Thursday, November 20, 2014

17 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Adults

I had to play around with that title for awhile.  17 Adult Stocking Stuffers.  Stocking stuffers for adults.  I kept worrying that the word adult would bring up the wrong connotation.  Not to worry, everything's G rated here.

Although my son is an adult now, I still love to fill our Christmas stockings with goodies and treats.  I do still put the occasional toy or silly item in but I really was tired of giving things that would just sit out unused and cluttering up the rooms. We've all heard of the socks, candles, bath wash, and candy that is traditional so I tried to really think of unique things my family would actually use and really like.

Here are some ideas that I have come up with -

The first idea is a no brainer for me, my family loves music and movies so I try to find a new favorite.

For those of us of a certain age, we are starting to carry cheaters every where we go.  I need a pair in every room because I'm always losing them.  A cute hard case is great for taking them in your purse.

The next one, I may have mentioned before.  It's the invisibelt.  It's a tad more expensive but I just love it.  It lays flat and doesn't poke holes in my t-shirts.

For the man of the house or anyone over 21, I like to purchase those little travel bottles of alcohol.  We don't buy full bottles of bailey's so having a little one gives you the option of trying something new.  I'll make a confession - the other one I bought just for the skull bottle.

This one you have to think about ahead of time.  A vintage hand mirror.  They are really popular among those of us who like to reuse, recycle, repurpose.  You can use it as it was intended or hang it on your gallery wall for a unique look.

Another idea for the men is a good moisturizer.  In my world, men don't spend a lot on themselves but when I buy it for them they appreciate the way their skin feels when they use it.  As we get older we really learn that it's important to your skin health whether you are a man or a woman to wear SPF lotion daily.  It's a little luxury for our guys.

For you guys looking to put a little romance in her stocking how about a necklace inscribed with your names or those of your children.  It's more than an average stocking stuffer but think of how touched she would be.

There are a lot of craft boutiques and shops set up this time of year and you can get wonderful hand made gifts or find a local art store.  Local art is a wonderful, often one of a kind gift.  

One of my go to items is flashlights.  I love them in every form and it seems like you can never have too many.  They have tripods, wrap around, magnetic, tiny, one for any need.

Or how about a vintage pin for her wool coat?

Then, you could always go with an organizing item.  How about this large clip?  I use them to roll the cords on my iron, hair dryer, drill, laptop, and sewing machine, just to name a few.

Consumables are another great gift.  This delicious honey butter can be paired with a box of pretzels and a cute spreader/dish for an addictive gift.  You may think it's funny, but I've given this gift several times and after it was eaten was called with very appreciative thank yous.

Another consumable would be loose leaf tea with a holder that is also a stirring utensil.   If she likes vintage you could go to an antique store and choose a delicate cup.

I don't know what attracts me to Christmas books but every year I buy one or two.  I love the small size and usually the stories are uplifting and filled with beautiful thoughts.

Think of someone's favorite hobby and buy a calendar for the next year with that theme.  My husband loved this vintage comics one.

The gift of time is always a great idea.  For all you game lovers out there I would suggest two.  One is the multi player Marrying Mr Darcy and the other is the two person game Rivals of Catan.  If you play Settlers of Catan this is the two person version.  My husband gave it to me for my birthday and we are really enjoying it -- although I rarely seem to win.

The best gift is a gift of the heart.  I would love to get a gift card to a restaurant (it doesn't have to be expensive) and a hand written note about a trip we're going to take to see a historic house, museum or concert.  Just think of your significant other and what they enjoy, collect, spend time doing and then make a special effort to find something in that genre.  Even if you get it get it right.

I know some of these items are a little larger than a stocking but I usually wrap them and set it next to it.  So dear people, I hope that I've given you a few ideas or at least helped you think of gifts.  Happy searching and enjoy the season!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Grateful for my Readers

We see articles everywhere during November to remind us to be grateful.  I try to do so all year  but with the hustle and bustle, disappointments and irritations it's good to sit down and really count your blessings. I have so much to be grateful for -- my loving family, my comfortable home, friends who are supportive, the internet that answers all my questions, the summer warmth which I can look forward to all winter, and all the new readers of my stories!  I really could go on and on but you don't all want to be here forever.

This year I have something new to be grateful for -- it has been an unusual one for me.  I had my first short story and novel published and with that have come opportunities that I didn't know I'd ever have the good fortune to participate in.  I went to a signing at a neighborhood bookstore, I had my book on the shelf in Barnes and Noble and most recently I have been invited to several Book Clubs in the area.

Each of these events have made me push myself out of my comfort zone.  I am not by nature an extrovert but I love getting out and talking with people about my stories.  I appreciate everyone who has given this first time author a chance.  So many of you have been encouraging and kind and it has been a wonderful experience to meet you all.

When we've gotten together and you ask questions of my process, the story or the characters, it helps me to plan my next story.  Whether you like what a character does or not you give me inspiration.  You want to see more of one or more ideas.  I find it helpful to discuss story ideas with other people just to see what they think and where I am going right or wrong in the process.

So if you live in the Twin cities area and belong to a Book Club and you would like me to come and visit please contact me at  I would love to meet you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A visit to the American Swedish Institute

Every year on my birthday I like to do something different.  So this year my husband, George, son, Nathan, daughter-in-law to be, Kelly and I went to the American Swedish Institute.  For those of you who haven't been there it is a historic house and museum in Minneapolis.

First, we had lunch at the FIKA cafe featuring New Nordic Cuisine, which is a blend of foods I would never think of but was really very tasty.  You can have a glass of wine or beer with your lunch which is a lovely start to a tour.  

We started at the museum with a tour of August Strindberg's self photography.  A man obsessed by his own image, it seems he thought he could "read" intentions and truths or some such thing.  A deeply misogynistic man, his plays and life were filled with controversy.  The photos did seem to offer some insight but as we were all giggling, I'm not totally sure it was the insight he was intending.  
Next we were allowed to tour the Turnblad Mansion.  Unlike the James J. Hill house you are allowed to wander on your own through the rooms.  From the eleven remarkable tile fireplaces to the carved oak interiors you will be amazed by the beautiful artistry of the time period--even the thermometer was gorgeous.  

We enjoyed not being rushed or escorted through the rooms and were able to just find our way up stairways and along hallways.  

Who wouldn't enjoy going from room to room as you imagined yourself in another time, sweeping down the stairs in a long skirt or going about doing your housework up and down those stairs with trays.  

 Or my favorite, nestled up on the top floor with a book in a private nook.  The house doesn't have much of the original furniture besides the massive dining table, but the rooms, filled or not, are still a study in luxury that is unrivaled in today's homes.

During it's heyday, this mansion was one of forty that stood on this street, but now it's one of the last still standing.  It's definitely a piece of history that is worth preserving and visiting as a reminder of the craftsmanship and hardship(just look at that kitchen) of a bygone era.   You don't need to be Swedish to enjoy this outing and perhaps you'll run into their ghost.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Waste of Money?

I'm a huge cat lover.  No, that didn't come out right.  I don't love huge cats, I just love cats a lot.  Well, after looking at Senora, maybe I do love huge cats.  My husband calls me the Pied Piper of cats because whenever we are out walking and I see a cat I call to it and it will stroll over to talk to me and inevitably want to follow me home afterwards.  I think he's fearful that he's going to come home to find he's living with every stray in the county.

Although I grew up with a dog, a poodle mix named Missy, since my marriage 25 years ago I have had cats.  We've been adopted by many cats and they certainly come with their own personalities.  We only have one living with us at the moment and she is the most spoiled of any cat we've had.  Her name is Senora.  Princess Senora Laura Dora for those who want her official title.

Senora came to us when our son, Nathan, was eight years old.  I already had a male cat named Sam but Nathan wanted a cat of his own.  We all know where this story is headed, I'm sure.  Our vet called us to ask if we would take a calico kitten who was in danger of being eaten by a fox that was raiding the barn she was living in.  That was all I needed to hear before heading up to find the little beast.   At 6 weeks old she became part of our family.

I'm not usually one for buying her a lot of possessions, after all she's taken over all mine.  But I was out shopping one day and I spied the cutest little pet bed.  I realized I could replace her ugly, old cat bed we'd gotten free for something that would look nice. I purchased it and came home so excited to show it to her.  I set it in her favorite spot and waited to see how she would like it.  After all, it would only take her minutes to get in a box, bag or suitcase I brought into a room.

 I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I thought about it.  Maybe it needed to smell homier.  I put my robe on it.  Nope.  Her favorite wool sweater.  No.  So for days, I moved it around the room then out into the hall.  I slathered it with catnip and then a soothing cat spray.  Nothing worked.  Once she jumped up on it, smelled it, then lay down for a minute.  Almost immediately she got up again, glancing back at me as if to say, "Right, like this is real furniture."

I decided to give the bed one last chance.  I set it in front of the window in my office facing the window.  Then I went back to my computer and ignored the chair.

Success!  She cuddled up and slept all afternoon while I worked.  I thought, "How cozy, maybe she won't need to sit on my lap while I type."  For one glorious afternoon it worked.  Now, she is back to ignoring the bed and laying in the middle of the floor or settled in my lap.

Lesson learned, never deliberately purchase furniture for a cat.  Anyone want to try out a cat bed?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pintrest for Writers

Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Polyvore…I just wasn't interested in getting into another social media because I find all the marketing and sharing overwhelming. The people in my life kept telling me how much I would enjoy Pinterest, how fun it was.  At first it sounded like it would be just a time sucker, looking up outfits I would never wear, rooms from houses I could never afford, or projects I would never find the time to make.
Then came Valentines’ Day, one of the most fear inducing holidays for men and women alike.  What, after all, is an appropriate gift to say, "I love you"? Would a card do or perhaps you need to go all out and buy a wallet or new lingerie?

Fortunately, when my husband and I were first married we started the tradition of not making this day about presents and spending money.  For one, our anniversary is two weeks later, and two, we didn't have a lot of money for things like flowers that wither and die.  So from our first year together we would just have a quiet dinner at home and watch a new movie.   Before the day arrived, when grocery shopping we would each pick out a card and hand it to one another, read the notes and then replace them on the rack, in this way we could share our thoughts without having them end up in the bottom of a box or drawer.   I did always try to have something new or special for dinner and to set the table to look beautiful and romantic, trying to use the items we already owned.  After all, I like to encourage romance as a way to stay connected during our busy lives. 

This is the point that brought me back to Pinterest.  I just didn’t have any new ideas. I looked in a few magazines without much luck when I decided to give Pinterest a chance.  I started by looking up flower arrangements and romantic tables and before I knew it I was hooked.  While my table wasn't nearly as beautiful as the photos on short notice that year, it gave me ideas of what I could look out for in the future.  I wouldn't have to cut out photos and put them in a journal I’d been keeping because my Pinterest board would be waiting for me online the next time I was planning a romantic evening.

From then on I found myself starting all sorts of boards – from Rheumatoid Arthritis help to Monograms and fonts to cleaning tips.

At this time, I was in the middle of writing 'Finding the Way Back' and I needed visual reminders for some of my plot points.  I was at the peignoir scene and although I had one in mind from an old movie, I thought it would be nice to have a distinct picture of what I was describing.  I found I could create a Secret Board, a board that is hidden from other people’s feed.  I don’t like to show anyone my story before I'm finished so I liked the idea that no one would be able to see the file until I made it an open board.  Occasionally I found myself uploading a photo of my own to add to my writing board, like my cover or something I’ve seen that fits a scene.  This keeps all of my ideas in one place that I can refer back to when I am doing rewrites.  It also helps your reader see what you were thinking as you wrote and if they are visual readers they will appreciate the references.

Now, with every story I write I keep a Secret Board as I am writing and I open the board when it is published.  So if you want to see what I was picturing when I wrote 'Within Reach' and 'Finding the Way Back’ come sort through my photos on Pinterest.  Just search pinners for Jill Bisker.  You never know, you might actually enjoy my other boards on Secret Hideaways or Zombie Apocalypse Planning, because you just never know.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Finding the Way Back - Ghosts and Memories

From the time I was a little girl, I've always wanted to write a ghost story.  I remember watching the television version of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and pretending it was my story.  In the fall I would rake paths through a grove of birch trees in the backyard pretending it was a little house with different clumps of trees designated as rooms.  I was the heroine looking up at my make believe painting and talking to it.  Answering the door to a nonexistent rental agent or traveling salesman, and having them put out by my impatient ghost.  The ghost was also there to do my bidding and keep me company.  We had a rioting good time.  It was a time where you weren't embarrassed by pretend worlds and people.  You didn't need to hide your make believe characters and stories.

As I grew up I read all the Gothic stories I could find.  Barbara Michaels, Daphne Du Maurier, Phyllis A.Whitney, Mary Stewart -- I could go on and on -- filled my reading hours.  I loved the pervading sense of doom, the covers with a woman in flowing dresses running from an old mansion, and the stories of secrets lost in time.  When I was alone I was continually making up stories and conversations in my head, sometimes they even made it to paper.  I'd reread what I had written and, unsatisfied, I would toss it out.  And so it went for many years.

Now, I've written stories of magic, fantasy, and other worlds but not about ghosts until this story came to me.  It was right after a doctor's appointment where the results started making me think about how little time we have here in this life.  It's not as if I had cancer but I certainly wasn't getting younger.  If I wanted to write a ghost story now was the time to do it.  I started writing a rough outline then scenes just started to appear in my head.  All of the classes Geo and I had taken were starting to really assemble into a process.  I started April 2, 2012 and by June 1st I had my first draft done.  I had actually finished a novel. I still had a long way to go before I would submit.  Geo and I did rewrites, then more rewrites, then even more rewrites.  I still wasn't sure I wanted to send it out for publication but Geo gently prodded, then ultimately sent out the submission for me when I was too nervous to do it myself.

I don't remember all the places we tried to send a submission but we didn't have any luck.  After joining Romance Writer's of America I heard about Melange publishing.  An editor was a member of the chapter and several members were published from the small press from White Bear Lake.  We took a chance and sent in my short story, Within Reach, and a bit later were accepted.  Being excited we decided to send them the novel as well.  We were so excited when it was accepted also.  We were on the path to publication.

After all the edits and rewrites the release day loomed and then came.  Time to wait for the reaction of family, friends and those I've never met.  They will like or dislike my story, but I hold onto the fact that I set out to tell a tale of ghosts and to entertain the reader - and I hope that's what I have accomplished!

Here is a link to my book trailer - Finding the Way Back Trailer

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Finding the Way Back Acknowledgements

With my novel coming out in just one week's time I want to write some acknowledgements and thank you's!   

First to the wonderful David Housewright who read my story and gave me the cool following blurb - I thank you so very much! I owe you a debt of gratitude I may never be able to repay. 

A neglected mansion with an ominous past, things that go bump in the night, a plucky heroine wandering dark corridors in a flowing nightgown, a handsome spirit hunter, meddlesome ex-husband, greedy neighbors, nagging mother - and a murderous ghost.  All the elements are there in this tantalizing paranormal mystery.  A perfect companion for a summer day - make that summer night.”
                                --David Housewright
                                   Edgar Award-winning author of “The Devil May Care”

If you want to read great mysteries go to his home webpage here --  David Housewright!  He is a Minnesota award winning author that needs to be next on your to-read list. "The Devil May Care" is his recent release in his Rushmore McKenzie series but I would encourage you to start at the beginning and read them all.  He also has the Holland Taylor series, a new volume of his short stories, "Full House", and a great stand alone novel "The Devil and the Diva" -- written by his wife, Renee Valois, and him.

There are a lot of people who help on the way to publication.   Thank you to the staff from Melange BooksBarbara Bradley, who edited my story, Nancy Schumacher, my publisher and editor, Caroline Andrus, my lovely cover designer, and Sharon Hust, my proofreader.  It takes a lot of reading and editing to polish a book and I appreciate all of the people who put time and energy into Finding the Way Back. 

Personally I need to thank my husband, George, my dragonslayer, who encouraged me every step along the way while I was creating this story; my father, Gordon Fick, who always taught me to think positive and never give up; Tammy DeCenzo, who was always positive as I went on and on about my characters on our walks. And finally - my two writer's groups, the Northern Lights Writers Group who introduced me to Melange and are so helpful with all things writing, and The Coolest People Ever, you know who you are. This list could go on forever, I have a large family I love dearly and would like to acknowledge singly but for now I must finish.  

To all my readers -- I hope you enjoy my story -- Happy Hauntings!  Finding the Way Back will be available June 19th at Melange Books or at




Monday, May 19, 2014

Everyone will want to play "Marrying Mr. Darcy"!

I am used to finding wonderful comics, t shirts, and other fascinating memorabilia at SpringCon but I couldn't have predicted stumbling upon a Pride and Prejudice game!   Most of the people who know me, know I love Jane Austen.   I read the stories every couple of years and I've seen probably every rendition of the movies based on her stories.  

Geo and I were sauntering down the isles fully enjoying the creative costumes and comics, meeting the artists, and looking at all the merchandise on display when what should I spy --  but a little game sitting on a table.  

I was immediately intrigued.   I love games.  I love Pride and Prejudice.  Could it really be as wonderful as that combination suggested?  I looked it over  --  role playing, pretty art, and Jane's sense of humor.  I had to try it.  It even had an undead add on, but that's for later.  

We rushed home, well maybe Geo wasn't in a rush but I couldn't wait.  I unsealed the package and cards and pulled out the rule book.  First you have to pick a heroine to be, hum, maybe I should have waited to find some girlfriends.  While I settled on playing Jane, Geo, always a good sport, laughingly chose Georgiana.  (It was a variation on his name after all.)  

The directions were a tad confusing at first play but by the second hand we had figured it out.  You have to collect cards to gain points to win your suitor's heart, gaining friendliness, wit, reputation, beauty, cunning and a dowry.  I picked up my cards and got to draw and play a wit card immediately.  (You have to have a lot of wit to capture Mr. Darcy after all)  Geo drew an event card and lost all his reputation, and captured Mr. Wickham's interest.  Now, he had to get more reputation points to not end up with him.  I drew again, now I had more beauty.  Geo picked up cunning.  We laughed through the cards, entertained by the scandals, balls, gambling and letters.  Ultimately, Geo never gained his reputation back and had to marry Wickham or be an old maid.  He rolled a five and Wickham was bribed to propose.  I drew the second to last card to win Darcy without even having to use all my wit points.  Of course, Jane is not supposed to end up with Darcy but it goes to show, anyone has a chance to win his heart.

Ultimately, we really enjoyed the game, although I think Geo would probably prefer if I played with some girlfriends next time.  

As to the undead packet I haven't tried that portion of the game yet but for someone who enjoys 'The Walking Dead' as much as I -- It should be even more fun.

You too can play --  You may end up Marrying Mr. Darcy

 Author Erika Svanoe - Art/Design by Erik Evensen - Stock Imagery - The Graphics Fairy 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Music for Serenity

We all have music that moves us.  We can feel happy, sad, energetic or sleepy just by changing what we are listening to.   If I am cleaning house it's Foo Fighters, Pink or anything loud.  If my nerves are jangling I try soft piano or classical.  For every story I write I have a soundtrack in my mind that I've compiled to help me feel a scene.   I've found meditation to be an important process when I'm writing.  It helps me to focus on the plot and on what my characters have to say to me.  Below are some of the artists who help me find my serenity.

While on vacation we went to lunch at a little bistro.  We sat out in the warm breeze while being serenaded  on guitar by a man named Marc Vee.  His classical guitar music made the perfect compliment to our meal.  We purchased his CD's, one called Speaking in Sounds and the other Path to Serenity.  We proceeded to spend the rest of the vacation listening to them.  It was incredible how relaxed they made us feel then, and when we slip the CD in now we are transported back to that place and time.   If you'd like to hear a sample you can find him on iTunes here;  

Another CD I find relaxing I came upon on another vacation.  It is called Drum Medicine by David and Steven Gordon.  Its Native American sound promotes healing in a gentle, soothing manner.  The first time I listened to it we were in Washington state.  It was just before I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and I was exhausted by the traveling yet unable to get to sleep.  The CD spoke of shamanic drumming promoting healing, and as it played I was able to fall asleep and I woke surprisingly rested.  

New Life by Paul Cardell is a must have if you love piano music.  I've given this CD as a gift several times and each time the recipient has raved about how much they love it.  It has a song from the television show Lost called Life and Death that is so compelling I can listen to it over and over.  The music is light and airy, often with spiritual references perfect to play as you quiet your mind.

Ben Howard is another artist I find myself relaxing to.  His haunting voice and beautiful guitar playing joins together in songs that make me feel quiet and relaxed.  You would recognize his song "Oats in the Water" as Hershel's theme if you are a fan of The Walking Dead.  This might be my favorite of Ben Howard's songs but his CD Every Kingdom is wonderful.  (Oats in the Water is only available to download -- not on the cd)  Although there are words in these songs I find myself transported beyond them. 

When I speak of music, I always include a soundtrack or two.  Often they contain versions of songs you can't find elsewhere or a group of songs that make you aware of new artists you didn't know you liked.  Somewhere in Time is from a 1980's time travel movie I've always been fond of.  Now some of you are saying, 'Oh yes, that movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.'  Though perhaps overly romantic, the idea of a love so strong that it transcends time really speaks to me.  The music is beautiful and evocative of the story and it stands the test of time (no pun intended).  

So I've taken you on a tour of my meditative music.  I hope you check them out and love them as much as I do.  If you have another song I ought to add to my list leave me a comment at the bottom of my page!  Thanks for reading and have a wonderful rest of your day. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finding the Way Back - Cover Reveal

I've just finished the first round of edits on my first novel, Finding the Way Back and it's been an exciting prospect.  It really feels like I will have a book published!  On the heels of that thought comes nervousness over how the story will be received.  I try to remember that I felt that way with my short story and so far I have had wonderful feedback.  The phone calls and notes I've received have encouraged me and I am so grateful for every one.

So -- Here it is -- Ta Da!  The cover of the book!  When I saw it I was so happy and amazed to see my name on it.  It was exactly how I had pictured it.  It's been a long time coming.  I've written for decades and I have manuscripts and short stories sitting in files that have never seen the light of day since they were put away.  I keep a file of my many rejection letters right next to them.  Perhaps in the future I'll be able to dust off some of those tales for another attempt at publication.

For those of you interested in the book -- I've always loved ghost stories.  From the scary to the amusing they are all for me.  I like to believe in ghosts, sometimes it's just for fun and other times it feels reassuring to think of our loved ones with us at least in spirit.

Finding the Way Back is the story of Laney, a recently divorced woman who agrees to help her mother fix up her dead grandfather’s house.  From the first night where she hears ghostly music to later physical attacks that seem targeted only at her, she soon discovers that a spirit trapped in the house may have plans of its own.  For her own well-being, she needs to find answers as she slowly learns to trust herself as well as others.  With the help of an attractive ghosthunter named Emmett and some other eccentric characters, Laney uncovers the dark secret of the house and a new path for her future.

I can't wait to share my new story with you and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Stay tuned for future updates!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My favorite Inexpensive Gifts for 2014

We all differ in our tastes which is usually a great thing.  It makes us unique and not striving for the same things all the time.  Unfortunately it sometimes makes giving gifts difficult.  I am at an age when I like to give gifts with meaning but most of my friends don't need another knick knack that will just sit around collecting dust.  Also I don't want to make someone else feel as if they need to remember my birthday or other event so I want something nice for a reasonable price.  Here are six inexpensive gifts I've been given or gave that I adore.

1. These wonderful hand made spoons are approximately $30 although some he makes are more expensive.  Beautiful Scandinavian one of a kind designs make these a special gift.  Jarrod Stone Dahl is the artist and he also creates bowls, boxes and other items.  All of his hand made items are beautiful!

2. I love my invisibelt.  At $22.00 they lay flat next to your body so there is no bump under your shirt.  The clasp doesn't last forever but since I wear it almost every day, I've found it lasts as long as any other belt.  I put this in our annual Christmas game and it was a huge hit.  

3. This next one seems a little odd I know but I received this as a gift after I had hurt my neck.  It's very light weight so when you put your hair up in it to dry it creates no pull on your neck.  For only $9.99 for two it's very economical.  It can be found at Bed, Bath and Beyond as well as occasionally at Target or Walmart.

4. For a luxurious bath or just next to your kitchen sink I've found a soap called Maria Evora.  It's a nice change from the usual Bath and Body gift.  The black sea salt and carob soaps are wonderful on your skin and they smell amazing!  The look of them alone makes a lovely gift.  Amazon is just one of many places that sell it for just $10.50 or 4 bars for $36.00

5. I've found a lot of inexpensive, vintage items on eBay.  This one is for the ladies who are interested in green living but like a little elegance in their lives.  Search vintage beaded purses and look through the offerings.  Make sure you look at all the disclosures, most people will let you know if there are slight stains or missing beads.  You can ask a question before you bid and I suggest you do so if there are not a lot of photos showing the exact condition of an item.  I've bought beautiful bags like the ones shown for $10 to $30.  I use mine to add romance to a night out for dinner. 

6.  The last one is thanks to my sister.  She gave me this pretty little Kuhn Rikon paring knife and cutting board for Christmas.  Not only is it pretty but it is also practical.  I'm always searching for a sharp knife.  They come in a multitude of colors which I find makes cooking more enjoyable. This knife was mentioned in Bon Appetit so it's perfect for that chef in your life yet so pretty and well made everyone will love it.  You can buy them singly or as a set at kitchen shops and online.  $10 - $30 depending on size and set.

I'm always trying to have a few inexpensive gifts on hand for that surprise event.  Tell me about your favorite gifts for a chance to win an eBook copy of my short story, Within Reach.  Click below where it says 'comments' and let me know.  If you're the first to comment the link will say 'No Comments.'  If others have already commented the link will indicate number of comments.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Looking for a Winter Vacation? Relax in Beautiful Sanibel Island, Florida

Recently we were able to escape the great frozen north for a sunnier destination to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  Although we've had many great vacations we never went on a honeymoon so we decided to treat this like the honeymoon we've never had.  We've visited the gulf coast of Florida many times and we really love the area so we decided to try a new spot, Sanibel Island.

Sanibel is a quiet little island with all the things I need in the winter...sand...sun...good food...and the ocean.  It's a great place to relax and let yourself become centered again.  I'm not one to lay directly in the sun but sitting under an umbrella or on our covered porch was heaven.  The first afternoon we were there I sat and read for hours in the warmth.

If you're looking for great meals this little island is a perfect destination.  We were unable to visit every place we wanted to but every meal we had was delicious.  Our list of great restaurants are as follows (not necessarily in order);

1. The Lighthouse Cafe -
Home of the World's Greatest Breakfast and from the mimosas with fresh squeezed orange juice to the pancakes, fresh preserves and other entrees I would vouch that claim.

2.  Keylime Bistro - Captiva - We had lunch in Captiva at the Keylime and really enjoyed ourselves sitting out on a patio with a warm breeze.  The wait staff was friendly, the food amazing and the music was wonderful.  A man named Mark Vee played guitar exceptionally well and offered to play songs that were requested.  Romantic, delicious and fun.

3.  Traders - Fun, eclectic atmosphere with delicious fresh food.  We had salmon sandwiches that were to die for.

4.  The Sanibel Cafe offered a lighter fare for lunch.  Don't let the relaxed atmosphere fool you.  This is where the locals eat for a good reason.  Delicious sandwiches, fresh fruit, and at a reasonable rate.

5.  The Sanibel Steakhouse-  We were served the best steaks we've eaten in ages!  Yum.  Romantic atmosphere with white tablecloths.  It was a little pricey but well worth it for a special evening.

6.  Thistle Lodge -  We decided to go upscale for our anniversary dinner.  The food was delicious.  It was a more chef based meal, which is interesting if you want to try something new.  The prices were high but the views overlooking the ocean made it well worth the price.

7.  Traditions at the Island Inn -  This is another local secret.  We arrived early because I wasn't feeling well so we didn't get a chance to enjoy much of the live music.  It felt like a traditional resort with heart.  Very good food and service.  We finished just as the sun set and walked out to the beach.

8.  Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream -  I don't even need to say anything about this spot.  Ice Cream says it all!!

9.  Over Easy Cafe -  Another exceptional place for breakfast.  The service was wonderful and the food fresh and perfectly made.  I had the croissant egg sandwich and it was melt in your mouth wonderful.

We wanted to go to more eateries but we were only on the island a few days so we hit what we could.

There are so many things to do on the island--fishing, canoeing, walking the eco trails, biking (there are trails everywhere and everyone bikes), kite boarding, shelling, and shopping but except for a few excursions we wanted to sit on the beach under the umbrella or walk the beach.  After a long battle with a bad cold it was just nice to rest.

There were a few things I would suggest as must do's -

Try the bike trails - get out early before it's too warm.

Visit the lighthouse beach.  It's quiet and empty in the morning.

Get up early and watch the sun rise!

It can be a magical thing!

Lastly, shopping is usually a given in a place like this but I really want to highlight one store.  B Unique Boutique Sanibel -  We met the store owner, Sandra, our first day on the island and while I was looking around she told Geo many of the restaurants and places to see while we were there.  She couldn't have been more generous or friendly.  Her store was filled with unique gifts and clothing that were quality items.   She believes in fair trade and empowering women which I think is a wonderful thing that I like to highlight as well.  She can even send you items you see on her site so look her up!

So if you're looking for somewhere to spend a few sunny hours during the chill of the north give Sanibel Island a chance.  We will be going back and we hope to hear of your adventures there.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Within Reach Excerpt

My short story Within Reach came out last Monday and it's been exciting and yet scary.  You put so much time and energy, not to mention your heart, into a story and release it to the world and then you hope it is enjoyed.  While this is a fantasy story I wrote, it is also my family's story, and hopefully it will resonate with anyone who has struggled with the loss of a loved one.  Thank you to everyone who has been supportive and who have already given me kind and positive feedback!

Here is an excerpt -

My heart jumped as my tires slipped on the wet pavement. The pouring rain swallowed the faint glimmer of my old Toyota’s headlights as I pumped my brakes and negotiated the bend in the road. Slow down, I told myself, but the gnawing unease in my stomach urged me to hurry. It was only a few more miles now. An extra five minutes would make no difference. One thing was certain; I would be no help to my mother if I had an accident.
I tried to push our last argument to the back of my mind. Remembering the anger and recriminations wouldn’t keep my mind on my driving. My mother had been furious when I said she needed to come live with us or find an assisted living arrangement. She wouldn’t accept her failing memory was a hazard to herself and others. Her personality had slowly changed as the disease progressed, until she was unable to be reasonable anymore. That scared me. Well, now the other choices were gone. Something had to change. I knew there would be another fight, but I had no choice. Tomorrow, I’d call my mother’s doctor to see what options existed for the swiftly deteriorating situation.
Her doctors kept assuring me Mom was able to live alone, but I knew she had just hidden the degree to which her confusion had advanced. She was a wonderful actress. It seemed I was the only one who saw behind the mask she showed the world. I’d sworn when I learned of my mother’s condition I would be there for her. She had been there for me. Little did I know how difficult that vow would become for all of us.
The rain started to come down in torrents, so I could hardly see the twisting road. I had driven this route so many times, but now I felt lost. The trees lining the sides of the road appeared, closing in on me, and the black pavement descended into an abyss around the next turn. My head pounded with the effort just to stay alert and not to panic.
At times, it seemed like Mom was a three-year-old trapped in an old woman’s body. I would look in her eyes and see emptiness where she once was. I hiccoughed a sob and tried to hold it together. I didn’t know how much more I could take. I was so tired.
I couldn’t believe it when I got my mother’s voice message saying she accidentally left her cat Rhubarb outside and she was going to look for it. What if she was hit by a car that didn’t see her in the rainy darkness? Please, please don’t let her get hurt, I prayed over and over to whoever might be listening as I drove through the dismal night.
Rhubarb died three years ago.

I've received two five star reviews on amazon for which I am so grateful!  

A story of a daughter's unshakable love of a mother losing her connection with the world and the pain of watching it happen. Beautiful and touching.   -  Debra Harrison

If you have a family member with dementia you will relate to this story! It helped me to focus on the happy memories with my own mother.  -  Bma

If you're interested in reading Within Reach you can follow the below links.

Melange -

Amazon  kindle -