Hilltown Families Hand-made Valentine Swap 2021!

Once again, we’ve thrown our crafty hats into the ring of the Hilltown Families Hand-made Valentine Swap!

This annual tradition charges local families in the hidden hamlets of western Massachusetts (the Hilltowns) with creating original Valentines and sending them to other families and individuals.

I’ve actually participated in the HFHVS several times, including before I had children, and each year we receive a wide array of greetings from people of all ages in exchange for our own offerings.

This year, our Valentines took on two forms: magic wands and heart flowers, which followed the same basic pattern. First, I bought sheets of heart-shaped labels from Avery (I used template 94603, but there were a few available sizes) and craft sticks, ribbon, foam hearts, and heart stickers from Amazon. We rounded-out the supply list with our own stash of sequins, beads, markers, glue, and paints.

From there, two labels stuck together over a craft stick created the base for any creation, and we were off to the races — making not just enough for each Hilltown family on our list, but also for family members, friends, and holiday decor around the homestead.

Heart-flower Valentines, the Tiktok tutorial!
Julia’s preferred design was magic wands with long strands of ribbon. Amazon tip: I bought 20 rolls of themed ribbon for $11 – brand name Vatin. I think I’m set on Valentine ribbon until 2025.
I made more flowers than wands, largely because layering the foam hearts as petals is very mentally soothing. We kept going with flowers and wands until all of the foam hearts were gone; a bag of 300 from Amazon was $8.
My favorite wand of Julia’s was her two-sided “Frankenstein Heart,” which had green stitches on one side and brains on the other. I’ll be sure to repost this next Blogtoberfest. 🧠
The stickers were $9 for 500; also all set on multi-design heart stickers until at least mid-decade.
I had fun with the sequins, too…🦩
Heart wands, the TikTok tutorial!

Many thanks to Hilltown Families founder, publisher, and editor Sienna Wildfield for spearheading one of my favorite activities of the year — one that creates connections that felt a little more important this year than they already had. ❤️

Guest Post: Building and Managing a Poker Bankroll

By Ben Ragusa

It’s been about 17 years now since I played my first hand of No-Limit Hold Em. I started playing back in 2003 shortly after Chris Moneymaker’ WSOP Main Event win. His victory sparked a poker boom and brought it into the mainstream. He got in on a $40 online satellite to take down poker’s biggest prize which helped create the online poker industry.

The first site I joined in late 2003 was called Poker Room. I knew relatively little about how to play, and nothing at all about bankrolls. I deposited $600 and it was gone in a matter of weeks. I quickly realized I had a lot to learn so I bought a bunch of poker books at Barnes & Noble and got to work. The first book I read was called Ace on the River by Barry Greenstein. It gave me a basic understanding of how to play and gave a brief description of poker’s culture as well as the mentality of the professional players. It wasn’t until 2006 that I learned about bankrolls.

In 2006 I joined Full Tilt Poker, an online website represented by a large number of well-known pros. It was one of 3 major websites in operation at the time, the other two being PokerStars, and Ultimate Bet. I played exclusively on Full Tilt for a number of years until the government shutdown of online poker on April 15th, 2011, otherwise known as Black Friday. My introduction to bankroll management was sparked by Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, one of Full Tilt’s co-founders. One of the things that made him so popular, other than his multiple WSOP wins, was his 0 to hero online poker challenge. Its purpose was to turn $0 into $10,000. Ferguson believed that by adhering to strict bankroll management rules he could achieve this feat. Full Tilt ran a few tournaments each day called freerolls which is where Ferguson started his challenge. There was no buy-in and you could win money by placing in the top 27 spots. There were typically 2,700 entries and the tournaments would fill up in just 90 seconds. It took Ferguson many weeks to make his first $2. Overall, he made $22 from the freerolls. It took him 9 months to make his first $100. One of the big moments in the challenge was placing 2nd in a $1 tournament for $104. Nine months after that Ferguson had amassed over $28,000 but failed to hold it eventually dropping back below $10,000. His rules were simple. He would invest no more than 2% of his bankroll on MTTs (multi-table tournaments). If he was under $50 however, he could play $1 tourneys since that was the lowest buy in at the time. For cash games, he could invest no more than 5%, and if his winnings exceeded 10% of his overall bankroll, he would be forced to leave the table when the blinds reached him. His challenge inspired me to manage my bankroll the same way. Things were going well until Black Friday shut it all down.

After Black Friday, I didn’t play online poker for a long time. I had a pretty firm grip on how to play many forms of poker and had finally figured out the importance of bankroll management, but never got the chance to really put it into practice. I had over $1,300 on Full Tilt at the time of the shutdown and was sticking firmly to Ferguson’s rules. There was no doubt his theory worked, but I needed a site to play on so I could start over. On May 2nd, 2017, I discovered Global Poker, an online site that treated each hand as a sweepstakes. This sweepsatkes model made it possible for them to bypass the online poker ban. They gave you $2 for signing up. I took the $2 and jumped into a .02/.04 cash game and ran it up to $8. The next day I played with $2 again and built the roll up to $17. Global had tournaments running once a day for $0.11 that payed out around $80 for 1st place so I quit the cash games and started playing those. A few months later I won one and the bankroll shot up to over $120.

Ferguson’s theory works. There is no doubt about that, but how effective is it in the long-term, and is it the right way to build a bankroll? Sure, the 2% and 5% rules work when you actually have a bankroll to manage, but what about if you are building one? Bankrolls go up and down because of variance, and since luck is streaky by nature, you could play perfectly for long stretches of time and still lose. Your bankroll has to be able to withstand these “swings”, but what if you didn’t have to worry about swings? Is there a way to build a bankroll without having it go up and down like an elevator all the time? Remember, Ferguson actually got to $28,000, but then dipped below $10,000 not long after. I decided to make my own rules to find out if there was a better way.

I didn’t abandon Ferguson’s system altogether, but I did some modifications. First, I needed to figure out my goal. Global’smost costly MTT buy-in is $218. If you multiply that by 50, (remember the 2% rule), you come up with $10,900. That means you need at least that much to be able to play the most expensive tournament. I made that my goal. I decided not to incorporate cash games, as that is not my preferred medium when it comes to online poker. Plus, the swings in NLHE cash games can be enormous. I don’t like the idea of losing 5% of my bankroll in one hand, especially when trying to build from scratch. Next, I needed a starting point. I still had some money left on Global after withdrawing $200 in June. I figured $55 was a good starting point since $1.10 was Global’s cheapest buy-in other than the $0.11 tourneys. They also run a handful of freebuysthroughout the night. Freebuys are basically freerolls that you can pay to re-enter if you go broke during the re-buy period. You can also pay to add on chips at the end of the rebuy period. I chose to treat them as freerolls and not invest any money in them. Another thing Global does, is they give you money to play each day. The first 4 days they give you $0.25, days 5 and 6 $0.55, and day 7 it’s $1, then it starts over. That means you can make $3.10 every week as long as you remember to claim it. If you subtract $0.77 from that assuming you play the $0.11 tournament every day, you will make $2.33 every week even if you cash in nothing. Following this method ensures your bankroll will never actually come down even if you run bad.

So basically, I am trying to make $55 into $10,900. Now that can seem pretty overwhelming when you look at it like that, so I broke it down into 9 levels. Each level starts at 50x the buy-in of that tournament. For example, Level 1 starts at $55 (50 x $1.10)and goes to $110 (50 x $2.20). Each level is made up of steps. So, level 1 has 11 steps of $5 each. Once I go up a step, the rule is not to let the bankroll dip below that. My goal each week is togo up one step. For example, if my bankroll is $62.50 to start Monday, I want to break $65 by Sunday. Remember, I’m profiting $2.33 that week no matter what happens, so all I really need to do is make at least $0.17 from my tournaments and I hit my goal that week. If my bankroll is above the minimum amount for a step, but the $2.33 profit isn’t enough to get to the next step, I will use whatever I have above the minimum to play. So, let’s say I’m in the $300-$325 step, and I have $318. That means I have $18 I can spend on tournaments that week to bump up to $325 or more. The buy-ins still have to be 2% or less of my bankroll, but I’m guaranteed to still be above $300 at the end of the week even if I strike out on every single tournament.

I think Ferguson’s rules work well if you have a bankroll to manage, but if you are trying to build, you want to avoid having those up and down swings. Look at it like building a house. You don’t want to get halfway done, and then start taking it apart. A bankroll is no different. My motto is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. That means no cash games during the build phase, and no dropping a step once you reach it. On July 20th, I had $55 in my account and as of this post, I am sitting at $513 and climbing just by sticking to these rules.

Index reveals the spookiest towns in the UK

A guest-post by Online Mortgage Advisor UK

’Tis the season to be spooky! At least that’s what we would’ve said last October. 2020 has proven to be a scary year in general. Nonetheless, with Halloween approaching, the experts at OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk were curious to find out which are the spookiest towns in the UK.

To find out OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk took into consideration seven factors: the number of cemeteries, paranormal sightings, abandoned homes, spooky roads, safety at night, level of crime and annual sunshine. In order to get the most accurate data, the numbers for each spooky criteriawere divided by the total population for each location.

Where are the spookiest places in the UK? 👻

The top five scariest places in the UK are Newport (1070 spooky points), Birmingham (1040), Leicester (980), Nottingham (940) and Liverpool (930). 

Spooky Fact: According to data from  SellHouseFast.uk, Leicester is also the city where your home is most likely to be invaded by spiders! Yikes! 

If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, the best town to visit is Newport, gathering an overall spooky score of 1070! The city was given the highest score for the number of cemeteries, paranormal sightings, spooky roads and safety at night, based on its population count. The highest scores were given to the places within the top 10% of that sample size. 

Based on that methodology, the cities/towns ranking the highest (300) for Cemeteries were: London, Newport, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham. 

Spooky Fact: Newport has the second-highest population/cemeteries ratio (51,141), just below London (51,218 people per cemetery). 

Is it a bird, is it a ghost, or is it my nan? The places with the most paranormal sightings REVEALED!

So, what are the scariest cities when it comes to ghost sightings, you may ask? OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk can reveal that the town/cities which ranked highest (300 points) for paranormal sightings are: Newport, Birmingham, Preston, Bradford.

The places with the second-highest scores for paranormal sightings (270 points) are Leicester, Leeds, Liverpool, Coventry and Swansea!

If you would prefer the dead to stay dead, then the best cities to move to are Edinburgh (60 points), Cambridge (60) and York (30).

Home, not so sweet, home… Here is where you’ll find the most abandoned houses!

From dust on the furniture, to spider webs and poltergeists in the basement, there is something very eerie about abandoned houses. With that in mind, OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk sought to investigate the places with the most and least number of abandoned homes/population. 

The research can reveal that the places with the highest abandoned homes/population ratio, hence garnering the most points (200), are Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham, Reading and Cardiff.

At the other end of the scale, we have the towns/cities with the fewest abandoned homes/population (gathering only 20 points): Newry, Bradford, Armagh, Aberdeen and Newcastle upon Tyne.

THESE roads will make your skin crawl 🕷

Have you ever found yourself walking alone on an unfamiliar road, only to look up at a sign telling you the road’s name is Dead Lane? OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk can reveal the places with the spookiest roads. These are:

Manchester (Elm Street, Hallows Avenue, Dark Lane), Gloucester (Cemetery Road, Black Dog Way, Spider Lane), Birmingham (Hallow Close, Hanging Lane, Dark Lane), Southampton (Elm Street, Cemetery Road, Warlock Close),Nottingham (Ghost House Lane, Dead Lane), Northampton(Black Cat Drive, Elm Street), London (All Hallows Road, Cemetery Lane/Road), Newport (Warlock Close, Cemetery Lane/Road).

Scared of the Dark? Don’t go to THESE cities!

OnlineMortgageAdvisor.co.uk also looked at the annual hours of sunshine to determine which place is the darkest of them all. The cities/towns with the most sunshine had the highest amount of points deducted on the tables, whilst the darkest cities had the lowest amount of points deducted. 

The darkest places in the UK are Glasgow (1203.1 hours of annual sunshine), Manchester (1212.4 hours), Armagh(1245.5 hours), Belfast (1246.9 hours) and Newry (1255.8 hours). 

At the other end of the spectrum, the cities with the most annual sunshine are Peterborough (1596 hours), Oxford(1577.9 hours), Cardiff (1549.4 hours) London (1540.4 hours) and Reading (1522.9 hours). 

Methodology: 1. Found the top 40 UK cities by population. 2. Used findagrave.com to find the total number of cemeteries for each UK city.3. Used Paranormaldatabase.com to find the number of paranormal sightings.4. Abandoned homes were found via the following data sources: statswales.gov.wales and gov.uk. Only long-term vacant dwellings were considered (at least 6 months).5. Crime level data was sourced from Numbeo.com. The Crime Index is an estimation of the overall level of crime in a given city or a country. We consider crime levels lower than 20 as very low crime levels.6. The Safety Index is sourced from Numbeo.com. It shows how safe it is to walk alone at night. If the city has a high safety index, it is considered very safe.7. Spooky Road Names – Compiled list of scary names: Devil, elm street, ghost, hallow, dead, hell, blood, hanging, dark, headless, witch, cemetery, black cat/dog, broomstick, spider, warlock. Searched https://www.streetlist.co.uk/and https://www.proviser.com/ to find which cities had streets with the names.8. Annual Sunshine shows the average number of hours of sunshine for the nearest climate station to each city. It was sourced from https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/climate/maps-and-data/uk-climate-averages. The nearest climate station was used for each city.9. To account for size differences between cities, the respective city population was divided by the corresponding measure.10. The factors used have varying units of measurement. To resolve this, each measure was standardised by calculating the value based on the percentile rank within the sample cities.

Spooky Factors:

Index Score



Paranormal recordings


Spooky road names


Safety walking alone at night


Abandoned homes


Level of crime


Annual sunshine (hours)


Finding Time to Write When You’re Homeschooling Your Children

A guest-post by Patrick Bailey

Thanks to COVID-19, or maybe by choice, you’re homeschooling your children. There are Pinterest boards galore on how to be the perfect homeschool parent. The problem is, it’s Pinterest, and you’re more than likely going to end up with more failures than successes. That’s not to say you aren’t capable of being a fantastic homeschool parent, but let’s face it, you’d rather be writing than teaching about writing.

So how do you find time to write when you’re homeschooling your kids? It’s a complicated dance that few understand because working from home IS working. And whether you write for fun or a living, you’d still like to find time to write. 

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

First, it’s important to remember that no matter how you’re caring for your children – their physical, emotional, educational, or other needs – your needs are also important. You have to make time for yourself for work if you are a working parent and then also for any activities that fill your cup as a human being.

Not taking care of your needs can lead to big issues. Depression, addiction, anger or resentment, less productivity, and other issues come from an unhappy parent who feels overwhelmed. Some people suffer from a dual disorder because it becomes too much. But taking care of your needs helps you avoid this. So, if writing is that thing for you, listen up. Below are some tips on how you can find time to write while your kids are busy learning.

7 Tips for Finding Time to Write

When you’re trying to write, it can be best to have a clear space and some quiet, but that’s not always possible with kids at home. You also might take breaks to help them with questions or take care of their general needs. So while it’s not an ideal writing situation, it can be managed. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

Write when they write

If you have younger kids that need constant supervision while doing their school work, try writing when they write. It will give you a 30 minute span of time to write if they are practicing free writing every day. Put it on your academic calendar and be ready to tackle something every day. 

Write when they sleep

If you have littles that nap, take the time to write while they’re asleep. If you’re a morning person, this can be a really productive time for your writing, and getting up an hour earlier than them can add to your writing time.

Schedule in some uninterrupted writing time

Try to have a set uninterrupted time that you can get at least an hour or two in to make sure your writing gets done. This can be a few days a week and whatever time works for you. It might be best to do this when someone else is home to help. To help with interruptions and distractions, wear headphones or put a special sign on your door.

Let them be bored

Creating a schedule for your homeschool day is important, but it’s also important to set aside blocks of time to be bored. Kids need boredom to inspire creativity. Let them know you’re going to spend time creating by writing, and they can pick something of their own to do for a set amount of time.

Build this into your day. This should be free play, where they have to choose how to fill their time without an assigned task. Set rules so that require them to pick a quiet, solo activity so that you can focus too.

Rethink your hours

Remember, the key is to be as flexible and organized as possible. This applies to school and work. School doesn’t have to be a full day like going to traditional school. Decide what they will learn and if it takes three hours one day, that’s all they need to do.

 For work, remember that your work blocks can be shorter periods of time. This will help you get more done because smaller blocks of time are easier to come by and you can prioritize better. It will also help your kids know that you’ll be free soon. If your schedule requires more standard hours, change the times you do school to fit into your schedule.

Don’t overschedule

If you pack your schedule full, no one will have time to breathe. Learn to say no so that you can have moments to yourself or time to write. Boundaries are important, and so is focusing on what you can do versus what you can’t.

Remember your why

Losing sight of why you are homeschooling can make things seem harder. Remember to let your children know that they are important too and that you are never too busy for them. Of course, they also need to understand that you do have times you need to write, so teaching them to respect that is important.

One Last Reminder, Mom to Mom

Whichever tips you choose to put into play, remember that you’re carving out time to pursue something you love. In doing so, you’re modeling an important behavior to your kids. They will learn to pursue what they love and that the art of learning and expressing themselves will never end.

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.