Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolution - Be Better Prepared for Christmas Next Year

I really did it this year. Despite the best of intentions (I even read a great book on how to have a stress free Christmas), my finely tuned procrastination skills still got the better of me! There I was - 10 days away from Christmas and still so much left undone.
My Outback - see? I was right!

Now 10 days might sound like a lot to some folks. If you live in a town, for instance, 10 more days to shop seems like plenty. I live in the wilderness, however, and was racing home (after a 2-week out-of-state trip, I might add) to beat a snowstorm so that I didn't get snowed out. Once I got home, I figured I'd be snowed in. So you see why 10 days weren't going to be that helpful?

I do have to cut myself a little slack. Although I am totally responsible for the mess in which I found myself, the crisis was actually the result of a series of unrelated, unforeseen, unavoidable events that all conspired in perfect harmony against me. Well, actually, in perfect chaos is more accurate.

Even the truck and plow won't be going anywhere soon.
But Christmas came and went like it always does and it turned out fine (other than being completely snowed in and not being able to celebrate with any of the kids or grands, that is). But the stress of being unprepared has motivated me! So I've already begun prepping for Christmas next year. And when I say Christmas, I'm also talking about birthdays throughout 2013, as well.

And there's about five miles of this...
Anyway, I'm going to blog regularly about my ongoing prep and I plan to have nothing that is left undone by the end of October. That's right - I'm leaving myself nearly two full months to enjoy the upcoming holidays! No more frantic last-minute shopping online or making my DD spend her lunch hours in the week before Christmas shopping and mailing gifts for me. Nosireebobcattails - this coming year I WILL be ready!

How about you? Will you prepare for Christmas throughout the year?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Would Wash Diapers in a Stream?

I’m completely appalled and more than a little fired up today! In an article about camping on a ‘green’ cloth diapering site, I found the following:
How to wash in camp: Take your diapers to the nearest stream or collect fresh water in a bucket. Sprinkle soap on the diaper and scrub away. (Again, if you’re at a stream, make sure you’re downstream from your water supply and other campers.)
WHAT!!! Are you kidding me??? Wash your diapers IN the stream but just make sure that you’re downstream from YOUR water supply and other campers. What about the folks downstream from you? Hmm.

Are the owner/writers at this site so focused on promoting and selling products that they completely dispense with common sense? It appears so. After all, who could be this ignorant? And surely no one who reads this piece of ridiculous (and I might add totally ANTI-GREEN) advice would really wash diapers in a stream – right?

I’ve chosen not to include a link to the site and have sent in a request for them to edit the article. I sure hope they do so!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A White Christmas - WAY Overrated!

So... What are you doing this Christmas?
Were you dreaming of a white Christmas? Did you get it? Well, we did! In fact, we’re mostly snowed in for Christmas 2012. But this also means that the kids and grands that were planning to come are snowed out.
Our current depth of snow is not unusual. We usually get enough snow after Christmas to be snowed in - but this year it came early. After a full week of more days with fresh snow than without, we’ve got a couple of feet here at the house and my Outback is just a hump in the deeper snow up where we park. Looks like it may be a long winter...
Have a Merry Christmas!

Yes, my Outback is under there - really!
And winter has just begun...
So, how long do you think I'll be snowed in?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

3 Last Minute Christmas Gift Suggestions

If you're not quite done with your Christmas shopping, I have a few last minute gift suggestions.

1. iTunes Gift Cards - I needed last minute gifts for several pre-teens and a friend suggested iTunes gift cards. Available to purchase in many stores or online, you can choose from denominations to fit any budget.

2. Homemade Drink Mixes - If you're on a tight budget, consider homemade drink mixes. Mary over at Penny Thots gives a couple of recipes and packaging ideas in Homemade Christmas Gift Mixes.

3. Car Stuff - And if you've got a little money to spend, and especially if you're shopping for a guy, check out my post on Penny Thots, Last Minute Christmas Gifts from Your Local Auto Parts Store.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Give Your Children Gifts that Matter

What’s on your Christmas shopping list this year? Have your kids been asking for the latest, greatest toy or gadget? Have you searched the stores or online and found it on sale yet? If not, stop and reconsider. And if so, consider taking it back.

The problem
You’ve probably noticed that many youngsters don’t even know what Christmas is about. And I’m not talking just about the birth of Christ. I’m talking about Christmas, a spectacular holiday that should bring joy to all, having turned into a commercial nightmare that breeds greediness and discontent, especially in children.

The solution

Think about what you want your children to learn and talk it over with your spouse and/or your child’s other parent. Then choose to give gifts that matter instead of perpetuating the commercial glut that is so prevalent each year on Christmas morning.

Three suggestions for gifts that matter

Anything that expands your child’s mind or enhances your child’s life experience can be considered a gift that matters.
  1. Lessons of some sort, a season or annual pass to a museum or planetarium, or some other hands-on experience. If the gift involves you or a grandparent or two, so much the better!
  2. Books and interesting but educational DVDs also fall into the gifts that matter category. Age-appropriate fiction or picture books foster a love of reading, which matters greatly.
  3. Art/craft supplies may seem like all fun and games but also expand the mind and foster creativity. And now that I think of it, I suppose some games (the real kind – you know, where you play with other people? NOT video/electronic gadgets) could even be considered as gifts that matter.
So what do YOU think?

What are your ideas about gifts that matter? Is this even important to you?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Save Money on Christmas Card Postage

It’s that time of year again and Christmas cards will soon be traveling across the country and around the globe! With ever-increasing postal rates, sending Christmas cards can be expensive. Follow these tips to save money on postage.

Modify Your List

The first step toward saving money on Christmas card postage is to reduce the number you send through the mail. Look over your Christmas card list and remove the names of people with whom you are no longer close. Of those remaining, which recipients MUST receive a card by mail and who can receive greetings in person or by email instead?

Send Postcards

Recycle old Christmas cards into postcards.
The cost of mailing a postcard is significantly less than that of mailing a regular greeting card. To qualify for the postcard rate, the postcard must be rectangular and at least 3½”x5” by 0.007 inch thick but no more than 4¼”x6” by 0.016 inch thick. Postcards outside these dimensions will require extra postage.

For added savings, recycle old Christmas cards into postcards. Just cut the fronts to the required dimensions and add your message, the address and required postage to the reverse side.

Consider E-cards

Although there are lots of online e-card sites available, many people (me included!) are wary of commercial e-cards. So opt for a more personal touch and make your own card or Christmas letter on your computer, convert it to PDF and send by email to friends and family. Remember to include photos!

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that you can edit your computer-generated card or letter to postcard size/format and print on cardstock to send to those who will not be receiving it by email. And be sure to check with the post office for information on size restrictions and postage requirements for international mail.

Warning! Even if the grandparents on your list have email, they still want a real card with a handwritten message!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

How to Save Money on Christmas Gifts

The gift of time.
With Christmas just around the corner, are you worried that you can’t afford to buy presents this year? Don’t despair! Nice gifts for family and friends don’t have to be expensive. Be creative! You can make presents yourself, find nice but inexpensive gifts, or give the gift of time. The following tips will help you keep Christmas affordable.

First, Get Some Perspective

Most everyone is in the same boat and need to limit expenditures. Your family and friends will appreciate your thoughtfulness much more than they would an expensive gift. So often gifts are chosen in haste and then quickly discarded by the recipient. While lavish Christmas celebrations may be fun, a simple Christmas is more in keeping with the true spirit of the holiday.

Then Make a Plan

Realistically assess your Christmas list. Decide what level of spending is feasible this year and allocate your resources accordingly. Consider giving gifts to children only – their parents will understand and be appreciative of your generosity. Couple or family gifts are often a more affordable option. For adults, consider a card with a personal, heartfelt message. Be sure to remove from your list anyone to whom you’re no longer close.

A Few Ideas

    Delicious homemade fudge!
  • Homemade Goodies - Baked goods and homemade candy are popular during the holidays and provide an inexpensive way to affordably share the holiday spirit. A plate of special holiday cookies complete with the recipe, festively wrapped miniature loaves of pumpkin and zucchini bread, a small box of delicious homemade fudge or gift-in-a-jar mixes are just a few simple and inexpensive gifts that are appreciated year after year.

  • Homemade Gifts - Simple homemade gifts can be more meaningful than the most expensive item. A photo memory jar, for instance, filled with photos on which memories have been recorded is a personalized gift that will be treasured. Think of other homemade options based on your interests and hobbies. Are you a woodworker who can make picture frames or wooden toys? Can you knit or crochet winter hats or scarves? Do you sew or craft? By putting existing skills and materials to use, you can make a variety of unique and inexpensive gifts.

  • Gift of Time - Giving of your time can be the best gift of all. Taking an elderly person shopping, babysitting so that parents can go out for an evening, inviting a child to the park – these gifts cost you nothing but are invaluable to the recipient. For added fun, make a coupon book so the recipient knows how many times and for which activities you are available.

  • Family Gifts - Consider giving a single gift that the entire family can enjoy. Board games are inexpensive and will be used repeatedly. To get the most bang for your buck, stick to the classics like Clue, Monopoly or Life. Yahtzee and Rummikub are also a lot of fun and, with a little help, can even be played by preschoolers.

  • Start an Inexpensive Tradition - Many families choose to draw names to reduce the expense of Christmas gift giving. If your family hasn’t done this already, consider it as an option, at least for the adults. Another inexpensive tradition that can take the place of regular gift giving is an ornament exchange. Ornaments can be purchased or homemade, either in bulk or specifically for each individual recipient.

Parting Thought

When planning your holiday this year, keep in mind that it is not the specific gifts but rather the time spent together and the Christmas traditions that will be remembered.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to Create a Stress Free Holiday

If you'd like to create a stress free holiday this year, check out Beyond Eggnog and Mistletoe by Sandy Fowler. I proofed this book and it's GREAT! Not only does Sandy give you permission to scale back to what is comfortable and meaningful to you, she also provides a lot of practical tips on how to do so.

So if you're tired of the stress, frustration and overwhelm that is prevalent this time of year, grab yourself a copy of Beyond Eggnog and Mistletoe and create the holiday of your dreams!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

11 Reasons I am Thankful in 2012

Photo collage by Karen Balvin, Sunlitway Photography (
Thanks, Karen!
Thanksgiving is nearly here. What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

All You Need to Know About Life

I don't know who said this so I can't give proper attribution - but I had to share it anyway.

Life is like a coin. You can choose to spend it any way you wish, but you can only spend it once. Make your choices wisely.
~ Unknown

Monday, November 5, 2012

Give Consumable Gifts for a Stress-free Holiday Season

For a truly stress-free holiday, give consumable gifts to everyone on your list. Think about it – consumable gifts are always in style and you have no worries about getting the right size or color, consumable gifts are affordable even on a tight budget, and consumable gifts are appreciated and used (and used up!) – what more could you want?

So, what are my favorite consumable gifts?

For small to middle sized children, you can’t go wrong with crayons and a coloring book. If you want to encourage a budding artist, choose watercolor paints or modeling clay.

For older kids and teens, it gets a little trickier. My favorites for this age group are food gifts. Think a batch of their favorite homemade cookies. Or better yet, a cookie-of-the-month club subscription with a small plate of homemade treats delivered fresh from your very own kitchen at the beginning of each month throughout the year.

And what about adults? Well, it’s usually food gifts again! For women, I prefer chocolate. Delicious homemade fudge is always a big hit. For men, I tend toward salty snacks, such as Chex Mix.

What are your favorite consumable Christmas gifts?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Looking Forward to the Change

The time change, that is. Yep. Tomorrow is the day – time to ‘fall back’ for those of us who must adjust our clocks twice each year. I’ll get up in the dark, but by 6:45 when we prefer to go for our morning walk, it will be light! Come evening, however, I’m sure I’ll be whining about the earlier darkness...
Oh well. It’s a tradeoff and one that I’m looking forward to this year. Lately, we don’t have adequate light for walking until about 7:10. Beings I don’t eat until after we walk, waiting that extra 30 minutes or so for breakfast when I’ve been up a couple of hours just isn’t working for me.
As for that other change (you know, the one that hits women around age 50) – well, I welcomed it, too. For someone who is usually totally resistant to change, isn’t that amazing?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Live in the Present

"One has to live in the present. Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one's reach, until it becomes present. Remembering the past and giving thought to the future are important, but only to the extent that they help one deal with the present."
~ S.N. Goenka

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Acorns - Free Nutrition for the Taking

I'm currently polishing Impossible Beyond This Point (due out in 2013), the story of my in-law's move to the wilderness back in the 60s, and I ran across an account of a wild edibles meal my MIL made when her sister came to visit. The mainstay of the meal was acorns.

Did you know that you can eat acorns? That's right - they're not just for squirrels! I haven't done it recently, but we've made acorn meal in years gone by. Properly prepared, you can use chopped acorns in place of nuts or grind them into meal to make acorn mush or add to recipes. So if you have acorns available, gather some up and give them a try!

Preparing acorns

The first thing you have to do to make acorns edible is leach out the tannin. So shell them with a nutcracker or hammer and get the meats out. Then boil them and re-boil them and re-boil them again and again until the water is clear.

Use two pots and transfer the acorns from one to the other every 15 minutes or so. Bring fresh water to a boil in the pot without acorns while they're boiling away in the other pot. Make sure to keep them mostly boiling and DON'T put them in cold water. Keep this up until the cooking water stays clear and then dry them on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 250 degrees. Once they're mostly dry, chop or grind for use in recipes.

Another way to leach tannin

You can also leach out the tannin without boiling but it takes MUCH longer. First, grind up the meats into a fine meal. Put the ground meal in a basket or strainer lined with a clean muslin cloth and set atop a pot.  Slowly pour in water to fill the basket and let it run through the ground acorn meal (same principle as a drip coffee maker). Check it often and add more water and empty the pot, as needed, until the water runs clear.

Alternatively, I suppose you could put the acorn meal in a clean muslin bag and tie it suspended in a stream. I also read that you can leach them in your toilet tank (clean it good first!) but I think I'll just stick to the boiling or drip filtering methods!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Are You Cheerful or Gloomy?

"You find yourself refreshed in the presence of cheerful people. Why not make an honest effort to confer that pleasure on others? Half the battle is gained if you never allow yourself to say anything gloomy."
~ Lydia M. Child

How often are you cheerful? How often are you gloomy? Which is your "default" state of mind and being?
YOU can choose to be cheerful
Spend a little time over the next few days observing your attitude and behavior. Make a conscious effort to be cheerful and avoid gloomy. When a gloomy mood strikes, don't allow it to take over. Focus on cheerful thoughts - by force, if necessary.
Will this be easy? Probably not! But cheerfulness and gloominess are both habits that can be cultivated. So choose to develop the habit of being cheerful. Doing so will not only enhance the lives of everyone around you, a conscious effort to change your default to cheerful will dramatically improve your life, as well.
Have a great day!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dreams or Regrets?

"A person is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."
~ Anonymous

How true this is! As you move into (or through) your best 50 years, are you still cultivating your dreams or have you lapsed into regret? If you're still a dreamer, keep it up! And if you've allowed regret to creep in, it's not too late to shove it aside and go back to dreaming.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CreateSpace Publishing Success!

Click on the book cover
to go to Amazon
Merriweather in Search of the Fairies is finally DONE!!! And the ebook version will be available free 9/28-30. So head on over to Amazon and check it out with the "Look Inside" feature. Not only will you get a peek at the story but you'll see a couple of the illustrations, as well.

For those who don't know, this cute story was written a couple of years ago by my MIL, Marcella Horn, and was only available as an ebook until last week. I've spent the past few months editing, arranging for the illustrations and learning a lot about self-publishing on CreateSpace. But the finished book is so worth it!

Getting this book into print has truly been a group effort and I'd like to give a little credit where credit is due. My longest-term friend hooked me up with a stellar illustrator, Chuck Bowman, who did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. My SIL did the cover photos and layout. My BIL did the file conversions and a bunch of other computer-techie stuff I would have never figured out. And the list goes on...

The bottom line is, if you've ever wanted to publish a book, now is the time! Through CreateSpace, we got a quality book at a reasonable price. Also, they make the process easy. Oh - and did I mention publishing there is free? That's right - free. You can opt for expanded distribution, if you want, but that's only $25. So get to writing and get to publishing, ok?

Authors, Share Your Book with Millions of Readers

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome Baby Girl!

Introducing the newest addition to the family -

Elise Lauren

Isn't she just the cutest?

And aren't grandbabies the absolute greatest?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Are YOU Flossing Correctly?

We all know how important it is to floss, right? I developed a daily flossing habit over 25 years ago and have been consistent ever since. Now I find out I'm doing it WRONG. What? How difficult is it to run floss between your teeth correctly? Well, my technique isn't the problem - it's my routine. I always floss before I brush. Doesn't everyone? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be done? Apparently not.

According to an article on Yahoo Health, you're supposed to floss AFTER you brush. And don't rinse until after you're done flossing. So now I have to develop a whole new routine. Dang! I hate change! But I tried the new way last night and it worked just fine. And I can see the sense of flossing after brushing now that it's been so clearly and concisely explained. Anyway, from now on, here's what you need to do if you want to floss correctly:

Brush your teeth but don't rinse.
Floss your teeth.

See? Not too hard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Words to Master

"Someone has said that all living is just learning the meaning of words. That does not mean the long ten syllable words we have to look up in the dictionary. The really great words to master are short ones- work, love, joy, pain, home, child, life, death."
Halford E. Luccock

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It's Grandparents Day!

Isn't being a grandparent just the best? What a great reward for raising kids all those years all those years! And back in 1978, President Jimmy Carter enacted a special day to honor grandparents. So, what are you going to do to celebrate? Need ideas? Well, there's actually a cool website dedicated to all things grandparents that has lots of ideas. So, head on over to and have a HAPPY GRANDPARENTS DAY!!!

"If I would have known that grandchildren were going to be so much fun I would have had them first."
~Bill Laurin

"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children."
~Alex Haley

"I love this child. Red-haired — patient and gentle like her mother — fey and funny like her father. When she giggles I can hear him when he and I were young. I am part of this child. It may be only because we share genes and that therefore smell familiar to each other.... It may be that a part of me lives in her in some important way.... But for now, it’s jelly beans and 'Old MacDonald' that unite us."
 ~Robert Fulghum

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Amazon CreateSpace is Unbelievably Fast!

We got our beautiful proof copies of Merriweather in Search of the Fairies today! I ordered them last Tuesday with the hope that we'd have them as a birthday surprise for this Thursday. Well, according to my PO guy, the package actually arrived on Saturday! So, here's the timeline:

Tuesday 8/28 7:49 AM - Email confirming proof copies order
Tuesday 8/28 7:15 PM - Email letting me know that the proof copies had shipped
Saturday 9/1 10:00 AM - Proof copies available for pick-up at PO

Ok - so that's less than 12 hours to print up and send out the two proof copies and less than four days to get them to me. WOW!!! Go Amazon and USPS!!!

Authors, Share Your Book with Millions of Readers

Monday, August 27, 2012

Singing the Proofreading Blues

Well, I finally got Merriweather in Search of the Fairies (my MIL's fairy tale adventure for kids) uploaded to Amazon's CreateSpace. It's been a huge learning experience and I'm lucky to have a super-duper computer tech on hand who has tons of software program experience or I'm sure I'd have a different story to tell. All in all, it's been one thing after another. My biggest problem was getting the illustrations where I wanted them and finalizing the format so it all looks pretty AND THEN converting it to print-ready PDF format. Anyway, the ball is in Amazon's court, at least for now.

So...there I was figuring I should update the Kindle version of the book. Eventually, I hope to get it uploaded for Kindle with the illustrations but I think that's going to be a BIG job. Seems I remember something about zip files and who knows what all else - basically, it goes over my head. But I did make a few changes to the manuscript when preparing it for print and also caught some errors (like corn stock instead of stalk) so I wanted to update the Kindle file.

Word file comparison to the rescue! computer software expert guy had told me that Word has a cool comparison feature so I thought I'd give it a try. And yes, it is VERY cool! I just clicked on 'Compare' and selected the files for the Kindle and hardcopy versions, chose for it to show me the changes in a new document, and hit the go button. All was going well. It was showing the differences beautifully and I was making changes to the original Kindle version. Then, all of a sudden, what did I find? Merriweather with just one 'r'! Are you kidding me? How did that slip through? And yes, it's in the hardcopy version that way, as well. That's right, the hardcopy version that has already been submitted to CreateSpace for review.

What to do?

Now I'm not sure what to do. Obviously this is NOT an error that will go to print. After the file is reviewed on Amazon's end, I then have to do a final proof on the book. What I'm not sure about is whether I can make this extremely minor change (we're talking about adding just one 'r' here) without going through the whole upload and file review process again. Hmm. Well, I guess I'll find out soon enough. The file review is supposed to take 24-48 hours so it could be done as early as tomorrow morning. I guess the good news is that even if I have to re-upload the file and wait for the review again, it only sets us back a day or two.

Authors, Share Your Book with Millions of Readers

Friday, August 24, 2012

3 Ideas for Surplus Blackberries

Delicious blackberry crisp - yum!
Hubby has been bringing me a gallon of blackberries every morning for the past week. Beings we have a sizable patch growing wild practically right outside our door, this will likely continue for another week or so.

What I like about this daily 'gift' is that it's a manageable amount. I usually just wash and freeze them for later use, especially when I've had to deal with gallons and gallons all at once. Having fresh berries every day, however, has led me to look for more ways to use fresh berries. Here are my favorites thus far:

Blackberry Crisp - Just use your favorite apple crisp recipe but substitute fresh blackberries for the sliced apples. As you can see by my photo, it turns out great!

Blackberry Pulled Pork - Throw a big hunk of pork in your crock pot and toss in a chopped onion. Smash a couple cups of blackberries through a sieve to remove the seeds and add about a teaspoon each of salt, granulated garlic and apple cider vinegar along with 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir it up good and pour over your pork and onion. Pop the lid on and walk away for 8 or 9 hours if you've set it on low and about half that time if you've set it on high. Once it's done, shred it and serve!

Blackberry BBQ Sauce - After making the pulled pork, I realized the leftover juice would make a great base for BBQ sauce. But I'm sure I could make a yummy BBQ sauce from fresh berries, as well - it would just require some time on the stovetop.

Well, here he comes with the berries for today so I guess I'd better go...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Free DIY Book Publishing on CreateSpace

We're about ready to publish our first hardcopy book through Amazon's CreateSpace and are working on getting the illustrations in place and finalizing the format. All I can say is WOW!!! Amazon really makes this easy - and it's FREE if you do it yourself.

The website tells you everything you need to know but you can also choose to pay for professional help, if you want. After working on the formatting, I can see that the cost may be totally worth it to some folks, especially those who only plan to publish one book. But we're planning to do this several more times so are dedicated to learning the ropes.

Do you have a book you'd like to publish? Well, now is the time! Publish your book with CreateSpace: get high royalties, low book prices, and expanded distribution. What are you waiting for?

Authors, Share Your Book with Millions of Readers

(FYI - links are affiliate.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Are You Ever Too Old for Confidence and Hope?

"While it is wise to accept what we cannot change about ourselves, it is also good to remember that we are never too old to replace discouragement with bits and pieces of confidence and hope."     
  ~ Elaine N. Aron

Friday, August 10, 2012

Virtual Blog Book Tour for Memories by Deanna Lynn Sletten

Today starts a virtual blog book tour for Memories by Deanna Lynn Sletten, so head on over to her blog and join in on the fun! There you'll find links to two stops on the tour to kick off the first day. Deanna is also hosting a giveaway to celebrate the Memories Blog Book Tour and you could win an Amazon gift card - are you over there yet?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are You Putting Off Living?

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon - instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today."     
~ Dale Carnegie

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Easy Sweet and Sour Pork

I love sweet and sour pork, don't you? But I'm an uninspired cook. If I'm going to make something, I'm into quick and easy - it can't take too much time or work or dirty too many dishes (just one pan is best!). If you're like me and want to make easy sweet and sour pork recipe, here's all you have to do:

In a large skillet, brown 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

Mix together and pour over the pork:
  • the juice only from 1 can (20 ounces) pineapple chunks (save the chunks for later)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
Cover and simmer about 15 minutes.

  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 5 or 6 carrots, sliced
 Cover and simmer about another 10 minutes.

Mix together until smooth:
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 2 T. water
Stir into pork/vegetable mixture and cook until it thickens up nicely.

  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • the pineapple chunks you set aside earlier
Simmer about 5 minutes.

Serve over hot cooked rice. Yum!!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Clarifying expectations sometimes takes a great deal of courage. It seems easier to act as though differences don’t exist and to hope things will work out than it is to face the differences and work together to arrive at a mutually agreeable set of expectations."         
  ~ Stephen R. Covey

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tolo Lake Mammoth at Grangeville, Idaho

Photo credit: Idaho Tourism
Used by permission.
On our trip north, we're hoping to see the Tolo Lake Mammoth Replica at Grangeville, Idaho. We'll have a couple of grands (ages 4 and 11) with us so they should be interested and impressed. Also, it will be a nice place to stop and stretch after being cooped up in the car.

Now, this is a replica, not a real skeleton. But I doubt the kids will know the difference, right? And there have been mammoth bones found close by at Tolo Lake so that makes it sort of authentic. Hopefully we'll get a nice photo that I can add when I get back.

Update: Well, we didn't manage to get any photos of our own but the Idaho Tourism site was kind enough to let me use theirs. Thanks Idaho Tourism!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cheap and Easy Powdered Cleanser

I wrote recently about my new favorite safe, simple, effective and cheap homemade spray-on cleaner and decided to share my new favorite powdered cleanser, too. And guess what? The powdered cleanser is even easier than the spray-on beings there's nothing to mix. Before I say what exactly it is, let me share before and after photos of my Swanstone sink. The staining in the first picture is from pitting 10 gallons of pie cherries.

Sink before cleaning.

Sink after cleaning.

So what is this safe, simple, effective, cheap and easy powdered cleanser? Baking soda. Yep. Plain old baking soda. I just sprinkled it on and scrubbed a little with one of those scratchy sponges (wet, of course) and the stains disappeared.

We also use our chest freezer as extra counter space and I've been really pleased with how well plain old baking soda cleans that surface. And if I don't get it all rinsed off, so what? It certainly won't hurt us to have a little stray baking soda where we're making sandwiches. Might taste funny but won't hurt us.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Seeing Hells Canyon from Both Sides

We're taking a little family trip to Idaho next week with the daughter and a couple of grands. On the way there, we plan to look down into Hells Canyon from both the Oregon and Idaho sides. For those who don't know, Hells Canyon is home to the Snake River and separates northeastern Oregon from the middle of the western edge of Idaho. And while it may not be as well-known as the Grand Canyon, according to the Forest Service, Hells Canyon is actually the deepest river gorge in North America. (NOTE: Hubby says that Kings Canyon is deeper and he's usually always right about this kind of thing, so maybe Hells Canyon is really second.)

So where exactly are we going to view this wonder from?

Hells Canyon Overlook - Just a couple of miles off the paved Hells Canyon Scenic Byway about 30 miles from Halfway, Oregon, the Hells Canyon Overlook provides a nice view from 5,400 feet. Apparently you can't see the Snake River from here but look instead into one of the side canyons. Good enough!

Heavens Gate Lookout - Located 17 miles up a steep, single-lane gravel road just south of Riggins, Idaho, the Heavens Gate Lookout provides a stunning view of Hells Canyon from 8,100 feet. And if that's not reason enough to make the drive, you can also see four states - Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. Of course, I don't know how you'd know where one state ends and another begins...

We'll be doing some serious gravel road driving to see these sites but how is that different from the miles and miles of dirt I travel every time I leave home? It's not. In fact, I'll probably prefer it to the highway and will definitely prefer it to the freeway. And once we're home with pictures, I'll add a few to this post.

Monday, July 16, 2012

ExploreNorth - a Great Start for Our Alaska Trip Research

I was doing a little preliminary research for our 2014 drive-the-Alcan-to-Alaska trip and found a great website and blog that may tell me just about everything I need to know. Of course, I won't stop there - being an information junkie, I'll keep finding more and more info and photos. But ExploreNorth is a good start.

An interesting tidbit I found when researching the Sign Post Forest (more on that in another post) is that Watson Lake is the third largest town in the Yukon. And as of June 2009, that meant a total population of 1,561. That's right - less than 1,600 people and it's the third largest town in the whole territory, which covers a whopping 186,272 square miles. In fact, the 2011 population of the Yukon is less than 34,000 people (see That means there's close to 5.5 square miles per person! Of course, a lot of the Yukon is harsh and remote, but still...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

We’re Driving the Alcan in 2014!

We're finally going to do it! We may be about a decade late but better late than never, right? So what are we going to do? Drive the Alcan, of course! From the start in Dawson Creek, BC, to both the ends - first at Delta Junction, about 1,400 miles from Dawson Creek, and then at Fairbanks, almost another 100 miles up the road.

So how can the Alcan have two ends?

Well, because there are two monuments claiming to be the end of the Alcan. Delta Junction started out as just plain Delta back in the early 1900s, a camp for workers on the Richardson Highway, which runs through Fairbanks. The Alcan went to Delta Junction but Alaska assigned the same highway number to the section of the Richardson Highway that runs from Delta Junction to Fairbanks. Therefore, Fairbanks also claims to be the end. Whatever. We'll see them both!

And why 2014?

A couple of reasons. First, we want to go while we're still young and sprightly. We'll both be in our early-mid 50s in 2014 and don't want to wait until either of us are pushing 60. We plan to camp much of the trip and I can already tell that my hips are increasingly less inclined to rough it as time goes by (you know, sleeping on an air mattress or camping mat). So sooner will be more comfortable than waiting. The second reason is money. While we'll doubtless use our credit card to pay most expenses while on the trip, we will also pay the balance in full when the bill comes due.

Let the fun begin!

So we'll be researching, planning and saving up for the trip over the next two years. And I'll be sharing here as our plans unfold. One of the first things we need to figure out is how we'll actually get to Dawson Creek. We'll drive, of course, but there are a couple of main routes we could take and other less traveled roads that will still get us there. So I guess I'd better get out the maps and start dreaming.

Now, if anyone out there has driven the Alcan, or if you plan to, or even if you just know someone who has, I'd love to hear all about it so leave a comment, ok?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Couples May Maximize Social Security Benefits

If you're married and approaching the age at which you can draw social security benefits, do you know about 'file and suspend' or a 'restricted' application? If not, you need to look into whether these might be appropriate options for you or your spouse.

SmartMoney has an article that clearly explains how couples can boost their social security checks. Before you apply for social security, be sure to calculate whether you or your spouse can maximize benefits by drawing off the other's record for a few years.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Singing the Updated Blogger Interface Blues

Got into the admin area of TheBest50Years this morning and what an unpleasant surprise awaited me there - I'd been reverted to the 'updated' Blogger interface - again. Well, I've said it before and I'll say it again - I HATE the new Blogger interface! Fortunately, this time I knew to look for the little gear thingy over on the right and switch back. Unfortunately, I've had a message for months alerting me that the old interface is on the way out. They don't say when, just that it "will be removed in the coming months" - well, crap! This really sucks.

As I've also said before, I do so appreciate Google for all they do at no cost to all of us here on the other side. To date, I've found Blogger to be the easiest blogging platform to use. For the most part, I can upload photos, move things around and figure out how to do what I want done as far as changes go. I find the old interface very friendly looking and intuitive to use. The new one? NOT! It's UGLY in addition to being unfriendly looking and I can't find what I need or where I want to go.

Is it just me?

Nope. When I posted on this before, I actually got the most comments of any post on the blog. Not saying much, I admit but none were from previous commenters or anyone I personally know. So if my infinitesimal readership feels strongly enough to take the time to agree with me on this, I know I am not alone and that many folks feel the same way. Kind of like a self-selected not quite random sample in a study.

Anyway, I guess soon there will be nothing I can do but go forward with the horrible new interface. The problem is that I can't even find where I want to go every time (three or four now) that I've come here to post and it's been changed. In fact, last summer when I didn't yet know I could switch back, my posting slowed way down because it was so cumbersome and frustrating just to try to get it done.

Accepting what I cannot change...

Oh well, I guess it's free and the only game in town for me and TheBest50Years so I'll keep on keeping on. But it sure is frustrating that Google won't leave well enough alone. Change for the sake of change alone is usually a bad idea and I just wish whoever out there is in charge would get a clue.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Simple, Safe, Effective and CHEAP Homemade Spray-on Cleaner

I know I may be late to the cleaning party on this one but I've just made the most amazing discovery! Did you know that plain old vinegar mixed with water is a great household cleaner? How simple and cheap is that?

Ok - so "discovery" really isn't accurate. After all, there are probably thousands of websites that promote cleaning with vinegar. But it's a discovery to me because I hadn't actually tried it myself and so had yet to discover how absolutely great it really is.

Here's what I did:

Mix plain white vinegar 50/50 with plain water in a spray bottle.

(Not too difficult, I know - but I set it apart in this post so it wouldn't get lost.)

Now here's the cool part. For years, I've battled a slight mineral buildup on the outside rim of the plastic base to my shower. I don't know when exactly this build up happens - it seems I'll just look down one day and there it is. Of course, it also attracts dust and becomes a grimy looking line just below the shower doors. I've used several cleaning products and had finally taken to just scraping it off with a knife now and again.

Well, scrape no more! I sprayed my 50/50 vinegar/water combo on there and presto! It wiped right off! (Ok - it wiped off with a little back and forth pressure after sitting for a minute. But it sure beats scraping it with a knife.) And the best part is no nasty fumes. In fact, it just reminds me what fun it is to color Easter eggs.

Vinegar will supposedly kill mold, as well, but mine didn't take all the discoloration out of the caulking around the bottom inside of the shower, although it did fade it somewhat. For that job, I guess I'll still have to use bleach until we can re-caulk the shower.

Anyway, if you haven't tried vinegar mixed with water as a general cleaning product, go buy yourself a spray bottle and give it a go! It's super cheap, completely safe for kids and pets, works way better than I would have thought and makes your house smell like Easter fun. What's the down side?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Welcome Summer!

Looking forward to too much fun with the grandkids this year!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Truth About Getting Older

"When you’re in your nineties and looking back, it’s not going to be how many awards you’ve won. It's really what did you stand for. Did you make a positive difference for people?"
- Elizabeth Dole

Friday, June 8, 2012

Self-Publishing for Kindle on Amazon

I just got done publishing for Kindle on Amazon! Granted, it wasn't my own book. No, I actually just republished the edited version of MERRIWEATHER IN SEARCH OF THE FAIRIES, a cute story my MIL wrote for kids. It's been available digitally online for over a year but we just recently discovered that somehow the currently uploaded version had NOT been edited. And in fact, now that I'm a pro at all this (yeah, right!), I suspect that the uploaded file may have even inadvertently been changed for the worse prior to publishing.

So how could that happen? How could a digital file get changed without anyone noticing? Well, I'm not 100% sure but I have some ideas. Now that I'm a professional proofreader and have been using the Track Changes feature in Word, I've made some interesting and potentially horrifying discoveries. Let's suffice to say that it seems to glitch up sometimes (software glitches up? really?) and I believe may possibly even make unintended changes.

Also, now that I've experienced the full editing process from both the proofreader and client sides, I can say with absolute certainty that it is almost impossible NOT to make mistakes when choosing to accept or reject changes. The two options are one on top of the other and it is so easy to click on the one you DON'T want. But enough of all that...

How to Self-Publish Your Book for Kindle

Amazon has made publishing EASY! To publish for Kindle, all you have to do is sign up for an account at Kindle Direct Publishing. If you already have an Amazon account, you can sign in with it. Then you just enter all the required information and upload your cover image and properly formatted HTML file.

Oops! Say what? Properly formatted HTML file? Uh-oh.

Not to worry! I just did it and so can you. If you have Word 2010, I can vouch that it's super-easy to convert your document to HTML format. If you have an earlier version of Word, supposedly it's still easy but I don't know that personally. And if you don't have Word? Well, I seem to recall a recommendation to use OpenOffice but don't quote me on that.

Anyway, everything you need to know to publish successfully for Kindle is available on the site. And if you want the info in Kindle format, you can download Building Your Book for Kindle free. I have Kindle for PC on my computer so I just had the directions open right there through the whole process.

A word of caution: Pay special attention to the formatting requirements. I've read a lot of Kindle books lately and now I know why some are so well laid out and easy to navigate and others are...well...not. It is imperative that you format exactly as instructed and then convert to the right type of HTML. But like I said, if I can do it, so can you!

MORNING-AFTER UPDATE: While the new version of the republished book was live by the next morning, the Look Inside feature still showed the old unedited version. Apparently, changes to the description and preview on Amazon’s site take additional time. Keeping my fingers crossed...

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Better Way to Look at Failure

"Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid."
- John Keats

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Yes, Small Things DO Add Up

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."
- Marian Wright Edelman

Friday, May 25, 2012

More About Free Kindle Books on Amazon

Yes, I'm still in a downloading frenzy but I've gotten smarter about it. As I said in previous posts, there are hundreds of free ebooks every day and all you have to do is find them.

One way that I've found to make this task easier and more manageable is to check the free Kindle book lists posted on each day. That way, I'm not wading through a huge list and the books are nicely labeled, so I don't even have to read the description on some. For instance, I don't read horror, so if a book is of that genre, I just skip to the next.

My initial strategy for books that might be of interest was to read the description and then the reviews, and if the book sounded worthwhile, I'd download it. Well, anyone can publish now and friends and family will likely say nice things so I've wasted quite a bit of time on substandard fiction.

My new strategy? Take the time to use Amazon's cool Look Inside feature. Duh. It's not available for every book and doesn't do a bit of good on some but should still save me plenty of time and frustration.

For most books, Look Inside provides enough of a sample to get a good feel for the writer's style and ability. Where I've run into problems is with children's books where the preview often shows little more than the cover. Well, when I'm reading to Wyatt on my Cruz, having the text and pictures on separate pages doesn't work because we can only see one page at a time instead of two, like in a real book. Anyway, that's a small problem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Do You Own Your Home?

Most folks consider themselves homeowners if they're buying a home. A minority don't think they own their home until the mortgage is completely paid off. Well, as someone with nearly four decades of homeownership experience, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the truth is, you NEVER own your home. In reality, at least in part, your home owns you.
Say what?
As I explained in Does Your Home Own You? published recently on Penny Thots, homeownership is a two way street. When you own your home, you have a wonderful freedom that you'd never get as a renter. However, you are also responsible for every home-related expense that comes along. In addition, you can't just walk away. If your family size increases or decreases, if you want or need to relocate, if _____ (you fill in the blank), you have to figure out what to do with your home.
"No problem!" you say. "I'll sell it or rent it out!" Been there, done that and yes, those are both options. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong in either scenario. (Ask me how I know.)
So what's the point of this downer post, anyway? Am I against homeownership? Do I just want to discourage the American dream? Absolutely not! Just be forewarned that not all your days as a homeowner will be sunny, so be sure that you're prepared for the commitment and don’t get in over your head.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to Build a Good Credit History

My second article at the Penny Thots site, 6 Key Steps to Building a Good Credit History, went live last week and I thought I'd share here, as well. The steps I list are:
  1. Get a Bank Account
  2. Get a Steady Job
  3. Get Some Credit
  4. Make All Your Payments on Time
  5. Keep Your Credit Card Balances Low
  6. Monitor Your Credit
Under the third step, Get Some Credit, I suggest three ways to do so:
  • Get a Credit Card on Your Own
  • Get Added to a Credit Card Account
  • Get a Co-signer

Now, for my readers here, I'd like to clarify. I am NOT suggesting that anyone co-sign any loan - EVER. I don't care who it is or what it's for. NEVER CO-SIGN.

And I'd also recommend against adding anybody to an existing credit card account, except MAYBE under extremely limited and tightly controlled circumstances.

So why did I add those things to my article at Penny Thots? Simply because those are ways to build a good credit history, which is the subject of the article and I want to be thorough. I guess now I need to work on an article or two warning against co-signing and adding someone to your credit card account.