Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of PBW 2017

On the last day of every year my tradition is to sort through the archives to see how things went, what I accomplished (or didn't) and get some ideas on ways in which to improve things with PBW and my writing life.

I put the blog on hiatus for almost five months this year, which gave me a much-needed vacation from the internet so I could focus on my work. That was probably the best thing I've done for myself creatively in a long time. Unplugging allowed me to get back to what I really love about writing: writing. For the length of my hiatus nothing got between me and the page. I came back with a better attitude, which I needed when I dumped Photobucket as my image hosting site and finally deleted two other static blogs. I have a lot of work to do on PBW to replace the images in the archives, but I'm on that now, and hope to have them all restored in a few months.

Behind the scenes I actually quit all of my freelancing work halfway through 2017 to become a partner in a publishing venture. It was a gamble, but I've been rolling the dice since traditional publishing and I parted ways. I can't get into details, but I'm happy, busy, and have the creative freedom to do what I do best. I hope to keep this job until I retire.

I think 2017 was one of my better years for being creative with my sewing. I took chances and tried some new things, like designing the two quilts pictured in this post, and making my first serious attempt at art quilting. I learned a lot, had fun and added some new techniques to my repertoire. Documenting everything on my Tumblr blog definitely helped keep me motivated.

On the downside, I tried to do NaNoWriMo this year but computer woes, work obligations and life in general forced me to bail about halfway through it. I did get out to four real-world NaNo write-in meetings, and joined a small writers' group I met in the process. My youngest also moved away to attend university, which left me and my guy on our own for the first time since 1989. I miss her every day, but I think I've adjusted fairly well to the whole empty nester thing. Making meals is the biggest challenge -- I've never cooked for just two people, so I'm downsizing recipes and figuring out how to use leftovers creatively.

I also did not lose the last 20 pounds for my ideal weight goal. I had some issues with my arthritis that kept me less active than I would have liked, and pretty much yoyoed between 145-150 lbs. for most of the year. After two years of it I'm also really tired of dieting, so that didn't help. The good news is that I didn't gain back any of the thirty pounds I lost in 2016. As of the writing of this post I am 149 lbs., so I'll say the official loss for 2017 is 5 lbs. I'll keep trying to take off the last fifteen pounds sensibly.

Many things shadowed 2017. Too many. We've all had to live with it as part of our daily lives now, so I'm not going to rehash it. I'd rather ask you that whenever and however possible, be part of the light.

As I did last year I'm going to skip the usual best-of links list. With the way the world is now I'm not investing in a theme or resolution for 2018; I just want to be supportive of my friends and family, do some good and generally not add to the evil and dark out there.

How was 2017 for you? Any plans for 2018? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Color Psychic

I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays. I'm staying mostly unplugged, although I did notice Pantone's pick for their 2018 color of the year:

I would have picked violet -- it was my favorite color to work with in 2017:

I'm such a trendsetter (not. at. all.) For fun, I'm going to predict the color of the year for 2019: this blue.

Stop back in twelve months to find out if I'm color psychic.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Wishing You

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Off to Celebrate

I'm taking off the rest of the week to celebrate with my family. While I'm partying, here's some joy from The North Face:

Imagination: Tom Wallisch from The North Face on Vimeo.

Hope you and yours have a lovely and peaceful holiday season.

Monday, December 18, 2017

ETA Seven Days

With Christmas arriving in a week I thought you all might need some ideas for those last names still on your shopping list. So from the PBW archives here are:

Ten Things That Make Great Last-Minute Gifts

Composition Book Journal: Here's an article that shows you how to turn an inexpensive composition book into a customized journal.

Cookie Exchange: This requires some cooperation from your recipient. Agree to exchange as gifts a batch of your favorite cookies. Once you've made them, pack them in a pretty tin or container (the Dollar Store has great holiday tins), add a bow or tie with a ribbon. Be sure to share your recipe on a note card. This idea is also great as a theme for a Christmas party with friends; everyone brings a batch (my friend Jill holds her cookie exchange every year at Starbucks) and you draw names from a hat for the exchange.

Custom Cookbook: Create your own cookbook collection by scanning or typing up your favorite recipes for the holidays, dinners, desserts, or whatever theme you choose. Convert it to a .pdf and e-mail the file to your recipient, or print it out and place it in a folder or binder. Some grocery stores offer free recipe cards and magazines that make nice bonus material to add to your print collection.

Dollar Challenge: This is great to do with kids -- you agree to buy each other a gift that costs only $1.00, and go shopping together (and you'll need to shop either at a dollar or thrift store, but that's also fun.) One year my daughter found a little pocket manicure set for me that I still have in my purse.

First Aid for Kisses Kit: Glue a piece of white cardstock to the top of a small empty tin. Write "First Aid Kit for" at the top of the cardstock and draw a lips puckered for a kiss in red marker below it. Fill the tin with a stick of lip balm, disposable mini toothbrushes and breath mints.

For the Birds: If you have a friend or family member who loves birds, a small/inexpensive feeder and a five pound bag of birdseed are a great gift (you can find both at most home improvement or garden stores.)

Healthy Cooking Subscription: Cooking Light magazine, which focuses on articles and recipes for lighter, healthier eating, has a 2-for-1 holiday offer that allows you to give two subscriptions for $16.00.

Homemade Bread: One of our neighbors always gives us a loaf of her homemade bread as a holiday gift, and it's one of my favorite treats every year. Make your favorite bread, wrap in a pretty tea towel and place in an inexpensive bread basket. If they have kids, add some jars of peanut butter and jelly. Don't want to make a whole loaf of bread? Go for a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, or garlic knots.

Snack Bowl: Find a pretty serving bowl at Goodwill or the Dollar Store. Add some bags of microwave popcorn, fresh fruit, hot cocoa mix envelopes, small bags of chips or pretzels, cereal snack mix, etc., wrap with cellophane and crown with a bow. You can tailor this to your recipient, too; I do an exotic tea-and-cookies snack bowl for one of my friends every year (World Market is a great place to find unusual teas and snacks, too.)

Stuffed Stocking: For that impossible-to-buy-for person on your list, make or buy a stocking and fill it with something they love. The obvious choice is snacks, but you can also stuff it with small toiletries, crumpled dollar bills (college students love that one), two or three scarves, writer stuff, hand lotion and lip balms, kitchen tools or towels, the ingredients for a recipe, etc. This is also a fun gift to make with small toys or treats for the family pet.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Sew Me

When I wasn't writing in 2017 I was sewing -- a lot. I wanted to complete at least one project every month, learn to design more patchwork, and dabble a bit in art quilting. I also documented everything I was doing over at my Tumblr blog, which helped keep me on track.

Here's some of what I got accomplished:

I started the year with a small patchwork pillow project to use up some scraps.

I bought a vintage quilt top at the annual county quilt show and made it into a new quilt for Skye's kennel.

I practiced some new embroidery stitches and techniques on this crazy quilt tote.

I tried working with modern fabrics for the first time to make this black/white/gold lap quilt.

I designed and made my first bargello quilt.

I experimented with new types of hand quilting stitches to make this little tote.

My big project of the year was designing and making this quilt from fabrics and some patchwork sent to me by a dear friend.

I made my first official art quilt out of recycled linen remnants and eco-dyed fabrics.

Another lap quilt I made, inspired by a lovely linen from my friend's fabric.

This was the month my sewing machine started to die, so this cute tote I made from orphaned patchwork blocks I purchased on Etsy was done largely by hand.

A winter table runner I made for an art swap.

A pillow I made from an old cutter quilt piece.

A table topper I quilted and embroidered for Thanksgiving. On Black Friday I did venture out to buy a new sewing machine, too.

I still have one more quilt to work on this month, and a table runner I want to make for New Year's Eve, but I think I did okay with my non-writing projects in 2017. One very positive side of doing so much quilting was that I kept my creative energy high, which really helped my writing. Next year I'm probably going to do more art quilting, as that's the bug that bit me most often in 2017, but I'm also constantly finding new inspirations, so we'll see.

What creative projects did you finish this year? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Hepful Ten

Ten Holiday Helps from the PBW Archives

1. Easy Appetizer: One no-cook appetizer that appeals to everyone, even kids, is sometimes tough to manage; the most popular at any gathering we have are my fruit and cheese skewers. Make them by placing chunks of cheese and fruit on bamboo or plastic skewers (cheddar, grapes and pineapple chunks are a popular combo, as are strawberries, raspberries and swiss.) You can shape the cheese by using small cookie cutters to cut them from a block. A dessert spin on this is to replace the cheese with marshmallows or brownie bites. Here's a recipe with an accompanying dip.

2. Cookies Done Light: In past years I've linked many times to Cooking Light magazine's holiday recipes; here's their Christmas Cookie recipes for 2017.

3. PBW's Famous No-Brainer Fudge:

3 cups Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 can 14 oz. sweet condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of salt
[optional add-ins: chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, raisins, M&Ms etc.]

Put morsels, milk, extract and salt in a sauce pan and melt over low heat. Stir frequently to blend. When it looks like fudge -- after about 5 to 10 minutes -- remove from heat, stir in your favorite chopped nuts, marshmallows, M&Ms or whatever. Pour into pan (I use an 8" pie pan), spread out, cover with foil or plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, take out, cut into squares, enjoy.

Note on fancy toppings: Before you put in the fridge, you can also top the fudge with coconut, maraschino cherries, pecan halves etc.

4. Photo Op: Another great (and easy to make) last-minute gift is to print out your favorite photo of your recipient (or someone they love) and place it in a pretty frame.

5. Practical Party: Invite friends to bring over their unwrapped gifts and wrapping supplies, and have a gift-wrapping party (Moms, great to do while the kids are in school.) Make up goodie bags with scotch tape, adhesive gift tags and rolls of ribbon. Ask everyone to bring two jumbo rolls of gift paper; one to use and one to pass around. Serve coffee, tea, and a non-sticky treat like cookies or muffins.

6. Quilted Coaster Tags: Here are directions and photos to make my easy quilted coaster, which doubles as a gift tag.

7. Strawberry Santas: One of my neighbors made us a plate of cookies and these adorable Strawberry Santas, which are so easy to make I can whip up a plate of them in minutes (and if I don't have the ingredients to make the cheese filling, I substitute bottled whipped cream.)

8. Superquick ice cream sandwiches: Let your ice cream or frozen yogurt soften until it's spreadable, then spread between two graham crackers, two big chocolate chip cookies or two toasted mini-waffles. Roll the sides through mini chocolate chips or mini M&Ms. Put back in the freezer on a tray to harden.

9. A Timely Gift: If you can't afford a gift, offer your services instead. You can clean house or mow the lawn for an elderly person, babysit for busy parents, be a beta reader for a writer pal, take your friend's pup to the dog park, etc. For a really good friend, make up a stack of 12 coupons redeemable for various services over the next year.

10. Yum: My Favorite homemade Hot Chocolate recipe

Monday, December 11, 2017

Off to Hit the Books

I'm taking off today to do some research. See you on Wednesday.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Winter Writing

While we're not getting snowed in at Casa PBW, the temperature has dropped enough for me to haul out my fall/winter wear whenever I have to venture outside. It's also changed where and when I can write away from my home office. The porch is okay most days, but not at night. Ditto for the parks; I can manage a working lunch but early mornings or late afternoons are too cold. I'm also finding most of my quiet spots in town have become incessantly noisy with shoppers, holiday music and let-loose little kids. Don't get me wrong, these are all great things -- I love seeing people enjoying the season -- but that's also why it's distracting. I spend my time people-watching instead of storytelling. As I'm working through the holidays I need to devote at least eight hours a day to writing and editing.

My daughter is also coming home for her winter break from university. I'm looking forward to spending time with her, but since I'm her favorite distraction, I will probably also need to get up earlier, get out of the house a couple hours each day, and/or work while she's sleeping (probably a combination of all three.) Today I stopped by the library, which turned out to be completely empty, and spent an hour doing some research for work. I got everything done without a single interruption. Once everyone else's kids are out of school for their holiday break that may change, but until then I might start taking the laptop or the Neo over there to write.

One cool thing I noticed about the people in my new writing group is that they wear head phones or those ear bud things and listen to music while they are writing. I never thought of doing that -- I prefer silence, and I'm so deaf now most music is just white noise to me -- but some sound-cancelling ear phones could work for me in high-traffic or Christmas-saturated areas. I have to check into how much they cost, but it seems like they'd help at home, too, when my daughter is watching TV or has friends over to visit.

What do you do to write or get work done during the holidays? Share your tips in comments.

Image credit: Creative Commons Stock Photos

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

'Tis the Reading Season

This year I decided to be my own Secret Santa and buy some new books to read this month. I set myself a limit of three, and to get some variety I shopped for a favorite author, an author I haven't read in a while, and a new-to-me author.

Mary Balogh is of course the favorite author, and I've been waiting since February for her third Westcott novel, Someone to Wed. The fallout from a bigamous earl's death continues in this installment, which features his heir, Alexander Westcott. I've liked this character since the series began, and I have no doubt this will be a wonderful addition to the series.

I've read Dean Koontz's novels on and off for years; I've been off the author since Innocence depressed me a bit too much back in 2013. The Silent Corner is the first book in a new series featuring a female protagonist, and the cover copy got me curious. I liked the first page. No doubt it will all end up being a government conspiracy, but these days, what doesn't?

Caroline ~ Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller is the new-to me author's novel. The book was authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, and evidently tells some of Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneering childhood stories from her mother's POV. I had some reservations right off the bat -- the Little House books are one of the reasons I became a writer, aka sacred ground -- so I did read the first four pages before I bought it. While it's not written in the voice or style of the Little House books, and the way Caroline Ingalls is portrayed doesn't match my mental image of her, I decided to quit nit-picking and give it a shot.

What are you reading this season? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Gift No-Nos

Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

Collectibles: I'm not much of a collector of anything but books and quilts, and my house is already stuffed to the rafters with both. You want to know what I'd honestly love to start collecting? Happy thoughts. Send me some of those. :)

Exotic Spice Blends: An artisan oregano and all-natural spearmint blend might sound tasty to you, but please. Refrain.

Glitter Anything: Older women seem to love anything that looks like a bad fourth-grade art project; strangely, I'm not one of them. Scientists now want to ban it, and I kind of agree because glitter always, always, always sheds.

Himalyan Salt Products: I'm seeing a lot of these made into cooking plates, shooters, tea light holders, etc. All that salt is bad for you, and the pink color? Not my personal favorite.

Knife Making Kit: Just say no to this one. For anybody.

Magic Bullet: I'm all about healthy drinks but I'm lazy. Also the name -- magic bullets are what we used to call suppositories.

Moscow Mule Mug I don't use alcohol, sorry. I'm also not inclined to like anything named after a Russian jackass.

Ugg Boots: I don't need boots where I live. For some reason this brand also reminds me of Chewbacca from Star Wars, who is not my personal style icon.

Upright Bacon Grill: A bacon toaster, yeah, that's a wonderful idea. Aside from the fact that cleaning it would be a nightmare, I'd have to double our house fire insurance coverage. Pass.

Virtual Reality System: Real life is challenging enough, thanks.

What don't you want for Christmas? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Working Holiday

First, congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo 2017. I hope most of you did better than me, but I'm proud of all of you for trying. Proud of me, too -- I gave it a shot, which was fun, and tried some new things, which seems to be my latest trend.

I'm writing through the holidays this month, but I've decided not to use that as an excuse to avoid all the merry and bright stuff. I'm not a big fan of the season, but my crew is, so I'm going to try to do a little something every day to get me in the spirit to celebrate with them. Yesterday I did a mini-makeover of my daughter's room with some pillows, a snowflake throw and some cute animal objects. Today I'm starting to put together a winter art quilt. Tomorrow I'll write my cards and order the flowers I send my mom every year. After that I'll visit the no-kill shelter to make my holiday donation, and think of other stuff I can do for others. Christmas is always a little more palatable when you're actively giving or doing something just for fun.

I've been invited to join a small writer's group that I met during NaNoWriMo, which is startling (but very cool.) I'm seriously considering it. It's low-key, I like everyone in the group, and it might be time for me to get out of the Batcave every now and then. I'm no longer out in the public eye with my work (quel soulagement!) so I don't have put on pantyhose and makeup and pretend like I'm Bestseller Chick. I can just be me -- and that would definitely be a novelty. But I'm still shy, socially awkward and not especially politic, so I do have to think about it.

For the blog I've decided to manually upload all the old photos for my posts to Blogger's hosting system so I can keep everything here versus replicating the PBW archive into e-books. I have to do this in my spare time, so I've got ten weeks done and about seven hundred more weeks to go. It's a nice project, though, and will allow me to reminisce a little.

So what's up with you all? Anyone have their own tactic to work through the holidays? Let us know in comments.