I Triple Dog Dare You!

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is through and the new year has begun, full of resolutions for the future. I’m not sure why this is the time we stop to think about what we want to change about how we live our lives. Is it because we see a new year as a good place for a new beginning? Or is it because in the deafening silence that follows in the wake of the holiday season, we actually have time to sit and think about what we want for ourselves? Maybe it’s a little of both.

What I do know is that New Year’s Resolutions rarely stick. Life gets busy and any plans we had to: eat better, exercise more, call our family, etcetera, etcetera, get derailed. I decided that first, anything I promise I will do differently this year, can’t be so radically different from my normal routine that it becomes impossible to uphold. Secondly, the best way to stay on track is to take someone along with me on the ride.

So when I saw a 2015 reading challenge on Popsugar.com, I thought this was just the thing!

 

 

I already read, but I used to read much, much more. Not only do I miss escaping into a good book but according to Stephen King, and I have to agree with him, reading is fundamental to my writing. In his book “On Writing,” which I would highly recommend all writers read, he says,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So part of my plan to work the day job less, and write more, must include the goal to read more. As much as I enjoy reading, I know that life will get busy. The dishes need to be done, the dog needs to be walked, the chicken coop needs cleaning… If all I tell myself is I want to read more, then I know I will fall into the trap of saying to myself – I will! Just as soon as I have the time.

I came up with a plan. I printed three copies of the challenge, and went to my two adult children and dared them to take it with me. We’ll all work on our own lists. Whoever completes their list first, wins. The two losers each cough up $25 to buy the winner a $50 gift card of their choice. And the race is on!

It was fun to watch them search for books that would fit the categories. The only rules are that we cannot use a book we’ve read before (unless the challenge category requires it), and one book cannot count more than once. So my first book I finished was “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It could count as: a Pulitzer Prize winner, a book that was turned into a movie, or a book that made me cry. I must choose which category it will be used for, it cannot count for all three.

 

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Not only is this a good thing for me, it’s a good thing for my kids. Can I count that as being a better parent for the new year? Why don’t you try this with your kids? If this list isn’t appropriate for their age range, make one up. How about categories such as: read a Caldecott Award winner, read a book about an animal, read a book in which a girl is the hero…I’m sure you can come up with some great ideas of your own!

In conjunction with this, I plan on reviewing the books I read. I will post each review here, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Librarything. I’ll post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, as well. I encourage everyone to do that. Reviews are essential to authors. Do you want to take the challenge? If you do let me know. If not, but you just love reading, or happen to read a book you just love (or hate), tell me about it. Word of mouth is also essential to authors! I can’t wait to hear what you’re reading. Go on – pick up a book, READ – I triple dog dare ya!

 

Here We Go a Wassailing…

The Monches Artisans Holiday Open House is going great, and I’ve met so many nice people interested in what I have to say about Charles Dickens and in my books!

They are loving the Dickensian treats, so even though I’ve posted some of them before, I thought I’d post the recipes again so they’d be easy to find.

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Shrewsbury Cakes

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
extra sugar
Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.
Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.
Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.
Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
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Gingerbread

4 oz (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter & flour loaf pan or 9″ square baking pan.

Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light.
Add eggs and beat well.
Add boiling water and molasses and blend.
In a seperate bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Add to the first mixture, and combine thoroughly.
Pour into the pan and bake 35-45 min until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5-10 min before turning onto a plate.

 

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Mince Pies

 

Okay, this one was a total cheat on my part. I’d love to try and make my mincemeat by scratch, but haven’t had the chance to try that yet. So instead I used a jar mix. The brand I used was None Such. I used their Brandy and Rum Mincemeat.

So take a mini muffin pan. Use any pie pastry recipe or use those refrigerated roll out pie crusts. Find a smaller circle cookie or biscuit cutter, or you can try a glass that will make circles to fit your mini muffin pan. Grease pans, place a circle of dough in bottom of each cup. Drop in a small spoonful of mincemeat, then cover top with another circle of dough. Here’s the trick. Don’t over fill with the mincemeat! It should look like you don’t really have enough in each cup. The mincemeat will expand when it cooks and it’s super sticky, so if you overfill, they will overflow and all your mince pies will be stuck to the pan when they are done. Also just press the center of the top crust down onto the filling. These are really too small to successfully crimp the edges, although I did give it a bit of try. Cut slits in top crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar once out. I used baker’s super fine sugar, but you can use regular sugar as well. Let cool for just a bit in pan, remove carefully to cool on rack the rest of the way.

 

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Candied Orange Peel

 

Take 4 large, thick skinned Navel Oranges. With a knife, score the skin into quarters. Peel the skin quarters from the orange. Place the skins in a pot full of water, and boil for 20 min.

Let cool slightly. While still warm, pull one skin at a time from the pot, and scrape all of the white pith of with a knife or spoon. I found a knife worked better, and you have to do so very carefully or the skins will tear. Cut the cleaned skins into strips.

Put 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a pot and heat until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pour orange strips into pot, and stir until coated. Cover pot and simmer for 45 min.

Once done, take orange strips out of sugar water and spread out on a small grid cooling rack that is set over a cookie sheet to catch the drips. Cool for one hour. then toss strips, a few at a time, in a bowl of additional sugar to coat. Place on wax paper and let sit out overnight to dry.

 

 

Wassail

 

1 gallon apple cider – I prefer fresh.

4 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

24 whole cloves

8 cinnamon sticks

½ tsp. Ground ginger

½ tsp. Ground nutmeg

Put all ingredients into a large pot, heat up to a boil, then turn down and simmer. The longer it simmers, the better it tastes. You can also leave it in a crock pot overnight. Strain out spices. Can be stored in refrigerator. Serve warm.

Monches Artisans Holiday Open House

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The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to deal with the hassle of Christmas shopping. But finding the perfect gift shouldn’t be a hassle. The best way to  to check off the people on your Christmas list, while enjoying some holiday cheer, is to visit local shops, holiday fairs, and open houses.

 

Not only do you avoid the crowds and chaos of the large department stores, and malls, but you help to make the holidays a little brighter for local business owners and artisans.

 

And face it, isn’t a beautiful, hand crafted gift more special than a mass manufactured item?

 

Here’s a wonderful opportunity for you to do just that this weekend!

 

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31st Annual
Monches Artisans
Holiday Open House

December 5-7, 2014 (at most locations)
9:00-5:00

Join in and celebrate! With map in hand you’ll be guided on a driving tour through the historic Monches and Holy Hill area to visit artist studios, quaint shops, farms and inns.

 

Friday, December 5th through Sunday December 7th will mark the 31st year that artists in the tiny artist community of Monches, 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, will open their doors and welcome visitors for a weekend of holiday cheer.

 

The 2014 tour will include a pottery studio, an art glass studio, an outdoor metal sculpture gallery and a rural inn and vineyard featuring seasonal wines. Monches Farm will be offering fresh handmade wreaths, holiday greens and a shop brimming with antiques, unique gifts and seasonal décor.  A local church will also be hosting a craft fair on Saturday.

 

The drive-it-yourself tour will take visitors along rustic roads through the scenic area surrounding the renowned Holy Hill Basilica. Refreshments, seasonal music and outdoor bonfires will welcome visitors at several of the stops along the way.  The tour runs from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Maps will be available at each of the tour stops and HERE.

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I will be at Paul Bobrowitz Spectacular Sculpture talking about Charles Dickens, his book “The Christmas Carol,” and his influence on the Christmas we celebrate today. Signed copies of my books, including “Christmas Carole,” will be available for purchase.

What better stocking stuffer, or teacher’s gift than a Christmas book signed by the author?

I will have several yummy treats that you may have found in Dickens time for you to taste, along with wassail to warm you up.

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Plus you will have the opportunity to purchase many beautiful items and gifts made by talented local artisans!

I truly hope you can make it to this wonderful holiday event!

 

 

Surviving Life's Surprises

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No matter how much we try to plan our lives, life often has surprises for us. Some are happy surprises, some of them would never show up on anyone’s wish list. The trick is learning from each one so that when the next one comes along we have to tools necessary to deal with it.

As most of you know, over 15 years ago, I had lunch at a little B&B in Monches, Wisconsin. I fell in love with the place. I had no idea at the time that my life would include living in, and renovating the 172 year old homestead. Even the good surprises come with down sides. Living in a old house has meant, sharing my living room with chipmunks, my porch with bats, and my basement with mice. It’s meant having long dead animals drop out from ceilings as we tear them apart. It’s meant having a sink hole open up in the middle of the sun room. It’s been a lot of cuts, bruises, tendinitis, sore muscles, and an endless horizon of work.

Despite all of that, I wouldn’t have wanted to give it up. Unfortunately, it seems I’ll have to. I don’t need to get into all the details, but it has to do with the building company my husband runs, his business partner, and the stock market.

The upside? Financially, we’re secure. We’ll get back the money we put into the house immediately, which gives us a decent down payment on another home. We may, in the end, get additional money for the labor we put into it, but it’s not something we will count on. Since we still don’t hold the mortgage on the home (it was being held by the building company until a good portion of the work was completed) we don’t even have to worry about selling it. We just take our money, and walk away. The rest of the work will be completed by contractors, and the property will be sold, the proceeds going back to the company. We also can take our time to find something that suits us. Until the Mill House is complete and ready to sell, we can stay here.

And, while I’m still tired and sore from all the work, I must admit, it’s a bit of a relief to set the hammer down, and look for a home that doesn’t have an unending to-do list. Thanks to the projects I’ve done for this home, I’ve learned I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I can make any house be our home. Don’t like the cabinets? No problem, just give me an ice pick and a hammer! There’s a hole in the wall? I can patch it in no time! There’s a sinkhole in the floor … never mind … no more sink holes!

Someday, when the wound isn’t quite so tender, we’ll look back on this as an adventure, and hopefully we’ll come away with some new friends we can keep, even if we aren’t neighbors anymore.

Besides, frankly, things have been worse. We’ve lost a home before. That too, was a dream home that we worked endlessly for a year to complete. That time, we lost the house along with my husband’s business; our livelihood. We had children, still in school, that we had to support and no idea how we were going to do that. We had no savings, not a penny to put towards another home. We had no clue as to how we were going to survive, but we knew we would survive because that loss came on the heels of an even greater loss, the loss of our youngest son. If there is anything that can put life’s ups and downs into perspective, burying a child is a sure bet. If we could survive that, we could and can survive anything.

So while we’re still heartbroken at this loss, this time the only thing we lose is the dream of this particular house. Additionally, as much as we love this house, it was taking other things away from us: the freedom and funds to travel, the time to just relax and play, my time to write. There are other dreams we can fulfill and other adventures to discover.

As the old saying goes, it’s better to have loved than not loved at all. I have no regrets. I’m glad I’ve spent the better part of a year doing something I’ve always wanted to do, rehab a historic home. Even though I’d have liked to stay a little longer, okay – a lot longer, I’m glad that I’m now a part of this grand home’s history.

Life’s never been boring for our family, we’ve been through a lot, some say more than most. Life’s taught us an important lesson that we haven’t forgotten. It’s taught us that no matter what road blocks we meet, there’s always an alternate route. It may not be the road we planned on taking, but then maybe we’ll discover something we wouldn’t have had we stuck to the map.

So yes, we’ll shed a few tears, and then a few more, but then we’ll brush ourselves off and move on. We’ll be okay. I know we can do it, because we’ve done it before. Surviving this surprise, is no surprise at all.

 

No Moment Wasted

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This post was actually written on 5/13/14 – I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to post it.

 

Today’s been emotional.

It was the first day I’ve had free in longer than I can remember. I started the day with a to-do list, that never got done. The first thing that happened was that I opened my computer to check my facebook page. I was intending to get back on top of my Charles Dickens Project, which has been woefully neglected while we were busy renovation the mill house (not that we will ever be done renovating).

I came upon a link to a blog written by a mother, who right now is sitting next to her little boy, Ben, waiting for his last breath. She’s struggling with how to help her other children (including Ben’s identical twin brother) cope, when she’s not sure how she will cope. The words brought every memory and emotion back like it was only yesterday when I was doing the same thing.

The logical part of me screamed to turn the computer off. I had no delusions that I could read her blog and not bawl my eyes out. I read every post, from his diagnosis until today. Today, when all that was left was pain medications, holding hands, and waiting.

But that wasn’t all. I lost all ambition to do anything I had planned for today and stayed glued to my computer and read more stories.

One was of a 13 year old girl in Illinois, who carried her twin sister on her back for 370 meters after her sibling collapsed during a track meet. Helping her sister to finish the race meant ending any chances of finishing with a medal for herself. More tears for me.

I watched a video in which a sportscaster expressed his disgust for the uproar over Michael Sam. It was nice to see the support for a nice young man, who simply shared his joy of getting drafted into the NFL with the person he loves most. Best of luck to you, Michael. For every negative comment I saw, I read many more positive ones. The video showed a clip of Michael in tears. I joined him.

I watched an episode of Dancing With The Stars in which Paralympian Amy Purdy danced better than I could ever dream of dancing. Amy lost both her legs from the knee down after nearly losing her life to meningitis at the age of 19. She received a standing ovation.Yep, I cried.

I even teared up over Clydesdales. Yes, the horses, the ones made famous by Budweiser. I watched a video in which the Budweiser team was involved in an accident where the harness apparatus broke while the team was moving in a tight circle. It resulted in several of the horses falling down. Being extremely well trained, the rest of the horses stayed calm. The ones on the ground stayed down, keeping still, instead of struggling to get up. All of them were still tethered together. Had any of the horses panicked, the ones that were down would have been trampled. The handlers ran out and carefully untangled the mess. When the last horse stood back up, unharmed, they too received a standing ovation.

I made sure to dry my tears, and clean up a bit before my husband got home. I could hear him in my mind saying “Why read those stories if they make you cry?” and “You’re just wasting your time when you could be getting something done.” What he doesn’t realize is that I was getting something done. I was experiencing a range of emotions that inspired me to do some writing. Nothing big, just a couple of pages. Maybe they will grow into something, and maybe they won’t. Even if they only stay a couple of pages stored on my hard drive, the feelings I went through today: heart break, pride, joy, relief, will all come into play one day. I will draw on those feelings when I need to have a character face a loss, or watch a child do something extraordinary, or overcome a challenge.

All of these stories had happiness and sadness in them. The mother who was losing her son, took joy in her other children and in her faith. The girl who helped her sister may have lost her race, but she won so much more. The young athlete, who is facing bigotry and hate, is also being surrounded by love and support. The woman who has lost both her legs has proven that grace comes from within. What looked to be a horrific accident, showed what even animals can do when they trust the people who have cared for them.

This is how I learn to write better. I take in all I can, even if it’s painful. I let myself laugh, and yes, cry. I learn by living and also by observing other’s lives. And despite what my husband might think, or that long list of jobs that has to wait for another day –  I didn’t waste my time. Without even getting out of my pajamas, I had a very productive day. When you’re a writer, no moment is wasted.

Update: Little Ben passed away only a few days later, at home, surrounded by those who love him. Rest in peace, Ben, and all the best wishes for peace and strength to your family.

Still Writing

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As you know, things have been quiet when it comes to my writing. Some days it makes my stomach clench so hard, I feel nauseous. I wish I had time to write, but at the moment renovating our old house has to be the priority. I keep trying to hold on to the image of my soon-to-be office, complete with antique fireplace, where I can finally settle in and get back to the thing that makes me happiest. When people ask me how my writing’s going, it feels like I have to admit to a horrible crime. I don’t even like to admit to myself that I haven’t written anything in months, much less to anyone else. It’s not like I’m not writing because I’ve lost inspiration, I just don’t have the time right now.

Today, I made the realization, that although, on the outside, it seems as though I’m not writing, I am actually writing – everyday.

When I first started writing, I read every book I could find on how to write. Most books on writing are little more than those motivational speakers that corporate CEO’s hire to try to increase productivity in their employees. They say things like “just write,” and “anyone with a pen can write.” And then there’s the practical advice like “show don’t tell.” While all of these statements are true, it’s too abstract to someone who has never written before. I   remember wondering what the heck “show don’t tell” meant. I had no clue how to do that. Aren’t you supposed to “tell” a story? I didn’t need a cheerleader, I needed a tutor.

Every once in a while, I’d find a small nugget of information that would actually help me. One such nugget was the suggestion that the prospective writer, sit in a room and, in their head, describe their surroundings. Of course I started out with green curtains and beige walls, but that was pretty boring. Over time my descriptions became more detailed and creative until I was trying to describe how the sunlight shining through the window was like a stage light on tiny dust dancers as they pirouetted through the air. It was great practice, and I did it every chance I could.

Driving to work on a foggy day, I’d see the fog as a cold dark creature, clawing at the earth, trying to hold on and fend off the approaching sunrise. I saw the rain as tears washing away the sorrow of loss.

At first I would rush to write down my thoughts, but this broke the spell, and everything that had been on the tip of my tongue one moment, would vanish. Now I realize that Allen Ginsberg’s motto “first thought, best thought” is accurate. The thought is good, but not necessarily the exact words. So now I just let the words flow through my mind. When the time comes that I need to describe fog, or rain in a story, I can think back to that moment and the feelings that the event evoked, and come up with even better words. Perhaps my character would see the fog with a sense of security, as a place to hide from terror, instead of a horrible creature.

It was just this morning, when I was reading a story that brought tears to my eyes, that I realized I still do this without even consciously thinking about it. I was fighting the tears, with that familiar burn in my eyes and lump in my throat. But that’s how everyone describes the feeling of struggling not to cry. So in my mind, I wrote. I wrote what I felt. It took a moment for me to recognize what I was doing. It made me smile. It turns out I never stopped writing after all.

Merry Christmas of Olde

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Happy Christmas,  Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Saturnaliatreecrop, or whatever it is you celebrate in your heart this holiday season!

At our house – well the one we’re living in – Christmas is a rather quiet affair. With moving boxes in every corner, it didn’t make much sense to pull out all the decorations. That didn’t mean we’re ignoring the holiday all together. We moved a little Arborvitae into our living room and put some lights and small ornaments on it. Add a star on the top, and we have a Christmas tree that can move to the mill house with us come spring.

We have finally closed on both the purchase of the  Monches Mill House, and the sale of our current home. We’re renting from our home’s new owner while working on renovations on the mill house.  That didn’t keep me from doing some decorating though! The day we closed, I ran over to the mill house to put up some outdoor decorations. I think I had a need to mark my territory. Mother nature added her own frosty decorations! Who needs fake icicle lights?  Even unoccupied, the house looks like a Christmas card!

 

Not only is the work on the mill house, and the packing up of our belongings keeping me occupied, but I also launched a Christmas program that I’m doing at bookstores and libraries. It’s a presentation on the history of Charles Dickens, his book “A Christmas Carol,” and how it affected the Christmas we celebrate today.

Along with my verbal presentation, I put up a display.

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I also served Wassail and a variety of Dickensian Christmas treats.  The candied orange peel was the favorite of kids and adults, alike.

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mincepies

 

gingerbread

As were the Shrewsbury Cakes!

 

shrewburycakes

Recipe:

 

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

2 tsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

extra sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.

Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.

Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.

Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.

Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Our Christmas may be quiet this year – but it’s still filled with traditions of old.  Just wait until next year – I’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate our first real Christmas in the mill house!

I hope your holiday is a happy and healthy one, whether large or small, contemporary or traditional, and I hope your new year brings you all the best!

A Literary Halloween

We currently live in a subdivision which is big on Halloween. Many houses sport decorations, some elaborate, and there was even a haunted house, just around the corner, with the entrance fee of a canned good for the local food pantry. Luckily, Halloween also happens to be one of my favorite holidays.

Since our house is known as the castle house by the neighbors, both kids and adults, it made sense to use that to our advantage. It was a no-brainier for me to decorate in the spirit of one of my favorite book (and movie) series, Harry Potter. Some of the pictures are taken with flash, some without. The lighting was dark and moody – it looked great to the naked eye and cast just the right atmosphere, however it’s not so good for the camera.

 

Did you get your Hogwarts letter?

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If not, don’t worry. All are welcome at Hogwarts tonight.

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Welcome to Hogwarts!

 

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First the trick-or-treaters get to walk by Aragog.

 

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And Hagrid’s Pumpkin Patch.pumpkin

 

 

Sorry this video is dark. The spot light on the Dementor was bright enough to the naked eye, but the camera had a harder time picking it up.  Luckily Harry’s Patronus was strong and saved all the little ghosts and witches from the soul sucking Dementor! (MAKE SURE TO TURN YOUR SOUND UP FOR SOME AWESOME SOUND EFFECTS!)

 

 

This is what the Dementor looked like in daylight.

 

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Visitors entered at Diagon Alley where they could browse many of the shops.

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Eeylops Owl Emporium had a selection of owls as well as owl treats!

 

 

 

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Ollivander’s Wand Shop

 

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With a selection of wands.

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Flourish & Blott’s Bookstore

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Where Harry and friends can buy their school books.

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Every student must stop at Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions!

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And of course, Quality Quidditch Supplies!

 

We also had the Hogsmeade shop, Honeydukes.

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Where you can find Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Fudge Flies, and Droobles Best Blowing Gum.

 

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Butter Beer!

 

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Fizzing Whizzbees, Cockroach Clusters, Blood Pops, Chocolate Frogs, Licorice Wands, and Pumpkin Juice are available.

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And you can’t forget Ton  Tongue  Toffee, Fairy Floss, Pepper Imps, and Dumbledore’s beloved Lemon Drops!

 

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Now we enter Hogwarts. Our first stop is the potions classroom, with none other than Snape brewing several potions.

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 Where he brews from Moste Potent Potions.

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With all kinds of creepy ingredients.

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Watch out for the Hand of Glory!

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A potion bubbles and spurts in the corner.

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The Great Hall is set for dinner.

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It wouldn’t be the Great Hall without floating candles!

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Anyone for a game of Wizard’s chess?

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What can you see in the crystal ball in Divination class?

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Herbology is Neville’s specialty.

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Watch out for the screaming mandrake!

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Can you turn a snail into a teapot?

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That’s the lesson being covered  in the Transfiguration classroom.

 

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In the Entrance Hall you can check out one of the portraits, check the counters to see which house is in the lead for the house cup, or take a look at the Goblet of Fire.

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See the smoke and blue flame?

Here are some of the how-to pictures.

I built the Dementor by pounding a metal fence post into my garden, then I wired a long piece of PVC to it. The flexibility of the PVC pipe made it so the Dementor swayed ominously in the wind.

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I shaped his torso, arms, and “tail” out of chick wire, with a styrofoam block for a head. I painted all of this black so the the shiny chicken wire wouldn’t show through the fabric.

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I made the Dementor’s hands out of wire, wrapped in regular masking tape. Then I spray painted them gray, and went over with a light coat of black, making sure not to cover the gray completely.

After attaching the hands, I just covered the Dementor in layers of black dyed cheesecloth and black sheer fabric I picked up cheap at a rummage sale. I made sure to tear all the edges and leave long tatters hanging down.

He was sufficiently scary. Every once and a while he would move in the wind and startle us, and freak out our dog.

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I didn’t want kids grabbing at all the props, so I took plastic cauldrons from the dollar store and filled them with a quick dry cement. Before it set, I put in a piece of PVC painted gray (It was cut to length at Menard’s, where I bought it. I added a “T” connector on the top to run rope through. Once the concrete was dry a gave it a base coat of green, then dry brushed a coat of glow-in-the-dark green paint. With the black lights in my garage, the glowing, lumpy concrete looked like a bubbling potion!

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My goblet of fire started with a plywood base on which I screwed a length of closet pole. From there I just cut a hole in each piece and slid it over the pole to secure. The top and bottom are made of pressed paper rose cones. The star shaped platform is just cut from foam core. Then I used things like soup cans, margarine containers, and an oatmeal container.

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After it was all assembled, I added a blue spot light inside, and hid the cord under the paper mache’ rocks. Some paint, and gel stain and we have a Goblet of Fire. I used “smoke” oil drops from a model railroad (available at any hobby store). I just squirted a few drops onto the hot spot light bulb and got the blue flame/smoke effect.

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Before it was Hogwarts, it was just a garage. The “stone” walls are from scene setters. Details like the gargoyles and lots of battery operated candles brought it all to life.

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I spent a few dollars on the hanging flame lights, stone walls, and life sized Snape, but almost everything else was either something I already had, or fashioned out of finds from thrift stores, rummage sales, and the dollar store. Even the old beat up student desk was only $2.00.

If you have any questions on how any of the props were made, just ask in comments. I’ll be happy to share.

Living in a Fairy Tale – Part 2

…now for the rest of the story. For those of you who are already lost, just go to the first part here: Part 1 then when you’re finished, you can read this post. This is a bit of a longer post, okay, it would be classified as a short story, but trust me, the ending is worth it!

So, this wasn’t just any old estate sale that my husband and I went to. Maybe I need to start at the beginning.

 

Once upon a time…well, just about!

This story started many years ago, somewhere around 15 years ago. I’d been shopping with a dear friend at Monches Farm, in Monches, Wisconsin. Monches is a small township straddling the border between Waukesha and Washington Counties. To the south is North Lake and Merton, to the North, Erin and Holy Hill. If you’ve never been to Monches Farm, I highly recommend it! It’s garden center/nursery combined with antique shop.

They had, sitting on their counter, a card for a B&B just up the road that served lunches. I took one of those cards, and it sat, pinned by a magnet to my refrigerator for over a year. Finally one day, I called that same friend and asked if she wanted to try the place. It was a little different than your usual restaurant. There was no menu to choose from. You would be served whatever they made that day, with ingredients fresh from the garden. The timed reservations were very specific, they had limited space. The meal was a set price, which if I remember, at the time was only $7.00 per person.

 

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From the front entrance we were guided into a bedroom/sitting room to the right of the foyer. The sun poured in through the large windows and door that opened onto a second story porch. We were served a non-alcoholic aperitif in antique glasses. I’m pretty sure it was white grape juice and ginger ale, but the light, sparkly beverage was perfect. There were two other women seated in the room with us, and we all talked about how lovely the inn was, and how nice it would be to stay there.

Once our table was ready, we were led through the foyer into an open room graced by a huge fireplace. Our table was alongside the wall opposite the fireplace, next to more large windows overlooking a pond. From where we were seated we could also see out to a rustic outdoor porch. We had mentioned to each other that although the room we were in was beautiful, we would have liked to sit out on the porch. I have since learned that the porch in question has acquired the name “The Forbidden Porch” because all the lunch guests wanted to sit out there, but none were allowed.

The first course was a salad, followed by soup. I can’t remember what soup we were served, but I do remember that we enjoyed it. The main course was an herb quiche that I later tried to reproduce because I liked it so much. There were fresh baked rolls and, for a beverage, we had Russian Spiced Tea over ice. I had been making this same spiced tea mix as gifts for years. Dessert was a homemade lemon sorbet.

After lunch, the gracious server encouraged us to explore the grounds. There was a picnic table and a canoe along the shoreline of the pond. We walked brick pathways through the gardens. We wandered past the tennis court and peeked into the barn, which actually had a romantic rustic bedroom set up in one end.

 

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“Wouldn’t this be an amazing place to live?” We absolutely loved it and vowed to come back.

But life got busy. I kept that creased card, that I had picked up at the nursery, clipped to my refrigerator for years. It moved from refrigerator to refrigerator, as we moved. Truth be told, I think the card finally got tossed in this last move. I figured if I ever got the chance to go back, I could look them up on the internet.

And I did – just last year. When I was planning on taking time off to finish writing a book, I considered finding a room in a B&B. Sometimes my family doesn’t understand that even though I’m home, I’m really at work. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find a website.

Fast forward to this June. I was getting ready for work when my husband, Jim, who was looking at available properties for work on the internet, called out to me. “Hey, didn’t you and Marlys eat at the Monches Mill House once?”

“Yes, and it was wonderful!” I replied.

“It’s for sale,” he said, “and at affordable price.”

I ran into the living room, still dripping from the shower, to look at the pictures over his shoulder. It hadn’t changed. I pointed out the room we first sat in, and the room we had lunch in. “Buy it for me!” I squealed.

I was serious with my request, yet didn’t think he’d really consider it. We had just bought the house we’re in two years ago. I asked if we could go in and get a look at it anyway. So he called our real estate agent, and friend, and set up an appointment.

The first time we went through, I went with a vision of the property I’d seen years earlier. In reality, it hasn’t changed all that much, although time has had it’s effect. I realized just how big the property was, and although I loved it, wasn’t sure I wanted to take on such a large project at this stage in my life.

The next day, as my husband and I talked about it, it was clear he was hooked, and I quickly followed. We talked, and we talked some more. In the end, we knew we’d always wanted an old house. Usually old houses come with a list of negatives that aren’t things that can be changed. They are generally located on busier roads, or their floor plans are totally dysfunctional. Either they’ve been updated poorly, loosing their original charm, or they are in such bad condition the task seems insurmountable. If they have been updated correctly, the price tag is through the roof, and there is nothing left to do.

This house is in a quiet town, right where we wanted to be. We lived most of our adult lives in the Merton area and were hoping to eventually get back there. The house is original – every bit of charm still intact. It needs work, but isn’t ready to fall down. It’s sitting on 2 acres, with gardens, a barn, gazebo and tennis court and is situated next to a mill pond. Even the floor plan is great. If we didn’t try for this old house, then there would be no old house – ever.

So we decided to go for a second showing with the intention of putting an offer on the house. Just  before the showing we found out that the owners had just accepted another offer. We went anyway. After we looked at the house a second time, Jim started to look into financing hoping that we could put in a better offer. The bank wasn’t as in love as we were. It seemed it was not to be.

We put the house out of our minds the best we could and continued working on our current house. Then one day, Jim drove past the house on the way back from a job site. The shortest path between where he was and where he was heading, led him right past the Mill House. I still remember the excitement evident in his voice over the phone. “You’re not going to believe this, they dropped the price!”

We figured that the offer they currently had, must not have been that good of one, if they were lowering the price while under contract. We called and set up a third showing. This time we secured  financing before we went. It turned out that the first offer was contingent on a sold subject. In other words, the buyers had a house to sell before they could finance and close on the Mill House. There is a bump clause in the contract, so if the seller accepted our offer (without that contingency) the other buyers would have 72 hours to drop their contingencies and go to closing. We offered cash, no contingencies other than a septic inspection.

Again, just before the showing, we got bad news. We found out that the first buyers had just gotten an offer on their house. We weren’t completely defeated, they would still have to feel confident enough in their offer to drop the contingencies on the Mill House purchase.

Our offer never made it that far. The sellers had developed a bond with the first buyers and wanted to give them a chance. We were rejected.

By this time we had been trying for this house for three months. It was time to give up. Jim started looking at properties, but I couldn’t even consider them. I told him that until the house was absolutely sold, I couldn’t commit to anything else. “It isn’t over, until it’s over,” I told him.

Jim drove by the house several times, once seeing the vehicle of the potential new owners – no doubt there to take measurements for renovations.

September arrived and I receive an e-mail from the same nursery that started all of this, that the Monches Mill House was having an estate sale. It felt like the last shredded strand of hope was gone, there was nothing left to hold onto. If they were selling all the furnishings, they must not need to keep the house staged. The deal must be going through.

I wavered back and forth. I wanted to go to the sale – the house was filled with gorgeous antiques, but I knew it’d be a stab wound to my heart. Then again, maybe I needed to say goodbye to the house, and the dream. My husband made me promise not to pout while we were there.

 

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The estate sale was amazing and we bought quite a few items, including some larger pieces, necessitating several trips. I was moping a bit during one of the trips. Jim tried to tell me that I needed to get over it. I told him, “You never know, the sale might still fall through.”

When we returned one of the sellers, who is the daughter of the woman who ran the inn, helped us to load our vehicle. She asked if we were antique dealers since we had purchased big items, and we told her we just loved antiques and the history behind them. We told her we didn’t even have a place for the 1800’s highboy dresser we bought. I would need to decide what piece of furniture to get rid of to fit it in.

The woman said she hoped we’d find a spot for everything. I replied that we just needed to find an old house to put it all in. She said, “There’s plenty of old houses out there.”

That’s when I broke my promise. “I really wanted this one,” I answered … with a pout.

“Did you hear? Our offer fell through,” she said.

I’m pretty sure there was dirt clinging to my chin after my jaw hit the ground – hard. The first question that popped into my head was, “Why didn’t your real estate agent call our real estate agent?” What came out of my mouth was “OH MY GOD!” Then I said, “We were the people with the cash offer.”

Now that the first buyers were out of the picture, I figured we could go back to resubmitting the offer that we’d submitted earlier.

What I got in reply was a stutter and a puzzled look. I turned to my husband who had returned from the other side of our car. He had been standing there, listening to our conversation. What I didn’t know at the moment, was he was holding his finger up to his lips, cutting off the seller from saying anything more. Finally in the awkward confusion, he just shrugged and said, “My wife doesn’t know anything.” Then he said, “We’re the people with the above asking price offer on the table now.”

“WHAT???”

My husband had submitted a second, higher price offer without telling me. By total coincidence, he put the offer in just hours after they had found out the first buyer’s offer was in question.

I gasped, I laughed, I cried.

We were introduced to the other two sisters, and various family, and friends. We hung out at the estate sale for two days. We felt as though we’d been adopted. The sisters even gave me a bowl that their mother had hand painted because, “they wanted me to have it.”

It turns out I look just like their mother, and their aunt’s name was Dody. It seemed like it was all meant to be.

Ha! It may have been meant to be, but that doesn’t mean it got any easier. It took another month of wrangling with lawyers and the county about easements and driveways, and the first buyers were still technically under contract even though the offer on their own house had fallen through – but it’s finally happened. On October 2nd we got verbal notification, and on October 4, 2013 we received the paperwork, our offer was accepted! We still have a septic inspection and the closing to get to, but barring any major calamity we hope to start renovations by the end of the month.

So in the end, we went to the estate sale, and bought the estate!

 

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