Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentines Day www.midweststoryteller.com

Actually, we’re celebrating the anniversary of a beating, stoning and beheading. Also, February 14th is the anniversary of the death of my favorite author, P. G. Wodehouse. Come to think of it, this whole thing could be downright depressing. Let’s try and return to the hearts and flowers side of this story.

I’ve heard various legends concerning Saint Valentine. I just don’t know how many of them are true.

What most believe is that around the year 278 A.D., the Roman emperor, Claudius, banned marriages, believing that strong family ties were at fault for making young men less inclined to enter the military ranks. Valentine, a priest, violated this order and performed marriages anyway.

Valentine was arrested, tortured and beaten to death with clubs before being beheaded on February 14th.

One story tells that he’d written a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter who had become a friend, having signed it, “Your Valentine”.

But, how did the familiar heart shape come into being? I’m not sure anyone knows for sure, because it certainly doesn’t bear much resemblance to that internal organ of ours that goes all-of-a-twitter when we’re feeling the first blush of love.

One story tells us that Valentine was taken away suddenly to prison, leaving him no time to notify his family of his whereabouts. Knowing they must be in a terrible state of fear and worry, he began to reach out and pluck at a vine which grew up the stone wall outside his small prison window. Each day, Valentine plucked leaves from the vine and began to pierce them with small holes that spelled out the words, “Your Valentine”. These leaves just happened to be that familiar shape that we often associate with philodendron and many other plants and now refer to as heart-shaped.

As he dropped these organic messages out the window, they fluttered to the ground below and eventually made their way to those who had been waiting for some word from their dear Valentine.

I love that story. I’d love to believe it’s true – and it might be – even if it does sound like someone like me made it up.

Just knowing that Valentine was a real person who stood up for what he believed is enough to make us want to remember him. Realizing what his suffering and death had to have done to his family and friends is enough to make us want to remember those we value with some token of love on his special day.

It’s not too late! It’s a great day to make someone feel good so stop reading this hop to it! 

Me?  I’m going to go hang out with Smuffy.  I adore Smuffy!  If you want the inside scoop on our Smokin’ Hot Honeymoon, check it out here

Phoebe June would like to leave you with a smile –

Hugs from Phoebe June www.midweststoryteller.com

Awww!  That ought to make your little heart go pitter patter!  Get better acquainted with Phoebe June here.

Did Someone Say Chocolate? 2 Ways to Indulge Year-round Without the Guilt & Pounds!

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t think of a better thing to discuss than chocolate. I love chocolate! It dominates the candy aisles in stores on a regular basis, but at this time of year, people purchase more of the stuff than ever. I’d venture to say that it puts the fall pumpkin rush to shame.

The other thing lurking on the candy aisle, however – that troll hiding under the bridge waiting to ambush you – is sugar. If you haven’t figured out yet that sugar takes a toll on your body in more ways than just the addition of unwanted pounds, you’ve got your sweet head in the sand.

This spring, I’ll begin my fourth (Really? Wow!) year of feeding my body all kinds of wonderful things except for sugar and grains. If you’re not humming “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” with your fingers in your ears, you might want to learn a little more about your body and my journey here.)

Yes, I still eat my chocolate (of course) birthday cake. Yes, I still have a big slab of pie at Thanksgiving and cookies at Christmas. Once a week, if that often, I might eat something on a bun. However, my former lifestyle as the Bread & Pasta Queen is over and SURPRISE! – I don’t miss it.

One of the first things I had to figure out was how on earth I was going to get my chocolate – and plenty of it! Chemical sweeteners, such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) or saccharine (Sweet ‘n Low) were not an option. I’d learned enough to realize that would be akin to exchanging strychnine for cyanide. Stevia seemed the only option and, though sweet, sometimes it just didn’t taste “right”.

Dedicated and determined because I had a health issue to conquer, I plunged in, reminding myself that Thomas Edison had far more failures than he had successes and yet, he kept going until he finally got a bright idea!

Today, I’m sharing two recipes that you can enjoy not only in the current chocolate season, but all year round. And, with the FREE printable at the end of this post, you can get started right now!

I have stated in previous blog posts that when it comes to stevia, you get what you pay for. My favorite brand has always been Sweet Leaf and, of the store brands, I still prefer it.

Last week, however, my friend, Sarah, introduced me to the Pure Stevia Extract Powder by Trim Healthy Mama. Again, you get what you pay for, but I found that instead of using a tablespoon of Sweet Leaf in a recipe, I could use ¼ teaspoon of THM stevia! It has no bitter aftertaste and I think I’m in love!  It’s available in one ounce and four ounce bags.

It’s February! What are we waiting for? Let’s have some chocolate!

Not Apologizin’ Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

12 ounces milk

2 Tablespoons Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

¼ teaspoon Trim Healthy Mamma Pyure Stevia or 1 Tablespoon Sweet Leaf Stevia

1/8 teaspoon Celtic sea salt

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon heavy cream

In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave until hot but not boiling. While it is heating, mix the cocoa powder, stevia and salt in a small custard cup with a mini whisk.

Pour an inch or two of the hot milk into the bottom of a large mug. Add the cocoa mixture and whisk until fairly smooth. Add vanilla.  I call this my “sludge” – a rather unsavory name for something so wonderful.

Cocoa Sludge www.midweststoryteller.com

Continue to whisk while adding the remainder of the hot milk. Add the heavy cream, stir and enjoy!  To make my experience complete, I scoop up Phoebe June and settle into my favorite chair.  Since you don’t have Phoebe June, you’ll have to make do with your own kitty, borrow one or just pretend.

Hot Chocolate and Kitten Time www.midweststoryteller.com

Traveling Version:

When I’m away from home, I don’t like to miss out on my hot chocolate, but toting milk around becomes a problem. I’ve tried using powdered milk in the dry mix so that I could “just add water”, but it failed to give me the texture and flavor I wanted. I’m being nice – it was nasty. I’ve discovered that adding 1 ½ scoops of Reliv Delight makes a wonderful dry mix.

Reliv Delight, a whey-based milk substitute and nutritional supplement, provides the benefits of milk — plus additional nutrients — in a delicious low-fat formula. It supplies your body with a good source of protein and an essential nutritional balance of vitamins and minerals. And at only 90 calories per serving it is also a great way to help maintain a healthy weight. Mix Reliv Delight with water and use it as an alternative to milk — while cooking, in milkshakes, with cereal or simply as a refreshing, creamy beverage. It’s a healthy choice for adults and kids alike.

As promised in the disclaimer on this blog, I’m disclosing the fact that this product must be purchased through a Reliv distributor and that I am a Reliv distributor who may receive monetary compensation should you decide to purchase the product through me. You may do so by contacting me at barb@midweststoryteller.com

This is a great way for me to take a travel mug while on the road and stop for some hot water so that I can have my chocolate fix. All I have to remember is to never leave home without my pre-mixed little baggie of dry ingredients, my little bottle of vanilla and my mini whisk!

Are you ready for no-guilt Valentine treats?

Almost everyone seems to love those beautiful chocolate-covered strawberries that cost an arm and a leg. We all indulge without too much guilt because, after all, strawberries are fruit and fruit is good for you and therefore, legal – right? Those sold in stores or special ordered are most likely made with shortening. (Repeat after me: “Shortening. Is. Evil.”) Not only that, but the chocolate coating is loaded with that ever-present, ever-enticing culprit – sugar!

I came up with this recipe to remove the culprits. The results were fabulous and I’ve served them up several times to people who tell me how yummy they are. I usually make them to share, so this recipe makes quite a few! The ones in the photo were gigantic berries and I had enough coating to do twenty-five berries. If they had been “regular” sized strawberries, I think I could have done about forty! What could be easier than dipping whole berries into chocolate sauce and letting them dry? This, combined with the fact that you get to lick your fingers and that your recipients will think you’re oh, so special ought to get you going on this recipe.

Oh, you weren’t going to give any of them away? Well, just be sure and wipe the chocolate off your chin before anybody sees you.

Eat ’em All Chocolate-covered Strawberries

2 pounds fresh strawberries

½ cup extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

5/8 teaspoon Trim Healthy Mama Pure Stevia Extract Powder

½ teaspoon vanilla

Scant ¼ teaspoon Celtic sea salt

Shredded unsweetened coconut for garnish

Wash berries and pat them dry with paper towels or allow them to dry completely on a drying mat.

Washed Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

In a double boiler, small ceramic coated saucepan (or a Pyrex bowl over a small saucepan), melt the coconut oil and butter over low heat. Add cocoa powder, heavy cream, stevia, vanilla and salt, whisking until smooth.

Grasp each berry by its stem and dip into the chocolate mixture. Be sure not to cover all the lovely red part! Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl before placing the berries onto waxed paper-covered cookie sheet. Place the berries far enough apart so they do not touch.

Dipped Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

Leftover chocolate? Consider re-dipping!

If desired, sprinkle some or all of the berries with shredded, unsweetened coconut while the chocolate coating is still soft.

Do not attempt to rearrange the berries on the waxed paper until the chocolate coating is completely hardened.

Refrigerate until ready to serve or give as a gift. Remember, the chocolate coating will begin to soften at about 76 degrees, so be sure to store your beautiful berries properly. I did, with good intentions to take most of them to some cherished friends. But then, we had this icy weather and didn’t get out and, well, you know how it goes…now you know why they’re called “Eat ’em All Chocolate-covered Strawberries!”

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and a Cup of Tea www.midweststoryteller.com

You can share more than chocolate with a friend. How about sharing this post? You can do that through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Enjoy your chocolate and don’t forget your FREE printable recipes. Just click on the banner below.

Free Printable Chocolate & Berries www.midweststoryteller.com

I invite you to join me for true confessions! Tell me about your favorite chocolate obsession and how often do you indulge.  Scroll back up to the top of this post and “Leave a Comment”.

First Friday Freebie: Valentine, Be Mine!

Shall we spread some Love ?

I think the main reason that I enjoy Valentine’s Day so much is that it’s one of the few times in the year when the rest of the world gets on board with my sappiness. All the tough cookies in this world soften up and, at least for one day, we’re all hearts and flowers.

This month’s freebie will allow you to go all out with old fashioned mush! All you have to do is become a subscriber, if you are not already, and comment on this post, saying: “I Love Valentines!” (Complete rules are included at the end of this post.)

Handmade Victorian Valentines www.midweststoryteller.com

These handmade Victorian Valentines are the perfect way to make someone feel special. Each of the eight cards has a different image taken from antique postcards and Valentines, surrounded by real lace and fancy trims. They come with red envelopes and I’ve thrown in an extra in case you make a mistake trying to get all curly and swirly while addressing them.

Inside each card is a Scriptural quote from Jeremiah to let your recipients know that they’re not only cherished by you, but by God as well.

I love my faithful subscribers. I hope this freebie makes you feel so loved and so special that you’ll want to use it to make eight other people feel loved and special!

Isn’t that special? (I told you I was sappy.)

Oh, by the way, they are handmade by me – just something I’ve always enjoyed doing.  Ah, yes – paper crafting.  Didn’t I just say in a recent post that paper was my nemesis?

Why not SHARE this post today with the people you love? One of them might win and then send you a beautiful handmade Victorian Valentine!

Check out some of Midwest Storyteller’s previous freebies on our “Freebies” page. A couple of my favorites are here and here.

REMEMBER: A winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter before midnight tonight by leaving a comment which says, “I Love Valentines!”

And now, here are the rules:

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you have come to this post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. All it means to be a subscriber is that you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF! And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. IMPORTANT: After subscribing, you MUST check your email to confirm the subscription or it will not appear. Then, sadly, you won’t be eligible to enter.
  3. To enter the drawing, scroll back up to the top of this post and under the title, click on “Leave a Comment”. Subscribers who comment as directed before midnight on Friday will enter the drawing, provided they are already on the subscribers list and live within the continental United States.

Three simple steps!

Now hurry! Go! Go! Go! Subscribe, Confirm and Enter before midnight tonight, February 2nd!

February’s First Friday Freebie: Fraught with Anticipation!

Tomorrow is the first Friday of the month and you know what that means! Don’t you just L.O.V.E. free stuff?

There’s a catch,” you say? I’ll admit it – you have to SUBSCRIBE to the Midwest Storyteller blog – which, by the way, is also F.R.E.E.

The Envelope Please www.midweststoryteller.com

 

Speaking of “loving” free stuff… Ooh! …there seems to be something hidden inside this secret “envelope”?

Oh, my goodness, if I give out any more hints, you’re going to guess what’s inside and the secret will no longer “be mine”!

Like”, “Pin”, “Tweet” and by all means, “Share” on Facebook with all your friends so they can enter to win.

Then, check Friday’s post for the reveal and your instructions to comment.

And now, here are the rules.

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you have come to this post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. All it means to be a subscriber is that you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF! And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. IMPORTANT: After subscribing, you MUST check your email to confirm the subscription or it will not appear. Then, sadly, you won’t be eligible to enter.
  3. When the Freebie is revealed on Friday, you’ll need to scroll back up to the top of the post and under the title, click on “Leave a Comment”. Subscribers who comment as directed before midnight on Friday will enter the drawing, provided they are already on the subscribers list and live within the continental United States.

Three simple steps! And only one more day! Loving it!

Now hurry! Go! Go! Go! Subscribe, confirm and enter tomorrow!

Life Gets Better: An Other-Worldly Outlook

January is rolling to a close. I took a vow years ago to let January be January. In this climate, if there be any hope of killing the bugs (and I have no mercy on mosquitoes for they have no mercy on me), we need at least three weeks of good, hard freeze. I think we may have done it.

February looms, promising more of the same. I don’t like it, but I try to be nice. I look at the calendar upon which I have written my “hopefuls”. This month, I was to have organized my upstairs after I’d put away Christmas stuff, sort through and re-organize my kitchen cabinets, update my addresses and contact info, sort and dispose of excess magazines and reward myself by getting some scrapbooking done.

Aside from the scrapbooking, I’ve made headway in all the other areas. Still, I’d like to feel as though I’ve finished at least some of these categories so that I can stand back, rest my hands on my hips, heave a satisfactory sigh and say, “There now!”

(I just sighed, but it was the wrong kind.)

In March, unless spring-like weather makes an early debut and performs an intervention, I tend to get just plain ticked off about winter and start muttering a lot.

Now, I have to remind myself that I’ve recently shared with you 50 Ways to Make 2018 a Better Year”. The key word here is “better” – not “perfect”. If I’d promised in that post that the list would give you a perfect year, you likely would have found something else to waste your time reading.

I’m asking myself today, “Are things better?” I hear myself reply, “Oh, yeah! I look around the house and see that much has been done and much is left to do, but it’s better!

Golly, how I wish I had a higher gear! Alas, I have only one gear and I’m already running in it.

There are times when I look around and ask myself if any of it matters and for a fleeting moment I hanker for a dumpster.

Paper is my nemesis. But…I am a writer. Ummm…

Then, I remember this. There are two dates on every gravestone and though they may be forgotten, the dash between them is what counts. People will remember you for your dash!

We do leave a legacy in many ways – in the hearts and minds of our children, in what we build in our communities and in the lives of others, and in the stories that connect us to our heritage.

This house holds a lot of heritage.

One of the things I found as I sorted my office was a slip of paper upon which I’d written a quote attributed to Joseph Garlington. I thought I’d share it today in hopes that it puts your year and your life into perspective as it does mine.

Not Just Human Beings www.midweststoryteller.com

I took this photo in December as I drove through the countryside on my way to meet Phoebe June. I pulled over to take photos of a sky such as I’d never seen before.

Under a wide-open Heaven, life is given to me to live each day in this strange place called Earth and I’m determined to thrive down here. I may not be able to make it perfect, but bit by bit, I can make it better, even if it’s something as simple as encouraging a friend or cleaning out files. 

The year ahead holds days and days full of surprises and mundane things.  I hope the mundane things bring you stability and peace and that all your surprises are good ones.  If last year was a “dud” – and sometimes they are – don’t lose heart.  Move forward into new territory and happier days.

You may be starting out the new year grieving the events of the last one.  Take your time and heal.  You may spend a part or all of the year in a waiting mode.  (I hear ‘ya as I wait for responses from literary agents.)  You may go on happily as you have been or you may step into a new adventure like a dear friend of mine who, in a couple of weeks, will leave behind the job she’s had for years and focus on her art!   

Leave a comment! Scroll back up. It’s just under the title of this post. Are things better – even just a little bit – in your earthly experience? I’d love to hear what you’ve done in January (I’ll even listen to your fails) and what you plan for February!

January’s Freebie Winner!

I’ve been waiting till I could post a photo to announce January’s winner of Midwest Storyteller’s First Friday Freebie. It happens every month to a faithful subscriber and January’s winner is –

January Freebie Winner Liz www.midweststoryteller.com

Liz of Boonville, Missouri!

Liz entered the drawing by following the instructions to the letter as stated in the post. That’s important, you know.

I believe I’ll be able to claim that I’ve made her an addict. Once you’ve used these Full Adhesive Post-It Notes – well, they’re just like potato chips – it’s mighty hard to stop at one pack.  I usually get mine at Amazon.com.

My pack is dwindling fast as I’ve spent these cold, January days re-organizing and re-labeling Christmas stuff and trying to deal with the chaos that’s occurred in the office while the Midwest Storyteller has been telling a very long story – three novels’ worth.

It won’t surprise me if we hear from Liz that she’s used her Friday Freebie to organize her entire world! Well, that might be stretching it a bit, but all those mystery boxes and containers that hold who-knows-what are about to be identified. Click here to find out what’s so great about this simple alternative to the usual Post-It Note. You might say that these turn regular Post-Its “upside-down”.

Full Adhesive Post-Its www.midweststoryteller.com

The next First Friday Freebie drawing will be on Friday, February 2, 2018. SUBSCRIBE and share this post with all your friends so they can enter also. 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.

And now, here are the Freebie Rules.

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you come to the post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. All it means to be a subscriber is that you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF! And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. IMPORTANT: After subscribing, you MUST check your email to confirm the subscription or it will not appear. Then, sadly, you won’t be eligible to enter.
  3. To enter the drawing, scroll back up to the top of this post and under the title, click on “Leave a Comment”. Subscribers who comment as directed before midnight on the first Friday of the month will enter the drawing, provided they are already on the subscribers list and live within the continental United States.

Three simple steps! Subscribe now, before you forget, and you’ll be ready for February and (hint, hint) Valentine’s Day. You’re gonna “LOVE” this next Freebie!

Take a look at some past winners and their goodies here, here and here!

Why not “share”, “like” and “pin” this post so all your friends don’t miss out?

Scroll back up under the title of this post and let me know what you think of the freebies so far and which features of the blog you’d like to see more of in the future.

Top 10 Things You’ll Reconsider Once You’ve Become a “Kitten Mom”

Phoebe June is a delight. We adopted her on December 7th. Later that evening, I saw via Joanna Gaines on Instagram that on that same day, Chip surprised the family with a new kitten! For a moment, I questioned whether I should change Phoebe June’s name to Magnolia, but somehow “Phoebe” had already “stuck”. We do love “Fixer Upper” and the Gaines family and wish them the best with their new additions – the kitten and the soon-to-arrive baby!

I’m sure if you’ve seen any of her innocent-looking photos, you’re assuming that Phoebe June spends her days with her powder-puff paws crossed waiting for someone to stroke her velvet fur.

Phoebe on Adoption www.midweststoryteller.com

The reason for that is that all the action shots I’ve tried to obtain of Phoebe have been a complete blur. When she is not striking a demure pose for the camera, Smuffy and I are taking turns at Wildcat Patrol. Well, I take more turns than Smuffy, but then I also get the most kitty cuddles, so I suppose I can live with it.

Our veterinarian wanted to know if Phoebe was alert and playful. I showed him my scratch marks.

Having a cat in the house is different from having a kitten in the house. Our last two cats, who were two years apart in age, each lived to be 16 years old, so it’s been a long time since we started afresh. Though they remained playful all their lives – Y I K E S ! – it’s not the same as bringing home a charged-up little lightning bolt of energy that is the most playful hunter on earth – a 7 ½ week old kitten.

Phoebe June had an adorable sister. Here they are on the day we met when I was trying to decide which to adopt.

Phoebe June and Sweet Sis www.midweststoryteller.com

Sweet Sister seemed docile and shy – such endearing qualities. Phoebe June, on the other hand, entered the room with an air that suggested that if it were not a fun-filled place, she’d be happy to remedy the problem in three seconds or less.

Having had a couple of truly neurotic cats in the past, I chose brave kitty. I got brave kitty! She’s smart and tries her best to cooperate with the rules, but some things prove irresistible, such as the taking down of the Christmas tree. I should have probably gotten a sitter for that one.

To give you a glimpse of our fun-filled days and a guide should you consider bringing home a kitten, I’m sharing this list that reflects how we’ve acclimated to Phoebe June’s world.

Top 10 Things Kitten Mom www.midweststoryteller.com

Cats are fascinating and each one seems to have strange traits, odd fears and unique habits that don’t have any rhyme or reason and don’t quite fit in with any of the scientific studies on cats. There are just some things the experts can’t explain about feline behavior.

Phoebe June has her share of these quirks already, but the one that is the most puzzling and causes me the greatest loss of sleep is her unexplainable desire to eat my hair! This she confines, annoyingly, to the early morning hours. She’s a clingy sort, but being nocturnal, she roams a bit a night and nods off under the bed between her excursions and a few hops back onto the bed to be sure I haven’t run away from home.

Then, in the pre-dawn, when the stealthy mountain lions of the wild stir and head out for the hunt, Phoebe June stirs also. She hunts for one thing only – Mommy! It’s as though she’s re-discovered me after a prolonged absence and the joy is too much for her.

Climbing onto my head with her purr-box rumbling like a Harley, she wraps all four paws around my head and clinging with all her might, tries to remove my hair! And the question is: Why?

Needless to say, at this point I am awake! As I disentangle her and pull her down to ruffle her fur and give her a snuggle, I can’t help but giggle at the amount of affection that seems to be lavished upon me in this strange act. Though she may be clutching at my head with all her strength, there are no claws involved, only purring, wallowing and (sigh) gnawing.

And then you fall back asleep?” you assume. Nope. Phoebe June’s full affections take a while to dissipate and she’ll make several more attempts at snatching me bald before she gets it out of her system and settles down on my shoulder to flop around until breakfast is served.

Hopefully, this is a passing phase, because one of her favorite times to run amok through the house is around 10:45 each night. These frenzies can last a couple of hours, so if she doesn’t give up one or the other habits, I may be feeling soon, as they say, “a mere shadow of my former self.”

I thought Phoebe June’s story might bring you a smile during the wintry days of January. You can deny it, but I know you’re watching those funny cat videos online!

If you’re a “cat person”, I’m sure you have a story or two to of your own about the cats in your life. Scroll back up to the top of this post and “Leave a Comment” to share them. I’d love to hear from you!

Have some cat-loving friends? Be sure to SHARE!

Want more on how Smuffy deals with cats? Check it out here, but please, cover your eyes!

First Friday Freebie: Happy New (and Simplified) Year!

Happy New Year, Everyone! It seems impossible that we’ve already breezed through Christmas and landed in 2018. I knew this particular First Friday Freebie would sneak up on me and it did!

Don’t you love gifts that come with explanations? We were discussing at Christmas how it seems all our gifts come with some sort of novel-length explanation. So, now let me explain –

You may at first think that I’m too exhausted from the holidays to think of something better or that I’m just plain unimaginative (or cheap), but I wanted to introduce you to something life-changing.

You know what I mean – one of those small things in life that make all the difference and make you wonder how you ever lived without it – like Velcro on toddlers’ shoes, plastic wrap, duct tape and cooking spray.

While preparing the post on 50 Ways to Make 2018 a Better Year, I considered what I might offer as January’s Freebie to help out with that. Then, I remembered that innocent looking little sample package that arrived in the mail a few years ago.

I gave it a shrug and tossed it in my desk drawer. I’d seen Post-it Notes before. These seemed to be some new-fangled version and I wasn’t about to throw free stuff away. I knew 3M made the kind that pull apart from opposite ends and the ones that are super-sticky. These, apparently, had taken sticky down yet another avenue.

Later, when I’d finished up the pad I was using, I got them out and discovered that I’d been keeping something fabulous in hibernation in that desk drawer. That’s why I’m offering them as this month’s First Friday Freebie –

Full Adhesive Post-Its www.midweststoryteller.com

Full Adhesive Post-it Notes!

These are one of my favorite finds. Well, I suppose you’d say they found me! And, I’m giving away a full pack – not a sample.

(The ones in the photo are my open pack. The ones I’m giving away are due to arrive soon – yes, the January Freebie did sneak up on me.) The Freebies will be in yellow as I tried to pick something neutral for you.

What did we do before Post-it Notes anyway? Run around with fuzzy rolls of tape in our pockets?

Once I began to use these, the possibilities became endless. I stopped ruining storage boxes with marker pens – I just changed the note and because of the full adhesive, they actually stayed on and didn’t curl! I started using them to label cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, bottles, jars and plates of goodies. They adhere wonderfully, and best of all, come off cleanly when you want them to. Bookplates! They’re perfect for that! I no longer have to “ugly up” the nice boxes in my basement shelves of upstairs closets or pull them all out to see what’s inside. Use two sheets! On one, list the general heading in large print. On the other, list the individual contents.

There are lots of other removable labels out there – even nifty chalkboard ones – but they are way too pricey for marking storage boxes and other things that require temporary or alterable labels.

Consider these to be regular Post-it Notes in REVERSE! The adhesive covers the whole back of the note except for a narrow strip at the bottom (or top, if you prefer)edge, giving you a way to grasp it for removal.

Don’t scoff – you’re gonna love these things more than Velcro! BONUS: They also come in “super-sticky”, making the world practically perfect in every way.  The 3M Company isn’t messing around when it comes to its sticky business.  Under the Post-It section of their web site, you’ll find over 300 choices when searching for the perfect note!

You may have a little trouble finding them in your typical discount stores. Staples carries them, but being a bargain hunter, I order mine from Amazon.com here. They’re great for filling in your order for free shipping.

The “Freebie Rules” have changed recently to make it easier for you to win, so read on, SUBSCRIBE and share this post with all your friends so they can enter also. A winner will be chosen at random from those subscribers who enter today by leaving a comment which says, “I’ll take the notes!”

And now, here are the revised rules.

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you have come to this post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. All it means to be a subscriber is that you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF! And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. IMPORTANT: After subscribing, you MUST check your email to confirm the subscription or it will not appear. Then, sadly, you won’t be eligible to enter.
  3. To enter the drawing, scroll back up to the top of this post and under the title, click on “Leave a Comment”. Subscribers who comment as directed before midnight on Friday will enter the drawing, provided they are already on the subscribers list and live within the continental United States.

Three simple steps!

Now hurry! Go! Go! Go! Subscribe, Confirm and Enter before midnight tonight, January 5th

Did you miss the last Freebie?  Check it out here.  Don’t forget to “Share” and “Pin” and by all means, “Leave a Comment”.  Share the nifty-est “life-changing” thing you’ve discovered.

50 Ways to Make 2018 a Better Year!

After Christmas, what I’d really like is a long winter’s nap. The rest of the world, however, keeps trying to tell me year after year after ever-lovin’ year that now is the time to lose weight, organize myself and all my surroundings as though I have Martha Stewart’s minions at my beck and call and (using colorful flow charts, of course) reassess where I’m going in life. By the way, love that Martha. She knows her stuff!

I know where I’m going. I’m going to the kitchen to make some Pomegranate Raspberry Green Tea so that I can scoop up Phoebe June if she’s in the mood and settle onto the sofa under the furry throw and let it be -8 degrees outside if it feels like it.

I shared with my family as we gathered for Christmas that I believe we’re doing this all wrong! With the current system, we merely set ourselves up for frustration and failure – at least in the climate of the Midwest.

Why not, I asked, celebrate the new year in spring? The third week in March, when the equinox turns us all toward sunnier days, we’ll all be full of fizz and ready to get out and walk off the pounds, eat foods that aren’t piping hot and covered with melted cheese, move out the junk and organize what’s left in hopes of creating a nice spot for a vase of fresh hyacinths and maybe – just maybe – give a hoot once again about heading somewhere in life other than closer to the fire.

I fall in line with the Phoebe June Philosophy –

Phoebe Philosopy on January www.midweststoryteller.com

I try, though. Really, I try. Smuffy might dispute that. He’s one of those people who asks who’s been at his desk if he finds the tape and stapler lined up in reverse order. I’m one of those people who digs for the stapler, knowing that it’s under there somewhere. It makes me cry sometimes, and sometimes I get really organized, but it never seems to last for long.

Sometimes, it helps me to experiment with a “design re-mix”. I love jewelry and I always seemed to be leaving little stashes of it on the nightstand, even though I had a roomy jewelry armoire on the other side of the room I could have easily put it in. One day, when rearranging furniture, the armoire ended up much closer to the door. Suddenly, after years and years, I found myself taking off my jewelry and putting it away as soon as I entered the room. The new arrangement just seemed to function with how I think.

I’m always finding “helpful” ideas to spur me toward getting my act together in a Smuffy sort of way, but (hear me sigh) I tend to reject them or, to be honest – lose them. If I had a dollar for everything I lost between December 1st and the 25th, I could go out and buy Christmas all over again!

My darling daughter, over at www.JillianDanielle.com is much more organized than I am. She likes these planners from Rifle Paper Company and this year she is using The Simplified Planner, available at Emily Ley Paper, Inc., and on Amazon here.

I do like using a planner, but mine is homemade. I can’t seem to think like the pre-fab ones want me to. It works better for me to use a small binder that holds 8 ½ X 5 ½” ruled sheets and create my own.

In the front, I insert monthly calendar pages that I print out myself. Behind those, I use tab dividers where I create sections pertaining to my life such as Blog, Novel, Around the House, Health, Shopping, DIY, Gifts, Scrapbooking, Ancestry and Dates to Remember. I like to include an inspirational section where I can jot down quotes or Scriptures that encourage me or that I can share with someone else.

My Planner www.midweststoryteller.com

I take my planner along on appointments and shopping trips. That way, I can ask all the questions that have been popping into my mind since the last appointment (and find the answers when I get home) and I can look for elusive items and have measurements on hand when I find them.

Now, let me be clear about something. My creative space, though it may look better than it did a week ago, remains a place I’d still find myself apologizing for if you walked into it right now. Not a chance of seeing a photo of this post-finishing three novels/holiday preparation/getting a new kitten disaster! I do however, want to share something that I try to work with every year.

I’m often seeing lists that offer to help me “eat my elephant one bite at a time”. Most of the time, they just don’t fit with my life in one way or another. Others must have been written by someone living in a totally different climate. (Who wants to clean closets in April? It’s plantin’ time!) We all have to face the truth, even if we’re self-professed “messies” – we don’t thrive in chaos. A reasonable amount of order calms us, eases our frustrations and – DANG IT! – helps us find the stapler! As much as I love wasting time, there’s only so much of it and the more unorganized we are, the easier it seems to slip away.

Here’s the list I’ve adapted for my lifestyle and the climate we live in. The best thing I’ve found about this list? None of it matters! I have given myself the gift of releasing each and every item to the winds of time and tides of happenstance. There will be, sadly, deaths in the family. There will be, joyfully, vacations and surprises! This last year, with the frantic push to complete the novel series, none of it got done except in little half-hour snatches of time and I’ve told myself that it’s OK! After all, I was busy doing something great, right?

I hope this list helps you make one of your own and I hope you don’t get bogged down by it! Adapt the items to your lifestyle and write one across each week of your 2018 calendar.

Remember to read all the way to the end of the post because the First Friday Freebie is upon us!

50 Ways To A Better Year! www.midweststoryteller.com

I’d love your comments! These aren’t the huge jobs you may tackle during the year such as cleaning out the whole garage or putting new siding on the house or installing a fish pond. These are the smaller, often ignored things that really frustrate us when they’re all piled up and the stapler becomes a minor player amongst the things that have gone missing. I’d love to hear your ideas on things we could add to the list.

SUBSCRIBE and SHARE so that your friends can do likewise and you can all be in the drawing for January’s FREEBIE! It’s coming up Friday for subscribers only. Here are the rules:

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you have come to this post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. All it means to be a subscriber is that you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF! And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. IMPORTANT: After subscribing, you MUST check your email to confirm the subscription or it will not appear. Then, sadly, you won’t be eligible to enter.
  3. To enter the drawing, scroll back up to the top of this post and under the title, click on “Leave a Comment”. Subscribers who comment as directed before midnight on Friday will enter the drawing, provided they are already on the subscribers list and live within the continental United States.

There! Now that you’ve subscribed, you can hurry on to organize your creative space and put away all the Christmas decorations. If you need help, just consult Martha – she’s much better at it than I am and hers always turns out “perfect”! 

Oh, my goodness!  That reminds me – Martha’s calendar always schedules a specific date for her to trim her donkeys’ hooves!  Now, how in the world did I manage to leave that off my list? 

Want more encouragement so you can thrive in 2018?  Check out “Life, Laughter and Lemons” here!

The Day Before Christmas: Don’t Just Survive – THRIVE!

Hustle and Bustle is right – and we don’t even have small children in the house! I LOVE Christmas, so I suppose I create my own hustle and bustle as I think of one more special thing I can wrap up or make special. This year, though my oven went out the week before Christmas, I take heart that I do not face these challenges alone. Nope – not me! I’ve got a new “helper”! There’s nothing like bringing an eight-week-old kitten into a house full of Christmas trees, paper, ribbons and freshly baked goodies.

Meet Phoebe June – we adopted her on December 7th.

Meet Phoebe June www.midweststoryteller.com

This face explains why the blog has been silent since the First Friday Freebie! Things are busy here – really busy! Phoebe is clingy, and vocal, and so overly attached to me that it’s pitiful. And, I’m having a ball! I have to admit that I couldn’t be more tickled to have her if I were four years old! There’s something about having a cat that gives me joy and helps me thrive.  Smuffy scored BIG points by getting me a kitty for our anniversary. He is, however, getting a little tired of hearing all the baby-talk as I coo over my precious little ball of fur.

It’s been about a decade since we’ve had a kitty and the house has gradually become less and less kitty-proof. So…Christmas + Phoebe = Not-Accomplishing-Much-Except-for-Wildcat-Patrol.

I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and I thought I would do so by sharing something that I wrote a few years ago when, as I prepared for Christmas, I was exhausted to the brink of collapse. It might make you smile and you may be able to pass it on to someone else who is feeling the stress of life – be it good stress or bad.

The Day Before Christmas www.midweststoryteller.com

Enjoy your family, friends, (and of course, the furry family members) and take time to remember why we celebrate Christmas!  God Bless You!