For a Little Christmas Fun

Because we’re all so rushed right now, I’m reprising an interview Kate McKenzie did a few years ago about the McKenzie Family Christmases and some of the things she does to stay sane during a very busy time of the year. Remember, until Christmas you can find a full Organized Mysteries Christmas story on the Short Stories page of this website–just look for Short Stories on the black bar under the banner above.

Interview on Christmas Tips & Organizing with Kate McKenzie

Interviewer: Hello, I’m here today with organization expert Kate McKenzie. Welcome, Kate.

Kate: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

Interviewer: The holiday season is coming up. I always get excited about spending the time with family and curling up with a few good books. What is your favorite thing about the holidays?

Kate: Being able to share the time with family and friends. Before Keith and I married I was always the one who took the holiday shifts wherever I worked. My parents passed away when I was at college, and I’ve never really been close to anyone else, so working through the holidays was my gift to my coworkers. But as soon as I spent my first Christmas in Vermont, I knew this was where I wanted to be. And now that we live here, I get to decorate my own home with Mother Nature adding all the Currier & Ives touches outside.

Interviewer: The holidays are a great time to get cooking and eating lots of great food. Do you have a favorite holiday food you enjoy cooking or maybe one that someone else makes that you look forward to?

Kate: I love to have crockpot soup going all winter, and at Christmastime it’s especially helpful because I can just leave small bowls and cups nearby and people can serve themselves as they like. My pre-motherhood career was as an event planner, so I always recommend having some kind of “filling station” where everyone can serve themselves since appetites occur for different people at different times. But I’m not a chef, so I look to the masters for recipes–websites like Oprah and Martha Stewart Living. They’ve worked all the bugs out for me, and I just make minor modifications to suit the tastes and dietary needs of my family and friends. Right now, one of my particular favorites is at www.oprah.com/food/Soup-Recipes-Bisque-Recipes–Hearty-Soups/1 There’s more than a dozen soup ideas there, including a squash soup I hope to try with pumpkin, and one of my favorite standbys, chicken tortilla soup. But this site also has a number of recipes using seafood and salmon, and with our northeastern location I really want to try a few of those this year.

Interviewer: Where will you be spending the holidays this year? In the snow around a warm fire, or somewhere warm?

Kate: Keith’s mom and dad are coming to stay with us, so they can see the girls discover their Santa gifts Christmas morning. In years’ past, of course, we stayed with his parents when we just visited for the season. Now that they live nearby, though, they suggested this alternative and I quickly agreed. It just made things much easier for everyone. And on Christmas Eve, we’re joining all the neighbors in our little cul de sac who are home for the holidays in a kind of traveling block party, with everyone spending a little time at each others’ houses all day. We’re pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas, so this gives us a way to move and visit a bit and celebrate without feeling trapped in our own houses all day.

Interviewer: Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or a favorite Christmas song?

Kate: I absolutely love old movies, and my all-time favorite Christmas movie is Holiday Inn where Bing Crosby first introduced the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas.” The movie has that touch of romance, the “oh, no, what did you do?” moment when the girl leaves with the wrong guy, and then everything works out just right at the end. I love happy endings.

Interviewer: It’s a great time to curl up and read. Will you be taking any mysteries along for holiday reading this year?

Kate: Oh, always. I love short stories by Eleanor Cawood Jones, so I’mdeath-is-coming-to-town saving Death is Coming to Town–Four Murderous Holiday Tales to read over the Christmas holidays. I always like novellas and short stories during busy times when I don’t have big blocks of reading time. And this book is on sale for only 99¢. What a holiday treat! (Note: this last is newly updated info because of sale price)

Interviewer: Sounds like a lovely holiday season coming your way, Kate. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today and for sharing your holiday tips.

Kate: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

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What’s New & Free Wednesday–Holiday Edition

WN&FWWhile we’re all madly dashing through the snow or rain or 70-degree temps (depending on where everyone lives, of course) to get all errands done for this holiday season, I thought I’d offer some seasonal freebies that might help make the holidays merry–and possibly a bit easier and less expensive.

First up, if you haven’t already sent out Christmas cards, or your budget could use a freebie option, here are a couple of sites that offer a nice selection of holiday cards that can be emailed free of charge, or can be printed out and mailed if you prefer:

And while a lot of radio stations are playing all the standard holiday songs this month, AccuRadio is offering free holiday music on the web right now. Pick whatever kind of seasonal tunes fit your mood, from Elvis sings Christmas, to Upbeat Holiday Party Mix, to Country Christmas, to Celtic Christmas, and even Holiday Radio featuring a multi-genre mix of holiday music.

And if there’s still a little time left for holiday crafts, check out the AllFreeHolidayCrafts.com  page to find the perfect project (or two). There are also contests on this page to win crafting supplies and products.

And remember, if you have kidlings around for the holidays, or bored & stressed adults who like to color, you can find free downloadable/printable coloring pages here on my site. Just click on either of the Coloring Pages links in the black link line under my banner above, or click the link below–

https://ritterames.com/coloring-pages-to-download/

Finally, if you haven’t already heard, I’ve put several of my short stories up on my Short Stories page to read for free until Christmas–my gift to readers 🙂 You can click the Short Stories link on the black bar above or click the link below–

https://ritterames.com/short-stories/

 

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Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

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Staying Ahead Sunday–Winter Hacks Edition

The weather has changed around my house the last week or so, and we’re now donning SAS memesweatshirts and sweaters. Which means I’ve started incorporating some of my favorite cold weather hacks into daily life. Despite the meme I used at the left, these aren’t Organizing tips per se, but rather ways to minimize your frustration with cold weather. Still, done regularly, they can save you time and money.

 

First up, is one I have to credit to my lovely daughter since she’s the one who first started using this hack in our house. On cold nights we all love the feeling of crawling into a warm bed with sheets right out of the dryer, right? One night, right after my daughter said she was taking a quick shower before bed, I walked by her room and heard the sound of a humming motor. When I stepped in to take a look, I found the hairdryer running on High in the middle of her bed, next to her folded up pajamas, and with all her covers pulled over the top. Needless to say, I pulled the hairdryer out of this cocoon before the device could overheat, but the idea was brilliant to me.misc

So the hairdryer wouldn’t die of heat stroke, I set the nozzle just under the top of the sheets and blankets, and moved her pjs and a stuffed bear under the covers to kind of tent things a few inches past the fiercely blowing nozzle of the dryer. When she came out, her bed and pajamas were all warm and welcoming, just like she’d envisioned, if placed a little differently than she’d originally planned. Now, on cold nights we run the hair dryer over the sheets and blankets right before we jump under the covers–tenting now required. Makes the bed feel perfect.

foam-pipe-insulationIf you have drafts under any doors, a quick and easy way to beat them is a trip to Home Depot or Walmart to pick up a piece of foam pipe insulation. Use the precut foam (a little of the cut shows up at the edge of the image to the left) to run along the bottom of your drafty door(s), so the foam wraps around and hugs both sides, then cut it off just before the edge so it won’t make closing the door difficult. These foam jobbies are only a couple of dollars apiece and about six feet long, so one can usually cover two doors.

Next up is a tip my father’s heart doctor gave us years ago. elf_sweeping_2If the snow isn’t more than an inch or so, don’t shovel it, sweep it. Not only is sweeping faster in this instance, but it’s easier on your back and heart than lifting a shovel each time with even a small amount of snow.

And for my last easy winter hack, when you must shovel try this tip my husband I always use. Spray both sides of the shovel with a cooking spray like Pam. Then reapply as needed during the job. Doing that makes the snow slide right off the shovel, instead of hanging on with an icy grip so that you have to keep banging the shovel to clear off the blade again. Makes for much easier snow shoveling which, less face it, is not something anyone wants to make any more difficult.

My only other tip is one I gave to a writer friend this week when she posted about how cold her daily walks had become. Two words–Carhardt Coveralls. They may not be stylish, but they’re danged warm and easy to walk and work in. Keep warm, everyone.

If you have any stay warm tips or hacks, feel free to comment below 🙂

 

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Thrifty Thursday!

Happy December, everyone! And with the new month comes a new blogging idea. With all the rushing we do this time of year to find time and gifts for all of our friends and family events, I thought posting about some Christmas hacks I use to save my sanity might help others out there. Let’s call this the Food Edition, since that seems to be the theme today. I’ll have more seasonal (non-food) hacks coming on future Thursdays, so check back.

  • This first thing is super easy, but it’s something christmas-snacking-treeI do all the time because practically every get-together over the holidays requires those grab and go type of snacking items we always put onto relish trays. I do something like this. I’ve also used small snack crackers at the bottom stacked to look like gifts, too. The best thing about this kind of design is that it’s always easy to just refill a line as one or two starts looking thin, so you can keep the healthy snacks in easy reach at all times, but there’s no need to continually take the platter back to the kitchen to refill.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   .
  • I love making decorated sugar cookies. One quick icing-in-condiment-bottlesdecorating hack I use is to mix up icing ahead of time (there’s always a butter cream recipe on packages of powdered/confectioner’s sugar) then once I add the coloring I put them into different colored condiment bottles I’ve picked up as a group at the dollar store. They make dispensing the icing really easy–whether I spread the icing with a knife after I squeeze it onto the cooled cookie or use the bottle’s tip to paint a sweet picture.
  • chocolate-spoonsFor quick and inexpensive make-it-ahead gifts you can’t beat hot chocolate mix and chocolate spoons. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve tossed M&M’s into hot chocolate for decades (my child was aghast when she was at a elementary school friend’s house and learned not everyone did added candy to their hot cocoa!), but hot chocolate spoons like those pictured here are a great gift–whether you also give hot chocolate mix or not. (confession: I often eat these like chocolate lollypops and they never make it to a cup). The recipe for the spoons is pretty simple. I use a double boiler to melt my chocolate, but small pieces can also be melted in a microwave. Either way, check on the mixture every thirty seconds or so, giving it all another stir each time, then put it back to heat until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. Then dip the spoons (I find plastic works a little better than wooden ones, but that might just be me). You’ll need to stir the spoon around in the melted chocolate and turn it over several times to make sure the sides are all evenly covered–then set each chocolate covered spoon on wax paper to cool. And they’re ready to decorate. Try using mini-marshmallows to decorate your spoon as a snowman, or drizzle lines of caramel or white chocolate to give an added taste.
  • For Hot Chocolate Mix to give by the jar, here’s a recipe I’ve been using for as long as I can remember–I get my biggest bowl and sift in 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, followed by 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (the sifting helps eliminate lumps). Next, I add in 2 cups of powdered milk and use a whisk to get it all stirred and combined evenly. And voila, put it into a jar with a pretty lid and give as a gift (or keep for yourself). You can also add mini-marshmallows to the container of powder if you like. To make it, just add equal parts of hot cocoa mix and water into a cup and stir. This mixture is good in a cabinet or pantry for 6 months.
  • For another quick-and-inexpensive gift, I use cookie cutterscookie-cutter-fudge to make and decorate individual fudge presents/treats. The cookie cutters are part of the gift and the combination adds an even more festive air to the presentation. For my fudge recipe, I always use the one from Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk. It is fool-proof in my opinion, and is not only rich and delicious, but doesn’t require me to go nuts with a candy thermometer making sure the temperature is absolutely perfect. You can find that recipe by clicking Here. And trust me, no one will know you only spent a total 15 minutes making this fudge–prep to cook. They’ll just say “yum.”

That’s it for this edition of Thrifty Thursday. Have any tips you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment 🙂

 

 

 

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Time for the Holiday Giveaway Train Again–YAY!

Remember the fun giveaway time we all had this time last year when Henery Press put on the Christmas Giveaway Train? Where a bunch of us authors and book bloggers posted prizes on our FaceBook Author pages and readers could hop from FB page to FB page to try to win the prizes given by each author or blogger?

Well, we’re all at it again. giveaway-train-2016

Yes, I’ll be giving away prizes at  My Facebook Author Page.  Read the instructions, sign up to enter the contest (very easy, I promise), then click the link given to go to the next author on the giveaway journey. And do the same for each succeeding stop along the way. So be sure and follow the links and loop around to all your favorite authors and their giveaways. And I promise, it’s easy to enter. Wishing y’all luck for this very special Holiday giveaway. Lots of authors–and lots and lots of prizes!

But the giveaways end at midnight so hurry and enter soon!

 

 

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Armchair Traveling on a Chilly November Afternoon

Had the need today to page through some pictures that tie back with books in my Bodies of Art series, and thought I’d share them with anyone needing a little Armchair Traveling for the day. I’ve thrown in pictures I used for all four books written–but only 3 are available for sale right now. The fourth, Fatal Forgeries, will be released in 2017. Sit back. Enjoy.

For a bit of a picture legend to these shots–

The first two pictures are London, where all the Bodies of Art Books are at some point each time. Third is the hilly street of Le-Puy-en-Velay from Counterfeit Conspiracies, fourth-through sixth is Florence for Marked Masters, seventh is a picture of Cassie’s flat entrance mentioned in book #1 & visited by Laurel & Jack in book #4, with the eighth the artists restoration pit where Cassie worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum that Laurel used to get away from Jack in book #1.

The next beach shot is Barcelona from Fatal Forgeries, followed by the Raphael Sibyls featured in Abstract Aliases. The small church coming up next is the Rome’s Santa Maria della Pace where The Sibyls reside, then Baden-Baden one of the stops after Rome in Abstract Aliases. 

The bar scene beside the Baden-Baden shot is in the Bar at La Boqueria in Barcelona as in Fatal Forgeries. The two fountains are the Trevi Fountain in Rome (left with classical statues) and Font Magica in Barcelona (right-colorful). And the next two shots are additional colorful sights of Barcelona, Spain from my Fatal Forgeries notes–the first a market shot of Le Boqueria on La Ramblas and the second a view of the mosaics used in architecture by Gaudi. The final two are shots Cologne, Germany–both of which feature the amazing cathedral where the mystery continued for Laurel & Jack in Abstract Aliases.

the-london-skyline-the-beginning-of-most-books-in-the-bodies-of-art-mysteries london-underground-shot-characters-use-the-tube-most-in-books-1-4 hilly-streets-in-le-puy-in-velay-as-a-setting-in-book-1-and-discussed-in-book-4 the-moon-over-the-ponte-vecchio-bridge-florence-italy-as-in-marked-masters florence-italy-from-the-tuscan-hills-as-in-marked-masters ghibertis-gates-of-paradise-at-the-florence-duomo-in-abstract-aliases artists-restoration-pit-at-the-victoria-albert-museum-where-cassie-interned-in-book-1 entrance-to-cassies-flat-near-portobello-road-mentioned-in-book-1-and-visited-in-book-4 barcelona-beach-a-setting-in-fatal-forgeries-book-4 raphaels-the-sibyls-as-in-abstract-aliases romes-church-of-santa-maria-della-pace-as-in-abstract-aliases baden-baden-as-in-abstract-aliases bar-at-la-boqueria-in-barcelona-as-in-fatal-forgeries romes-fontana-di-trevi-as-in-abstract-aliases font-magica-in-barcelona-as-in-fatal-forgeries mercat-boqueria-barcelona-as-in-fatal-forgeries-book-4 barcelonas-park-guell-as-in-fatal-forgeries cologne-cathedral-as-in-abstract-aliases entering-cologne-germany-as-in-abstract-aliases

 

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What’s New and Free Wednesday–Holiday Edition

Yes, here in the States we’re looking forward to Thanksgiving and a lot of turkey and pie. But I wanted to take a quick minute first and post some bargains and freebie books available right now in case you still need to load your ereaders for holiday reading. I’ll start with the bargains then move on to the freebies I’ve learned about. Be sure and click the links to get to the Amazon buy page–the book cover pics are just to make the page look pretty 🙂

One warningthese books were all free or specially priced at the time of this posting, but please double check the price before downloading as I don’t know how long the bargains will last or how soon you’ll be reading this post.

Christmas comes early and Christmas Crazy,three book #3 in the Zoe Donovan series by Kathi Daley, is on sale at 99¢.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GKPXU3S                              This book is regularly $2.99.

oneOn sale for 99¢, the first in series for Julie Seedorf, the Pendergast Puzzle Protectors  https://www.amazon.com/Penderghast-Puzzle-Protectors-Brilliant-Minnesota-ebook/dp/B01BDZWAE4        This book is regularly $2.99.

 

If you like my Bodies of Art Mysteries, the Lexi Carmichael series by twoJulie Moffett is another series you might want to try. The first in that series, No One Lives Twice is on sale until the end of the month for $1.99, then it shoots back up to it’s regular $4.99 price.  http://www.amazon.com/No-One-Lives-Twice-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B003U89RS0

fourOn the Freebie side of things, Summer Prescott’s Toffee Apple Killerbook #11 in the INNcredibly Sweet Series, is free at the moment. And it takes place at Thanksgiving, so what could be more timely? Regularly priced at $3.99.  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N66STGC

 

This book intrigued me from the cover to the write up, sixso I can’t wait to dive into the pages. A Cunning Plan is the first book in the Sloane Harper series by Astrid Arditi, a new-to-me author. the book is free right now in time for holiday binge reading, but regularly priced at $3.99  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N8QUAEC

Book #4 in the Polly Parret Pet Sitting Cozy Mysteries, fiveSeeing Red, by Liz Dodwell is currently priced free too. Get it at  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N095AEW I’ve not read this author before, but the dog on the cover made me want to try the book.

A last reminder about Midnight Mysteries. amazon-imageWe’ll soon be taking our fall-themed anthology off Kindle Unlimited, and off sale completely as a bargain story group. So, if you want to read for free,  grab a copy before It’s Gone! Nine brand new fall-themed mysteries by nine bestselling mystery authors. Find more about the stories, the authors, and the 8 series tied to the collection in my preview post at https://ritterames.com/2016/09/02/friday-preview-midnight-mysteries/   #Free on #KU or buy for $2.99                           http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LZ41T7V/  

 

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