Bringing on Spring with a Freebie!

April showers, as the old saying goes, bring May flowers, and I’m offering you an early bouquet with this flowery First Friday Freebie!

This metal art wall hook from Hobby Lobby is just the thing to set the tone for warmer weather in your home.  Subtle shades of pinks and yellows, along with green leaves give this rustic hook a bit of “happy”.  It’ll be the perfect place to hang a fun tote bag, basket, scarf, or serve as a catcher for that jacket you can’t wait to stop wearing.  It measures 12 inches tall and 8 ½ inches wide.

I do love a great Hobby Lobby find and this one is cute, cute, cute!

To enter to win the flowery wall hook, all you need to do is “Leave a Comment” on this post, saying, “Bring on the spring thing!”  You’ll need to do that before midnight TONIGHT, April 5th, 2019!

First Friday Freebies happen every month for email SUBSCRIBERS ONLY, so hop on over to the right sidebar or use the menu to navigate to the “Contact” page and subscribe to Midwest Storyteller if you haven’t done so already.

Share this post with all your friends and family through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest so they can enter to win, too!

Subscribers win every single month!  My “Freebies” page has past freebies.  Take a look at all the free gifts and the wonderful people who’ve been winning them.

Remember, a winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter before midnight tonight by leaving a comment which says, “Bring on the spring thing!”

For the complete First Friday Freebie rules, CLICK HERE

Subscribing is simple and FREE, but don’t forget to go immediately to your email to confirm your subscription or it will not go through.  If you do not receive a confirmation email for some reason, please email me and let me know at barb@midweststoryteller.com

The clock is ticking!  Enter now so you don’t forget to do that before midnight tonight!

I hope we all get to enjoy many more glorious spring days! Phoebe June and I spent some time outside working and playing before this last round of rain.  Would you care to guess which one of us worked and which one of us played?  She’s enjoying spring as much as I am, except for being irritated at her humans for not spending entire days outside with her.  She lets us know, loud and clear, what she thinks of our disobedience.  Sometimes it’s just a mere glance, but even that is enough to convey the message in her eyes as, “You nitwit!” She shares her opinions on my Phoebe June page.

Thoughts?  Questions?  I’d love to hear from you!  Please leave a comment.

Gluten-free Sourdough Bread That Doesn’t Taste Like Cardboard Rolled in Sand

Soft Sourdough Bread  midweststoryteller.com

Is there a bowl of sourdough starter sitting on your counter waiting to be turned into baked yummy-ness?

If you missed my recent post, Authentic Sourdough Just Like Great-Grandma Used to Make, or if you just haven’t had time to start your starter, you’ll want to save this recipe and give this wonderful bread a try.  If your starter is ready to go, you can make this bread today.

There’s no kneading involved and only a short rising time.  It’s all done in the mixer so you can overcome your fears of making homemade bread.

A friend of mine, after tasting my bread a few times, really wanted to try this herself so I recently walked her through the process via phone and text.  The result is this beautiful loaf!

Gluten-free Sourdough Bread Loaf midweststoryteller.com

Her husband loved it and now they are enjoying bread while pursuing one of their health goals – getting inflammatory foods out of their diet and enjoying better gut health.

When I touch on the topic of health, I always like to remind you of this: I am not your doctor! While there is no gluten in this bread flour, there is rye flour in the starter offered at the link above. It is my understanding that the sourdough process breaks down the gluten in the rye flour, making it null and void, so to speak. However, if you have celiac disease, you will want to consult your doctor before using the rye starter.

If you’ve tried to go the gluten-free route at all, I’m sure you identify with the title of this post.  You’d think that restaurants and the folks who bake things to be sold in stores would be the experts, wouldn’t you?  Yet, every single time, the menu item or the store-bought loaf always seem to have the same common problem – utter and complete nasty-ness!  Dry as a bone, its tasteless particles, if they can be broken, shatter into dust upon contact with the teeth or knife.  The result:  Repulsion and fear.

Why do I mention fear?  It’s only human nature to think that if the experts can’t do any better than this, anything we try at home on our own is bound to end in disaster.  Surely they know all the secrets to a moist, chewy, tasty slice of bread!  We’re afraid of failure.

Fear no more!  Let’s bake bread that is so tasty that your biggest problem will be waiting to slice it till it’s completely cool.

First, let’s mix up some gluten-free flour blend.  I suppose you can use a premixed type found in most stores, but this is cheaper and so simple, so why would you do that?  Also, using this mix will ensure that there are no added weird ingredients and that the recipe turns out just the way I’ve been making it.  If you want to veer from the path, do it later on after you’ve mastered the recipe.

I’ll give tips and tricks as I go, and at the bottom of this post you’ll be directed to FREE printables for the flour blend and the bread.

I like to give credit where credit is due, so I offer a huge thanks to Jill Nystul over at “One Good Thing by Jillie” for getting me started on making my own flour blend.  Mine differs from hers in a couple of ways, because I’ve removed white potatoes and corn products from most of my recipes, but I have to admit to trying another blend offered by “experts” who have a highly rated cooking show and Jillie’s beat theirs hands down, even with my changes!

There are three ingredients, used in equal parts.  I make bread, pancakes, buns, flatbread and pizza dough with this all the time now, so I stir up a big batch in a large canister.  To have just enough for experimenting with this bread, you’ll need the following:

Gluten Free Flour Blend

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca flour (the package may say “tapioca starch”)

1 cup arrowroot powder

Quinoa is a complete protein and quinoa flour can be used to substitute for part or all of the arrowroot powder.  I’ve used this before when I was low on arrowroot and it is really tasty.  However, it is also super expensive, so I usually skip it.

Now let’s make bread!  I started with this recipe by Nicole Hunn over at glutenfreeonashoestring.com.  I found it to have issues (such as falling in the middle as it cooled) so I experimented for months with rising times, baking times and substituting and adding ingredients until I got past all those bumps in the road.  I knew this basic recipe was one I wanted to work with because of one stellar quality – it did not taste like cardboard rolled in sand.  Thanks, Nicole, for getting me started.  Without you, I might still be toastless!

Here’s my tested and perfected version:

Gluten-free Sourdough Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups gluten-free flour blend

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons bread-machine yeast

2 tablespoons raw honey

3 tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted and cooled

1 cup “fed” rye sourdough starter

1 ½ cups warm milk (or milk substitute of your choice) at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Instructions:

  1.  Generously grease a 9X5” loaf pan.  Set aside.  (I use a Pampered Chef stoneware pan)
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, xanthan gum, cream of tartar and kosher salt.  Stir.  Add the bread-machine yeast.  Stir again.  Add the honey, coconut oil and sourdough starter; mix on a low setting to combine.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting and add milk, pouring in a slow, steady stream.  Once all the flour mixture has incorporated into the liquids, beat the ingredients on at least medium speed for 4-6 minutes (I have a KitchenAid and I set the speed on six for five minutes).  The dough will be sticky and thicker than cake batter, but not as thick as cookie dough.
  4. Scrape the dough into the greased loaf pan and smooth the top with a spatula or damp fingers.
  5. Allow the dough to rise, covered, in a warm humid place for 30 minutes.  It will do most of its rising in the oven, so don’t expect it to expand as much as wheat breads you might be used to working with.
  6. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  7. Bake the loaf in a preheated oven for one hour.  Use the convection setting if you have that.  It should develop a light golden brown crust on top.
  8. Remove the bread from the pan immediately and allow it to cool on a wire cooling rack until completely cool.

The dough consistency may seem weird to you if you are used to baking wheat bread.  The shorter rising time and longer baking time, along with a lower baking temperature may seem a little different, too, but humor me and do it exactly like this the first few times and then you can play with all these aspects if it is not turning out exactly the way you want.  Remember, when it comes to baking, altitude, humidity and finicky ovens all play a part in the perfect loaf of bread.

Here’s a photo of the dough once my friend got it into the pan and ready to rise. I kept getting nervous little texts and photos asking if everything was coming along all right. She did everything to perfection!

Gluten-free Sourdough Bread Dough  midweststoryteller.com

A bit of advice about cooling the bread.  This bread is so fabulous when it is fresh that all I want to do is eat it warm and buttered.  However, its softness and loftiness is so easily squashed by even a good bread knife that I force myself to leave it alone for a few hours before nipping off a slice.  Then, I refrigerate the loaf to firm it up before putting it into the slicer (as shown in the first photo) and slice the whole loaf at once into perfect slices.  I put a few in a container in the refrigerator (after I’ve had my little bread feast) and the rest of the loaf goes into a freezer container with pieces of waxed paper between each slice so that I can pull some out for toast or whatever as needed.

I hope you enjoy this fabulous bread and get into the habit of making it every week or so for your family.

If you’d like to switch things up a bit and turn your sourdough into something more akin to buns for hamburgers or English muffin style rounds, you might try this idea that popped into my head.  It works great and gives me a change from ordinary sliced bread.

Purchase ten large stainless steel baking rings.  You want them to be the desired diameter of your finished “bun”.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and then with the rings that have been sprayed with coconut oil baking spray.  Fill the rings with equal amounts of your sourdough bread dough, let rise 30 minutes and before baking 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  The dough is thick enough not to creep out from under the rings while baking.  If the buns give a hollow sound when you tap them in the middle with your finger, they are ready to come out of the oven.

Here are my buns and the rings I use, which are about 4 inches in diameter.

Happy baking and don’t forget the butter!

Still have questions about bread or sourdough starter?  Leave a comment and I’ll try to help you out!

Share the bread and this post with your friends!  They’ll love it, too!  Let’s all get healthier together!

Pancakes made with this sourdough starter are AWESOME!  Smuffy says they’re the best I’ve ever made him! Another recipe for another day.

For more about my health journey and my thoughts on how not to just survive, but thrive, check out my Thrive! page

For your FREE printable recipes, CLICK HERE!

Be sure to SUBSCRIBE, so you’ll receive an email reminder each time Midwest Storyteller has something new.

Announcing March’s Freebie Winner!

The First Friday Freebie for March has found the perfect home!   

March Freebie Winner Ruth midweststoryteller.com

Ruth of St. Louis, Missouri!

Ruth was kind enough to email me a photo. She assures me that she is an avid reader and is tickled pink to receive her free autographed copy of “Pathways of the Heart” by Diane Yates.  There’s something mysterious in the way Smuffy’s fingers reach out for just the right name.  It’s as though, somehow, they just know.

Congratulations, Ruth!  You’re going to want to read the continuing story, “All That Matters”, too.

Here’s a photo of them both.

Books by Diane Yates midweststoryteller.com

If you’re feeling sad that you didn’t win this book by Diane Yates, remember you can visit www.dianeyates.com for access to her books, blog and more. Another thanks to Diane for donating a copy of her book to Midwest Storyteller. For my thoughts on “Pathways of the Heart” and an interview with Diane Yates, click here.

If you’d like to see the original freebie offer, click here.

Of course, I’m giving away another freebie on the first Friday of every month, so be sure to subscribe, if you haven’t already, and watch for the email you’ll receive on Friday, April 5th.

Visit the Freebies page where you can see what subscribers of Midwest Storyteller have been winning.

MORE ABOUT FREEBIES:  A winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter before midnight on the day of the drawing by leaving a comment as instructed in the post.  See the recently revised rules below.

And now, here are the Freebie Rules. 

Freebie Rules www.midweststoryteller.com

These four simple steps will have you ready to enter to win on April 5th.

Oh, and Happy Spring!  It’s been a long winter and I’m lovin’ this!

“Share”, “like” and “pin” this post!  You’re friends will want to enter to win, too!

Enjoying the Freebies?  Leave a comment!  If you’re on your computer, scroll back up under the title of this post and let me know what you’re thinking.  On various devices, you may find “Leave a Comment” at the bottom of the post.

Authentic Sourdough Just Like Great-Grandma Used to Make

A couple of months ago, I shared these photos of my homemade gluten-free sourdough bread on social media and immediately people began asking for a tutorial.

Soft Sourdough Bread

I am well aware of the reasons for that.  We all love the authentic taste of real artisan breads.  I do have one close friend who is not a bread lover.  It hasn’t broken up the friendship or anything, but I do confess to wondering at times what on earth is the matter with her!

The other reason, I believe, is that, at the sight of that fresh slice of bread curled up in my hand, people gasped and exclaimed, “You mean it’s possible – it’s really possible to have soft, wonderful, gluten-free bread that doesn’t shatter to dust when you bend it?”

Yes, it is!  I will confess, however, that it didn’t come quickly for me and it didn’t come easy.  Now that I’ve blazed the trail, so to speak, you can skip all the trial and error and have much more fun on a reasonably quick road to enjoying your bread.

I put a penny next to a fresh slice to give you an idea of the size of the loaf.

Lofty Sourdough Bread www.midweststoryteller.com

When I say “authentic”, I mean authentic and when I say from scratch, I mean really from scratch.

I’m sure you can use this same sourdough in any conventional bread recipe.  You’ll be able to find lots of recipes online for that.  I use it in my tried and tested, yummy, gluten-free version and I don’t feel cheated – not one bit!

IMPORTANT: Rye flour itself DOES have a certain amount of gluten, but the sourdough process breaks down that gluten, making it much more gut-friendly. However, if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, please consult your doctor before using rye flour.

I know some people run from the notion of gluten-free eating because they either think it’s going to taste “yucky”, or it isn’t “real food” or just because they think it’s the latest weird fad and they prefer not to jump on that bandwagon.  I’ll put my two-cents in on the topic of gluten-free in a nutshell and you can take it or leave it.

I promised myself I’d keep this post shorter and simpler than all the ones I read about sourdough when I started, but sourdough takes some explaining. Also, I am the storyteller, so here goes –

I want to live the longest, healthiest life I can live and I’ve had my share of ups and downs with health.  You can catch a glimpse into some of that here.

After decades of self-study (because it didn’t take me long to figure out that what the “orthodox” medical care folks knew about nutrition would fit in a thimble), I had it boiled down to this:  I needed veggies – lots of ‘em – and they didn’t need to be potatoes, corn and other starchy ones.  They needed to be yellow, green and leafy.  I needed to get away from white flour because, inside my body, it turned into something similar to that paste we used to see a few classmates eating in first grade – not a good thing for the intestines.  I needed to keep desserts to a minimum but, I actually thought that my great love of fudge brownies and glazed donuts could be indulged as long as I ate the veggies and whole-wheat, non-GMO stuff first.  I thought fat made you fat – silly me – having falling for that advertising myth.   I fed my family lots of homemade goodies made with the best ingredients our budget would allow.

I had some health issues that seemed minor.  You know what I mean – it comes under the category of “a million little things”, but it wasn’t cancer, heart problems or some auto-immune disease, so I tolerated those.

Help came with the addition of a balanced, whole-food supplement that helped resolve a lot of the issues because – let’s face it – we can’t eat balanced meals every single day and donuts do happen.

Then came about a three-year period of high stress for me.  Some overly demanding stress can be the good kind (months of wedding planning for my daughter), but some is the bad stuff (I lost my mother) and the list goes on.  The result?  Stage 3 adrenal fatigue arrived and refused to go away.

Now I will fast-forward to a point where, after I chose a new family practice M.D. who specializes in functional medicine (or that holistic stuff you hear people talking about), the doc informed me that adrenal fatigue such as I had could be beat – and then she handed me a big binder, saying, in essence, “Welcome to your next one to three years.”

I decided to show her I was hot stuff.  I’d knock her socks off in six months!  I’d be the best patient she ever had (and I think I actually might be) ‘cause I’ve got grit.  We started a treatment plan.  She advised me not to tax those pooped little adrenal glands any more than they already were.  Certain foods do that.  After three solid months of no sugar (even the “hidden” stuff in packaged foods) and no grains, we could talk again about whether I could add brown rice, quinoa and a couple of other things back into my diet.  If I behaved nicely and received her seal of approval, she might let me have sourdough bread.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that by the time I reached the end of that first three months my yearning for glazed donuts and fudge brownies would have reached a fever pitch?  Nope.  I’d been so diligent at removing all the inflammatory, gland-stressing baddies from my diet that sugar cravings left me around the second week!  Only one thing kept calling my name – ONE THING saddened me about this clean eating plan.  I.  Must.  Have.  TOAST!

When I asked the doctor if she remembered telling me I could someday have sourdough bread, she nodded and informed me that, lest I be thinking of a trip to the bakery, I’d best be prepared to put on my big girl panties once again and start from scratch.

All store-bought sourdough is fake sourdough.  I was to start with rye flour and water only, growing my own little bowl of funk on the kitchen counter as the “natural process” (which is a nice term for something that causes you to shrink back when you lift the lid) drew yeast from the air and eventually became, just as the name implies, sourdough.

Once I’d achieved this, I could bake bread with the gluten-free flour blend of my choice.

I headed for Natural Grocers to purchase rye flour and then frustrated myself for countless hours on the internet trying to find the perfect instructions for not only the sourdough starter, but the bread to follow.  There are a lot of bad recipes on the internet, especially in the gluten-free or “clean eating” categories, put there by poor souls who are trying to help others before they’ve found their own way.

The instructions for starting your own sourdough ranged from long and complicated to short and vague.  I treated the whole thing like rocket science and had great success.  One day, however, a half dozen or so loaves later, common sense arrived and said, “Do you really think your great-grandma over-thought the whole deal like this?”  That’s when I relaxed and started doing the whole process by eye and by feel.

Since it will take a week or ten days, depending on the amount of “good stuff” (we can laugh about this later) in the air in your kitchen, I’ll give you the instructions today for the sourdough starter only.  In a week or so, we’ll talk about bread.

The photo below shows what I use to mix and store my sourdough.

Sourdough Starter Ingredients  www.midweststoryteller.com

You’ll need to gather these four items before you start: 

           Rye Flour (I use the non-GMO Natural Grocers brand pictured.  I can get a two-pound bag at my local Natural Grocers for around $2.00.

            Water – tap water is FORBIDDEN here.  Use distilled, reverse osmosis or some other form of water that does not have chemicals that will kill the natural yeast that is trying to form.

            Non-reactive container with a resting lid for mixing and storing.  Aluminum will not work and I find ceramic or glass to be best.  The lid must keep moisture in while letting gasses escape.  A round bottom, such as pictured in the photo, allows for ease in mixing.  A snap-on lid will not work.  I found a lid from a small dish at a flea market that fit my bowl just right without sliding off.  Be sure your container is large enough to allow for comfortable stirring.

            Spatula and a ½ cup measuring cup.

Now for my super-simplified instructions and more than honest observations to keep you from over-thinking the process or throwing out your sourdough before you’re even finished.  You might want to read all my observations before you even start!

  1. Choose a starting time.  You need to decide on a time of day when you are usually always home and preferably, when you’re usually home twelve hours later – you’ll have a few days when you’ll feed the dough twice a day later on.  (Example:  7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. if you are working and your schedule allows you to give things a quick mix before and after work.)
  2. Using the ½ cup measure, add two scoops of rye flour to the bowl.
  3. Fill the ½ cup measure with distilled or reverse osmosis water to the bowl.  
  4. With the spatula, work the mixture together into a paste-like consistency, leaving no dry spots – every bit of flour must be moist.  If it seems too dry to incorporate the flour, add an additional tablespoon or two of water until you achieve a thick but totally moist paste.
  5. Scrape the mixture from the sides, pressing it into the bottom of the bowl and leveling the top with the spatula.  This will help to keep the whole mixture moist and help you to see exactly how much rising has occurred.
  6. Cover with the resting lid and leave on the counter for twenty-four hours.
  7. The following day, at around the same time, take your spatula and “slice” through the middle of the paste mixture, scooping out half the mixture to discard.  (I place a square of waxed paper on the counter and deposit it onto the center of the paper, then fold all sides in before plopping it into the trash to avoid icky smells in the kitchen.  I don’t know if other people run this down the disposal, but it might be a bad idea and you’ll see why as we go.)  Add two measures of flour and one measure of water.  Mix as before and leave on the counter.
  8. Now you’ve arrived at Day 3.  Repeat the process, discarding half the mixture and adding more rye flour and water.  Repeat this again on Day 4.  You’re probably starting to notice some changes occurring in that bowl.
  9. Now it is Day 5.  It’s time to repeat the process twice a day now.  Happy mixing and tossing!  Continue the twice-a-day process for Days 6, 7 and 8, or until your sourdough starter is doubling in size in between each time you toss out half and mix in more.
  10. Now your sourdough starter has been properly fed, is poofy and bubbly and is ready to use in breads, pancakes, pizza dough and all kinds of other yummy recipes!

Now it’s time for tough love, folks.  The awful truth that most of us, as modern day germaphobes who wrinkle our noses and pull the bleach wipes out of our holsters faster than Marshall Matt Dillon drawing on yet another Bad Bart, must face is that sourdough is good for you and isn’t going to kill you or your kids.  It is, however, going to be disgusting.

Embrace a little logic with me and admit that back before those tidy, little yeast packets appeared in stores, your ancestors grew their own.  These pioneers of sturdy stock survived making sourdough and so will you!

Having read what seemed like the entire internet to learn all the technicalities of how sourdough works and what’s really happening in that bowl, lest I mess the whole thing up and end up without toast or, even worse, kill us all, I’ll share my gleanings and eye-witness testimony.

After the first day or two, depending on the warmth of your kitchen and the amount of natural yeast in the air, you’ll see changes occur in your bowl of starter and they won’t be pretty.  It’ll get gray, then grayer, then disgusting to the point where you’ll be holding your breath when you remove the lid to go through your toss and mix routine.

Now, which of our ancestors looked into this pot of stench and thought it would come to a good end had more faith and optimism than I’ve ever possessed. We can add sourdough to the list of things, along with octopus and artichokes, that will go down in history as head-scratchers, making us wonder what poor, starving soul decided to give that a try.

There are two kinds of bacteria growing in there.  One is the yeasty, fruity-smelling kind we associate with fresh baked goods.  The other is an unspeakable horror.  What you are doing as you daily toss and mix is removing some of the horror and giving the yummy-yeasties a chance to take over.  It’s a jungle in there and we want the right critters to be king!  Around Day 5, you should notice a change in the look and smell.  It will be doubling in size each day as the horrible smell fades and the yeasty smell grows stronger and stronger, causing you to say to yourself, “Mmmm…when can I make bread?” rather than, “Please, can I just scrape this all off into the garbage?”

Speaking of scraping, another thing I’ve observed is that the word “paste” couldn’t be more applicable.  However, upon drying, a more appropriate term is “concrete”.  Immediately after using your spatula (or if you should transfer the starter from one bowl to another), submerge your utensils and dishes in water because, if it dries – Honey, it is on there!

Once your sourdough has turned into the real deal, you can keep it forever as long as you “feed” it at least once a week, which means scooping out a cup or so to use it in a recipe, share with a friend or toss so that you can add more rye flour and water.  If you neglect this, it will go funky on you and you’ll be starting over and who wants to go through the icky part again?  Once fed, leave it on the counter for a couple of hours to get it going before refrigerating it and when you pull it out again to use or feed, give it another couple of hours on the counter first to “poof”.

I’ve not tried to freeze or dry my starter in order to take a break for vacation or other reasons, but I’ve heard it’s possible to do that and “wake it up” when you need it again.

Get your starter started and in a week or so, we’ll make bread!

Yummy Sourdough Bread  www.midweststoryteller.com

If you’d like to be ready for this yummy gluten-free bread, here’s your shopping list:  Brown rice flour, tapioca flour and arrowroot powder (you’ll need at least a cup of each), cream of tartar, a small amount of honey, kosher salt, yeast, refined coconut oil, milk or milk substitute.

And don’t forget the butter!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments during your process and I’ll try my best to answer.  I know I had lots of them when I started!

Share this post with your friends who’ve been frustrated with bread making or who are searching for gluten-free, dairy free or just plain healthier food options.

Be sure to SUBSCRIBE, so you’ll receive an email reminder each time Midwest Storyteller has something new.

Cuddle Up with March’s First Friday Freebie!

I just heard the extended weather forecast.  Cold.  Snow.  More arctic air has us in its sights and it looks like March is not going to lure us outdoors in our shirt sleeves, at least those of us who live anywhere in the Midwest.  But, then again, it just snowed in Las Vegas, so I suppose few of us here in the U.S. will escape the chill.  We may dream of tiptoeing through the tulips, but it’s only a dream, lest we catch cold.

That makes March the perfect time to curl up with a good book!  I want to give a special thanks to Diane Yates for providing this month’s First Friday Freebie!

Pathways of the Heart Friday Freebie

If you’ll remember, I recently did an interview with Diane and a review of her first book, “Pathways of the Heart”.  You can catch up on that here in case you missed it.  In my post, I shared about how I met Diane, how much she has helped me in my writing endeavors and my thoughts and gleanings from “Pathways of the Heart”.

Now, Diane is graciously giving one of you the opportunity to receive this autographed copy of “Pathways of the Heart” absolutely free!  What better way to curl up with a cup of tea (or hot chocolate) and pretend the cold winds aren’t howling outside?

When you finish it, you’ll want to grab the sequel, “All That Matters”.  Links to Diane’s blog, website and contact information are all included in my earlier post entitled, “An Interview with Author Diane Yates”.

To enter to win “Pathways of the Heart”, all you need to do is “Leave a Comment” on this post, saying, “I’m ready for a good read!”  You’ll need to do that before midnight TONIGHT, March 1st, 2019!

First Friday Freebies are for email SUBSCRIBERS ONLY, so hop on over to the right sidebar or use the menu to navigate to the “Contact” page and subscribe to Midwest Storyteller if you haven’t done so already.

Your friends will enjoy the stories, recipes, laughter and, of course, the FREEBIES here on the blog, too, so share with all your friends and family through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.

Subscribers win every single month!  On the “Freebies” page, you’ll be able to see what they’ve been winning.

Once again, a winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter before midnight tonight by leaving a comment which says, “I’m ready for a good read!”

And now, here are the complete rules: 

Freebie Rules www.midweststoryteller.com

Four simple steps!

Don’t let the day slip away!  Subscribe now if you haven’t already, and confirm in your email before you forget! 

Spring, I promise, is on the way.  It’s never failed me yet.  Well, except for maybe last year when it came for two days and then vanished.  I’d have thrown a temper tantrum, but it was 90 degrees and so humid that I couldn’t muster up the energy.  May our 2019 bring delightful days that, like treasured loved ones, come early and stay late!

Comments or questions?  I’d love to hear from you!  Please leave a comment telling me what good books you’ve read lately.  I’m curious – what is your favorite book of all time?

February’s Fabulous Freebie Winner!

My most recent First Friday Freebie went to a familiar face!  Let’s take a look at the winner – 

Donna, February's Freebie Winner

Donna from Bunceton, Missouri!

Donna has won once before and her name popped up again this time when Smuffy did his duty, following my instructions to and “picked a card – any card”.

Congratulations, Donna!  I hope you enjoy your “Love Deeply” word art plaque from Hobby Lobby, not just as Valentine décor, but all year round!

Here’s another view of Donna’s gift.

Love Deeply Plaque midweststoryteller.com

If you’d like to see the original freebie offer, click here.

A freebie offer appears the first Friday of every month.  Check out the freebie page to see what people have been winning here at Midwest Storyteller.

 Subscribe now and you’ll be notified via email of March’s drawing.  You never know what it might be. 

The next First Friday Freebie drawing will be on Friday, March 1, 2019 and only SUBSCRIBERS can win!

A winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter before midnight on the day of the drawing by leaving a comment as instructed in the post.  See the recently revised rules below.

And now, here are the Freebie Rules. 

Freebie Rules www.midweststoryteller.com

These four simple steps will have you ready to enter to win on March 1st.

“Share”, “like” and “pin”  this post!  You’re friends will want to enter to win, too!

Enjoying the Freebies?  Leave a comment!  If you’re on your computer, scroll back up under the title of this post and let me know what you’re thinking.  On various devices, you may find “Leave a Comment” at the bottom of the post.

An Interview with Author Diane Yates

I find that books are like potato chips – you can’t seem to stop with just one.  I feel the same way about their authors.  If you’re longing to add spice to life, ask someone where the writers meet!   Not every chip in the bag will suit your taste, but you’ll definitely experience a variety of flavors.  I’ve savored every moment I’ve spent with author Diane Yates.

Author Diane Yates

I met Diane through a series of coincidences.  I believe that’s what I’ve heard it called when God chooses to remain anonymous.  Smuffy happened to do some work for a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in years and happened to mention that I’d been writing a novel and my friend happened to mention that she had a writer friend who might be able to provide me with some good resources when it came time to publish and that friend just happened to be Diane Yates, author of “Pathways of the Heart”. 

Diane’s name didn’t ring a bell, but the captivating book title somehow did.  I suppose it had already been calling to me from bookstore shelves.  Let me introduce you to both of them. 

Gracious to her core, Diane took me under her wing, listening to my ramblings and assuring me that my story was worthy of being told.  Honest as well, she told me I needed to edit, edit, edit and polish, polish, polish.  Little did I know what that entailed when she said it.  She’s helped me more than I can express and I am grateful for it.  I went home from our first meeting with a copy of her book.

Pathways of the Heart

“Pathways of the Heart” is the story of Diane’s mother, Clella.  For all of us, life takes twists and turns, leading us at times into pleasant places and at others into frightening scenarios from which we long to escape or worse – a never-ending drudgery that leaves us feeling that it’s all for nothing.

Cella’s story is a memoir written as a novel and it couldn’t be more real or, shall we say, just plain human.  It’s as frustrating as it is touching with its genuine love story that keeps you hoping for the best and fearing the worst as you walk through life with this strong-willed woman in a time when women weren’t supposed to be.

Although there were ways that Clella’s story didn’t mirror my own mother’s story at all, there were certain strong similarities, including the time frame and general locale, that had me rooting for her, nudging her forward and shedding a tear for her as if she’d been my own mom, making it an emotional read.

I appreciated the way in which Diane related the story just as it was, piecing her own experiences together with accounts shared by her parents and other family members.

The common thread of “Pathways of the Heart” speaks to all of us that we all have hopes and dreams, we all fall far short of the ideal, we are all disappointed by those we love most and by ourselves and we all must find our way back to the right path.

Diane’s careful, yet candid, re-telling of real people making real mistakes is done in a way that makes “Pathways of the Heart” something that you can share with your teens without concern that it might be too graphic.

All in all, this story of a woman and her family, beginning in the Ozark hills of the 1920’s and leading you through the Great Depression, love, betrayal and on into new locations, joys, desperation and relationships, left me wanting to know more.

Diane is happy to oblige with the sequel, “All That Matters”, a book that takes us on a journey through the remainder of Clella’s life. 

All That Matters Book Cover

And now, a little about Clella’s daughter, Diane:

Diane Yates is a published author who lives in Fayette, Missouri with her husband, Rick, of forty-seven years.  She has three children and eight grandchildren.  Her first published works, “Pathways of the Heart” and its sequel, “All That Matters” are published by W&B Publishers.  Both these memoirs serve as tributes to her mother and touch the reader with the joys, struggles, heartbreaks and new beginnings.  You can look forward to Diane’s upcoming works of fiction. “Melissa’s Fate” is now being considered for publication while she continues work on “My Brother’s Eyes”.

Diane is semi-retired from a career in medical clinic practice management and is a past president of Ozarks Writers League. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Ozarks Writers League, Columbia Writers Guild, Boonslick Creative Writers, and Clean Fiction Writers.

I asked Diane several questions so we could get to know her better.

Barb:  Many things compel us as authors to write. Why do you write, Diane?

Diane:  My answer to this question remains consistent no matter how many times I answer it. I write to be read. I want my readers to laugh, cry, and rally for my heroes and heroines, and when they read the words “The End” and close the cover, nothing would please me more than if the book they’d finished would inspire them to be an even better person.

Barb:   Did you write stories or create characters as a child?  When and how did you begin?

Diane:  From the sixth grade, I wrote stories and skits that we acted out in school and the neighborhood.

Barb: Do you believe that, for you, writing is a gift or a calling?  What is your source of inspiration?

Diane:  Writing is both a gift and a calling for me. I pray about my work and God uses various avenues to inspire me.

Barb:  Do you have other creative outlets besides writing?

Diane:  I don’t draw or paint or sew. I have done crafty things, but I wouldn’t call them talented!

Barb:  Do you remember the first thing you wrote “just for fun”?

Diane:  In the second grade I wrote a story about my big brother. I drew a picture of him flexing his bicep, showing me how strong he was.

Barb:  Why did you decide to write Clella’s story as a memoir and not fiction?

Diane:  “Pathways of the Heart” is a tribute to an amazing woman, and it needed to be accurate with real names of family members. This story takes place about twelve miles from the home of an elderly Laura Ingalls Wilder where she read her stories to my siblings.

Barb:  Most of this story takes place before you were born.   Do you feel like you were able to tell it factually? 

Diane:  My mother and siblings told me all these stories over and over. They were corroborated by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Other facts and details were verified by county records and historical societies.

Barb:  How did you fairly examine both of the main characters without apparent judgment?

Diane:  Mine is not to judge Kenneth or Clella. It’s easy to walk down the aisle and say “I do.” But then, life happens, and in their case, that life included the Great Depression. Their relationship is the picture of what can happen as a result of neglect. Marriage takes work. Don’t let the love you found slip away in the hustle and weariness of everyday life. 

Barb:  Clella’s story covers a whole lifetime!  How did you choose what details to put in and what to leave out?

Diane:  I didn’t exactly outline, but I did make a list of all the stories I felt needed to be included; the adventures, mishaps, tragedies, and heart-wrenching events that were pivotal to the pathways they chose.

Barb:  “All That Matters” is the continuing story. Why was it not part of the first book?

Diane:  I only ever intended to write Clella’s story from 1928 through 1957, which is the time era at the end of Pathways. After it released, I started hearing from readers that they wanted to know the rest of the story. I prayed and eventually decided to write “All That Matters”, which continues Clella’s story as well as my own. Both books span an era of almost a hundred years and are a testament to the strength, courage, and character of the people whose lives touched one another.

Barb:  I know as soon as I closed the last page on “Pathways…”, my first thought was, “and then what happened?”  How is the sequel different and how is it the same as the first?

Diane:  The first book is a little bit of Little House on the Prairie meets The Bridges of Madison County.  Clella’s true grit and resourcefulness help her provide for her family during difficult times. She struggles to remain faithful after being abandoned by her husband, but a chance meeting with a younger man complicates her life in ways she never imagined. It is a book of choices and speaks to the importance of marriage and family.  “All That Matters” is a book about consequences. It begins amid the craze of Rock’ n’ Roll and travels through many destinations and problematic events. We all have things that are important to us, but in the end, these characters must examine the reality of what really matters.

Barb:  Since then, you’ve written a novel.  Tease us with the plot!

Diane:  My first two books are memoir, but my passion is fiction. “Melissa’s Fate: The Untold Story” is my third work and is currently being considered for publication. When Beth, an accounting assistant, discovers that Phil Davis is actually Phil Drake, the president of the company where she works, and he is in love with someone else, she flees New York City without telling anyone she’s pregnant. Two years later, she must return and recruit his help to rescue their little girl whom she had placed for adoption. Sparks fly as Phil will not forgive Beth, but he’ll do anything to save his little girl. They must both put aside their own feelings and marry in order to win custody of Melissa. Danger lurks as they fight each other, the difference between their two worlds, and a love long denied. While Beth knows that success and wealth are measured by more than material things and money, Phil is learning that he can’t always be in control despite his position and wealth. New York City and rural Connecticut are the setting of this story. My husband and I flew into LaGuardia and visited New York before driving on to Connecticut and the covered bridge at West Cornwall. I couldn’t have picked a more idyllic setting for this book.

Barb:  I love the story line!  Tell us about your current work-in-progress.

Diane:  I’m working on “My Brother’s Eyes”, which is set in the Minnesota Territory in the middle of the nineteenth century. Maggie and her father nurse back to health a wounded Indian brave they found in the field. Only after Maggie falls in love with the Indian brave, Nahkeetah, does she realize that their relationship is plagued by more than cultural differences. It is surrounded by danger and evil. Maggie’s father is the country doctor; Nahkeetah’s father is the chief of the Chippewa tribe. Nahkeetah is next in line to be chief. Can their love survive the prejudice of his people and a hatred that boils beneath the surface?

Barb:  Ooh! Love versus hate – now that’s drama! I can tell you keep busy.  Are your family/friends supportive of your writing and do they ever fear being “put in a book”?

Diane:  I’ve already put my family and friends in my books! I love all of them. My husband’s support and encouragement are endless and a tremendous blessing to me.

Barb:  Have you ever found yourself falling in love with or being frightened/shocked/surprised by a character you’ve created?

Diane:  I love my protagonists – all of them! They are each different. Beth from “Melissa’s Fate” is down-to-earth, loves a simpler way of life, despises money and those that are driven by it, including Phil, the man she inadvertently falls in love with. Maggie, in “My Brother’s Eyes”, is gutsy, smart, willing to take on difficult tasks and face odds that are seemingly unsurpassable in the Minnesota Territory of 1857. She must fight like crazy to overcome the hate that is in her native brother’s eyes, but she will prevail because of the love she has for the son of a Chippewa tribal chief. But, the character I love most of all is my first character ever – my mother, Clella, in “Pathways of the Heart” and “All That Matters”. None of us are perfect, but in real life she was a picture to me of the Proverbs 31 woman. Also, it surprised me that when I wrote about the men in her life, Kenneth and Francis, I was able to empathize and see things from their perspective, which of course was what needed to happen.

Barb:  What would you say to someone who wants to write, but either doesn’t know where to start or perhaps thinks no one would want to read what they’ve written?

Diane:  It’s rare that a writer knows where to start. You just have to start. You can go back later and rearrange or revise the writing. Some people write and don’t want anyone to read it. I write to be read. Will others want to read what you write? There’s no way to know until you first write it, so get started!

Barb:  So, a person says, “OK, I’ve written it – now what?”  What are the first steps they should take if they want to be published?

Diane:  Take your writing seriously. Join with other writers in groups to get connected and network. Let your manuscript rest and then go back and edit, edit, edit. Then, consider hiring a professional editor. It’s money well spent.  

Barb:  Have you ever dealt with rejection or delays with publishers and how do you handle it (or how have you learned to handle it)?

Diane:  So, after all the edits, you’re ready to submit to agents or publishers. Prepare yourself for rejections. You will get them, lots of them. Everyone does. There are many reasons why your writing might be rejected and it may not mean that your writing is bad. You may have submitted to an agent that doesn’t represent the type of story you’ve written. If you’ve written a romance and that agent is having more success with mysteries, then the agent might not choose your romance at that time. Remember, publishing is about business and money; what is selling, what is not, the current trends, etc.  

Barb:  How do you connect with other writers?  How vital is that?  Would you recommend beginners join writers groups and/or attend writing conferences?  Give the wannabes your best advice!

Diane:  Yes, yes, yes! It is extremely vital. Whatever stage your writing is at, there is always something else to learn. Writers groups and attending conferences are a necessity, not only for education but for networking, and opportunities to meet industry professionals like literary agents and publishing editors.

Barb:  You’re talking about literary agents and publishing editors.  These are the people writers have to face in order to “pitch” or promote the idea of their book for publication.  For most people, the very idea brings them closer to pitching their lunch than their book!  Give us a glimpse of what that was like for you when you started out.

Diane:  I remember the first time I pitched to an agent. He was from the William Morris Agency in New York and was the agent for a published author in a writers’ group I had joined. I was so nervous I couldn’t complete a coherent sentence! Heat rose in my face and my palms were sweating. What saved me was he had asked for ten manuscript pages to be sent to him before he arrived. According to the published author, when the agent got off the plane, he had my pages in his hand. “I want to meet this lady,” he told him. So, after my interview and me fumbling my words, he asked for my complete manuscript and told me what he liked was that I hooked him from the first paragraph.

The second time I pitched a manuscript. I was at a writers’ conference and I had several appointments to pitch to literary agents and publishers. I had heard that I needed to be able to explain my book in one to two short paragraphs, called an elevator pitch. That’s easier said than done! I hadn’t been able to figure them out. My first appointment time arrived and I met with a publisher. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t complete a coherent sentence, but I tried to explain my book. My palms were sweating and my heart was pounding. He didn’t seem interested, so I finished with, “but, it’s a really good book!” I think he felt so sorry for me because he gave me his card and asked for the first three chapters. That was my only interview that night. I knew before I went into the next one tomorrow, I needed to have my elevator pitch down. I went back to my room by myself and worked until four in the morning. I finally gave up, prayed and told God I was leaving it to him, and went to sleep. At six o’clock I awoke with the words flooding into my mind. I knew I needed to get up and write those words down right then. I did and the rest of my appointments went much better with several requests for the manuscript.

Barb:  Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your life and your books! How can readers contact you?

Diane:  I love to hear from readers. My email is Diane@DianeYates.com. They can visit my website at www.DianeYates.com and go to the contact page. I, also, welcome readers to follow me on my  social media sites:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Diane.Yates.54

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/booksbyDiane/

Twitter @dianedyateshttps://twitter.com/dianedyates

Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/author.dianeyates/

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Diane and I hope that her thoughts and experiences inspire any of you who have a story burning within you that is waiting to be told.

Good Reads by Diane Yates

To purchase books by Diane Yates, simply click “BUY  NOW” on her website and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon.  They are also available from Barnes & Noble here.

Visit her blog at Diane’s Ponderings for more from Diane Yates.

To hear a more detailed audio interview with Diane, click here.

I’ve shared some thoughts about my own mom here on the blog. You can see some photos and get to know her a little better here.

In the mood for short stories? Be sure to read about my “Life With Smuffy” and be ready for more smiles when you enjoy the stories on my “Laugh” page.

Questions? Comments! I’d love to hear from you, so please give me your thoughts.

A Last Minute DIY Valentine Gift You Can Whip Up in 1 Minute!

Sugar Scrub 1 Minute Homemade Gift midweststoryteller.com

If ever a holiday had a tendency to sneak up on you unexpectedly, it’s Valentine’s Day.  Somehow, when Christmas is over and the last Happy New Year is wished, we tend to hunker down for winter and take on the attitude that there won’t be a single bright spot in our lives until spring.

So, I’m wondering, are you ready for it?

I know, I know.  So much is said about how commercialized Valentine’s Day has become and how it was given a big build-up by the retail world in order to suck us all in to their stores so they could empty our pockets, leaving us to stagger out in a daze wondering if we’d just done too much or too little when all we really wanted was to say, “I love you”, or “You’re special to me.” We resist the nudge to fall into such traps, but let’s ask ourselves one thing – What could be better than a special day to remind us (because we so often forget) to offer someone a loving gesture?

I love old-fashioned, sappy Valentines.  Here are some that I’ve made and you can see more about that here.

Handmade Victorian Valentines midweststoryteller.com

A card will do just fine, but as for gifts, I love to give a few special people a simple token of affection without going on a spending spree.  Let’s face it, a homemade gift always means more and if you go overboard you can send the person you’re trying to bless on a guilt trip if they think they need to reciprocate.  Or, even worse, you’ll start that horror of horrors – the yearly contest to see who can outdo the other – an uncomfortable situation that empties everyone’s bank account and does little to fill the heart.

Homemade Sugar Scrub midweststoryteller.com

If you’re feeling a twinge of panic and wishing you had a few tokens of affection to offer, try making this homemade sugar scrub.  You’ll have it whipped up in one minute and have nothing left to do but fashion a cute tag declaring that the gift is “Because You Are So Sweet”!  I wish I could remember where I found this great idea and recipe so I could give credit where credit is due, but it’s been a while and a Pinterest search is not bringing it back to me, so I have no idea.  If anyone can send me the info or a link to it, I’m happy to include it here.

Homemade Sugar Scrub Ingredients midweststoryteller.com

If you have a stash of stuff like I do, you probably won’t even have to leave the house for supplies.  You’ll need a mixing bowl, spatula, small jars, extra virgin coconut oil, white table sugar, 5-10 drops fragrance oil  (rose or lavender is nice), red food coloring, ribbon and/or fabric scraps, paper tags, cardstock you can fashion into tags or, better yet, the FREE PRINTABLE TAGS you’ll find at the end of this post!  This recipe made three gifts, but it all depends on the size of your containers.  Clear ones are best, because the sugar scrub is really pretty!

Instructions: 

With a spatula, blend ½ cup extra virgin coconut oil, 1 ½ to 2 cups white sugar, 5-10 drops fragrance oil and five drops food coloring together in a mixing bowl.  Fill jars and add a cute tag or label. 

I hope you didn’t nod off during that lengthy description.  Coconut oil softens at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your work area is colder than that you may have to put the bowl in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it to the point where it mixes easily.

I got into my Printmaster program and designed a tag that suited the look I wanted to achieve.  You can always make this quick gift for a birthday or any other occasion by using different colors of food coloring and changing the look of your tags or labels. Again, I used various jars, ribbon scraps and bags I had on hand.

Sugar Scrubs in Varied Jars midweststoryteller.com

Why give sugar scrub, other than the fact that scrubs are popular and can be expensive?  My main concern was whether or not they are good for you or pose some sort of health risk or cause skin damage.  I am not your doctor or your licensed skin care specialist, so I am only passing on a little of what I know in order to help you continue with your own research.

What I discovered in my limited studies is that some body and facial scrubs are not so good for you.  Their exfoliating ingredients range from nut shells to polymer beads to salt and sugar.  Let’s face it, exfoliating feels wonderful!  However, nut shells and other ground matter have sharp edges and who wants to be scratched?  Polymer beads are round and smooth and leave the skin much more intact, but they’ve been found to last forever, making their way into the rivers and oceans and harming marine life.  As for salt, it’s a great option, but the edges of salt crystals are still sharper than that of sugar and it may not be what you want for use on delicate areas of the body or if you have sensitive skin.

That leaves sugar!  While I would recommend removing as much of it from your diet as possible, I’m giving it my approval , so far, as a scrub.  The coconut oil is just about the most wonderful thing you can put on your skin and the combination will leave you soft, moisturized and much, much smoother.

A natural source of glycolic acid, sugar already contains the ingredient that a lot of over-the-counter, spas and dermatologists offer to remove dead skin cells and encourage cellular turnover.  It’s an alpha hydroxy acid, and since your homemade scrub is mild, it will be safe to use a couple of times a week in the evenings.  Some stronger formulas, available in stores and from spas and professionals, will recommend wearing a sunscreen if using alpha hydroxyy acid formulas during the day.  You can read more about that in this article from Huffington Post here.

Sugar is also a natural humectant, meaning that it draws moisture from the air into your skin – and that’s a good thing.

Some scrubs can do your skin more harm than good and you can learn more about that in this article from The Sidney Morning Herald.  More info, including safe recipes for sugar scrubs that include honey, avocado oil and other natural ingredients can be found in this ETimes article.

If someone needs to hear you say, “This is for you, ‘because you are so sweet!’”, homemade sugar scrub might just be the perfect token of your affection.

Now for those FREE printable tags – just click below and you have a whole sheet of tags that you can print on cardstock. Attach a pretty ribbon and tie to your jars of sugar scrub! Could I have made it any easier, folks?

Free Printable Banner Sugar Scrub Gift Tags midweststoryteller.com

Questions?  Comments?  I’m happy to chat, because you are so sweet!

Winter’s Last Stand

Laughter is the Sun midweststoryteller.com

As winter lifts her white robes and moves around the stage prior to her big exit, the audience here in the Midwest is waving the back of its hand at her to shoo her behind the curtain and out the stage door before they give way to applause.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny her beauty at times.  She does put on some stunning performances to help us tolerate the bleak tragedies that seem to play out day after frozen, cold day.

When a heavy snow falls, creating an etching from the usual blur of the woods behind our house, we do have to stop and view it as a winter paradise.

Snowy Woods midweststoryteller.com

Branches laden with heavy snow droop down to display their beauty right at eye level, begging us to take a few moments to notice that they’ve turned to lace.

Snow Laden Branches midweststoryteller.com

I hate winter.  My preference would be to have beautiful fall colors and jacket weather right up until dusk on Christmas Eve, at which time around two inches of snowfall would blanket the earth, bringing a respectful hush over all creation.  Then, just to be fair, I’d allow it to do it’s thing right up until January 2nd and then we’d all go back to sunshine and jackets again.

Though we long for outdoor activities and that roasty-toasty feeling of the sun warming our backs as we bend over new growth in flower beds, our last round of snow reminded us that we will be waiting a little while for those joys.

We'll Swing Later midwetstoryteller.com

It’s difficult for me to feel like I’m thriving in winter.  At times, it takes its toll.  There are only so many gray days I can take in a row before a gloomy mood sets in.  Phoebe June’s antics keep me cheery, along with outings for lunch with friends or Smuffy on decent days and a stack of giggle-inducing P. G. Wodehouse books.

There have been winters that left me feeling like I’ve taken a hit – a bit like our big pine tree is feeling right now.

Broken Snowy Pine midweststoryteller.com

Like the tree, I suppose it might do me good to have some weak areas fall away to allow light and air enter and new growth to fill in the empty places when spring arrives.

Even now, as I conclude these observations, I realize what a terrific writer I must be, because if I can romanticize this awful stuff, I can romanticize anything!  I’ve spent this afternoon writing, ignoring the fact that there is an ice storm warning going on out there!

Upon hearing Smuffy’s truck in the driveway just now, I left my lair to greet him.  He entered the back door, telling me he’d just had a bit of excitement.  He’d parked the truck at the top of our driveway’s hill in hopes of being able to leave for work in the morning and while moving the car out of range of an ice-laden tree limb that made him a little nervous, he heard a scrunching sound.

We’re blessed that he’d parked the truck with the wheels turned, because it missed the car, three trees and Smuffy as it slid all the way down the driveway and into the neighbors’ yard.  If a fallen limb left over from the last round of nasty weather hadn’t stopped it, who knows where it might have ended up! I could use another chapter of Wodehouse after that.

Ice Skating Truck midweststoryteller.com

My little afternoon romantic fling with winter’s beauty is over now.  It’s lost its appeal again and it’s time for a break-up!  It’s time for SPRING! 

To all my readers who live in winter’s grip – hang in there!  Try to think of March as only days away.

To all my hyacinths – you should have listened last week when I told you to pull your heads back below ground because those two sixty degree days were just a cruel joke!

Need a spring preview to chase away the gray? Take a tour through my garden in full bloom here!

If the gloom requires a good laugh, make a cup of tea and settle down with the stories on my “Life With Smuffy” page. You’ll feel better in no time. He isn’t the only one who’s here to entertain – the “Laugh” page has more!

Questions?  Comments?  Click on “Leave a comment”.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on winter, wherever you live!