Monday, January 31, 2011

400 Mile Fitness Challenge

Last week I discovered the 400 Mile Fitness Challenge at the Books, Fitness, and Other Stuff blog, and I’m so glad I did! Before the holidays I had developed a great routine for my exercise, and I was walking or getting in some form of exercise every day. But ever since Christmas, I have lost my motivation and have slacked off, so I think this challenge will be the perfect thing to get me back on track.

The Challenge is to reach at least 400 miles by the end of the year, either by walking, running/jogging, or biking. I love to walk and that is how I plan to reach my goal, but I would also like to do some jogging as the year progresses. Last year I set a goal for myself to run a 5K race. I didn’t meet the goal, but I’m considering shooting for that again. I have a training program for a 5K on my Ipod, and may give it another shot.

But whether it is by walking or running, I definitely plan to reach my 400 mile goal by December 31st. I’ve walked 21 miles in January, so I've got 379 miles more to go.

I love to travel and visit new places, so I thought it would be a fun motivator for me to figure out where I could walk to by the end of the year. Give or take a few miles, if I go south from my home in Cincinnati, I can make it to Huntsville, Alabama. North, and I will end up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. If I go east, I will find myself in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. West, and I will be able to climb the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

If I exceed the goal and go a little farther, I can make it to Toronto or Washington, D.C. My favorite city that I’ve ever visited is San Francisco, so I checked the distance for me to get there. I don’t think I will make that one, as it would take me 2,368 miles! Maybe I can combine several years together to make that goal. :D

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this challenge, and I’m grateful to Ellie at Books, Fitness, and Other Stuff for coming up with the idea!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interesting sites

I came upon a site this week called Wow! Women On Writing, and it seems like a great resource. They host a quarterly writing contest for short stories or flash fiction, and I think I am going to sign up for their Winter contest. The deadline to enter is February 28th so I've got some time to try and write something, and I noticed this contest is an "open prompt," so the topic can be about anything I choose. If I don't get a story done in time for this deadline, I will definitely try their Spring contest. I enjoyed participating in the WritersWeekly contest so much that I am anxious to try others.

In addition to the contests, Wow! just seems like a helpful site in general, with lots of articles, a blog, and other resources for writers. I'm definitely bookmarking it and looking forward to exploring it in more detail.

I also started an account at Goodreads this week and am anxious to participate more there. I work as a librarian so I'd heard of sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing before, and had even created accounts, but that was as far as it went, I never participated. I kept seeing Goodreads coming up on authors' blogs though, so I decided to check it out again.

I've always loved to read and used to read constantly, but in recent years I have gotten away from that somewhat. Not for any specific reason, mostly just because of time limits, but I hope this site will inspire me to get back into the habit of reading.

I only played with the site a bit, but I can see how it could become addicting. I started entering in some books I've read and liked, but my biggest problem is I have a terrible time remembering what I've read. Many times I've picked up a book and started reading it, only to find it seems very familiar. After a few pages, I realize I already know the story and the ending, as I've read the book before! Regardless, it's fun to go through and pick out some of my favorite authors and books, and get recommendations for others.

I also noticed the site has groups for writers to share progress and support each other, so I'm dipping my toe in those waters. I'm an introvert by nature and sharing my work is not easy for me, but I'm working on changing that as I know it only hinders my goals.

At any rate, I'm continually amazed at how many resources and sites are out there for writers. At times it almost feels overwhelming. But I look forward to continuing to explore and learn, and see what else is out there. And, I'm happy I made my three posts a week goal for the S.H.I.N.E Online challenge!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Up for Pups

My latest article for Best Friends is called Flying Through The Air With The Greatest of Ease, and it's about an aerial show to support rescue organizations and raise awareness about puppy mills. The show will be held in Boulder, Colorado in February, and it is the brainchild of Kyla Duffy, president of Up for Pups.

I was really impressed by the innovation and creativity behind this show, as I would venture to guess this is the first time anyone has done an aerial performance in the fight against puppy mills. It's definitely something that will catch people's attention, and I've no doubt those who see the show will not forget it. The whole idea of that kind of performance is completely foreign to me though, as I am lucky if I can walk down the street without tripping over my own feet. Being suspended from the ceiling is not something I can imagine!

I have to admit that I was naive about puppy mills before I started writing for Best Friends. I had no idea of the horrors that go on, and how many dogs are mistreated. I now think back to dogs and puppies I've seen in pet stores, and I feel horribly wondering if they came from this kind of terrible environment. I think it's wonderful that so much has already been done to raise awareness, but I've no doubt there is still a great deal of work to be done. 

I'm very glad to have the chance to support the efforts of Up for Pups and Best Friends, and encourage everyone to check them out and learn more about their work!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Short story contests and Blogging challenges

Over the weekend I participated in the 24 hour short story contest at I received the prompt at 1:00 Eastern time on Saturday, and had to have the story e-mailed to the editor by 1:00 on Sunday.

I was watching an Ohio State basketball game (Go Bucks!!) that started at noon on Saturday, and it was fun to keep checking the clock and waiting for 1:00 to get here, as I was really anxious to see the prompt. It did arrive in my e-mail at 1:00 on the dot, and I was almost nervous opening it. I'm not sure why I was nervous, as the worst that could happen was I wouldn't be able to think of anything to write, but since I've never done anything like this before I felt a bit on edge.

I was excited as soon as I read the e-mail though, as I thought it was a really interesting prompt for a story. The prompt was about a pajama-clad woman crying and trudging through deep snow, and hearing a train whistle. The story had to touch on this topic in some way, and couldn't be more than 875 words.

I finished watching the basketball game and started thinking of ideas, then sat down with my laptop to write. The prompt seemed very dark to me, and I wanted to write a dark tale to go along with it. It was fun to try and imagine who this woman was and why she was out in the snow wearing only pajamas, and to determine the significance of the train whistle.

For better or worse, I finished the story later that night and e-mailed it back to the editor on Sunday morning. I was happy with my finished product, and regardless of whether I win anything, it was a great experience to participate in the contest. I'm looking forward to signing up for the next contest in the spring.

On a different note, I also signed up for a blogging challenge last Friday. I learned of the 2011 S.H.I.N.E Blogging Challenge at the WritingSpirit blog, and was excited to sign up for it. I was a bit late as the challenge started on New Year's Day, but I figured I could still participate for the remainder of the challenge's 111 day time period.

One fun thing about this challenge to me is participants are encouraged to use the #SHINEonline hashtag on Twitter, so I thought this could be a great way to interact with other bloggers. I'm still getting acclimated to Twitter, so this seemed like a great opportunity to get more comfortable with it.

I signed up for 3 blog posts a week with the challenge, so I'm looking forward to working towards that, starting with this week. Of course, I didn't do too well with NaBloPoMo, but 3 posts a week seems a lot more manageable.

Anyway, it was a great weekend for writing, (and for my sports teams!) and I'm looking forward to continuing that momentum through the week ahead.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Spoiled Cat

I finished a new article called The Cat Angel for Best Friends this week, and it was a real joy to write about this special lady who cares for so many feral cats. But it also made me sad to think just how many cats are living outside in such harsh conditions. This winter has been such a tough one in so many parts of the country, it breaks my heart to think of so many animals trying to manage outside in the cold on their own.

As a result, I tried to impress upon my own cat Nate how lucky he is to have a home, with a warm place to sleep and food at his disposal every day.

Nate would have none of it.

I adopted Nate three years ago from the Kenton County Animal Shelter in Covington, Kentucky. I had recently lost my cat of 12 years, Tigger, to cancer, and I wanted a new friend for the cat I still had, Thomas. And if I'm being honest, a new friend for myself as well.

Tigger and Thomas were brothers, and both striped tabby cats. When I went looking for a new cat, I had no intention of getting a striped tabby, as I wanted something different. I had my heart set on a tuxedo cat, and I was going to name him Jack. But then I went to the shelter, and I saw a 4 month old striped tabby kitten named Nate. I sat in the cage and played with him, and within an hour, I had forgotten about getting a tuxedo cat and forgotten about the name Jack. I arranged to bring Nate home with me.

I've never regretted that choice, as Nate is a joy, and a character in every sense of the word. When he is not goading Clancy into chasing him around the condo, he can usually be found like this.

He has no delusions about who is in charge of our house. It's clear to him that he is. He meows for food as soon as I come home from work, and won't be quiet until a bowl of food is in front of him. If I decide to sleep in on the weekends, he is quick to get out the megaphone and yell to remind me that his breakfast is late. I bought Clancy a new dog bed a few months ago, and Nate quickly claimed it as his own. When I got a warm scarf for the winter, Nate didn't hesitate to turn it into a bed for himself the first time I forgot to put the scarf away in the closet.

He sees everything in the house as his birthright, and truthfully, I wouldn't want it any other way. I wish I could give all of the cats I wrote about in the article the same comforts of home. 

Since that is not possible, I'm glad I can at least do it for my two loves. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


If there’s one thing I excel at, it’s procrastinating. I think it’s probably what I do best. 

I was off work yesterday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and since I had a long weekend, I had all kinds of plans to get lots of writing done during my time off. I also planned to write several query letters to mail out this week. In three days, I managed to write a total of about five sentences, and I didn’t write a single query letter.

I did go through the Writer’s Market and found numerous publications to query with ideas, so that was an accomplishment. But beyond that, I did nothing productive. Instead, I spent way too much time watching tv, way too much time watching football, and way too much time imitating my cat Nate and his talent for curling up on the couch and sleeping. 

This is nothing new for me though, as I’ve always been good at wasting time, and I have trouble forcing myself to work unless I have a deadline. When I was in school, I could never start a project until I knew I had no more time to waste, and the due date was staring me in the face. In the past this was really never a problem for me, as I’ve always worked best when under the gun. 

But it is a problem now that I am trying to become established as a writer, as no one is holding any deadlines or due dates over my head, and the only person I have to answer to right now is me. I’m going to have to set up my own due dates, and force myself to be more accountable with time management. 

On that note then, I am setting a goal for myself to complete a minimum of five query letters this week, and the due date is Friday. I have a list of publications to query, so there is no excuse at all for not getting these letters written and mailed. Starting today, I’m putting myself under the gun.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I'm starting a photography class next week, and I'm really looking forward to it. One of the things I've learned from writing for Best Friends is how important it is to have a great photo to go along with an article, especially now when so much is published online. I'd love to be able to develop enough skill that I can take my own photos to accompany the articles I write.

I've never had anything more sophisticated than a basic point-and-shoot camera, so when I decided to take this course I looked around at other options. I really couldn't afford a DSLR camera right now, and I was kind of intimidated by them anyway, so I ended up getting a higher quality point-and-shoot that also has the option of using manual settings. This camera came highly recommended by a family member, so I was pleased to get it. I'm anxious to try playing with it once I start the course.

Ever since I started walking regularly, I've tried to pay more attention to the beauty in ordinary, every day things. As I've mentioned before, there are a lot of great parks in my area, and, as I learn how to take better photos, I hope to be able to capture the natural beauty that is so evident on the wooded trails where I walk.

I also hope to use Clancy and my cat Nate as my guinea pigs for photos. They may both learn to run and hide as soon as they see me get out the camera.

I've always wanted to be able to take better photos, but never thought I had the talent to pursue it. I realize now it was foolish to say I didn't have the talent, as I had never tried! So I am excited about starting this course, and I look forward to sharing my course assignments and progress here.

It's one more adventure, and one more "impossible" goal to add to the list of what might be possible after all.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

So much for NaBloPoMo

I only made it a week with my daily posting for NaBloPoMo. I blame the NFL playoffs, as I was too distracted on Sunday to write. (Go Pack!) Unfortunately, I don't even have an excuse for Monday.

Monday wasn't an unproductive day though, as I sent in my first official query letter to a magazine! Even though it was only a 1 page letter, I spent hours obsessing over it. Now I know I will have a long wait before I get any kind of response, but just sending in the letter was a huge milestone for me. It's a good feeling to have one under my belt, and I am anxious to keep going and send in more.

Having never written a query before, I wanted to look at some examples of successful queries before I wrote my own. I took a writing class through and was fortunate to have a wonderful instructor named Eva Shaw. Eva shared several query letter examples that had been successful for her, and I tried my best to model my own letter after these examples.

If you're looking for a free resource on queries, I came upon this old blog by best-selling author Allison Winn Scotch. (I say old because she has since moved to a new address.) I thought she provided some great examples of queries here, and have bookmarked this page to refer to these examples again: Ask Allison

I also made sure to follow Allison's current blog at as it looks like an amazing resource to me.

In spite of my failure to write a post yesterday, I did look at the NaBloPoMo prompts, and saw this for January 10th:

Find a quote that fits your intention for today and tell us both of them.

That was an interesting prompt for me, as I had just come upon a quote earlier in the day that I liked so much, I immediately thought of adding it to my favorite quotes here. The quote was:

It's never too late - in fiction or in life - to revise. ~ Nancy Thayer

That quote fits my intention not only for yesterday, but also for every day, as that is exactly what I'm trying to do - revise my life.

I'm hoping this quote is true, and that it is in fact not too late.

And I think I will try NaBloPoMo again in February, as I'm hoping I will have a better shot at completion with a short month!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Hound Who Hates To Walk

Clancy isn't a hound by any stretch, and in fact the poodle in him would probably find the term insulting, but, to me, he is my hound dog. And he is a hound who hates to walk.

I've been around dogs my entire life, and I've never known a dog who hated to go for a walk. Except for Clancy. In fact, with most dogs I have known, walking has been the highlight of their day, and they jump around like excited children on Christmas morning when they see the leash and know they're about to go for a walk.

Clancy gets excited when I get his leash, but this is only because he loves to ride in the car. When we first walk outside he is raring to go and moves like a dog on a mission, until we walk past my car and he realizes he's not getting in it. Then, he immediately slows down to a near crawl, and looks at me as if he is thinking, “There's been a misunderstanding, I thought we were going for a ride. I'll just go back inside now, thanks.”

One of the reasons I was excited about getting a dog was because I was anxious to have a walking partner. There are a lot of great parks in my area, and I love going on the walking trails. I thought sure Clancy would love going with me. I was wrong.

A few years ago a friend and I took Clancy and her dog Lucy to a nearby park that has a great walking trail through the woods. It was March, and the type of early spring day when just being outside makes you feel exhilarated. I assumed Clancy would be ecstatic about going for a walk with his pal Lucy after we had all spent too much time cooped up inside during a particularly cold and nasty winter. As you can see from this picture, instead of being excited about heading into the woods, Clancy is pulling in the other direction, in a desperate attempt to get back towards the parking lot and the car.

At any park, Clancy is always on the lookout for a bench and a nice spot of shade where he can relax and rest his weary paws. When we are walking around the trails, he hangs his head and plods along, walking so slowly that anyone would think he was about to drop over from exhaustion. At times, he stops completely, and looks up at me as if he absolutely refuses to take another step.

If he were an old dog, I would assume this was all due to the aches and pain of old age. But he has always had a clean bill of health at the vet. And, he shows no signs of infirmity when he chases his feline sibling Nate around the house. Plus, even when we are walking, his exhaustion miraculously disappears whenever he encounters one of his canine buddies in the park.

I don't think Clancy's issues are health-related. I think he just hates to walk. And, my impression is he thinks walking around the same trails again and again is boring. When we are walking on a trail and I start to make another lap around, he always stops and looks at me as if I am wasting his time. He sees no purpose to the exercise.

I still take him for walks as I think he needs the fresh air and exercise. But when it comes to fitness walking, I've had to learn to make due without a partner, and manage on my own. If I need a partner when driving in the car though, I know where to find one.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Great Writing Blogs

The blogoshere is intimidating for a newbie, but I've been enjoying going through many different types of blogs and learning from those who have been at this for a while now. Of course, writing-related blogs are among the most interesting to me, and I wanted to share a few that I have already found very helpful.

One of the first I discovered was Inkygirl: Daily Diversions For Writers, and I have found this to be an invaluable resource. The Writer's Guide to Twitter feature helped me get started tweeting, and I am still working my way through it and learning the ins and outs of Twitter. I also love the Wordcount Challenge and am looking forward to trying my hand at it.

I also enjoy Jody Hedlund's blog, and I think it is a fantastic resource for new writers. I love her Top Ten List of Advice for Aspiring Writers, and I also thought her post on Creating a Book Readers Can't Put Down was a great read. I discovered Jody through Twitter, and I'm very glad I did.

Another author I discovered through Twitter is Julie Isaac, and I love her WritingSpirit blog. Julie offers practical advice as well as inspiration, and gives tips on everything from writing every day to using a blog for marketing. Julie also hosts the #writechat Twitter chat, which I have not participated in yet, but I'm working up the nerve to jump into it.

I also think Christina Katz's Empowering Writers blog is a great resource. Christina goes by thewritermama on Twitter, and I have consistently found her tweets to be helpful. She also provides writing prompts through her Prosperous Writer ezine.

These are just a few of the great blogs I have come upon in the past few weeks. I can't deny I have found the sheer number of writing-related blogs to be overwhelming, but I am looking forward to continuing to find new ones to learn from and enjoy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The "Vicktory Dogs"

Yesterday I received the latest issue of Best Friends magazine. One of the stories is a "where are they now" feature on the "Vicktory Dogs," the name given to the dogs rescued from Michael Vick's dog fighting ring. Rarely has a name been more appropriate. It was great to read the story and see the tremendous progress these dogs have made. They are real winners, and Best Friends has achieved a victory of the best kind.

I remember being so touched by these dogs when I watched the "Saving the Michael Vick Dogs" episode of Dogtown. It was horrifying to see what they had endured, but also heartwarming to watch them finally receiving love and affection, and blossoming under the guidance of the trainers and caregivers. That episode has always stuck with me, so it was especially satisfying to catch up with some of the dogs featured in the episode, and see how well they are doing now.

If you're interested, many of the "Vicktory Dogs" are profiled on the Best Friends' Pit Bulls blog. I have to admit, when the Vick case broke and there was so much media attention focused on the dogs taken from the operation, I was skeptical that dogs coming from those kinds of conditions could be rehabilitated. Sometimes it's great to be wrong!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Short story contests

I just entered a 24-hour short story contest at I'd never heard of the idea before, but apparently the editor sends a topic on a designated day, in this case January 22nd, and writers then must submit a story on that topic within 24 hours. You aren't told the topic or word length beforehand, so it's all a surprise. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, and it will be a great challenge to try something totally new. I'm very curious to get the topic and see how it goes. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if I get the topic and immediately draw a blank, but fingers crossed that won't be the case.

I've been amazed at the number of contests I've come across, I had no idea there were so many. This is the first one I've entered, but I'm looking forward to exploring the contests and entering many of them. It seems like a great way to get more experience and more writing under my belt. If nothing else, the stories will be fun to try.

I have to say this NaBloPoMo posting is harder than I thought it would be, and it's only the 5th of the month! But it's great practice, which is exactly what I wanted. I think I am going to try some of the prompts on the site, and see what I can come up with from there.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Clicker Training Follies

I bought a clicker and a great book, Clicking With Your Dog: Step by Step in Pictures. I was sure that a picture book would be something even I could follow. Unfortunately, I might have to re-think that. One day in, and things have already gone wrong.

I started with the beginning of the book, and prepared to focus on introducing the concept of the clicker to Clancy. As per the instructions, I had the clicker in one hand and treats in the other. I clicked once, then gave Clancy a treat. The stated purpose was to teach the dog that clicks = treats, and the exercise would be considered successful when the dog started to focus on the clicker instead of staring at the treats. 

The issue for me was that Clancy focused on the clicker instantly, and then did a rushed sit, lay down, shake hands, and focus, all without being asked. It seemed fairly clear someone had used a clicker with him before, he recognized it, and he wanted to cut to the chase and just get on with getting his treats. This is always what happens with Clancy when we try various training methods. He immediately goes through his repertoire of tricks in rapid succession, as if he is saying, "here I'm sitting, I'm shaking paws, I'm lying down... hurry up with the treats, would you?"

I'm not sure what to do when the dog has already decided to do all the commands without being asked. But, on the bright side, I didn't have to work to get Clancy to understand the clicker, he obviously got it, so maybe we can figure out how to work from there.

We'll see. It's only day one, and we've got a whole book to work through. It just makes things a little difficult when Clancy jumps to the middle of the book before I've even finished the first page. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Conducting interviews for articles

One of the things I love most about writing articles for Best Friends is that I get the opportunity to meet and talk with people that I most likely never would have met otherwise. In just a few short months, I've had the chance to talk with people in Oregon, Florida, New Jersey, Utah, Nevada, California, Kentucky, Indiana, and Colorado, as well as several folks in my own hometown and in other parts of Ohio. It's amazing to learn about the wonderful work people are doing for animals all across the country. I've learned about people who went out every day in the freezing and snowy northern Ohio winter to take care of a homeless mother cat and her kittens. Neighbors who banded together to find a new home for a cat who had been left behind to fend for himself at a California apartment complex.Volunteers in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana who care for animals in disaster situations, and stepped in to rescue more than 30 Chihuahuas from a puppy mill. An American Marine in Okinawa, Japan who fell in love with three homeless cats, and worked to make sure the cats found a new home in New Jersey.

All around the country, and indeed all over the world, there are ordinary people doing amazing things for animals every day. In what can often be a harsh world, it's a joy to be able to learn of so many kind and good-hearted people. And it's a privilege to be able to share their stories, along with the stories of their beloved animal friends.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Dog In Question

One of my goals for the new year is to train my dog, Clancy. I got Clancy in 2008 over the Labor Day weekend. He is part poodle, part spaniel, and part who knows what, and he is the greatest dog on the planet. But, he is not trained and can be a bit of a terror, and I know I have no one to blame for that but myself. I am a pushover, and my dog is more than happy to take advantage of that fact. If Clancy was a small pooch this might not be as much of an issue, but since he is 50 lbs and stronger than I am, we have a problem. I want a well behaved dog, so I have resolved to change my behavior, and in the process, change Clancy's too.

I'm interested in positive reinforcement and clicker training, so Clancy and I are starting there. I'm also eager to learn other techniques, as I know there are many options available in working with dogs. I'd be grateful to hear of any successes others have had.

By the way, I got Clancy from Circle Tail, an amazing rescue organization in Pleasant Plain, Ohio. They train service dogs for people with disabilities, and also provide dogs for adoption, which is how I got Clancy. Many of their dogs are housed in Ohio prisons, and are trained through their Inmate/Canine Educational Program. Clancy was, and there's no doubt he was much better trained when I got him then he is now! If you get a chance, check Circle Tail out. It's a fantastic place!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I have decided to sign up for NaBloPoMo for January as I thought it would be a great way to kick off this blog. I've never done anything like this before, and am excited to see if I will be able to make it through the whole month. I see it as a great opportunity to get more practice writing and blogging, so here's hoping!

To anyone who stops by here, I wish you a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2011!