Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Ziggy Stardust

I'm a big David Bowie fan, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite of his songs. I totally love it. But I don't really have anything else to say about it, I just needed a Z word. When I listened to Ziggy recently I thought, that will work! So, here's to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

It's a big thrill to be finished with the A-Z Challenge! I want to send a huge thank you to the Challenge hosts:

Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out
Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe
Jen Daiker's Unedited
Karen J Gowen's Coming Down the Mountain
Stephen Tremp's Breakthrough Blogs

Many thanks to these great bloggers!

I've had a great time trying to come up with A-Z topics, and meeting so many fabulous bloggers. Thank you to everyone who stopped by here, and I am looking forward to keeping up with all of the wonderful blogs I've discovered. Congratulations and job well done to all of my fellow A-Zers!

Have a great weekend, all! :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Youth, and Dogs Training Them

This is a re-post of an article I wrote a few months ago for the Circle Tail blog. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the Dogs Training Youth program was not able to operate this Spring as intended. But I still think the work of the program during the past three years is very inspiring, and I hope Mr. Addis will be able to start Dogs Training Youth up again in the future. Mr. Addis' story is a testament to the power of the human-animal bond, and to the extraordinary impact the unconditional love of a dog can have on both young people and adults.

Former Circle Tail Inmate Handler Works to Help Troubled Youth

Victor Addis' life changed the day he started working with Marlys Staley and the Circle Tail dogs at the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillecothe, Ohio. Now, he is using what he learned from Circle Tail to change the lives of at-risk youths.

Victor's first Circle Tail dog was Lena, a pregnant beagle that no one else in the dog program wanted. Lena gave birth to 12 pups in Victor's cell and, as Lena had mastitis and couldn't produce milk herself, Victor spent a hot summer bottle-feeding all of her pups, often missing dinner so he could tend to the puppies. Victor says he wouldn't change the experience for anything, as it was the beginning of his new life.

He later moved to the London Correctional Institute, a lower security facility, and had the good fortune to be there just as Marlys was getting the London dog program started. He signed up to learn how to work with the service dogs in training, and went on to train so many service dogs that they became his specialty. Victor says he read all the dog training books he could get his hands on, and learned as much as he could from Marlys, taking notes whenever she would give training sessions at the prison. He still considers Marlys his mentor, and consults with her regularly.

When Victor was released from prison in 2003, he knew he wanted to continue working with dogs. Eventually, he formed Dogs Training Youth, an organization to help at-risk youth by exposing them to the joy and unconditional love of a dog.

The program started modestly, with Victor meeting with a handful of kids from his neighborhood who had taken an interest in his own dog, a beautiful Rottweiler named Cassie. Victor, Cassie, and the kids met weekly at Dorl Field in Norwood, Ohio, and Victor taught the kids how to work with Cassie using a clicker and other methods of positive reinforcement. Eventually, the kids started asking Victor if he could show them how to train their own dogs, and Dogs Training Youth was born.

The program, which only operates in the spring and summer due to weather and the lack of an indoor facility, pairs at-risk kids with local rescue dogs, and helps to teach the kids responsibility and respect for other living creatures through their work with the dogs. As Victor states, he sees things "start to click" for the kids as they work with the dogs, and they become excited and confident as they see what they and the dogs can accomplish together. As the kids gain more confidence and self-respect, they are less inclined to turn to the street looking for a sense of belonging.

Dogs Training Youth is getting ready to start its fourth season, and Victor is expecting as many as 13 kids to participate this year. Each one will have the opportunity to change their lives with the help of a dog, just as Victor changed his own life through the dogs of Circle Tail.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Generation X

I'm a member of Generation X, and I've always thought that belonging to this generation could be a serious blow to your self-esteem if you believed the majority of what the media had to say about it.

Supposedly, Generation X includes anyone born between 1965 and 1980. When I did a google search for Gen X, the main words that came up to describe us were "ignored," "forgotten," and, of course, "slackers."

Gen Xers were also described as nothing more than the people who came after the Baby Boomers, as if we were the younger siblings who could never quite measure up. Even the name is pretty sad compared to the far more colorful Boomers and Millennials. Generation X sounds like a bunch of clones or zombies from a science fiction movie.

When people do attempt to provide some sort of identity for the Gen Xers, it's never flattering. I saw this article from the 1990s, and had to laugh at this description of the Generation X stereotype:

"cynical, hopeless, frustrated and unmotivated slackers who wear grunge clothing, listen to alternative music and still live at home because they cannot get real jobs."

Well, okay then.

Except for the grunge and alternative music, which wasn't a negative, I never knew anyone who fit this ridiculous stereotype. The people I knew were going to school and working full-time jobs, and trying to make their way in the world just like young adults of every generation. I never knew any of these hopeless basement dwellers who played video games instead of working, and supposedly defined my generation.

Really I think the whole generation thing is silly anyway, and I wonder why it ever got started, and who came up with these names in the first place.

But even if I do find it silly, I'm glad for the Generation X label in this case, as I couldn't think of a single X word to write about for this post. I'm grateful to my sister for suggesting Gen X, and I'm very glad to be done with this letter.

Two more to go! :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Writing Advice

I've spent a ton of time in recent months reading writing books, taking writing courses, and visiting writing sites, and I have found more wonderful advice than I could ever possibly list, or even remember. At times I have felt like I've gone a bit overboard, and I need to take a step back from reading about writing and just focus on the writing itself. That's one reason this A-Z Challenge has been great for me, as it's helped me to become more disciplined about writing every day. I hope I'm able to continue with that discipline once the Challenge is over.

But back to the writing advice, I have to say that there is one book that has resonated with me more than anything else I have read so far, and that book is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I read it recently, and it's not only my favorite writing book, it's one of my favorite books I've ever read.

I've seen this book mentioned on several blogs so I know lots of people have already read it, but I just wanted to share this one paragraph as it really spoke to me, and made me realize that I have been worried about the wrong things with writing. I've worried that if I don't get published immediately I will be a failure, and I've worried that there is no point to what I'm doing if I don't write the next War and Peace or some other masterpiece. But this paragraph made me remember why I started writing in the first place, and it had nothing to do with either of those worries.

"I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."  ~ Bird by Bird, page xxvi

The idea of writing being its own reward is something I had kind of forgotten about, but it is the absolute truth. Of course, I still want to work towards publication, and that is my goal, but I need to remember that no matter what happens, I will still be doing something I love, which is writing. And that alone is a priceless reward.

Near the end of the book, Ms. Lamott sums her views on writing up, and this paragraph was another one that really resonated with me. I felt like she was describing me here.

"No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching step forward from where you were before, when you didn't care about reaching out to the world, when you weren't hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen." ~ Bird by Bird, page 235
I can't imagine a better way to look at writing and, for me at least, it is definitely a "marching step forward."

This book is the best writing advice I've ever received, as it made me remember that the writing itself is what really matters, and whatever writing I'm doing is okay. It doesn't have to be the next masterpiece, or the next NYT bestseller (although I'd sure like it to be!) to matter. If it's a blog post about Count Von Count, that matters too. ;)

It's fun and I love doing it, and that's reward enough. I'm really grateful to Ms. Lamott for reminding me of this, and I know I will return to her book again and again. To anyone who hasn't read it, I can't recommend it enough. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Von Count

I was originally going to use vampires for my V post, as I love vampire characters and stories. But then I really couldn't think of much to write beyond the fact that I love vampire characters and stories. So, I decided to write about the first vampire character I ever loved, Count Von Count.

The Count rocks, and I still totally love him. I found this clip on youtube, and I love how he enters the scene with his cape half over his face. I also love the crazy laughter, and the lightning and thunder.

I read that in later years The Count was toned down and made friendlier, over concerns that children were frightened of him. I don't know if that's true as I wouldn't have still been watching Sesame Street then, but if so it seems kind of a shame to me. Maybe I was a weird kid, but I was never frightened of The Count. I thought he was awesome.

It's kind of funny though, as I have mild OCD and can be compulsive about counting. It's nothing debilitating, but it's just something I've always done, counting things like steps and tiles, etc. When I watch The Count now I can't help but feel like the poor guy has a really bad case of OCD, and that's why he can't stop counting. Regardless, I've no doubt he helped generations of kids learn about numbers, and how to count.

I'd like to write my own vampire story someday, and have been kicking ideas around in my head. I don't know if it's possible, but I hope I can find a way to work in some sort of homage to my first vampire love, Count Von Count.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for U2

I love music, and U2 has been one of my favorite bands for what feels like forever. U was another tough letter for me, (although most of the letters in the second half of the alphabet seem to be!) but when I thought about it, U2 seemed like a perfect choice.

I first started paying attention to U2 in the early 80s, around the time of the War album. A band from Ireland was practically unheard of in the US at that time, and it seemed very exotic to me. I loved the militant drumming of Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the song itself was impossible to ignore. I wanted to hear more.

When I came upon this video on youtube some time ago, it felt like a time warp. I remembered being an excited adolescent, watching MTV (at my friend's house as my parents didn't have cable at the time) and wishing I was there in the rain at Red Rocks.

As the 80s progressed, I started working at Arby's, my first job. I worked the late shift one summer, and closed down the restaurant each night. The Joshua Tree was the most popular album in the country at the time, and I remember playing the cassette on a boombox after we had locked the doors. We'd sing along to With or Without You while we washed mountains of dishes and cleaned dirty floors and tables.

When I finally got my first cd player stereo in the early 90s, U2's Achtung Baby was the first cd I ever bought. I still have the cd, and it remains one of my favorites.

The 90s went on, and I got distracted by too many other things to pay as much attention to music. I lost interest. But in the early 2000s, I watched U2's 2001 concert at Slane Castle in Ireland, and I became a fan all over again. The band was a lot older, and so was I. On some level, it felt like we'd grown older together.

When I watch this performance of what is probably my all-time favorite song, I almost feel as if I am there too, under the stars in Ireland, next to a centuries-old castle.

I think what I love most about music is that it can provide an escape from the doldrums and routines of every day life. When I listen to music, for a few minutes or a few hours, I can be transported to another time or place. A time when the world seemed much simpler, and responsibilities were few. A place where I may never have actually been.

Or, in some cases, a magical place that exists only in my mind.

I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name ~ U2

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for the T Cats

When I graduated from college and got my first apartment, one of my main goals was to get a pet of my own. I ended up getting two, as a friend of my brother's who worked for the Humane Society rescued a mother cat and her kittens, who had been born on the street. She asked me if I would like two of the kittens, and I jumped at the chance.

They were two tabby cats, and I named them Tigger and Thomas. A friend dubbed them "the T cats." For the next twelve years, the two of them were my little buddies and constant companions, with me through moves, job changes, going back to school, more moves, more job changes, and all the general ups and downs of life.

When Tigger was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with a heart problem. His body deteriorated quickly, and within a few months, the vet also found a cancerous tumor in his abdomen. It was clear there was nothing to do for him but put him to sleep. I stayed with him when the vet put him down, and I cried my eyes out. I knew it had to be done as I couldn't allow him to suffer, but that didn't make the decision any easier.

Thomas was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 10 years old, and for the next 5 years, I learned more about treating feline diabetes than I ever wanted to know. I almost felt as if I could be a vet tech myself. Thomas was at the vet so much, he became a favorite patient of the staff there, and almost like Norm on Cheers. When Thomas and I would walk in the door, the receptionists and technicians and veterinarians would turn and yell "Thomas!" Everybody there knew his name.

He managed very well and lasted longer than anyone expected when he was first diagnosed, but when he was 15, the disease had taken its toll and his body started to shut down. Once again I found myself putting a beloved pet to sleep, and it wasn't any easier the second time around.

While Thomas outlived Tigger by 3 years, I still always think of the two of them together, and it's impossible to think of one without the other. They were a package deal.

For 12 years, they were inseparable, and only apart when one had to go to the vet and the other got to stay home. They were my T Cats and, at least in my heart, they're together again, where I know they'll always remain. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Sisters

The best thing about having a sister was that I always had a friend.  ~ Cali Rae Turner

I recently read a post on one of the blogs I visit that really got to me. The blogger wrote about how her sister had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and my heart broke for her and her family. As the youngest in my family, I could relate to the relationship the blogger described with her sister, who was older. I also couldn't help but think about how devastated I would be if I got that news about one of my sisters. So, while I originally had a different post planned for S, I decided to write about sisters instead. 

I know many people have difficult or toxic relationships with their sisters, but I have been fortunate to have the opposite experience. I have a great family, and friends who are very dear to me, but there is nothing that is quite the same as my relationship with my sisters. 

People say we talk alike and act alike, and share many of the same mannerisms. It's hard for me to say if that's true, but I do know we can talk in a shorthand that no one else is privy to, and I usually know what the other two are thinking without anyone saying a word. I can say "remember when?" and, inevitably, they do. They remember, because they were there too.

When I was a child, I was harassed by a bully who lived down the street. She was a foul-mouthed, nasty girl who clearly enjoyed picking on younger, smaller kids. When my sister learned the bully was harassing me, she went after her. The bully never bothered me again. 

As I've gotten older, I don't need my sister to fight my battles. But it's still been a comfort to know that there has always been someone I could count on to have my back.

When I learned that one of my articles had been accepted for publication, the first person I told was my sister. I got the e-mail at 6:00 in the morning, but I knew I could call her. Conversely, when I've been sick or stressed or faced with a problem, the first people I talk to are my sisters.
It's inevitable that people come in and out of our lives, staying for various lengths of time. Some fly through quickly, others come along and take up permanent residence. But through childhood and adolescence, adulthood and middle age, my sisters have been a constant.

I can't imagine a world without them in it.

To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each others' hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.  ~ Clara Ortega

With my sisters (I'm the little one in the middle) on Martha's Vineyard

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Rescues

I've learned about many wonderful rescue organizations and animal welfare groups since I started writing for Best Friends, so I decided to share a few of them for my R post.

I'm starting right here in my home town of Cincinnati, with the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry. This is an amazing, all-volunteer organization that provides pet food to needy families in our area. With the economy the way it is, it's no secret that more and more people are relying on food pantries and social service organizations to help them get through these tough times. When people have already lost so much, I think being able to keep their cherished pet in the midst of so much uncertainty must be an extraordinary comfort. I really admire the folks behind the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry, and I would encourage anyone in the area to check them out, and support them if possible.

Another great local organization is the United Coalition for Animals, or UCAN. I visited the UCAN clinic last month during their Pets In Need veterinary clinic, and saw first-hand how much they help low income pet parents by providing basic veterinary care to those in financial need. UCAN's primary mission is to keep the pet population down by offering low cost spay and neuter surgeries, and they are now celebrating their 32,000th surgery since their opening in 2007. It's impossible to imagine how many feline and canine lives have been saved, and how many pets have been kept in homes and out of shelters, since this fabulous clinic first opened their doors.

Moving across the country now to Nevada, and the Shelter Pet Rescue Network. Another all-volunteer organization, SPRN focuses on rescuing animals in danger of euthanasia at county shelters, and caring for them in foster homes until they can be adopted by new families. SPRN focuses on "bullie breeds," and is dedicated to helping improve the reputation of pit bull dogs, but they will rescue and care for any companion animals. When I talked with them, they had just taken in a litter of kittens, and the kittens had made themselves right at home among the much bigger pit bulls. One need only look at SPRN's "Happy Tails" for the past few years to see what a difference they have made for so many Nevada animals.

Finally coming back East, and my favorite of the organizations I have written about, Tabby's Place in Ringoes, New Jersey. Tabby's Place is a cat sanctuary, and a place like no other I have encountered. They specialize in cats who are considered "unadoptable," such as those with physical problems or other special needs, those who are older, or simply those who don't have the best personality in the world. All of them have a home at Tabby's Place, and all are cared for by people who love them just as they are. If you'd like to read more about the feline occupants of Tabby's Place, click here for an article I wrote about some of the kitties who captured a special place in my heart.

These are just four of the organizations that I've had the good fortune to discover, and I look forward to learning about many more like them. It's amazing to me to see how many grass roots groups are operating all over the country, doing their best to help animals who are unable to help themselves. In a world that can often be harsh, it's a gift to see so much kindness, and to meet so many who are willing to lend a helping hand to both people and animals in need.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quotes and Quitting

Q was the hardest letter of the A-Z Challenge for me, at least so far. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to post about, but the two Q words that seemed to come to mind most often when I was trying to think of something to post were Quotes and Quitting.

I'm not thinking of quitting or giving up on my writing goals, but I can't deny that the whole thing has felt quite overwhelming at times over the past few months, when I have rejection letters in my inbox, and words like platforms and queries and slush piles swimming around in my head. The whole writing universe starts to feel like it's too foreign, too competitive, and simply too much, and I've wondered more than once if I am just being silly thinking that I can ever do this as more than a hobby.

The truth is I've had a bad habit in the past of jumping head first into something and then giving up or quitting without seeing it through. I'm determined not to do that now, so in that spirit I decided to share some more quotes that I have found motivating when feeling discouraged or overwhelmed. If you've ever felt like giving up or quitting, I hope you will find them motivating as well.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. ~ Samuel Beckett

Many of life's failures are people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ~ Thomas Edison

Nothing will work unless you do. ~ Maya Angelou

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I don't believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be. ~ Ken Venturi

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~ Japanese proverb

This one isn't really about failing or giving up, but I liked it so much I decided to include it.  

If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud. ~ Emile Zola

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Postcards

I love collecting postcards, not only of places I've visited, but also of pictures that I like or that interest me. I love browsing the postcard racks in book stores and museums. So I wanted to share some of my favorite postcards for the letter P. I admit this is a little bit of a cop-out, as I don't have a lot of time to write today. Hopefully the pictures will speak for themselves.


This one is probably my favorite. I love this Munch painting, and I have often felt this way myself. I can relate to this guy. ;)


Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Outcasts

I decided to enter the Writer's Digest Annual Writing Competition in the Short Story category, and the story I'm submitting is called Outcasts.

The story is inspired by my interest in service dogs and involvement with Circle Tail, and also what I've learned about their Prison Training Program, where inmates train dogs in obedience and service skills. My story is about three outcasts: a man in prison, a mentally ill woman, and an abandoned dog. Their lives are intertwined, as the prison inmate trains the dog to be a psychiatric service dog for the mentally ill woman.

The inmate's name is Robert, and he was born to a drug-addicted mother and an absent father, and spent his childhood in and out of foster care before joining a gang. The dog is about to be put down in a shelter before he is chosen for training in the prison program. The woman, named Abby, is schizophrenic and socially awkward, and has no close relationships.

The story is about whether or not these three outcasts are able to overcome their pasts. Two do, one doesn't.

While this story is not at all based on a real person, I did have the opportunity recently to speak with one of the men who trained service dogs for Circle Tail while he was in prison. I really enjoyed speaking with him, and was inspired by the fact that his work with the dogs helped him to change his life. I plan to write about the charitable organization he founded and currently runs in a post for later this month.

For now though, I need to get busy finishing Outcasts, as the deadline to enter the competition is May 2. I always seem to let things go down to the wire, but in the past I've worked best when under the gun, so I'm hoping that will be the case this time as well.

If not, I noticed writers can submit work between May 3 and May 20 for a late fee. I can't help but think this late deadline was made for people like me. Someday I'll learn to stop procrastinating.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

N is for Nate

"Thousands of years ago, cats were worshiped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this." ~ Anonymous

It's been a hectic weekend here, so I'm a little late with my N post. I'm glad we normally skip Sundays so I can catch up quickly.

Since Clancy had his C post, I can't leave my cat Nate out. My choice for N was an easy one.

I've had Nate for a little over three years now. I originally planned to name him Jack, but when I saw him at the shelter, the little index card taped to his cage said Nate. I thought the name fit him, so Nate he remained.

This is baby Nate right after he came home. According to the vet's best guess, he was about four months old at the time.

Nate settled in to his new home quickly, and wasted no time exploring everything, and claiming the place as his own.

Unfortunately, as Nate grew older, he had a tendency to have too much to drink, and he could never hold his liquor.

In all seriousness, my pets have never had alcohol, so I have no idea why Nate looks completely sloshed here. It's possible he got carried away with his catnip toys.

Nate sees himself as the head of our household, and his favorite place to relax is on top of the kitchen cabinets. He loves jumping up there and looking down on Clancy and me, surveying his domain before he goes to sleep.

When Nate comes down from his perch, he is very good at keeping Clancy in line.  

I'm not sure why, since Clancy is easily three times Nate's size, but Nate rules the roost. 

Nate is the third cat I've had and, like my first two, he's a gem. He may keep busy maintaining control of our house but, like all cats, he knows how to relax and make himself comfortable.

"A cat pours his body on the floor like water. It is restful just to see him." ~ William Lyon Phelps

I hope everyone has been having a great weekend! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Magnets

I saw a fun feature on Smith Magazine called Freeze Frame, where people submit snapshots of their refrigerators, showing magnets, notes, photos, and anything else they might have there. This made me think about how I love to collect magnets, so I decided to go with magnets for my M post.

Here is a (poorly taken) snapshot of my current collection of refrigerator magnets.

I love to buy magnets when I go on trips, so some of these are mementos of my favorite trips that I've taken, including London, San Francisco, and New York, where I saw A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway a few years back.

I got this magnet on a trip to Chicago when I visited the Art Institute. It's probably my favorite of the bunch, as I've always loved the painting Nighthawks, and it was a treat to see the real thing. I've always thought this painting would be great inspiration for a story, as I love trying to imagine a story and background for each of the four people in the diner.

I've mentioned before that I'm a huge football fan and, when it comes to the Ohio State Buckeyes, I'm a fanatic. I got a Buckeye magnet set several years ago, and this drum major is now all that's left of it. He's been on the refrigerator so long that I hardly notice him, but when I took this picture I realized that he's actually kind of creepy looking. Maybe it's just the shadow, but I almost feel like he will march off the refrigerator at night when I'm asleep. I might end up retiring him. 

So that's my refrigerator, minus the shopping lists, photos, and miscellaneous notes. What's on yours?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Ladder to the Stars

I recently watched the tv show Sons of Anarchy on DVD, and one of the episodes ended with a montage featuring the song Forever Young. While it is a Bob Dylan song, the version that was used was a cover by a singer named Audra Mae. I was totally taken with the song while watching the montage, and have been in love with it ever since.

I love all of the lyrics, but this is my favorite part of the song:

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

I don't have children of my own (at least not the human kind!) but I'm lucky to have several wonderful nieces and nephews, and this ladder to the stars is what I wish for them. They are all grown now, but it's never too late for wishes.

Versatile Blogger Award

I wanted to send a huge thank you to Jennifer at Serendipity's Library for awarding me with The Versatile Blogger Award yesterday!

Jennifer has a fantastic blog and I encourage everyone to check it out. The rules of the award state that I should share some things about myself, and also pass the award on to others, so I will work on getting that together.

For now though I just wanted to say THANK YOU to Jennifer! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kermit

I loved the Muppets when I was a kid, and my favorite Muppet was Kermit the Frog. I still love him.

The Muppet Show was must-see tv as far as I was concerned. To me what was great about the Muppet Show was that even though it was for kids, they had great guest stars like Debbie Harry, Diana Ross, Steve Martin, Johnny Cash, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Paul Simon, and so many other legendary entertainers. Besides Kermit, I loved Fozzie Bear, Rowlf the piano playing dog, Animal the drummer, Gonzo, and the Swedish Chef. I also loved the old guys who sat in the balcony and jeered the performances.

I remember being beyond excited when The Muppet Movie came out, and I couldn't wait to go to the theater to see it. I wasn't disappointed. After seeing the movie, I thought this was easily the most beautiful song ever recorded.

I wouldn't go quite that far now. ;) But the clip still makes me smile, and I find myself singing along when I watch. It's hard to beat a singing frog sitting on a log and playing a banjo.

You can't go wrong with Kermit the Frog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Jobs

J was another tough letter for me, but after kicking a bunch of different J words around in my head, I started thinking about jobs and all of the different jobs I've had over the years. So, jobs it is.

My first job was working at Arby's when I was 16. While fast food is definitely not glamorous, I actually loved this job, as I worked with a great group of fellow teenagers, and I made a lot of friends there. In spite of dealing with grease, dirty tables, and rude customers, we had fun while working, and I have fond memories of the job. I also loved having my own money for the first time. I made $3.35 an hour, which seemed like a great deal back then.

While I was in college, I spent one Christmas break working as a "perfume girl" for Elizabeth Arden Red Door perfume. I had to wear a red dress and walk around area stores asking customers if they would like a sample of Red Door. I never sprayed anyone without their consent, but regardless, some people ran from me as if they feared I was going to douse them with perfume. I couldn't really blame them as I would hate that if someone did it to me, but I still couldn't help but laugh sometimes at the expressions of horror on their faces. Some reacted as if I was carrying a machine gun instead of a bottle of perfume. Regardless, I enjoyed that job, as it was fun to be at the stores during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shopping season. And I had graduated to $10 an hour by then, so I felt like I was rolling in it, and one step away from buying a penthouse on Park Avenue.

I worked as a social worker throughout most of the 1990s, and moved from one job to another quite frequently. I was a case worker for children's services, an emergency clinician at a psychiatric hospital, and a medical social worker for a dialysis clinic, and two different hospices. I changed jobs so often as I was always trying to find one that suited me, until I finally realized that I just wasn't suited to be a social worker. I still learned a great deal from these experiences though, and particularly from my time working for hospice. It sounds odd, but I learned a lot about life through seeing so much death.

I've now worked as a librarian for a small college near my home for quite a few years, and I've been lucky to have a job that allows me to explore my love of writing by researching and writing articles for academic journals. I've also found volunteer work to be extremely rewarding, and I've enjoyed writing for Best Friends as much as anything I've ever been paid to do.

I'd love to say my next job will be as a full-time writer, but I know I've got a long way to go for that. Still, I'm glad to have taken the first step, and I've learned to never say never!

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Island

As I wrote about in my Aquinnah post to start off the A-Z Challenge, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts is one of my favorite places to visit. So I decided to share more of the Island for my "I" post.

My family's cottage is in the town of West Tisbury, near the center of the Island. This is the Mill Pond not far from the cottage, and the Old Mill House. Most years, the pond is home to swans, and while they are very pretty, they have been known to chase bystanders. Including my mother and me! A swan at full height with his wings spread is not a friendly sight, to put it mildly.

Some of my favorite places on the Vineyard include the fishing village of Menemsha:

And the Edgartown Harbor and Lighthouse:

Photos courtesy of wikimedia commons

Some years ago I had the good fortune to go sailing on Vineyard Sound. While I was a little nervous about my first time on a sail boat, it was one of the most beautiful days I've ever experienced.

When I visited the Island last year, the ferry back to the mainland left out of Vineyard Haven, a bustling community that serves as the main port of entry. We took an early morning boat, and my niece took this photo of the sun rising over the harbor.

So that was our goodbye to the Island, until next time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Happy Things

I had a terrible time thinking of an "h" post, so I finally just decided to go with a list of five random things that make me happy.

1. Football. Most of my family members are football fans, so we've been gathering together to watch games since I was a little girl. I enjoy both college and pro football, so weekends in the fall almost always revolve around football for me. My sister makes great food for the games, and we settle in with yummy party food and a few beers to watch the our favorite teams. Fall means football for us, and that's a tradition I hope continues.

2. The first signs of Spring, especially hearing the birds singing in the morning after the long silence of winter.

3. My Ipod. I'm a music nut, and the Ipod is my favorite toy I've ever owned. It's ancient by technology standards, and is showing its age. I dread the day it dies on me for good.

4. Flannel sheets. I love getting under cozy and warm flannel sheets on a cold winter night. I'm always happy to see the return of the warm weather, but I can't help but be a little sad when I put away the flannel sheets for the season.

5. Best Friends Animal Society. Writing for Best Friends has been an amazing experience for me, and I love the opportunity to help a wonderful cause while doing something I love.

I've really enjoyed the first week of the Challenge, and am looking forward to the rest of the month, and the alphabet! Happy Weekend, everyone! :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Garanimals

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved wearing Garanimals clothing. Made by Garan, Inc., the Garanimals line was just for kids, and each article of clothing had a hang tag with a particular animal and color attached to it. The purpose was for kids to be able to pick out their own clothes by matching the tags. If you picked out a shirt with a red monkey tag, all you had to do was find pants with a red monkey tag, and you knew you were good to go.

There was a store called Van Leunen's near my parents' house when I was growing up, and this was the type of old-fashioned department store that sold everything but the kitchen sink. Or maybe they did sell sinks, it wouldn't surprise me. At any rate, I loved their children's clothing department, as they always had a great selection of Garanimals.

Being able to match the tags and pick out my own clothes made me feel like a big kid and, since I am the youngest of five, that feeling didn't come along very often. As I've always been an animal lover, the animal tags were the icing on the cake for me.

My mom has a photo of me wearing one of Garanimals' finest, a bright orange "only in the 70s" ensemble that I know I thought was all that at the time. I can't help but laugh at it though, as I am very fair-skinned, and if I wear that color now I look like I should be laid out in a coffin. It makes me think that having kids pick out their own clothes might not have been that great of an idea after all.

I tried finding Garanimals pictures online, and was surprised to see that the company is making children's clothing again, with a whole new array of animal tags. I was disappointed that I didn't have any luck finding photos of the old tags though. I guess those are consigned to memory. 

I am the world's worst shopper, and always hate trying to match outfits together. I can't help but wish sometimes that I still had the animal tags to help me out. As long as I made sure to stay away from the orange, of course.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for First Paid Credit!

I had a different "f" post in mind today, but I scrapped those plans when I received word this morning that I've had an article accepted for publication!! This will be my first paid credit, and I'm excited beyond words.

The article that was accepted is about a wonderful lady I met through Circle Tail, and her hearing dog. It means so much to me to have this article as my first acceptance, as I like this lady so much, and I'm thrilled to actually be paid to write about an animal. It's not a lot of money, and I certainly can't quit my day job, but I can honestly say that this is the best money I've ever earned.

I've been bouncing off the walls ever since getting the news, and I feel like a little kid at Christmas and every other holiday rolled into one. Being paid for something I've written is a dream come true, and I'm thankful to everyone who has provided encouragement and advice as I've started down this path.

Now I think I've stopped bouncing enough to catch up on my blog reading! :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Eliot

Since April is National Poetry Month, I wanted to write an A-Z post about one of my favorite poems. I decided to go with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot.

I first read this poem when I was in college, and I loved it right off the bat. I don't know why I felt such a connection to it, but I guess that is the beauty of poetry. Sometimes a poem just goes right to your heart, and stays there.

I can still see myself sitting in my dorm room, reading the poem and writing notes in the book's margins for a paper I had been assigned to write. I still have the book, and I have to admit that my scribblings don't seem nearly as brilliant or insightful as I thought they were back then. But I still love the poem.

I realized after writing yesterday's post about Maya's Angelou's "daring to dare" quote that this poem relates to that, as I have always loved this segment:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. 

In the poem, the narrator doesn't dare to disturb his universe.

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid. 

To me the poem is quite sad, as the narrator is left to wonder:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while

I have always been touched by the poem's sense of weariness, regret, and resignation, and I find the words very haunting.

I loved my literature classes in college, and T.S. Eliot was among my favorites of the authors I was introduced to through those courses. I still enjoy his work today, as there is a sense of melancholy in his writing that appeals to me. 

I am not an expert on poetry by any stretch, but I always love to come upon a poem that touches me on some emotional level. If anyone has any favorite poets or poems, please share. I would love to discover some new poems, or re-discover some old ones. I can't think of a better way to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Daring to Dare

You may have noticed from my sidebar that I love collecting quotes, and I recently came upon another one that really touched me. I am a big fan of Maya Angelou, and I love this quote from her:

"I believe that the most important single thing, 
beyond discipline and creativity, 
is daring to dare."

As the description of my blog suggests, I spent a good part of my life considering lots of things "impossible" before I ever even tried them. So this quote really spoke to me, as I feel that daring to believe that something is possible is half the battle. 

Or at the very least, it's a good start! 

I wish I had started "daring to dare" sooner, but I realize there's no point crying over spilled milk. When it comes to regrets or past mistakes, I try to keep another quote from Ms. Angelou in mind.

"I did then what I knew how to do.  
Now that I know better, I do better."

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Clancy

The letter C was an easy choice for me, as I can't resist talking about my dog, Clancy. Clancy has been with me since Labor Day weekend of 2008, when he was not quite a year old.

Here he is the first weekend he was home.

He seemed happy about his new place. My cat Nate wasn't quite as thrilled with the situation.

For Clancy's first Halloween with me, I decided to dress him up as Bat Dog. He would have none of it, and made no attempt to hide his displeasure at wearing the costume.

The costume lasted about five minutes, and I've since learned that Clancy views all costumes, sweaters, hats, and booties as an affront to his dignity. When I look at the Bat Dog costume now, I have to admit he had a valid point in that case.

While Clancy hates all attire except his collar, he loves dogs, and is ecstatic whenever he has a chance to play with another pooch. Here he is on one of his happiest days ever, begging for treats with his best buddy Lucy.

Unless there are treats involved, Clancy hates getting his picture taken almost as much as he hates wearing a costume, and he has little patience with it. I recently got a new camera, and was excited to try the pet photo feature, which supposedly eliminated glowing "pet eyes." When I took pictures of him to test the feature out, Clancy sighed and fussed, and acted as if I was putting him through the tortures of hell.

But, at least the glowing eyes were indeed gone!

As I wrote when I started this blog, one of my goals was to have more success in training Clancy. I haven't accomplished that goal, but we're managing okay anyway. Clancy may not be the most obedient dog in the world, but he's definitely a character.

I wouldn't want him any other way.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 2: B is for Books

Day two of the A-Z Challenge, and I'm going with an easy topic for the letter B, Books.

I've always loved to read and, as a librarian, it's in my nature to love books. It's been fun to discover so many book bloggers, and read their great reviews. I've already added tons of books to my "to be read" list just in the few months I've been blogging.

It's hard for me to pick my favorite books as I've enjoyed so many, but one series that sticks out for me is the Thomas Lynley books by Elizabeth George. I love the character of Lynley, and have loved nearly every book in this series. When I learned that George was 40 years old before she published her first book, that was very inspiring to me.

Another favorite series of mine is the Tony Hillerman Navajo mysteries, as I am enchanted by the American Southwest and I loved the atmosphere of those stories. I've been to Arizona a few times and adored it, and I hope to some day travel around the rest of the Navajo area and "Hillerman Country."

Other favorite books that come to mind include Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, A Scandal In Belgravia by Robert Barnard, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, A Place of Execution by Val McDermid, and the seven books of the Harry Potter series.

While I mostly read fiction, I love animal stories, and loved Marley and Me by John Grogan, My Dog Skip and My Cat Spit by Willie Morris, and the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. Nothing can make me cry faster than a touching animal story!

In another break from fiction, I'm currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, after seeing it mentioned on numerous writing blogs. While I haven't read that much yet, I am loving the book so far, and would recommend it to anyone interested in writing. The title comes from Lamott's father advising her young brother to take a large project on birds "bird by bird," and I like how she applies this to writing. If feeling overwhelmed I think it's a great idea to take a project chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, or even sentence by sentence.

I know I'm leaving out tons of favorites, but these are the books that came to mind while thinking about this post. What about you? What are your favorites? I'd love to have more books to add to my TBR list!

Friday, April 1, 2011

First Day of A-Z in April Challenge!

For the start of the A-Z April Challenge, and the letter A, I'm writing about one of my favorite places in the world, the town of Aquinnah on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Aquinnah is at the westernmost point of the island, and is known for its beautiful beach and spectacular cliffs. The name is a Wampanoag word that means "land beneath the cliffs," and the area is a sacred spot to the Wampanoag tribe. When you're there, it's easy to see why.

I visited the Vineyard last summer, as I have for so many summers of my life, and spent a good deal of my time on the beach beneath the cliffs. It's always one of my favorite places to visit, as there is nothing I love more than sitting on the beach and listening to the roar of the waves. On the last day we visited, the sand was especially cool and welcoming on our bare feet, and the ocean was such a bright shade of blue that it was hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began.

The highlight of this trip, as with any other trip to Aquinnah, was the cliffs, with their colorful mix of red, brown, and white clay.

I love walking the length of the beach to the edge of the cliffs, and the tip of the Island. It is undeniably beautiful, but it is also quite raw and somewhat intimidating, as you almost feel as if you are at the edge of the world, with nothing in front of you but the Atlantic Ocean stretching out for countless miles. Sometimes I've seen a boat way out on the horizon and I find myself wondering, who is out there? In my head I try to imagine who they are, and I've often thought one of these far-off boats could provide great inspiration for a story.

I think one of the reasons I have always had an interest in and affection for Aquinnah is that my great-great grandfather was the lighthouse keeper for the town in the 1850s. His name was Samuel, but everyone called him Squire because of his ability to read and write, skills that were uncommon in those days. Squire lived at the lighthouse with his family, and whenever I am there I can't help but wonder what it must have been like for them at the top of those cliffs in the middle of a fierce storm, with the wild ocean raging below.

Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

The house is no longer there, but the red brick lighthouse remains, and it is still a working lighthouse. Even now, the cliffs and the beach are pitch black at night, and only the rotating beacon of the lighthouse penetrates the darkness. I took a tour of the lighthouse back in the 1990s, and it was a thrill to climb to the top and get a 360 degree view of the sea and surrounding area.

Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

I'm not sure when I'll go to the Vineyard again, but I know that I will at some point, just as I always have. And I know when I do, Aquinnah and the ocean will be there to welcome me back.

Happy April everyone, and to all who are working on the A-Z Challenge, I wish you luck and I look forward to reading your posts!

(Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of my niece, Melanie.)