Saturday, May 30, 2009

Book Charts for Kids

Yesterday I posted ways to encourage kids to read during the summer. One thing I've done with mine is make a fun chart for them to keep track of the books they've read throughout the school year. I'm enclosing a slide show of some of those below. Keep in mind that our charts are usually really big, like the size of a door or a full sheet of poster board. You can make yours smaller if you just want to keep track of books your kids read over the summer. Since mine are so large, I take before and after pictures and then print them in our school yearbook. It's basically like a scrapbook page and it's a fun way to keep them forever, without taking up a lot of space.

We've done different themes -- leaves on trees, ants at a picnic, fish in the sea, dog bones, gumballs, and more. This year we did pickles in a pickle jar for Dilly, as shown in the picture above. We still have 2 weeks of school and I have a bunch of pickles to add to our jar, so it will be a little fuller when we're finished. That is a full sheet of poster board, so it will give you an idea how big the jar is. In 2006, we did paper chains, which were fun. I took some pictures of those too, but they're not included here. Nicole's chain went all the way across the room. For every book the kids read, they wrote the title on a slip of paper and added it to the chain. Whatever you decide to do, keep the shapes simple and cut them out in advance so it's easy for your kids to write on. I keep mine in some sort of container with a pen and glue stick handy. The gumballs were super easy because I used stickers for those. Our gumball machine doesn't look very full, but that's because I made it huge and the stickers were really small. This has been a fun way for my kids to keep track of the books they've read throughout the year.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer Reading & Kids

With summer just around the corner, I suppose it's easy for some kids to read less during these months when they're not in school, so I thought I'd post some of my ideas to encourage summer reading ...

BOOK CLUBS -- When I was little, my mom signed me up for a book club one summer. It was one of those deals found in a magazine where you get a certain amount of books for a penny and then you pay for additional books you want later on. I don't remember the details much, but I remember getting the books. I think it was one of the first packages I got in my own name, so it was a big deal to me. There are all sorts of book clubs these days, including ones like the Children's Book-of-the-Month Club.

LIBRARIES -- I can't say enough about supporting your local libraries. They're filled with so much to choose from. Libraries not only give your children a huge variety of books, but they also teach responsibility by using library cards, taking care of books, and returning them when the time is up. Kids love having their very own library card. Library books are the best because kids can check out as many as they want, without the parents having to look at each one and fret, "How much is this?" It's unlimited reading fun, and when the time is up -- you can get more!

CHORE CHARTS -- If your kids are anything like mine, they have way too many toys. How about offering books as an incentive for their daily chores? We did this with the boys awhile back and it was a lot of fun. If they did all their chores for a certain time period, they got to pick out a book of their choice. We set the dollar amount on the book, which helped them narrow it down when they were shopping. They loved earning their own books!

YARD SALES & THRIFT STORES -- All of the books in this picture were bought for 70-cents at a thrift store. My girls went to one the other day and found these books for their little brothers. How can anyone pass up a book for a dime? We collect Berenstain Bear and Snoopy books, so this was a real treat for the boys. They also love Jurassic Park and All Dogs Go To Heaven, so the girls did well when it came to finding stuff the boys liked. Imagine how much they'd cost new! Yard sales are another great place to buy children's books. Hard cover picture books generally cost $15-20 brand new, but at a yard sale you can find them for a quarter. This is one of the best ways to add to your child's book collection without spending a fortune.

BOOK PROJECTS -- Rather than the boring old book report that kids are required to do for school, try a craft project. Pick a few books with a certain theme and then go online and find some easy crafts to go with it. If you're taking a summer vacation, look for books that relate to where you're going. Right now the boys and I are reading about butterflies, as I posted yesterday. We're doing simple crafts to go along with the stories. In addition to crafts, another fun idea is food. You can do a lot with food and have it relate to the stories your children are reading. The Internet is filled with ideas like that. If your child is younger, have them draw a picture about the story. Reading a book is wonderful, but don't let it end when you close the cover. Take it a step further -- draw pictures, paint, bake cookies!

Tomorrow I will post some of the ways I've kept track of the books my kids have read. I do this for school, but it can easily be used at home during the summer months. It's a fun way for kids to keep track of the books they've read as well as create an awesome keepsake along the way. I hope you'll come check it out -- and -- Happy Summer Reading!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fluttery Butterflies!

The boys and I are doing butterfly stuff all this week in school. It's nothing super fancy or academically amazing -- just fun stuff. I've found my boys enjoy crafts more when they're really simple, unlike my girls, who were into more advanced projects at this age. The easier it is for the boys, the more fun they seem to have. I went through my craft books and found a few easy projects. Then I dug through our bookshelves and found some simple picture books about butterflies. Like I said -- nothing elaborate -- but just enough to keep it fun and interesting.

The other day we read The Lamb and the Butterfly by Arnold Sundgaard. It's illustrated by Eric Carle, whose work my kids have always enjoyed. It's a story about a lamb who meets a butterfly and is curious about the differences in lifestyles. The lamb lives close to her mother, but the butterfly lives alone and all over the place. It's a cute book. My girls got it from a book club back in the 1990s when they went to private school.

Yesterday we made stained-glass butterflies with construction paper, wax paper, and melted crayons. They turned out really cute and looked cool when we hung them on the glass door and the sun shone through. Here is a picture of them below. I don't remember what we're going to do today for a craft project, but I know it's a butterfly. We'll be reading a book about how caterpillars turn into butterflies today, so that will be fun. It's nothing the boys don't know already, but since it's near the end of the school year, we're trying to keep things simple. We were in Glacier NP last weekend when a tiger swallowtail landed right on Nathan's shoulder. I had my camera, but I wasn't fast enough. Tis the season for butterflies -- flutter, flutter!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Getting Kids To Write ...

About a week ago, Jo blogged on Books go Beyond Reading a post called Ways To Get Children Interested In Writing. She discussed ways to spark imagination in young children by using writing prompts or "what if ..." situations. She has some good ideas, so check out her blog if you can.

I'm pretty lucky when it comes to my kids. I don't know if it's because we homeschool and it's a part of our everyday life, or if they've picked up the love of reading and writing from me. I hope it's a little of both. My girls are avid readers and they're really into classics. You would think at ages 19 and 18 that they'd be into all the young adult books, but that's just not their thing. Check out Nichelle's blog, In My Own World to see what I mean. Nicole is the same way and can be found reading writings from Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and such. She's considering a writing major for college also, which I think will be perfect for her.

My boys are the same way. Nathan is 9 and Neil is 7, and they both love to read and write. Nathan comes up with the most amazing story ideas. I keep telling him to write them down, but he's just bursting with ideas. He has a few that sound really good. He'll be explaining them to me and I can totally picture them in a book or movie. His new thing is making movie posters of his story ideas. He draws the cover, or characters, and then designs them to look just like the posters you'd see at the theater. He even includes the actors and rating system. They're really detailed. Neil isn't into the writing part so much, but he tries. He'd rather draw things out and explain them to me. I'm sure he'll pick up the other part eventually. The boys also come up with book ideas for me -- they're a constant source of ideas. Sometimes they're silly, but other times they're really good. I've included a lot of them in my stories -- including A New Job for Dilly, which will be out soon!

This picture of the girls was from 2001, and it was taken with a really old digital camera, so the quality isn't the best. One thing I've always done to encourage my kids to write is fill out a form called All About Me on the first day of school. It's 2 pages long and they have to write down all sorts of things -- from their address, to how tall they are, to what pets they have, to their favorite kind of cereal, their favorite books at the time, to what they want to do in school that year, and so forth. It's pretty detailed and usually takes them awhile to fill out. There is even a place to glue their picture on it. I've found it's a great way for them to keep track of their likes and dislikes and it's fun for them to go back and look at it years later. Did you write as a kid? If you have kids now, how do you encourage them to write?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Peggy Lee

I don't know how many people remember Peggy Lee, but I love her music. If she were still alive, she would be 89 years old today. This woman had an incredible voice and she really knew how to use it.

She was born in North Dakota under the name Norma Egstrom. Her mother died when she was 4 years old and soon after she suffered abuse from her stepmother. She found music as an escape from her poor home life and worked as many odd jobs and singing jobs as she could. She changed her name to Peggy Lee at the encouragement of a radio personality and left home for Los Angeles when she was only 17 years old.

My favorite song by Peggy Lee is "Fever", which she wrote herself. This became her signature song. Later, Elvis made it even more popular. When I went to see Elvis in concert, I'd sit on the edge of my seat telling my mom that I hoped he'd sing "Fever". Both Elvis and Peggy Lee had such an incredible way with it. Other songs she did include "Why Don't You Do Right" (later sung by Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"), "Chi-Baba Chi-Baba", "Manana", "Waiting For The Train To Come In", "The Siamese Cat Song", and more. Most people, especially those with children, will definitely remember this song ...

Peggy Lee was also an actress and starred in several films, including Pete Kelly's Blues and the early version of The Jazz Singer. She was married four times, all ending in divorce, and had one daughter named Nicki. Peggy Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes in a wheelchair. She died in 2002 at the age of 81 after a heart attack and complications from diabetes. Inscribed on her grave marker are the words, "Music is my life's breath". Her official website is filled with lots of interesting facts about this extremely beautiful and talented woman.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mary Had A Little Lamb

According to Wikipedia, the nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb by Sarah Josepha Hale was published on this date in 1830. That would make it 179 years old. An actual incident inspired this poem when a young girl named Mary Sawyer took her pet lamb to school after her brother suggested it. There seems to be some discrepancy whether Sarah Josepha Hale wrote most of the rhyme, or another man named John Roulstone. Regardless, the rhyme was made into a song by Lowell Mason in the 1830s, which is probably how most of us remember it ...

Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
And everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

That's just the first verse, obviously, and you're probably familiar with the rest. Funny thing about this song -- a few years ago I was in Las Vegas in a buffet and got some lamb. I had eaten it when I was younger and remember liking it. I guess having children changes everything though because the first bite I took, this silly song popped into my head. I couldn't take another bite and haven't eaten it since. It tasted really baaaaaaaaaaad!

Bad pun, I know. A lot of famous people have done versions of Mary Had A Little Lamb, including Elvis Presely, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, Paul McCartney, Slade, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Smashing Pumpkins, and even the Chipmunks. I love Elvis' version of this song. The rhyme has also been used in many TV shows and movies. I think that's every author's dream -- to write something, even something simple, and have it be still popular and enjoyed by both young and old for nearly 200 years later -- a true classic!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

National Taffy Day

Now here's a holiday you can sink your teeth into -- National Taffy Day! When I was little, one of my favorite things was seeing the taffy stand at the county fair. There was a little clown inside the taffy pulling machine and it stretched the candy back and forth. I couldn't go to the fair without buying a bag of salt water taffy. Whenever I went to a theme park or a beach with a boardwalk, buying salt water taffy was a tradition.

I thought I moved to Montana to be in the mountains and live in a place that had four real seasons, but sometimes I think I moved here for the huckleberry taffy. It's amazing stuff! When we lived in California, we vacationed in the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area a lot. The first thing I'd do when I got close enough was buy a bag of huckleberry taffy. It's that good. Fortunately, I live here now and can get it year round. It's found everywhere -- from the local drug store to bigger places like Walmart. Next to the huckleberry jam, I would probably say the taffy is what the tourists buy most often. When you open up the bag, you're greeted with the most incredible smell of huckleberries. It smells exactly the same as if you were sitting in the forest picking the berries yourself. Once you open the bag, it's hard to stop eating it. I have a bag sitting on my dresser now -- taunting me.

Check out the link above to learn more about the history of salt water taffy. It's been one of my favorite candies since I was little. Cinnamon has always been one of my favorite flavors. I also like the candy corn flavored taffy they sell at Halloween and the peppermint for Christmas. I usually buy a bag of those during the holidays, but I have to be honest, it's not nearly as good as Montana huckleberry taffy. My MIL always sends the kids bags of taffy after she's gone to Disneyland, and I used to love their taffy too. It just doesn't come close to huckleberry. Yeah, it's THAT good!

Are you a salt water taffy eater and if so, which is your favorite flavor?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Glacier National Park

I thought I'd make a slideshow of Glacier National Park. I live less than an hour from the West Entrance, so we go to the park quite often. It's a beautiful park. It's out of the way, so it doesn't get as crowded as other national parks. It does have a busy season, but most of the time you can find a secluded place all to yourself. There is lots of wildlife to see, a crazy mountain road to drive on, and lots of great places to camp and hike. The three biggest highlights of the park are probably the Going-To-The-Sun Road, the mountain goats, and the waterfalls. The last picture on the show is of me kayaking in Lake McDonald. That was on a Saturday and there was no one around. Talk about the ultimate playground! We're really spoiled. It gives the term "a day in the park" a whole new meaning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rockwell -- 1916

Fun fact -- it was 93 years ago today, on May 20, 1916, when the Saturday Evening Post published the very first painting by Norman Rockwell on the cover of their magazine. It was called Boy With A Baby Carriage. Norman Rockwell was just eighteen-years-old at the time and the painting made him an instant success. One interesting fact is that Rockwell used one boy, Billy Paine, to model as all three boys in the painting.

It's silly, but when I think of Norman Rockwell, the movie Funny Farm comes to mind. That's one of my all-time favorite movies. There's a part near the end when Elizabeth Farmer asks the townsfolk to look and act like the people on the covers of the SEP painted by Norman Rockwell. Even the cover of the movie itself was designed to look like one of Rockwell's paintings. I love Norman Rockwell's work. His everyday scenes of American life are etched in our minds forever. His work was featured on 321 covers of the Saturday Evening Post. My favorite painting of his is Girl At The Mirror. It came out in 1954. I loved that one and could relate to it. A friend of mine had a framed print of it on her bedroom wall -- so cool.

How about you -- do you have a favorite Rockwell painting?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Remade, retold, redone ... to death?

Do you like remakes or retellings of classic stories? How about remakes of movies? It seems every time we turn around, there's a remake of an old movie. Most of the time, I'm not too thrilled with the new versions and don't go see them. I do like some. I was surprised how much I liked the newer versions of Horton Hears A Who, The Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch. I guess with kid's stuff I'm more open to it. Some classics just should not be redone, like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, or The Wizard of Oz.

The other day when Neil was sick, the boys and I spent most of the day on my bed watching Looney Tunes cartoons. One of the DVDs was all about fairy tales. I was surprised to see how many versions of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Bears there were. I don't think we even saw all the ones they made. I loved the ones where they combined the famous characters into one show, like Little Red calling Goldilocks on the phone. One of my books, The Marshmallow Man, is a retelling of the classic story, The Gingerbread Man. I can't wait to see it when it comes out. Stephen Macquignon is illustrating it and I've seen one of his sketches of the main character. I'm sure the book will be really cute.

The boys and I love reading books that are retellings of classic stories. One of our favorites is The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. That's a really funny one. That is one mean pig! My friend Nancy told us about one called The Three Little Dinosaurs and that's really cute too. Usually, at the end of our school year, I do some fun stuff with the kids with stories like this. I'll pick one story and then find different versions to read throughout the week. The boys love picking out the similarities and differences from the original stories. I'll probably do that again next week.

What are some of your favorite retellings? Is there a book or movie you'd love to see redone in a new way? Is there a book or movie that you would NOT want remade? What about classic old stories that have made their way into people's hearts through huge companies like Disney -- do you think anyone could ever retell The Little Mermaid or The Lion King and make it something people would want to see or read again? Do you think there is a story that's been retold to death?

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

KLo was kind enough to award me with the One Lovely Blog Award. She and I are fairly new to each other's blogs, but I've been enjoying hers and she always has nice things to say about mine. My job is to pass this award onto 10 other blogs that I feel are lovely, so here they are --
  1. Kimberly Lynn
  2. Susan's Thoughts and Ramblings
  3. Summer Friend
  4. My Aussie Antics
  5. Mama Sharon Says
  6. Desktop Stables
  7. What Comes from Nikki's Pencil
  8. Birding on Wheels
  9. penpusher
  10. The Question of the Day

I enjoy all of the blogs I read. Some are themed towards specific things, like writing, illustrating, or crafts. Others are a mix-match of postings, which is pretty much what mine is. I've had people tell me they never know what to expect on my blog. I feel the same way and never know what I'm going to post either -- could be about my books, could be about chocolate, or it could be an old commercial. I just never know! Thank you KLo for this award!

Note -- the Sea-Monkey eggs went into the water this morning!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Fort

Here are some pictures of a little fort Rick and the boys have been working on. Our backyard is basically a wooded hillside and it goes up pretty steep. It is bigger than than the pictures make it out to be, but you get a general idea. They're still working on it and I don't know what else they're going to do to it. It's a good climb up the hill. The other day we had 2 bears wandering through the fort, but they didn't do anything to it. Because of that, the boys can only go in it when Rick and I are outside and close by. Chances are, if the boys are outside playing and making noise, we don't usually get the bears coming around. They're more inclined to come around when everyone is inside and the neighborhood is quiet. But it's a cool little fort and the boys have fun playing up there.

There was a treehouse at the house I grew up in. I believe it was there when we moved in, but my brother and sister fixed it up a bit. It was in an eucalyptus tree. There were little wooden pegs hammered into the tree that were used to climb up it. I was too little to go up there for the longest time. I remember climbing up into it once, only to be too afraid to go down again. I think my brother had to come out and help me down. Eventually, I got the hang of it and spent a lot of time playing in that old tree fort. This lower picture of my house was taken from the boy's fort, so you can see how far up it is. Did you ever have a fort or tree fort when you were growing up?

On another note -- we went to town yesterday and I got my Sea-Monkeys. There was only one package left, in my favorite color blue, so I took that as a good sign. We haven't set the little tank up yet, but I'm doing that soon. The water has to purify for 24 hours before you can add the eggs to it. Of course, Rick ranted about buying them, but he had no choice this time. I was talking to the boys last night as we examined the little kit and I mentioned how I always wanted Sea-Monkeys when I was a little girl, but my mom wouldn't let me get them. Nathan goes, "Well, you're an adult now, so you can." Such a clever kid. Anyway, we're going to give them a try and see how well they do. I keep reading how they should be near sunny places, so I might have to move them around the house a bit. I'll try to get some pictures if we have success with them. Wish us luck!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sea-Monkey Day!

Okay, here is one holiday you're sure to enjoy -- National Sea-Monkey Day! I know, I'm losing it with all these crazy holidays, but they make me laugh. Someone, somewhere has to think of them all. This is the official website for Sea-Monkeys, just in case you need to know more about these funny little things. According to the websites I've seen ...
  • Sea-Monkeys are a unique species of brine shrimp.
  • They can live up to 2 years.
  • Sea-Monkeys are the size of a period when born.
  • They grow to be 1/2 to 3/4 inches long.
  • Sea-Monkeys can only survive in a special water formula.
  • They are born with one eye, but grow two more -- three in all!
  • Sea-Monkeys breathe through their feet.

I've never had Sea-Monkeys. It was always one of those kits I wanted when I was a kid, but my mom always said no. I never had ant farms either. We had one of those when the girls were younger and it was fun watching the ants. I see the Sea-Monkey kits at the store all the time and I joke to Rick that we need to get one. Like my mom, he rolls his eyes and says no. Well, good golly and goshdarnit -- today is National Sea-Monkey Day, and I'm going to go up to town today and buy me some Sea-Monkeys!

Have you ever had Sea-Monkeys and if so, what were your experiences?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Peace Officers Memorial Day

Today is National Peace Officers Memorial Day. It began in 1962 when Congress asked President Kennedy to set aside a special day to honor local, state, and federal peace officers. Much of the holiday centers around the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington DC during Police Week, where the names of over 17,000 peace officers are listed who have fallen in the line of duty.

As a wife to a peace officer for over 20 years, I've seen the effects this job can take on a person. I've also seen the pain, sadness, and despair they experience when they lose one of their own. It's not an easy job and certainly not one I could do. If you wouldn't mind, please take a moment today to think about those men and women who have fallen in the line of duty, as well as those who continue to serve and protect us everyday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dream Lover ...

Today is Bobby Darin's birthday. He was born under the name Walden Robert Cossotto on May 14, 1936 in the Bronx during the Great Depression. His family was very poor. When he was a young boy he suffered from rheumatic fever, which left his heart in a weakened condition. He overheard his doctor tell his mother that he'd be lucky to live to be 16 years old. Since he knew his life might be short, he strived to make something of himself. He excelled in school, had genius-level IQ, became a musician, singer, actor, husband, and father. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died in 1973 after an unsuccessful heart surgery. He was only 37 years old.

Bobby left behind some wonderful music. One of my favorite songs he did was Splish Splash. Some of his other big hits were Mack the Knife, Dream Lover, and Beyond the Sea. At one point, Darin owned and operated a music publishing company that signed on Wayne Newton. Wayne's signature song, Danke Schoen, was originally sent in for Bobby Darin to record. Bobby once said, "My goal is to be remembered as a human being and as a great performer." Although his life was sadly cut short, I believe he reached his goal.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mine! Mine! Mine!

It doesn't take much to amuse me -- even if it's a silly squirrel. As you know, I love feeding the birds and squirrels. Lately, the wild turkeys think they need sunflower seeds, so they'll jump up onto the deck to steal a snack. I've seen some pretty crazy things these past few days. One of the turkeys was eating from a feeder when a squirrel walked up behind him, stood up on her hind legs, and pulled on the turkey's tail with both paws. It was the craziest thing! Then yesterday they were battling it out again, as you can see in this picture. The turkey would slowly move toward the feeder, and then the squirrel would reach out and slap it on the beak. It just cracks me up.

I've seen animals do weird things before. One time we were in Yellowstone and we watched two adult cranes attack a young bull elk. Apparently, the elk had wandered too close to the crane's chick, so they were giving him a really hard time. It was the weirdest thing to see these birds go after this elk, all the while the little chick was scuttling around trying not to get squished. We've also seen bald eagles fighting with osprey, grizzly bears chasing elk herds, and other strange things. It's definitely a dog-eat-dog world out there, even for squirrels and turkeys!

As I'm typing, there's a little red squirrel in my feeder now. I just put it out a few minutes ago. She came running, jumped up onto it, and then proceeded to wash her face before she began eating. She keeps stopping to chatter at something, and then she takes off running before coming back up. And just as I write this -- here comes Mr. Turkey wanting his snack. I swear, this place is a zoo sometimes! Squirrels are solitary animals, and therefore, there is no group or congregation name for them. That's why there are no squirrels in my Critter books. However, they sure keep me entertained, especially on dark rainy days like today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Got nectar?

I took this picture last spring -- I am pretty sure this is a Western Tiger Swallowtail. This isn't the best picture to show off its wings or fancy tail, but I like this one because it shows the detail of the face, antennae, legs, and proboscis. It might not show up that well, but you can see the mouth parts going directly into the flower. Click on it for a close-up -- it's really fuzzy!

Swallowtails are a little different than most other butterflies. As a caterpillar, they have an organ on the back of their head that can release a smelly substance when threatened by a predator. Their tails are also forked like swallow birds, giving them their name, Swallowtail. It is believed that butterflies have a very short lifespan. Depending on the species, some can live as little as a week or as long as a year. Good thing they're pretty!

Anyway, there's no real reason I'm posting this. I've been a little depressed lately about the delay with my book, so I thought I'd put up a picture of something pretty. I hope you like the photograph.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Surf's Up ...

When it comes to my writing for children, most of what I've done are picture books. I have one middle grade novel, which I haven't submitted out much. It's a shorter MG with only 11K words, so it's about the length of the Flat Stanley or Junie B. Jones books. I'd like to write another novel, but I've been struggling over what to write about.

Did you ever see Surf's Up? It's pretty cute, for an animated film. Click on the link to read more about it. It's a Wiki link and not the official website. What's fascinating is all the extra stuff that came out with this film -- awards, soundtracks, books, fast food toys, clothing, bedroom sets, and stuff like that. I guess the books came after the movie. When you think about it from a writer's point of view, it would be amazing to write a story so good that all those things followed. A movie deal is awesome enough, but to have all the other stuff would be incredible.

The best thing about Surf's Up is not the movie itself -- it's the soundtrack. Even though it's an animated film geared towards children, the soundtrack rocks! It's not your typical kid's album. I love animated movie soundtracks and this is one of my favorites right now. One song I really like is called "Pocketful of Stars" by an indie-rock band called Nine Black Alps. Their other songs are a little too much for me, but the one they included on the Surf's Up soundtrack is awesome. Here is a video clip of the song from You Tube, but it's not taken from the movie itself. It's a great song ...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the moms out there, I hope you're having a great Mother's Day. I had another rough night and ended up sleeping on the couch so I could prop myself up better. When I lie down, I cough too much. I woke up last night in a coughing fit that was so bad that I was choking. Not fun. Rick got me up from the couch this morning and made me go back to bed. Awhile later he brought me breakfast in bed, followed by some presents with the kids. They gave me an Olympus Stylus 1050 camera, which is something I've been wanting. It can go underwater down to 10 feet, so it will be perfect to take on our kayak trips. It's also shockproof and can be used when the temperatures are below zero. Very cool! They also gave me a huckleberry coffee mug, filled with huckleberry cocoa and a huckleberry chocolate bar -- yum!

The picture above is of my mom, Marilyn. She's the bigger one and I'm not sure who the other child was. My mom was an only child, so it must have been a neighbor or friend. My mom was born in Oklahoma, and to my understanding, she was born to a single mother who put her up for adoption right after birth. Because of that, we don't know anything about her family history. I believe she married my dad when she was still in nursing school. I was born in 1965 and was the last of 3 children. Less than 2 years after I was born, my father died and my mom had to raise her children alone. She moved from our home in Santa Barbara to Ojai so she could be closer to her parents.

It had to be hard to deal with all of that at such a young age, in addition to having 3 small children and a career. My mom spent her entire nursing career working in geriatrics. Several years back, she had a series of strokes and a massive heart attack, which has left her nearly paralyzed, unable to speak, and unable to eat. She currently lives in Barstow, California in a nursing home, with my brother nearby. I'm a lot like my mom -- I have her sarcastic sense of humor, for one. Other things my mom and I have in common is the love of photography, crock-pot cooking, music, Elvis, going to Las Vegas, and camping. It's hard being so far away from her, especially in the condition she's currently in. Anyway, I hope everyone has a wonderful Mother's Day, whether you're a mother or not.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Slash Piles ...

One term I wasn't familiar with before moving here was slash pile. A slash pile is debris from brush, leaves, or wood. Nearly everyone here has a slash pile. Basically, it's just a big firepit. We're not supposed to dispose of brush, leaves, or fallen wood in the trash bins. I remember regular burn days in California, but that was done mostly by farmers and ranchers. Up here, nearly everyone has a slash pile. There are specific burn days, and sometimes there are restrictions if the weather is really hot or there is extreme fire danger. I believe you're able to have a warming fire anytime, but there are limits to how big you can make it. Sometimes you see slash piles that are enormous. Awhile back they took down some trees across from my house and the fire there got to be as tall as the roof of my house. Coming from California, and dealing with brushfires, seeing these fires here is unnerving, especially because they're often unattended. Sometimes they burn for days.

We have a lot of fallen branches and dead wood laying around, so we use our slash pile quite a bit. When we first moved here I wanted to get rid of it. I could see the area that the previous owners used and I didn't like how it looked. As you can see from this picture, it's pretty ugly. We've since circled it off with rocks, so now it looks basically like a big firepit. Sometimes we'll be out there cleaning up fallen and rotten wood and we'll get the fire huge. Other times we just make a small campfire, crack open some beers, and pull up some lawn chairs. It's kind of cool. It can be a little freaky at night though because you can only see the fire. Hearing sticks snapping up on the hillside only means one thing -- animals! And with the fire burning, you're really limited to how much you can see at night. All the same, it's kind of interesting because it's not something we did in California. We had a small firepit at our house there, but we put that in when we had the house on the market and we hardly ever used it. Up here, it's just a standard thing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lions and tigers and ...

As you know, I've been sick and haven't gotten much sleep these past few nights. Last night I was finally coughing a little less and was just starting to get drowsy, only for the neighbor's dogs to start barking. I know their barks and this was their bear bark. Just as I was starting to fall asleep, I ended up getting up to check the yard a few times. I knew the bear was out there, but it was too dark to see anything. I'd lie back down and the dogs would start up again -- over and over. I didn't get much sleep, to say the least.

A few minutes ago Rick was getting ready to leave for work and he comes in and says, "The bear is in the yard." We peek out our bedroom window and see her. It was still kind of dark and we didn't have time to fuss with camera settings, so we didn't get any good pictures of her. This was the best we could get, but at least you can see her. The good thing is that as soon as she saw us moving in the house, she took off up the hill. That's better than last year when the bears would just sit down and look at us like they were saying, "What?" This looked like the same bear as last year, but I can't be sure. She didn't have any cubs and she was limping a little. But as soon as she saw us, she skedaddled out of here, which is good. People freak out when I tell them we get bears in our yard, but I think it's cool. When we first moved here, our neighbors said to us, "You will see bears, and sometimes even grizzlies and mountain lions." So far, we've only seen black bears. Here are some facts about bears --
  • A male bear is called a boar.
  • A female bear is called a sow.
  • A baby bear is called a cub.
  • A group of bears is called a sloth.
  • An average size litter is 1-4 cubs.
  • Cubs are usually born in January.
  • Bears have a great sense of smell.
  • There are only 7 types of bears in the world.

It's weird seeing them in our yard like this. We love national parks and would spend hours driving around hoping to spot a bear. Now it's just a matter of when they'll show up. I'm glad Rick got to see this one because he usually misses them. She looked like a big teddy bear as she bounced up the hill. I can tell you, it's totally different seeing them in the daytime than it is at night. In the day, I wish they'd stick around long enough for me to get really good pictures, but at night we're like, "Okay, go home now!"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Got Cereal?

Do you like cold cereal? I grew up in the 70s and remember cereal being a big deal. In the past, I've blogged about old records that used to be on the backs of cereal boxes. I remember standing in the aisles, scanning all the boxes of cereal, trying to find just the right one. Of course, that mostly had to do with what free toy was being offered inside. My boys would love to pick out cereal that way, but fortunately, they're both picky eaters. I'm not only a cereal nut, but I also love nostalgia. I found this Cereal Box Archive website and was going through some of the old pictures. Boy, talk about a blast from the past with some of these old cereals! It's fun to go back and look at these old boxes and see how much they've changed over the years.

With 4 kids, we go through a lot of cereal at our house. Rick & Neil eat it dry, but everyone else likes milk. Nathan is totally cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and would eat that all the time. I think he just found a new love with Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Neil & Rick can put away a box of Cap'n Crunch Berries in record speed. The girls loved sugary cereals when they were little, but now they prefer simple ones like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Crispix, and so forth. So, here is a question for you -- what are your top 5 favorite cereals? They don't have to be dry cereals either. Mine would have to be --
  1. Cocoa Krispies
  2. Chocolate Malt-O-Meal
  3. Apple-Cinnamon Cheerios
  4. Special K Chocolatey Delight
  5. Raisin-Spice Instant Oatmeal
And yes, it really is 3am as I type this. I've had another sleepless night of nonstop coughing and I finally gave in and got up. I'd love to have a bowl of cereal, but the milk would just make me cough worse. Also, one last thing and then I'm going back to bed -- please check out Nichelle's blog, In My Own World. She posted about her upcoming training with YWAM. It's hard to believe in less than a month, she'll be leaving us and living in Maui for 3 months, followed by another 3 months in SE Asia. If you could stop by her blog and say hello, I know she'd love that. I'd appreciate it if everyone could keep her in their thoughts and prayers as she embarks on this adventure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No Grumpies!

Today is Great American Grump Out Day -- a day set aside to encourage people to go for 24 hours without being grumpy, crabby, or rude. They have a funny website, if you want to check it out. Considering I got very little sleep laugh night because I was coughing, going an entire day without being grumpy might be a challenge. I get grumpy when I'm tired. Now my throat is raw from coughing and that makes me grumpy.

I also get grumpy when I'm hungry. Thank goodness today is also No Diet Day! Do you think it's coincidence that both happen on the same day?

What makes you grumpy?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Missed my calling?

Have you ever felt like you missed a calling of something you were meant to do? I'm 44 and I still joke that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Ten years ago I never thought I'd be writing children's stories. In fact, when I think back of when I was little, the only thing I really remember wanting to be was a veterinarian. That was short lived, and after working for a pet clinic, I realized it wasn't my calling. I loved that job and I'd do it again if I could, but I wouldn't want to be the actual vet.

The night before last, I stayed up until 4am working on a rewrite of a picture book. As some of you know, my first experience writing came to me after visiting Glacier National Park. We didn't live in Montana at the time and we were on vacation when I saw my first mountain goat. For some reason, that trip inspired me to write a story for kids. I sent it out to every publisher there was and they all rejected it. That was around 6 years ago, and knowing what I know now, I understand why it was turned down. Since then, it's been rewritten in several different ways, including from fiction to nonfiction.

Yesterday I was playing around with my manuscript and formatting it how I thought it would look best in book form. I haven't even typed it in manuscript form yet -- that's what I mean about missing my calling. I typed it up in book format, complete with cover, title page, pictures, page numbers, about the author, website page, even back cover. I guess that's jumping the gun a whole lot, especially since I haven't had much luck with this topic before. That's just how I work. I have to see things laid out. I'm a control freak when it comes to how things look. I do that with everything, even my blog and Facebook pages. Years ago I did a small desktop publishing business from home. I made business cards, flyers, posters, brochures, newsletters, and stuff like that. I loved it. I often wonder what I could have done if I had formal training. As much as I love writing stories for children, I would be thrilled to be the one in charge of designing them in book format. I think it's something I could be really good at, if given the chance.

What are you really good at?

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Nose Pickin' Tree

Last November Bish blogged a fun post called We Are Eaten by a Rock Fish and she included a photograph to go with it. Last night I was going through some old picture files when I found one I'm calling The Nose Pickin' Tree. Rick took this picture of the boys, so I give him full credit. This is a tree we see when we go on the Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park. Every time the boys see this tree they say something about it looking like a big nose. Finally, one day last year, Rick took this picture of them picking the big nose tree. Kind of a funny picture -- in a crude sort of way.

Today is going to be tough. For some insane reason, I went to bed late and tossed and turned before finally getting up at 1am. I came out to the living room and decided to work on a rewrite of a picture book. I think I finally crawled back into bed around 4am, only to spend the rest of the night coughing. The boys are both sick too, so I'm in no rush for school. However, we will get all our work done, like always. The good news is that I have the picture book pretty much the way I want it. Now if only I could get it published. It has photos and I've heard those type of books are more expensive to publish than illustrated ones. But this is one of my mountain goat stories -- the reason I began writing for children in the first place -- so it's kind of special to me. Maybe someday it will see the light of day ...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dill Pickle Sunflower Seeds

Have you ever tried dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds? They're not bad, if you like the taste of dill pickles. I don't think my squirrels and birds would appreciate it if I replaced their black-oiled sunflower seeds with dill pickle ones, but Dilly might -- he loves dill pickles. I'm hoping my book, A New Job for Dilly will be available real soon. Right now my publisher is at a book festival and the last I heard, Dilly was at the printers. So hopefully, I will be seeing copies of the book really soon. A New Job for Dilly is an alphabet book where Dilly the rat goes on a search from A to Z to find the perfect job so he can enjoy his pickles without having to steal them. I'm sure he'd be tickled pink with dill flavored sunflower seeds -- maybe even pickled pink!

I woke up sick and sore -- sick thanks to my family, and sore thanks to the rocks I was shoveling yesterday. I still have some more to move, so I'm hoping to feel good enough to go back out there today. We have a fountain in our backyard that we've been working on for awhile. It's kind of an ugly fountain, but the animals like it so much that we're trying to make it work better. At times, I've seen over 50 birds in it. The deer drink from it, so do the squirrels and chipmunks, and I've also seen black bears in it. It's nice to have it running in the summer because it's loud and sounds like a stream. Anyway, I hope to feel well enough to work outside more today, if it doesn't start raining. I could sure use some dill pickled sunflower seeds to perk me up. If you'd like to order my book, click here for details or over on the cover on the right. Hopefully the copies will be done soon and we can start getting the books out. I can't wait to see it!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Happy Weekend!

My poor boys -- this is the second week in a row they've missed swimming. Considering the session isn't that long to begin with, I don't know if it's worth them to even go back. They've had colds lately. Swimming and the sniffles don't mix well. Not only that, but now they're coughing and I don't want to take any chances with their immunities down. They don't have the flu and aren't running fevers, but with everyone being so cautious right now, it's better that they stay home.

Nathan & Neil have been doing really good with their swimming lessons. That is surprising in itself because their instructor really isn't that good. She's nice, but she's about 500 years old and doesn't make the class fun for the kids. She's more of a ... nag. One time she jokingly told Rick that Neil (above) needed to have a drink before class so he would relax a little. Ummm ... okay. Rick has a membership at the gym and I'm hoping he can work with the boys during free swim time. We take them swimming in the lakes here during the summer, so at least they've gotten a good start.

On the other hand, Nathan (below) has finally mastered bike riding. He learned later than most kids, I guess, but that's because he's been so addicted to his Big Wheels. Plus, with all the ice and snow, he didn't get as much practice. He's gotten the hang of it now, so he's feeling really proud of himself for that. It's going to be a beautiful day today, so hopefully we can spend it outside. I think we're going to go to the storage place and pick up our travel trailer and bring it back home. Our home owner association doesn't allow us to leave it here year round, but we can keep it here during seasonal times. None of our neighbors would complain, but we still keep it in storage during the winter. The boys will be happy to have Trailee, as they call it, back home. I spent a few hours outside yesterday collecting fallen sticks to burn in the woodstove downstairs. I think Rick's going to work on our fountain today. He's trying to drain the water out so he can reseal it so it doesn't leak as much. Yesterday he got a worm stuck in the pump he was using and it fried it -- both the pump and the worm! ***shudder*** Anyway, I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Words ...

Words are funny. I think most of us make up our own pronunciation of words for different reasons. My family has a joke about the word tiger. Awhile back when we had our house on the market, our first realtors (ones we fired later) came in and photographed the house. The very next day, they had the same tiger picture on their website that I have on my bedroom wall. The thing was, they spelled it wrong. Therefore, we now call tigers -- tigars. We have other words, like grils for girls, because the boys always said it that way. Or Bacca for my father-in-law because my daughter couldn't say Grandpa when she was little. People on the outside would probably scratch their heads and wonder what the heck we are talking about. When I was little, I called Neapolitan ice cream -- Napoleon ice cream. Or the time when my daughter misspelled gobble and wrote it as gooble. Some words stick with you forever. Sometimes words are changed in how they're said, or they're misspelled, or they're even misspelled on purpose. We have a sporting goods store here called Snappy's Sport Senter. My boys have an entire language of their own, and even I don't understand it some days. You know those squishy, spiked balls you see everywhere? Those are called yingels -- and God forbid if you say it wrong because you will be corrected!

As writers, words are everything. For novels, a higher word count is important. For picture books, less words are better, but they have to be perfectly chosen. For poetry, words are all about rhyme and meter. I watched an episode of M*A*S*H last night and Charles was reading a letter from Radar's mother. He was making fun of how she pronounced things and Radar corrected him saying, "No, that's how she talks." As a writer, do you find it easy or hard to write in a voice you wouldn't normally talk in? If you're from the north, would it be difficult for you to write your character with a southern accent? It's hard for me not to write the way I speak.

When I was thinking about this, the song Words by Missing Persons came to mind. Remember that old 80s song? I went to You Tube to post it here, but every version of the song has had the embedding disabled. To listen to it, just click here and it will come up. It's more about listening to the words someone has to say, and not so much about my post. But ironically, it was the first thing that came to mind when I started writing this.