Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crafty Thursdays - Old Watch Photo Ornaments

Crafty Thursdays is preparing for Christmas by doing crafts every Thursday this month leaving you plenty of time to make them well in advance of the holiday. Today we are dismantling old decrepit pocket watches to make photo Christmas ornaments. 

You don't actually have to put a photo of Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock Holmes in a Santa Hat in your ornament but you may want to consider it. 


- Old pocket watches - eBay and flea markets are your best
sources. Not every pocket watch works, so you may want to get an eBay lot if you can find a good price. 
-  Gorilla Glue - the official glue of Mystery Playground - mostly because it's tough, dries fast and it won't glue my fingers together
- Silver Ribbon or Red RicRac - depends on your mood
- Small pliers or tweezers

Step One:
Open your watch. You can do this by finding the groove on the side and prying it open. The knob on the top will provide resistance, so I pull it off, if possible, or unscrew it.

Step Two:
Pull out the insides. Your tweezers or pliers should help you with this. Each watch is different, so be creative. The watch doesn't work anymore, so just get it out of there.

Step Three:
Once your watch contents are removed, save them for next week's very cool craft. Wash the inside and outside of the glass or plastic top as much as possible. This is now your photo receptacle. 

Step Four:
Select your photo and cut it to match the shape of your watch.

Step Five:
Put your circle cut photo inside the watch. Put a little stuffing behind it. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Secret Russian Edition of Doctor Zhivago

The book above looks so harmless and unassuming. It looks that something that would have been self-published in ancient pre-book times. It wasn't self published, it was secretly published in Russian by the CIA and it's a copy Dr. Zhivago. 

The book is in Seattle right now at the Pacific Science Center near the Space Needle in a wonderful exhibit for spy lovers called, Spy: The Secret World of Espionage. It's there until September 1.

It seems that during the Cold War, the book was used as a tool to undermine the Soviet Union. According to the museum, the CIA printed Russian language books so the author Boris Pasternak could win the Nobel Prize for literature. And according to this Washington Post article, the CIA also printed the books because the novel made excellent propaganda. 

Here's what it said in the museum...

Here's one of my favorite scenes from the movie. If you've never seen it, go get it right now and start watching.  

This Spy Exhibit was so fabulous and full, we will be covering it here for the next few days, so come on back. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Maxwell Blues

Kerry Hammond reviews Maxwell Street Blues today...

Jules Landau is a private detective in Chicago. To say he comes from a well known family is a bit of an understatement. His grandfather was a well known Chicago criminal, and his father has just been released from prison. Jules’ main bread and butter cases as an investigator have not, to date, included investigating murder. As the story opens, however, he is hired to investigate his first murder. To complicate matters, his client is his newly released father, and the murdered man is an old friend.

Charles Snook, aka Snooky, was a long time friend of Jules. He wasn’t just a great friend, though, he also ran a bookkeeping business. Oh yeah, and he cleaned money for mobsters. As Jules begins to investigate Snooky’s murder, he comes across a lot of possible suspects, including a beautiful and unusual tattoo artist, a crooked cop, and a lot of mobsters who benefitted from Snooky’s fancy accounting.

Maxwell Street Blues is the first in the Jules Landau Mystery series. I’d call it a modern day hard-boiled meets noir novel. Poor Jules is a glutton for punishment as he searches for the truth, and I couldn’t help but picture him as a 21st century Sam Spade. I say 21st century because let’s face it, the man has a cat. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that he owns a cat makes him that much more likeable and puts the reader squarely on his side. Jules is not your typical love ‘em and leave ‘em male, either. He’s got a conscience and a heart and I really enjoyed following him through his investigation.

Another thing to the author’s credit is that he manages to take you into the heart of Chicago, while following a private detective as he investigates a murder of a money launderer. Yet I couldn’t place my finger on one clich├ęd phrase that came out of Landau’s mouth. The reader can’t help but expect to hear the word “dame,” but don’t hold your breath. This author knows how to write a great story in the spirit of the master hard-boiled detective novels, with a modern day twist.

Monday, July 28, 2014

SPY: The Secret World of Espionage

SPY: The Secret World of Espionage is a special exhibit on the history of spying at Seattle's Pacific Science Center.  It's filled with real artifacts used by spies around the world. It includes everything from the axe that killed Leon Trotsky to a piece of the Berlin wall to a pellet gun disguised as umbrella. These artifacts are real, but many of them look like they belong in an episode of 60s TV show GET SMART

The gun, dubbed the Assassination Umbrella, shot ricin pellets. It was used by a Soviet agent to kill a Bulgarian  
defector in London. It certainly looks like it could have been the inspiration behind umbrella gun used by Batman nemesis, The Penguin. 

Here's a piece of the Berlin Wall and the flag flown from Check Point Charlie. 

This child's toy was used to get a microdot lens across a border by the KGB. The theory was that a child's toy would be less likely to be searched. 

These are secret cufflinks that a KGB double agent and a CIA agent who never met could use to identify one another.  Of course it would only work if the cufflinks weren't intercepted...

Here's a miniature tape recorder...

This exhibit is at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. It's right next door to the Space Needle. If you're in Seattle it's definitely worth a visit.  This exhibit was so great, we'll have another post this Wednesday and next Monday. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Well Read, Then Dead

Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran is the first book in the Read ’Em and Eat cozy mystery series (available August 5, 2014).

I picked up Well Read, Then Dead having read several of Terrie Farley Moran’s short crime stories and curious about how she would handle the longer format. Immediately, I was drawn into the world of Sassy Cabot and Bridget Mayfield and their bookstore and bakery, Read ’Em and Eat in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. I went to Florida [mumble] years ago, but I’ve never been to Fort Myers Beach, but this book definitely made me want to visit!
It’s not just the scenery one wants to visit reading Ms. Moran’s book. Her characters are amusing and lively, described clearly without overly many tedious details. Take Judge Harcroft, who spends his mornings at the Read ’Em and Eat and being, well, somewhat annoying, especially to the Books Before Breakfast Club.

You can read the rest here: 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jo Ann is at Comic Con

Once again, Jo Ann Gaglione is at Comic Con and I'm not. 

Basically I have two choices: 
1) Be jealous of her and don't post her photos, 
2) Be jealous of her, post her photos and buy her a drink when she's back. 

I picked option #2. 

Let's start with the Jiminy Cricket encounter with Once Upon A Time's Raphael Sbarge

Mind you, he's not just a cricket. Raphael has been in everything: Castle, Criminal Minds, Law & Order, Dexter, Rizzoli & Isles, CSI, Young & The Restless, Prison Break, I could go on and on and on. 

He's also on the new TNT show, Murder in the First, but really, the most important moment of his career was when he took this photo with Jo Ann Gaglione, Christine Churro Saldana and the adorable pink and bow clad, Riley Doeland. You can never go to Comic Con too early. Trust Riley on this. So adorable. 

But I digress...

Let's talk about Comic Con Security. 

It's tight. 

Super tight.

This is Mindy Sterling who played Frau Farbissina in Austin Powers holding Riley. Riley as you can see in this photo is dressed as Super Girl.  

Next we have a demon fighter named Constantine. This show looks to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Fabio.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Drinks with Reads: Wild and the Snapple Mangotini

Today Kendra Kelly, creator and host of the blog, Booze House, joins us from Cape Flattery for drinks with reads. 

I love travelogues and girl power, so it was surprising it took me so long to read one of the biggest hits of last year, Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  But with my own extended expedition scheduled, Wild was the first book I loaded onto my Kindle for my flight across the ocean this past January.

For anyone else who may be running behind on picking this one up like me, Wild follows the author on her soul-searching hike up the Pacific Crest Trail, meandering through the deserts and mountains of California into the green woods of Oregon before landing just across the Columbia River into my home state of Washington.  Along the way she faces a variety of obstacles, physical and mental, as she slowly trudges step-by-step to a new future.

The Pacific Crest Trail requires an abundance of planning, including sending yourself re-supply boxes to be picked up at small towns along the way.   As Strayed rolled into a town with a box awaiting her, her first action was always the same:  use part of her new $20 to buy herself a Snapple.  So, the perfect beverage to accompany you on this adventure is a 

Snapple Mangotini:
1 1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz
Cointreau® orange liqueur
2 oz
Snapple® Mango Madness soda

Pour the vodka, Cointreau and Snapple mango madness into a cocktail shaker half-filled with cracked or cubed ice. Shake well, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve.

This is an easy cocktail to personalize as well – choose a different Snapple flavor or use a flavored vodka.  For this particular edition I used a Peach Mangosteen Snapple and a Chai Vodka from Project V distillery.  Yum!  

It was especially delicious and appropriate to mix it up and enjoy this cocktail at the farthest northwest point in the continguous US:  Cape Flattery & Hobuck Beach.  If you’ve never visited this Wild part of the state, add it to your list – the short hike at Cape Flattery is routinely listed among the best short hikes in the country, and when the sun peaks through the marine layer the scenery is unrivaled.

PS:  the trailer for the movie adaptation of Wild has just been released so you have until December 5th to read the original.  Happy Trails!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Page Christmas Balls with a Chocolate Martini

Today both of the Hammond sisters join us for Crafty Thursday and they decided to mix it with a Chocolate read on.

It’s still Christmas in July, so grab your cut out book pages to make another holiday craft. These ornaments make great gifts for book lovers, or you can keep them for yourself and make your Christmas tree a literary affair. Warning: this ornament is messy to make, but don’t worry, it’s worth it. We recommend you don’t get your nails done right before attempting this craft, though (Kim learned that the hard way). Let’s just say, the Mod Podge is very sticky.

Supplies Needed
Scissors or Paper Cutter
Book Pages
Styrofoam Balls
Tidy Pins
Mod Podge
Paint Brush

Optional Supplies
Paper Plate

Step 1: Book Strips
Cut the book pages into strips with scissors or a paper cutter. You are going to wrap a lot of these strips around your Styrofoam ball, so don’t worry if you have different thicknesses or if you’re using scissors and the strips aren’t cut perfectly. We cut off the tops and bottoms after making the strips, to reduce the amount of white space. You really want just the writing to show as you wrap.

Step 2: Twine Hanger
Tie a knot in your twine to make a circle. Take a tidy pin and push both ends into the Styrofoam ball (straddling the twine). This will be your hanger and you will cover the pin with book strips so that it doesn’t show.

Step 3: Mod Podge
You can stick your paintbrush right into the Mod Podge jar, or you can pour a puddle of it onto a paper plate like I did. Take your paint brush and paint one side of the book strip and then stick the strip to the Styrofoam ball. Don’t worry if they don’t stick really well at first. The Styrofoam is very porous and it’s hard for the strips to stick. As you add more, though, they will end up sticking to each other as they overlap. If you cut the book pages lengthwise into long strips like we did, they wrap around the ball farther and will overlap quicker.

Paint strips on until you have the whole ball covered and you’ve got a pattern you’re happy with. Take your paint brush and paint more Mod Podge on the outside to seal your strips. This will dry clear, so don’t worry about gooping it on. I still tried to brush it over the paper evenly though, just so it would dry smoothly.

Step 4: Dry
Hang your ornament somewhere where it can hang free and not touch anything. I used a pencil and a cabinet to hang mine. Give it a good 24 hours to dry so that it’s no longer tacky.

One of the key elements in making this craft was the fact that we first made a Chocolate Martini to sip on while we worked. 

Chocolate Martini
1 part Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
1 part Vodka
1 part Kahlua
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup

Chill your glass with ice water. Mix the 3 ingredients in a shaker and shake well with ice. Pour out the water chilling your glass and line the inside of your martini glass with Hershey’s syrup. Pour  from the shaker into your chocolate lined glass and enjoy.

Kerry Hammond
Kim Hammond
You can find our other Christmas in July posts here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Dennis Lehane

Kerry Hammond is here today with her report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. This time they are reading Dennis Lehane's Live By Night. 

Crime & Beyond met in June to discuss Live by Night by Dennis Lehane. If you’re a fan of this author you know that he writes many standalone novels  as well as a series featuring Kenzie & Gennaro. This book was kind of in-between those two. It followed the life of Joe Coughlin, whose family, and specifically his brother Danny, is featured in The Given Day. So you could call this book a sort-of a sequel to The Given Day.

Live by Night is more of a novel than a mystery, so if you fell in love with Lehane’s writing by reading Shutter Island, switch gears before you start. It’s a story about young Boston criminal, Joe Coughlin, working his way up through organized crime. It’s written with just as much skill as any of Lehane’s books, and I found myself caught up in the story, and Joe’s life, right away.

It all centers around Prohibition and the year is 1926. Fans of Mystery Playground know that the Prohibition period is a favorite here. We bloggers like to visit speakeasies and try new cocktails in the present day, but in Boston in 1926 things were quite different. The son of a Boston Police Captain doesn’t ensure that your kids run the straight and narrow and Joe’s beginning career consists mainly of petty theft. He will be the first to tell you, though, that he’s an outlaw, not a gangster. You also find out quite early that his father isn’t the upstanding citizen he makes himself out to be.

When Joe and his two friends rob the wrong man, it sets a series of events in motion that lead him to prison and a job with one of Boston’s most notorious mobsters. It’s clear that living a life of crime can pay well, but it’s also clear that you can never trust anyone. It’s a hard way to live, and you don’t always expect live long enough to grow old.

We had a great discussion of the book, which got a wide variety of reviews and comments. We all agreed that Dennis Lehane is a great writer who can tell a good story and write interesting characters. One of the most memorable things that stuck with us after we closed the book were the lessons and advice given to, and by, Joe. Some of them are listed here:

“The smallest mistake sometimes casts the longest shadow. When a house falls down, the first termite to bite into it is just as much to blame as the last.” –Tim, Joe’s first boss

“The people we service, they visit the night, But we live in it. They rent what we own.” -Tim

“The night. It’s got its own set of rules.” - Joe

“There are no rules but the ones a man makes for himself.” - Joe

Luckily none of us intend to embark on a life of crime, but you just never know when advice may come in handy. Next month we’re reading Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. This is a new to us author, so we’re looking forward to a great discussion.

You can read more entries from the Crime & Beyond book club here

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New York Speakeasy: The Campbell Apartment

Every once in awhile the gang at Mystery Playground likes to drop into a modern speakeasy. These are bars that have some element of the "speaks" of the 1920s when Prohibition was in full swing. The Campbell Apartment, near New York City's Grand Central Station, is a beautiful place with an outdoor seating area when the weather is good and beautiful quarters inside. 

The inside of the bar used to be the apartment of 1920s mogul, John W. Campbell, and it's currently styled in the decor of that time. It's a large space and doesn't have the intimacy of many of the modern speakeasy bars that we've visited in the past, but it's beautiful and the drinks are fabulous. There is a small upstairs area that is a little more private. It was way too dark to take photos. 

The Drinks:
The drinks were handcrafted fresh and fabulous. I had the Robber Baron which is made with vodka, muddled mint, fresh lime juice and Midori. My friend had the Prohibition Punch which is made with Passion Fruit Juices, Appleton Rum Estate VX, Gran Gala and Moet & Chandon Champagne. They were expensive, even for a speakeasy. 

The Food:
The Campbell Apartment serves food. We shared a small pizza and it was quite tasty. 

The Campbell Apartment is well marked with signage and easy to get to - just around the corner from Grand Central Station. It's address is 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, NY, NY. You don't need a password. Reservations are recommended, although we got in without one. Many people are wearing business attire or dressed up a bit. 

You can read about our other New York speakeasy adventures:

- Bathtub Gin
- Death & Company (Lower East Side)
- 67 Orange Street (Harlem) 
- Raines Law Room (17th between 5&6th)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Major Crimes Facebook Chat Recap with Detective Mike Berchem & James Duff

James Duff was on Facebook again tonight holding his weekly chat and Detective Mike Berchem joined him. We got lots of great insight into how Detective Berchem's history of police work informs the writing of the show. 

But before we getting started with the recap you should know that this week TNT renewed Major Crimes for a fourth season and Special Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) is back in tonight's episode. 

As usual the recap includes James Duff's answers but not the fan questions - because of the hundreds questions asked. Duff does a good job of encapsulating the questions in his answers. I've eliminated answers that relate to what's happening in real time on the show in deference to those who haven't watched it yet.

So what did we learn this week? I have to admit, I was more interested in the insight into police work than plot news...

  • Detective Berchem was sued more than 30 times during the course of his career for arresting murderers and firing his weapon. It seems like it is harder and harder to do police work. 
  • Helmet cams are now a regular part of crime fighting. Who knew? 
  • Detective Mike Berchem would be a really, really interesting dinner party guest - if he was ready to share stories like he does with the Major Crimes writing team. 
And the answer to my question:

James Duff @Deborah L asks how Det. Mike and I started working together, and how we met. Mike was brought on to the pilot of The Closer to help make the crime scene work. And he never left. He joined us in the writer's room as much as possible our first three years and then retired from the LAPD and gave us full time work.

And here's the recap...if I missed anything, let me know in the comments. Facebook was a little hinky tonight while I was doing this. 

James Duff Welcome everybody, to the biggest episode of Major Crimes ever. Co-written by our resident homicide detective, Mike Berchem, from the Robbery/Homicide Division of the LAPD.

James Duff And Mike is here tonight to chat with us as we go through the most dangerous kind of investigation police officers ever face. One radio call that gives the LAPD a chill: "Shots fired.

James Duff @Bonnie LE etc. says Sharon needs to adopt Rusty. Sharon has made the offer. Rusty has two options in front of him. Maybe he will pick what he wants to do tonight!

James Duff We do not always do gory, explicit crime scenes. Though we do occasionally tip

James Duff Denise E asks if I knew how inspiring the foster parentage aspect of our Major Crimes story would be. No, but I hoped it would be so, because I'm adopted. And my parents loved me so much, and gave me so much of their hearts.

James Duff Jan L asks how far ahead my planning was. Did I bring in Sharon because I thought The Closer was ending? The answer to that is no! I had no idea Kyra was going to want to leave before the end of Season Six. We made the transition during our last season, and prepared it that way.

James Duff Julio isn't done tonight! Mike Bercehm has "deputized" lots and lots of witnesses and suspects in his time!

James Duff Mike and I wrote this episode together.

James Duff For those who are asking.

James Duff @Todd H says Mike Berchem must be a real life hero. Well, that's how all of us here feel. He also knows how to make our stories feel authentic.

James Duff For those asking when we will meet Sharon's son and daughter, tune in two weeks for now when her boy, Ricky, shows up.
James Duff Lois L mentions that we are technology high on this episode! We are, because policing in this era takes advantage of all advances. Glad that people are noticing the photography is slightly different.

James Duff Full disclosure, Lois is a great friend of mine from my days in Dallas theatre. And we did two commercials together when we were in our twenties, one of which included us riding a new roller coaster all day long!

James Duff @Terry H asks who directed this episode. My other partner, Mike Robin, who also directed the pilot of The Closer and the first episode of Major Crimes.

James Duff @Donna MW asks if we will see more of Fritz this season (Jon Tenney the answer is yes!)

James Duff Samantha R asks if Sharon will adopt the cat tonight. No, but adoption is still in the air for someone!

James Duff There is one call the LAPD hates more than ''shots fired." And we will hear that call tonight again, too.

James Duff Kelly T asks, looking at McGinnis, if our audience is encountering a spinoff tonight. The answer is: I have no idea, really. We will see how you guys respond. But we do have an interesting job offer going out tonight. And someone's life will be changed.

James Duff I know many of you miss Brenda! I miss her, too!

James Duff Mike Berchem has been sued over thirty times for arresting murderers and firing his weapon to protect himself. That's why City Attorneys hound the police.

James Duff Commander McGinnis of S.O.B. is played by Laurie Holden and Deputy City Attorney is Lindsay Price

James Duff Great actors helping us tell a big story.

James Duff Helicopters are like the cavalry for the LAPD, reconnaissance and reporting.

James Duff @Terry H asks who directed this episode. My other partner, Mike Robin, who also directed the pilot of The Closer and the first episode of Major Crimes.

James Duff @Donna McG W asks if we will see more of Fritz this season (Jone Tenney the answer is yes!

James Duff Samantha R asks if Sharon will adopt the cat tonight. No, but adoption is still in the air for someone!

James Duff @Jackie A asks how long the show will run! We hope for years!

James Duff There is one call the LAPD hates more than ''shots fired." And we will hear that call tonight again, too.

James Duff Princess the runaway cat is more than just a cat.

James Duff Helicopters are like the cavalry for the LAPD, reconnaissance and reporting.

James Duff Ilona asks if we will see more character development for Sharon. Yes. And more character development from all our characters, especially over the next few episodes

James Duff
The helmet cams are now part of crime fighting

James Duff Serious crimes take serious measures.

James Duff Brock Harris and Hampton Fluker play our two Swat Guys on crime suppression detail. We are showing you how the LAPD responds in force to the live "shots fired" calls

James Duff Mike compares his job here to the LAPD as two completely different worlds. Criminals shoot at you face first. In Hollywood....

James Duff Jen S, thanks us on behalf of her and her teen children for the Rusty story. We can only express our gratitude for your viewership, and tell you how much it means to us, too.

James Duff Denise E asks if I knew how inspiring the foster parentage aspect of our Major Crimes story would be. No, but I hoped it would be so, because I'm adopted. And my parents loved me so much, and gave me so much of their hearts.