Recently, I spent a marvelous Sunday morning with Victoria Marshman and Celeste and Don Miller at Appalachian Great Pyrenees Rescue Kennel in Varina, Virginia. Nestled off the beaten path, this sanctuary is a haven for rescued dogs, where they are taken care of before being adopted to new homes. These great big balls of fluff, with happy personalities are mood-elevators, as they bound about, snuffling, walking, barking and playing.  We walked Michael, Bonnie, Sarah and Milo, Judge and Jury and I met Happy, Bones, Murphy, Gracie and four fabulous 10 week old furballs who wiggled their way into my heart.  Going to the dogs was the best time I’ve had in a long time!

Victoria Marshman and the puppies.

It was interesting to learn a little about the history of the breed.  I had always thought of them as being large, affable companion dogs, but they were bred to be protectors.  The Great Pyrenees Club of America has this to say about their history,

“…The breed likely evolved from a group of principally white mountain flock guard dogs that originated ten or eleven thousand years ago in Asia Minor. It is very plausible that these large white dogs arrived in the Pyrenees Mountains with their shepherds and domestic sheep about 3000 BC. There they encountered the indigenous people of the area, one of which were the Basques, descendants of Cro-Magnon Man. In the isolation of the Pyrenees Mountains over these millenniums, the breed developed the characteristics that make it unique to the group of flock guardian dogs in general and the primarily white members of that group. ….

A Peasant’s Dog

The Great Pyrenees is a mountain shepherd’s dog. Over this long period of time the Great Pyrenees developed a special relationship with the shepherd, its family, and the flock.

In 1407, French writings tell of the usefulness of these ‘Great Dogs of the Mountains’ as guardians of the Chateau of Lourdes. In 1675, they were adopted as the Royal Dog of France by the Dauphin in the court of King Louis XIV, and subsequently became much sought after by nobility. ….”


Don and Milo going for a walk.


Passion for the Pooches!

Established in 2006 the Appalachian Great Pyrenees Rescue is a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization that is affiliated with the Great Pyrenees Club of America. Its’ mission states that it “rescues, rehomes and places Great Pyrenees dogs within Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and parts of West Virginia.” As a “rescue” chapter, they are focused on taking in and rehabbing the animals, as well as placing them in new homes.

Victoria and Celeste talk with beautiful Bonnie.

Passion for the Mission is evident in every aspect of the kennel and is a byword among the all-volunteer staff. When the dogs come in their histories are taken (as much as is possible), they are medically evaluated and receive appropriate treatment. All rescue dogs are spayed and neutered and they receive Shots (Rabies, Distemper/parvo, Bordatella, etc.) and are microchipped before leaving for their forever home. All of them are dewormed, groomed, checked for heartworms and, if necessary, medicated for them. Most of all, they get the love and attention that they need.

Victoria Marshman, Executive Director, lives close to the Kennel and is with the Pyrenees on a daily basis.  She always loved dogs and, thus, came to the organization a number of years ago as an interested party and, over time, became entranced with the wonderful-ness of the dogs. Since then the Pyrs have become like additional members of her own family.

Milo and Sarah are devoted to each other and love people!

According to Celeste Miller, AGPR Adoption Coordinator and Newsletter Editor, they assist roughly 100 pyrenees each year.  Getting to know their dogs well and developing an understanding of each animal’s personality is paramount in making sure that they are “well-placed.”  Not surprisingly, the dogs are adopted out at a pretty steady rate. AGPR’s high standards insures that every pet will be a perfect fit for its’ new home.  They are conscientious and attentive to detail when meeting potential owners and discussing each dog.  This makes for happy and secure futures for the adoptees.

Adoption Requirements include:

*having yards that are securely fenced-in

*current household pets are spayed/neutered and up to date on shots

*the ability to provide proper housing/shelter for the dogs (typically indoors)

*providing regular veterinary care

*understanding that the dog will live in the potential owner’s home and not be a gift for someone else

Veterinary Help is Key

Efforts on the part of the local Veterinary Community undergirds the work of the AGPR volunteers.  The animals often need surgery (major and minor) and basic services like Spay and Neuter.  They would be hard-pressed to keep the dogs healthy without the help of local Veterinarians like the Varina Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Erin Barron of Barron Surgery, and the New Market Veterinary Clinic.

Keeping the FUN in FundRaising

Bones is beautiful!


How Do they Do it?  Keeping a roof over the animals’ heads, maintaining the Kennels, feeding the pooches and meeting the medical and daily needs of the dogs is a tall order.

I was so impressed with the approach to raising money and awareness, obviously there is some funding that comes through small grants and there is lots of in-kind giving from previous adopters and supporters, but the fundraisers emphasize the Pyrenees’ warmth and joyfulness:

A Photo Calendar Contest that allows entrants to pay a small price for submitting photos of their fabulous furry friends garners lots of attention and donations.

The Great Pyr Picnic in the Fall sounds really fun! Held at the Kennels, AGPR charges a small amount per car so that anyone can come out and dine with the dogs!

Crowd-funding to assist with medical emergencies is another way that this organization spreads the word and makes much-needed money.

Any and All Volunteer Efforts are Appreciated!

As an all-volunteer organization, AGPR works very hard, but, also understands the demands that we all have.  Celeste told me that they have several work-groups come out from businesses to help at the Kennels. But they also welcome individuals to come out, walk and brush the dogs. This is a great way to satisfy your “big dog fix.”  Celeste told me that she had become involved a little while after they had lost their Samoyed.

“I missed the white fluff! We weren’t ready for another dog at the time, so when my husband mentioned going to the Kennel, I went along to ‘chaperone’ him to make sure he didn’t adopt one. After I saw these dogs, I was hooked.  We now have two!”

Here’s a link to their website, so that you check out these amazing animals and learn more about the breed:

I must admit, I’m going to need to go and visit the kennel from time to time, because they are just soooo CUTE and sweet!

This says it all!


Cracked nails, tough cuticles, dry hands, you know the drill! And, cold weather doesn’t necessarily produce this sorry state of dry digits.  Dehydration and damage can happen at any time of the year making our grabbers rough to the touch and nails more like flaky talons. It’s water that does the drying out!

This universal problem has been plaguing me for eons. But, recently, I discovered something that really helps — especially with the chronically calcified cuticles.

It’s regular old vaseline. And, you rub it into your cuticles every night before going to bed. In the morning your cuticles will be pliable enough to be pushed back and your nails will be smoother to the touch!

Voila! You’ve had an easy mini-manicure!



DIY Home Decor Home Projects Lighting Uncategorized

Light Up Your Life, or, At Least Light Up Your Room!



I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the unadorned lightbulb, hanging from the ceiling casting harsh light is not a pretty picture. Memorable and stark, maybe, but not beautiful. We all want to suffuse our rooms with gracious lighting, but, lamps are expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Even when you go to purchase a light fixture at a discount store you can plunk down a lot of jingle. The one possible exception can be Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but, it’s often hard to find something that you want.

So, I have forayed into the “Land of Lighting” and stopped at the nexus of “self-reliance” to figure out and EASY and inexpensive way to make my own lamp.

I’m emphasizing EASY because I went in search of an attractive vessel that has a hole on both ends — because otherwise I would have to hollow out the middle from top to bottom. I can do that, but, BABY STEPS….

So, I found this glass wasp trap with a cork at the top. It’s PERFECT for a lamp! It’s a nice size, nice shape, has a hole in the bottom and has “feet” which lift it up from the surface.  This is important because otherwise I would have had to make base or some other accommodation for the cord.

Other ideas that I entertained were:



Flower Pots

Piggy Banks

Baskets (if the weave is large enough, you could slip the cord through…)

Wine Bottles (although you’d have to drill a hole through the glass)

But this wasp trap is a great place to start!


Next, I went to my local ACE Hardware and purchased this lamp kit.  I was THRILLED! They have done the heavy lifting for me! It really is sort of “Plug and Play.”

The cork in the opening of the wasp trap comes out easily and makes an excellent “base” for the neck of the lamp.


Here are the tools that I used:

A ruler




Philips head screwdriver

Regular screwdriver


Use the ruler to find the center of the cork.


Open the lamp kit and find the post that will fit into the cork. Drill a hole a hole into the cork that will accommodate the post.

Put the post into the cork.

Put the neck into post, using the washer (found in the kit) to set the height of the neck.

Screw in the socket.

Take the cord and


put it up through the hole in the bottom of the vessel.


Pull it up through the neck of the lamp.

Pull the cord apart, so that it you have two wires.

Wrap the wire around the screws on either side of the socket – going clockwise.

Using the Philips Head Screwdriver, tighten them firmly (but don’t overtighten) going clockwise.

Put the cap onto the socket. It will “click” in.

Screw in the light bulb and you have MAGIC!!!!

Shades….Another story!

I did a little research and basically, you should match the shape of the shade to the shape of the base. And, in terms of sizing, your shade should be about 2/3 the size of your base. The shade that I chose might be a little big, for the base, but, I still think it looks nice with the patterned glass.

When it came to attaching the shade, I opted for EASY again. This shade, which I purchased at Bed, Bath and Beyond, just screws onto the socket. Easy Peasy, Lemon-Squeezy!



Death and Taxes, Literally, Part 3: Wrapping Up

Paying Bills

You will need to pay off the bills with monies from the estate account. You will also need to close out credit card accounts, etc. You must send them “your” documents, along with a letter telling them that you are the Executor/Administrator. I recommend sending each packet Return/Receipt or at least Registered Mail.

A couple of things that are important for you to know about bills and accounts:

*The debts should be paid first

*A decedent’s debts do not follow the heirs. That means, if you run out of money, you (or the other heirs) are not personally responsible for taking up the mantle and paying off the debts. If this happens, I would meet with an attorney to decide how to handle any remaining creditors.

Debt and Demand

In many states there is a procedure called “Debt and Demand” where the Commissioner of Accounts publishes an advertisement asking all creditors to come forward within a given period of time.  The Debt and Demand typically comes late in the process, not long before the estate is closed. It’s a last-ditch effort to pay off any bills that are hanging out there in the stratosphere.  If no one comes forward within this period, then they can’t come back and sue the estate (or the heirs).

Credit Cards, Insurance Policies, etc.

You are going to need to send your “documents” to each credit card company, insurer, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc. so that you can close out the account and pay the balance.

This may take some time, because you may not be able to find bills, etc. right away. Just keep at it…..

Also, you will need to contact online sites such as Facebook and to let them know that your loved one has passed away.  They may want to see the Death Certificate and your “Appointment” letter from the Clerk of the Court.


I would recommend that you use a professional tax preparer or a CPA.

The IRS requires some specific documents, in addition to your documents (letter from the court, IRS EIN, death certificate), you will need to send them:

*Form 1310  Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer

*Form 56 Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer

These forms are available on their website, and lets the IRS know that you are the Administrator or Executor.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to submit Forms 1310 and 56. Apparently the IRS is extremely concerned about estates and are unwilling to release refunds until they  have received these forms and your documents.

You can contact them by starting with the office in your state.  Those telephone numbers are available on the IRS website.

Two important tips: Have all your information in front of you when you call and call early in the day.  The offices open at 7:00 a.m. (in every time zone) and calling at 7:00 will reduce your “wait time,” etc. dramatically!

Commissioner of Accounts

In most states there is a Commissioner of Accounts (or the equivalent) for each locality.

You will need to supply that person with the valuation of estate and an accounting.  The valuation is typically required after about 6 months. In terms of finding the values of your loved one’s assets, you’ll need to research the values and total them to come up with a total amount.  Some ways to conduct this research are:

*hiring an appraiser,

*eBay is an excellent resource for finding items which are similar and then using their valuations,

*looking at Blue Book values for vehicles, 

*and, using the most recent real estate assessments for property. 

The Commissioner of Accounts will most likely have a form for you to complete and submit.

The Accounting will include every financial transaction that you have conducted for the estate. It is typically due 16 months after the estate is opened. You must submit it before you can close the estate.

KEEP ALL YOUR RECEIPTS AND COPIES OF YOUR CHECKS. KEEP COPIES OF EVERY FINANCIAL TRANSACTION! You will need to show exactly what came in to the estate account and what went out. This is a Very Big Deal!


It is absolutely ok to consult an estate attorney.  How to find one?  Start by asking your friends. You don’t have to go to a huge firm — there are many fine lawyers who will not charge you “an arm and a leg.” They can guide you through the maze of estate rules, regulations, disbursements and more.  You can do a lot of the legwork yourself, in order to save money, but I highly recommend working with an attorney at some level.

Last Words

I’m still working on my mother’s estate.  We have a large family and there are lots of opinions, which I am taking into account as we lurch forward. Grief is powerful and very often, not obvious — even to the people who are grieving.  It leaches silently into your (and everyone else’s) spirit and can make everyone defensive and snappish, causing behavior that is incomprehensible at the time.

*Be kind to yourself and patient with yourself.

*Everything can’t be done at once, nor should it be.

*Try not to say the mean thing that springs to your lips, try to maintain the  relationships.

*Do some nice things for yourself — and others — it will lift your spirits.

You may feel like your family or group is splitting apart. It’s amazing how powerfully the passing of a friend or relative impacts the people around them. It’s hard to anticipate how relationships change in a group when one of the members passes on, but the dynamic does change.  You hear folks say things like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever see some of these people again.”  Those feelings and the fog of confusion that descends after the your loved one has gone is completely normal. “The Orphaned Adult: Understanding And Coping With Grief And Change After The Death Of Our Parents” by Alexander Levy is a very good book about navigating the new dynamic among families and friends after the passing of a loved one.

Carry on and know that my heart is with you.

Death Estate Legal Documents Uncategorized Wills and Trusts

Death and Taxes, Literally, Part 2


Starting from Scratch-1

There is a lot to take in here, so, I’m breaking this up into 2 parts.

On the other hand, if you are like me, starting from scratch as Administrator, was entering more uncharted territory. Here are some basics that will be helpful. It is MUCH easier if there is a WILL and you are appointed Executor. It would be wonderful if your loved one had given you financial Power of Attorney, because it will speed the process for you.


The hospital or hospice caregiver or coroner will send the death certificate to the funeral home. The mortuary usually will get a few (10 ?) copies for you. You may need more, and they are not cheap — approximately $12 each.

If you need to get additional copies of the death certificate you can go to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Generally, this office is part of the state Health Department.

In many cases, the funeral home will send the death certificate to the Social Security Administration. It is very important that you know that they have done this for you, because if they don’t send it, you are responsible and you need to see to this right away.

Your other family members must petition the local court (locality where the decedent lived) and unanimously agree for you to be appointed Administrator and that you have complete ability to sell any of the properties and pay the bills. This is extremely important, because if you don’t have full responsibility, then every expense (bill) that is related to the estate will have to be equally divided among the heirs — meaning that each heir is responsible for paying her/his portion of each estate related bill. This is a nightmare scenario, because it is so logistically difficult. You need to have all the control over the estate account.

The court will require that you submit an accounting of the value of the estate at the date of death.You find this amount by looking at balances in checking and savings accounts, money market accounts, as well as the valuation of cars, homes, furnishings, etc. at the time of the decedent’s passing. The best way to figure those is to look at real estate assessments, and DMV records. In the case of household furnishings, you can look at EBAY or other prominent online auction sites.

The court will require you to pay them a percentage of the total value of the estate and require you to contact a bondsman and pay a bond.  Usually the court will have a list of approved bondsmen.

Bank Accounts

Once you have your “papers” (official designation and death certificate) you will need to close out all your loved one’s accounts and open an interest-bearing estate account (the fact that it is interest-bearing shows good stewardship on your part.)  An estate account is one that has been assigned an IRS EIN (Employer Identification Number). I asked “my” bondsman if he had any advice (I thought he might know because he was definitely a ‘veteran’ of thus process) and he told me that I should work go to a local bank to establish the estate account. He said that smaller, local banks tended to be less bureaucratic and easier to work with than large banks.

Anyway, take the counter-checks from the previous accounts and use them to establish an interest-bearing estate account. 

This estate account is CRUCIAL, because it will allow you pay the bills, the first one being the funeral home.

Here is additional information from Virginia Estate Law that gives more a detailed explanation of this process. I recommend you research your own state’s procedure for getting started. The address is:

Place for Qualification. The personal representative must qualify in the Circuit Court located in the City or County where the decedent resided at the time of his death, or, if the decedent did not reside in Virginia at the time of his death, where the decedent owned real estate, or other assets estate assets in Virginia.

Who May Qualify. The personal representative must be an adult (age 18 or older) and must be able to obtain surety on their bond, if required.

A personal representative my be a nonresident of Virginia, but surety is required on the bond of a non-resident personal representative, unless a resident co-fiduciary is appointed.

The Clerk must also be satisfied that the person seeking qualification is suitable and competent to perform the duties of his or her office.

Preferred Person for Qualification. If the decedent had a will, the person(s) named as personal representative(s) in the will are normally appointed.

For intestate decedents (without a will) the law provides certain preferences within certain time frames. Generally, during the first 30 days after the decedent’s death, a sole distributee of the estate, or his or her designee, has preference. After 30 days, the first distributee who applies for qualification, or his designee has preference. After 60 days the clerk may grant administration to one of more creditors of the decedent, or any other person, provided that it can be shown that appropriate efforts were made to locate the preferred parties.

Factual Information. At time of qualification, the clerk will require information about the person seeking qualification, about the decedent, an estimate of the value of assets of the decedent’s estate, a list of the decedent’s heirs at law, and other information.

The clerk will also require proof of death of the decedent in the form of a death certificate or possibly an obituary published in a newspaper, if a death certificate has not yet been obtained.

Oath and Bond. The personal representative will be required to give their oath that he or she will faithfully perform the duties of their office to the best of their judgment, and if a will is probated, that the writing is the true last will of the decedent.

The personal representative will be required to give their bond in writing to secure their oath to property perform their duties, with penalty in a monetary amount at least equal to the value of the personal estate of the decedent, and if there is a will that authorizes sale of real property, the bond amount must include the value of the real property.

Surety. Unless surety on the personal representative’s bond is waived by will, corporate surety will be required (normally issued by an insurance company) to secure the bond. There are limited exceptions for banks, very small estates, and cases where all the beneficiaries of the residuary estate are also personal representatives.”


Funerals are expensive. For a conventional funeral you can expect to pay anywhere

  from $7000 – $18000 depending on the casket, any services at the funeral home, etc.

  Here are some services that they may offer:

Providing facilities for memorial service or funeral

Dealing with necessary paperwork to enable burial or cremation

Providing information to family and friends

Placing obituaries in newspapers

Setting up a catered meal at another location following the funeral

Arranging special musical requests

Ordering and caring for floral tributes on behalf of family and friends

Accepting donations for named charities

Arranging for vehicles and staff for funeral and graveside services

Making arrangements for transfer of remains for funeral and burial services

Recording donations received

Keeping record of persons who attended any funeral or memorial service at the funeral home.

I am not sure about green funerals, and what is offered in conjunction with those rites, but, for me, the fact that the funeral home helped with some of the ins and outs of paperwork concerning the death certificate, etc. were extremely helpful.  I had way too much on my plate as it was. 


Next Up – Paying Bills, Closing Accounts and the IRS

Death Estate Legal Documents Wills and Trusts

Death and Taxes, Literally

Why you need a will, and what to do if you are appointed Executor or Administrator.

Part I


A will is a roadmap for your loved ones to follow regarding your estate. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to provide them with directions regarding your money and property after you have passed away. You will save them an inordinate amount of time, upset and confusion in an already sad situation by taking care of this important and not necessarily difficult legal matter. I know because my own mother passed away without leaving a will, despite our pleading with her for many years before her demise.

We have been faced with a dizzying number of big decisions concerning everything from the most basic aspects of funeral planning to the disposition of real property.

My siblings elected me “Administrator” (a less powerful version of ‘Executor’ because she died intestate). “Intestate” is the legal term for someone who has died without a will.


Every state has different laws concerning estates and trusts. Here is a link to a website with contains this pertinent information. It will be helpful for you to look at your state’s code on estate law.

Basic Wills

You can go to Law Depot, Legal Zoom or any number of sites if you want to create a will quickly and inexpensively.  “Testator” is a legal term for the person who makes/creates the will.

You can also go to an attorney who specializes in Estate Law.

Holographic Wills

Or, you can write a holographic will, which is a will that is handwritten and signed by the testator (that would be you). Not all states recognize holographic wills, and, in states where they are acceptable, they must meet some specific requirements. The minimal requirements are:

*Proof that the testator actually wrote the will

*Proof that the testator was in full possession of her/his mental capacities

*The will must contain the testator’s wish to disburse personal property to beneficiaries

In many states a holographic will must contain the maker’s (your) signature. If you decide to go this route,  just go ahead and sign it the document….anything to make life easier for your beneficiaries.  Handwritten holographic wills do not have to be witnessed or notarized. If it is typed, you will need to have it witnessed. I think that the logic behind handwritten vs. typed is that it easier to commit fraud with the typewritten document.

Leave the holographic will in a place where it will be easily found. You don’t want your heirs to feel like they are in a mystery novel.

I took this definition from Investopedia, where they have defined various types of wills, too.

Here is a link:

Trusts has a good definition of Trusts. One of the chief benefits of Trusts is that they allow for a seamless transition of financial responsibilities from the decedent to the trustee.

Here is their definition:

“One main difference between a will and a trust is that a will goes into effect only after you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as you create it. A will is a document that directs who will receive your property at your death and it appoints a legal representative to carry out your wishes. By contrast, a trust can be used to begin distributing property before death, at death or afterwards. A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a ‘trustee,’ holds legal title to property for another person, called a ‘beneficiary.’ A trust usually has two types of beneficiaries — one set that receives income from the trust during their lives and another set that receives whatever is left over after the first set of beneficiaries dies.”

Household Objects

If for some reason you do not designate “who gets what” in your will, at least put pieces of tape on the bottom of items around your home, and write the name of the recipient of each piece.  This is an easy way of letting everyone know which item goes where.

Next Time – Starting from Scratch After Your Loved One Has Passed Away

Cats Inspiration Pets Uncategorized



Small, but MIGHTY

Tough Mama – Seven Pounds of unadulterated, furry GRIT accurately describe Kitty Girl.  At approximately 77 in human years, she retains her youthful, innocent looks, her insouciance, and screaming impatience.  Her deceptively sweet face (which covers up a general ‘badass-ness’) and coy affect have served her well over the years.

I have asked her again and again how it came about that she was left to wander the alleys and byways of our neighborhood. I get a blank stare, followed by a lick of the paw, as a reply.  She CAME to US, though!  We kept hearing the screeching yells of a tiny cat who kept coming around and around.

She did tell me that she wanted to be picked up, fed and adopted.

“Don’t we all,” I said.

We fed her for months. Eventually she let us get close enough to nab and hustle her off to the vet. There was much family discussion about her status. Was she “with kittens” or had she just gained weight?  SHE wasn’t talking. Our veterinarian resolved the conflict, telling us that Kitty Girl had been fixed and had been well-treated by somebody.

“Great! We have another pet,” we said to ourselves, not anticipating Kitty Girl’s complete antipathy for any other animal.  Her motto was and is, “No Animals Other Than Me – With Me, It’s My Way or NUTHIN'” She was quite effective in her demonstration of her ethos in her insane attacks on our other pets.

So, with our usual inventiveness and aplomb, we foisted her off on my Mother, who, God Bless Her, reluctantly agreed to take her in. Thus, began a mutually unhappy relationship that lasted for about 12 years. There was much consternation over Kitty Girl’s leaping onto tables, weaving through lamps, statues, collectors items, detritus, as well as attacking the occasional visiting dog (especially her nemesis, Buckley). In fairness, Kitty Girl tried to mitigate Mom’s dislike by bringing her dead mice and chipmunks, but that didn’t cut any ice.


After many long years of co-existing with my mother in their perfunctory relationship, we brought her back.  Our other pets had passed away and we felt honor-bound to try and set things right.  Kitty Girl agrees that we have finally stepped up and given her due.

What amazes me is her tenacity and outstanding survival skill.  I mean, she has had to be TOUGH to survive living by her wits and then living with my Mother. Talk about having EGO STRENGTH and a WILL to OVERCOME — SHE’S GOT IT!!

Even at 77 she still likes to play and rough house. I hear her feral hunting whines and cries as she pounces on toys and tries to tear them apart. On one of her first nights in our old house she brought me a love token of a half-dead mouse at about 3 a.m. It was pretty terrifying to be awakened by the wild screams of both animals and a little mouse dropped right beside my head. But, the girl’s gotta do what the girl’s gotta do, right? I only hope that I can make that same claim when I reach her age (not hunting for mice). It’s inspiring to see someone who still holds onto that fierce spirit and keeps on truckin’!


I know that she is an ANIMAL, but, I have learned a lot from this little Tough Mama. Kitty Girl looks at me and says, “Me-Rew! You’re damn straight I’m tough!”

Here’s to Kitty Girl and Staying in Touch With YOUR BAD SELF in 2018!

How to Create Your Own ETSY Store Uncategorized Using Your Creativity to Make Money




                                           THE ULTIMATE SIDE HUSTLE: ETSY 

                                                           By Ashley R. Hall


Ashley has worked hard to put together a great ETSY store.



Here are some of her cards!


Like many others, I’ve chosen, and the economy chose for me, a varied career path, as opposed to staying with one career since I graduated college eleven years ago. The side hustle list is long from television post production to screenwriting to substitute teaching to running the aforementioned an Etsy store, which I’m confident I will continue for years to come.  

My Etsy store is called kissmytarot and you can find it at 

My store sells hand designed tarot cards and personal tarot card readings. Right now, the site features a hand designed set of Fleetwood Mac tarot cards and Stevie Nicks inspired tarot card readings.  

Last Christmas I looked online for a set of Stevie Nicks tarot cards to send my friend for Christmas, only to find that they didn’t exist, so it occurred to me to make some myself and I did. It then occurred to me that others may want some as well, and the idea for an Etsy store planted in my head. 

Below, I’ll explain how I started and some tips I’ve learned along the way. 

Starting Out: Product Attention, Research and Need 

I put a lot of time into designing my first set of cards before I even considered opening the store to sell them. I showed them to people, got tips, made adjustments and spent a lot, a lot of time getting them in fighting shape. I also went to a local print shop to get a quote on how much it would be to have them printed so they looked professional and neat. If I had found out each deck was going to be $100 a piece to print, I would have stopped, because its unlikely people would pay over a hundred dollars for a deck of cards, let alone a little more to make a reasonable profit. 

I also researched other tarot decks and made sure something else similar to my product wasn’t already on the market. There wasn’t, so I moved forward with a reasonable thought that people might be interested in buying. Now if you make something that has been made before, don’t be discouraged, but focus on what makes your product different and think about that while designing your store and focusing your marketing. 

Starting Out: Etsy Research 

I also did some extensive Etsy research before I started out. You can type Etsy into YouTube and find hundreds of howto videos on how to start, how to sell and other great tips.  My favorites were by an Etsy best seller named Olivia Hayward. You can type her name into YouTube and find tons of great how to Etsy shop videos. You can also go to the help section of Etsy and find beginner’s guide to selling and guides on how to open your store. There’s also a Etsy Success podcast. As a site and business, Etsy has a ton of resources and you should definitely look into them before you jump in. 

Jumping In: Finances and Time

Before you start, you should think about how much time and money you plan on putting into your Etsy endeavor. Etsy itself is fairly inexpensive and has very little overhead, which is great.  For every “listing” or product you post, you pay about 20 cents a month, which isn’t a lot. I only have three listings at the moment, so my overhead is low, but if you, for instance, sell 30 different types of pins or buttons and want to do 30 listings, be aware you will be paying more. 

I do not recommend buying thousands of dollars worth of product before your store has even opened, even if you’ve sold the products elsewhere. I waited for my first order and then bought a moderate amount, about $250 worth, so if it didn’t do well, it wasn’t a devastating loss. You will most likely have to put money in before you get it back, so also factor that in. 

I also decided I was willing to put in a lot of time upfront and then back off to upkeep about 3 times a month with general vigilance. I advertise about once a month and obviously put in time when I have an order I need to send out. Have an idea of how much time you want to put in before you start. 

Getting Your Store Started: 

Essentially, listen to Etsy here, they know from which they speak. They will tell you-Create a good shop page, a good bio, a good about you page, get great pictures for your shop page and great product pictures. The pictures included here are professional pics I got taken for the page. Look up other Etsy pages similar to yours that have done well and study how they put their pages together. And do all this before you make your page and products public. It’s tedious, and one might hope that your product is so great people will buy it based on a small description alone, but its really not so. Buyers expect a pristine and well thought out page and it pays to do that now instead of later.   


It’s really vital that you have a good handle on social media before you open an Etsy store, as most if not all of your advertising will be social media based. It makes sense to advertise online since you’re opening an online store, and I also think it pays to study some online marketing and things like Google Analytics before you start. 

Create pages for your store particularly on Facebook and Instagram. I created a Twitter page for my store and just found that Twitter didn’t make a lot of sense for something so visual so I let the Twitter slide. See what works and what doesn’t. 

You also want to be as specific as possible. If you’re making tiger bracelets, join every tiger and wildlife and bracelet group on Facebook and other social media outlets you can find, because you already know the people on those groups have an interest in something relating to your product, but don’t just jump in the groups and immediately start advertising. People will see through that and it will create more negative feelings than good. The rule is five points of engagement for every point of advertising.  In other words, you interact with people in the group without bringing up your product on five separate occasions for every time you bring up your product or page. 

Patience and Being Realistic 

Even though it seems easier than opening a store on Main Street, and it is, having an Etsy store requires a lot of patience and realistic thinking. You will put in a lot of work before you make a sale and you will need to continue that work for many sales after that. It can take from 2 months to a year or longer to make your first sale and even longer to break even, but I think the time is worth it to own your little business and make some side money. Please please do not quit a job or other source of income in leu of your Etsy store, especially if you haven’t opened it yet. Look at your Etsy store as a fun way to learn sales and earn some extra money, and remember it takes everyone a good long time to get started and gain a customer base. 

And my last tip is to not be afraid to bring up your store and products in public and online conversation. I understand the impulse to stay quiet, but no one will ever know about it if you don’t bring it up yourself.  Good luck and don’t forget to head to and pick up some tarot cards, a reading or some playing cards. Thanks! 

Ashley R. Hall  


Making Your Own Holiday Garland — Directions from Caitlin

Garlands “say” HOLIDAY!

Garlands have a magical quality!  Seeing these branches, leaves or flowers strung together and hanging over mantels, or doorjambs like ribbons, invokes a sense of nostalgia and happiness — there is something about that sight that makes your eyes crinkle as you smile.

Garlands, bands of plant material that are strung together, date back to ancient times. They had universal appeal — Egyptian, Greeks, Romans, Hindus, Pagans and pretty much every other civilization incorporated them into their religious and festive occasions. That tradition remains strong today, but, they are probably most popular during “The Holidays,” and, are mostly evergreen (symbolizing everlasting life).  One fun fact – looped and/or draped garlands are called “festoons” or “swags.”

So, my uber creative friend, Caitlin, has demonstrated how to create your own little piece of magic on a shoe-string budget.  Her garland was 10 yards and she used black string and green floral wire to string branches of cedar, leyland cyprus and arborvitae together.   If you look carefully at the picture, you will see that she filled 5 seven gallon buckets with plant material.  You can use tufts and branches of shrubs and trees and if you cannot find enough you can add anything that you want, including  ornaments, sparkly ribbon, fruit and more.  You can add as much swag to your SWAG you as like!

What you will need to make the basic garland:



Any kind of evergreen tuft or branch – lots of them

Floral wire

Black string

Any extra items or bling that you make want to add to your garland

7 gallon buckets filled with evergreens
Wire the branches together in clumps and then tie the clumps end to end.


You can even make a wreath (if you want)!
Holiday Recipes Uncategorized


I have conquered one of my own, personal, Betes Noir. I have journeyed deep into a culinary jungle, found what I was looking for AND…come out UNSCATHED. I have made a cake that is vegan and gluten free! Voila! This feeling is not dissimilar to the one I had after making a delicious Beef Wellington, although the dishes are POLAR opposites.

I may LOVE Cake, but I ADORE Icing! So making cakes is something that I enjoy, despite the fact that I don’t bake very often. I have been long fascinated, however, by the concept of vegan and gluten free baking. I did a little research and found that the concept of veganism goes back a long way (some 2000 years), but the term was coined in 1944 by Vegan Society Founder, Donald Watson. Similarly, going gluten-free, emerged as a dietary treatment for celiac disease in the 1940s.

So, both of the concepts have been around for a very long time, but, you knew THAT!

On to the cake-making! Since I don’t have any cookbooks that are specifically vegan or gluten-free, I went to the web to find a recipe. I found a site, the Minimalist Baker, ( with tons of great recipes, and decided to adapt their recipe for a Gluten Free Birthday Cake (Vegan). While their dessert was chocolate, I decided to make a Coconut Cake. To my way of thinking, Coconut Cake is very festive, and reminiscent of The Holidays.

I also used some different ingredients, substituting:

Coconut milk for Almond Milk
Coconut flour for Oat Flour
Almond flour for Almond Meal

and, made some other small changes.

This is my “Cast of Characters,” ingredients in a recipe for success!

Not being completely familiar with the different properties of all the ingredients, I was not sure if it would wind up being a delectable dessert or a big old brick. But, it seems that I lucked out and, using the Minimalist Baker’s directions as a guideline, made a most excellent sheet cake!

Here’s the recipe:


Prep time
40 mins
Cook time
30 mins

Icing time
Total time
1 hour 15 mins

1 cup (240 ml) unsweetened plain coconut milk
1/4 cup coconut creamer
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 flax eggs (4 Tbsp (28 g) flaxseed meal + 10 Tbsp (150 ml) ice cold water)
1 Tbsp (7 g) baking soda
1/2 cup (120 ml) canola oil
1 TBSP agave nectar
2/3 cup (133 g) sugar (half cane sugar and half coconut sugar)
1 1/2 cups (369 g) unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup (110 g) almond flour
1/2 cup (45 g) coconut flour
1 1/2 cups (240 g) Pillsbury Gluten Free Flour

3 large scoops Earth Balance
1 lb of organic powdered sugar
1/3 can coconut cream (or full-fat coconut milk*)
Coconut Creamer to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
Gluten Free Coconut

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (176 C) and butter 1 sheet cake pan
2.Measure out coconut milk in a liquid measuring cup and add vinegar. Stir and let curdle while moving onto the next step. This adds a nice little tang to the batter.
3.Prepare flax eggs by mixing ice cold water with flaxseed meal in a large mixing bowl and let rest for 5 minutes.

Flax meal to make eggs
The flax eggs

4.Next, add baking soda to the coconut milk vinegar mixture and stir. Set aside.
5.Add the oil, cane sugar, and agave nectar to the flax egg and beat/whisk to combine.
6.Next, add applesauce, vanilla, and salt and beat/whisk to combine. Then add coconut mixture and whisk again.
7.Lastly, add baking powder, almond flour, coconut flour, and gluten-free flour and beat/whisk to combine, making sure no large clumps remain.

Batter Up!

8.If the batter appears too thick, add a touch more coconut creamer, but it should be perfect. It should resemble a semi-thick batter that’s pourable.

Ready to go into the oven.

9.Bake cake for 30-40 minutes (cupcakes for about 28-35 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out completely clean and the edges appears dry. (Time will vary if you subbed ingredients, as well as depending on the size of your pans.) Mine baked in 31 minutes.

It smells delicious!

10.Let cake rest in the pan for 15 minutes, then carefully run a butter knife along the edges and invert onto a cardboard cake board. Let cool completely.
(I used a cake board because I am going to serve the dessert on a platter.)

In the meantime, prepare your Coconut Icing.

This is wonderful!

11.Combine Icing ingredients in a mixer — start with the Earth Balance, gradually adding the powdered sugar. Alternate canned coconut cream and sugar, adding salt, extracts and coconut creamer to taste. Whip the mixture at the highest speed until it’s fluffy and delicious!

12.Ice cake and sprinkle with coconut.

NOTE: I absolutely LOVED using the canned coconut cream in the icing! It
extremely calorie-laden (100 calories per 1/4 cup), but adds such a nice, rich
texture! I mean this is COCONUT CAKE…..!!!