Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our Yearbooks ...

I posted this picture on Facebook yesterday, but thought I'd do it here too. These are our yearbooks. We've been homeschooling since 1998 and are coming up on our 14th year next month. Each year I've made my kids a book documenting what they did over the year. You might notice that gap in the middle. That was 2002 and the year Neil was born. Nathan was a toddler, Neil was a newborn, and I was teaching both the girls. It was a crazy time and I never got that book done. I will though and it's next on my list. Fortunately, I keep all my kid's school work in big 3-inch binders, so it won't be too hard to create that missing book. I'm determined to get it done this year.

As you can see, the one on the bottom isn't bound yet. That's just a piece of paper showing the cover. That's last year's yearbook, which is the one I'm currently working on. I am about halfway finished, so I should have it done in another day or so. I still have a bunch of books to print up though, which is the most expensive part. I've thought about having them printed someplace else, like Staples, but I think it might cost me just as much (if not more) than doing it myself. We already have the binding machine to put them together. I make Rick do that part and he hates it. It's the ONE thing I ask him to do each year and he complains, but always does a good job.

It's funny because every year when my girls were in school they'd request that I make the yearbooks even longer than the year before. The kids have always enjoyed going back and looking at what they did over the years. I'm often asked what's in the books. It's basically like a digital scrapbook. I take pictures of everything, including big art projects that we don't have room to keep. I also take pictures of food projects, so those are fun to include before they get gobbled up. Here is a list of some of the stuff I put in the books ...

Portraits of the Kids
Family Snapshots
Self-Portraits (they draw one on the 1st day of school each year)
All About Me Forms (listing all their favorites of the year)
Any Extracurricular Stuff (like swimming lessons)
Book Reports
School Field Trips
Special Events (weddings, parties)
Family Outings
Lists of Books Read (and photos of our Reading Charts)
Samples of School Work
Art Samples
Pet Pages
Autograph Page (the kids sign each other's books)

Like I said, they have fun going back and looking at them over the years. It's a fun way to include all those odd pictures of things that I don't put in frames or anything -- you know, like Lego designs the boys make, or Play-Doh creations and stuff like that. It's a lot of work on my end, but it's one thing I really LOVE doing. I am usually not this far behind, but I have faith I'll be all caught up soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, you Charley Horse!

The past few nights I've been woken up with leg cramps, or Charley horses as they're often called. Does anyone else have these? I don't get them regularly, but the past 4 nights I have, so I was a little concerned as to why. I've always thought they were caused by a lack of potassium. Since I take a multivitamin everyday, I didn't think that was the case for me. Last night I read that having hypothyroidism can cause these types of night leg cramps. I've been on thyroid meds for years and since I don't have the cramps regularly, that couldn't be it either. So, what could be the cause?

The only thing I can think of is exercise. I exercise everyday. I use some hand weights and resistant bands for about 10 minutes, followed by 30 minutes on a Bowflex TreadClimber. After that I ride a recumbent bike for another 30 minutes, usually with some ankle weights on my feet. The only thing I could think of was that the past 3 nights I hadn't done my exercises because I'd been up late working on our school yearbooks. I figured the cramps might have been from the change in exercising, or lack of it in my case. The last time I had them was about a week ago when we were camping in Yellowstone. Again, I had missed my exercise the night before.

However, last night I did exercise and this morning I still woke up with a cramp. Now I'm back to being baffled. Maybe I need more potassium. Maybe I should take magnesium supplements. Maybe I need to drink more water. Who knows. All I know is that these stupid things hurt like hell. Once my calf starts to tighten up, it's really hard to relax to stop the cramp from coming on full blown. I've read not to stretch it out during the cramp because that can cause a tear in the muscle. Ouch. That doesn't sound like fun.

I was curious why they called them "Charley horses" so I looked it up. Mind you, this is from Wikipedia, so I'm not sure how accurate it is. It says it's an American slang term that dates from the 1880s and it might be referring to an old pitcher named Charley Radbourne who suffered from leg cramps. There's another reference to a horse named Charley that used to work at Comiskey Park, the Chicago White Sox's baseball stadium. It said in those days an old, retired horse was often called Charlie. Like I said, I don't know if that's true, but it's interesting.

Does anyone else get these Charley horses at night?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Adoption Day, Denny!

It was exactly one year ago today we adopted a skittish little cat named Denny. He was the only cat at the LARS animal rescue that wouldn't let us anywhere near him. Denny was born in the wild and still very much a feral cat when we went to take a look at him. I saw him online through Petfinders and fell in love with his little ear tufts. Those reminded me so much of my other cat, CJ. We had a 45 minute ride home and he hissed most of the way back. By that evening, he was rubbing up to me and purring, so I knew he was going to adjust just fine. However, I had no idea just how well he'd adjust. He's gone from being a wild cat to one of the most amazing cats anyone could wish for. He's so much like CJ that it's uncanny. It's like CJ sent him to us himself.

No longer is Denny a scrawny, skittish wild thing. He's grown into a massive blob of blubber and fur. He's so good with the boys and lets them carry him all over the house, including up and down the stairs. Right now he's in the playroom with them -- doing who knows what. When the boys go outside to play, Denny sits by the door and cries. He just wants to be with them. Before Nicole left for college, he'd wait for her to come home from work so he could take his afternoon power-nap with her. He also hangs out with Nichelle and her cat, Kitty. I've never seen a cat who wants to be with everyone. Usually, cats have a family favorite, but Denny loves his time with everyone. My time is about 5am when he wants to cuddle up to my face and nip me under my chin. He even sits on the couch with Rick and watches TV. I've never seen a cat watch TV the way Denny does.

His favorite thing to do is watch the birds and squirrels in our feeder. Every morning after I eat breakfast, Denny rips down the hall in front of me, knowing it's time to feed the critters. He goes to where I keep the feeder and rubs his face all over it. Then I open the door and he follows me out on the deck to hang up the feeder. When I'm doing that, he plops down on the deck and rolls around. The only time he won't go outside is when it's raining. He doesn't like rain. Snow doesn't seem to bother him and he darts right out. He's truly a Montana cat! Happy Adoption Day, Denny!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quick Trip ... Long Post!

Thursday we drove our daughter, Nicole to Billings where she's starting Rocky Mountain College. Originally, we were going to do a turn-around trip, which would have been 16 hours of driving. Since we were towing Nicole's car on a trailer behind our van, we couldn't bring our travel trailer with us. Hotels were too expensive, so I got this crazy idea of staying in our tent. We've had a tent for years, but haven't used it since the 90s when the girls were little. One thing I've always said was that I would never tent camp in Montana because of bears and yet ... I came up with the idea of taking the tent. The boys had never tent camped, so we figured it would be fun.

We got Nicole to college and waited for her to check in so we could see her room. Her roommate was already getting settled in. One nice thing is that her roommate is from where we live so they already know each other. After we saw her room, we said goodbye and started on our journey back. We stopped at ToysRUs because we don't have that where we live. Then we headed from Billings toward the town of Red Lodge, which is where the famous Beartooth Highway is. I'd never been on the road before, but I'd heard it's one of the most scenic in the country.

We had reservations in a small forest service campground just off the highway and along a creek. I have to be honest when I say I was nervous about sleeping in a tent in bear country. We took all necessary precautions of course, but it was still unnerving. We're RV campers now, so we don't have all the equipment that we used to have when we tent camped. We made do and in fact, I don't think we forgot anything, which was surprising. Our campsite was great and probably the nicest one in the campground.

We cooked our dinner over the campfire, which was a little tricky because it started to rain. That wasn't that big of a deal and it was clear for the rest of the night. I had forgotten what it was like to sleep on the hard ground. I'll never complain about the bed in my trailer again! It was one of those "nights that never end" though. Even Rick turned and said that to me in the middle of the night. I think we'd fall asleep for about an hour and then wake up. When I opened my eyes and saw that it was finally morning, I almost wanted to squeal, "Woohoo! We survived!" That's how I felt, but of course I didn't say that because I didn't want to freak the boys out. The creek was so loud that if something had crept up on us, there's no way we would have even heard it. I guess in hindsight, that was a blessing in disguise.

We got up early -- not having a bathroom will do that to you -- and headed along the Beartooth Highway. I knew it was going to be scenic and high up, but I had no idea. The eastern side was just wild with switchbacks winding up to 10,947 feet. We stopped for pictures a few times and let the boys wander around in the tundra a bit. They'd never been up that high. Rick was bummed that it didn't go to 11,000 feet, so he climbed this big pile of rocks on top of the summit. According to his iPhone, he hit 11,005 feet. I got a picture of him as he threw his arms up in victory. Then we worked our way down and that's when the scenery really took off. It was surreal. I kept saying it didn't look real and that it looked man-made, almost like Walt Disney created it for Frontierland. What an absolutely beautiful place!

We worked our way into the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, where we were planning on spending one night. We drove through the Lamar Valley, which was great because we rarely get up that far when we come into the park from the other entrances. We saw lots of herds of bison, some Pronghorn, and birds, but that was about it. We stopped at a picnic area for lunch and heard a bald eagle flying nearby. Eventually, we got into Canyon, which is sort of in the middle of YNP and where we were camping for the night. It was a much bigger campground than the previous night and for some reason I wasn't as nervous there.

The next day we spent time in the Canyon area. The first thing we did was head to the showers. I think the shower lady was my favorite person in the park this trip. It was the best $3 I've ever spent! I'll never complain about my little bathtub in my trailer again! Then we saw the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We did some quick hikes and had lunch at a really nice picnic area. After that we worked our way up to the Mammoth Hot Springs area and saw some of the thermal features. There was a large herd of elk lounging around by one of the buildings, so I got some pictures of them. They're not that great because they were taken in front of cars and buildings, but it was still fun to see them. One male had a really large rack. I also got some good pictures of magpies, so I was happy. From there we headed out the North Entrance where the famous Yellowstone Arch is with the sign that says: For The Benefit And Enjoyment Of The People. Right before we got to it, we were turning a corner and there were two young bighorn sheep in the middle of the road. I got a few good pictures of their butts -- nice angle, guys.

It was a quick trip and not really a true vacation so to say because our main goal was getting Nicole to college. Even so, it was a lot of fun and we got to see things we had never seen before, not to mention experience things we'd never experienced before. We'd never been to YNP in August and I loved all the wildflowers, not to mention we had perfect weather. I still like tent camping, but it's way different in bear country. It's hard to go back once you get used to traveling in an RV. All the same, we had fun. It was especially interesting for me because of my middle grade novel, Encroached. That's about two young girls who sneak out of their house to tent camp in the Montana wilderness. I thought about that story a lot on this trip -- from watching the shadows on the tent at night, to listening to noises, to driving by the Soda Butte campground where a fatal grizzly mauling took place last year, which basically inspired a lot of my story. Here is a slideshow of some of my photos -- from Nicole at college all the way to leaving YNP.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last Hurrah of Summer ...

We're doing something tomorrow that I said I'd never do in Montana -- camp in a tent. We'll be taking Nicole to college tomorrow and on our way back home we're going to spend two nights camping. We're not taking our travel trailer because we're towing Nicole's car with our van. So instead, we've decided to be brave and tent camp. Yeah, in grizzly territory. One night will be at a campground along the Beartooth Highway. The second night will be in Canyon inside Yellowstone National Park. I'm trying to remember what to pack, since it's so easy to rely on things already being in the trailer -- like towels, silverware, and the bathtub!

Right after Nicole was born, I gave Rick a 2-room Coleman tent for his birthday. We used it quite a bit when the girls were little before venturing into the world of RVs. We got a pop-up trailer first, then a 24 foot travel trailer, and now we have a 28 foot one. Ironically, we were just thinking of getting rid of the tent the other day, but then this opportunity came up. The boys have never slept in a tent, so I think they'll have fun with it. Of course, we're staying in places that have both had bear incidents recently, so that will be a concern. We have bear spray and I'm sure we'll be just fine. It should be interesting. My latest middle grade novel is about two girls who sneak out to tent camp in the Montana wilderness and they have a bear incident. I guess I'll just call it research for my book. Works for me.

Nicole is really excited about starting Rocky Mountain College. This will be her second year of college. It will be nice that she's in the same state, unlike last time when she was all the way over in Florida. RMC is about 8 hours southeast of here in Billings, so she'll be a little closer. As it turns out, her roommate is going to be one of her friends from where we live, so that will be nice for her. She's frantically trying to pack now and hopefully we'll be ready to leave early in the morning. I've got the coffee maker all ready to go!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Non-Credited Classes

I couldn't sleep last night, so I got up for awhile and was reading a pamphlet for the fall 2011 schedule of non-credited classes at our local college. Do you ever read those things? Some of the courses sound like they'd be a lot of fun. There's a wildlife photography one where they take you to a location with an exotic animal. You take pictures of it and then go back to class and they critique your work. That sounds like it would be a blast because they list Siberian tigers, mountain lions, snow leopards, Canadian Lynx, and predators like that. I would love to do something like that, but don't have the $139 for a one-time class.

However, some of the courses are pretty silly. We always used to joke about Underwater Basket Weaving courses, but in my pamphlet there's one called Pine Needle Basket Weaving. Seriously! For just under $60, you can spend two days learning how to weave Ponderosa pine needles together. I laughed when I saw there was a two day class called Blogging Bootcamp -- for $99! There's a $50 one day class called Facebook Basics. I suppose there are people who need these classes, but man, they're getting hosed on the fees. I'm no rocket scientist and I didn't go to college, but I certainly didn't need to spend $50-100 to learn how to blog or use Facebook. People must be willing to pay those prices, which is the amazing part.

Some courses make total sense for northwestern Montana, such as Animal Tracking & Sign Interpretation or Astronomy for Montana Skies or Wilderness First Aid. Other classes I understand like Modern Home Canning, Cake Decorating, and the Western Two-Step. But Intermediate Bridge? Why isn't there a Beginner's Bridge class? Or spending $69 for a class that basically runs you through National Novel Writer's Month? Really? One of the best ones was called Online Fitness Class. Yes, for a mear $94, you too can lose weight and keep it off forever! Just pay us money and read our information online. It's just amazing. I know people like being in the class setting and maybe they get more out of this than if they learned something on their own or read a book. However, a book would be cheaper. Do you really need to spend $59 to learn how to run? Heck, a good pair of running shoes will set you back that much.

I know it sounds like I'm slamming these classes, but I'm not. There are some I'd love to take, such as the photography and writing ones. I'd also love to learn how to knit, but I think I'm better off trying to do that one my own rather than pay someone $94 to teach me. When it comes to all these crazy classes, I get what they're doing. I just think they're asking way too much money. Okay, I've complained enough this morning. I'm off to check out the online classes and see what they have to offer -- ha ha. While I'm at it, I might as well look and see how one goes about teaching these classes. Seems like the instructors are the one gaining the most from them!

Monday, August 8, 2011


It was exactly 3 years ago today I received my first contract for A New Job for Dilly. I still remember the excitement I felt when I got the email from Vivian Zabel telling me 4RV Publishing, LLC was going to publish my first picture book. Although Dilly wasn't the first book I wrote, it will always hold a special place for me because it was my first to be published.

I want to thank all of you who have read A New Job for Dilly, taken the book to your child's school, given it as a gift, blogged about it, or even simply commented on it. I appreciate it all. Thanks to those who've sent pictures of their kids with the book as well. If you haven't done that and would like to, I would love to see your photos. Please let me know if it's okay to post them on my website, blog, or Dilly's Facebook page. There's a link to his page on the lower right of this blog.

Dilly also has his own website @ Dillyland. Keep your eyes on that because it will change as new information comes in regarding the upcoming book, A New Friend for Dilly. Although it's not technically Dilly's birthday because the book wasn't released until June 2009, today is a special day because it was when I received his very first contract. Thank you, Vivian, and thanks to everyone who has made Dilly what he is today.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Introducing ... The Learnalots!

I was really happy to see these workbooks in our local Costco recently. I only bought the Preschool one, but there was also ones for Kindergarten, First Grade, and Ready for Reading. Even though my boys are too old for them, I'm hoping to get the others as well. The books are huge and were only $8.99 each at Costco.

If you have my book, Lemur Troops & Critter Groups, you might be thinking that little green turtle looks awfully familiar. That's because The Learnalots were illustrated by Nikki Boetger, who also illustrated the first two Critter books. When my boys saw the Preschool book, they both said, "Hey, that's one of the turtles who leaped over hurdles!" Nikki is a wonderful illustrator and I know this has been a very big project for her.

If you have young children, particularly ages 3-5 years, you definitely need to check these books out. They're published by Bright Start Learning and are available online and through Costco. Nikki has come up with a whole slew of adorable characters who all teach different things. Your kids are going to love them!

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I went to the Salvation Army today to get an exercise mat that I saw there yesterday. I've been wanting one to do sit-ups on to relieve some of the pain on my tailbone. So, I'm wandering around the store when one of the employees walks by with this tiger. She sets it on a counter and I do an immediate U-turn to check it out. I collect tigers and my bedroom is decorated in a tiger theme. Now normally, a stuffed animal is the last thing I'd buy at a thriftstore, aside from underwear or something icky like that. We have enough stuffed animals to open our own store. However, this guy caught my eye because of how big he was. Not only is he huge, but he's in perfect condition, too. I couldn't pass him up when I saw he was only $4.50. So, now he's sitting on my bed with my other 2 tigers. It's a king-sized bed and there's not much room for me and Rick now, so he'll have to sleep on the floor at night with his friends. Regardless, he's just too cool!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's that time again ...

Time to start thinking about school. I don't know about you, but I've been in major-summer-mode since early June. I blame Disney World for that. Then July snuck in. It came and went like a thief in the night. Now it's already August. What happened? Every morning I get up thinking, "Today I'm going to start working on school stuff!" Yeahrightsure. Then the sun comes out and I find myself zoning on the deck in the lounge chair. We had a long winter and pretty much missed spring this year, so I guess that makes it okay. I think this is the first time I've had a good tan in years. But, as with all good things, the fun can't last forever ...

So, I will find myself buried in my classroom soon. This picture was taken right before the 2009 school year started. It's pretty much set up the same way now, but way messier. I haven't done anything in there since we finished school in June, so it's a disaster. I've tried to avoid that room all summer. By the looks of it -- I've succeeded, so I guess you can say I've accomplished at least one thing this summer. My next big project will be organizing all of last year's school work into binders, rearranging all the furniture, digging through curriculum books, and all that fun stuff. I have about a month's worth of work in there, but realistically I can get it done in a few days -- that is, once I set my mind to it.

I was hoping to attend the Montana Homeschool Convention this year, but it was postponed because they didn't have enough people. I think that was their fault because their website was all messed up. I tried to get information to register, but none of the links worked. It's no wonder no one was signing up. I wanted to go to the convention because it's been a few years since I went to one. I think the last one was in 2008 in Great Falls. Even though I've been homeschooling 15 years, it's still nice to go to these things. I get new ideas and meet other families doing the same thing. I always leave feeling rejuvenated and ready to get back to school. Although, sometimes the workshops are a little too basic for me, which isn't surprising since I've been homeschooling so long. I could probably do a workshop of my own, but that's just not my thing. I heard they might reschedule the convention in the spring, so I hope that's the case. I really think I need to go to another one.