Thursday, December 18, 2014

Working towards Yule.

Last night, I finished the last of my yarn based gifts. Now, I just have projects for myself to finish. Aside from that, I'm now at the point where I need to begin my baking. I have pre-made cookie dough sitting in the fridge right now. I just have been too lazy to bake them yet. A part of me says that if I bake them closer to Yule then the likelihood of stale cookies will be lower. More of me just doesn't want to go through the effort of baking right now.

I have been feeling  a bit unwell over the last several weeks. I think, however, that is starting to improve. I just am a bit disappointed that it took sleeping all morning yesterday and going to bed early last night to make it where I wasn't a zombie this morning. I am pleased, however, that the nightmares that had been problems for the last month and a half seem to have abated. Perhaps this aggressive push with my therapy related journal writing is helping me after all.

Right now, I'm not sure what I should write. I feel like I should be posting something more cheerful but I am honestly at a loss for words. Life has not been exactly cheerful. It has been just more of the same exhausting tedium every day. I don't know how much of that is influenced by my depressed mood state and how much is just the case of life being humdrum boring. I see people posting happy, cheerful things on their blogs and on Facebook and I wonder what I'm missing.

Of course, Facebook is a bit of a problem for me right now too. I appreciate and support people who are striving to raise awareness about their respective causes. I have reached a point, however, where seeing more images of police brutality, domestic violence, and animal cruelty is leaving me anxious and feeling somewhat triggered. (Yay, PTSD! /sarcasm) As Facebook has been my primary social interface of late, I'm reluctant to step away from it because my social interactions are heavily limited outside of the internet.

I'm not sure what to do to build my off-line presence. In my local area, there is a lot of stuff that goes on about the time that Beloved is due to get out of work. Much of it is stuff that I'm not interested in, but the few things that have caught my eye are usually enough out of the way that I would need the car. Never mind the fact that I would need someone to watch the kids. I was going to PEACE group at the church up the road for a while last spring. Then summer had them meeting at places that I couldn't get to and we fell out of the habit of attending.

I feel like there is no way for me to build relationships in my area. It is a very disheartening feeling. I suppose I could start going to one of the local churches but I am really uncomfortable with that idea. One, the churches around me are fairly conservative branches of Christianity and I really don't want to deal with the problems that would come from my pagan presence. Two, my ideology is very different from theirs and I feel like I would be inviting trouble to go when I am such of a radically different stance. Third, I don't want my children being indoctrinated into a faith that no one in the house practices and the mindset that is opposed to what Beloved and I believe. (He may be indifferent to religion, but his politics are as liberal as mine.)

I don't know what I'm going to do. I know that this weekend, my dear friends in Buffalo are celebrating Yule and I will be attending that. And the last Sunday of the month (the timing of which amuses me), a dear friend and her family in Rochester are celebrating Yule and I will be attending that. As for the rest, I think we'll be attending stuff with my side of the family and Beloved's parents next week. The kids and I will pay a flying visit to our friends up the road on Monday. Aside from that, we don't really have plans for the break.

I find myself a bit saddened that we just don't have the means to take a vacation because I would love to get away from this cold. I confess, I am a little envious of the folks who take vacations this time of year off to places like Florida or Phoenix where you're more concerned about sunburn rather then if you're wearing enough layers to stay warm. Ah well, we do what we can with what we have.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saving a recipe from Facebook

Reportedly, this is a viking recipe.

Chopped apple
Apple  leaves

Heat the apple pieces and leaves in water until boiling. Sweeten with honey and serve hot.

I'm going to try this (sans leaves) tomorrow as I am baking bread. I will report back if it is as tasty as it sounds in theory.

** Edited to Add **

I didn't have leaves but I did chop up and apple and throw it into a pot of water to boil. I think the next time I attempt this, I am going to use more apples because it was a really weakly flavored result with what I did. If I had cooking apples, I suspect it would have worked out better as well. So, my next attempt will be a ratio of 1:1 apples to water, where as I had used 1:2.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Getting ready for Yule.

Today, we decorated the Yule tree that Beloved's folks were so kind to give us. The kids were merrily singing Christmas carols with their aunt (who had stopped by after work just for this reason) as they decorated the tree. I pretty much spent my time holding the tree steady and handing people ornaments.

It was a pleasant afternoon. We baked cookies and sent my sister-in-law off with some when she left. I offered her some of the stew that I had made for dinner but apparently she had plans to eat out with her parents.

At school, the boys are getting progressively more excited for the holidays. They were thrilled with we got the tree yesterday (my father in law and my sister in law brought it over right when the boys got home from school). Baking cookies this afternoon had them talking about leaving some out for Odin. I think the biggest challenge will be keeping them from playing with the tree.

I have 90% of my Yule crafting done. I've got a train to make for Snuggle Bug and I'm going to whip together a few fancy towel toppers for my aunt and uncle. I don't know what I'm going to do for my brothers or my parents. I'm leaning towards making a dozen cookies for each and calling it done. For my eldest niece, I am going to give her some jewelery. I don't have the time to make her another hat and I honestly think she may be getting tired of handmade things. I might make the jewelery myself or I may find something in the hoard of stuff that I have left from when I was attempting to set up a business on Etsy.

Last week, I officially threw in the towel on that endeavor. I realized that I just didn't have the bandwidth to do that and get started with taking my writing as a career. It was either do both things poorly or sacrifice one to do the other well. As writing is my passion, the choice was naturally the Etsy shop. It may happen that some point down the road I will attempt it again. I may even attempt that Keen stuff again next year. (Social phobia has pretty much made that a no-go.)

Right now, I'm just focusing on getting through the holidays with as much grace as I can manage, even though I haven't been feeling particularly festive. I'm still feeling the loss of my grandfather. It is hard to believe that this will be the second Christmas with out him. If we can manage not to have anyone sick over the holiday, then we might make it to both my side of the family and Beloved's side of the family gatherings on Christmas day. Some of my pagan friends are planning celebrations for Yule. I want to go to that, but I'm not sure which one will fit into the schedule.

It seems to be the case with so much stuff right now. It is part of the reason why I don't exactly enjoy the holidays. It's always so busy that I feel like I can't breathe. And there feels like there is so much pressure to give just the right gift, always wear a happy face, and make other people happy. It is exhausting. Ah well, it only comes once a year, so I suppose there is that small mercy.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Earned my cup of tea!

Like the nice lady in the picture to the right, I have earned myself a cup of tea. While my mug may not be as big as hers, I am just as enthusiastic about having it. Last week, when I was grocery shopping, I bought a package of loose leaf tea. I've been making my own 'tea pods' to use in the Senseo coffee maker. Making my own pods means I can use different coffee and loose leaf tea in the Senseo. It's something I've been really enjoying.

November was a very busy month for me. I was doing National Novel Writing Month. Granted, I have written novels in other months, NaNoWriMo holds a special spot in my heart. It taught me that I can write a book in a month (One year, I manage to write two even!) and that I can produce quality work at that pace.

I started doing NaNoWriMo with Stargazer a few years after I had graduated from college. I was vaguely aware of National Blog Posting Month from Stargazer's regular updates to her Livejournal. When she mentioned NaNoWriMo, I decided to take the plunge. While she was writing Gundam Wing fanfiction, I set to work on writing the sixth version of the first book in my fantasy series. As I watched my word count numbers climb, I started getting excited. She started getting excited. It was a beautiful thing.

Now that NaNoWriMo is done, I'm taking a break from the fantasy series. So far this year, I have written three books in the series. While a part of me is itching to get to work on book six, I'm stepping away from it for a little while so that I can take a mental break from it. Now, I'm working on writing my memoirs and this is proving to be a lot more challenging then writing fiction. It strikes me as a rather contrary thing, to be honest. I don't have to do the work of creating a new world and people for it. All I am doing is recording my memories.

At the same time, this is a grueling process. Partly because I have a great deal of past trauma that I have wound up writing about. And partly because I am finding it difficult to express the 3d quality of the memories. As I am a bit of a masochist, I have decided to write this monster by hand. I started work on it on the first. As of today, I am about twelve pages in. My goal is to write three pages a day.

Honestly, I feel like it is a reasonable goal, even if life got in the way for a few days. At the same time, I am working hard on my writing in other areas of my life as well. I have resumed writing in my journal. Right now, all I can manage is one page in fifteen minutes. I feel woefully out of practice writing by hand. Still, I know that page count will go up as I get back into the swing of things. I have also resumed writing my 'morning pages' as suggested in the book The Artist's Way. I'm making my morning pages do double duty, as I am writing them in my therapy journal.

I have been letting several of my blogs languish for a while now. I want to get back to writing in them, so I am returning to my writing schedule that I had last spring. I recognize that I may not hit 100% on them, especially with the holidays going on and my finishing up my crafting work. It is, however, a goal that I want to accomplish by the end of the year. My thinking is, if I can write 50K+ in a month, I can parcel that out to different projects. It gives me the opportunity to work on different things and still keep a manuscript in the works.

I believe that I will save editing for a summer endeavor. As soon as I can manage to find the space, I will be hooking up my printer and printing off hard copies of my manuscripts. While editing on the computer is easier in some respects, I think that editing a printed copy is going to be more portable and user friendly when the kids are on break from school.

But, that is what's on my mind right now. I hope that you all are having a wonderful day. Enjoy your own cup of tea or coffee or whatever beverage strikes your fancy. I think you've earned a few minutes to kick back and relax too. :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nostalgia and yarn.

I've been listening to music from the 90s and the 00s this morning. I spent some of my morning trying to get this fiber I carded to work up well for some yarn. It has lots of halo to it and is proving more difficult to spin then I thought it would. I find myself wondering if I should have gone with a different method, like perhaps borrowed my Mother in Law's viking combs.

When I got frustrated with that, I set it aside and started trying to work on a snood out of this gold colored thread that I have. I kept managing to make a very airy hyperbolic shape rather then the bag shape that a snood needs to be. It got frustrating so I set that aside. Now I am posting here. I'm doing all this stuff because I am kinda mentally stuck on what to do next with Edge of Night (the working title for the manuscript I've been writing this month).

I think when I hit post for this thing, I'm going to give working on it a shot. I'm no longer working towards a specific wordcount goal. I hit that day before yesterday. Now I'm just trying to finish the story. The problem is, I'm getting tired of the way this story is unfolding.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snowmageddon, bookwork, and life.

If you haven't been under a rock, then you have heard about the major lake effect event that took place in my neck of the woods. Folks with snow literally higher then their heads and such. Well, we are well east of that business. The hills shelter us pretty well from lake effect off of Lake Ontario, which is closer to us. If you go a few miles north of us, you'll be at a spot that gets hit with it but only a couple miles away you have us.

Where south Buffalo and the majority of Erie county got hammered with snow from that event, we got a light dusting. I'm kinda curious how much snow they got up on the Tug Hill plateau off at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Usually, they're the ones with the huge numbers from snowstorms. I suspect that Erie county has won the snow 'rally' that goes on between different places along the lake before it even got started. I mean, there are people who got in the span of 48 hours the amount of snow they usually get over the course of the whole season.

I was kinda concerned about my sister in law. She lives off in Attica (yes, that Attica). From what she's told me, the snow wasn't over 5 feet, so I guess they didn't get hit too hard. They have all their storm supplies so they're good for waiting until everything is cleared out. There was a bit of a scare when one of her aunts was stuck on the side of the road for most of the first day of the snow event. They got out and made it to the fire department before they were completely buried by the snow. Hopefully when the road gets plowed, their car won't get any taps from the plow. I don't know how the insurance company would handle that.

I've been quiet on here because I have been pouring pretty much all of my creative effort into the book I'm writing. Last night, I finished my word count goal for the month (50 k). I'm not done writing this thing yet, however. I am only a little past half through my plot map for the book. My goal now is to finish it before the end of the month. I surprised myself yesterday by writing almost 10 k. While today is not going to be optimal for such big word counts, I am going to try to do as much as I can with what time I have today.

I have no idea how many pages or what my final word count for this thing will be. I don't think it will be over 100 k but I may be wrong. I'm still kinda amazed that I accomplished that yesterday. Before then, the most I had written in one day was 6 k. It makes me wonder if next year I can bang out a novel in a week. Crazy thought, but I almost think I can do it. That is if my mental health state lets me.

I'm writing this while the kids are eating breakfast and we're waiting for the bus. I'm going to start trying to post in the morning at about this time so that I get back into the habit of posting on here. I want to restart posting to my various blogs. I figure this one is the most mundane of them. Thus, this one will be the easiest to start posting to again. At one point, I had a schedule for when I posted to my blogs over the week and I allowed myself time to work on my manuscripts too. After the end of November, I'm going to start doing that again. Or at least, I'm going to try to.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homespun Holidays: Valentine's Day

It is Valentine's Day and you forgot to get your sweetheart a gift. Don't buy a box of chocolates and call it a day. Take a few minutes and make this year's celebration something memoriable by adding some personal touches. A few minutes of effort goes a long way.

Write them a Love Letter
Love letters have been around for as long as there has been some form of writing. In today's world of text messages and internet memes, there is something to be said for the romance of an old fashioned pen and paper letter. Sometimes it is difficult to put down on paper what you wish to say. It is very easy to get caught up in the temptation to give up on a letter because you feel like it is poorly written. While there is something to be said for good grammar and proper spelling, the real heart of this exercise is to put down what you feel for the person you're writing.

Allow yourself to be as wordy or as brief as you wish. Sometimes a few short lines will do a better job of expressing what you feel then what a novella could. Three important things to remember about your love letter to be successful are legiblity, honesty, and emotion. When you write your letter, use your best handwriting. If this means you write out a draft and copy it over, do so. You want your beloved to beable to read your words of admiration and esteem. Honesty and emotion go hand in hand.

As awkward as it might feel to be emotionally expressive, let those feelings of love pour out on the page. The fact that you were willing to put down in black and white what you feel will mean the world to the recipient of the letter. It speaks of the high degree of trust to allow yourself to be so vulnerable with them.

Make a Play List
Shakespeare once said "Music be the food of love." Music has a very strong emotional pull for humanity. You have several options for when you produce a play list for your beloved. One is to put one together of music that reminds you of them. Another option is to assemble a play list of music that evokes special times from your relationship. An example of this would be a play list that included the song that was playing when you met, the song that you shared your first dance to, and the music from your children's first birthday parties.

Love Coupons
If you have a stack of blank notecards and a pen, you can make a quick and simple Valentine's Day gift that can add some smolder to your special day. On one side of the card, write down something special that you could do for your sweetheart. Decorate the otherside with hearts and then wait for them to take you up on your offers.

Imagination means that the sky is the limit with these 'coupons'. You can list anything from a nice relaxing foot rub to picking up household chores they hate to do to more intimate things.

Stick Figure Lovestory Comic
Just because you're not an artist doesn't mean that you can't make a creative little comic to celebrate your love. By using the most basic of stick figures, you can tell the story of your relationship by drawing out the major events that lead up to the present day. Speech bubbles that capture memorable statements and thoughts can help make the story more detailed. If your stick figures are colored in with various colored markers, it will add to the naive look of this simple gift. For extra sentimentality, put your comic into an inexpensive frame and give it to your beloved wrapped up in fancy paper.

Read Poetry to them
There is an amazing number of love poems that have been written. Indeed, works from antiquity into the modern day that address virtually all forms of love are available. Pick two or three that you feel best describe the tone and nature of your relationship. It is always a wonderful touch to have the poems printed out for them to read along with you.
Valentine's Day is a wonderful holiday for celebrating love in all of its many forms. A few minutes of time and a little creativity, it is possible to take even the most mundane of potential gifts and elevate it to something truly special.

Snow Queen

The snow fell thickly in the darkening night,
Over head, shone the Moon, cold and bright.
The frosty wind sighs and icles gleam,
Jack Frost strides about, herald of the Snow Queen.
Woman of frozen beauty with rainments white,
She drives her chariot in on that snowy night.
Blizzard's call and her eagles' cry rattle the lock,
Waking a boy-child with the Midnight clock.

Woe, oh, woe to you, little man-kin!
Heed not her siren call, for you shall be taken.
But sorrow heaps upon sorrow,
For the little wee man shall be home no more on the 'morrow.
The Snow Queen holds the boy in her thrall.
Trappe in her glittering, enchanted hall,
Bound by fascination and the pain of heartbreak,
The child Kay resides in a snow castle by an icy lake.

The boy left his mother's loving arms
To follow that cold Queen and her charms.
Forsaking friends and family in ensorcelled bitterness,
Kay wandered the white wilderness,
Hoping for the Snow Queen to wake
And from noisome happiness this child take.

Fair weather friends thought little of his loss,
A lesson to those who think gold in so much dross.
In their minds they cared for him but scarcely a bit
Casually wounding one who loved him to the quick.

In Springtide, little Gret would play
And gather the early blooms with young Kay.
With Summer's call, the children dance and sing
Playing in the blessed faery ring.
The Snow Queen stole away young Kay but last night.

Good Ladies, dear and sweet,
Blessed faery maids sought little Gret where she weeps.
Silvered, starry voices chime and sing
Speaking of Kay and Gret's sorrowing.
Bestowing blessings and thru magic's might
The Faery maids lift Gret alight,
They name the dear girl friend,
and cry for her to wend
Away thru the bitter snow and icy night
To free the boy whom she crowned faery knight,
To pluck from his heart the thorns of cold misery,
For this would melt the Queen's hold surely.


Homespun Holidays: Birthdays

Ah, birthdays! As children, we often anticipate a fantastic party. The part of the birthday that we focused on the most, however, were the presents, right? When we get older, we often feel a desire to revisit the wonderful fun of our childhood birthday parties at the same time we rebel against the idea of getting older. From age 2 to 92, there are a few simple rules to keep in mind with birthday presents:
  • The gift is from you to the recipient. Don't hesitate to put your unique twist on it.
  • The best gifts truly are from the heart.
  • Gifts that are practical as well as fun/beautiful will always be well received.
In the case of a young child, the birthday gift that is heavily focused upon the practical is not going to be enjoyed immediately. It may even provoke some anger. Gifts that are toys or related to the currently popular trend for the age group can draw the ire of parents. Gift giving to children can be a fine line to walk, but success is not entirely impossible!

If the child has a favorite activity, it is possible to incorporate this into the gift. For example, my eldest child loves trucks. He has enough toy trucks in the living room that walking from one side to the other can be potentially lethal in the middle of the night if they're not all put away at the end of the day. His birthday is coming up and there is a very real need to have a better method of putting his toys away.
A little glue, a few magazines, and a range of different sized shoe boxes are all that is needed to make an excellent gift for him in the course of an afternoon. Cut out pictures of cars and trucks, as well as construction related signs, to fix on the boxes and you have a fantastic storage solution. It also makes for a bright and colorful addition to his room. With a few pages of paper, a hole punch, more car pictures, glue, and some string, it's possible to make a flip book of cars to slip into one of the boxes.

Now, this may sound to be a fine gift for a toddler, but older children may be offended by this simplistic gift. The same creativity applied to a slightly more sophisticated version brings the gift into the school age realm. An old tool box that has been cleaned up, primed, and repainted in the child's favorite color can make an excellent place to store school supplies, craft materials, or the odds and ends that are treasured possessions of the child in question. A large piece of plywood can be transformed into a place to hang hats and sweaters, even as it is continuing the theme of the child's favorite interests.

My eldest neice loves the color pink and has started learning to cook. She is one of the infamously fickle 'tweens' who are nearly impossible to shop for. Here, it's good to encourage the learning of a life long skill (cooking) even as we acknowledge her tastes. Cutting out and sewing an apron from an old flat sheet is simply a start. Taking the fabric and tie-dying it adds dimension to it. This can then be further enhanced with iron-on embellishments, fabric paints, or sewing on interesting buttons. The excess fabric from the sheet, dyed to match the apron, can then be used to cover an inexpensive note book which will be a cooking journal.

The concept of a matched set of cooking gear is one that can be applied for teens and adults. The same can be said for gardening or similar activities. In this case, the apron and journal set could possibly be expanded to include matching hot mitts or hot pads by cutting out and sewing the excess fabric around some batting or an old towel cut to size. When the person's interests fall outside of the home or simply can not be accommodated in such a simple fashion, the challenge then turns to finding something that connects you to them.

I believe the best example that I can think of to solving this dilemma can be found in the gift that my husband gave his mother for her birthday this year. It was the gift of his time. My husband volunteered to help her with her gardening this summer. His mother is an avid gardener with arthritic knees. To say the least, she was delighted by the offer and next month will be putting him to work planting a rosebush. This type of gift is perhaps one of the best to give when viewed in the light of the economy.

Giving your time and effort doesn't just have to be in the way of giving your friends and family free labor. It can also reach into frivolous and silly things. I had given one of my nieces the gift of my being her personal storyteller for a month. It taxed my imagination to come up with a month's worth of stories about pigs, but it is something that she deeply appreciated. The trick in giving the gift of your time is to make sure it is done in a way that you can carry out the commitment. Scheduling and knowing your limitations is always important.

Most of all, however, taking the opportunity to tell the birthday person how much you love and celebrate them is vital. While you may feel that taking your 96 year old grandmother out for ice cream on Sunday afternoon is the most foolish gift you could give and that it should have been that fantastic massaging chair that was well outside of your price range, I assure you that your grandmother will be happier with spending time with you. Birthdays are about celebrating the person and expressing your good wishes for the up coming year.

Homespun Holidays: Mother's Day

Ah, we all love Mom! She's done so very much for us that we love to express our appreciation. Sometimes, however, Mom is the hardest person to shop for. If your Mom is anything like my Mother-In-Law, her answer to the question 'What would you like?' is usually 'Oh, nothing. I'm just happy with you doing so well!' Don't let that answer fool you, because Mom loves to get pampered and be surprised with gifts. Mother's Day, her birthday, or Christmas, these ideas can help you put together one of the best surprises for Mom this year with no need to go to the store and buy something.

From the Kids

We may remember giving Mom a fistful of dasies from the front yard or covering the refridgerator with artwork in Mom's honor. These time honored gifts of appreciation from children are going to always have a special place in Mom's heart. Sometimes, we want to get children into the spirit of giving Mom a nice surprise but it's hard to pick what the best thing is because of the age of the child in question. Using that fantastic natural creativity and imagination, kids can do some truly amazing things that will be cherished for years.

Babies, Toddlers, and Pre-schoolers

The youngest member of the family doesn't need to be kept out of the fun of surprising Mom. Very young babies lack the motor control and coordination to do any art work, but with a little help a lovely gift can be put together. A dab of non-toxic water washable paint can be spread across the baby's hand (or foot) before being pressed to a sheet of paper. That hand (or foot) print can be framed when dry with a printed poem devoted to the special bond between Mother and baby.

A little creativity can also turn foot prints into butterflies and hand prints into turkeys with a few strokes of the brush or gluing on a few snips of colored paper. This creates a special work of art that not only honors Mom but is a precious keepsake of a fleeting time of life. Older babies (1 to 2 years old) can take more independent action with art supplies. Large crayons and finger paints, when supervised, can provide a great deal of entertainment. With any art activity at this age, it is most likely going to be messy and you need to make sure that the child doesn't ingest their art supplies.

Toddlers and preschoolers (3 - 4 years old) have enough skill to begin making their own artistic masterpeices. This is where a little bit extra effort can make the special gift drawing stand out from the myriad that have taken over the refridgerator. Purchasing an inexpensive picture frame, decorating it, and placing the drawing into the frame elevates that picture out of the pile and into the something special category. Making a batch of salt-dough and baking it to give the sculpture of your budding Michelangelo permanence. Artistic efforts of the littlest ones need not be the only gift available from them. Having the child pick out their favorite picture of themselves with their mother and a frame is also an excellent option.

School Age Children

School age children are generally more independent and self-reliant than their younger counterparts. The benefits of this fact far out weigh the fustrations that come along with this fact, especially in the gift giving department. Take time to talk to your child about the special occasion for Mom, because their ideas may be far better then any of the suggestions here. If you and your child are at a loss for ideas, consider the following:
  • Mommy Time Coupons - Take a stack of 3x5 cards (or colored paper cut to size), colorful markers, a hole punch, and a length of string. Punch several cards and tie together. On each card, write: This card entitles the bearer to ______ minutes of Mommy Time to be used at any time. Fill in on the blank a length of time that seems reasonable. 15 to 30 minutes seems to be popular with the school age children that I know. Mommy Time is a special block of time that Mom can have un-interrupted.
  • Flower Cookies - Using a basic recipe for sugar cookies and a tulip shaped cookie cutter, make a dozen cookies. Frost with brightly colored frosting and wrap with clear plastic wrap. Secure the plastic wrap on the back/unfrosted side of the cookie with a small peice of freezer tape. Tape a popsicle stick to the back of the cookie. Gather the cookie flowers together and place in Mom's favorite coffee cup for presentation.
  • Dinner Delight # 1 - Have the child help in preparing Mom's favorite meal for dinner and setting the table. When the meal is finished, have the child help with clean up. The more effort the child put into helping cook, the less they should do on clean up this way they don't feel like they're getting all of the burden.
  • Dinner Delight # 2 - Have the child help plan and prepare a special dinner for Mom.
  • Special Helper Coupons - Similar to the Mommy Time coupons, the Special Helper coupons are for the child to give Mom the gift of their time and effort. On the coupons write: This card entitles the bearer to 1 Special Helper to be used at any time. Similar coupons can be made for household chores that the child can complete on their own but are not usually part of their assigned tasks.

Teens and Adult Children

Teenagers want to take on the world like the young adults they are. The gifts they give to show their appreciation of Mom should reflect this. While it may not be possible to go out and buy Mom a stunning diamond tennis bracelet, there are plenty of options available. In giving jewlery or any other very personalized gift, like perfume, it is important to keep the tastes of the person recieving the gift in mind. If Mom hates the color yellow with a passion, getting her something that is yellow may not be the best idea. The same holds true for clothing (setting aside the challenge of making sure it's something that would fit right).

A good option is to choose something that reminds the giver of the person who is recieving the gift in a flattering way. It truly is the thought that counts in gift giving, not the price tag. Homemade gifts are almost always near the top of the list of favorite gifts recieved. Consider the many simple and quickly assembled gift ideas available in your home. A special pillowcase with a unique design drawn on to it with fabric marker is just as lovely as a batch of decadent homemade brownies.

Many times, the biggest and best gift that can be given to Mom is a heartfelt letter telling her how much she is loved and how thankful you are for her. It may not be half as fancy as the two dozen roses in a crystal vase or the luxurious weekend away at a stylish spa, but it will be something that she will treasure. Hand delivered or sent by mail, the letter describing your love for Mom and some of your favorite memories featuring her from your childhood will make you a gift giving hero.

Unexpected Blessings

I should have known, I should have expected it.
Yet, here we are
You're in my life
And the world has turned around
Hand to hold
Will you be shy or bold?
Courage in your blood
Beauty in your bones
And  a head full of wits
How shall you grow?
Time are hard again
Yet you've come
Answered my deepest prayers
Answering fear with fecudancy
Reminding me
I am the strength of the Earth
How shall I come to know you?
Welcome, little one,
The world is hard and cold
But you'll always have my hand to hold.

From 2008, shortly after I learned I was pregnant with Snuggle Bug.

Homespun Holidays: Gifts for the Gourmet

With the holiday season beginning at Thanksgiving, it can be a little hair-raising to see what gifts are touted for the gourmet cooks in our lives. The various gadgets and wondrous cooking devices that strangely resemble Medieval torture devices to the untrained eye are usually priced high enough that they may as well be equipment for making a poor soul suffer unspeakable agony. Fortunately, however, there are a few simple gifts that are always well received by any cook, gourmet or not.

Flavored Vinegars & Oils

For the cost of a few pretty bottles and herbs, it is possible to put together a gift that appears to be far more expensive and is virtually effortless. When making flavored vinegars or oils, it is best to allow them to cure in a separate jar before bottling. This eliminates mess and allows you to strain your liquids before bottling, thus ensuring a clear fluid in the bottle 90% of the time. Prior to making any of the following items, be sure that all of your equipment is scrupulously clean.

Rosemary Vinegar

Rosemary is one of those lovely potted herbs that are available for sale just about everywhere right now because it is popular to use for a live Christmas tree. Make sure that you are getting Rosemary, if you're choosing to use sprigs of fresh Rosemary from the plant itself. (I highly suggest this as the bush is wonderfully fragrant and an excellent investment if you do any herbal gardening!) If you are not purchasing the plant, it is possible to buy sprigs of Rosemary from the grocery store's produce section in most large grocery stores. Failing this, take a small steel tea ball and put one to two pinches of whole dried Rosemary leaves in it.

Fill a 2 quart jar with white vinegar and place two sprigs of Rosemary in (or your tea ball). Cover with the lid and place in a cool dark location until shortly before Christmas eve. (Roughly 1 month.) At this time, retrieve the vinegar and pour it into a bowl. Strain the herbs out of the liquid and discard. Pour your vinegar into your cleaned and sterilized bottles, cap, and seal with a bit of wax dripped on top.

Attach your label with a ribbon and you've finished the gift. Fine bottles to use for giving flavored vinegars are wine bottles. Make sure, however, that you have cleaned and sterilized the bottle, as well as removed the label. A sprig of dried Rosemary can be added to the vinegar at the time of bottling for decorative purposes or tied to the label.

Chili Oil

Chili oil is quite versatile and can be a wonderful accompaniment to many savory winter dishes. Make sure that the dried chilies that you choose are well cleaned and not too hot for the person you're giving this gift to. In a cleaned and sterilized 2 quart jar, place two chilies. If you would like for the chili flavor to be even stronger, add three. Cover tightly and place in a cool, dark place for two weeks at minimum. As with bottling the Rosemary vinegar, strain the chilies out and discard. Keeping the chilies in the oil will add greater amount of the volatile oils within the chilies (the sources of the flavor) to the oil and make the flavor more pronounced.

Bottle, cap, and seal as with the Rosemary vinegar. Thread a chili onto the ribbon affixing the label to your flavored oil.

Chili HoHo

This is a Colonial style vinegar and is quite potent. Completely fill a clean bottle dried pequin chilies. Then pour in enough white vinegar to cover the chilies. Cover and place in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, shaking occasionally. Once the liquid has taken on a rich red color, you are now ready to seal and label your gift. This can be made using gin, sherry, or vodka in place of vinegar. Be sure to warn the gourmet cook receiving this gift that it should be used sparingly. As the Chili HoHo is used, more vinegar or alcohol can be added.

Spice Sachets

A square of cheesecloth, a length of butcher's twine, and some of the spices in your kitchen leads to a basket full of additions to soups, stews, and roasts that will make your chef smile in appreciation. Using dried whole herbs rather then powdered is best. Given below are some spice mixtures for you to use.

Boquet Garni

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Peppercorn


  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Equipment Boquet

Every cook knows the value of a good wooden spoon. We also know that eventually, our favorite wooden spoon is going to break, our rubber tipped spatula will look like it was used by a poodle puppy for teething, and the wire whisk is going to rust. As such, buying the cook in your life a few good quality wooden spoons, a spatula, and one or two other commonly used cooking implements will be appreciated. Tied together with a pretty ribbon and given in an inexpensive vase, large jar, or pretty and inexpensive oversized mug not only gives them replacements for when their cherished tools are used up but a place to keep them.

A Cooking Journal

One of my most treasured possessions is my cooking journal. It's different from a mere cookbook because I not only have recipes in there but also menus, shopping lists, and my notes as to what food allergies my family has. Nothing is more helpful then knowing what your neice will absolutely always refuse or that your sister-in-law is deathly allergic to shellfish when you are planning a dinner.

If you choose, it is possible to make the cooking journal a little more wonderful then a tab-divided notebook. With a little bit of time and creativity, the journal can be made to look more like a scrap book with pictures and pretty details. If you choose to take more of a scrap book approach, I highly advise you go the distance with it. Purchase page protector sleeves and use either an actuall scrap book or a three ring binder to hold it all together.

I, personally, would opt for the binder because it will be less expensive then trying to locate a pretty and yet durable scrap book cover. If you wish to personalize the cover, use a three ring binder with pockets on the covers and bindings which will allow you to add your own artwork to it. The sleeve protectors will make it easy to keep the cooking journal/scrap book in good condition as well as they're incredibly easy to wipe spills off of.

Your Own Cookbook

If you are like me, half of the family clamors for about half of the recipies that you have made. Make a list of those recipies and sit down at the computer, folks! You've got the makings of a quick and easy cookbook. Type up the recipies, throw in a few cute pictures from clip art, and fire up the printer. Binding them with staples is the easiest thing in the world and your gift can be done in an hour. If you have decided to give some one a cooking journal, it is possible to add your cookbook to it by simply punching the pages and slipping them into the binder.

Reject the Holiday Hype

    I suppose I should warn you, I don't like having holiday advertising everywhere. It's not so much that I hate the holidays as it is that I hate the hype. Last I checked, the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving was as much of a myth as the Tooth Fairy. Oh, that post-card perfect Christmas, complete with everyone dressed in red velvet with white trim? That's not real except for as a picture, so don't get sucked into it either.

     I'm not sure why everyone is bombarded with demands from advertising campaigns everywhere that we buy mass produced garbage... erm, truck loads of the latest toys for the children who are even remotely in our lives. I'm not sure why there's something assumed to be wrong in your relationship if your significant other doesn't give you some exotic and incredibly expensive gift. If you're a woman, you're supposed to be draped in diamonds and other precious gemstones, wearing cashmere and generally looking like something out of a high end luxury catalog. If you're a man, you're supposed to have all of the fabulous and fascinating gadgets available this season.

     I don't know about you, but these unwritten rules and the laundry list of others that get thrown at us every year by the advertising campaigns are crazy. Actually, crazy isn't the right term and the one which comes to mind as I sit here writing this is far too vulgar to use, so we'll have to just leave that there. I find it incredibly demeaning to see this high consumerist and spoiled self-entitlement attitude being promoted everywhere you turn.

     This year, we are getting a reprieve, so I can't say it's as bad as it usually is. There is one good thing that has come out of the insanity of the current economic crisis and the political ugliness of the campaigns leading up to the election earlier this month, they didn't start bombarding us immediately after Columbus Day with advertising. With Thanksgiving coming up, however, we're hearing the ads singing the praises of spending like it is going out of style for 'Black Friday' creeping up.

     As we move into the holiday season, folks, let's do our best not to get sucked into the hype. Don't feel guilty if you can't afford that deluxe widget for that overpriced thingamajig that you gave the guy in your life. The same item that has sat on the shelf in it's original packaging ever since it got unwrapped on his birthday. Don't assume that you need to give the kids those outlandishly expensive toys that need forty billion batteries and about eight different sizes.

     The whole hype is a scam. Your holidays are perfect as they are because you put love into them. You may not have the 'perfect' family portrait or a pile of gifts that reaches up to hip height in the middle of the room. That's ok. Your Thanksgiving turkey may be a little bit over cooked and the stuffing on the dry side. This doesn't matter. What matters is you are with the ones you love and that you celebrate the bonds of family and friendship, not the image of the holidays that gets forced down our throats by the advertising campaigns.

(I originally posted this back in 2008. I think it still is relevant.)

Homespun Holidays: Gifts from the Kitchen

    Isn't the kitchen a wonderful place during the holidays? Filled with the wonderful scents of baked goodies, fantastic dinners, and (at least around my place) about half of your guests who want to visit while you're cooking. (If you're evil like I am, you may even put a few of them to work too!) The kitchen need not only be the place where food is prepared, dishes and pots washed, and the staging area for all holiday gatherings in your home. If you simply can not afford to go out and buy all the gifts you wish to give, you can make them in between cooking up a storm in there.
     Some of these projects may require a bit of time, but the results have always proven worth it for me. If you have small children, you will find that some of these projects are ones that you can do with them. Please, please take the time to do so if you can. Among my most cherished memories from my childhood are the memories of making Christmas presents for my extended family. This may also be true for the children in your life.

Salt Clay Ornaments & Baskets

     If you have ever used the play-clay that's out on the market you already know how to use salt clay. There are quite a few variations to this wonderful kitchen creation. The recipe that I am giving you is for baking in your oven however if you add a few tablespoons of cooking oil it can be stored in an air tight container and used for play-clay for several weeks.

     In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of plain flour, one cup of salt, and two cups of water. Mix this together until a stiff dough is formed. Turn this salt clay out onto a counter top or other flat surface and knead a few times. Once the dough is smooth, you are ready to begin making your ornaments.

     Roll out your salt clay until it is roughly a 1/4 of an inch to a 1/2 inch thick. Thicker then this and your ornaments will crack as they bake in the oven. Using cookie cutters, cut out your desired ornaments. With a pencil, poke a hole where you wish to hang your ornament. Then place the ornaments upon a foil lined cookie tray, making sure they are not touching. If your ornaments are a 1/2 inch thick, you will want to prick them all over with a fork to ensure even drying when they bake.

     Heat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for one hour or until the ornaments are golden colored and hard. Remove the ornaments to a cooling rack to allow them to cool enough that they can be handled comfortably. Then paint, spray with varnish (Hair spray can be used in a pinch!), and, when everything is dry, thread a ribbon or a length of yarn thru the hole you made with your pencil. Your ornament is now ready for hanging up or giving.

      If you wish, spices can be added to the salt clay to scent it or food coloring can be added to give the clay itself color. The use of food coloring to color the salt clay is not very effective if you are making ornaments as it fades significantly upon baking. When using salt clay with children, keep an eye out as to how much they may try to eat. While salt clay is non-toxic, it will still give your child a stomach ache if they eat it. (Though I don't know why they'd eat it because it tastes horrid.)

     If you have bowls that are oven safe, they work quite well for the next project. Take your salt clay and cut it into several narrow strips. Then coat the out side of a bread pan (or a bowl) with non-stick spray. Place strips of salt clay over the pan's widest portion on the bottom. Weave thru them a sufficent number of strips of salt clay to allow space for weaving along the narrower dimension of the pan.

     Taking the remaining strips of salt clay, weave around the bread pan until it is covered. When you require strips of greater length then what you have available, it is possible to join two strips of salt clay with a small amount of water and a little kneading. Once the bread pan is covered with salt clay, bake in the oven for an hour or until golden colored and hard. As with the ornaments, this basket can be painted and covered in varnish.

Cookies in a Jar

     Everyone loves cookies. While it may be wonderful to give a tin full of home made cookies as a gift, not everyone has the time to bake them. Here is where a little bit of recycling and a little bit of cooking collide. Take a two quart glass jar and clean it well. (Depending upon the brand of spaghetti sauce you buy, it is possible that you have canning jars in disguise! If you don't have one, canning jars are incredibly inexpensive and available at most grocery stores.) It is a very good idea to soak the label off of your jar while you are cleaning it.

     Measure out the dry ingredients to make a single batch of your favorite or most popular type of cookie. Layer them in your clean and dry jar. Screw the top onto the jar. Cut out a small piece of scrap fabric (or a piece of wrapping paper, but fabric works better) large enough to cover the top of the jar and part of the sides. On a 3 x 5 index card with a hole punched in the corner, write the complete recipe down. With a length of butcher's twine, tie the fabric to the top of the jar, slip the recipe card onto the twine, and then tie with a pretty bow.

     The same principle for Cookies in a Jar can be used for Soup in a Jar. Instead of the dry components for a batch of cookies, fill the jar with an assortment of dried beans sorted by color and then attach a recipe card with directions for how to make bean soup. It is a good idea to layer the beans by color but if you desire a more mottled appearance, don't sort them but rather fill the jar with the beans at random. Always check your dried beans to make sure that your beans are free of stones.

Kitchen Devil

     One of the little things that has proven amazingly popular in my gift giving experience is a kitchen devil. I know this sounds like a funny name for a bit of string with dried chilies attached, but who am I to argue with tradition. Some people like to use just dried chilies while others also add small bundles of cinnamon sticks to the string as well. If you are giving a kitchen devil as a gift, it can be paired with a jar of kidney beans and a recipe for chilli. When doing anything with chilies, be careful not to touch your face and make sure you wash your hands.
     The active agent in chili peppers is the basis of that pepper spray used to chase away muggers, wild animals, and charging drunks. Even though your peppers are dried, the oils are still present and they should be handled with care. There is a wide range of chili peppers that can be used in making a kitchen devil. The variety that I have found most popular are the jalapeno peppers. They are also more mild then some of the other peppers available and generally less expensive as well. Make sure that the person receiving the kitchen devil is aware that they should hang it away from the stove, the sink, or other places where a great deal of moisture is present. This helps preserve the kitchen devil longer.

Homespun Holidays: Gifts

It is almost time for the holiday madness to begin. Some people will start putting up their decorations as soon as the last of the trick-or-treaters leave and others will wait for the day immediately before their celebrations. With a little bit of planning and a little bit of effort, it is possible to avoid a large amount of the anxiety for which the holiday season has become infamous for. My family are a bit tight on money this year, like many others in the face of the economic 'crisis' that is often talked about in the news today. Between bills, basic needs, and the financial obligations that come with parenthood, there isn't much money left over for holiday spending.

Fortunately, however, it doesn't need to take a lot of money. One of the biggest sources of anxiety is the matter of gifts, especially gifts for children. Using inexpensive materials, it is possible to make gifts for the children in your life with the amount of effort being quite simple. Stopping in any craft store, it is possible to put together a small basket for scrapbooking for under thirty dollars. It is also possible to obtain the materials to make gifts for more people for the same amount of money. The question is how much work you wish to put in to it. Given below are three craft ideas that use common household objects in an innovative fashion to produce a lovely holiday gift.

Personalized Picture Frame

This picture frame is decorated with a process known as decoupage. This process can be used to decorate just about anything that the glue will stick to. If you desire, you can add bits of fabric, rickrack, beads, and other materials. It is best to leave the addition of 3-D objects such as beads until the final layer of images is completed. If you don't wish to use hair spray to seal your frame, there are commercial sealants for use on paintings. This will also work well, though it will cost more then the generic can of hair spray in your bathroom.
Items Needed:
  1. 1 inexpensive medium sized picture frame with a moderately wide, unfinished wooden molding
  2. An array of magazines with photos
  3. Scissors
  4. Liquid white glue (also known as school glue, not to be confused with rubber cement)
  5. Paintbrush
  6. Small container of water
  7. A can of hair spray
The first step in this project is to select pictures from your magazine that remind you of the person whom you are making this frame for. Depending on how you wish to present the frame, it is possible to use small or medium pictures for this project. One can use portions of pictures for this project and no harm will be done. This is a creative work and your artistic discretion is paramount.

In your container of water, mix your glue and water together until it resembles skim milk in appearance. Disassemble your picture frame, placing the backing, glass, and any matting material aside. Using your paint brush, apply a thin layer of the glue mixture to your frame's molding. Assemble the first layer of images on your frame. Allow the glue mixture to dry. Usually, this is for an hour if you used a thin coat. A thicker coating of the glue mixtures requires a longer period of time.

Once the frame is dry, apply another coat of the glue mixture over the paper. This needs to be a thin coat to prevent weakening the paper or otherwise degrading your images selected from something such as having the ink from printing them run. When the frame is dry, apply a third coat of the glue mixture and assemble your next layer of images. Allow this to dry. Continue the layering process until your frame is covered in the selected images. With each layer, add another hour of drying time prior to adding more to it.

When your layering is finished and dry, spray heavily with the hair spray. Set aside and allow to dry. The hair spray works to seal the glued images to the frame and help resist atmospheric moisture, prolonging the life of your gift. Upon completion, re-assemble the frame and insert any picture you wish to give. If no picture is to be given, just the frame, wrap the frame lightly with tissue paper and place into your gift bag.

Yarn Dollies

Nothing says homespun more then classic children's toys. Yarn Dollies are definitely one of the oldest and easiest children's toys to make. There are countless variations appropriate for different ages. Dolls can be used by children of either gender (Because that's what those action figures really are!) and are wonderful tools for development because they encourage imaginary play.
Items Needed:
  1. 1 skein of yarn
  2. Ruler and a pencil
  3. Scissors
  4. Cardboard
Determine how long you desire for the doll your making should be. With your ruler and pencil, mark off this length on your cardboard. Cut your cardboard to this dimension. Take your skein of yarn and wrap it once around the cardboard. Tie a square knot to secure the loose end and then wrap your yarn about the cardboard 100 times. This determines the thickness of your doll. If you desire thicker or thinner, adjust the number of times you wrap your yarn accordingly. Tie a square knot to secure your final wrap of the yarn and cut free from the skein.

Cut a length of yarn from your skein long enough for you to be able to tie around the wrapped yarn. Pick one edge of the cardboard and tie your yarn together into a bundle there. Secure this with a square knot. If you desire to have your yarn remain looped, fold your length of cardboard enough to remove the tension on your loops of yarn. This will allow you to slip your yarn free from the cardboard. With a second length of yarn, tie another knot about the bundle of yarn roughly an inch down from the knot holding your looped yarn in a bundle. This forms the head of your doll.

Divide your yarn bundle into four separate smaller bundles. The two bundles to the outside of the arrangement need to be tied close to the lower knot forming the head with a separate length of yarn for each. A third of the way to the ends of these bundles, the bundle needs secured here as well. This roughly forms the arms. The arms then have the excess yarn cut off after the lower knot. Additional lengths of yarn can be knotted to secure the arms additionally, but this is not required.

At roughly the same distance from the head of your doll as the ends of the doll's arms are, secure the two inner bundles together. This forms the body of the doll. The legs are then formed in the same fashion as the arms. If you desire for the doll to have a 'dress' the legs need not be divided and secured. If you are so inclined the arms, body, and legs can be braided prior to knotting. If you are giving this doll to a young child, the braiding is a good idea as it helps prevent the child from accidentally pulling the doll apart and eating some of the yarn.

Tin Can Tea Light Lantern

This project is slightly more difficult and oriented towards an adult or teenager construction. I've done this project several times in the past and I have had favorable reactions. I strongly advise that when constructing this project, hold the can still with a pair of blocks or something else that is safer then your knees. If a vise is available, use it but be careful not to crush your can. Use caution! The designs best suited for punching are geometric. Think about the star patterns on the old steel and aluminum colanders, they are great sources of ideas!

Items Needed:
  1. 1 empty 10 oz steel can, washed, dried, and label removed
  2. Masking tape
  3. Pattern template
  4. Hammer and 1 ten penny nail
  5. 4 in length of steel wire and pliers
  6. Safety glasses and leather workman's gloves
With your masking tape, secure your pattern template to your can. Using the hammer and nail, carefully punch holes into your can as indicated on the template. Take care to avoid punching the nail completely through the can. As you work, the can will deform slightly. This is to be expected and using your gloves, you can return the can to it's proper shape with some gentle pressure. If the can has sharp edges at the opening, carefully tap the rim until the edges are blunted and turned inwards.

If a hanging hook is desired, a length of wire can be cut to form it. Taking a pair of pliers, bend an end of the wire into a button hook shape and slip through a hole near the top of the can. Secure the end of the wire by twisting it around the length left free. Make sure the sharp end of the wire is pointing down into the can, if possible threaded through the coils created by wrapping the wire. Repeat this at the opposite side of the can in a hole at approximately the same place. This will give your tin can lantern a bucket like appearance.

Use this lantern with care because metal conducts heat. Painting the lantern is not a good idea because the heat from the candle can potentially scorch the paint. It is wise to make sure that the wire used for the hanging hook is of the same material as the lantern itself. If you have an aluminum can, do not use steel wire. Aluminum encourages the corrosion of steel in the presence of moisture and you will eventually develop rust streaks down the aluminum.

Poem: Precipice

Standing on an edge of glass
Wind screaming in my face
Is it tears or blood running down my cheek?
Dizzying space beyond
A butterfly of hope
A mirage of courage
Is it my dreams or my pride I chase?
Empty air above
Devastation below
Or is it freedom before me?

I'm beginning the process of transferring my work from Triond to here. Here's a poem I wrote about risk taking. From 2008.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaNoWriMo vs NaBloPoMo (round 1! FIGHT!)

Two literary heavy weights are squaring off. On the right, we have National Blog Posting Month. On the left, we have National Novel Writing Month. Originally, I had the wild idea of doing both this year. Then life happened. I now have just over a week worth of blog posts to make if I want to get on target for NaBloPoMo. On the other hand, I'm almost half finished with my manuscript for National Novel Writing Month.

It makes me think that perhaps I'll just finish the manuscript and then blog the remainder of the month. Then do the post every day for the month of December. Because November doesn't have to be the only month of the year for either of those challenges. Oh, and for the curious, I'm working on book five of the fantasy series that I'm writing. I've officially crossed into the territory of writing a series of books now. Once I finish this, I'll have 15 more books to write and the series will be finished.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Field trips, Trains, and Running in Circles

It has been a very challenged couple of weeks. School stuff has kept me hopping. There were a few field trips and a few meetings. Cuddle Bear really enjoyed the field trip at the beginning of the month to the Genesee Country Museum. I had the opportunity to go as a chaperone but I didn't take it because I had a meeting with my psychiatrist that day. By all reports, he had a good time and was very well behaved. This relieved me because Cuddle Bear was being a bit difficult at the time.

Snuggle Bug had a field trip last week to the Seneca Park Zoo. It was another chance to be a chaperone that I missed because of scheduling conflicts. He was very excited to go and see the monkeys, tigers, and bears. It was all he talked about for a few days afterwards. It was another trip where my little one was well behaved and happy.

It makes the reports from school that Snuggle Bug has been having temper-tantrums very difficult. I'm trying to find out if there has been any changes to his schedule or classroom. From what I can tell, there has not been any major changes. Snuggle Bug needs a very orderly routine because he doesn't transition well between activities. While Cuddle Bear has some trouble with that, it is not quite as severe as Snuggle Bug's difficulties. Snuggle Bug has also been talking about how he doesn't want to go to school just about every day for the last two weeks. I think there's something going on but I honestly have no idea what it could be.

Cuddle Bug handled the transition of his classroom's student teacher leaving very well. At his IEP team meeting last week, they told me that he has been making big progress in his reading and mathematics. They think he is almost at grade level with his reading. There is a week of evaluation testing coming up next month. After that, they will have more concrete answers about where he stands academically. All of the testing will be done and considered just before the report cards come out in mid-November.

I wish that I had the software up on the computer to share the pictures we took of the boys' train ride yesterday. Beloved's parents paid for the kids and him to take a ride on the excursion train that ran yesterday from here in Lakeville up to Industry (a little town near Rochester) and back. The kids were so excited that they were skipping down the walk from our house to where they were loading passengers. We got lucky with the tickets. Apparently they sold out before we had got there (a half hour before the train was due to depart) but somehow my father in law managed to score enough tickets for Beloved and the boys.

Everyone had a really good time on the train trip. We got pictures of the train before it departed, as it was leaving, and when everyone was getting on board. Beloved was so busy with keeping the kids in their seats that he didn't get a chance to snap a picture of them on the train itself. I don't think, however, that it will be a problem. The boys have been very excited about it all and asking if they can do it again next year. If the excursion train is running next fall, we will definitely do it again. However, we will order our tickets in advance.

When I haven't been busy with stuff pertaining to school for the kids or my own health matters, I have been working on writing book four of my fantasy series. I self published book one a little while back. As I have been reviewing it, however, I realized that there are some parts that need a bit of polishing. So, I'm debating briefly pulling it off the market to revise those sections. The way I see it, the few copies that are floating around out there currently will be come collector's editions after I make my fame.

I am about to send book two off to beta readers. Book three is prepped for the first round of edits. I have now established a Facebook page for the series. (I just discovered that it is possible to buy used copies and I'm surprised because I hadn't received notification that any had been sold yet. I'm tempted to contact the seller and tell them that I'll sign it for them if they ship it to me to do so.)

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Blogging for $$$

I started blogging here on Blogger back before Google acquired it. Of the different formats that I've encountered, I'm pretty comfortable here. To be honest, my first foray into blogging was on LiveJournal. I still have an account there but I haven't updated it in over a year. It is my hope to start slapping up book reviews on there (as that is the theme of that particular blog) after the chaos of NaNoWriMo and the holidays are passed. I've been working my way through the Harry Potter series and the Dark Tower series. I have some definite thoughts on both. (95% of those thoughts are positive, by the way).

When I heard that I could blog on Helium and on Triond for some sort of cash payment, I decided to start posting material up on there. Then my life got crazy and I wound up taking an extended break (not by choice) from those platforms and blogging in general. Helium was an interesting place and I'm still not sure if I liked it. I kinda found the platform unwieldy and awkward. I, however, am one of those people who are technically termed a 'user' by the computer industry. If it is not damn near idiot proof, I'm a person who has a good chance of having some difficulty with it. Not because I'm an idiot but because my interests and expertise lie in other areas.

Triond was a good site. I didn't make much money on there (nor on Helium) but I found the platform really user friendly. I posted a bunch of stuff and got the beginnings of a readership base. Then my forced break from blogging happened. Over the past few years, I've been trying to get back into writing on Triond. I started to see my readership go back up and I was becoming hopeful of actually getting a check from them. (On both Triond and Helium, you need a minimum of $50 to get a check.)

I suppose it started having problems back around early June. At first, I didn't think much of it. After all, if you're running a site as big as that, you're bound to have some difficulties cropping up from time to time. The glitchy software or servers (I honestly have no idea where the problem is) became big headaches for me over the course of July and early August. Then, sometime in the middle of August, Triond became terribly difficult to use. Not because they changed their platform but because of how badly the servers were lagging behind and that they were constantly timing out when I went to post anything.

By September, I found that I could barely get to the main page with out things crashing on me. At first, I thought perhaps the problem was my computer. So I turned to the computer whiz, my Beloved husband, and asked him what the error messages meant and if I had done something wrong. He explained to me that they were generic error messages indicating that something was wrong on Triond's end. I kept trying at regular intervals to use Triond to post things.

I had articles waiting for approval for over the course of the month. What was usually a two day turnaround time from post to publish turned into a full month in the case of two articles. It has me thinking that I need to wrestle with Triond to get my original content off there (because I foolishly did not have backups) and discontinue using it.

I don't know what I'm going to do next. I know that I will keep my blogs here on Blogger. The mirror blog of Veiled Witch over on Wordpress is going to stay. Heck, I'm even going to keep the LiveJournal account open. While I can't seem to get the blogs here on Blogger to work with Google's advertising widget, I'm not going to worry about that. It was never the point of these blogs.

Beloved and the PorchCat have both pointed out that I am good enough to get paid for my work. I keep trying to screw up the courage to follow the links that the PorchCat gave me but my social phobia gets in the way terribly. It makes me feel despondent to see that I can not even bring myself to just go out and freelance on the internet, where there will be no face to face contact. It is something that I will be working on with my therapist, obviously. Beloved is strongly encouraging me to get an agent to work with for my novels. Again, white hot terror shoots through me at the thought of engaging in that process.

Beloved is of the opinion that all I need to do is get angry enough at the situation and I will just sweep this obstacle aside. I kinda foolishly hoped that I could just blog on topics that I felt like writing about and make some money that way. Taking a step back and looking at things realistically, I have to admit, my blogging on stuff that I'm interested in hasn't done much for my readership here. It leaves me feeling like maybe I'm not terribly interesting after all. Beloved assures me that I am interesting, I just need to market myself.

All I know is that something has to change or my dream of being a professional author is just not going to happen. It makes me wish that there was a pill that made everything better. I'd feel less ashamed of the medication if it made all these damn things easier. All the drugs do is take the edge off of the mood swings and quiet the noise in my head. I know these are big things because they allow me to function.

It feels like I'm just not making progress and that I'm doomed to be struggling with these stupid fears. The fears are the glass wall between me and my destination. It's awful to have yourself as your own worst enemy.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

October ranting.

It's been a while since I posted in here. I've been busy working on novels. (I finished one last week and started another. I'm up to book 4 in the series! w00t!) I've also been busy with the kid's school stuff. When I am not dealing with all of that, I have been working on my series of letters to Loki on Triond and the novel that is in progress there. (Honestly, given how much trouble Triond has become over the last few months, I think I'm going to withdraw my work and post it elsewhere, perhaps on here. I don't know.)

All of that said, I just have a few things I need to get off my proverbial chest. It's October and it means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some people, October is one of the best times of year because of football and bonfires. For others, they're excited for things like the fact that it is National American Cheese month or Bat Appreciation Month. And, let us not forget, Holloween is at the end of the month which I think 95% of the population of children in the country all anticipate with glee. Sugar rushes are always loved by the young 'uns.

I am, however, sick of seeing a few things. I get that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. I even get that they want to raise awareness and research funds. It's the 'pinkwashing' of everything that makes me furious. Lazy activism by way of purchasing the latest gadget with the trademarked pink ribbon on it makes me want to scream. A miniscule portion of the funds raised by those damned pink ribbon products actually goes to research. Most of it funds, get this, the product line and promotion of the products with that damned ribbon. If you want to do something about breast cancer, go donate directly to research funds. Make things for people who are afflicted, like hats to help the people who lost their hair due to chemotherapy stay warm. Get to know somebody with cancer and help them directly.

Aside from the commercialism aspect of the pinkwashing campaign, I hate how it presents this false image that breast cancer is the number one cancer killer. The top three killer cancers world wide are: lung, stomach, and liver cancer. Yes, breast cancer is towards the top of the list of lethal cancers (coming in at no.5 in the list) but if you go by all the advertisement and 'awareness' activities that you spot, you'd assume it was number one. By the way, the pinkwashing campaign has put breast cancer research funding at the top of the list followed by colorectal cancer.

I'm not saying that we should stop raising money for breast cancer research. I'm saying that all forms of cancer deserve as much attention as breast cancer. Imagine the strides that could be made if all forms of cancer were getting as much in funds as breast cancer. Further more, imagine the strides that would be made with out people skimming money off to fund their pink ribbon products. As someone who has lost a grandparent to cancer and had another one deal with it and survive, I may be taking this whole pinkwashing thing a bit harder then most people.

Long story short, the pinkwashing campaigns are disgusting for two reasons. First, it implants the false image that other cancers are less severe. This costs lives because people will be reluctant to get diagnosed for that lump they feel until it is too late. Secondly, too many people are lining their pockets with money that could be used to save lives. I recognize that medicine is an industry and that people are in it to make a buck. That doesn't change the fact that they have a responsibility due to the social contract made between them and their patrons to actively advocate and work to assist people with their health. It has been this way since antiquity. Allowing greed to get in the way of that is shameful and it makes me want to start an angry mob with pitchforks and torches.

And then there's this other little matter that has me madder then a hornet trapped under glass. I'm a pagan and I'm proud of it. Beloved and I are raising our children as pagans as well. We are doing our best to educate them to have a sense of wonder for the world and compassion for all life. We are also striving to encourage them to be respectful of the beliefs of others, regardless of the fact they disagree with us. All of these efforts, however, don't feel like they're enough when people are out there lampooning the pagan belief systems.

I get that people want to dress up as a witch for holloween because that is a character from folklore and has a role within our collective unconscious. Dress up is fun. But when someone takes the pagan belief systems and turns them into a marketing scheme, I get angry. Vikings or their descendants are not some prop to be slung up in a shop window to draw customers, for example. Holding them up as tawdry marketing ploys is as reprehensible as doing the same with people of African American descent or Native Americans. As much as people want to say that these kinds of things are 'harmless' they really are not.

There are people who practice the beliefs that are lampooned by those measures. They struggle to be treated as legitimate by the rest of the people around them. One may argue that they're not being denied their First Amendment rights but I would argue that creating a culture where one is mocked and reviled for not being part of the dominant religious sect is worse. Pagans in the western cultures face steep opposition. It ranges from regular harassment to outright violence to legislation that has been made to limit their ability to practice their religion.

Demeaning another person's religion because it isn't yours is disgusting. It also lays the groundwork for your religion to be demeaned by someone else. Freedom of religion means freedom for all religions. That freedom includes freedom to practice it with out harassment or punishment. And freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion. The plastic concept of 'witches' and other non-mainstream religious groups as something to be the butt of jokes, marketing ploys, and scorned because someone deems them 'evil' manifests differently everywhere in the USA. But it is still there, just as vicious and insidious as it always has been.

Sure, no one is burning witches at the stake today. I suppose this is an improvement, but there are states with laws on the books that make religious practices like divination illegal. There are laws on the books that state that someone who is not of a certain belief system can not hold public office. (Yes, these laws are real and have the threat of being enforced. Don't believe me, look up discrimination against atheists. A lot of those laws get applied against people who are not of the dominant religious belief system as well.)

Those laws and the attitudes that lead to their development are dangerous to a free republic. They are a short step away from punishing political dissidents and people who say things that you don't like. These are not fantasy scenarios. If you look into the rise of despotic states, you will find that persecution of people who are not of the approved social sect is amongst the first of a long string of events that lead to their development. Mockery and harassment of pagans tends to peak around holloween because of the cultural association of this time of year with 'dark' things and for some reason paganism has been deemed 'dark'. That has to stop.

Now, my rant about pagans being viewed in askance during this time of year doesn't just point at the non-pagans and the people who are quick to turn us into marketing ploys. I also am looking at you people in the pagan communities who seem to feel that the month of October is the time to crow loudest about your beliefs and treat it as though it is somehow the time of year that we must claim as our own. If you're pagan only one month of the year, you're as bad as the christians who are christian only for Advent and Easter seasons.

You're not pagan just in October and a shoe salesman (or whatever else you are) the rest of the year. If you're a pagan, you are a pagan 365 days a year. You live your religion. You incorporate your religious practices into your life and have them present at all times. They inform and color your actions. As trite as it may be, to quote the christian Bible "by their fruits, ye shall know them."

If you're one of those cockamamie pagans who only do it in October because that's when it feels right, go away. Your behavior is part of the problem. Flooding social media with 'witchy' things and black cats in October is not being pagan. It's being a living, breathing version of that plastic image they sell you. Knock it off and be yourself, for gods' sake. I know you're more then that. And if you think that plastic image is all that there is to you, then, for the love of everything holy, get some help. Because that's not healthy.

You want to celebrate your paganism. Go ahead and do it, but do it all year long. Sure, it's great to celebrate your way of life. I think the gods want us to be happy and celebrate living because living is a glorious thing (for the most part). Putting it on and taking it off like some kind of mass produced flimsy costume off the discount rack of Walmart is not only disrespectful to the religions you claim to practice but to yourself. If you can't bring yourself to respect the religions, then stop it for the sake of your self respect. Because the person you are in the deepest depths is not some vain weathercock that whirls around after the latest fashions unless you are sick and have no center of being.

There's my two rants. Or is it three? I can't tell. I almost made it four, but I'll save my griping about Triond for another time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Behold, I arise!

I've got nothing epic to follow that subject line. I feel that I owe you, my constant readers (all 2 of you) something of an apology. I intended to post more over the last few weeks but I have been sucked into the world of my fantasy series. I am 3/4 of the way finished with book three. I'm not entirely thrilled with how it is working up right now, but I am viewing this as preparation for writing book four.

I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year and I will be pushing myself to do NaBloPoMo as well. If nothing else, to get into the habit of posting on here more frequently then once every fortnight. I may have mentioned that school started recently. We just had picture day today. I feel a little bit bad that the kids were really in need of haircuts but life happens. Anyways, the pictures will reflect a bit more accurately what the kids look like most of the time.

Cuddle Bear has been swimming in gym class for the last few weeks. He went from scared of being in the pool to being really excited for it. Snuggle Bug seems to have transitioned well to kindergarten. We're actually making some progress on the potty training front since the transition. Perhaps we don't need to be quite so anxious about that matter. On the whole, the boys seem to be enjoying school and having a good time of it all. It relieves me, as I was concerned that there was going to be some difficulty in the beginning.

I am making progress on my Yule crafting. I finished a giant snowflake/shawl for one of my nieces. I am approximately a third of the way through the Lady of the Woods shawl that I have been knitting since August. I am also just about half finished with a basic triangular shawl that I'm knitting. I have begun a crochet shawl to use up the odd balls of yarn that I have kicking around in the project room. It is going to look funky but I don't think that will be a problem.

I'm trying to decide what to do about Etsy. I technically still have a page up there. I could be selling stuff. I just have no clue where to begin with marketing myself. The thought of it makes me feel a little sick with anxiety. It's been rough trying to work up the nerve to start pounding the proverbial pavement with respect to my writing. One of the paid blogging sites that I was on closed up shop last month. I had a total of $20 on there but it was under the minimum amount to get a check from them. The other paid blogging site has been having lots of problems over the last few weeks. I keep getting a lot of 500 errors when I try to post stuff. It make me concerned that I can't keep working with them. I have a lot of material up there. I would be upset if it were to all suddenly vanish on me. I don't have copies of all of it right now. And with the servers being wonky it is hard for me to copy things to word documents on my computer.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ominous news is ominous.

So, Ebola is in Sierra Leone. We kinda knew it was in the hinterlands of the country. It is moving into the cities. One may wonder why I, half a world a way and living in the country, am deeply concerned by this development. Ebola is a disease that I have been following for several years now. It started out as a curiosity. I confess, I am curious about plagues and the like, both in the sense of their epidemiology and their influence upon cultures. Two of my favorite books is A Journal of the Plague Year and the diary of Samuel Pepys. (If you're wondering what to buy me for my birthday or Yule, this is an excellent start of the list of books I would love to own. Perhaps I'll post that in the near future.) Another of my favorites is On the Beach, for reasons that I will tie back to plagues in a moment.

Plagues can shape humanity more surely then warfare, in my opinion. The Black Death wiped out a considerable portion of Europe's population, which laid the foundational groundwork for the destabilization of the feudal system and the eventual rise of modern Western society. The Spanish Flu was part of the factors that gave rise to what we understand now of vaccination and modern hygienic practices with respect to highly virulent pathogens. While we don't consciously think about the influence these diseases had upon history, we live with the effects daily.

With the extraordinary way diseases can spread between continents due to modern modes of travel (I'm looking right at you, air transportation.), we must now consider the threat of world wide outbreaks of diseases that were once limited to a specific geographic region. We must consider that with the larger populations subjected to the diseases in question, the disease mutates in a faster period of time then it would have in the past. Ebola is a horrific disease. It has a 50% mortality rate. While the time frame for transmission is not as long as it is for influenza, with the rise of much more rapid modes of transportation, it has the opportunity to infect a larger population and mutate faster then it would have in the smaller populations of the locales where it originated.

Now, one may ask, where that post-apocalyptic story of On the Beach fits into this picture. Consider, if you will, a world wide plague that is marching towards where you live. It is only a matter of time until it reaches you and your family. Said plague is highly likely to kill your family and yourself. How do you face the onset of illness? How do you face the potential of the death of yourself and your loved ones? On the Beach describes how the author envisioned people dealing with their own plague like event. It would seem that the author advocates one taking their life in this scenario rather then waiting for death.

I question, with the mutation of Ebola that will come with the rise of the population base of the infected, what risk is there of it becoming airborne and making transmission terrifyingly fast. Sierra Leone is on the precipice of utter chaos. Panic is rising and if containment efforts fail, as I fear they will, Sierra Leone will descend into a level of chaos that I suspect will rival Somalia at its worst.

How does this prospect have any influence over myself, one might ask?  Simple, a person can hop a plane and fly anywhere in the world. Illicit carriers will risk insane dangers if the coin paid is high enough. An infected person who is still in the latent phase could be smuggled into somewhere that the restrictions upon travel are more lax. They could, in turn, infect others who then spread the disease to an unknown number of people before it registers in the medical community of the region that this disease is present. Right now, Ebola is a disease with a very short window for transmission.

Mutations can occur that change the vectors of transmission. They can also change how long the incubation period of a viral strain is. Those two facts are what puts the proverbial fear of god into me on this disease. As the population infected rises, the number of times the disease moves from carrier to carrier increases. With each transmission of the disease, it has the prospect of mutating because DNA can not copy exactly the same 100% of the time. Large population bases of infected means the number of times the virus can mutate has increased exponentially, because the number of times the virus reproduces itself has increased by such a factor.

It is my firm belief that it is merely a matter of time until this disease develops into something even more monstrous then it is now. (I hold the same belief with diseases such as HIV as well.) So, I see the news that Ebola has moved into larger populations and I become concerned. It is very frustrating to have nothing I can actively do to prevent this disease from potentially reaching where I live. While I could live in fear, as some people in the story On the Beach did waiting for their own doomsday event, I choose not to. I conduct myself as though Ebola is not a threat to myself and my own because there is no reasonable evidence that it can reach us at this time.

I keep the words of Marcus Aurelius in mind.


As I progress forward in life, no matter how horrific the potential events seem, I choose to continue on as though there is a future. To do otherwise, is in my opinion, perhaps the ultimate form of cowardice.