Feet to Fancy

Once there was a 9 year old girl who loved soccer (but she loved horses more). For two years she played on a great team, went to a championship, and learned that sometimes a single kick can change the entire game. 

One day her parents told her she could go to soccer camp, and she looked forward to the week right up until she got a bad cold. Instead of a week of sports she faced a week of misery, and the only thing she felt like playing was her Nintendo

She assumed she’d lost her chance to attend camp that summer, but one day her parents came to her with news.

“We’re sorry you missed soccer camp,” they said. “Would you like to go to pony camp instead?”

“Oh, yes!” the little girl exclaimed. She didn’t know there were pony camps with live ponies, and the thought made her giddy.

A few days later, her mother took her to the pony school for an introductory lesson.

Bonnie the instructor was nice, but she was very outgoing. Her frank personality scared the young girl a little, but she didn’t dare say anything because this nice lady had all the ponies. Bonnie told the girl which camp to attend, and she the went home feeling like Sprenkil’s wings were under her.

Pony week came, and the little girl met her mount: Fancy. She was white and tall with a push-button personality, and she loved her because for one week the pony was hers. Fancy taught the girl to balance, she taught her to post and canter, and she taught her to jump over poles.

The little girl could scarcely believe her biggest dream was coming true–she was riding!

After pony week ended, the young rider admitted she’d never been happier to be sick than that cold before soccer camp. It was a point of major change, one that she didn’t hesitate to make. 

She traded a soccer ball for a saddle, and there was no looking back.

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L.J. and Fancy

Fancy’s story didn’t stop with pony camp. When the young rider broke her arm falling off a different pony a year later (that’s a tale for another blog post), Fancy was the one who eased her back into riding and restored her confidence.

One More Step, Taken

I have been working more on my Sprenkil doodles, and I’m getting a clearer picture (ha ha) of the imagery and composition. As much as I love watercolor and acrylic illustrations, I long ago gave up on learning to paint. I once had a brief romance with oils, but in the end there were always other interests, other priorities, other hobbies that won my time.

You can imagine my delight when my search for new colored pencils led me to this gem. When you add water, the pencil drawing transforms into a watercolor painting!

I was so excited by the thought I bought them immedietly.

They arrived a couple days ago, and yesterday I took them for a test run.

Before water:

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After water:

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I clearly have some bugs to work out in the technique, and I suspect watching a video or two on watercolor painting will be helpful, but I am So Excited!

My 3 year old’s comment: “It’s a flower!”

My 8 year old’s comment: “Very nice, Mom! It actually looks like the flower it’s supposed to!”

Right on.

Captain, the Horse Who Wouldn’t Walk

wp-1473284576708.jpgMy first memories of horses comes in the form of a buckskin pinto named Captain. He was my mother’s horse, and he held all my dreams behind his blue eyes. I loved him from the moment I realized I could love, and I wanted to be on his back long before I knew how to ride.

Sometimes after riding my mom would set me in her Western saddle and lead Captain around, or sometimes she would swing up behind me and we’d ride double around the pasture. I was pretty sure I was as close to heaven on earth as I could possibly be.

I grew a little older, and my budding confidence around horses took on an edge of boldness. I was sure I could ride by myself, and I remember clearly the first time my mom unhooked the lead rope.

Captain promptly stopped walking.

I clicked. I kicked. I kicked harder. I commanded him to move. I even smacked his back end with the reins.

He sighed hugely and didn’t lift a hoof, and that’s when I learned my first important lesson:

The horse knows you better than you do.

He knew I didn’t have the confidence, the will, or the know-how. I understood the motions, but he knew I didn’t understand the language.

I tried a few more times over the next year or so, but every time I got on, he refused to move. The times my mom held onto his bridle to get him going, he came to a halt the moment she let go.

I considered myself a failure and doomed to love an animal who would never love me back. I remember crying over it at least once. Having a dream die is hard on an 8-year-old.tmp_5926-img_20160907_140543-1286490898

I was 9 when I attended Pony Camp at a nearby stables, and after a week of “training,” I returned to Captain with something new: determination. Combined with greater confidence and increased knowledge, it meant I felt ready to ride anything.

Thus came the day when I sat on his back by myself, and I kicked. He stood still, but I noticed a flick of his ear, and I knew for the first time he was listening. I kicked again, told him to move, and I think I called him a Big Lug.

And Captain walked.

It was the beginning of a complicated relationship, but that day was all victory. He walked!

In that moment, my dreams returned to life.

Adventures in Iguana-sitting

tmp_12552-lizard-1085553_1280900534698I was 15 when my friend Anna asked if I would care for her young iguana while her family took a trip. I knew nothing about the reptiles, but I said, “Are you kidding?? Absolutely!”

Okay, maybe I didn’t say it that way, but I distinctly remember thinking it. How cool would it be to have “Iguana Caretaker” on my relatively short resume? In my mind, way cool.

And so, Pikkel came to live on the Blue Star Ranch for a month. I rearranged my room in order to make space for her large aquarium, and I iguana-proofed everything per Anna’s direction. Anna handed me a piece of paper of instructions, kissed her iguana goodbye, and left me staring at a 2 foot lizard and wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into.

7/10 (the first day)– “Pikkel is so attentive! She has free reign in my room, and she likes to be up high. The first time I came in to check on her, I didn’t see her at first. I thought she’d gone into the closet, which I accidentally left open. Then I saw a tail swish and found her on top of my big dresser mirror!

The second time I checked on her, she wasn’t on the mirror, or on the window screen, or in her cage. My gloves were on the floor, so I bent over to pick them up, and when I stood to put them back on my coat rack, guess who I found 3″ from my face? Pikkel, lounging across the rack.

…Pikkel’s a great jumper. She startled me when she jumped up from the floor onto my bed (where I was reading), nearly into my lap!”

I wish all of my journal entries from that time were as detailed. Over the 3 weeks I iguana-sat, this was the most I ever spent on the subject except for a few lines about shedding feet and refusing a meal.

I remember the first time I gave Pikkel a bath quite clearly. I expected her to walk around in the shallow water, but the instant her claws hit the water she took off with the most elegant movements! I had no idea iguanas could swim, and she clearly loved every minute of it.


She loved to be stroked and held, but by the last week it was clear she missed Anna. I never thought a reptile could look so sad, but she did, and the day Anna arrived to bring her home was a happy day for everyone.

I came away from the experience grateful for it, because it completely answered my question of whether or not I wanted an iguana for myself. The answer? Decidedly no. Fascinating creatures, but the level of dedication and care they require far outweighed my desire to own one.

To this day I’m still learning about iguanas thanks to Pikkel, because it was during the writing of this post that I learned that green iguanas live 15-20 years and can grow up to 7 feet long! (You would think I’d already know that after almost a month of babysitting one.)

So thank you, Pikkel, for giving me a glimpse into the life of an amazing animal, and while you’re no longer with this world, your memory definitely lives on.

Dudley, the Rooster Who Jumped for Grapes

wp-1472072552860.jpgChickens were always a part of the Blue Star Ranch, but it wasn’t until Dudley that I realized that sometimes ordinary birds are capable of something extraordinary.

I don’t remember how exactly I discovered Dudley’s particular fancy for grapes, but once I realized that my young rooster would navigate an obstacle course for them, my then-12 year old self began to wonder. Could he do more? He hadn’t even found his spurs yet, but I set about seeing just how far he’d go for a grape.

I trained him to run around the perimeter of his yard. He started out slow, almost dragging his feet, but he sped up with each corner he passed, his neck stretching out farther and farther as his feet raced faster and faster down the homestretch towards the grape I held in my hand.

That led to simple mazes, then more complex mazes. Once it started to take me more time to build them then it did for him to navigate, I eventually gave that up in search of less time-consuming tricks.

Like jumping.

At first he learned to jump vertically, and as he grew so did the height of his jumps. He never missed the grape between my fingers, except once when he caught my thumb by accident. We took a few days off after that.

Next I set up mini pole jumps and taught Dudley to leap over them, and he took to it gamely enough. It was all for grapes, after all.

I was a horse girl without a horse, but I had a chicken who could run and jump on command. How cool was that? I showed him off to family and friends, and to this day he remains the chicken I remember most.

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Dudley was an Ameraucana chicken, hatched on our ranch.

While writing this post, I stumbled upon an Aesop’s fable that I found interesting, and while not directly related to chickens, it is directly related to jumping for grapes! What happens when the thirsty fox desires the grapes on the vine? Read The Fox and the Grapes to find out!



Sprenkil Doodles

I’m at the end of the query list for The Sprenkil Adventures, and while part of me is disappointed that I haven’t more to show for my efforts than a few dozen rejection letters, I blink and realize I actually HAVE a few dozen rejection letters. Which means I’ve been doing something, and there is definitely something to be said for trying.

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I’m not giving up, not yet. I’m taking a hard look at the manuscript and revising it further. I’m determined to get it under 1000 words, because I feel this needs to be a true picture book.

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I’m also going to pursue the smallish list of agents who only want author/ illustrators. I’ve dismissed it from the beginning because my drawing chops haven’t been used since 2002, but the other day I started doodling for inspiration and the thought hit me I’d be a fool to explore all other options but this one.

So I’m going for it!

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A while ago I posted a recounting of saving a hummingbird. You can look in the near future for other true animal accounts to appear on the blog! There are many tales from my childhood on the Blue Star Ranch involving llamas, cats, iguanas, chickens, and maybe the occasional snake, just to name a few.

We’re not only about horses here (although we do love them an awful lot)!

When Girl Meets Horse

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My 6 year old daughter is much like me in many ways, including being born with a love for horses. Hand her a stick, *poof!* now she has a pony to ride. Give her a carrot *poof!* the rocking horse is now carrot-starved and Must Be Fed. Pretend someone or something is in danger, *poof!* she hops on her ever faithful rescuing horse.

For years she has watched horses from afar with that wistful longing I well remember feeling. A couple years ago, we once passed a rider on a walk, and she was gracious enough to let my kids pet her beautiful palomino. Palominos are still one of my daughter’s favorites.

On Sunday she met her first horse up close and personal courtesy of a kind neighbor. It was a step towards a dream come true for her (the ultimate dream, of course, is a horse of her own). I’ve never seen her grin so big for so long!

A little bit of instruction later, she had balance and perfect posture as our neighbor walked the horse around, and I really had just one thought. “Land sakes, she’s a natural.”

Then I remembered, that’s what people said about me when I first got started. And I sighed happily, because while I foresee a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of waiting on her part, I secretly have already started hearing it in my heart:

“Here we go again.”

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Nothing new to report on The Sprenkil Adventures. Still plugging ahead with queries, still hopeful for some replies! Still have a little of the list left to go. Starting to think more seriously what to do next should I not land an agent or publisher.

 

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The Presidential Graduation Speech

If you haven’t already heard of Jack Aiello, now you have. His 8th grade graduation speech swept not only his audience, but YouTube, various news agencies, and talk show hosts as well.

I read through a number of the news articles I could find online, but most of them repeated the same things. They highlighted the humor and the brilliance behind the presidential impersonations, and yes, it’s hilarious (it’s why he caught my attention), but I was hoping for more. Something different. Eventually, I found an article that stood out.

Here you will find no quotes from the speech, no commentary on the inflections…in fact, there’s very little about the original video at all. Why did it resonate with me? Quite simply, the family element. The article isn’t just about Jack, it’s about his whole family, and I really really appreciate that.

So thank you, Kerry Lester of the Daily Herald.

And congratulations, Jack Aiello!

Strength in Small Sizes

hummingbird-164632_640“A hummingbird flew into the garage and it won’t fly out!” my mother announced as she passed my open door.

I blinked in surprise before making a dive for my worn tennis shoes and following her through the back door. We craned our heads painfully back in order to scan the rafters, but we saw nothing and the air maintained complete silence.

After careful scrutiny and several well-timed bursts of wing activity, we at length spotted the small bird. My mother opened up all the windows and doors leading to the great outdoors, but the hummingbird only flew upwards into the peaked crossbeams, not downwards. It never went low enough to see the escape, and as the sun began to set in its crimson glory, the hummingbird grew more and more agitated.

I returned indoors for a while, figuring that maybe as the air became cooler the bird might fly lower to the ground and find an exit. A few minutes later I checked on the progress of our visitor. It was flying around with thick tendrils of spiderweb and cobweb hanging off of it like a cape, the low drone of its delicate wings beating against the walls that confined it. I turned to address my mother, but before we exchanged a word we heard a *THUNK* at close proximity. My mother let out a wordless exclamation, and I whirled.

“What was that?” I said.

“It just fell behind the washing machine!”

The rush of pity in my heart bid me to act quickly, and I carefully bent to examine the location of the fallen creature. Whether by chance or design, the hummingbird came to rest in a small but still accessible crevice between the washing machine and a neighboring basin. I very slowly and deliberately reached into the space, gently took hold of a particularly long strand of entangling cobweb, and carefully dragged the poor bird into the open. It fought feebly as I eased it into my palm, and even in its weary state the strength in the wings amazed me.

I held in my hand an imprisoned treasure of pale green. I determined the hummingbird was a female, and her wings were partially unfolded, partially pinned to her body by chains of lint and spiderweb. Her legs and feet disappeared into a grey fuzzy mass the size of a large grape—no wonder she couldn’t land properly. She bore a dust muzzle on her needle beak, and she shook uncontrollably.

The fallen bird was exhausted and no doubt starving after more than an hour of trauma in the garage. My mother remembered we had an unused hummingbird feeder inside, so she went off to prepare some solution while I started working on the web. Holding the tiny hummingbird in my hand is something I’ll not forget. She was obviously terrified, but her eyes were wide open as she lay on her back, and she just watched me. I freed her wings first because they were the least entangled, then I slowly worked her beak free. I really wanted her to drink something if she could, and when my mother brought out the feeder I positioned the bird appropriately, since she couldn’t yet stand on her feet by herself.

At first the creature would have none of it, and she jerked her beak out of the feeding hole. She must’ve tasted a little of the elixir however, because she suddenly perked up and attacked the solution with vigor. I watched, my eyes growing ever rounder as this bird drank, and drank, and drank. Twenty seconds later the green jewel removed herself from the feeder, tested the air with her burgundy tongue, and sat back weary but no longer hungry.

The meal accomplished, the next mission became untangling the buried feet. I carefully maneuvered her in my hand, and after some time I got one foot free. She scrambled upright and proceeded to roost on my finger.

I did my best to work in this position, pulling off minuscule pieces of cobweb at a time. I eventually realized I wasn’t going to get the lint-like bulk off in this way, so I very carefully wrapped the bird in my fingers and asked my mother to get my tiny sewing scissors. With legs smaller than toothpicks, I was rather nervous I’d break one in some careless tug of my thumb or stray snip, but I didn’t know what else to do! At this point I realized I’d been talking to the bird from the start, and I had to laugh at myself.

At long last, the final strand of the trap slipped off the remaining foot, and the hummingbird made a valiant effort to right herself. I let her, and she proceeded to suck a great amount of nectar into her fragile body. As I observed her, I became very happy. Both legs and feet worked properly, and although she was still shivering, the little hummingbird was extremely alert.

Twilight hung on the edges of the day, and my mother and I debated about keeping the bird overnight to ensure her safety verses letting her go immediately. The freed hummingbird made it clear she wanted to be on her way, and with little ceremony I carried her outdoors. When I opened my hand, she just sat there for a minute, as if getting her bearings. Then she took off with a healthy buzz of vibrating energy. She disappeared quickly into the settling darkness, leaving me with an empty hand, a warm heart, and the very strong feeling that I would see the green jewel again.

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Two months later…

The eyes are finally improving to the point I can work in short bursts on the computer without discomfort. This is relieving news to me, because I have done much writing by hand these last many weeks and I’m somewhat anxious to get caught up on the typing side of things.

This morning I awoke and dressed in preparation for the 90 °F weather my phone told me to expect. Two hours later I raced outside to bring my dog in from the rain, and I decided phones make terrible weathermen.

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I wish I had more writing to show for my 2 month absence than a few silly sentences about the weather. I fear I got kinda discouraged for a while, because although I sent out a bunch more query letters on The Sprenkil Adventures, I didn’t hear from a single one of them. I found rejections to be motivating, but silence? That’s way worse than being told no.

After getting over the initial slump, I decided to take another hard look at the manuscript, and I encountered what I consider to be a pretty big flaw. Why it took me months to see it, I don’t know. But I fixed it, and I feel better about it now.

Queries resume this week!

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