"To be Jolly?" While I might put on a brave face and wish people Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays all over town, I also (probably like many of you) tend to get really stressed this time of year.
So much to do! So many loose ends to tie up to make everything perfect. And the weather is not cooperating. In fact, it's downright frigid! As it all begins to weigh heavily on me, I smile and try to stay happy. But it's sometimes hard, right?
So while you're racing all over town, trying to find that perfect gift for that special loved one and feeling more and more frazzled by the minute:
Take a deep breath.
Think about all of the things you are thankful for - the things that really matter.
Call a friend and wish them well (a friend called me this morning, to see how I was doing, and it was such a nice feeling.)
Realize that even with your best intentions, there is no such thing as perfect. Do the best that you can, and that will be enough.
Remember that presents and gifts are not the reason for this season. So whatever you believe, try and stay close to friends and family, be loving, keep your chin up, and spread good cheer!
A tall order, but you can do it!
Thanks for listening to me give myself a pep talk! *grin* Hang in there, everyone - and I hope your holiday season is going well!!
It's a sweet read if you are sitting by your fire watching it snow. Or maybe, like me, you are (finally) watching the snow melt, celebrating the fact that the temperature is now above freezing, after a long week of frigid weather. Either way, kick your feet up, relax this weekend, and enjoy a free story that will hopefully warm your heart for the holidays!
So go! Start your e-readers! (Or the Kindle app on your phone, tablet, laptop, whatever!) Go forth and download! Then make yourself a cup of hot chocolate, dose it with some peppermint schnapps (if you're old enough) and enjoy this sweet holiday read. For Free!
What an interesting premise! It's actually the idea behind a cute horse book that I just finished, from author Jackie Anton. Called Frosty and the Nightstalker, it takes place in both the 1900s and the 1800s, with human and horse characters from each time period.
Frosty is a young appaloosa horse who begins to have a very bad dream when under a tranquilizer, given by a veterinarian for an operation. Later, as he goes on trail rides with his owner, he has difficulty at water crossings. More than normal difficulty, it seems.
Many horse people make jokes about their horses spooking at tiny things, chiding their mounts: "what, did you just see a ghost or something?" But in Frosty's case, every time he crosses a river or stream, the memories come deep and strong - as if transporting him to another place and time.
Which leads us to the other part of this story, set in the 1800's, where a horse named Nightstalker, who belongs to a herd of appaloosas owned by the Nez Perce tribe, is about to experience changes and adventures he could not possibly foresee.
Author Jackie Anton does a good job here, weaving elements of both history and horse knowledge into a very interesting concept for a horse book. With lovely illustrations by Sandy Shipley, there is much information and lore about horses in general, and appaloosa horses in particular, that a young horse lover might enjoy.
Frosty and the Nightstalker is actually Book 2 of the author's series called Backyard Horse Tales. You can find links to buy them, as well as excerpts, at Jackie Anton's website: http://talesbyjackie.com/Jackie/Welcome.html
And for you horse people, next time you ride a horse that spooks at something, you might wonder what is really going on in his mind!
Ah, Thanksgiving! For many of us, it means a gigantic meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and whatever other trimmings your family puts on the table. And yes, family and friends. With any luck, we'll get to spend the day with our families, enjoying each other's company, swapping stories, eating too much, and then peacefully kicking back and relaxing.
For me, although this week seems hectic, with shopping and cleaning and preparing for the big day, it also makes me pause and reflect on things for which I'm truly thankful.
Here are a few of them:
I am thankful for a loving and supportive family. Although some of us are far apart, my family members are close in spirit, and we try to stay active in each other's lives. We almost always end each conversation with "I love you."
I am thankful to have enough to eat. I realize how lucky I am to be able to push away from the table, saying "enough" when there are many people in this world not so fortunate.
I am thankful I have a roof over my head, and a warm house to live in.
I am thankful for my animals, which bring joy and laughter into my life.
I am thankful for my health, which I sometimes take for granted.
I am thankful for my smarts and my education, which allows me not only to write, but also to read well.
I am thankful for time to dream, time to write, and time to relax.
I am thankful I don't have any plans to go to Black Friday Sales.
I am thankful to get to know you, my readers, and connect with you through my books.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Stay safe, and I hope that however you celebrate the holiday, it's a good one for you. Gobble, Gobble!
I just finished reading a great book for dog lovers - young and old - Darling, Mercy Dog of WorldWar 1. One of a series of new books from Peachtree Publishers called Dog Chronicles, this one sheds light on service dogs used during the First World War. Written by Alison Hart, author of numerous books for children and teens, it is perfectly suited for upper elementary, as well as older readers.
Told from the dog's point of view, we follow Darling from her family life in England to the trenches of war in France and Belgium. Just as the book (and movie) War Horse informed us of the plight of so many horses during this horrific war, this book shows another group of animals who were also useful. Personally, although I'm a huge dog and animal lover, I was largely unaware of dogs being used for messengers, scouts and mercy dogs during this time period.
Here's a short summary:
At home in England, Darling is a mischievous but much loved pet to Robert and Katherine. But when the British military asks families to volunteer their dogs to help the war effort, they send Darling off to be trained, even though it is very hard to say goodbye. Darling goes through training along with many other dogs and is ultimately used as a mercy dog, seeking out injured soldiers on the battlefield and leading the medics to them. After saving the lives of numerous soldiers, Darling is faced with a major challenge.
What I liked about this book: I learned something new. Mercy dogs were taught to go quietly through the battlefields, amidst the noise and chaos, to search for injured and wounded soldiers. Then they would return to seek help.
It has some great interior illustrations from Michael G. Montgomery, which lend an element of understanding to the text.
I also liked that although the horrors of war are touched upon, they are not dwelt on excessively in this book, making it (in my opinion) suitable for children. The story is mostly about what the dog Darling goes through in her ordeals, the human connections she makes along the way, and *Spoiler Alert* it has a happy (although not perfect) ending, which is one reason I am recommending it. And yes, I did shed a tear or two at the end. It got to me.
Darling, Mercy Dog of World War 1 is available in hardback from your local independent bookstore, or from online retailers. It's definitely one to put on your Christmas list for young dog or animal lovers.
On this Veterans Day, we honor all veterans, past and present. I truly appreciate all of the men and women serving in our armed forces, and offer thanks and gratitude for their sacrifices.
For many of us, today marks a holiday from work or school. With cold weather settling in, some of you might enjoy curling up with a good book. Or a short story. So for today only, November 11th, my brand new eBook, called The Winter Kitten is FREE on Amazon.
Introducing The Winter Kitten - a brand new short story available today as an eBook on Amazon.
Brianna doesn't know how she'll make it through her first winter in Portland. It
rains too much, she misses her mother and the country life they once shared, and
with Christmas coming up she's having a hard time adjusting to life with only
her dad. When she finds a kitten trapped in their garage, Brianna is sure things
will get better. But nothing goes as planned, and Brianna wonders what she's
gotten herself into.
Inspired by a real-life experience with a kitten named Xena, I hope this story will warm your heart in any season.
I originally started this to be part of an anthology. Then it morphed into something a little longer, I added characters and thought, hmm, I wonder if I could publish it myself? Many of my friends have gone this route, but my previous books have all been with publishers.
So I waited, thought about it some more, got some help with the cover and editing and voila! I did it!
It's available at present in the Kindle version. If you don't own a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app from Amazon onto your phone or computer (for free) and read it there.
Hey Everyone - my last 3 books came out with Musa Publishing - an ebook publisher that is now two years old. And they're having a 30% off sale to celebrate, with different titles each week.
This week, until October 28th, all young adult and middle grade titles from Musa's Euterpe Imprint are on sale. So jump on over and check out lots of awesome reads at a great price - including three of mine:
Think of all the derogatory remarks you hear about them -
Laying an egg: to do something bad or poorly A bunch of old hens: women who sit around and talk incessantly Hen-pecked: a man who lets a woman walk all over him, because the rooster should rule the roost (really?)
Well, I'm here to tell you that hens are pretty darn amazing and cool.
These are my three adorable hens, from front to back: Daisy, Fluffy, and Dory.
Daisy (a Buff Orpington) lays an egg a day, with no problem or hassle whatsoever.
Dory (a Silver-Gray Dorking) is a little more nervous, and frets about the whole thing. Daisy sometimes sits outside the nesting area and sings a hen song to her, which I'm sure goes something like this: "Come on darling, lay that egg. Have no fear, we're here for you."
Fluffy ( a Salmon Faverolles) sits near Dory and Daisy, learning what to do. She actually laid her very first egg two days ago, and another one this morning. (So proud of her.)
These hens have wonderful community spirit, and I know they share information and support for one other.
I'm starting on a brand new project in life, too, and I have two author friends who have been giving me encouragement and support. Maggie Dana and Barbara Morgenroth, two successful indie authors, have taken me under their wing, so to speak (don't you love all my chicken metaphors?) and are giving me advice and egging me on (ha!) to hatch my secret project.
I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. Hopefully an announcement here soon.
And I hope I don't Lay an Egg - although truthfully, to do so successfully is really a remarkable achievement, don't you think?
Please welcomeauthor Heather Lockman today. She writes about the Pacific Northwest and she has a brand new novel out from Musa Publishing - which won an Editors Top Pick award. And I love this cover - don't you?
Heather, tell us a little about The Indian Shirt Story.
It's a book that's hard to pigeonhole--part love story, part
modern politics, part historical saga. I call it literary, my agent calls
it women's fiction, and my publisher is marketing it as
literary/contemporary. On the other hand, it's stayed consistently in the Top
100 "Native American" titles on Amazon since its release two weeks
ago. Portland Book Review calls it "charming, lovely, funny and sad,"
which is pretty much where I was aiming.
How did you come up with the idea
for this novel?
I once helped launch a historic house museum in the town
where I live--a pioneer home built by settlers who crossed the Oregon
Trail. There was a certain family story associated with the house that was
especially problematic for us because of the appalling way it portrayed American
Indian people. Yet it was an important story to the older generation of the
family and likely had its roots in something that really took place. All of that
got me thinking about what might have actually happened back in the 1850s, and
what the Native version of that same encounter might have been. So that's how it
started. The salmon, the beer, and the country music came later.
How long did it take you to write it?
Pretty much forever. The biggest surprise for me in writing
fiction is that takes just as long as writing nonfiction. I somehow thought it
would go faster if I could make things up. It doesn't. You still have to choose
What was the most difficult
part for you?
The hardest part was cutting for
length. I had to throw out about 30,000 words in order to hit the hypothetical
industry maximum of 120,000. And some of that stuff was really
How long have you been writing, Heather? Can you tell us how you got your start?
I was 19 when I sold my first article--a personal essay
to The Seattle Times. Two years later I sold my first national story to
The Christian Science Monitor. I've been very, very lucky to write
professionally ever since. It's been mostly a nonfiction career, though. I never
intended to write fiction.
So what happened?
I was writing a lot of magazine travel
stories, which obviously were assignments that required me to leave town. But
travel got increasingly tricky as my husband's aging parents started requiring
more and more assistance at home. When I had to postpone one trip three times
because of parental emergencies, I realized I'd hit a point where I could no
longer commit to magazine deadlines with any confidence that I could meet them.
It was my husband, bless him, who said, "Maybe this is when you write a novel."
That project got derailed periodically by eldercare, too. Let's just say that
when it came to writing the retirement home scenes in The Indian Shirt
Story, I had plenty of good material.
Both of your non-fiction books are about cities in Washington state. The Indian
Shirt Story takes place in a fictional town in Washington, right?
That's right. Although the fictional town of
Port Heron might seem a lot like some of the hipper small towns near
importance of a sense of place to you, and how it comes out in your writing.
I'm a fourth-generation Northwesterner. All four sets
of my great-grandparents uprooted their families from the Midwest and brought
them to Puget Sound country in the early 1900s. All that iconic Northwest
stuff--the scenery, the history, the salmon--is stamped right into my DNA. I'm
not sure I could write convincingly about any other place. At the same time, I
wanted to write a Northwest novel that wasn't all brooding and dripping with
moss. The contemporary plot of The Indian Shirt Story takes place in a
single Puget Sound summer--and summer is our big secret out here. Contrary to
popular belief, barely any rain falls in Seattle between July and
mid-October. People who move here thinking they won't have to water their
gardens in summer are in for a huge surprise.
Tell us about your decision to
publish The Indian Shirt Story as an eBook with Musa Publishing. How has the
experience been for you?
I waffled for more than a week before
accepting the contract from Musa. Literary readers have been notoriously slow to
embrace electronic publishing, and I knew I would to have to sell my readers on
a whole new kind of technology before I could sell them an ebook. But
traditional publishing has changed a lot, too. It's harder than ever these days
for an unknown writer to catch the attention of a major publishing house,
especially with mainstream fiction. I wrote about this subject on my own blog
recently, which is very handy for answering this question. Here's the link if
folks are interested:http://heatherlockman.com/blog/ebooks-and-real-books/
What’s next in your writing
career, Heather? Any new projects you can share with us?
These days my nonfiction career leans more toward writing text for museum
exhibits and outdoor interpretive panels, which is very different from writing
for magazines. I swore while working on The Indian Shirt Story that I'd
never tackle another novel, but it's possible I was wrong about that. We'll have
to see what happens.
I grew up with books. My mother read to me and I had exposure to lots of books around the house, and stacks of them from the library. I learned to read very early, somewhere between ages 3 and 4, I think. As a grown-up, I still adore picture books. I love reading them to children and I also read them myself.
So I was pleasantly surprised to spot one that felt so familiar on the shelves of our public library. I'm sure it was read to me as a child. I checked it out lovingly, and could hardly wait to dive into the pages again.
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, was first published in 1941 and won the Caldecott Medal as the most distinguished American picture book for children in 1942. It tells the story of a family of ducks who are trying to make it to the Public Garden, only to encounter traffic problems along the way.
Set in Boston, this book, which has sold over two million copies, still spoke to me as I re-read it again today. Of course I remembered the kindly policeman, who sends in a traffic alert for patrol cars to stop traffic so that Mother Duck can safely get her babies across the street.
Did this early story seep into my consciousness and make me a kinder, gentler person today?
I like to imagine that one of my best traits in life is kindness to animals. Was I inspired as a young child by the art and the words of Robert McCloskey?
Could this be why I stopped my car on the road just last week, so a family of fourteen wild turkeys could cross the road safely?
What do you think? Can kindness by learned from books? Does it seep in unconsciously from the literature young people are exposed to?
Do you have a favorite children's book that might have influenced your life? This is a totally un-scientific study, but let us know!
If you missed the first installment of my adventures with ducks, right here, we left off with my three boys ducks, Hershey, Snickers, and Roscoe, serenely swimming in their canal, and my plan to get them some girl ducks. So I found an ad for some Swedish Ducks, and since this was a breed that I wanted to try, off I went with my pet carrier, and promptly brought home Maggie, Mary Ellen, and Blue (back row.)
They were only 3 months old, and although they were feathered-out and appeared full-grown, they were really barely teenagers. But the boys seemed to like them (especially Roscoe, who took to them immediately) and everything went swimmingly at first.
Here is Roscoe with his "women." Maggie and Mary Ellen are Black Swedish, and Blue is a Blue Swedish.
The young ducks played like teenagers at a pool party. Splashing and chasing and diving and generally being goofy. I loved watching them. I adored the way they used their little feet, piddle-paddle, piddle-paddle as if they were bicycling, stirring up the mud and algae beneath them to get food.
Everything was peaceful on the canal for the first day or so, where the two big boys, Hershey and Snickers, hung out by themselves, while little Roscoe quietly shepherded the girls around their new surroundings.
But then . . . the big boys decided to act badly, chasing the young girls unmercifully, and it really wasn't pretty. It was a full out bar brawl, and the girl ducks were totally too young for all that. Finally, I had to separate them. *sigh* And then I had to make a choice. Did I really need all these ducks? Or should I find some of them a new home?
So . . . after much deciding . . . the two bad boys went to a new home, where they will each have their own wife. And guess who got to stay here on the farm, and escort three beautiful girl ducks around all day?
Little Roscoe, who had the last laugh after all.
Finally, all is peaceful on the canal once again.
Gentlemen, be nice to your womenfolk.
My latest passion is not a handsome stranger. It's not writing, or horses, or donkeys, or chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream (well maybe.) No, lately, I have been totally obsessed with Ducks!
Our new place has a small meandering irrigation canal running through it. And as the days warmed, I thought wouldn't it be cool to have some ducks floating there?
So, because I'm the kind of person who likes to learn about things first, (and get all of my ducks in a row *grin*) I promptly ordered every book that I could find from our local library on raising ducks/ geese/ or waterfowl.
I studied. And I googled. Do you know how many breeds of domestic ducks there are? Besides the normal white ducks (Pekin) and Mallards, there are Rouens, Cayuga, Muscovy, and Swedish Ducks. There are Crested, and Buff Ducks. Bantam ducks and Magpie Ducks. There are Khaki Campbells, Cayugas, and Indian Runner Ducks. And more!
Did I want just plain white ones, like the Aflac Duck? Or did I want something more exotic? The local feed stores were filled with adorable cheepy ducks, and there were online hatcheries where I could order whatever I wanted, to be delivered by the local postman. How to even choose?
After much consideration, I decided to find some already grown-up adult ducks to start. Although we have a very good dog, I didn't really trust my outdoor kitties to be nice to little cheepy things. And I was hoping to get some pretty ducks - something a little on the special side.
First, though, I had to convince wonderful hubby to build a secure duck pen. Because I knew that if we just got some ducks and turned them loose, they would soon be eaten by a predator, in the form of coyote, fox, raccoon, weasel, or who knows what else? And I didn't want tragedy and tears.
Soon, we had a duck pen and a duck yard. And I found three boy ducks (for free!) on Craiglist.
I named them Hershey, Snickers, and Roscoe. The two brown ones are Khaki Campbells, and Roscoe is a little mallard.
We kept them in the pen with kiddie swimming pools for a couple of weeks, until they got used to their new home and knew where they lived. And because I couldn't leave well enough alone, I found some more free ducks, and brought home Pork Chop and Prince William.
But Pork Chop was kind of a bully, and didn't play well with others. He hogged the pool and wouldn't let anyone else in, and then he started picking on little Roscoe (the mallard) and running him into the fence and biting him. Enough of that stuff! I gave both new ducks away the very next day.
I decided I'd just stick with my three very nice ducks, and started letting them out to wander down towards the canal. They meandered down and peeked, but decided it looked very scary, and would not go in at all. Until yesterday, when suddenly - all three of them were In The Canal!
And so today, since I saw how much fun my three ducks, Hershey, Snickers, and Roscoe are having in the canal, I came up with another brilliant idea.
Moving through the seasons at our new place, I've been amazed at the variety of wild plants sprouting and blooming. I've been researching them, cataloging them, and finding all of their scientific names.
I've thrilled to showy masses of native wildflowers on our side hill, and wafts of perfume drifting up from wild azalea and mock orange thriving in our wetlands area.
Mock OrangePhiladelphus lewisii
And yet the spot of color that suddenly appeared in a crack on our back patio caught me most by surprise.
Nature's will to survive is the most amazing thing of all to me.
After moving last winter, I was excited to identify the wild birds at our new house. We had the regulars that are easily spotted: robins, chickadees, juncos, and spotted towhee (a favorite.) We had a raucous hawk perching at the edge of our wetlands that I finally identified as a red-shouldered hawk. But as the songbirds returned for their spring courtship routine and I turned my ear to identify them, suddenly I was awakened every night by the ridiculously constant chattering song of something from the creek and marshes below us. What &*^$% bird sings all damn night?? I crammed the pillow over my head, forced myself to sleep, determined to find the source of all that racket.
Mind you, it wasn't a horrible song. Just a mixed-up mess of singing, whistling, and some other weird noises. After spending several days trying to spot the culprit out in the thicket of willows and brush down by the canal, I thumbed through every bird book I had. Was it a cat bird? ( I mean, some of the noises sounded like "mews.") A mockingbird? Finally, I turned to my trusted resource: the Internet! I googled "birds that sing at night," copied all the likely suspects, and then tried to find sound clips of each. Yes, this was an exhaustive process, but I was already exhausted from the dang bird singing all night. And now my curiosity had the better of me. I had to know what it was!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology operates a fantastic site with clips of the songs of every bird, as well as pictures and life histories, and maps of where they live. So I studied each bird, trying to determine which one I had. Whatever it was, it was nesting, and the way it carried on, it was obviously quite proud of itself.
Finally, I clicked on Yellow-breasted Chat. I had never heard of this bird. The Cornell site describes their song as "a collection of whistles, cackles, mews, catcalls, caw notes, chuckles, rattles, squawks, gurgles, and pops." Bingo! And after listening to the sound bite, I had my bird!
The Yellow-breasted Chat is a seasonal visitor, here for the spring and summer, and I suppose it will fly south to the tropics eventually. Maybe then I can get some sleep. Actually, I've grown kind of used to the racket now. Good night, little chatterbox.