Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone has a safe, fun-filled Halloween. We're taking the boys trick-or-treating tonight, so they're pretty excited. Neil's already walking around with his candy bucket in hand. Both boys are dressing up as skeletons this year. This is the first time they've picked slightly scary costumes. They're really excited.

This picture is of our pumpkins. Nichelle did Voldemort, Neil did a werewolf, and Nathan did a scary face. Nicole started to carve out Harry Potter, but the pattern was so elaborate that her pumpkin broke in a vital place. She made a simple Harry instead. I think they turned out really good. Of course, last night we had to light the candles and turn off all the lights so we could all say, "Oooooh!" at the same time. That's a tradition at our house. Afterwards, we all watched Hocus Pocus, which is another Halloween tradition. Have a great Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Frightful's Mountain

Tomorrow the boys and I will start reading Jean Craighead George's book, Frightful's Mountain. We've read the first two books already, which are My Side of the Mountain and On The Far Side of the Mountain. After the boys enjoyed those two so much, I knew I'd have to get the third book. I didn't realize, however, that Frightful's Mountain was written a good 40 years after the first book. Jean wrote it only after being asked by a young girl what happened to Sam Gribley's peregrine falcon, Frightful. At the end of the second book, Sam has set his falcon free. I was just reading about the last book and saw that it's written entirely from Frightful's point of view. Knowing how much my boys love birds, I'm sure they'll enjoy this.

The picture above is of a peregrine falcon just like Frightful. I took this picture when we were at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in California last year. The bird was tethered and some man was standing around talking about it. When he asked the crowd if they knew what type of bird it was several adults yelled out things like, "It's a hawk" and other stuff. Nathan was kind of in the back and said, "It's a peregrine falcon". The man didn't hear him, but everyone around us did. Smart kid really knows his birds! They're beautiful creatures. We saw some peregrines nesting on the cliffs when we went to Point Reyes National Seashore in 2006. They make an incredible sound and are so fascinating to watch.

Yesterday we finished The Indian in the Cupboard. Nathan and Neil really liked that. All their little plastic cowboys and Indians have enjoyed being played with for the first time in awhile. Last night we got the movie from Netflix and we enjoyed that. Every time I open a cupboard though, I'm surprised to find little plastic cowboys & Indians inside. That would be Neil's doing. When he gets into something -- he really gets into something!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crafts for Special Needs Kids

I have a friend with a daughter in the second grade who is both blind and autistic. She goes to art class with the general ed kids, but they are having a hard time coming up with projects for her. She only gets to spend about 15 minutes out of the 40-minute class. I'm not really familiar with projects for children with special needs, but I spent some time thinking about what I thought she might enjoy using her other senses -- touch, smell, sound, and taste. I came up with the following projects ...

Clay or Play-Dough
In addition to molding and sculpting, she could press things into the clay. Small items like coins, buttons, paper clips, a comb, barrettes, sticks, even little figurines. She could either remove the items and feel the indentations, or leave them in. Play-Dough has a smell that you remember forever.

There are a lot of bread dough recipes online. She could roll and twist the dough, kneed it, and shape it. After it's baked, she can eat her project. The same would work for certain cookie recipes.

One project is to tape a piece of construction paper onto the bottom of a metal baking pan. Then have the child dip a marble in paint and drop it in the pan. She can gently roll the pan back and forth, causing the marble to paint on the paper. Do it again with another color to make a great picture. It's also fun to hear the sounds of the marbles rolling around in the pan. My boys did this on black paper for Halloween one year using white paint. When it was dry, we cut the paper in a web shape and glued on a plastic spider.

Tempra paints have a great feel to them, too, especially when used on large sheets of newsprint with a big, soft paintbrush. Just stroking the paper with the brush is soothing, as is the smell of tempra paints. The smell always takes me back to when I was little.

Tubes of puffy paint are fun, especially to squeeze and drizzle on paper. When it dries, she could feel the lumps in the paint.

I also thought of a paper plate painting craft my boys have done, which might be fun for someone without sight. You take a non-coated paper plate (like a Chinet) and squeeze a few drops of food coloring onto it. Then you stand out in the rain (only for few seconds) and let the raindrops hit it. The colors swirl and expand. This wouldn't be as tactile for her, but she might enjoy hearing the description of what happened to each of the drops and if they turned into any interesting shapes.

I've suggested some of these projects to my friend and she's going to pass them along to her daughter's school. I wanted to post about it here, just in case anyone has any other ideas that might be fun for her. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blue Pumpkin, Orange Sky

We're doing Pumpkin Week for school right now. It's nothing fancy. We're just doing a few pumpkin related crafts at the end of our school day. Yesterday we did this one called Blue Pumpkin, Orange Sky. I found it in an old craft book my MIL sent me recently. It's supposed to be an optical illusion thing. What you do is stare at the blue pumpkin for about a minute and then close your eyes. When your eyes are shut you see an orange pumpkin on a blue sky. It's pretty interesting. I'm not sure if it would work for you on the computer screen, but you can try it. Today we're making paper mache pumpkins. Wish me luck! I haven't done paper mache in years, so hopefully it will go okay and we won't make too big of a mess.

In other news -- today is our 4th anniversary of living in this house. We moved to Montana in 2006 and it was on October 26th that we spent our first night here. It's hard to believe we've been in Montana 4 years already. Time flies when you're having fun ...

Monday, October 25, 2010

15 years ...


It's hard to believe it has been 15 years since I had to put my beloved cat, CJ to sleep. He was in the final stages of renal failure back in 1995. I had him 14 years. When he was about 6 months old, he was hit by a car and was given a grave prognosis. I opted for surgery although we weren't sure was going to be successful. His femur was broken in three places, his hip was fractured, and he had a pretty bad concussion. After a long battle, we got him healthy again. Those following 13.5 years with him were worth way more than the cost of the surgery. I still miss him terribly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Pumpkin Patch

One of our favorite things about Halloween has always been a family trip to the local pumpkin patch. When we lived in California, there was a huge one along Highway 101 in Ventura. We went there every year. We'd put the kids inside a wheelbarrow and roll them around the area looking for those perfect pumpkins. Sometimes we'd go on the hayride that went around the farm. It was pretty fun.

It's hard to believe, but there is only ONE pumpkin patch for the entire area I live in now. It's a really cool place because it has all sorts of things for kids to do -- trikes to ride, hoppity-hops to bounce on, a train ride, farm animals to pet, and so forth. It's a great place. It's also run by a family of homeschoolers and the kids take part of running the patch to learn about various things. The only drawback is that you have to pay a fee to get in. It's not much, but for a family of 4-6 people, that can add up. And, that doesn't include the cost of the pumpkins. The one year we did go, we got there too late and there were literally no good pumpkins left. We ended up buying ours at a local produce shop instead.

Times are hard right now and we couldn't afford to do that this year, so we didn't make it to the pumpkin patch. We did get four great looking pumpkins for $3.88 each at Walmart, but it's just not the same as going to a patch and searching for one. There's not too much I miss about California, but I guess I can add that big, open pumpkin patch to my list. It's just so bizarre that for this entire valley, there's only one patch. Of course, you can buy pumpkins everywhere, so it's not like there is a lack of them. It's just not the same, if you know what I mean. Perhaps in the spring, we can try to plant our own pumpkin patch. That would be fun!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How To Create Picture Books

On our way home from shopping today, we decided to stop at the local Salvation Army. The boys needed a few more golf balls to put around with on the lawn. As usual, I headed straight for the books and I got some cool ones -- a book about Iroquois Indians, one about bats, a cat book for Neil, an Arch book to add to my collection, along with a hardcover Charlie Brown book. I have a few of those, so I guess I'm now collecting them.

Another book I bought was called How To Create Picture Books by Mike Artell. It came out in 1994 and was published by Monday Morning Books, Inc. It is actually in a workbook form and is tagged as a step-by-step guide for young authors and illustrators. It's for kids ages 7 and up. It's a guide to teach kids everything they should know about writing a book. Some of the things that are covered include ...

Getting ideas
Sure-fire plots
Picture outlines
Beginning with a bang
Improving the story
Eye-catching devices
Planning layouts
Drawing creatively
Drawing from life
Varying point of view
Using borders
Handling color
Creating a great cover
Lettering with pizzazz
Binding the pages

Basically, it's a book designed to guide kids from starting with an idea and turning it all the way into a bound book. I have only skimmed through it, but it looks pretty cool. It also talks a little about picture books in general, gives information about authors, and checklists for ideas, writing, art, and so forth. My boys are really into writing, especially Nathan and I've already found him reading it earlier. I looked on Amazon and see it is out of print, but there are quite a few used ones you can buy from sellers. I paid a dime for mine. Not too bad, huh?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Evaluate Your Life Day

October 19th is National Evaluate Your Life Day, or so it says online. I'm curious who makes up all these crazy, non-official holidays. Even more so, I'm bummed I missed National Chocolate Cupcake Day yesterday. Now that's important stuff! I'll just have to be happy with the cup of Trader Joe's chocolate tea I had last night -- sigh. Evaluate your life, huh? So, what does that mean? I guess it means we should take a look at our lives and reflect what's happened, where it has been, and where we want it to go.

For me, my two main concerns, besides my children, are my weight and writing. I'm working on these at the moment. I've lost 10 pounds this month following a low sugar/low carb diet, so I'm pretty happy about that. I wish it were more, but like Rick said, it took me 11 years to put on the extra weight, so it would be dumb to think I could take it off in a month. I've lost it before and gone down to less than my high school weight, so I know I can do it again. I suppose it was a good thing National Chocolate Cupcake Day skipped by me, huh?

As for my writing -- I am pleased to say I finally did my synopsis! I'm not sure why it took me so long to get it done, but once I started writing it was easy. I've been tweeking it here and there, but for the most part, it's DONE! Now I can start submitting it, so I'm very happy about that. This is for my middle grade novel titled, Encroached.

So, as far as evaluating my life, that's about it. I'm pretty happy everywhere else, including my marriage, my family, my faith, my homeschooling efforts, etc. The only thing that would make our lives easier would be more money, just to take some of the stress off. How about you? If you were to evaluate your life, would you be pretty happy with it or would there be a lot of changes you'd like to make?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I HAVE to do this!

UGH! I don't know what's wrong with me. I've had my newest MG novel finished for weeks, and yet, I haven't been able to get the synopsis written. I've sat down quite a few times and stared at a blank computer screen with my notes printed out next to me. Still ... nothing. Why is this so hard for me to do? I'm sure it will be easier once I start, but why can't I even do that?

I hear a lot of people say they hate writing the synopsis to their stories. It's understandable. After all, you're only trying to tell your ENTIRE story on ONE piece of paper. I've written two other MGs and didn't struggle with their synopsises at all. Both of them are still unpublished though, so that could speak for itself. Even so, I have to get this started. I can't send the story out until I have it done. And, what good is a story if it is locked up inside your computer? It's worthless.

Question -- is the synopsis hard or easy for you?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy Dictionary Day!

According to the Brownielocks website, today is Dictionary Day in honor of it being Noah Webster's 252nd birthday. Webster's name became synonymous with the word dictionary after his book, The American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Noah was 70 years old when it was first came out. It contained 70,000 entries and was a two volume set. After Webster's death in 1843, all the unsold books and copyrights to his name was purchased by brothers George and Charles Merriam, who hired Noah's son-in-law to oversee revisions.

I do a lot of writing and we're a homeschool family, so dictionaries are a big deal in our house. We have several in our classroom and I keep one in my bedside table. I couldn't imagine not having one. Plus, they're online now too, which makes it even easier for people to look words up. It amazes me how some of the current dictionaries were banned because of certain words being in there. I just don't know about that one.

So, to all your word lovers ... Happy Dictionary Day!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Urus Arctos Horribilis

Ugh -- I had another one of my bear dreams early this morning. Most of the time I dream about black bears. It's probably because I see them more often. This time it was about a grizzly -- a very big grizzly. It looked just like the one in this picture that I took at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. I have this picture framed on my wall downstairs and I was just looking at it a few nights ago. Maybe that's why this was the bear in my dream. I have a hard time looking at it with the drool -- shudder.

It was awful. All of a sudden, this enormous grizzly comes bolting through a door where Neil is on the floor. Rick is next to him. The grizzly charges towards Neil. He's 8, by the way. For some reason, I had a slice of American cheese in my hand, so I tossed it in front of the bear -- wrapper and all. The bear went for it and Rick grabbed Neil and we scrambled out of the building. The next thing I know, we're in a car backing up down a hill. The hill is too steep, so the car topples over and flips backwards. It does this two times, and it flips from front to back, or longways. I'm yelling at Rick -- not sure what I'm saying -- and he's trying to get the key back into the ignition. He finally does and we drive off. The next thing I know, we're in a grocery store with a bunch of people and for some reason, we feel safe there. Weird.

I know it sounds stupid, but it freaked me out. The first thing I did was turn to look out the glass doors in my bedroom. I can see the deck pretty well at night when the blinds are open. I was glad to see no bears, but soon after I got that horrible surge of adrenaline that makes you feel cold all over. I hate that. I stayed awake for awhile, not wanting to go back to the dream, which sometimes happens to me. Grizzlies are scary up close -- even in dreams. I'm sure all this has to do with that picture as well as my new novel, which has grizzlies in it. I understand Rick and Neil being in it, as well as flipping the car in a panic to get away. I am, however, not quite sure where the American cheese fits in. Maybe because Neil eats that a lot?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cornfield Maze

Have you ever been through a cornfield maze? Back when we were living in California, I planned on taking the girls to one as a school field trip. It was incredibly hot that fall, so the maze was shut down due to fire danger and we didn't get to go. The only other maze I'd ever been in was one of those fancy shrub mazes in England. I was thrilled when we moved to Montana and found one here. We've only been to it once in 2007, but I'd love to take the boys back this year. I need to check into that soon so it isn't closed by the time we get there. The boys had a lot of fun working their way through, finding clues to fill out a little card they'd gotten and so forth. Have you ever done this? If so, did you have a hard time finding your way out?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Do you have an encyclopedia set? Or are you like a lot of people and have gotten rid of them due to the easy access of information online? I bought this set many years ago at a yard sale, of all places. I think I spent $5 or $10 for the set. It is missing one book, and as stupid as it might be, it's always the one book I want to look at. It's the "Sa-Sn" book -- go figure.

We really don't use the set all that much. It's from 1986, I believe, so it's a bit outdated. Nathan uses it every now and then for his Language class, so that's good. I have no intention of getting rid of them yet, even though the books are heavy and take up a lot of space. I suppose I keep them mostly for nostalgia sake. I grew up with a set of World Books and it would just feel weird not to have a set of encyclopedias in the house.

How about you -- have a set, or are they a thing of the past?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Black Cats

During the month of October, I like to do Halloween-related crafts with the boys. This week we're doing Black Cat Week and I have 5 different projects lined up. One is a black cat made from black beans, so that should be interesting. On the subject of black cats, however, did you know ...

Black cats are considered good luck in England. In Scotland, a black cat coming back home is a sign of prosperity. Also, a woman who owns a black cat might have many suitors.

In Western culture, black cats are considered an evil omen, often being associated with witches. Gamblers were afraid of black cats. If a black cat crossed their path, they thought it was best to avoid the casino.

Black cats have a lower chance of being adopted. Some shelters won't adopt black cats out around Halloween in fear they might be abused.

Pirates used black cats to determine a person's luck. If a black cat walked towards a person, that person would have bad luck. If the cat walks away from them, they will have good luck. If a black cat walks aboard a ship and then walks back off, the ship is doomed to sink.

If you want to read some really cool things about cats, check out Desmond Morris' books Catwatching and Catlore. I'm not sure if they're still in print, but you might be able to find them at your local library or online. Very interesting reading, especially the parts about black cats and their history.

Question -- have you ever owned a black cat? If so, was it 100% black, or did it have a tuft of white under it's chin or maybe white hairs mixed in with the black? There's a story behind that, too!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Here's a question -- have you ever wondered what bear poop, or scat, looks like? If you've never been around bears, you probably have no idea unless you've looked it up. Rick and I took a 3 mile hike today around the mountain behind our house and we came across this pile of scat. I'm pretty sure it is black bear poop, especially with all the seeds and berries. It was pretty big, too -- probably about the circumference of a cantaloupe. Are you ready?

Now you know. I have a slew of scat pictures, including grizzlies, but I'll spare you those for another time. So anyway, aren't you glad you stopped by here today?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Picture Books

There has been a lot of talk today in the kidlit industry about a recent article in the New York Times about parents and kids venturing away from picture books. I don't necessarily agree with the article. I buy a lot of picture books, both for my kids and myself. My boys are 10 and 8 and we still enjoy reading picture books as well as chapter books. You can click the link above if you want to check the article out for yourself.

Like I said, I don't agree with it. Many of my friends still buy picture books and age appropriate books for their children. However, I am skeptical to think this story originated out of thin air. Someone, somewhere had to have felt this way for them to publish this story. There was another article recently about a certain percentage of kids polled said they'd prefer to read books on electronic devices. So, with that in mind, I do believe there is some truth to the story. Some parents may be pushing their kids into books geared for older children or more advanced readers -- just as some other kids might prefer an e-book over a traditional one. It all comes down to personal preference and what's made available to them.

On another note -- I've been pretty vocal in the past about picture books costing so much. I know that's upset some of my writer and illustrator friends. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to make anyone mad. I'm just trying to look at it from both sides of the coin. As a writer, I totally believe an author/illustrator should be paid well for their hard work. There's no doubt about that. As a parent on a budget, I do have a hard time dishing out $25 for a picture book. I will, mind you, but it will have to be one we simply can't live without. I understand the business though and I know how much work and cost is involved in creating these books. I get it.

I read one comment today about the cost of a picture book is the same as going out to dinner or buying a new pair of jeans. Yeah, it is. Sadly, I can't remember the last pair of jeans I bought. That's my problem because I'm not rich. I can't afford to buy all the books I would like. I would love nothing more than to be able to afford every single of my writer/illustrator friend's books to support them and their efforts. I wish I could do that, but I'm not made of money. I know, how sad is that? Poor pitiful me -- boo hoo.

But seriously, I've found work-arounds. We go to the library and check out books. I search thriftstores and yardsales. I can usually find some good ones. And then there's Amazon. I just bought Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George yesterday. A used copy cost me a penny, plus $3.99 for shipping. Believe me, I would love to buy every book brand new so all the profit went to the author and illustrator, but I can't do that. It's not because I'm a cheap, tightwad (which I am), but simply because we buy TOO MANY BOOKS as it is. So, to make up for that, I have to hunt for the bargains and I grab them when I can. Would I love for the cost of picture books to go down? Of course. Do I see that happening? No, and that's okay, too.

Back to the article -- if it's true that some parents push more advanced books on their kids, then I think that's not only a shame, but doing them a big disservice. Having taught 3 of my 4 children how to read, I understand the danger in pushing too much too early. All of my kids are avid readers. Nicole is reading the first Harry Potter book to my boys right now, but tells me she wants to wait awhile before reading the others to them. I haven't read them, so I trust her judgement. This just filters back to a week or so ago when I was upset that the world is making our children grow up too fast. I certainly don't have a problem with a child wanting to read a book for older kids, providing its age-appropriate for them. That's not to say they shouldn't still read -- and most importantly -- be ABLE to enjoy picture books. In order to do that, they have to be available to them. I mean, seriously, isn't reading anything better than reading nothing at all? Raise your hand if you read the back of cereal boxes when you were a kid -- I couldn't get enough of those.

On the other hand -- I can't also but help but wonder if maybe some of these parents are skipping the picture books and encouraging chapter books because of cost. Could it be that they feel PBs are too expensive if they're only read a few times? If they invest a lesser amount of money on a chapter book, are they getting more for their money, especially if the child might read it more than once? I don't know, but the thought did occur to me this morning when I read the article, which is why I brought up the whole cost issue. I'm not about to stop buying books, regardless of what type they are, especially when it comes to my kids. At the same time, I'm not about to push them into stories they aren't ready for or start exchanging all our beloved books for electronic versions. Just call me old-fashioned ...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Cat

Could this little goober look any happier? After waking me up at 5am for his lovely-time and then eating a few bites of scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese for breakfast -- this is what happens! Man, don't you wish you could take a snooze right after breakfast? Denny is so spoiled.

One of his little quirks is his lovey-time in the morning. Every single day he wakes me up at 6am, wanting my full attention. He plops himself down on my face or neck and rolls back and forth. Then he sticks his wet nose right on my lips and rubs his drooly mouth on my cheek to try to wake me up. If I don't pet him enough, he stands up and flops on his other side and does the same thing. And the entire time his purring is deafening! Every single day ...

Today, however, he decided not to wait until 6am and got me up at 5am instead. I'm not sure why. Maybe he's getting ready for the time change when we fall back. Leave it to the Denster to not want to miss a beat. Rick just laughs because that's the same time he gets up for work. Not me -- it is the hardest time of the morning for me to wake up because I must be in my deepest sleep. And he doesn't do it to Rick either -- just me. Aren't I the lucky one? No wonder I've been so tired lately and no wonder he looks so happy in this picture -- he wore himself out!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Popeye the Frog

Back when we first moved to Montana, I kept noticing this book sticking face out on a shelf in our local Borders. I ended up buying it for my boys. It's called Popeye the Little Tree Frog's Big Adventure. It's written by a local man named Jack Crandall. The story is a result of an assignment for a creative writing class Jack took online in 2004 and it's based on an actual incident. It's published by Scott Publishing in Kalispell, MT. I believe that is a self-publishing company, though I could be wrong.

The book is about a little tree frog that was discovered in a bag of spinach leaves. The story was featured in our local newspaper here in Kalispell, Montana. Kids ages 4-8 follow the adventures of Popeye from how he was captured to his discovery and finally his new home in a classroom. My boys and I read it awhile back when we first bought the book. Nathan read it to us again today and we enjoyed it just as much.

It's interesting to see the book costs so much through Amazon. I'm not sure how that works, but this link shows it from $35 to $179 from various sellers. I think I paid $9 for it at Borders and I'm pretty sure they still have copies there. So, if anyone is interested in getting it at a more reasonable price, let me know and I might be able to find a copy. If your kids like frogs, this is definitely a fun book to add to their collection. It is beautifully illustrated by Bob Cavanaugh. There are also some facts at the end about various types of tree frogs. It's a cute picture book!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

For the love of Jack ...

As some of you know, I'm a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I'm part of that weirdo cult who collects memorabilia from the movie, too. My iPod holder has Jack Skellington on it, as do four of my coffee cups. I also have several purses, backpacks, totebags, belt buckles, tee shirts, figurines, and ... well, you get the idea. I'm a nutcase. Tim Burton, in my opinion, was a genius when he wrote this story. What other movie gets a full run from Halloween all the way through Christmas? It's a marketing dream!

I'm in my mid-40s and it always cracks me up when teenagers stop to tell me they like my sweatshirt or something else that has NBC on it. The following for this movie is huge. I was reading about Jack the other day and found some pretty interesting things on him. The voice of Jack was done by Chris Sarandon, who played Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. The singing voice of Jack was Danny Elfman. For years, I've loved Danny Elfman's work, not realizing he used to be the singer for Oingo Boingo. Jack Skellington also has some movie cameos ...

In James and the Giant Peach, Jack appears as the captain in the pirate scene. He's even referred to as Captain Skellington.

In Beetlejuice, Jack's head appears on top of Betelgeue's hat.

In Sleepy Hollow, Jack's scarecrow outfit can be spotted in the open scene.

In Coraline, Jack's face appears in an egg yolk.

In The Princess and the Frog, Jack's silhouette is shown in one scene.

Pretty cool stuff. Anyway, I'm off to walk on my TreadClimber. I've been listening to The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack lately. Go figure.