Monthly Archives: March 2015

Bean Bag Frogs

I’m a Pinterest-a-holic, but it took a few queries before I realized that others might be interested in creating this crazy little frog. For me, it was a memory I could recreate. My mother made these when we were young and we played with them a lot. Folks have been mentioning their own mothers and grandmothers made the same pattern.

It took some time for me to find it and then … it wasn’t available. So, I searched some more, found a template, tried it … hated it, adjusted it and tried again … didn’t like most of it, so I adjusted it one more time and created a winner.

To make one frog, you will need:

Fabric
Felt (for tongue)
Safety eyes (12 mm)
Navy beans (for filling)
PDF Frog pattern (click through again to get to the downloadable PDF)

You’ll need a few things close by:
Scissors
Needle & thread
Funnel
Straight pins
Turning tool
Fabric marker (any marker will do, you cover it with the eyes)

The PDF Frog pattern is 8.5 x 11, so you can print it on a regular sheet of paper. It is the perfect size for this frog.

I haven’t put my hands to a sewing machine for anything other than a quick repair in more than ten years, so there were a few things I (re) learned along the way. I’ll tell you about them, but you’re probably already a better seamstress than me and you can just smile inside, knowing how silly I was.

Frog patternMy frogs are a little wild. I love color and so, my belly and back are cut from two different fabrics. But you certainly can make these any way you like. The pattern is only half of the frog, so set the straight edge on the fabric fold and cut the rest.

20150330_1513471.  Pin the pieces right sides together. Sew from the inside of one leg, all the way around to the inside of the other leg, leaving space for turning and filling. I told friends, that I felt as if I violated the poor frog by jamming that funnel in there and then made it worse when I sewed him up, but they keep smiling.

Don’t forget to pin your tongue to the inside. I’ve pinned it to the outside, upside down and everything else … oh, and I’ve forgotten it, too, making a poor, mute frog.

20150330_1526342. Once you’ve sewn all the way around, snip around the curves, making sure not to cut the seam. Another (re) learning experience. I tried to ignore this, but seriously, seamstresses from way back know better than me.

3. After you’ve turned it inside out, iron your froggy flat, making sure all of your curves are pushed out. The curves are the best part, am I right?

20150330_1538294. Use whatever method you need to mark where you’ll place the eyes. I failed at eyes for a while. I put them in before sewing – nope, that didn’t work. I put them in before ironing. That didn’t work. I finally learned. Now is when you insert the eyes. I use Suncatcher Craft Eyes – I love the available colors and that they’re safety eyes, makes all the difference.

20150330_154039Snip just a little bit of fabric in order to insert the eye. I fold the fabric and using the tip of my scissors, snip down less than 1/8″.

Eyes washerHere’s something else I had to learn. Maybe it’s obvious to everyone else, but I had no idea how to put the backs on these things and I’m thrifty (cheap) enough not to want to try it several times and get it wrong, having to throw away sets of eyes. The side of the washer where the metal pokes up is the outside, the other presses against the fabric. The pokey metal keeps the washer from sliding away. These are way cool.

20150330_1543025. Once the eyes are in, it’s time to fill your bean bag with beans! I use navy beans because my mom did, but also because they’re a really good size and fairly stable texture. I looked at all of the different options available and settled back on Mom’s mainstay. Do whatever you like, though. Polyester pellets are another way to go, too. I bought a wonderful funnel at a convenience store and started filling from the bottom. Make sure you squeeze beans down into the extremities (hold the opening closed while you’re squeezing into the legs). Fill him as full as you want. Fat little froggies are as adorable as can be.

20150330_1552226. Hand sew up his little bottom and you’re finished!

This little bundle of fun is really easy to make and will make anyone smile. Admit it – you’re smiling just looking at that face!

I’m planning to have even more fun with these, attaching mustaches, glasses, hats (berets, oh my) and any number of things to them. They’re going to make great gifts, because who doesn’t need a fun frog in their life!

Easter Eggs

I grew up thinking that Easter eggs were things to be decorated or filled with candyEaster-Eggs1. Nowadays, the phrase has taken on a new connotation – a joke or bonus added to a piece of software or even a movie.

Or … a book.

They aren’t nearly as much fun if I’m the only one who knows about them. Now, while there are stories of mine in every book, both embarrassing and sweet, I tend to intermix them with pure fiction. Unless you know me very well, you may never know which is which.

In Pages of the Past, there are a few that I figured my sister would recognize. We grew up together. When I explained them, she was startled. She’d missed ’em.

In no particular order, here are some fun bits of information I dropped into the story.

When Polly talks about having to go home from a slumber party, I did that in second grade. I was miserable. However, my family didn’t invite friends over later for me. AJ and Dev were two of my closest high school friends, though. Alice is a beta reader / rock star editor and knowledgeable about all things horsey.

The wrestling match between Aaron Merritt and his sister, Helen, actually happened. My horrible, hideous, rotten brother played me big time the year he was learning tae kwon do. The mat was right outside my bedroom and he called me out to help him perfect a move. Wham! I was on my back. I shook it off and went back into my room. He called me out – telling me he was going to try something different. Wham! I was on my back. No, I didn’t wet myself, but I learned a lesson about trust that day. Yes, that’s Jamie McFarlane, the author. He was and always shall be my little brother, the brat.

Lydia and Aaron Merritt’s five month engagement equals that of my parents, as does Lydia’s comment to her friend that if he asked her out again, that was the man she’d marry. While Mom and Dad didn’t go to the State Fair, their first date was at an amusement park. The other little bit of information in there was the name of Lydia’s friend – Nena Mack. Nena was Mom’s mother’s middle name (rearrange the letters to make Anne, by the way) and everyone called Mom’s father – Mac.

I guess I dribble these little bits and pieces of my life into my stories so they stay alive – even if they’re encompassed in fiction.

There are other things within the books that come from my life. Sometimes I work out annoyances at people I’ve experienced, other times you’ll get moments of beauty that I’ve watched occur. Much of the time, it’s just my brain on overload

Now… I suppose I should get back to work on Book 10! Thanks for reading along!

Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

Ethel's Sugar Cookies 002When we were young, these were Mom’s go-to cookies. For everything. If we wanted a quick sugar fix, she made this recipe. If we wanted chocolate chip cookies, she simply added chocolate chips to this recipe and dropped them on the cookie sheet.

Mom was married in 1958 and received the classic Betty Crocker cookbook as a wedding gift. It was a good thing, too, since she had never learned to cook. Fortunately for Dad, their first church was within close proximity to his sisters and when they realized how little Mom knew, they took her under their wing. She became a terrific cook.

3487.1LThe cookbook was worn and used. I still have it and it is as much a treasure to me as anything. The page with Ethel’s sugar cookie recipe is long gone. However, much like the page in the picture, it was covered in dried dough, the page was wrinkled from wet spoons being dropped on it and it had been taped together so many times, it was quite heavy.

Here is the recipe. These are truly amazing.

Ethel’s Sugar Cookies

Mix together
1/2 C. butter, softened
1/4 C. shortening
1 C. sugar
2 Eggs, room temperature
1 T. vanilla (or lemon flavoring)

Add:
2 1/2 C. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

Bake at 400 – 6-8 minutes
Ungreased baking sheet

All Drained Out

IMG_2546I slept really late this morning, curled up around my cat. The weather cooled down again and I sleep so well when that happens. TB is an odd little wonderful cat. He has different zones for sleeping depending on what time of the night it is. He starts out under the blankets and then wakes up with the dawn (I think it’s ingrained in him, how does he even see that from under there?) After wandering the house and doing everything possible to wake me up, we settle back in for the second half of our night (by the way, you read that right. When I don’t start sleeping until 2:30 – the second half starts about 7:30 am).

At this point, TB doesn’t want to go under all of the blankets. If I lift them for him (which he requires, by the way) he’ll wait … and wait and wait and wait. No, what he wants is to be just under the top comforter. A blanket and the sheet is between he and me. But truthfully, I’m fine with that – his little paws and claws aren’t stretching out on my poor legs, startling me awake.

There is something about him curled up behind my legs or in the crook of my tummy, depending on which side I’m on. His purring, his heat, the weight of his little body – all combine to send me into the deepest sleep ever. And out I go.

This morning I was drained, though and did not want to get up at all. It wasn’t that I’d done anything terribly difficult or laborious the last couple of days. While the actual publishing of a book is a chore, it’s not that big of a deal. But the emotions that surround putting it out there for the world to have are really something else. It isn’t about excitement or congratulations or any of that, it’s just … emotional.

I planned better this time around than I have for any of my other book releases. I chose to sew and spend the day chatting with readers. It was a great day, but even so, I was exhausted when I finally went to bed … and if I didn’t know myself better, I would have thought I was crazy to be so tired, but even at the age of 50 *cough*, I’m still learning how I respond to different things.

The afternoon is getting so much better. My brain is turning back on. I’m mid-way through Chapter 14 of Book 10 (well past 50%) and already starting to think about a couple of characters and activities for Book 11. Polly’s stories are always messing around in my mind, no matter what else is going on.

GiraffeSpeaking of sewing … I made a giraffe yesterday. I love him. Some changes I’ll make the next time around, but this was fun. Other than quilting – what are some of your favorite crafty things to make when you’re at your sewing machine! I need ideas! Send me pins on Pinterest or comment with your favorite sewing websites. I’m dying for fun, new ideas to occupy my fingers while my brain is working out a plot line.

I’m totally looking for a great stuffed doll and I want a cool dog that is not a dachshund (have one of those). I have yarn to make a doll’s hair … so, something that is simple and like dolls that were made nearly a century ago. I don’t have all of my skills back yet, but practice makes perfect, right! Whee!

Pages of the Past – Book 9

Book 9 100 dpiIt’s finally here! Took me long enough, right? What a fun ride this is that I’m on. Click on the book cover to order your Kindle copy.

In Pages of the Past, we spend more time with Aaron and Lydia Merritt, two of my favorite people. Since I introduced the characters … long, long ago, I’ve been wanting to uncover how they met and where Aaron came from. We already know that Lydia grew up in Bellingwood.

One theme I will probably never get enough of is that we can always do something to help one other person. We don’t have to do everything, but we can do something. The impact we can have on a person’s life with just a small gesture or something we might consider inconsequential is often huge for them. Jeff and Henry tease Polly about trying to rescue the world, but she does it one person at a time – mostly by paying attention and offering what she has. These are things I learned growing up with my parents. It didn’t take much – sometimes only a meal – but the impact on another’s life was a big deal.

If you received the email newsletter, you got the fourth and final vignette for Book 9. I put my head on the pillow for a nap last night and all of a sudden, I realized which set of characters wanted to tell a story. I wrote it and laughed all the way through. There is just something about siblings, isn’t there? You love ’em and hate ’em all at the same time – when you’re a kid.

However, I will apologize for the spelling error. If you didn’t catch it, good for you – you just enjoyed the story. If it bugged you and you couldn’t enjoy yourself, I’m so sorry. There’s nothing worse. I love language, words and grammar. I spend enormous amounts of time reading, studying and learning about those things. And … I screw up.

This is why I will never promote myself as a grammar / spelling Nazi. I’m too prone to make my own mistakes and the last thing I want to do is set myself up as better than someone else. I have a lifetime of learning behind me. The lesson? As soon as I get arrogant, I fall flat on my face. Every single time. If that’s not a lesson you’ve ever had to learn – I’m happy for you. But humility is a close companion of mine. If I don’t live that way, humility seeks me out.

If you signed up for the email newsletter and haven’t received it, let me know and I’ll send you a direct link. If you haven’t signed up and would like the latest issue (which gives you links to all of the vignettes), let me know that too and I’ll hook you up.

Be sure to join us on the Facebook Bellingwood page (click HERE). There are contests and conversations, fun and laughter. I love sharing the journey of writing and publishing these stories with you.

One More Day

20150324_171158

It’s lonely and needs my attention.

Today … I’m finishing formatting, making last minute changes (because I forgot something in the acknowledgments), building the email newsletter, entertaining the cat (every day … every day), looking for my mind.

Tomorrow … Day off. I will clean up my computer’s desktop – whoa, lots of things build up on there while I’m working on a project. I’m going to watch all of the television shows that have built up over the last couple of weeks, go to the grocery store and post office, sleep late (oh, I do that already), entertain the cat (I’m telling you – he’s relentless) and SEW!

Picture (2)

Who buys 5 pounds of this stuff? Me. Sigh.

I have a pile of material and patterns – and oh, dear heavens, but I bought a five pound bag of recycled fiberfill. Do you know how big a five pound bag of fiberfill is? I didn’t … until it showed up at my door. That is a LOAD of stuffed animals that need to be created.

The funny thing about me looking for a day off … I’ll still be writing. I find that the nights I don’t spend writing aren’t quite as much fun. My brother and I were talking today about how many stories we want to tell and how limited we are by our linear brains and the fact that we only have two hands to type with. With that hanging over me, I have to write.

So … tonight I have plenty of work to complete before release day tomorrow. I can’t wait for you all to get the book in your hands. I love these characters so much and it thrills me that you enjoy hanging out with them.

The cat is sleeping again – it won’t last long, but it does give me a few minutes of breathing space, which I will use to do something productive.

Book 9 – Final Stretch

Book 9 pictureI woke up this … umm … morning (we’ll just call it that, it was a late night of writing – I mean four o’clock in the morning late. Those are my best nights) and realized how close I am to publishing Pages of the Past!

This last week I have been through the manuscript nine times … some quite quickly, some in other crazy ways and one major edit. I printed it out last night after finishing an edit and decided to take the night off. Well … from editing.

The stuffed heart happened. Monsieur Maurice Le Grenouille (that’s French for frog) occurred earlier this week in a moment of insanity. And yes, they’re only in the picture to frustrate you!

Today I read through the book in an entirely different format, knowing that it will be quite different from screen to paper. I take every opportunity to catch as many errors, changes, oddities, etc., as possible, knowing, of course, that something will be missed.

While I’m reading today, my house is going to smell amazing. This last week has been crazy busy and once I start in on a task, it’s hard for me to come up for air. I managed to get to the grocery store on Tuesday. They had a corned beef. My favorite thing, but this little store only carries them once a year. I bought cabbage, carrots and potatoes and since I am alone, didn’t worry about maybe being a day late for the celebration.

Well, it’s now Saturday and all of the vegetables are cut up and in the pot on top of the beef – it’s simmering away. Maybe I should be wearing green – but I’m not Irish, I just love the dish. The best thing is that I won’t have to think about cooking for several days again. Maybe a loaf of homemade bread for sandwiches – that sounds good.

Making a commitment to write one thousand words a day has been an extraordinary thing for me. Even when I’m too tired to think, I know that I can write at least that much. The best thing is that I rarely write that little. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop … hence, the four o’clock bed times. I am flying through Book 10.

One thing I’ve been doing throughout the month of March is letting my mind wander and explore new thoughts and ideas for stories. Oh my goodness, I’ve had the best time with this. There are so many things I want to write, but this week all I can think about is finishing the book so I can get it out to you.

The first people who will know about the release are those who receive the email newsletter (sent out on the 25th of each month), so make sure you’ve signed up for it. I’ll announce it on Facebook and Twitter later on during the day.

Off I go with a red pen in hand. It’s going to be a fabulous weekend.