Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Did you ever watch Felix the Cat? I loved this cartoon when I was little and watched it as often as I could. I was the type of kid who couldn't get up mid-week to go to school to save my life, but was up at 5am every Saturday morning so I could see Felix the Cat and the Pink Panther. I had my priorities, you know. I still love cartoons and can sometimes be found watching them for hours, way after my kids have gotten bored and wandered off to do something else.

If you go to the official website for Felix the Cat you'll find a section on the history of the show. Felix made his TV debut in 1928, so obviously it began way, way before I ever began watching it. They were just figuring out this whole TV concept back then and apparently Felix the Cat was made out of paper mache and put on a record turntable. Felix the Cat is still considered to be one of the very first cartoon stars. His first feature film was in 1919 called "Feline Follies". However, at that time he wasn't called Felix yet, but Tom the Cat. We have a DVD set of Felix the Cat cartoons and my boys & I love watching them. It's amazing to think these shows have been around so long and that they started off in the early days of silent films. Felix the Cat is still cool, especially with that Magic Bag of Tricks of his -- Righty-O!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Today is ...

PENCIL DAY! Yeah, I know what you're thinking -- who knew? And even more so, who the heck comes up with this stuff? Interesting holiday, especially since I had this picture of Nathan with the pencils in his head to go with it. Pencils with erasers were created by Hymen Lipton in 1858, so they've been around for 151 years now. I guess when you get older, you use pencils less often. I know I did because I started using pens. But since I homeschool, pencils are a big deal at our house. I'm always on the lookout for good ones or finding them on sale. I just bought 2 packs at Target the other day in the dollar section. Glitter pencils are awesome for some reason.

Pencils go way back before Mr. Lipton ever put an eraser on one. Ancient Egyptians used pencils and so did the early Romans. The word pencil comes from the Latin word pencillus, which actually means little tail. There are all sorts of pencil varieties -- graphic, charcoal, carbon, colored, grease, etc. Click here to read more about pencils. I guess I'm just weird and find this stuff fascinating. I'm not the only one, at least. Thomas Edison had his pencils custom made. John Steinbeck used over 300 pencils to write East of Eden. Vincent van Gogh used pencils. Did your teachers in school ever give you a brand new pencil as a prize or gift? It's funny how something so simple made you feel so special. So anyway, in honor of today, go grab yourself a new pencil and remind yourself of how far this little instrument goes back and of all the wonderful things it has created. Kind of makes you think a little differently about something most people either take for granted, leave teeth marks in, or stick behind their ears. Okay, I've got to get back to school now -- I have pencils to sharpen!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Got Squirrels?

Some people hate squirrels -- they see them only as rodents or pests. I love squirrels. I guess that's because I've never really had a bad experience with one. My favorite part of Christmas Vacation is when the squirrel is in the Christmas tree. "It's a funny squeaky sound," says Aunt Bethany. That's such a funny scene. Then there is my all time favorite movie with Chevy Chase, Funny Farm, where his wife writes a children's book about a squirrel named Andy. I can watch that movie over and over and over -- and I still laugh as hard as the first time. Classic!

We have a lot of squirrels at our house and they like to eat from our feeders. I've nicknamed them Andy and Nips. Andy I named after the squirrel in Funny Farm. Nips I named because, well, she looked like she was expecting and/or nursing babies when I saw her last spring. Right now they all look the same, so I call them all Andy or Nips. A squirrel will be running along the deck railing outside and I'll be inside. I'll call out, "Hi Nips!" and the silly thing will stop, sit up and look at me for awhile. Too darn cute, if you ask me.

Last night it was starting to snow, so I flipped on the porch light to see outside. I saw what looked like Andy or Nips in my feeder. It struck me a little odd because they usually don't get up there after dark. I stopped to watch for a minute and then remembered that the other night I saw one in there after dark as well. That night I turned the light off because I figured I'd just let it eat. But last night was different -- the squirrel didn't turn to look at me like they usually do. In fact, this one kept grabbing seeds and turning its head away from me. I guess I watch squirrels a lot because I actually noticed this one moved different than the others. Finally, it turned its head to the side and it had great big eyes and way different markings. Just as Rick was trying to get a picture of it, the silly thing jumped off and ran away. Rick had jokingly asked if it was a flying squirrel. I made some smartass comment about it being Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Sure as heck -- it was! I just looked it up and it had to be a Northern Flying Squirrel. That was exactly what we saw last night and the way it flew from the feeder way down to the ground, only clarifies it even more. Hopefully, we'll get a picture of one of these soon. In the meantime, that's Nips above -- or Andy. By the way, if you click on it, you'll get a really good close up. Absolutely adorable!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chickadee rescue ...

I was sitting in my room yesterday when I heard a thunk on the glass door. I hear this a lot because birds crash into our windows all the time. This one hit harder than normal, so I got up to look and found a little black-capped chickadee on my deck. Normally, I just let them be when this happens. They either perk up or they die. But since this one landed in the snow I felt like I had to help it. It didn't land on the soft snowy part, but rather on the icy part where the water was dripping from the eaves of the roof. I knew if I left him there, he'd probably freeze to death or get crushed from the icicles that were falling. I got a washcloth and set it on the deck where there wasn't any snow. The little guy had his feet stuck into the ice, so I couldn't get him up easily. He was barely conscious, but I could tell he was alive. I broke the ice around his little feet and then managed to lift him up onto the cloth. Then I tapped off the ice from his little toes. I wrapped the washcloth around him a bit and came back inside. I really didn't expect him to make it. The next time I checked on him, he had his head up. Then I checked a few minutes later and he was standing. A little while later he was all perked up and jumped up onto my table. Then he flew off -- amazing! The picture here isn't the actual one, but he looked the same. Like I said, this happens all the time with our house because we have so many windows. I normally just let them recover themselves, but this poor little guy probably would have died because his feet were stuck in the ice. I see dozens and dozens of these birds at my house everyday, probably in the hundreds. I don't know -- it just felt good thinking that maybe, just maybe, I helped save his little life.

On another note -- I've been listening a lot to the musical soundtrack for the old show La Femme Nikita lately. There's one song on there that I'm really enjoying right now. I looked for it on You Tube, but only found video clips that fans must have made. One wasn't appropriate for the song (it was all sex and I don't think it suited the song well). The other was this version, which is only text on the screen. It's a great song and I think the words are powerful for the times we're living in right now. I just wanted to share it ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pen Pals ...

Yesterday I blogged about a newsletter I did in the 1990s called PET PALS! Around that time I published 2 other newsletters for pen pal hobbyists. One was called Coffee Just Write and was obviously for people who loved coffee. The other was called Heaven-Bound and was where Christians could find other Christians to write to. The 3 newsletters were fun, but it started to take a toll on my wrists and I was borderline with carpal tunnel. Once I stopped working on them, my wrists got better -- go figure.

My love for writing to pen pals goes all the way back to 1975. As a project in grade school, everyone in my class got a pen pal. Mine was a girl from Australia. Sadly, I don't remember her name. I was 10 years old at the time, so it was the coolest thing getting a letter from overseas. Eventually, we lost touch and it wasn't until 1979 that I really started getting back into pen palling. That was the time I was really into The Who. I mean, really, really into The Who! I slept, breathed, and ate Who. The band consumed my life. I joined one of their fan clubs, which produced a newsletter. In the newsletter were pen pal listings, so obviously it made perfect sense to write to other people who loved The Who like I did. This is when the hobby really took off for me. I will never forget that time in my life because it opened new doors for me. Not only was it just fun getting a letter, but you really got to know people and see what things was like in other parts of the world. The letters were great, especially the really long ones, but it was even better to receive a photograph. You could finally put a face to the name. All this seems obsolete today, with email, texting, webcams, the Internet, message boards, social networks, and things like that. But back then, you had to rely on letters coming in your mailbox. Getting a postcard or tidbit fact about where they lived was cool, but getting pictures was the best of all.

Today we have ways to express ourselves on computers. There are emoticions with images that actually move. Back in the olden days, we used stickers! Then there are things like LOL, LMAO, J/K, KWIM, TMI, etc. In the world of pen palling, there was a language too. We had FB, which did not mean Facebook. It meant Friendship Book. An FB was a little booklet that got passed from pen pal to pen pal. When you received it, you added your name, address, interests, and what type of pen pals you were interested in writing to. When the booklet was filled up, the last person sent it back to whoever made it, or whoever it was made for. I did hundreds of these books and I still have some of them. There were others like Slams, Friendship Sheets, Crams, Lyrics Books, etc. Slams were fun. In a Slam Book, you signed your name or left your address on one page. Then each page of the book had questions for you to answer. Does this sound familiar? They do stuff like this on message boards, blogs, and sites like Facebook all the time. Just last night Rick was saying how it seemed so easy for me to post on Facebook, whereas he sometimes struggles with what to say. It is easy for me, simply because stuff like this goes way back to when I was writing to pen pals. There were also abbreviations for other stuff such as LLP, which stood for Long Letter Pals. Or A/A, meaning Answers All letters. Click here to see more. A lot of people think this stuff is all new for the computer age. Nope -- pen pals have been doing it for a long, long time!

I made a lot of friends through pen palling. Not only that, but many of them I met in person. I've gone to Disneyland with pen pals from Japan. I've traveled to NYC to see concerts and met up with pen pals there. I went on a cruise to Mexico with pen pals. And the best was when I spent the month of May in the years 1984 and 1985 in England with my friends, who all began as pen pals. Those were fun times. I'm glad I did those things because, as I got older, those opportunities knocked at my door less often. Lots of fun memories. The picture above is of some of my friends as we sat on the rocky beach in Brighton, England. I'm the one with the crazy perm and leg warmers on the right -- just screaming 80s there. My pen pal hobby gave me a lot of great friends and some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Sadly, I've lost touch with most of my pen pals over the years. Some I only hear from at Christmas. Facebook is cool because I've gotten in touch with a few friends there. I'm hoping through that, I can renew friendships that have slipped through the cracks and made my mailbox such a sad, empty place.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The other day I was on Facebook when Margot Finke posted a link to a blog called Pets and Their Authors. That caught my attention, so I decided to check it out. Great blog, by the way, so take a look at it if you can. Anyway, the blog reminded me of something I used to do. Back in the 1990s, I was really into writing to pen pals. I wrote to people all over the world. At one time I had over 100 pen pals. This was right about the time when we got our first computer and I was looking for something fun to do with it. I decided to create a newsletter for pen pals who loved their pets as much as I loved mine. PET PALS! The newsletter for Pets and Their People, was born. It ran from September 1990 all the way through September 1998.

Above is a picture of just a handful of issues. PET PALS! came out every 2 months. It was sold for $2 an issue and I offered single copies, half year and full year subscriptions. It was never huge, but it did well enough to keep going for 8 years. What was unique about it was that my cat, CJ was the editor. The newsletter was done in CJ's voice. It was all about pets and the people who loved them. People sent in their pen pal listings so they could find other pet lovers to write to. It also featured pet care articles, photographs, poetry, comics, contests, even a classified ad section and an advice column. We had funny titles for things such as Classy-Fido Ads, Dear Abby the Gabby Tabby for the advice column, and stuff like that.

You have to remember this was before people were into the Internet. Back then people actually wrote letters to each other. Another unique feature was that we offered pen pal listings for pets. And yes, people sent them in and people really did write in their pet's voice to other people's pets. It was a fun newsletter. I made a lot of friends through it. The hardest issue was November 1995 when I had to announce the death of our editor, CJ. That was heartbreaking and having to do the newsletter was painful. The response I got was amazing. People from all over the world, including their pets, sent cards and letters. I decided to continue publishing PET PALS! after CJ's death, but we never had a new editor. That had been his job and his alone. After awhile, I decided to call it quits. A subscriber took the newsletter over, but sadly, I lost track of it over the years. I believe there were 49 issues all together and I have a copy of each one in a binder. It's fun to go back through them because a lot happened in my life those 8 years. It was a great time in my life and because the newsletter was so whimsical in nature, I'm sure my love for writing for children is because of PET PALS!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Belle!

Well, today is the big day -- Belle's birthday! For those who don't know, Belle is our cat. She came into our lives in 1993, so today she is 16 years old. One evening my sister knocked on our door and said she had a surprise for me. She handed me this little ball of fluff and said, "Here." A cat in her neighborhood had kittens and Sharon thought one of them looked so much like my other cat, CJ, so she had to give her to me. Every time she calls me, I offer her back to Sharon, but she never takes me up on it. Belle's a good cat, but she has her moments. When Nichelle was little she loved the movie "Beauty and the Beast", so she named the cat Belle. She was always Nichelle's cat back then. However, Belle would have freakish moments with the girls, like suddenly lashing out at them for no reason. When we got another cat things got hairy and we were living in Cat Hell. We had to get our house back and sadly, Belle was on the list to go first. Fortunately for her, the other cats acted up worse, so they they left first. Belle won that battle. Surprisingly, she got nicer when they left, so it worked out.

Belle is now my cat, or so she thinks. If I lie down, it's less than a minute before she climbs on me to get comfortable. She's far from a lap cat -- it has to be her decision. We have another cat named Kitty and she hangs out between Nichelle and Nicole's room. Belle tolerates Kitty, and vice versa, but I wouldn't say there's much love between them. Anyway, today is Belle's 16th birthday. At our house, we have to make our own fun, so anything is a reason to celebrate! Rick called me last night as he was on his way home from his fly fishing class. He said, "Is there anything you need at the store?" Well, duh! Of course, I needed chocolate covered raisins, because, well, it was a holiday, you know. Then I reminded him we needed some frosting. He asks what we needed it for, so I say, "Belle's cupcakes." Well, duh! He wasn't happy, but he pulled it off. He even came home with a little present for her. I can't say what it is because she's sitting here next to me and I don't want to spoil the surprise. ;) We'll have her party tonight when Rick gets home from work. As I said, sometimes you just have to make your own fun! On the top is one of Belle's baby pictures. You can see how prominent that orange streak running up her nose was even when she was little. It's amazing to think she's 16 years old. She still looks like a kitten to me. She's a good kitty -- even if she's a mean, old, ornery one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Got raisins?

It's been awhile since I posted about one of our fabulous national holidays. Today is a good one because it's Chocolate Covered Raisin Day! Okay, so you either love these or you hate them. None of my kids like raisins, so this is one treat I don't have to share. Then again, it's not like I have to share my chocolate treats with my kids much -- they don't like chocolate with ginger, chili, raisins, or especially 88% cocoa. I'm pretty much safe when it comes to hoarding the good stuff for myself. It's not like they're deprived, so don't start feeling sorry for them. Chocolate Covered Raisin Day sounds like a good holiday to me. I've always liked these, especially Raisinettes. Trader Joe's has really good chocolate covered raisins, in both milk and dark chocolate. Sadly, the closest TJs to me is 9 hours away, so I'll have to make due with something else. Whenever I think of raisins, I think of Garfield -- he hates raisins. He picks them out of his oatmeal cookies and puts them in the closet. Every now and then Jon opens the closet, only to be buried in raisins. I know -- it doesn't take much to entertain me these days. So, how about you -- do you like chocolate covered raisins?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rockin' Robin ...

We saw our first robin at the house on Saturday. It was this one in the picture and I managed to get a shot of him chomping on a worm -- lucky me. Worms totally gross me out. I like the fact that the robins eat them, but watching them makes me queasy. Sometimes the worms are so long that they flip and fling all over the robin's head. Stuff like that makes me want to faint. Show me a python crawling around the yard and I'm okay, but a tiny earthworm and I'm all a-quivers. Worms and me just do not mix -- no way.

American robins are common birds. Hundreds of thousands can gather together in a roost during the winter. Earthworms {{{shudder}}} are an important part of their diet during breeding season. In the winter they eat mostly fruits. Robins can produce three broods a year, but only 40% of the nests will produce chicks. Even then, only 25% of those will survive to the month of November. Despite those odds, robins can live as long as 14 years. If you've ever seen a robin dash across your yard and stop suddenly, you'll notice he probably turns his head to one side. Robins hunt by sight, not sound, but you'd think it was the other way around. Thank God for the American robin -- after all, something has to eat all those hideous worms!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Open Season 2

I watched Open Season 2 with Rick and the boys last night. I laughed my head off and was surprised how funny it was. I loved Open Season, so when the second one came out in theaters, I tried to get the boys to go see it. They're skittish about movie theaters, so we never went. At first I thought it was because they felt the theaters were too loud. But what I really think is that they don't like the previews. They're never age appropriate. I don't know why you go to a kid's movie and have to sit through previews for movies about vampires, terrorists or whatever. So because of that, I think that's why the boys are a little freaked out about theaters. The day Open Season 2 came out on DVD, they just had to have it. By then, the novelty for me had worn off and I wasn't as excited to see it. Then last night Neil decided I was going to watch it with him and I'm glad I did. It was just as good as the first.

Open Season was about wild animals verses hunters. Open Season 2 is about wild animals verses domestic pets. There's a cat in the sequel named Roger who is absolutely hilarious. He talks with a lisp and is dumb as a bag of rocks. He looked exactly like a cat we used to have, so that made it even more funny. I'm really into kid's movies, especially the soundtracks. The original Open Season soundtrack is awesome. I play it all the time. I didn't hear as many songs in the sequel last night, but it was still just as good as the first movie. It has some crude humor in it, which I don't usually like, but it wasn't too bad. The squirrel, played by Billy Connolly, is constantly saying rude remarks, but most of them are either bleeped out or talked over. His accent is so thick, so it's hard to make them out. Anyway, I was really surprised how funny this movie was, especially since sequels don't tend to be as good, especially ones that are released only on DVD and not in the theaters. As a writer, my main interest is writing about animals. Movies like this just make me want to come up with that perfect story!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Like Ginger?

Most of you know I'm a candy freak. I always have been and I always will be. In my mind, chocolate should be its own food group. Dark chocolate is one of my favorites. However, I also love anything with ginger, such as gingerale, gingersnaps, gingerbread, ginger beer, ginger chews, etc. I recently tried a Green & Black's Organic Ginger chocolate bar. Pure heaven! I just got home from a quick trip to the grocery store and Rick was making fun of me because the most expensive thing we bought was this candy bar. He says, "I can't believe you paid $3.49 for a chocolate bar!" Even the tube of toothpaste I bought was cheaper. But, it's SOOO good! If you like dark chocolate and ginger -- this is the bar for you.

Thanks to everyone who's been asking about my back. I'm feeling a lot better now. The pain seems to come every few months and I'm pretty sure it's from sitting slouched over my laptop. I'm sitting that way now, so I really should take a rest. But I was feeling well enough to go outside today and hike up the hill in our backyard and collect some sticks for our wood stove. We've had 2 days of temps in the low 50s and we're in a major meltdown mode here. We have a lot of wood on our property, so usually in the spring and summer I'm out on the hill collecting my sticks on the weekends. I didn't do much today, so hopefully my back won't give me any problems for awhile. Thanks to everyone who sent their wishes. I appreciate it. Anyway, I've got some Bacon-Potato Soup cooking in the crock-pot for dinner and then later I'm going to crack open my expensive little chocolate bar and call it a night. I hope all of you are having a great weekend!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some photos --

I haven't posted a slideshow in awhile, so I thought I'd do that today. You might remember me mentioning a photo cover contest for a local Montana magazine awhile back. If they put your picture on the cover of their magazine, they'll pay you $100. I've had a bunch of photos published by them before, but so far they haven't picked any of mine as a cover. These are some of the ones I've sent in, which is why they're all vertical shots. I'm not sure if any of them will make the cover, but the contest is on-going, so I'm going to keep trying. The only one I didn't take myself was the one of me in my kayak. That would have been a little tricky, so Rick took it. Click here to see who won last month's contest. I hope you enjoy seeing them ...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh, my aching back ...

I'm sorry I missed everyone yesterday. I ended up in the ER around 5am and for the rest of yesterday, I was a complete zombie. It started around 9pm Tuesday night when I felt myself getting a stomachache. I don't usually have stomach pain, so I figured it was something I ate. I went to bed early hoping it would go away. It went from stomach pain, to pain and pressure in my sternum. Then it turned into full blown muscle contractions in my back. I've had this before, so I knew it was going to get bad. I took some Motrin, but that didn't help. I took one of my old muscle relaxers, but that didn't help. There wasn't a position I could get into that wasn't painful. If I laid on my back, my chest hurt and I couldn't breathe. It was miserable. The last time I had this was when Rick was down in Helena last September. I had a really bad night that time and had he been home, I would have gone to the ER. I think that time I finally fell asleep around 6am. This time, however, I thought I could get through the night again. I was wrong. I finally had Rick take me to the ER around 5am. They gave me a shot for the muscle spasms, some morphine for the pain, another pain med and something for the nausea. Needless to say, I was a zombie yesterday. All I did was lie in bed and drift in and out of sleep. There are a lot of fun blogs that I follow, so I apologize for not being around to comment on them. I hope to catch up soon. We're pretty sure this back pain is caused from hunching over in a C-position while typing on my laptop. I do that way too much, so it's weird how this pain comes and goes every few months. Once it starts up, I'm doomed. The best way to describe it is like severe back labor pain, but without any relief in sight. They did an EKG on me too, probably because I was complaining of pain in my sternum and they wanted to rule out any heart problems. I got some prescriptions though, so hopefully if it happens again, I won't have to make the trip to the ER. On a positive note -- because I wasn't hunched over my laptop yesterday and wasting time on message boards and Facebook, I managed to work on a new picture book idea I had. I got the first rough draft written -- in longhand, on paper even. I still feel out of it, but I am hoping I can at least get through school today. Thanks for listening to me whine ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dilly is coming!

I received a pleasant surprise yesterday -- my book! My publisher sent me the illustrations for my first picture book, A New Job for Dilly. This was the first time I'd seen any of the pictures in color. Lisa Oakman is the illustrator and she did a wonderful job bringing little Dilly to life. My boys are beyond thrilled. Nathan actually squealed when he saw it. Neil said, "Look, it's easy for kids to read too!" He was talking about the font. He learned how to read this year, so I was surprised he noticed something like that. Both of them loved it, so it passed with flying colors at our house. A New Job for Dilly is available for pre-order here. Last time I checked, the cover image wasn't up yet, so look for the title under the Available Soon section. It will be released before the end of April, but you can pre-order it now. It really is an incredible feeling to see your story come to life -- Go Dilly, Go Dilly!

I hope everyone has a great St. Patrick's Day. We're making little leprechauns in school today, so that should be fun. Other than that, we don't have any plans. The girls have youth group and Rick has his first fly fishing lesson tonight. Below is a picture from St. Patrick's Day in 2000. It's of Nichelle, Nicole & Nathan. That particular year we had an entirely green dinner, including green milk and green applesauce. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nom, nom, nom ...

It seems everyone loves black-oiled sunflower seeds -- birds, squirrels, bears, and even raccoons! This little guy kept us up most of the night. I saw him come up on the deck about 4 times, but every time I tried to get a picture or turn on the light, he took off. Rick came to bed around midnight and I saw the raccoon coming back up, so I figured I'd turn on the light so he could see him. This time he didn't run away. He just sat there looking in at us and at our cat, Belle. He figured we weren't any threat, so he plopped his furry behind down on the deck railing and continued his midnight snack. Rick managed to get this picture of him -- too cute!

Raccoons are adorable critters. We had a lot of them at our house in California. I always saw their little footprints on the side of our pool. We even had an entire family drinking from our water fountain. After living in Montana for almost two and a half years, this is the first raccoon I've seen. Well, alive, I mean. I will have to be putting my feeders in soon because the bears will be coming out of hibernation. We've had a lot of snow this year and I imagine food has been hard to find. Our yard is still completely covered in snow, but up on the hill we're just starting to see little patches of dirt around the tree trunks. The news said we might get more snow tonight. He sure is cute. What should I name him? Rocky? Bandit? Belle's Boyfriend?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Meet Flicky ...

For about the past week, we've had a Northern Flicker in our yard. She hangs out on my back deck by my bedroom, where I have several bird feeders. I keep them filled with black-oiled sunflower seeds. She's pretty big, probably around the size of a large crow, but a little smaller than a raven. She just hangs out on my feeder, eating the seeds and pecking at the deck. I have a platform-type flat feeder that hangs on my deck railing. She just sits up there happily for the longest time. The other day she was sitting there when a squirrel jumped up with her. The squirrel (I call her Nips) took one look at the big bird and hopped back down. They did this over and over and I thought they were going to fight for awhile. However, they managed to take turns and seemed to be sharing the feeder. I also noticed that she sat there motionless for the longest time. I thought something might be scaring her, so I got up to look -- she was sound ASLEEP!

If you click on the link above, you'll see this bird is a red-shafted female Northern Flicker. They're members of the woodpecker family and mostly eat ants. Just like the Pileated Woodpeckers, males have the red moustache on the sides of their faces. This one doesn't have that, so I'm assuming she's a female. She sees me in my room taking pictures and she's a little skittish, but she doesn't fly away. I haven't seen her today yet, but she sure has made a mess on my deck. She tosses the seeds everywhere! We've seen these birds year-round here, but this the first time I've seen one hanging out so long. I guess until the snow melts and the ants come back, she'll be happy eating sunflower seeds -- and hopefully, Flicky will share with Nips.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Road trip!

After the boys finished their swim lessons today, we decided to take a road trip. Apart from that trip to Vegas, I haven't gotten out of the house much lately. We decided to head over to Idaho and go to Walmart. Yeah, yeah, I know -- it sounds crazy. But since the cost of diesel gas is now the same as regular, we decided to go for it and do some shopping. Our local Walmart here isn't a supercenter like the one we went to. We saw some cool things, including this frozen waterfall that's pictured here. Most people don't see those everyday! We also saw more deer than we could count, some ring-necked pheasants, eagles, hawks, ravens, a vulture, some real trout in a gift shop, and even a coyote. And that didn't include all the critters who were smooshed on the side of the road! We had a lot of fun just with the drive alone. However -- the highlight of the trip, at least for me, was seeing this picture below. It's the ultimate redneck motorhome. I saw it on the way out and almost made Rick turn around so he could see it. Fortunately, it was still light on the way home so I was able to snap a quick picture of it. Country living just doesn't get any better than this ...

As Eddie said to Clark Griswold, "Oh, that uh, that there's an RV." In which Clark replies, "Yeah, it looks so nice parked in the driveway."

Friday, March 13, 2009

My cards --

I thought I'd show you the cards I made the other day. I'm a little hesitant to call them business cards, since they're not very business-like. Since I'm advertising picture books, I wanted them to look more fun -- which explains the squirrel. I actually scanned them first, but then realized all my personal information was on there, so decided to take a picture this way. They're a little brighter than what shows up. The picture shows 2 cards since they're printed on both sides. I thought about having some professionally made, but then decided to make them myself. One, I love designing stuff like this. I used to run a small desktop publishing business from my home in the 90s and I made lots of things like business cards, postcards, flyers, brochures, and so forth. And two, I didn't want to have to place a huge order, especially since my books aren't out yet. I figured it would be better to do them myself in small quantities for now. This was my first project using In-Design, by the way. For those who know me, you know I've used Adobe PageMaker for years. I've continued to use an outdated version, even after Adobe switched the program to In-Design. I've put off trying to learn the new one for as long as possible. It's a lot different than PageMaker. I managed to make these little cards, so that gives me hope. My next project will be some postcards for my books. As of now, we're not sure if A New Job for Dilly will be released first, or if Lemur Troops & Critter Groups will be. It's a race to see which illustrator finishes first. Nikki Shoemaker and Lisa Oakman are great illustrators, so I'm confident both books are going to be awesome. At least I have some little cards to promote with, so that's a start.

On another note -- I just want to let everyone know that Belle has forgiven me for the shirt incident. It's a good thing she's bipolar. One minute she's biting me and the next she turns around and wants me to pet her. She's sleeping next to me and seems content, just as long as that nasty tee shirt stays away. My hand, however, will take awhile to heal.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Belle got a present!

Awwww, look at her -- could she look anymore happy? This was Belle last night as she modeled her new tee shirt. It's hard to make out, but right above the globe it reads Tree Hugger. It couldn't be more perfect for her.

I'm pretty ornery when I want to be. Whenever Rick goes out of town, I have this joke that he bring home a present for Belle. I get the whole family in on it. In our classroom we have a write-on board that I use to write the date on. I usually draw some sort of funny picture that shows what we're doing in school or something that's going on. When Rick is gone, this board automatically turns to Belle and her present. I draw cartoons of her daydreaming about what she'll get and silly stuff like that. When Rick calls home and talks to the boys, that's all he hears about. The pressure is really on and he knows he has to find her something before he comes home. Imagine having to tell your coworkers, "I gotta run up to the store to buy a present for my cat." Yeah, yeah -- I'm pretty ruthless.

Awhile back, Rick had a training session that kept him away from home for 5 weeks. Imagine the pressure he had then! We had weeks of Belle's cartoons on the board. Anyway, Rick spent Tuesday & Wednesday in Helena on some training, so of course Belle wanted a surprise. He wandered around Target on Tuesday looking for something. He usually gets her a cat toy or some Pounce snacks or something simple. Well, apparently Target didn't have anything. He was walking by the dollar section and stumbled across these little Tree Hugger tee shirts. He knew he'd found the purrfect gift for her. I'm not going to tell her that he only spent a dollar on her. I already have a big bandage on my knuckle from trying to get the stupid thing on her. It wasn't easy getting a picture of her either. Between the blood gushing out of my hand and her tee shirt creeping up her big furry belly -- she was pretty pissed off. But all the same, the shirt is definitely her.

Poor Rick -- the things he has to put up with in this family. What do you think the chances are of him flipping out when I tell him Belle's birthday is March 25th? He better start shopping now ...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Go Crazy ...

I'm showing you my purse -- I know, how exciting can it get? No seriously, this is a cool purse and I just have to share it with someone. I don't get out of the house much, so bear with me. Rick bought me this purse at the Stratosphere when we were in Las Vegas. I saw it hanging from the ceiling of a gift shop and after going in and out of the store a few times, we finally asked the lady to take it down so I could look at it. When she did, I was thrilled to find it was a black denim material and it's huge. I like big purses. Rick had just won $400 on the Elvis slot machines, so he bought me this. I'm a sucker when it comes to purses, even more so if it has Elvis on it.

Now to change the subject entirely -- does anyone remember the song "I Go Crazy" by Paul Davis? It's from the 70s and it's always been a favorite song of mine. I'm not sure why that is because I can't really relate to the lyrics. However, it's such beautiful song. It's romantic and sad at the same time. I listen to it quite often and decided to go poking around You Tube to see if I could find it. I have several of Paul Davis' songs on my iPod, but frankly I had forgotten what he looked like. I was a little taken back by the crazy hair, but man, does he have a voice! Anyway, Paul Davis has nothing to do with my Elvis purse -- and -- my Elvis purse has nothing to do with Paul Davis. I guess I'm just in one of those eclectic moods -- call me crazy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Red-breasted Nuthatches

These are cool birds. They're frequent visitors to my house, especially in winter when they hang around my feeders with black-capped chickadees and Downy woodpeckers. They're tiny birds, only about 4-inches in size. They're fun to watch because they climb down tree trunks headfirst. Even when they land on my canister feeder, they're usually upside down. They build their nests in tree cavities using grass, bark strips, and pine needles. They line the nest with fur, feathers, fine grass, and shredded bark. Another unique fact is that they line the entrance to their nest with pine resin to keep out predators. The males apply it to the outside and the females put the sap on the inside. They avoid the sap by diving directly into the hole. Another unique fact is that they are the only North American nuthatch with an eyestripe on their head. When they visit my feeder, they only stop long enough to pick up a seed and fly away. They take it to a tree where they stick the seed into the bark and open it. Black-capped chickadees must do the same thing because they only stop at the feeder long enough to grab a seed and fly off. Dark-eyed juncos are another winter visitor, but they like to sit in the feeder and eat. I've just started seeing them again and yesterday I watched one fat little junco eat for the longest time. The chickadees and nuthatches zoomed back and forth like it was Grand Central Station, but the little junco just sat there enjoying her meal. We recently got another foot of snow, so my bird feeders have been really active lately. Even the woodpeckers are eating the seeds, rather than just tossing them onto the ground. If you know me, you know I have a thing for bird feeders.

I live in the mountains, so we get a lot of wildlife here. We've seen all sorts of birds, from little house finches all the way to bald eagles flying overhead. We also have squirrels, black bears, deer, moose, coyotes, wolves, and so forth. We've heard grizzlies have been known to frequent the area when food supplies are low, but we haven't seen any since living here. The same goes for mountain lions. Right now it's the winter birds and squirrels making their appearance the most. Once the snow melts and the bears come out, I'll have to start putting my bird feeders inside again, since the bears have been known to come right up to the house. Then again, I don't know what's worse -- the bears or the dogs that run around the neighborhood. I might have to keep feeding the bears just to keep the darn dogs out of the yard.

So -- what type of birds visit your house?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Potato-Bacon Soup

A few people have asked for the recipe I use, so I thought I'd post it here. I apologize if I've done so before. I can't remember if I posted it here, on a message board, or if I emailed it to someone. Regardless, here it is --

6 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
4 chicken bouillon cubes
6-8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
12 ounces evaporated milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine potatoes, water, onions, and bouillon cubes in greased 5-7 quart crock-pot. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or until potatoes are tender. Stir in crumbled bacon, milk, and grated cheese. Cover and cook another 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Makes 10-12 servings.

Note -- I have a 6 quart crock-pot and mine generally cooks faster than what my recipes require. For this particular soup, it's usually done after 4.5 hours, but your crock-pot might vary. I usually use 6 medium to large potatoes, give or take what I have in the house. I've used russet potatoes, but red or white would work just as well. It's a really good soup and goes especially well with hot French bread. Sorry this isn't the best picture, but I was hungry and didn't feel like fussy with the camera too long -- oink!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prairie Dog Cowboy

Awhile ago I took part of a book blog tour and hosted my publisher, V. Gilbert Zabel and her historical novel for young teens called Prairie Dog Cowboy. We had a great response to the tour, even though I hadn't had a chance to read the book at that time. Click here to see my previous post about the book. I finally got to read it yesterday and I have to tell you, I absolutely loved it. I was immediately drawn to the main character, Buddy and I enjoyed watching him go from a five-year-old boy to a young man. It broke my heart how mean spirited Buddy's mom was to him and I was blown away by the love and affection he was given by his neighbors. Even though the book is written for young, reluctant readers, I enjoyed it very much.

Jordan M. Vinyard did the illustrations and they add so much to the story. Back when I was younger and reading middle grade novels, illustrations were a really big part of books. They don't do that as much now. Jordan's pictures bring the story to life. Right now I'm reading Trumpet of the Swan to my boys as part of our schooling. They love the story, but love it even more when there's a little picture to go with it. I can't wait to read Prairie Dog Cowboy to the boys next. I know they're going to love it. Anyway, I just wanted to mention the book again now that I've actually read it. If you have a young teen, or a reluctant reader, or even smaller kids you'd like to read the story to, this is a great book for them. You can order the book through Amazon or directly from 4RV Publishing. I'm really hoping Vivian is working on a sequel because the story left me wanting more, which is what a good book should do. I didn't want to put it down. Great job, Vivian!

On another note -- I hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather. I hear so many people saying it's finally nice where they live. It's another story where I am, as we're in the middle of a pretty big snowstorm. In fact, there's very little visibility right now and all I see is white. I'm looking at my little squirrel friend outside, who's sitting in a mound of snow on top of one of our birdfeeders. She's dug out a little place so she can eat. I think we're supposed to get snow for the next few days. I'm not complaining -- I love it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chocolate chili?

Most of you know that I love hot, spicy foods. In addition, I love chocolate. Since blogging about chocolate the other day, I've been wanting to try one of those chocolate bars with chili. I've seen various brands around, so I guess they must be pretty popular. I decided on the Lindt Excellence Chili brand. It's dark chocolate infused with premium red chili. It's not hot, but it does have a unique flavor to it, and the chocolate is super smooth. If you want something different, this is definitely worth trying. Mmmm!

Friday, March 6, 2009


I recently read a short picture book called Colors, written by Dana Warren and illustrated by Stephen Macquignon. The book is a cute, simple rhyme that explores the beauty of colors. It's available through 4RV Publishing, who is the same company doing my books. In fact, Stephen is the one who will be illustrating my book, The Marshmallow Man, later this year.

The book got me thinking about favorite colors. Mine have always been blue and fuchsia. The last time the boys got a new box of Crayola crayons, I went nuts over the Wild Blue Yonder one. They got my favorite shade of blue down perfectly with this one. It looks just like faded blue jeans, or the shade of my favorite cowboy boots. I guess I went a little too nuts over it because the boys are scared to use it much. The other day Nathan said, "You can keep it in your room, if you want." What's even more funny is that I thought about it -- for a second. Click here to see all the current shades of Crayola crayons. They have a great website, by the way. I use it a lot for craft ideas. There's nothing better than a new box of crayons!

So -- what's your favorite color? Do you have a favorite crayon color?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Quilted memories ...

Last September, I blogged about my coffee table that was made by Nichelle's 2nd grade class. Click here if you want to see it. The table was one-of-a-kind and sold at the school's annual fundraising auction. My MIL was the highest bidder, and to my surprise, she gave us the table. It sits proudly in our living room today and is a constant reminder of the fun times we had at Monica Ros School. The girls got a great start at this school.

That same year, Nicole's kindergarten class made a one-of-a-kind quilt. It too, was auctioned off and again, my MIL was the highest bidder. She gave us the quilt along with the table. I don't even want to know how much she paid for these items because I know it had to be a lot. There were many wealthy families at that school and I'm sure most of them placed bids. By the generosity of my in-laws, these special items came into my possession. We have the quilt hanging on the wall near the girl's rooms. The first picture is Nicole's square from the quilt. It's especially sentimental to me because she drew it right after we lost our cat. You can see CJ as a kitty angel in the sky. We still had Belle along with two other cats, Abby and Nica. On the left you can see our beagle, Maggie. So, when I look at this, I see not only Nicole's cute artwork, but a reminder of the pets we had at the time. In addition, when I look at the quilt entirely, I'm reminded of Nicole's kindergarten class and some of her kindergarten friends. It's a wonderful keepsake and I am honored (and quite spoiled) to have both the quilt and the coffee table in my home. Anyway, there's nothing super important about this post. I just wanted to share this story and quilt with you ...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mow-wow, mow-wow ...

This is my cat, Belle. She's about 16 years old, but you wouldn't think it by looking at her because she's always looked younger. Well, if a cat can look young, that is. She used to hang out with my girls, but ever since we got Kitty, Belle thinks she belongs to me. If I lay down on the bed, it's only a matter of seconds before she climbs on me and makes herself comfortable. She's a lapcat only when she wants to be one. You can't hold her without her making a fuss. If you try, there's a good chance blood will be involved.

Belle has some funny traits. First of all, she came from a litter of entirely orange kittens. She was the only tabby striped one in the lot. The only orange color she has is a streak running down her nose and on her toes. Another strange thing about Belle is that she rarely says "meow" like other cats. When she speaks it comes out as "yeah" instead. She also has this weirdness of waiting for Rick to get up in the morning. She sits by him waiting for his alarm to go off. As soon as he goes into the bathroom to take a shower, she darts in with him. She does this everyday. Belle hates weekends when he doesn't get up early because she misses her shower time.

What's weird is that after Rick leaves for work, Belle comes back into our bedroom and goes in and out of the bathroom bellowing. You know that funny singing sound cats make? She stands in the dark and wails, "mow-wow, mow-wow" over and over. After she's sung for awhile, she calms down and gets back on the bed with me. By this point, I usually turn on my laptop and Belle plops down by me as if she's totally exhausted. Is shower and song time that tiring for her? I have some great books on cats by Desmond Morris called Catwatching and Catlore. If you like cats, these are really interesting books. I'm going to have to get out Catwatching again and see why cats bellow like that. I couldn't find much online, so maybe Desmond Morris covered it in his books. It's just strange how Belle waits until Rick leaves and then she does this song and dance in the bathroom. I hear it every morning -- mow-wow, mow-wow, mow-wow! But any other time she makes a sound it's -- yeah. I found the following online about cat vocalizations. In all honesty, I don't know if her mow-wow sound is a warble or a trill. Maybe Desmond's book will shed some light on it. Belle is next to me now and she looks like she's totally exhausted. It's not even 8am yet and she's already had a busy day. She'll need the rest of the day to rest up ...

Meow – Depending on pitch, attention, inquiry, or conversation.
Low-pitched rumbling growl – Warning, danger or other threat perceived!
Warble – Most often used to display affection.
Trill – Can be affection, also inquiry, mother cats use this to call kittens.
Low-Pitched meow or howl with purring – Pain, discomfort, stress or fear.
Purring – Comfort, happiness, security, also denote pain or discomfort.
Howl – Depending on pitch, sadness, pain, extreme fear or stress.
Silent Meow – Most often denotes gratitude and affection.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The other day Stephanie posted about chocolate on her blog Colorado Writer. She listed her top five favorite chocolates and had some really good ones mentioned. I thought it would be fun to do and started thinking of some chocolate things I really liked. I came up with the following --
  1. Endangered Species Chocolates
  2. Starbucks Java Chip Ice Cream
  3. See's Bordeaux Chocolates
  4. Ghirardelli Chocolate Cheesecake
  5. Trader Joe's Chocolate Tea

I have really been into the Endangered Species Chocolates for awhile. I started seeing them years ago when I visited national parks where they sold these chocolate bars in the gift shops. The labels caught my eye because of the wildlife images. Since then I've gotten hooked on the Extreme Dark chocolate bars, which have 88% cocoa. That might be too high and bitter for some, but I love it. If you let a small square dissolve in your mouth, it's one smooth piece of chocolate. If you can check out their website, it's pretty cool because 10% of their profits go towards helping species, habitat and humanity. They also say they're ethically traded and support small, family owned cacao farmers. For those going green, this company is involved in that too. The website also talks about the health benefits of chocolate, especially for the heart. I come from a family where everyone has heart problems, so if eating a little chocolate helps, it's worth a try. But in all honesty, it was the cool looking wrappers that caught my attention in the first place -- now I'm hooked on these chocolate bars.

So -- what's your top five favorite chocolate foods?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Airline rant --

I consider myself old-fashioned. I mean, really old-fashioned. I would say I'm more like my grandmother than my mother. That's how old-fashioned I am. I don't like crude humor and think it's really gone over the top these days. So, you can imagine my horror when I read this headline -- Airline may make customers pay to pee. Ugh -- I hate that word. I know it's common and probably everyone says it -- everyone but me. I think it sounds gross. I remember being at Disneyland once and a lady behind me turned to her daughter and loudly announced, "I gotta pee! Do you?" Had I been her teenaged daughter, I would have been mortified. I don't care what you gotta do and I certainly don't want to hear details about your bodily functions. And even more, I don't want to hear anyone in the restroom stall next to me carrying on a conversation on their cell phone. Call them back!

My friend Nancy sent me this article the other day about an airline in Ireland that is thinking about charging passengers to use the lavatory. What the heck? Would you pay $2.20 to use a toilet? Should you pay $2.20 to use a toilet? Isn't it bad enough airlines charge for every single thing -- now to go to the bathroom? Rick had to pay extra to sit by me on our trip to Vegas, in addition to baggage, something to drink and who knows what else. What irks me is how people skip out of paying to check a suitcase, so they bring on those oversized carry-ons. The entire overhead compartments are filled with suitcases and there's no room for your purse, jacket, or anything. No one follows the size guidelines and I've seen the airlines take the bags off before take-off and put them under with the checked bags. Tell me -- why aren't those people forced to pay like the rest of us? And now an airline is considering charging to use the toilet. It's insane. I can see it now -- some poor soul wets their pants mid-flight and says, "Sorry about the wet seat. I didn't have $2.20 to pee." What is the world coming to?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lemur Troops & Critter Groups

This is the cover for my picture book, Lemur Troops & Critter Groups. Nikki Shoemaker is the illustrator and I can't say enough about her work. It's awesome. Her animal characters are cuter than cute. You just want to hug them. We don't have a release date yet, but we're hoping this book will be out by the end of summer. There will be 3 books in the Critter series. The other 2 are Stork Musters & Critter Clusters and Pony Strings & Critter Things, all to be published by 4RV Publishing. Each book contains 22 animal congregations in the form of a silly rhyme. With Nikki's amazing artwork, these are going to be adorable books. I loved how Nikki included little details on the cover that the animals are doing in the book, such as the mice with the dice, the sheep with the book, the gorilla with the guitar and so forth. Even the font she picked out is perfect. I can't seem to wipe the silly smile off my face. Thank you so much, Nikki -- it's absolutely perfect!