Thursday, December 30, 2010

Something Old

So in honor of the year 2010 winding down to a close, I'd like to leave you with Something Old. Here is the recipe for my Mom's Jello Salad that I've carried with me for 20 years (note the date on the bottom.) My mother made it for years before that, for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any special occasion.

Growing up, while my mother was inside cooking elegant meals, I was (alas) usually spending the day avoiding the kitchen by roaming the hills on my horse. But all wild young cowgirls eventually grow up, pick up the telephone and call their moms for that favorite recipe.

Now before you go making redneck jokes about jello salad, let me assure you that this is an elegant salad, with a somewhat tart and tropical taste that cleanses your palate while ingesting that heavy turkey, ham, or whatever else your holiday meal calls for. And in a pretty bowl, it looks lovely on the table. See?

So in case you can't read the recipe from the picture (and my scribbly handwriting) above - here it is again.

Mom's Jello Salad


One large package orange jello

One large package strawberry (or strawberry-banana) jello in

Two cups boiling water.

Add one large can frozen orange juice - stir until completely dissolved.

Add one 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, with juice.

Add 2 small cans mandarin oranges, with juices.

Takes 4 hours to set-up.

Easy - peasy, huh? Enjoy this old recipe, and in a few days, we will celebrate the New Year of 2011 with something Bright. Shiny. and New on the blog! *jumps up and down in excitement*

Until then - Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Gift

Books make the perfect gift, don't you think? Easy to wrap, easy to ship, and they last - day after day, year after year, right there on the bookshelf to enjoy again and again. Or pass on to someone else.

Here are some of the books I gave for Christmas this year:

Dial/ 2010

THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett
Putnam/ 2009

THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE, by Beth Kephart
Harper Teen/ 2010

Atria/ 2010

Dial/ 2010

MINI MYSTERIES, by Rick Walton
American Girl/ 2004

Sourcebooks/ 2008

BINK & GOLLIE, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Candlewick Press/ 2010

A DOG'S PURPOSE, by W. Bruce Cameron
Forge Books/ 2010

I have read and loved most of the books above. All but two of them. Anyone care to guess which two I haven't read yet?

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Friend to Animals

I was going to write a post about our adorable kitten Fred, sometimes known as Fred the Bad Kitten, or Fred the Sweet Kitten, or Fred Get Out of the Sack of Ribbons, or Fred Get Away from the Christmas Tree Before You Knock it Over, and other such nick-names. We got our wonderful kitten Fred from the animal shelter about three months ago - and he has filled our home with love and laughter (mostly.)

But on the way home from town, with my last minute shopping accomplished, I thought of all the other animals up the shelter, and I swung into the grocery story one last time and bought a sack of cat food. I drove by the animal shelter to drop it off, and while I was there, I stroked the fur of a few lonely cats starved for attention.

Then I put a leash on a black lab, took it outside for a walk in the grey December chill, let it run free in the outside pen for a bit, gave it lots of love, and afterwards shut it away inside its concrete kennel.

I wanted to do so much more. I really don't want to spoil your Christmas by announcing the percentage of these animals who will never make it out of the shelters. But it's high.

But what if we all cared a little more? Made a donation to the Animal Shelter? Bought a sack of pet food and dropped it off at the nearest shelter, either before or after Christmas. Took one half hour of your day occasionally to walk a dog or pet a cooped-up cat. Spread the word to your friend or neighbor about the importance of getting their dog or their cat spayed/neutered.

Or maybe go down to that shelter and see if there isn't one of those animals that wants to come home with you this Christmas? Or for the New Year?

Be a Friend to Animals!

Fred, and his friends still left at the shelter, say

"Thank You Very Much!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Piggybank of Dreams

Sometimes we get an unexpected surprise which turns our whole mood around. Like yesterday, when the UPS man showed up at my door with a thick envelope from a publisher. What's this? I puzzled.

Just so you know, I've been in a bah-humbug, blue funk lately. Attributing it to the short winter days of December and the fact that my publishing career seems to have hit kind of a standstill (come on, big best-seller, fancy publishing contract - where are you?) Truth-be-told, I had just written in my journal that I was having a hard time finding JOY in my writing. So imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope, and found six copies of my 2009 novel THE HORSE JAR . . . .

published in Spanish!!

I had no idea my publisher was working on a translation of THE HORSE JAR, but I am thrilled to pieces. The Spanish name for this version is:

LA ALCANCIA DE LOS SUENOS - The Piggybank of Dreams.

which pretty much says it all, don't you think? Here is the back cover, and I'll have to work on my Espanol to read it.

I wrote an earlier post (click here to read it) about the long road to publication for THE HORSE JAR. In fact, both of my first two novels, FINDING CHANCE and THE HORSE JAR are published with Mondo Publishing, an educational publisher. Not the biggest or the flashiest publisher, they sell directly to schools (although you can now buy each book on Amazon, right here.)

But with this new version in Spanish, I am extremely happy to think that a whole new bunch of kids (maybe some that just came to this country, and who aren't fluent in English yet) will read Annie's story and her words: "whenever things looked really bad, there was always something around the corner, sometimes surprising things, that made everything better."

So - I open The Piggybank of Dreams - and once again find - JOY.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Writing Christmas Cards

It's one of those chores I end up putting off until I tell myself I better do it, or they're not going to get there in time for Christmas. But in this era of electronic communications, social media, facebook, twitter, blogging, texting, and everyone staying constantly connected (not to mention 44 cents every time you slap a stamp on one) why do we even bother with Christmas cards anymore?

So I thought of the reasons I still send cards. And here's what I came up with:

1) I have some friends and family members who are older, and don't use computers/facebook/social media and with whom I like to stay in touch.

2) It's really nice to get something in the mail these days besides a catalogue, or junk mail, or a bill. An actual greeting, with maybe a scribbled note and a signature (especially if it says "love") is pretty darned nice to find in your mailbox.

3) I do like to pick out a special card for each person. Cat cards for my cat-loving friends, horse cards for my equine loving friends, and so on. Eventually, though, I just want to get through my list, and without being too particular, will grab a card, scribble a message, and send it. But that little note you write, even if it's just "hope you have a great holiday" is still much more personal than a facebook status, or a 140 character tweet, don't you think?

4) Sending and receiving Christmas cards is a tradition. Something I've done all my life, ever since I was old enough to write an address to someone far away. And just like playing Christmas carols on the piano every year, and opening up the same old box of ornaments and hanging them on the tree, I love traditions.

I might not send as many cards as I once did. And I hope you get one from me this year. If you don't - please know I wish you a Merry Christmas anyway!

So tell me - Do you still write Christmas Cards? Why or Why Not?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Cynthia Willis

Cynthia Chapman Willis is the author of two books for young readers: DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER. I first became aware of her work when I stumbled upon her novel DOG GONE. As an animal lover, the title intrigued me, and since I’m always finding myself in the middle of returning lost dogs, I knew I had to read it. Please read her wonderful interview here, and at the bottom, learn how you can win your choice of one of her books!

Cynthia - tell us a little about how you came to write DOG GONE, and its path to publication.

DOG GONE is based on a sweet and adorable homeless and stray dog that my family adopted when I was about fifteen years old. While playing around with story ideas one day, I started thinking about how this beloved pup joined a pack of neighborhood dogs that began terrorizing local farm animals. My dog and this pack situation ended up becoming the premise for DOG GONE.

The path to publication began when I heard an agent speak at a conference. I liked what he had to say and, so, submitted my dog story to him. Soon after, he offered to represent me. That was thrilling, of course. But one of the greatest days ever came later, when he sold this novel to the amazing Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

Was DOG GONE the original title, or did you come up with that after acceptance by the publisher?

DOG GONE is not the original title. I am beyond awful with titles. The original title for DOG GONE was GOOD DOG, BAD DOG. Luckily for me, though, the amazing and talented folks at Feiwel and Friends suggested DOG GONE.

How did you get your start as a children’s writer, Cynthia? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I fell in love with creative writing in the second grade and have always loved children’s books. However, I didn’t have the self-confidence to give writing as a profession serious consideration until a college professor nudged me toward it. After college, I became an editor of elementary textbooks where I had the opportunity to read lots of great children’s books as well as write books and materials for the textbook programs. This helped me to develop my own writing.

I just finished reading your second novel, Cynthia, called BUCK FEVER, and I love the premise. Tell us a little about that book. The details about hunting seem pretty real. Have you ever hunted, or do you come from a hunting family? How did you come up with the idea for this story?

I am not a hunter and I don’t come from a hunting family, believe it or not. However, I live in an area where there are lots of deer and where deer hunting is very popular. There are many different opinions about this, pro and con. These different points of view fascinated me and inspired BUCK FEVER. Since I am not a hunter, I did lots of research while writing, including interviews and learning how to shoot a rifle. The more research I did, the more interested I became in the subject matter and all the opinions surrounding it.

How long does it generally take you to write a novel, and what is your method.? Do you write from an outline, or by the seat of your pants?

I always start a new story with a blank book in which I write plot ideas, character sketches, setting descriptions, details that pop into my head, potential opportunities for humor, and all sorts of random thoughts. I also draw maps and sketch floor plans in the notebook. Once I have a skeleton of an idea, I develop an outline. I build upon this until it is quite meaty. Then, I try to write the first draft full speed ahead without stopping to revise or fuss, using my outline and my notes to keep me focused. After the first draft is finished, I revise and revise and revise, which is my favorite part of the process. The time it takes for me to write and revise a novel varies depending on the subject matter and how the process goes, but each book gobbles up at least a year.

How do you get your ideas, Cynthia?

Ideas pop into my head at any time and at any place--which can be really inconvenient. This is why I always keep a pen and paper with me. When a line from something I am reading, a song, a recollection, or a piece of a conversation deposits the seed of a story into my head, I am, at least, ready scribble down something about it. If an idea really appeals to me, I start asking questions that include What if? or What then? This kind of questioning helps me to figure out if my idea has the potential to grow into a full-fledged story.

Can you tell us about any new projects your working on? Any new books?

I recently finished the first draft of a new story. Phew! I am a wee bit superstitious about sharing what I am writing about, but I will say that this latest novel includes a dog that needs to be saved. The idea and the inspiration for this plot came from a news item that bothered me a lot. I could not stop thinking about it and started researching the subject at the heart of the news item. This led to the story idea and the first draft.

Any advice for aspiring authors, Cynthia? What’s it take to get published in today’s market?

Perseverance. My advice is always Do not give up on your dreams. This was the best advice I received and I like to share it whenever possible. I believe that persistence, meaning a devotion to improving one’s writing and stories, is the key to getting published. In my pursuit of improvement, I read as much as possible, fiction as well as books on craft. And, of course, I write whenever and however I can.

One last question, Cynthia. What’s your favorite animal? And why?

Oh, that’s a tough question to answer. However, I think the horse remains my favorite animal. There is a unique bond between a rider and her horse that, for me, surpasses even the connection between a person and a dog or a person and a cat. I’ve been lucky enough to share my home with lots and lots of critters, including a pet rat, but my horse and I had the greatest connection of all. Horses are unique and very special.

Cynthia - thanks you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Cynthia and her books, please visit her website:

And just before Christmas, we have time for One More Book Giveaway.

Win Your Choice of either DOG GONE or BUCK FEVER. But you have to act fast!

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below, on why you'd like to win one of Cynthia's books. (Make sure I know how to contact you, too.)

Contest open until midnight, Pacific Time, December 15th, 2010, when I will randomly draw the name of the winner.

Books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grow Where You're Planted

Ah - the beauteous Northwest. Stunning vistas, mountains and trees as far as the eye can see. And rain. Lots of rain (fourteen plus inches already, since October 1st) and winter hasn't officially started yet.

So with moss beginning to form between my toes, this is the time of year I start wondering how a beach girl like me ended up here. And dream of running away to a cottage by the sea. *sigh*

Then, lo and behold, on a walk with my dog, I spy a most unusual thing in the middle of a forest of Douglas fir and cedar. Yes, I recognized it immediately. A broadleaf evergreen - still decked in its shiny green leaves when every other deciduous tree has long since dropped theirs. But how could it be? There are no trees like these within 30 or 40 miles, with their primary range starting 150 miles to the south.

I walked closer to be sure, and yes . . .

There was the telltale red peeling bark on its trunk. I know these trees - they grow all over Northern California and Southern Oregon, in climates a bit warmer and sunnier than here.

A Madrone Tree.

But what was it doing there - all by its lonesome? I've trekked through these woods on foot and horseback and never seen another. Perhaps a bird dropped its seed here? Or a madrone seed fell from the track or tire of a piece of equipment working in the woods? Never mind. There - in a sunny clearing where it shouldn't be at all - grew a small, but apparently sturdy and hardy little madrone tree, about 15-20 feet tall.

It made my heart glad to spot such a familiar face, and maybe there is a message for me here, too. Perhaps I should quit whining and complaining about my whereabouts - and dreaming about places far away - and do like the little madrone.

Thrive and grow where I am planted.
Trust me. I am working on it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Taking the Reins

Okay, remember I promised you more Giveaways? Here, just in time for Christmas giving, is Alison Hart's adorable new book, TAKING THE REINS, perfect for that young horse lover on your list. And you can win it!!

Here's the description straight from the horse's mouth - actually direct from Alison's website:

Alison Hart’s latest book is Taking the Reins, an interactive story from American Girls where readers can select their own endings and imagine themselves as the main character, who rides horses at the Innerstar University™ stable. When she's invited to ride a spirited Quarter Horse in the next event, she has some tough choices to make. Will she find her confidence and climb on? With more than 20 different endings, readers can enjoy this book again and again, making different decisions to change the story. Plus, each book comes with a secret access code to unlock additional endings online!

American Girl: 120 pages
Ages 8 and up

Sounds pretty cool, huh? All you have to do be entered for a chance to win is:

Leave a comment below.

Followers of this blog (new and existing) get a second chance to win.

And repost or retweet this contest and get one more chance to win! (Let us know.)

Contest is open until December 12th, 2010 and book will be sent to U.S. addresses only to winner selected in random drawing.

And don't forget! Giveaway of Ginny Rorby's book HURT GO HAPPY, is still open until December 5th. Click here for details.

Good luck, everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A White Thanksgiving

Nature gave us a little holiday present yesterday, when an early snowstorm blew through and coated everything with white. Schools closed, roads and highways became an icy mess, and holiday travel was disrupted.

Our power went out, and instead of watching the finale of Dancing with the Stars, I finished reading a book with a cool LED headlamp my husband dug out.

This morning, with the storm over, the trees look decorated for the holidays, don't they?

Tonight it's supposed to be 11 degrees. All of the animals are inside, including our semi-wild cat and our very shy barn cat. We are tucked in front of the fireplace, waiting for . . . Thanksgiving.

Happy Turkey Day, Everyone!

Remember, Christmas is just around the bend. And for all you book lovers, our giveaway of two Ginny Rorby books (scroll down to previous post) lasts until December 5th. And more book giveaways will follow soon. Books by Alison Hart, Cynthia Chapman Willis, and well, just keep tuning in here to find out, and win books for Christmas giving, or for just plain reading and enjoying.

Gobble, Gobble.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet Ginny Rorby

Ginny writes novels for young people about the relationship between humans and animals. I have read two of her books, THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE and HURT GO HAPPY, each of which moved me to tears.

Tell us a little about yourself, Ginny. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get your start?

Becoming a writer had never so much as crossed my mind. English was my worst subject in high school. How I became one is a testimony to how a small act of kindness can change a person’s life.

In 1981, I wrote a letter to the owners of a dog a friend of mine found. The young dog was skin and bones, with maggot-filled sores on her sides, diseased eyes, and the only fur left on her body a single long patch down the back of her neck. I wrote her owners a letter describing how the poor dog ended her life. Of course, I had no one to send it to, so the letter stayed folded in a pocket of my purse a year.

In early August 1982, I was in the offices of the Miami News and, while waiting for the editor, I began cleaning out my purse and found the letter I’d written about the dog. I scrawled, We Found Your Dog, at the top of the page and gave it to the woman who came to review the pictures I’d brought to show her.

The next day, John Hopkins, a copy editor with the News, called my home and left a message with my husband—a single sentence. “Tell her,” he said, “if she can write like that, we’ll publish anything she writes.”

Because of that phone call, on a whim, I signed up for a creative writing class at the University of Miami. Eventually, with the encouragement of Evelyn Wilde Mayerson and Lester Goran, and a pat or two on the head by Isaac Bashevis Singer and James Michener I was, by 1985, committed to becoming a writer and began working on the novel that would eventually become my first book - DOLPHIN SKY.

What made you decide to write for children and young adults?

The first 6 rejects. My agent sent DOLPHIN SKY—per my request—to editors of adult fiction, all of whom sent it back with the same snappy little comment, “This is not adult fiction.” DS is the story of a young girl’s friendship with a pair of dolphins that were kept in a freshwater pond as part of roadside tourist attraction in the Everglades. I rewrote it, taking out the sex scene between her father and a visiting research biologist, and my agent started submitting it to editors of children’s fiction. Eight rejections later it finally sold.

I first became aware of your work through your new book THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE.” I adored this book and blogged about it earlier here and over on Equestrian Ink. Tell us a little about what led you to write it.

In 2007, I’d known for nearly 30 years that people in other countries ate horses. I even knew that during World War II, we ate them in this country, but it wasn’t until I saw a Katie Couric segment on the CBS News on June 8th about the slaughter of racehorses, that it occurred to me to write about horses. The statistics were appalling. In 2006, 100,800 horses were slaughtered to satisfy the appetite for horsemeat, primarily in the countries of France, Japan and Belgium. At the time this program aired, the last U.S. slaughterhouse had just been ordered closed in DeKalb, Illinois, by the now infamous Governor Rod Blagojevich.

I wrote the statistics down, but I still didn’t have an idea of where to go with the information. Then on July 4th, I was still idealess when Couric did a story about the horses that pull the caissons at Arlington National Cemetery. When they are not transporting the caskets of our Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, they are used for physical therapy for soldiers who have lost limbs in the wars. After that program, I had all I needed for the plot of THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, which is about an Iraq war vet who comes home missing a leg, and his daughter’s fight to bring him back from the abyss through their shared love of horses.

One of the themes that struck me in THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE was the healing power of a human/animal relationship. This has fascinated me for some time. Do your other novels have this same theme? Expand on this a little.

That is my shtick—so far. My new book, LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS (Lerner, March ’11) is a departure of sorts in that there isn’t an animal main character. Two kids go for a joyride in an airboat, sink it, and have to walk out of the Everglades. The Everglades is a main character in the book, which is about the healing power of the natural world. I have never understood the requirement of a roof over one’s head to praise one’s god. Talk about imprisoning the mind and the spirit.

Tell us a little about your background with animals, Ginny, and how that influences your writing.

I always loved animals, and was fascinated by them. As a little kid, I had a collection of animals in jars--dead lizards, snakes and birds found covered with ants that I’d rinse off in the lake, and then put in alcohol. I used to pick the bones out of owl pellets, then paste the reconstructed skeleton to the cardboard inserts that came in my dad’s Arrow shirts.

The mistreatment of animals pushes all my buttons, and I firmly believe that animal abuse and child abuse are linked. If you can mistreat one you can potentially harm the other. My books draw a parallel between these issues.

I recently read HURT GO HAPPY, your second novel, about the relationship between a deaf girl and a chimp who learns sign language. I was quite moved by this story. Did a great deal of research go into this novel?

At least a decade’s worth. I knew nothing about being deaf and less about chimpanzees. From idea to publication took 18 years. Note: Ginny is interviewed here explaining her research for HURT GO HAPPY.

Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you work from an outline, or set your characters on the page and just see what happens?

I really need the whole plot in my head before I start the research, then I let the research, and the stories I pick up in the process inform the story. In THE OUTSIDE OF A HORSE, every story in it is either true or based in fact. I just pieced them together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Ginny, you mentioned a new book coming out from Lerner called LOST IN THE RIVER OF GRASS, and I know you're working on a rewrite of DOLPHIN SKY. Sounds like you are one busy lady. Any other projects you can tell us about?

I’ve just finished a first draft of a book about a kid with Asperger’s syndrome, a ghost and a whale. I have another one written based on the book The Secret Life of Plants, and am working on one about an orphan and a dog. Oh, and there is the fictionalized memoir from my dead-animals-in-jars days.

Okay, final question, from one animal lover to another – what’s your favorite animal?

All of them. For the last six years, I’ve had a bat living in my upstairs bathroom for whom I leave the door ajar so he can come and go. It would be easier to answer which animals I don’t like: Cockroaches and Jerusalem crickets.

Ginny - thank you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Ginny and her books, please visit her website at

Book Giveaway!!

Ginny is giving away two copies of her award-winning book HURT GO HAPPY! Read about the book here. To enter:

* Leave a comment on this blog.

* Follow this blog for another entry (includes current followers)

*Repost or retweet this contest for another chance to win

Contest open through December 5th, 2010, when 2 (two!) winners will be chosen at random, and books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting in the Holiday Mood

Around our neck of the woods. What? Too early for Christmas you say?

Here's a scene I passed on my way into town today.

Christmas trees. Cut and Baled and being loaded into a truck.

The day before, they were lifted out of the field and onto a staging area by helicopter, in a scene similar to the one below.

The Pacific Northwest is prime growing area for Christmas trees, and most of them are shipped out of the area.

Perhaps your tree is in the stack below. You never know. . .

Merry Christmas, Everyone! (a little early)

Time to get in the Holiday Mood!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

By Half a Head

Ah - Horse Racing!

Zenyatta lost her quest to retire at a perfect 20 for 20 yesterday, losing the Breeders' Cup Classic by half a head, to a very good horse named Blame. But even in defeat, she gave us the heart-pumping excitement she is known for. Starting in a mere canter as the other eleven horses sprinted away from her, she was way, way back early on in the race, fifteen lengths behind the leaders, and barely looked as if she was involved.

With the Churchill Downs dirt flying in her face on a chilly November evening, Zenyatta rallied and began to catch up. When she set herself down to open up her long stride, here she came, picking off the pack one at a time. With just a quarter of a mile left, her jockey Mike Smith threaded her between horses and she ran like we've seen her do it before, flat out, running her huge heart out to catch the horses in front of her. Impossibly, it looked like she would do it again. And she almost did. She passed everyone, and caught up to Blame, only to lose the race by mere inches.

The crowd of over 72,000 was stunned. Her jockey broke down in tears at an interview shortly thereafter. How could the Queen lose? Impossible.

But Zenyatta, even in defeat, lost no fans. If any, she gained more in this race, proving that at six years old she is every bit as much a racing machine as she was at age three, and a crowd pleaser and people lover as well.

No matter what the future holds for this great mare, I say "Long Live the Queen." She has brought more new fans to the sport of horse racing then any horse, movie, or book I can remember in a long, long time.

In a year or two, few will remember the name of the one horse that beat her. But Zenyatta's legacy - her heart stopping performances, her physical presence and charisma, her record of 19 wins and 1 second, will live on.

Did you watch the race? Will you remember it? I know I will.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Horse Racing for (Complete) Dummies

Horse racing is one of my passions (obsessions.) A few people recently expressed interest in knowing a bit more about this sport, so I am writing this post from a complete beginner's angle. Bear with me if some of this information seems old hat to you, but if you stick with it, you might learn something of value.

Let's start with the very basics: the breeds of horses that run today on tracks in the United States. While there may be a few races on smaller tracks for Arabians, Paints, Appaloosas, and even mules - most of the Big Races, and the Horse Racing you see on television are for three breeds of registered horses:

Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds.

Standardbreds race in Harness Racing. They are not ridden; they pull a sulky and have a driver behind them, and they either trot or pace.

Quarter Horses run over shorter distances, from 220 yards to 870 yards, and they race in a blister of speed, with the races often over in a matter of seconds.

Thoroughbreds are the horses that race over longer distances, usually from 5/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles. The well-known names Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and the undefeated mare Zenyatta are all Thoroughbreds, and the horses that race in the Kentucky Derby (as well as the other two races in the Triple Crown) are all Thoroughbreds, too.

All of these horses are registered in their respective breed organizations (Thoroughbreds being The Jockey Club) so that even though you've read Walter Farley's THE BLACK STALLION series, and dreamed of being shipwrecked with a fantastic horse on a tropical island, and then bringing it back to the states and racing it in a famous race, well, without a set of papers to prove the horse's lineage, it's not gonna happen. (Although I have to say that the movie scenes of Alec and The Black on the island are probably my favorite bits from any movie, anywhere.)

So, how many of you can name all three races in the Triple Crown?

That's right, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. These races are run over a period of five weeks, starting with the first Saturday in May. Entrants must be three-year-old Thoroughbreds, and although they are usually colts, a filly can enter, and in fact, fillies have won the Kentucky Derby three times.

The reason it is so difficult to win the Triple Crown (must win all three races) is that the three races are run in three different states, over a short period of time, and they are over three different distances, with the Belmont, at 1 1/2 miles being the longest and most grueling. It takes a super horse to do it, and we haven't had a winner now since Affirmed in 1978 (32 years.)

What other types of races do Thoroughbreds run in? You might have heard of maiden races, claiming races, allowance races, and stakes races. For a good discussion on the differences in these types of races, click here:

Many of the televised races are the Grade 1 Stakes races. At the end of the year, there is a two-day series of races known as the Breeders' Cup, which showcases the best horses of the year, including from Europe, with races at various lengths and on both the dirt and the turf. This year the Breeders' Cup will be held at Churchill Downs on November 5-6, 2010, and will be televised on several channels. For a complete television schedule, click on my post right here at Equestrian Ink about the undefeated mare Zenyatta (who will be running in the Breeder's Cup Classic, against males, trying for her 2oth win.)

If you'd like to become more familiar with horse racing, check to see if you get the television channels TVG or HRTV. Both of these carry not only the big races, but lots of smaller races, lots of live commentary, and after watching for a bit, soon you, too, will feel like an expert.

Or, to see what it's like to go to a real track and experience the races live, check out my post here about a day at Santa Anita Racetrack.

If you have any other questions you'd like answered (like - what's a furlong? one eighth of a mile) please post them in the comments, and I'll try and answer them for you (or find someone who can.)

Between the new movie Secretariat and all the hoopla around the fantastic mare Zenyatta, horse racing suddenly has a lot of new fans. I hope you'll tune in for some great horse racing this weekend, and whatever you do - don't miss the race called the Breeder's Cup Classic this Saturday, November 6th to watch Zenyatta run.

Enjoy those thunderous hooves down the track!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dogs That Guide the Blind

Last weekend I toured the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Here's the visitor center, which includes an auditorium where graduations (for people and dogs) are held. The first thing you notice is there are dogs everywhere. Here is a young yellow lab in training.
In the past, different breeds have been used in the program, including German Shepherds and even Poodles. Today, Guide Dogs for the Blind uses 80 percent labs, either black or yellow, with some Golden Retrievers or Lab/Golden crosses.

The graduation ceremony is very special. The dog has passed a special training program of several months, and the legally blind student has spent time living on campus in a dorm, getting acquainted with the dog, and learning how to care for and work with it as a partner in life. Here, on stage, the people who raised the dog as a pup have an opportunity to transfer it to its new owner. There is joy and pride and many tears all around.

Puppy raisers are a special breed themselves. Getting their new charges at 7-8 weeks, they lovingly raise them indoors, socializing them and getting them used to as many new situations as they can. At age 14-16 months, the dogs are returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for advanced training. This entire program receives no government or federal subsidies, and is run solely on private donations with the help of many wonderful volunteers.

Here are some of kennels the dogs stay in while in training. Note the play equipment. Hey, even dogs need some time off. The lovely campus includes dorms for the recipients of the guide dogs, kitchens, a training area, and a state of the art veterinary hospital where the dogs receive the very best of care. They must learn to help a legally blind person negotiate city streets, getting on buses, going in and out of stores and climbing stairs and escalators, and even practice "intelligent disobedience" when they come upon a situation dangerous for their handler.

What? Why is there a cat on campus? Actually, there are two cats that live here. This one is Chester, and guess what his job is? Yes, of course, to acquaint the guide dogs with felines, which they certainly might encounter in their lives.

Not all dogs make it through the intense training. But these dogs are not called flunkies. Oh no. Here are a few dogs that didn't make it, and they are lovingly called "Career Changers." Some go on to become search and rescue dogs, or help people with autism or epilepsy. And some even retire as pets. Every single dog in the program is provided either a career or a loving home throughout its life.

There is a feeling of intense pride for those dogs that do make it through the rigorous training program and go on to become a Guide Dog for the Blind. This dog just graduated last Saturday, and went to live with his new owner. He almost looks as if he understands the enormous responsibility he's been given, doesn't he?

Here's the website for Guide Dogs for the Blind, if you'd like to know more:
Guide Dogs for the Blind has two campuses, in Oregon and in California. You can tour the campus and attend a graduation for free. (Click on the link above, and go to About, and then Campuses and Tours.) If you love animals, I highly recommend it.
Have you ever raised a guide dog pup? Think you could? What a wonderful gift to give someone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Horse Called Eagle

Or - why I love social networking. I belong to site called Goodreads and on that site, I recently listed a horse book I plan to read. It's by Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, and it's called THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS. That's a strange name for a book - but I related to it, because apparently the main character's father sells horses (like my father did) and in an effort to prevent her from becoming too attached to them, they all get named either George (for a gelding or colt) or Jewel (for a filly or mare.) This book is now on the top of my to-read pile, and I'm anxious to dive in.

So - last week I get a message on twitter (a tweet) from a horsewoman named Natalie Reinert, mentioning that THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS looks good. Natalie recently joined Goodreads, and friended me there (see how this works?) So I mentioned that once I owned a horse named Eagle, that my dad bought for me off a truck load of horses from Idaho. He was a flea-bitten grey, part Arab, and colored like the horse below. I loved his name - Eagle, and that's what I called him.

Sometime later I found out that the man unloading the truckload of horses called every horse Eagle that day. "Come on, Eagle. Easy there, boy. Whoa, son. Good boy, Eagle." Boy, did I feel dumb. But still, it was a good name.

So when I told Natalie that story, she messaged me back that she once owned a horse named - wait for it - Eagle, who arrived in Florida off a truck from Virginia. I know, small world, huh?

Anyway, Natalie gallops thoroughbred horses at Aqueduct race track in New York, she's a writer, and she has a fabulous blog. Read her post right here about the thrill of riding a horse out of the starting gate for the first time: Wow. I could never be so brave!

I am delighted to know Natalie, because we share a love of writing, reading, and horses. (Not to mention former horses named Eagle.)

Do you have a friend you've met through social networking, or a crazy story like that to share? Tell us. Or (gulp) have you, too, ever owned a horse named Eagle?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nap Cat

Fred, our shelter kitten, got his feelings hurt when I posted a picture (see my last post) of a darling sleeping kitten that I borrowed off the internet. No sooner did I mention that Fred never slows down and always zoom-zooms around, he promptly fell into an adorable nap . . .

in my purse.
"I may be 3 1/2 months old now, but I'm still cute too, right?"


"Right, Mom?"