Monday, October 15, 2018


By Mary Kennedy                                               

If you're like me, Paris is always calling! I had the luxury of living in France during my college days and have traveled back there since then. It's always fun to speak the language when you visit a foreign country and I've found the French to be quite forgiving when I make clumsy mistakes. (I never quite mastered the verb tenses and the subjunctive is always baffling. For example, try to to translate, "If I'd known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.")

If you'd like to study French from at the university level, there are many online options.  
Just google Fluent U, Babbel, the open learning initiative from Carnegie Mellon and more.
Take a beginner course, an intermediate or advanced one and you'll be chatting away in no time!

Another possibility is to use Rosetta Stone or the Pimsleur method. They're quite different approaches to learning French, so be sure to read the reviews before deciding on which is right for you. Watch for sales on both Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur.

If you just want to brush up with your French skills, there are three fun sites that I use. 

1. With Duolingo, you can learn any language for free. You are presented with very short "classes" and then take a quiz on what you've learned before moving on to the next section. There are some bells and whistles and on the whole, it's fun and entertaining.

2, Another site I really enjoy is French Word a Day. It comes out three times a week, and the author, Kristin Espinasse, writes an entertaining blog about her life in France, her family, and always adds some useful phrases. Kristin is an American ex-pat, married to a Frenchman, and lives in the south of France, one of my favorite areas of the country. She's also a gifted photographer. It's free to subscribe to her blog, although she is grateful for donations.

3. Finally, you can subscribe to Frederic's Talk in French newsletter. He provides vocabulary, slang expressions and much more. It's fun!
Hope you try one of these approaches and you'll be chatting away on your next trip to France.

Mary Kennedy

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Spotlight is on Life on Victoria Square

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

It's really fall. We had such a hot summer, and it lasted through this past week, so these new-to-me temps in the 50s are downright COLD. Of course, this is just the prelude to what's supposed to be a REALLY frigid winter.

Yippee. (Not!)

Now that it's colder, I'm thinking about different foods, too. Like soups, stews, roasted veggies (and chicken).

I put together a selection of my favorite recipes in a a book, RECIPES TO DIE FOR (A Victoria Square Cookbook). Of course, it was more fun to present it from my character Katie Bonner's point of view and included recipes from the Artisans Alley vendors and other merchants on Victoria Square.

At my friend (and Cozy Chick emeritus) Ellery Adams suggested that I start with the signature beverages of some of the characters. What fun I had finding unusual drinks such as the "corpse reviver" and "the Black Widow." But my favorite section of the book contains slow-cooker recipes.

Don't you just love simple, good-tasting food. I love to toss the ingredients into the slow-cooker and six or eight hours later serve up a one-dish meal (okay, crusty Italian or French bread covered in butter goes with just about everything).

Here's one of my favorites, written from Katie's POV.

Slow-Cooked Beef
When I was in grad school, I never had time to cook. My husband, Chad, was just as busy working full time as an English teacher at McKinlay Mill High and spending his off hours at Artisans Alley. It was Chad who made most of our dinners in those days, and he often started our meals in the slow cooker before he went to work.

1 pound round steak or roast
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 - 1 ½  teaspoon dried mustard
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onions, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped

Turn on slow cooker to low. In a small bowl, mix tomatoes, sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Place meat on the bottom of the cooker. Cover with onions and peppers. Pour the liquid ingredients over the meat and vegetables. Cook for 7 to 9 hours. Serve over cooked rice or noodles.

Yield:  4 servings

That's just one example of what you'll find in Recipes To Die For.

You can have your own trade paperback or ebook copy of the book, too!

Amazon (paperback)
Kindle Worldwide
Apple Books

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's Friday!

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

I haven't had a day job in thirteen years, and yet I still look forward to Friday afternoon. I got out at 3 pm (after starting at 6 am -- loved those flexible hours).  Of course, the truth is, I work a lot harder and longer hours now that I work for myself than I ever did when I "worked for the man."

Friday. It's kind of a fun word.

Fridays often mean FISH FRY DAY. Around my neck of the woods, that means beer-battered fried haddock. That's the fish of choice. It's really quite wonderful. And the fries. Yum. I like the kind that come with a little bit of cornmeal on them. Makes them extra crunchy. Of course, crinkle fries are pretty good, too. Doused in malt vinegar .... mmm mmm good!

Friday is the gateway to Saturday. From May until early October, that means YARD SALE SEASON. (In fact, I'm going to two yard sales this very morning because soon I'll be going through withdrawal.) The faux roses and the milk glass vase in the picture at right came from a rummage sale last week. The roses were 50 cents; the vase was a quarter. They look quite pretty in my living room. I have an old rose bush out in the yard and the blooms are the same color and size. It has only two blooms right now (and it's a BIG bush), so this vase of flowers will be a nice reminder until it blooms again next spring.

Friday. Can't help it. I still look forward to it.

What's your favorite day of the week?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Feline Outdoor Shelter Time

by Karen Rose Smith

As you plan your fall holiday decorations, remember your outside feline visitors.  Cold weather is harsh on outside cats.  You don't have to spend a lot of money to provide strays the things we take for granted--shelter and warmth.  A bale or two of straw can be used to shield already protected areas on your property from cold winter winds.  Plastic storage bins can be converted into cat shelters.  My husband and I try to give our outside visitors options.  Below are several of the shelters we provide.  Hopefully our outside cats will choose one or two.

A shelter in an island garden protected by a weeping spruce
We have a patio sun room that we keep open throughout the year.  For winter we put a shelter with a heated bed inside one area, a heated pad in another.

In addition, I lay thermal heat pads on the furniture in the sun room.

The outside shelters we provide close to the house also have low wattage heat pads inside.  Among them are an igloo and cedar shelters.  If you'd like to consider making a shelter yourself, here is a link:

Alley Cat Allies also has pages of pre-built and DIY shelters to examine, many with instructions.

One caution about multi-cat shelters.  Feral and stray cats don't usually like to share.  So if you have more than one visitor, be sure to offer more than one safe spot.  And sometimes a stray would prefer to have the whole property to himself or herself!

We use straw bales as buffers and protection for the shelters against the elements.  Since the flowers are gone and plants don't provide much cover, the bales are also useful on the patio to break the wind.  Ornamental grasses are available in the garden throughout the winter and shelters can be placed near them for added protection.

My husband just picked up this year's straw bales.
Straw is the preferred bedding if the shelter doesn't have a heat pad.  Hay, used as animal feed, gets soggy.  Straw is sturdier than hay, usually a golden color.  Moisture rolls off of it rather than sinking in.  Towels and carpet become damp and mildewed.  Cats can rest on straw and it keeps them warm with their body heat.

Also important in winter are heated water bowls.  We notice the strays drink more water in winter than summer because it's harder to find a water supply.  Here is one option we use, but many kinds and brands are available.

Keeping these stray fur babies safe is a challenge.  Hopefully they'll take advantage of our hospitality.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The gang’s all here!

Hi, Duffy Brown here.
This weekend I’m going Knoxville for a weekend of fun with readers. This is the best part of being a writer...meeting and chatting with readers.
And it will be a blast!! Friday night is Two Dames Mystery Party where all ninety...yes ninety...readers join in the fun of a roaring twenties mystery party.
Get your Tommy guns and fedoras out of the attic. Dust off your pearls and boas. It’s time for... 
Bootleg, Babes and Bodies.  
Two Dames Speakeasy is having a Grand Opening celebration and the eight families are coming together to meet the newcomers in town causing a lot of trouble. With gangsters, hit men, crooked politicians, jazz singers, rumrunners, saloonkeepers, cigarette girls, flappers, pimps and prostitutes and even a priest or two things are bound to get deadly with families trying to take over each other’s territory. Who of the eight suspects will knock who off first? Who will be the last man or woman standing? 
There are nine families and ten characters to a family like 
1Sweet-stuff Biscotti
2Cookie-the-Cutie Biscotti: 
3Bambina-the-Blade Biscotti: 
4Darla-the-Daring Biscotti: 
5Cocoa Biscotti:
6Valentine-the-heart Biscotti: 
7Babyface Biscotti: 
8Delia-the-delicious Biscotti:  

There are eight suspects and the families must hunt them down in different locations in the hotel to gather clues. Everyone is in costume with boas, long pearls, fringe dresses, fedoras and sequins everywhere.  I cannot wait to get the pics! There are trophies for the winners and a pizza dinner to celebrate the whodunit it. 

Next week I’ll post pics and tell you about the second half of this fun weekend…a mystery boat ride on a paddle wheeler. We do this mystery weekend with readers every year and travel all over doing  to meet and have fun with readers we chat with all year long on Facebook  emails etc. We’ve been to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and this year Tennessee! 

Next week I’ll tell you where Two Dames will hold their 2019 Two Dames Mystery Weekend so you can plan on joining in the fun. Here are some pics from other mystery weekends we’ve put on.

Come join the fun!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Old Kitty Friends Still Here

by Maggie Sefton

I wish I had a photo of kitty cat Zoey, but my friend Diane didn't have any.  So----I'll just add a photo of my dear Blue Tick Coon Hound dog Max----who yearned to "play" with the kitties.  :)  

I'm back in hometown of Northern Virginia and will head out soon today to have lunch with my old childhood friend, Diane.  She and her sister Nancy and I grew up together across the street from each other in Arlington, Virginia, the older non-fancy section of Arlington.  :)  Diane just emailed me with the absorbing details of how her sweet older cat, Zoey, is deteriorating rapidly.  Zoey is a sweet old kitty cat and loves a couple of pats, but that's all.  :)    She'll get annoyed if you pat her too much.  When she was younger she'd jump up in my lap and sleep.  Naturally I stayed put in that situation.    The things we do for our animal friends.    

Diane has been racing around Northern VA trying to get prescriptions filled and find fluid injectors so the pills can be crushed and put in fluid so it will be easier for Zoey to swallow them.  Zoey is nearly 17 years old and (like my kitties in the past) loves to split her day between inside the house and outside in the yard.   Zoey had stopped eating entirely so this was a serious situation.  One of the pills was an appetite enhancer.  Diane finally found an injector that would work and she and husband Les crushed the pills, added water, and were able to inject that liquid into Zoey's mouth.  And Zoey kept it down.  Plus, Zoey immediately went over to her bowl and ate the tiny bit of food there.  Thank goodness! So----fingers crossed that Zoey continues to improve.

No I don't have kitties along with my doggies anymore----used to years ago.  But my silly Blue Tick Coon Hound Max would never have given that kitty cat one minute of peace. No matter if kitty cat would shred his nose raw, Max would still be pestering her.  Every day of his life Max would love to run outside with my sweet Katy dog (14 years old now) and scamper up the woodpile stacked between the fence and the storage shed in the far corner of the yard.  From that vantage point, Max could see into the yard behind us and watch the cat in their backyard.

He wouldn't bark.  He saved his barking for the yappy barky dog in one of the yards alongside my house.  No, no. . .Max would simply stare yearningly (is that a word??) at the kitty cat stretched out on the neighbor's patio deck.  He was probably thinking---"Oh, please, come over here.  I want to chase you around.  Please, please!"   I kept telling Max that cats were waaaaaay too smart to come over and visit him.   But he kept staring at them anyway.

Yes, I do miss Max.  Katy is doing well, going outside and visiting with all the dogs in the yards surrounding my house.  Katy ignores yappy dog and visits with boxer mix Ginger on one side and pure bred Boxer Jesse on the other side.  And, she gets to visit with all her old doggie friends at the "doggie ranch" whenever I go traveling----and that's been every month this late Summer and Fall.  Tammie, owner of the "doggie ranch" only keeps dogs she knows and who know each other.  She has a steady regular clientele, so Katy is always happy to go visit her other doggie buddies.  And----call me sentimental or silly, but I sense that Max "spirit" is with Katy somehow.  I can't explain it, I just feel it.  Like I said----go ahead and call me silly.  :)        

Monday, October 8, 2018


By Mary Kennedy                                           

Okay, true confession time. I'm no Martha Stewart. My cupboards are sheer chaos, my jewelry is a tangled mess, my linen closet is not to be believed. One of my friends brags that she could "throw a cocktail party in her garage." Well, I say, good for her!  I can't compete. I wouldn't even try.

I have another friend who is helping me with home organization. She seems to know a million helpful tricks and I thought I'd share a few with you. You may have already heard of some of them, but there could be a few new gems in the mix.  Here goes.

Jewelry Do your chains and pendant look like this? Hopelessly tangled? Like metal strands of spaghetti all woven together?


They don't have to! A simple trick is to thread a gold chain through a drinking straw, leave the ends out and then fasten the chain. It will stay neatly in place, no more mess!

Flower arrangements. Flower arranging isn't something I normally do, but my friend makes beautiful ones from flowers in her garden.  Her arrangements always look so professional. A simple trick. When you have flowers with stems that are too short for the arrangement, you can make them taller by simply inserting them into the top of a straw and then bury the straw at the base of the vase. 

Cooking range.  How to clean it!                                                            

This was torture to clean until I discovered that all I had to do was mix Dawn dish washing detergent with a little baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Leave on for 3 minutes and the gunk comes off! I'd be using some pricey professional stuff that didn't work as well.

Steaming veggies quickly. I bought a little microwavable steamer that steams broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc, in 2 or 3 minutes.  It's big enough for one or two servings. No more fresh veggies going bad in the bottom drawer of your fridge! Here's the one I bought.  Just click on the link. I love it and use it just about every night. 

       Freezing fresh garden herbs.  What do you do with the end-of-the-season parsley and basil from the garden?                                                      

Well, ideally, you could make big pots of soup and freeze the soup in quart containers for winter. But here's an alternative. 

But some little plastic ice cube trays, you know, the old fashioned kind. You can buy plastic ones for a dollar. 
Now, add some fresh herbs to each space, top with water and freeze. When you want to add fresh herbs to soups, sauces and stews, just pop out a cube or two and throw it in the pot!

One of my friends freezes her herbs in olive oil, she makes a lot of Italian sauces and this works well for her. I usually stick to water, but I may try one tray of olive oil.


Organizing cupboards and pantries.  Again, my friend swears by "bins." They don't have to be expensive. You can buy them at Dollar Store or order them from Home Goods, or pick them up at yard sales. And buy a label maker. It will make a huge difference and my goal this month is to tackle the messy linen closet. You can buy clear ones for your pantry, too.

Hope these tips help, if you have any tips you'd like to share, I'd love to have them!! Maybe there is hope for me, after all.

Mary Kennedy

Friday, October 5, 2018

It's beginning to look a lot like ...

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

The seasons have changed. The weather is getting dreary (and gloomy--which is saying something). I've already got the SAD light out and using it in the mornings.  That can only mean one thing.


Unfortunately, Mr. L doesn't believe that last sentence. To him, October is October. Time to think about Halloween, and maybe start considering the Thanksgiving menu. But Christmas? Nah!

Well, he's probably right. But I ran errands the other day and in EVERY store I went to, all the Christmas stuff was out. Okay, I had to walk past the Halloween candy to get to it, but there it was. Slippers up the wazoo. Do you EVER see banks of slippers out at any other time of year? It's like people only buy slippers at Christmas. (That's the only time I've ever received a pair.)

And don't forget the decorations. Faux holly. Faux poinsettias.  Sparkly pinecones. Santa figurines. You name it, the stores have got it.

I have never really decorated the house for the seasons, but this is my first time at it. I've got a few bunches of orange and yellow silk flowers in vases, a few faux leaves on a tray with a couple of faux pumpkins, some gourds, and a sheef of dried corn. Limited and sedate. But I'm thinking already thinking about Christmas. I've got over 200 Christmas figurines that live in a china cabinet, but this year I think I'm going to scatter a few around the house.

And Snow Village! Since we actually bought
furniture for our living room about a decade ago, Snow Village got retired. I have about 20 pieces of it and we had a rather elaborate set-up for a while. Maybe I'll haul a few pieces of that out. I've got the cutest little log cabins and a mirror pond and even The Jingle Bell Houseboat.

But really, Christmas to me is the tunes.

For now, I'll just have to play them before Mr. L gets up -- or resort to the dreaded earphones.

Mind you, we have an unwritten rule in our house. Holiday tunes CAN be played in November, but none with vocals until Thanksgiving. So what's the harm in a little background holiday cheer?

How soon do you start thinking about the holidays?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Revisiting Baler and Dottie

by Karen Rose Smith

In August I posted a blog that related our experiences pet sitting for friends who had just rescued a kitten.  They were  about to leave on a vacation that had been in the workings for a year.  They already had an older cat who was used to being alone whenever they were away.  A family member stopped in to check on him and refresh his water and food.  But I was wary of leaving a kitten for an extended period, even though she had the company of her older brother.  So I volunteered to drive the thirty-five minutes to spend time with their felines on the days when the family member wasn't able to stop by.  My husband and I looked at it as a stay-cation and we really enjoyed spending time away from home in the company of some adorable felines.  We stopped on the way to pick up lunch and stopped on the way home for a hand-dipped ice cream cone.

Our friends left again last weekend for a week with their children and grandchildren.  Of course, we agreed to stop in and stay-cation with Dottie and Baler again.  My friend had been sending pictures and videos over the past several weeks.  I watched Dottie grow and witnessed the beautiful kinship she has developed with her brother.  I was anxious to watch it in person.  And the felines didn't disappoint me.  Their camaraderie touched me and I found myself wishing that everyone everywhere could find the same playfulness and respect for each other.  It is the simple things, the trust, the unconditional love that make our lives meaningful.       

And to think I learned this all from two felines!  Well, actually our five inside...and our two outside cats.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Name’s The Thing

Hi, everyone, Duffy Brown here.

Yesterday was National Name Your Car Day. So my question to you today is does your car have a name?

Many of you most likely remember Herbie the Love Bug, Lightning McQueen from Cars, Kit from Knight Rider, General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard and Bandit from Smokey and the Bandit. These are just some of the famous car names that are known by millions of people.

So maybe if your car doesn’t have a name pick one. Money Pit? Old Reliable? Gas Hog? Ride of my Dreams? 

I have Sherlock 1 and Sherlock 2. I don’t really think of my cars that way. I have a Toyota RAV 4 and call him Work Horse. That car gets me everywhere. It has 4-wheel drive and has gotten me out of some pretty rotten places when I’m stupid enough to drive where I shouldn’t.

My other car is Cupcake. Not on her license plate but the VW Beetle convertible is my car of pure indulgence. I’ve wanted a convertible for fifty years and thought it was now or never as I sure don’t have fifty years left in this old body. 

Funny how I think of my SUV as a him and the Beetle as a her but I do. 

And what about other things you rely on? Do you name them? Maybe your washer and dryer? The vacuum? Your lawnmower? Your house? In England so many of the houses are named as they are on Mackinac Island.

In my Consignment Shop series the house where Reagan lives and has her consignment shop is Cherry House since there’s a big old cherry tree in the front yard. My daughter just ran into a pie shop that’s called For and twenty Blackbirds. Don’t you love it!

So tell me some neat names you’ve given things or names you’ve run across and I just might use it in Wedding Day and Foul Play.

Hugs, Duffy  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Latest Kelly Flynn Mystery

by Maggie Sefton

New Kelly Flynn mystery—#16 in the series---DYEING UP LOOSE ENDS, Released July 3, 2018 

Kelly and Steve’s son, Jack, is now a lively four-year old preschooler. Jack keeps his mom on her toes and drinking all the coffee she can handle at Pete’s Porch CafĂ©.  Kelly’s friendly waitress Julie is hoping to become an accountant.  She makes sure she keeps Kelly caffeinated and up-to-date on her career progress. 

Kelly splits her time between Pete’s and Lambspun, where her fellow knitters love hearing all about Jack’s latest exploits.  They’ve also been taking a trip down memory lane, reminiscing about crimes that Kelly had a hand in solving over the years.  But the Lambspun crew is horrified when a very present-day  murder occurs in their midst---and Julie is the victim.  

With her sleuthing instincts on full alert, Kelly starts asking questions.  The well-liked waitress may have had enemies no one knew about, or she could have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kelly and her friends at Lambspun soon learn that the answers are knottier and more shocking than they ever dreamed.   

DYEING UP LOOSE ENDS  from Berkley Prime Crime.