but she could pay someone to do so.
                                                 
 
 
 
When I plot one of my Dream Club Mysteries, or Talk Radio Mysteries, I always make a list of all the suspects (some obvious, some not so obvious) and use the MMO method.
                                                        
 
 
One reader confessed she always flips to the back of the book to find out the name of the killer. I was surprised to hear this. Do many people do this? I wondered. Another reader keeps a notepad when she reads and jots down key points that might reveal the killer.

How about you? Do you like to figure out the mystery along with amateur sleuth? Or do you like to be surprised? Would love to hear your take on all this, and thanks for reading cozy mysteries.

Mary Kennedy

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring has Sprung. Now ... what should I do first?

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

Monday was the first day of spring. YAY!!

Okay, the winter wasn't that bad. (And they threatened us with the worst.) But spring bring with it places that are "seasonal" or are just seasonal to me.

I spend a lot of my summer at our family's summer cottage. I use it as a writing retreat. Usually it's just Fred (my Tuxedo) and me writing up a storm. I can see the bay from my office window. If the weather cooperates, I may be able to go on my first retreat as early as the end of April.

But spring means we can also go to come of our "summer" haunts.  The Halloway House reopens for the season  It's a historic old restaurant that cooks good, old-fashioned food. In fact, you can have Thanksgiving dinner whenever you want it. (We haven't tried that yet. for a set price, you get the whole shebang with enough food to feed six people. What a bargain.) And they make good drinks, too.  Every customer gets Sally Lunn bread (a cross between bread and cake) and orange sweet rolls. OMG -- I can't wait until it reopens (in 3 weeks) so that we can go there and enjoy it once again.

I'm really looking forward to getting out in the garden and attacking my rose bushes.  I bought a new bush last fall and asked the buy at the garden store when I should prune what I've already got. He said in the spring. That's kind of open-ened. I mean, spring is technically now, and runs through most of June. What part of spring?

The other day, I spent way too many hours watching gardening videos on Youtube.  I have never really pruned my old-fashioned rosebush and it's totally out of control. I got the answer to my big question above when  one guy said not to prune until the forsythia blooms--so that's my timeline. I've got pruning shears and loppers and when the time is right, I'm going to go to town. I saw at least 6 pruning videos, so I think I'm ready.

I also watched a bunch of videos on African violets, and learned I've been doing just about everything wrong. Oddly enough, I haven't killed any of mine. (I had 3 and inherited my mothers, so I've now got 6 or 8.). You're not supposed to get the leaves wet or they'll go brown.  Oops!  No wonder I have little brown spots on some of my leaves. In future, you can bet I'll be more careful when I water  them. The one my Mum had at the hospice home bloomed for 20 months straight. It's taking a break now, but I gave it a little fertilizer and hope I can coax it to bloom again soon.

I'm not sure if I'm going to try to grow veggies again. It's so labor intensive and we have a market two miles down the road that sells local produce really cheap, and all I have to do is wash it. No weeding, no watering, no critters stealing my crops and breaking my heart. Yup. I think I'm going to give up growing veggies.

So, what does spring have you hankering to do or go?


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spices and Herbs for Flavorful Cooking

by Karen Rose Smith


Since I come from an Italian background, oregano, salt and pepper along with fresh garlic and onion were the most common additions my mom, grandma and aunt used when cooking main dishes. What would lasagna and spaghetti be without garlic and oregano?

Of course, when my mom made desserts, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were her favorite spices. When I walked in the house and caught the aroma of cinnamon and sugar, I knew she'd been baking something good. This threesome is wonderful to use in the fall for pumpkin pie and apple bread. Cinnamon is one of those all-around spices I sometimes add to chocolate recipes as well as use with snicker doodle cookies and topping my oatmeal and applesauce. I'm not as found of ginger as I should be but a touch of it is good in stir fry meals.









When I began cooking on my own, I experimented with herbs. I used oregano and basil the most because that's what I'd grown up with. My grandmother would grow basil and then in the fall collect and dry it. I began gardening late in life, but now an herb garden is a must. There's nothing better than a bundle of thyme, oregano and marjoram to drop into soup. (I tie them together with string. After the soup is done cooking, just pull out the bundle. You'll just have the stems and the leaves will be floating in the soup.) You can also find unusual herbs now such as pineapple sage and chocolate sage.



I'm less familiar with what I call spicey spices--chili, cumin, red pepper, cayenne pepper. But I use them more often than I used to. My family isn't fond of highly spicy seasoned food, but I can't make chili without chili powder and cumin! And I've found just a few red pepper flakes in minestrone soup give it a little kick. I put paprika in this category, although it isn't "hot." I use it more than the others in salads, on deviled eggs and even in scones.









Last but not least are the mixed spices that I find at a store called the Olive Spout. They sell flavored olive oils and vinegars. (That's another blog.) My favorite spices that I use in most of my cooking are garlic/pepper and orange/pepper. Both are terrific topping meat and fish as well as shaking into soups. The best way to use herbs and spices is to experiment with them. Just a little at first to see if you like it. For instance, mix olive oil or melted butter with pineapple sage or lemon thyme, then rub the mixture on chicken.








What are your favorite herbs and spices?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Love it or List it...

 In Lethal in Old Lace Reagan and Boone are expanding Cherry House, the old Victorian house Reagan’s always loved, bought, fixed up and the only good thing to come out of her seven year marriage to Hollis the Horrible.

Reagan then opened the Prissy Fox on the first floor, an upscale consignment shop, to help make ends meet for her moneypit of a house.

 Boone took a bite of sandwich, the yummy sauce dripping off his fingertips. “What about this, I’ll buy half of the house, you put my name on the deed so I don’t feel like a kept man and we use that money to pay for the rehabbing. Turning the attic space into bedrooms and below into the kitchen, dining area, laundry and living room,” he pointed through the hole and dropped a chunk of meatloaf to BW, “is a huge job and needs professionals. You and I can paint and decorate but there’s rot up here that needs big-time attention.”

I stopped my fork halfway to my mouth. “You’ve thought about this?”
“We only do this if you agree, it’s your house and you love it and this way you keep the Fox on the first floor. It’s an easy commute.”


Putting on additions, adding another room, taking down a wall, redoing bathroom or kitchen etc are all normal parts of owning a home. Things need to be updated and fixed and as time goes by and families grow the house needs to be added on too.

We added an addition to the back of our house. It’s a three-season room with a gas stove for heat. The stove is an antique we saved from my grandfather’s bar and grill that he and grandma owned around the 20’s and 30’s. Lots of memories there.



We love this room! Lots of windows and a opens up into our family room for added space for when the fan gets together.

We also knocked down the wall between the kitchen and dining room to connect the two and open things up. It turned out great. Now we eat in the dining room all the time but the opening up part is so nice.

So what about you? Have you ever done major reno to your house? Knocked down walls, redo bathrooms and kitchens etc. Did you have it done or do it yourself? Did you nearly die from the mess and having the house torn up?

Hugs and happy spring.

Duffy

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dry As A Bone

by Maggie Sefton



This is a formerly-posted photo when I took half Border Collie/half Black Lab Katy to the Vet's office. Katy is now twelve years old.  


That was one of my dear maternal grandmother's old sayings.  Of course, she was born and grew up in Virginia where there is a mild mid-Atlantic climate with plenty of humidity.  So. . .I figure she was not talking about the weather.  As for me, here in Northern Colorado, well, we're going through one of our winter droughts.


Thank goodness they only come around every five or six years.  But when they do, the rain disappears after the end of January or as in this year, the middle of February.   We haven't had any rain since then.  And temperatures have been beautifully warm and sunny, sunny, sunny.  In the 70's.  Those of you who live in frigid cold and humid areas are probably throwing things at the computer screen right now.  Believe me, I'm not complaining.  I absolutely love, love the climate here.  It literally spoils you rotten.  But---if one of these dry winters rolls around---you do have to take precautions.  Super rich body creams and lotions for your skin----not just face but all over.  Including your hair and scalp.  


This includes your pets.  I just took my dog Katy over to the groomers to have a special shampoo and blow dry and long brush out.  Because of our early Spring, all the doggies around here have started shedding their thick winter coats.  So, Katy is enjoying being pampered at the groomers right now.  I'll run over to get her after I finish this post.  Meanwhile, I'm seriously considering ordering some of that advertised rich product to be added to both dogs' dry food.  It's supposed to add lots of ingredients that are good for a dog's skin and coat.  I figure I'll give it a try.   Believe me, folks, I'll report back to you.


Have any of you experienced this dryness problem with yourselves or your pets?   I'm curious.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

WHY I LOVE READING COZIES

By Mary Kennedy                                                  
                                                             
                                                            
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog on why I love writing cozies. If you missed it and would like to take a look, here it is. http://www.cozychicksblog.com/2017/03/why-i-love-writing-cozies.html
 
Today I'd like to follow up on the same theme and talk about why I love reading (and listening to) cozies. Yes, I was late to jump on the audio books bandwagon, but now that I've discovered them, I love them. They make long commutes tolerable and they are great when I'm doing a "power walk" around the neighborhood. (my power walks have slacked off lately, I'm afraid. I live in the northeast and we're deluged with tons of slushy, depressing gray snow. Hope it's better where you are.)
 
1. I love reading cozies because I like to solve puzzles. My pal, Carolyn Hart, once confessed that she feels the same way. It's fun to match wits with the killer, go over the MMO (means, motive and opportunity) of the suspects) and try to decide who committed the crime. Okay, true confession time. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I don't!
 
In book one, DEAD AIR, the first of the Talk Radio Mysteries, pictured above, Dr. Maggie is horrified when a guest is murdered right after her radio show. Who killed Guru Sanjay? There are certainly lots of candidates!
 
2. I love reading cozies because it's nice to see justice triumph in the end. In real life, we all know that sometimes life is unfair. Justice doesn't always triumph and the guilty party gets away with the crime. In cozies, there is a sense of rightness and justice.
 
In my book two of my Talk Radio series, REEL MURDER, there's a murder on the movie set. We really want to see the guilty person punished! The victim wasn't a very nice person but she certainly didn't deserve to die. 
                                                        
 
3. I love reading cozies because I have a whole cast of characters I can identify with. And since most cozies are written as a series, I can see how my favorite characters develop over time, how they change, how they grown, how they face new challenges. In Nightmares Can Be Murder, the reader is introduced to a couple of sisters who open a vintage candy store in Savannah. And we're caught up in the Dream Club, a fascinating group of characters who meet once a week to share their dreams and solve a murder or two. Readers tell me they eagerly await each book to see what's going on with their favorite characters.
                                                             
 

How about you? Why do you love reading cozies? Please take a moment and share your thoughts. I know we have a lot in common!
 
By Mary Kennedy
                     

Friday, March 17, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

One Teapot or Two?

by Karen Rose Smith



Do you drink brewed tea? I keep a cupboard full of several different kinds--from Celestial Seasonings to Bigelow to Teavana and tearoom mixed loose teas. Hot or cold, I brew depending on the season. The thing is--I not only like tea, but tea pots! After all, there's a difference if I brew two cups of tea or six cups. The teapot pictured above is my latest from Lenox. It accompanies my Butterfly Meadow dishes.

Some of my favorite teapots are designed by James Sandler.  They are English bone china. I like to use bone china because I know it's the quality I prefer in a teapot.  I do hand wash them all after use.



I use teapots for brewing tea.  But because they're so pretty, I also use them in decorating. I like flowers, especially roses.
















However, I also love cats.  I've discovered cats on teapots aren't so easy to find.  My son gave me this one for Christmas.







Then there's tea for one!

But tea seems to taste better when it's shared. So far, one of my favorite tea rooms is Gypsy's Tea Room in Westminster, Maryland. I also enjoy the semi-annual teas at Yesteryear, our Hanover, Pennsylvania antique center. I like tasting new teas, along with new soups, sandwich combinations and, of course, desserts. It seems there are always friendly people at the teas. At Gypsy's, I met a woman who runs a cat sanctuary. Serendipity! At Yesteryear the seating is in groups of four and my husband and I always enjoy the new people we meet there.


I've paired this cobalt blue teapot with an antique creamer and sugar that was my grandmother's.  


About tea and tea rooms...

I will have a new cozy mystery series released in January 2018--Daisy's Tea Garden Mysteries. This series is set in the fictional town of Willow Creek in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The first book in the series will be MURDER WITH LEMON TEA CAKES.

Daisy's Tea Garden has become a gathering place in Willow Creek, (Lancaster County) Pennsylvania. Daisy, widowed mom of two teenagers--one at home and one who recently started college--along with her aunt Iris, are the proprietors. Although her aunt is in her golden years, she's enjoying the company of Harvey Fitz, wealthy CEO of Men's Trends.  (Harvey's favorite snack at the tea garden are Lemon Tea Cakes.) The only problem is that Harvey isn't yet divorced.  When Harvey is murdered on the tea garden's patio with a foot-high unicorn statue, Aunt Iris is the prime suspect.  But Daisy soon discovers many residents of Willow Creek are suspects--from Harvey's soon to be ex-wife, to his children to his business colleagues.  Daisy's focus has to be on her adopted daughter Jazzi (Jasmine) who wants to search for her birth parents.  But with the help of a former detective turned furniture store owner, Jonas Groft, she finds answers for both her daughter and her aunt. (Daisy lives in an unusual home renovated from an old barn along with her daughters Jasmine (16) and Violet (18).  Their two cats, a tuxedo feline named Pepper and a dark tortoiseshell with a unique split colored face named Marjoram, are important members of their family.)


I hope you enjoy this new series as well as all of my Caprice De Luca Home Staging cozies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Daylight Savings Time...love it or leave it

Okay, we here in Ohio and a lot of other states have made the jump into daylight savings time. I have to say I’m a fan mostly because it heralds the jump into spring and the promise of all things green and colorful and away from grays and dismal. It also gives more light at night.


I think daylight savings time was invented during the push to save energy and honestly we should all do that but non scientific and eco reason is that it also gives us more time at night to play. I love getting out of work at the Snooty Fox...a consignment shop...at eight-thirty and it still is light when I get home.

Daylight savings time is really good for my mental state. I’m one of those sun freaks that the more sun the better. Night is great in that it’s all kind of magical and mysterious and dark is good for sleeping but give me the sun and with daylight savings there is simply more of it...or more that is useable.

I know this is hard for parents. I remember the days when trying to get my toddlers to bed at eight and it was still light out. It was a tough sell to get them to sleep. But now that they are older they love dst as much as I do.

If I had my way we’d be on dst all the year round! I think a candidate could run on this issue alone and win!


So what about you? Does your state partake in daylight savings? Do you love it or hate it? Are you with me in making dst an all year round event? 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fun Shopping

by Maggie Sefton


 Photos show some of  my fun Saint Patrick's Day shopping.  


Those of you who have elementary school children or grandchildren will understand
 my post today.  I have a dear 10-year old granddaughter back in Northern Virginia, AnaSofia, and I do enjoy buying "kid stuff" for her.  But this year, I also have the opportunity to buy Saint Patrick's Day "fun stuff" for three more young children.   Yay! 






In addition to my 10-year old AnaSofia, I also shopped for a five-year old little girl, a seven-year old little girl, and an 11-turned 12 year old boy.  I had a lot of fun doing that Saint Patrick's Day shopping, believe me.  I really believe I have never lost my "inner child."  So----I love checking out all the cute, silly, and funny St. Paddy's Day "stuff."  I mailed off two large post office Priority Mail boxes for the larger family as well as a large box for AnaSofia.





Sorry this photo is sideways.  My photo-editing icon stopped cooperating last night.  

I found a really cute St. Patrick's Day card (copyright laws prevent my showing pix) with a photo of a  chubby Pug doggie with a Sherlock Holmes hat on the front of the card.  Plus, an adorable kitten card.  Cute message inside, too.  :)    Plus, Shamrock stickers.   I also found pretty little Shamrock Green play necklaces and hair bows, knitted wrist bands, several pastel colored adorable stuffed bunny rabbits, Peppermint-flavored cake mix, and a container of . . .you guessed it. . . Shamrock Green frosting.  And for good measure, some of the bakery's yummy Chocolate soft cookies that have green and white M& Ms all over them.  Yep.  Candy-coated cookies.  You've gotta love it.  Oh, yes, and a booklet of all kinds of Disney Princess stickers and coloring pages, as well as a booklet of Yoda and Star Wars villains and heroes.  I also found two packages of those little cars that all kids love to play with.  Oh, and a magazine all about cars, all kinds of cars.  

See?  I wasn't kidding when I said I had a lot of fun.  :)

Monday, March 13, 2017

TELEVISION SHOWS AND A SENSE OF PLACE

By Mary Kennedy                            
                                                             

Many of you know that I'm married to a Brit and am a great fan of British TV shows. It occurred to me the other night (while I was watching Crownies) that so many of my favorite shows could only be set in the UK and Australia. Crownies, of course, is set in the DPP, Department of Public Prosecution in Sydney, New South Wales.
                                                         
 
Another favorite British series is The Crown, the story of Queen Elizabeth. A terrific series and I can't wait for the next season.
 
I love British crime dramas and Midsomer Murders is a favorite. Set in a small English village, Midsomer (a town which seems to have an inordinate number of murders!) Here are are two of the original cast members, John Nettles (who has a terrific background as a stage actor) playing DPI Tom Barnaby and Jason Hughes playing Ben Jones, his sergeant.
                                                         
                                                          
In later episodes, John Nettles finally left the show to do theatre, saying he "didn't want to be the world's oldest living policeman." His part was taken up by Neil Dudgeon (also called "DCI Barnaby," since he is supposed to be a cousin of Tom Barnaby) and Gwilym Lee, playing his Sergeant Nelson.
                                                       
                                                            

       
Three of my favorite American shows are set in Washington DC. "The Americans," starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell....
                                                         
 
 
 and "House of Cards," starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
                                                         

And of course, who could forget "Gibbs" (Mark Harmon) and his wonderful team from NCIS, a show based in DC.                         
                                                           
 
How about you? Do you have any favorite shows that are forever linked to a particular city or country?
 
Happy viewing and have a great week! Mary Kennedy