Friday, December 30, 2011

New toy ...

This is the newest addition to our family room, which by the looks of it, is soon to become a home gym. I'm seriously thinking of charging admission or membership fees. Between this, the recumbent bike, the TreadClimber, and all the hand weights, it's starting to look like the YMCA. Or, at the very least, someone else's house! God knows I've never been into exercising much, except for when I was a kid and in gymnastics.

The Total Gym is kind of Rick and my Christmas present. We're just hoping we can keep up with the monthly payments. Maybe we can stop eating for awhile. It got here on Wednesday, but when Rick went to try it out, something wasn't working right. He pretty much flipped out and spent the night tossing and turning -- keeping me awake in the process. By morning, he had contacted them and they said they'd ship a new one, but it wouldn't be for 2-3 more weeks because they were swamped with orders. The lady suggested we try to use it in the meantime, if possible.

Well, you know how Rick is, and he couldn't let it rest until he figured out what was wrong. Turns out they installed something wrong and he was able to fix it himself. He came upstairs last night, all proud of himself, begging me to look at what the problem was. It bummed him out when I didn't want to actually see all the details in what was wrong and how he fixed it. As long as it was fixed -- that was good enough for me.

We both went through the basic work-out last night. It wasn't as bad as I thought. I only had a hard time with pull-up type things where I had to lie on my back and pull my arms down. Those were tough because I don't have good upper body strength. I never have, which was one thing that made gymnastics hard for me. I managed through them all okay, but those were the toughest. I'm not too sore either. I mostly only feel it in my triceps, which is one area all my other exercising hasn't reached. So hopefully, this will be a nice addition to what I've already been doing.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's on your reading list?

My stack of books to-read is getting bigger and bigger. I got a few new ones for Christmas. Neil gave me The Story of Brutus by Casey Anderson. I've seen Brutus the bear at his sanctuary near Bozeman, but have yet to meet Casey in person, other than talking to him via Facebook. Rick gave me The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck. I know a lot of people despise him, but I enjoy listening to what he has to say. His other book, The Christmas Sweater was really, really good, so I'm hoping this one is also. Neither of those books are political, by the way, but fiction. Montana Women Homesteaders was given to me by Denny. He's such a cool cat and knows exactly what I like.

The other books I'm either reading or want to start reading soon. I found Thyroid Power at a Borders store when they were closing down. I have hypothyroidism, so I hope this book helps me learn a little more about that. A History of Pirates I got at a used bookstore the other day. I had exchanged some books for store credit, so that was one of the free ones I got back. I started it last night and I think it's going to be pretty interesting. Pirates were so brutal, and it's fascinating to see all of the politics involved regarding the different countries. I bought Do Not Feed The Bears when we went to Yellowstone awhile back, but sadly, I haven't made time to start it yet. Speaking Ill of the Dead is Nicole's book, but I'm slowly reading it.

It's a crazy pile of books for me. I just need to pick ONE and concentrate on finishing it. It seems I'm doing more writing than reading these days, which really isn't a bad thing when I stop to think about it.

So, how about you -- what's in your to-read pile?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Faint Cake?

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Ours was quiet, but nice. I still have all the decorations up, and I'm not sure when I'll feel up to taking everything down. It seems a lot of people have already done that, but I guess I'm in no rush. It feels like we just got everything set up. Where did December go?

This is a picture of our cake we had for Christmas dinner. Neil asked if I could bake a cake instead of doing the usual pie for dessert. Neil never asks for anything specific to eat, so I really wanted to make it for him. He asked for chocolate cake with white frosting, tinted green. He loves M&Ms, so I figured those would be perfect for ornaments. Neil is my pickiest eater, by the way, so I wanted to make something special for him.

As I was decorating it, I became really light-headed, so I stopped and pulled up a chair. A few minutes later, I knew I was going down. I got up and went to my room and barely made it to my bed before collapsing. Everything went dark for a second. A few minutes later, I felt fine. Nichelle came in and asked if I was okay and said I looked kind of pale. I have no idea what happened. Maybe not enough sleep? It was really weird. Anyway, Nichelle saved the day and finished Neil's Christmas cake -- yay for Nichelle!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Cheapies

My girls and I went shopping yesterday and stopped at the Salvation Army on our way home. I found a couple of Little Golden Books and the second book in the Indian in the Cupboard series. On our way to the register, I saw this Nativity. It's about 7-8 inches tall, so it's pretty good sized. The tag said $2.50 and I figured that was decent, so I grabbed it for my collection. What I didn't realize was that all Christmas items were 75% off. So, this Nativity cost me a whopping 62 cents! It's kind of tacky, but that's what I like about it.

The girls and I also went to a used bookstore. I had a bag of old curriculum books and a few books that I had duplicates of, so I turned those in for store credit. The owner gave me $15 credit, so between the girls and I, we managed to walk out with another bag filled with books without having to pay anything. That was pretty cool. I found more Little Golden Books, one of the Eat This, Not That books, and a book on the history of pirates. Nichelle and Nicole both got books also, and it didn't cost us a cent.

Now that's Christmas shopping at its finest!

Friday, December 23, 2011

To market, to market ...

Yesterday Rick, the boys, and I took a drive down to Safeway to pick up a few things before Christmas. I had my little Olympus camera with me and had fun snapping some pictures while we were driving. Normally, we do most of our shopping in Kalispell, which is about 20 miles north of where we live. This particular time we went south to the town of Polson. We drove along Flathead Lake, which is a little over 30 miles in length.

The sunset was gorgeous over the lake last night, so we stopped at Yellow Bay State Park to take a few pictures. The picture of the crawdad was taken there, but sadly, the poor thing was dead. I had to laugh when I looked at my pictures. It's just not something most people see on their everyday, average trip to the grocery store, especially not where I originally came from.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

SF Chocolate Peppermints

It's that time of year -- time for cookies, cakes, pies, candies, and all that good stuff that makes us want to start a diet on New Year's Day. I decided to try something new and came up with these sugar-free chocolate candies. They are only about 55 calories each and have 0.7 net carbs per serving. That's not too bad, considering I eat low-carb.


4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
3/4 cup Xylitol
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
sugar-free candy cane, crushed

Place sugar-free candy cane (or sugar-free Starlight mints) into a plastic baggie, and crush with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. In a double boiler, melt chocolate over medium heat until smooth. Stir in Xylitol and mix well. Add heavy whipping cream, and stir until chocolate is smooth. Remove from heat. Add peppermint extract to the mixture. Drop by teaspoon into mini baking cups. Top with crushed candy cane. Refrigerate two hours or until set. Keep refrigerated for best results. Makes about 22-24 candies.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Edit, edit, edit ... grrr, grrr, grrr!

If I don't dream about this bear tonight, I will be very surprised. I've been working on editing one of my middle grade novels pretty much non-stop since Friday evening. It's taken up nearly all of my time. I think my eyeballs are going to fall out. Line edits are tough. It's amazing how you can read something over and over and over, and yet, still not see an obvious error. It doesn't even have to be a spelling error. Sometimes it's something as simple as a space, a comma, or have a quotation mark go the wrong way. It makes me want to pull my hair out. I think I'm almost done ... I think, I think!

The reason I posted this picture is because this is my bear story. It's titled ENCROACHED and it is about a bear encounter. I've been playing around with the idea of self-publishing a copy of the book on Lulu. Has anyone used them before? I haven't decided if I'm going to actually self-publish the book yet. Right now I just want to get it to a certain stage and then have one copy printed up. I think seeing it will help me decide. My other two middle grade stories are both under contract, but I'm not sure when they'll be released. ENCROACHED is my newest one. I haven't submitted it much. I've been playing around with the idea of getting a copy for myself to see how it looks. Maybe by seeing it, I can get a better feel if it's a route I want to take. The picture is what I have planned for the cover. Creepy, huh?

While I've been at it, I've also looked at other books that are for sale on Lulu. Some are decent looking, but others are absolutely horrible. I couldn't believe a few of the samples of some picture books I saw. It really made me realize how much I've learned since I started writing. I wrote my first picture book eight years ago, but I've only really been involved in it seriously for about six years. Even so, some of the samples of self-published books I've looked at are horrible. I couldn't believe people had them up for sale. It also made me realize just how hard of a job editors, publishers, and agents have. I can't imagine doing what they do and having to deal with extremely poor work. I'm not saying all the books I saw were bad. There's lots of good stuff up there, too. If anything, it makes me appreciate what they do a whole lot more!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ARRRR you nuts?

In addition to Nativity scenes, I also collect nutcrackers. However, like my Nativities, I don't collect super fancy or expensive ones. Stuff like that wouldn't fit in at my house anyway, so it's just as well. I've been collecting nutcrackers for ten years now, but I only add one new one each year.

The one pictured above is the newest. Rick and the boys gave it to me the other day. They know how much I love pirates. Well, I don't really love pirates in that sense of the word, although Johnny Depp doesn't make it easy. It's more of a fascination, especially the Golden Age of Piracy.

Below is a picture of the nutcrackers we have so far. Every Christmas we put them on top of a shelf that holds CDs and DVDs. It's getting crowded now, so I might have to find a new place next year. As you can see, we now have two pirate nutcrackers. The fourth one from the right is more of a Captain Jack Sparrow one. The one on the right of him is a Hawaiian one. That was the year Nichelle did her missionary work and spent some time in Maui.

Nutcrackers have been around since the 15th century. Originally, they were made strong enough to crack open nuts, unlike the ones we find today that are for decorative purposes only. Of course, the ones I have are the cheap type you find at Target for $10 or so. Maybe one of these days I'll be able to collect a Steinbach nutcracker ... or two ... or three.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Vacation Begins!

Well, our last day of school was Friday, so we're officially on our Christmas vacation now. I think it really sunk in this morning for the boys, rather than over the weekend. Neil came into my bedroom this morning all smiles and said, "No school today!" Anyway, this picture is of a figure I keep with my Nativities. Santa and the Christ Child is a pretty famous story and figure, but mine is pretty small, not to mention inexpensive. I was mostly playing around with the lights on the tree and trying to see if they'd show up. That was hard because they were blinking.

In other news ... it feels like winter has skipped northwestern Montana for now. We've had some snow here and there, but not nearly as much as we usually have this time of year. I see snow in our yard, but it's all melted off the deck, which is weird. There is snow on the forecast, but it doesn't look like much. And, it looks like a lot of it will come after Christmas. I'm curious if we'll have our first Non-White Christmas this year. That will be really odd.

The past few days I've been editing one of my middle grade novels, so that's taken up most of my time since we let out of school. The story is called ENCROACHED. It's about two young girls who venture out alone to camp in the Montana wilderness. I've read the story so many times that my eyes are acting all funky. It's amazing how you can read something over and over, and still find a typo or error somewhere down the line.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nutty Little Elves

All this week the boys have been doing Santa & Elf crafts for school. They've made some pretty cute things like a Santa magnet made from a wooden spoon and some elves made from wooden beads. Yesterday their project was called Nutty Little Elves. I saw it on Family Fun and thought they looked cute and pretty easy to make. The directions are on the link.

The idea was to make them like the one up top -- just a simple, little elf made from a peanut with pipecleaner limbs. The elf pictured above is one I made. I sometimes make crafts along with them just to make sure they're going to work or to help them if we come across any problems. Anyway, the project was to make one little elf. As you can see from the bottom picture, things got a little crazy. Nathan made these three elves and then designed a snow scene for them to stand on. The little dude on the left is slipping in the snow.

Neil went nuts -- literally -- and made about four or five different characters, including one dog. I can't post a picture of his because I think he put them in his room. He really enjoyed it and wants me to buy more peanuts so he can make even more characters. He said when he grows up that he's going to make a whole world of peanut people. Well ... at least he has a goal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Candy Cane Cookies

I finally got some Candy Cane Cookies baked. These are always fun to do. I couldn't believe it though because when I went to get the peppermint extract, I had half of what I needed for the recipe. I added a few drops of water and shook that around in the bottle to make up for the difference. It worked though and they are way pepperminty enough. Seriously -- who runs out of peppermint extract? Sheesh. So, I guess MY batch of sugar-flour-free ones will have to wait until I get more extract. Oh well ... sigh.

The recipe is from Family Fun Magazine, which you can find here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Little Christmas Elf

If you're interested in adding a new picture book to your collection this year, check out The Little Christmas Elf. Written by Nikki Shannon Smith and illustrated by Susan Mitchell, this Little Golden Book is a delightful story. Nina, the smallest elf in Santa's workshop, doesn't finish the teddy bear she's been making in time to be loaded onto Santa's sleigh. He encourages her to not give up, so she works late into the night to finish it, even after Santa has left to deliver presents. Finally, her teddy bear is complete, just in time for Santa to return in need of one more present. It's an adorable story and a must have for any LGB fan or collector.

Nikki is a friend of mine via Facebook and she's just as sweet as her book. I was surprised to learn that The Little Christmas Elf was her first published work. Getting in with Little Golden Books isn't easy and she explained that she had been at a writer's convention over a year ago where she had her manuscript critiqued. She had almost given up on it when she received an email from an editor at LGB asking if it was still available.

Success stories like Nikki's are encouraging to me as a writer of picture books. In addition, I'm also a huge fan of Little Golden Books. When I found out Nikki's book was going to be published by LGBs, I knew I'd have to add it to my collection. For me, having a book published by them would be a dream come true, just as it is for Nikki. Dreaming wildly for a moment -- I could totally see my first story, Manny the Mountain Goat as a Little Golden Book. Who knows -- maybe that dream might come true sometime. You can find The Little Christmas Elf at any bookstore. I found mine at Walmart.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Baking

What are some of your favorite holiday goodies that you like to bake? We recently made gingerbread men as a school project. It's always fun for the kids, but the cookies usually come out pretty non-traditional looking, as you can see. We had skeleton gingerbread men, several Harry Potter ones, even one with cat ears. Not your run of the mill gingerbread men, in other words. Everyone eats them though, so they never stick around too long.

We also make sugar cookies this time of year, but we'll probably be doing that later next week as it gets closer to Christmas. After the gingerbread man fiasco, I need to stock back up on ingredients. I'm thinking of making some Candy Cane Cookies today. The kids like those. And if I'm feeling really adventurous, I might try to make some sugar-free ones for myself using soy flour instead of regular flour to help cut down on some of the carbs. Last night Rick made a batch of peanut brittle, which turned out really good. My all-time favorite Christmas treat is Divinity, but I haven't figured out how to make a low-carb, sugar-free version of that yet. 

How about you -- do you do much baking this time of year?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Critters of Montana Calendar

Critters of Montana 2012 Calendar calendar
Critters of Montana 2012 Calendar by RenaJean

Yesterday I received an order I placed from Zazzle. I designed two different calendars for family members for Christmas. I was really surprised how well they turned out. I don't know why because everything I've gotten from Zazzle has been very high quality. I hope my family members enjoy the calendars. I ordered the largest size with the photo and month on the same page. They turned out really nice.

The calendar pictured here is one I have for sale in my Zazzle store, although it's different than the ones I made for my family. This one features photographs of animals I've taken since moving to Montana. The animals included are bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, owls, moose, squirrels, deer, chipmunks, pronghorn antelope, and elk. It's designed for 2012, but I have the customize option left open if anyone wants to make changes.

Calendars make great gifts for Christmas. I hope I can make others for more of my family members next year. The quick service and quality of Zazzle has impressed me every single time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Bokeh

I'm on a homeschool message board and one of the forums there is for photography lovers. Each week there's a fun assignment -- like photograph a favorite Christmas ornament, show an example of unusual lighting, seasonal pictures, and so forth. Well, right now the assignment is Christmas Bokeh. I've never really played around with bokeh shots much. In all honesty, I'm a point-n-shoot type photographer. Heck, most of the time I take my wildlife pictures from INSIDE my house!

However, I thought it would be fun to see if I could get any bokeh shots with my simple, little camera. If you don't know what bokeh is, click here. Bokeh is Japanese for blur or haze. Basically, from what I can tell, it's when you photograph something and there's a blurred effect in the out of focus area of the picture. At least that's what I think it is. The link is from Wiki, but it gives you a better idea than how I could explain it.

I've been playing around with my camera and came up with a few images. It's not too hard with Christmas lights strung all over the place, so I imagine it would be more challenging without them. If anything, it will give me something to work on. I'd like to give it a try with Rick's camera and lenses. So, as you can see, I've been playing around with some pictures. Nothing says Christmas than a Captain Jack Sparrow nutcracker, huh? Or how about Obi Wan with presents stuck on his light sabre? At least it's festive, and hey, I even managed to get some blurred effects in there, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freebies are nice!

I got this in the mail yesterday. I used to eat LUNA bars a lot before I went low-carb. I still get their emails and newsletters. Every now and then they offer free samples if you're willing to take the time to fill out a simple form. I've gotten quite a few from them so far -- one even included a free tote bag. This time it was just for a Chocolate Peppermint Stick bar. I don't eat them anymore, but my girls might, so I went ahead and filled out the form. Imagine my surprise to get the lip balm in the same flavor -- now that I can use!

How about you -- do you get any interesting freebies?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Frustrating ...

For the past few hours, I've been wondering if I should even write this post. Sometimes it's better to just let things be, but sometimes it's hard. No one likes having salt rubbed into their wounds. But, having said that ...

I lost a friend on Facebook today over a sarcastic status I wrote. It was tongue-in-cheek and I didn't mean for it to be taken the wrong way. I simply said, "Is it bad that I snicker at the thought of the USPS having lay-offs?" The first person who responded laughed and said yes, so I quickly added more to explain that I have family who works for the postal service. In other words -- it was a JOKE -- not that I was wishing it on any person.

My snide remark was about the ladies who work for the post office where I live. Now, they've always been nice to me, so I've never had a problem. However, every single time my husband or daughters go in, those ladies are mean to them. If you knew my girls, you'd know how quiet and polite they are, so they don't do anything to instigate this. We have never figured out why they treat them so poorly. By that, I mean they are rude, short-tempered, condescending  and often try to belittle them for doing something wrong. It's gotten so bad that they despise having to mail a package. Rick would rather I cut off his arm than make him go in. It's not just my family either. I've witnessed them acting this way with other customers as well.

So, I made a sarcastic comment. Some laughed, some said they have the same experience, and others said their post office is great. One person, however, said I was being mean, especially in this economy. Just as I was getting ready to reply to her directly, I noticed she had unfriended me. Seriously? Over something like that? I guess I'm too sensitive, so I sent her an email apologizing that I offended her. She never replied back.

Mind you, she wasn't a close friend. Actually, I didn't know her all that well. However, she is a writer and like many others, I like supporting their writing efforts just as they support mine. Obviously, she was upset and wanted nothing more to do with me. Now, I've unfriended people too, and probably more just recently. When I do, it's usually because they're posting something very hateful -- like hatred over the police. I know not everyone likes the cops, but I come from a law enforcement family.

I consider myself pretty tolerant when it comes to most things. Many of my online friends use Facebook as a political soapbox, which is fine. Nine times out of ten I probably don't agree with what's posted, but again, that's fine. If something is especially offensive, I have the option of not reading it, or even hiding it if I want. But if something is truly upsetting me -- like a lot of these anti-police videos and stories going around -- I might go to the extreme of unfriending someone. But that's a big might. Friends can still disagree.

I know I'm way too sensitive. I deleted the thread because I didn't want to upset anyone else. I wasn't saying I wished the lay-offs would happen. It was just a snarky comment in light of the mean ladies my family has to deal with. I don't think it was worth losing a friend over, but she obviously felt so. If I unfriended everyone who posted something I didn't like -- I'd be in the negative! People post pictures of abused animals, domestic violence victims, profanity, crude humor, erotic materials. I try to let most of those slide, and if I don't like them, I hide them. When it comes to hate -- like a video pleading with wives and children of law enforcement officers to take their weapons away so they can't beat up on the OWS people -- that's not my cup of tea. I don't hate anyone, but maybe I'm just not as tolerate of people like that. Unless you're in law enforcement, it's really hard to understand.

You know, I don't know why I let this bother me. This particular person has posted a lot of anti-police articles and I didn't flip out over them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I guess what it boils down to is that my friendship to her wasn't worth that one catty remark. And if you think about it, that's really kind of sad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

We have a winner!

Actually, we have TWO winners! I decided to choose two since I made everyone wait an extra day. I apologize for not announcing the winner yesterday like I said I would. I ended up spending most of the day out of the house and couldn't get to doing my blog. So, I decided to pick TWO names instead of just one. The boys drew names from a bowl and the winners are ...

C.R. Evers and Angie Townsend

Congratulations! Please email me a mailing address so I can get your books to you. Also, if you would like it signed, please let me know and to whom you want the book addressed to. Thanks so much to everyone who entered. I really enjoyed reading about your favorite books as a child.

My favorite childhood book was The Sheep of the Lal Bagh. It was written by David Mark in 1967. It was one of the first books I got from a summer book club my mom signed me up for one year. I loved it and years later, I wanted to find it again, but couldn't remember the name. I finally did and bought an old copy online. Ironically, a few months back I was at the Salvation Army and found another copy for a quarter. Can't beat that, huh? Anyway, thanks again to everyone who took the time to enter and congratulations to Christy and Angela.