Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: The Drawing Lesson

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An instructional art book in narrative graphic novel form that uses the tale of one aspiring young artist and his reluctant mentor to impart easy-to-follow lessons on the fundamentals of drawing.

With over 10 million views and growing, Mark Crilley's YouTube drawing instruction videos have an enormous worldwide legion of fans and have been featured on sites such as Yahoo News and Reddit. In addition, Crilley is an accomplished graphic novelist. Now for the first time, he pairs both strengths resulting in a one-of-a-kind art instruction experience. Through the story of aspiring, overeager young artist-in-the-making David and his helpful, but often flustered mentor, Becky, readers gain a grounding in the basics of drawing and rendering, along with a helping of laughs and poignant entertainment. Each lesson builds off the previous, with sidebars at the end of each chapter that direct readers to tackle some of the very same drawing exercises that David has just completed. The sequential art format provides the perfect vehicle for these step-by-step lessons, and the Pixar-esque approach to the surrounding characters and story ensures an enjoyable experience that readers will want to revisit again and again.

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Every so often you come across something that just amazes you. That is this book. In some ways, it's two books in one. You can read it just as a graphic novel or you can use it as how to book for drawing. I loved David's enthusiasm as he returned for each lesson and how each lesson built upon the previous ones. While this book won't teach you advanced drawing techniques, it's perfect for those who are just starting out, young and old alike. Follow along with David and as you master each technique, open the book back up and see what Becky is now teaching him! I may not be an artist, but this book is one that will happily be joining my other graphic novels on the shelves and one that I will recommend to any art teacher who will listen.

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Free eBook Opportunity!

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ravennewsletter

This is the complete Steampunk Fantasy novel – all four parts of the serial in one volume! Human life has value. The poor living in the gutter is as valuable as the rich living in a manor. The scoundrel is no less valuable than the saint. Because of this, every life a reaper takes must be redeemed. Raven has lived by this first tenet since she was trained by her father to become a reaper. But since his death, she’s been spending years redeeming the lives she’s taken. By her count, she’s even and it’s time for that life to end. If she settles down and becomes a wife, she might just feel human again. But on the way to the life she thinks she wants, the baron of New Haven asks her to complete a task which she cannot ignore… Just when Raven decides to give up on her life as an assassin, she’s pulled right back in.

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Pauline CreedenPauline Creeden

Pauline Creeden is a horse trainer from Virginia, but writing is her therapy. In her fiction, she creates worlds that are both familiar and strange, often pulling the veil between dimensions. She becomes the main character in each of her stories, and because she has ADD, she will get bored if she pretends to be one person for too long.
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Monday, September 26, 2016

Crockpot Monday: Caramel Apple Cider

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This recipe combines two of my favorite things, caramel and apple! I love apple cider on its own but who can resist adding in the delicious flavor of caramel? Not this girl!

Ingredients:
4 cups apple cider
3 Tablespoons caramel ice cream topping
1/2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)

Directions:

Use a 2-quart slow cooker.  Mix everything together, except for whipped cream. Stir and cook on low for about 4 hours. Serve in mugs topped with whipped cream (if desired).

Leftovers refrigerate and reheat well (in the microwave).

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Fifth Column

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At first glance, the young woman found in the early hours of the morning where bombs have landed is just another casualty of the previous night's air raid. But when the post-mortem shows signs of strangulation, Detective Inspector Jago is called on to investigate.

The dead woman is smartly dressed but carries no identification. However, a local engineering company reports a staff member has failed to appear at work that morning and the body is quickly identified as that of Miss Mary Watkins.

DI Jago's initial interviews yield little fruit; no one can think of a reason why Mary would be murdered. But as the investigation continues DI Jago begins to uncover a trail of deception and betrayal.

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As someone who has read everything Agatha Christie has ever written and every Sherlock known to man, I couldn't resist a good mystery when it was offered to me. I'm glad I didn't. While it took me a little bit to get into it, by the time I reached the end, I was regretting that I hadn't read the first book in this series.

Let me explain. This book is the second book in the Blitz Detective series. Why did I regret not reading the first book? Not because I needed to for this one to make sense, but because this one was good enough to make me want to go back. The author does a fantastic job of painting a picture of what London was like during the blitz. The characters were real and there were plenty of them for you to try to figure out the "whodunnit". I'll confess! I figured out tiny pieces of it but the whole picture took me by surprise. For me, those are the best kind!

So, if you get a chance to pick up this book, I can happily say that I think you should!

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Send Roger to Sea

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If you're friends with me on Facebook, you probably recognize the image to the left. It's the incredible design that was made for us by Nick Davis of Alt-World Studios. I bet some of you even know why I asked him to make it for us. I'm writing here today for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about though...

If you've been around for a while, you know that I have two boys. Today, I want to tell you about my youngest. His name is Roger and he's 15 years old. He's also a musician and an honors student. As part of his science honors courses, he was invited to go on a science research trip to Dominica next summer. It's one of those amazing once in a life time opportunities. Sadly, it also comes with an amazing price tag. One that I've told him that I will help him find a way to pay.

You see, I wasn't given many opportunities when I was his age and I know the value of a trip like this. It's his chance to explore the world, to learn about a region about as different from here as you can get. It will give him an opportunity to work in a scientific environment with people of all different nationalities. If we want to get practical, it will look incredibly good on college resumes. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that not everyone gets to have but it's here in front of us and I want to make it happen for him.

Working Hard During Summerfest
Most of you know that right now I'm not capable of working outside of the house. That doesn't mean that I don't work..I do. I work for a friend of mine writing tweets for companies every week. The pay helps keep gas in the car but it's certainly not enough to cover something like this and as his mom, I'm willing to do what I can to help him make his dream come true.

I say help him because whenever he can, he takes his tenor sax into town and plays outside of restaurants. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed my #SaxOnTheStreets photos. Those are all of him doing what he does. People have been great about throwing a dollar or two into his case, but it just isn't enough.


Here's where I'm hoping you can come in. He has set up a GoFundMe at www.sendrogertosea.com as part of our efforts. Some friends have donated some great reward tiers so it's not "money for nothing." You will get something in return...an awesome reward and our undying gratitude. He also has shirts and other items for sale over at TeePublic and gets a small amount for each item sold. If you're at all local to Hastings, MI or the surrounding area, he has an ongoing can drive going.

We're not giving up until this is paid for...but it would be a lot easier if folks would help out by donating (a direct donation can be made via PayPal to close2midnight at gmail.com) or spreading the word. The more eyes that get on things, the easier it is.

Thanks guys for reading and for helping a mama out!

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Crockpot Monday: Boston Tea Punch

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Now that the weather is turning cooler, I can't wait to start creating some nice warm drinks! The only thing missing will be the fireplace to drink them in front of!

Ingredients:
2 cups water
2 black tea bags
1/2 cup rum
2 ounces Triple Sec
2 tablespoons sugar
8 lemon slices (about 2 lemons)

Directions:

Use a 2 quart slow cooker. Put water into your slow cooker, and add the tea bags. Pour in the rum and triple sec. Stir in the sugar. Wash lemons well, slice, and float the slices on top. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or on high for about 2 hours. When thoroughly hot, remove tea bags (you can squeeze them just a bit to get out more tea flavor, if you'd like) and discard. Ladle into pretty mugs and serve.


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Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Four Bullets

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Drake and Captain Marsden rode together with a crew of morally ambiguous men for years before a deadly falling out resulted in the death of the one Marsden and Drake held dearest.

Now, Captain Marsden prepares to end his former pupil and friend once and for all. Drake is captured and brought to the town of Matherton, where five opponents await him, all of whom desire his blood by the bucket. If Drake can find and kill these assassins before they kill him, he will be allowed to leave the town alive, with a caveat:

He only has four bullets.

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Whew! Talk about genres I don't usually dive into! In fact, I just spent too much time trying to decide what genre I'd put it in. I'm going to go with Western but really that doesn't begin to sum up this book.

The Good: Holy visuals. Seriously. I have a pretty vivid imagination and more than once I had to close to book, take a few deep breathes and then dive back in. The fact that I did dive in speaks to the quality of the writing and storytelling. Each of the opponents was clearly thought out and the darkness that fueled their tales was clearly felt throughout the entire book.

The Bad: Hmm..I honestly can't come up with much. There was one part that I thought broke continuity but at the time I also thought perhaps I had somehow missed something during some tired reading. Even if it is the case, it wasn't enough to really disrupt the story. The same goes for a couple of editing errors that I found. You guys know that I tend to be picky about that kind of thing.

The Summary: If you like dark and violent, you're going to love this book. Seriously. If violence or gore bothers you, give it a pass. Honestly, that's all I can say other than to tell you to head over to Amazon and order your copy today.


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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Birthdays and Me...

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The other day I wrote a post about turning 40 next week and my attitude towards it. I meant every single word in that post and somewhere, under the depression, there is still that spark of excitement over a new year with new possibilities and opportunities.

But right now, it's under the depression. Every year, about a week or so before my birthday, I feel it coming on. I try to fight it. I try to keep busy, to ignore it, but I pretty much fail every time. Very few people understand and that just makes it worse.

I make joking posts on Facebook about how it's 10 days before my birthday and I haven't received a single card yet and how people should celebrate the 10 days of me or something equally silly but under all the frivolity is a grain of truth. I watch other people post about all of the love and gifts and time with people that they got for their birthdays and while I'm so happy for them, a bit of it slices at me. The voice in my head reminds me that when my birthday comes along, I'll be alone, that I'm not important enough or special enough for anyone to be with me. I'll try to tell it to shut up and to remind it that I don't live near anyone, but it reminds me of how I've dropped everything to drive hours and hours or to fly to spend someone else's with them.

My brain can be a total asshole at times. It's worse when I try to talk to others about it because they always have the same response. Stop depending on other people for your happiness on that day. Go and do what you want to do. That's great because I can't do that. You see, all these people have one thing in common...they're in happy, committed relationships or they're surrounded by friends. They aren't alone. They can't understand or don't try to understand that the one thing I want to do that day is not be alone. I don't care if I curl up with someone on the couch and have a movie marathon or what have you. It doesn't have to be big or flashy. I just don't want to be alone.

I want my birthday to be special and in my head that means being with people or at least a person who loves me. I spend every day alone. Being alone isn't special. I can go to the movies or out to eat alone any time I want to. I've spent my entire life not feeling special or wanted.

When I was a child, my sister was the golden child in our household. She could do no wrong and I could do no right. At my mother's house, it was my brother. I had birthday parties canceled because of something they did. By the time I was in high school, I felt as if I were either invisible or expected to be an adult. I just wanted to be a teenager but I had been trained to take everyone else and so I fell into line and did just that.

Then, I got married to the first guy who paid me any kind of real attention and who I thought meant it when he said he loved me. I wrote in other post what birthdays were like for me. I always made a big deal out of his and out of things like father's day but it never worked the other direction. I still felt invisible and as if I were only there to serve a purpose.

After the divorce, I guess I thought things would be different. Instead, I was raped for my 30th birthday by someone I thought I knew and trusted after I'd spent over 12 hours traveling to get to where he was. The fact that I had any spirit left was something to be beaten out of me or taken another way. I was a nobody in his eyes, just something to use, abuse, and then throw away.

I don't remember the next few years...I moved to New York, spent birthdays alone or in class. I moved back to Michigan and I think once since 2007, I spent the day with someone I loved and it was lovely. For my 35th birthday, someone decided to throw me a birthday party...except nobody came which just solidified my feeling of not mattering. Now, here we are, five years later and it's 9 days before my birthday.

I'm depressed, in tears, and just want to put my head down until it's over. Little things feel huge and though I know they're not, I can't seem to push past them. I'm trying. Oh, how I try. I give myself little speeches about how it's not personal if someone sees your messages and doesn't bother to respond to them even though you used to talk every day all the time. It's not personal if someone you've worked with on multiple projects goes ahead with a project without you or without even telling you. It isn't personal if people don't like or comment on your posts or on things you comment on theirs. I tell myself that I'm not invisible. I tell myself that I am loved.

I tell myself all of those things and deep down, I know them all to be true but for the next 9 days it will be a constant battle of depression vs reality. I'm exhausted already from it and I know that there will be a million more tears, a million more times checking my email, a million more times stopping myself from doing things like checking my amazon wishlist to see if anyone has bought anything for me...it will be all of these things and I will win but for now, I fight.

So please...if you interact with me over these next 9 days, try to understand that I'm fragile, that I'm hyper sensitive and that my brain is ready in an instant with some lie or way to misinterpret things. Most of all, just try to love me. Know that I am not this way by choice and that it's something I'm constantly working on and trying to get past. It's hard but not impossible.

I love you all...really and truly, I do and if nothing else, writing this helped me. It cleared things out of my head and somehow, when it's in my own words, in black and white, it's easier to deal with. It gives me those moments of peace where I can take a deep breath and say yep, brain, you suck and you're full of nonsense but I'm going to keep going because I know I'm loved and I'm stronger than this. The depression will strike back but it's those moments..the moments of truth...that keep me going. This post helped me and maybe it might help someone else too.


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Monday, September 12, 2016

Crockpot Monday: Bread Pudding

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Ingredients:
Bread – 6 to 8 pieces
2 cups of milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dried fruit
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)

Directions:

Use a 1.5 quart crockpot for this recipe.

In your crockpot, mix eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Tear up bread and push down into the liquid mixture and then fold in your dried fruit.

Cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours, or on low for 3-5.



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Saturday, September 10, 2016

40 is the new...

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Yep. 40. In a mere 13 days, I will be arriving at that major milestone in my life. As with any birthday that ends in zero, it's caused me to be introspective and to look at where my life is, where my life was, and where I'd like my life to go. Then, because I so rarely post here as much as I would like, I decided to share it with you. After all, it was that or do more than pretend to watch one of my least favorite iCarly episodes with the boys. This way, I can be in the room, hanging out with them, but don't have to focus on it. Yay for having teenagers that like you around but don't care if you're watching the show with them!

So...40. Ben tells me that reaching 40 is a major life accomplishment. He didn't expand upon that, but looking back on my life and where I've been, I can't argue with him. There have been times in my life that I wanted nothing more than to no longer be on this planet, but somehow (and with the love and support of some amazing people), here I still am. Do I regret those feelings? No because fighting to get past them is part of what's made me who I am today.

Life hasn't always been grand, but I don't want to dwell on a lot of it. For that you'll have to buy my book. *grins* So let's just talk about birthdays. I don't remember having a birthday party after maybe my 13th. My birthday just kind of became a non thing. After I got married, even my husband didn't give it much attention. If I had a cake, it was because I made it. He'd tell me to go buy something for myself. As the years went on, I felt less and less like I mattered to anyone. It didn't get any better after the divorce.  For my 30th birthday, I was raped. For my 35th, someone decided to throw me a birthday party that nobody came to. After that, I tried to make plans with friends so that I wouldn't be alone but every year for the past 4 years, I've made plans and people have bailed on me.

This year was going to be different. Last year I said that I was going to spend my 40th in England, surrounded by friends. It didn't happen because financially the kids needed those funds for various things. Then, I made tentative plans with someone really special and awesome. Sadly, circumstances have made that impossible.

So where does that leave me? Well, that depends upon how you look at things. Let's look at a couple of scenarios:

1) I turn 40. I spend the entire day alone until it's time to go into town for the football game. At the game, I sit in the stands alone. After the game, I chaperone the dance where I stand alone against a wall and just feel generally miserable. I've had this birthday before. It pretty much sucks.

2) I still turn 40. I don't think I'm going to avoid that. I spend the day doing something I love, like learning or writing or talking with any friends who may be around online. I go to the game and enjoy watching Ben on the sidelines and Roger on the field with the band. Afterwards, we skip the dance, come home and hang out for a while. Then, we take the rest of the weekend and just have fun (except for any homework that needs doing).

In the end, it's about attitude. It's about my attitude towards the day. I could look at 40 and sigh and say life is half over or I could smile and say hey, I have half a life to go, what should I do with it? It's all up to me. I know that option 1 will be what my programmed mind will want to veer towards. My mean brain will tell me that nobody cares enough about me to come and spend my birthday with me, that if people loved me that they'd make a big deal out of the day I was born, that cards and gifts somehow show my self worth. None of that is true, but I've been programmed to believe those things. The bonus of being human and not a computer? I can retrain myself. I don't need anyone else to do it for me. So, that's what I'm going to be working on...that and planning what awesome shenanigans I can get up to in my 40th year! Keep your eyes open for the annual birthday post with my hopes and plans for the upcoming year!

Oh...and if you wanted to get me something, ocd me created an Amazon wishlist specifically just for my birthday. Don't worry. If you don't, I'm not going to take it personally because y'all show me you love me every time I post anything here and you stop by to read. Let's create another year of amazingness because after all 40 is going to be the new me!

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review: Time Conquers All/Rescue in Time

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Time-travel romance based in the late 1500's in the India region of the world. Epic romance with a warrior princess meeting the love of her life. Unfortunately, he's an American soldier from the 1960's and the king from a neighboring country. This is book one in the "time series."

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This review is actually a review of two books at the same time. Why two? Well because the author/publisher made the decision to put the first two books of the series into one binding. That being the case, I figured if you're going to buy it as one, it should be reviewed as one! So, let's go, shall we?

The Good: I really enjoyed the story telling in these books. From the romance to the action, the books kept me engaged. I appreciated how realistic the characters were and how badass Tamea was. It can be tough to find really strong female lead characters and there is no doubt that Tamea is about as strong as they come.

The Bad: It's not entirely historically accurate. There is quite a bit of reference to the Christian religion which wouldn't have been there in the 1500s. I also really dislike how the publisher chose to bind this book. It was created so that when you finished Time Conquers All, you have to close the book, flip it over and then start reading Rescue in Time. This means that you have two covers but nowhere on the book do you have a synopsis of either book. It's also a minor inconvenience when you're reading along and suddenly you have to flip the book over. I should also mention that while this is listed as two books, it really isn't. This originally was one large book that the author chopped down into parts and so the endings of both books don't read like endings or even endings with further volumes to come. They read as if it's one book.

The Summary:  I know that my bad section was far longer than my good section but don't let that fool you. This is a great story that I'm hoping to finish and review for you here. That's all up to the publisher, though! Oops! I didn't mention that there are two more segments to this book! Well, now I have and now you know. If you like some romance mixed in with your action then either check out the book on Amazon or over on its website!

Edit: Just a quick note. When I went looking on Amazon for the edition that I have, it doesn't appear to be available. I also discovered that there are actually 10 books in this series according to book 1's website.

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I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments, and opinions are my own.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Crockpot Monday: Blueberry Buckle

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Ingredients:
Crumble:
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
4 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 Tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries (if you do not have access to fresh, use unsweetened frozen)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1 cup flour
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs

Directions:
In a large glass bowl, mix all ingredients for the filling, except for the blueberries. Wash and pick any remaining stems off of your blueberries, and then toss them in the bowl with the filling. Set aside.

In a different glass bowl, melt your butter, and add the dry ingredients. Mix. The crumbs will be moist, and crumbly. Spray your crockpot with cooking spray. Pour the filling into your crockpot. Add the crumb topping.

Cover and cook on high for 3-5 hours, removing the lid of the crockpot during the last 45 minutes or so to crisp up the topping.



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