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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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Life sometimes pulls us in one direction … then another … then another. Grabs us by the collar and says, “You need to take care of this, but be sure you do this, oh! and this!” The end result is we writers look quite absent from our blogs from time to time. But be assured, this writer is still here, just pulled in all those directions.

There’s been a boatload of work, which, as a freelancer, I will never complain about; preparation for my being a guest speaker at an Animal Writers Workshop (you can check that out here); preparation for the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) June Conference coming up in 2 weeks; the usual (un)expected running around for all manner of things, some pleasant, some less so; and, of course, reading! No matter what else is happening, I am always reading.

To this end, I’m going to catch you up on the wonderful books I’ve enjoyed.

After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein it was clear that I wanted to read more from this great mind. I perused Goodreads and requested A Sudden Light from my library. What a magnificent book. I will officially now read anything this man writes. A Sudden Light is a story told in the first person by 14-year-old Trevor who travels with his father to the family’s Riddell House in Oregon. His parents’ marriage is in trouble, and this trip to meet his aunt and grandfather is to allegedly settle some financial issues, put the grandfather in a nursing home, and dispose of the house. The home’s exterior is constructed of huge trees, and was built by Elijah, Trevor’s timber baron great grandfather. Trevor soon finds they are not alone in the house; there is a ghost, who has remained to see that Elijah’s last wishes be carried out, that the property be returned to a natural state as amends for the desecration he caused to the land. Somehow Stein has managed to put together an historical novel, a compelling ghost story, a tale of multi-generational conflicts and family secrets against a backdrop of the Pacific Northwest. Read more here and scroll down and visit The North Estate. Be sure not to read any spoilers!

Following this, I read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, a novel (her first) with a most unusual premise. Four children, brothers and sisters edging into adolescence, hot and bored in the Lower East Side summer of 1969, decide to visit a gypsy fortune teller who is said to be able to give you the exact day you will die. The kids do it on a lark, just for something to do. The eldest brags about how far in the future her date is; she’ll live to a ripe old age. Another sibling shares, but the two others are clearly shaken and will not reveal their dates. It’s all just a joke anyway, right? The following chapters follow the life of each child, as the reader, in suspended animation, follows the sibling’s choices leading up to the possible fulfillment of their individual prophecies. Warm, engrossing, a fascinating premise, and very well-written.

I then read the next in the Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny. I never thought I’d be interested in reading a series by anyone (at least not after my beloved Nancy Drew mysteries from my childhood) but Louise Penny changed my mind. Inspired by a post by fellow blogger Cynthia Reyes, I picked up a couple of Penny’s books from my local library and was very impressed. So much so, in fact, that I decided to read the entire series from the beginning (not one right after the other, but interspersed among other reading.) What a great decision! Penny is an excellent writer who knows how to hook you from beginning to end. With a cast of characters that one becomes more attached to with each book, mysteries unfold to be solved by Chief Inspector Armand  Gamache of the Surété of Quebec, the premiere investigative arm of homicide in that province. The Brutal Telling is book #5 and calls upon Gamache to solve the murder of an unknown individual whose cabin is buried in the woods surrounding the quaint village of Three Pines. The evidence points to a seemingly unlikely character, which can only leave the reader quite puzzled. Are they  really capable of murder? The book ends with that individual’s arrest, and we are left wondering.

The next book in the series, Bury Your Dead, is considered a companion to this one, so I elected to read it right after, and it does pick up quite literally where The Brutal Telling ended. What is engaging about Penny’s writing is that she is not just writing simple mysteries, but increasingly complex novels which explore Canadian culture and history from Vancouver to Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, to revered artists. Her characters grow realistically and empathically, and it’s very easy to become involved in their lives and the small town of Three Pines. If you like an absorbing mystery that will also give you a little more to sink your teeth into, look into this series. I suggest you start with the first in the series, A Still Life. There is a growing richness with each subsequent novel, and Penny will always keep you guessing until the end. Oh! And another small perk – whenever characters are eating, Penny always takes a moment to describe the deliciousness of their food. It’s a tantalizing little diversion each time.

I took a turn into another age group after this and read Crenshaw, a middle grade novel by Kathlerine Applegate, the author of a book I love (and own), The One and Only Ivan, an absolutely wonderful read. This story is about Jackson, a young teenage boy, and his family whose financial situation has changed from precarious to dire with them being forced to live in their minivan. Again. The story touches on an important subject, homelessness and the challenges faced by those who may be barely getting by. But there is another important character – Crenshaw himself, a very large cat. Crenshaw is Jackson’s imaginary friend from when he was a little boy, returned to be supportive of Jackson in his time of need … whether Jackson wants him there or not. Needless to say, this lends itself to moments of humor, but at its heart, this story is about resilience, friendship, and how we survive tough times. It was a good read, but for some reason, didn’t grab me the same way Ivan did. I’d still recommend it to the middle grade readers you know because we are all always facing some challenge or other, and this age group will appreciate Jackson and Crenshaw’s approach to a problem more common than most think.

I’m now reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, another terrific writer. I have read at least four of her other novels, The Poisonwood Bible being a permanent resident on a particular bookcase reserved for those books that I would definitely read again. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you about Flight Behavior somewhere in the vague timeframe of when I finish it.

Whether you are inspired by the stories mentioned above or are on a book path of your own, I will always wish you … Happy Reading!

 

 

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R.I.P. Cloudy
January 2008 – February 28, 2018

Where do you begin when someone you love passes away? When you have spent some part of almost every day saying hello, sharing some affection, a meal or two, and sometimes a kiss goodnight?

This being, as you can see, happens to be a cat – a cat to whom I became very attached over the last 10 years. Cloudy belonged to the people next door, as does Pumpkin. He was an indoor/outdoor cat – nicely set up in their garage at night and out during the day. Although he spent plenty of time curled up in his bed during the coldest winter days, he was out and about most days until the two boys were called in for the night.

However, he was on my back porch at one point or another almost every day (yes, it’s true, I do have food here), or greeting me when I pulled in the driveway. In the nice weather when I sat outside reading or drawing, he stretched out on my wicker coffee table, sat on my lap, or lay at my feet. He was snuggly and loved affection. Some nights, when he didn’t hear being called in to the garage, he would sit on the wicker table or at my back door, hoping I might put him inside. On these occasions, I would carry him across the backyard to the sound of loud purring and then know he was safe for the night. I also was fortunate in being able to take care of him and Pumpkin when my neighbors would go on vacation.

Cloudy may not have been “my” cat, but I loved him not one iota less than if he were truly mine. He was pure innocence, a very young soul, with not one mean bone in his body. Quite simply, he was so easy to love.  And that I did.

His life ended unexpectedly and far too young. I see him each time I look out the door, those wide eyes just waiting for recognition, hoping for a loving touch. I see him basking in the sunlight in front of a neighbor’s garage, and looking up when he’d be hugging my back door in the cold. I suspect I’ll be seeing him for quite some time, until he finally curls up in my heart.

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
– Anatole France

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It’s been a very long time since I wept so at the end of a book. And I mean wept. Even I didn’t see that coming. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an outstanding novel, told in the first person by Enzo, a dog. But don’t think that this is just some dog story – it’s not; it is skillfully told through the keen observation, devotion, and insightful outlook of a narrator who just happens to walk on four legs.

The main character, Denny, to whom Enzo has been deeply bonded since a small pup, is a race car driver, so periodically, there is background and information about racing. But don’t think this is a story about racing either – it’s not. Racing is a metaphor for life and how to live it, particularly racing in the rain, of which Denny is a master.

The first chapter begins at the end of Enzo’s life, where he wishes to be released with dignity. From watching “too much television” (according to Denny), Enzo has learned of a Mongolian belief whereby a dog who’s lived a good life will become human in his next incarnation. This is what Enzo aspires to, and despite his periodic dismay at not having speech and being unable to communicate what he knows, or to have been denied opposable thumbs, Enzo does his best to live a model life.

The second chapter begins the story of Denny, his love, Eve, their child Zoë, and the journey of their lives together. From Denny and Enzo watching race tapes on the TV, with Denny explaining all the details to Enzo, to Eve’s illness, to the in-laws overbearing attitude and ultimately cruel shattering of Denny’s life, we are drawn into a story – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – of a life that could be anybody’s. It’s always set against the backdrop of Denny’s aspirations to be an accomplished driver, and his teaching Enzo the subtleties of mastering the track. Enzo gets it. “Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.”

You do not need to have ever had a dog to appreciate Enzo or his telling of Denny’s story. But if you have ever loved a dog at any time in your life, you will be greatly enriched – and moved – by Enzo, and all that he is. Likewise, those familiar with racing will have the extra bonus of understanding the racing world references. But you don’t have to know anything about racing – as I do not – to understand the story, for again, in the end it’s not about racing, but life.

While we knew from Chapter One where this book would end, the impact is unexpectedly profound; the epilogue, deeply touching. If nothing else, Enzo is a remarkably skilled writer. I had not realized how invested I was in this story … and in Enzo … until the end. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a keeper.

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It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without something a little sweet, right? How about an adorable pied Frenchie who’s discovered some just-frosted sugar cookies? (And is about to do something very naughty!) That’s sweet x 2!

Order these sweet French Bulldog Valentine’s Day cards on my website or in my just-opened Etsy shop and put a smile on the faces of the special someone(s) in your life.

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One of the wonders of nature is the movement of large numbers of animals in a synchronization we can only observe in awe. In fish, we see schools, in insects, swarms, and in birds, we see flocking. It is a mesmerizing dance. Above we see crows, below starlings.

In the video linked to here, titled The Starling and Falcon Dance by Nick Dunlop, set to the most perfect music, we see thousands of European Starlings migrating south. They have attracted a prime predator, the Peregrine Falcon, and in attempting to evade him, they fly in synch and create amazing patterns in the sky. As fascinating as these photos might be, they cannot show you the magic created by the birds in flight.

Please take a look at one of nature’s miracles.

 

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The internet is an incredible source of so many things, and some incredibly wonderful. This is one of those, and brings tears to my eyes each time I watch it. So simple, so beautifully and brilliantly done. Just 3 minutes you won’t regret. Go full screen.

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`Tis the season, and while you – or friends and family – are thinking of purchasing cards to send, it’s my season to give you some options!

Consider these two adorable Frenchies who have made it up to the kitchen table to have themselves a small feast of Christmas cookies. Anyone who has dogs – or cats – understands the possibility of coming into the kitchen and finding just such a scene. Have a counter surfer in your house? This is just a variation on a theme!

You can find these and other holiday cards on my website, as well as charming blank notecards that would make great gifts. Please shop!

 

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It’s time! For those of you old-fashioned folk who still love to write out and send Christmas or holiday cards, please check out these Frenchie darlings ready to travel miles with nothing but your love and a stamp.

Featuring my own artwork, this card is called “Toasty Warm”, because who wouldn’t be with those little sweaters and pom-pom knitted caps? You can order my Toasty Warm French Bulldog holiday cards through my website, and send something adorable to your friends and loved ones.

As is the case with many things nowadays, the art of hand writing cards and notes seems to have fallen out of favor with some in favor of the speed of the internet. And here’s where I disagree – there is nothing like opening your mailbox and discovering a bona fide greeting card – be it for Christmas, the holidays, or some other occasion – written out just to you. It has always been special and, in my opinion, will always be special. (As a parallel note, by the way, Kindle sales have fallen and sales of real, 3-dimensional books for children are on the upswing.)

There is something about the smile you feel when holding a card in your hands, displaying it on the mantle, and looking at it whenever you feel like it, that can’t be replaced by the digital. So check out all my French Bulldog holiday cards, and discover what you would like to send!

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It was my plan to post a drawing I did of two whales. I went through my recent sketchbooks, and they seemed to have swam away. But what kept appealing to me was this pen and ink sketch I did of a spirit bear.

Spirit bears are snow white bears, not albinos, that live only in a specific area of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests on earth. This is a partly protected area in the islands and coastal areas of British Columbia. They are actually a rare subspecies of the American black bear known as a Kermode bear, most of whom have dark coats. The double recessive gene for the white coat must be carried by both parents in order to produce the white spirit, or ghost, bear. They are looked on as sacred by the indigenous tribes of the area, and have become symbolic of these people’s fight against proposed desecration of the rainforest by those wishing to build a pipeline there. It is unclear how many spirit bears there actually are, but estimates run from 150 to 200.

Learn more about the Spirit Bear.

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This image is currently on my desktop and that little kid puts a smile on my face and makes me think.

When I look at her, I see she is doing exactly what she – a mountain goat kid – is supposed to be doing and what comes naturally. Leaping. She’s not thinking about it or getting all nervous about it or wondering will she twist her ankle if she leaps really high. She just leaps.

Were it that easy for us humans. Okay, I’ll speak for myself. Over the course of my life I have taken numerous leaps of faith, and often without any tangible safety net. Each time, I truly amazed myself because clearly, I didn’t think I had it in me.

I was musing earlier about the time when I got on a plane to Portugal at 21 years old to visit my cousin who lived in a tiny fishing village in the farthest point north of the country. I’d only been on a plane once, and never abroad. What was funny in retrospect is that I was too young and naive to even know what a leap of faith I was actually taking. My flight was delayed at JFK by 6 hours and was going to get me into Lisbon far later than my cousin and I had planned and I had critical train connections to make. There were no cell phones, no means of communication like that and I was alone. In my utter panic, because of course I had not thought to learn any Portuguese other than “Bom Dia”, I began asking about for help using my high school French and entreated a bi-lingual Portuguese gentleman to help me. He wrote notes for each of the two train masters and one for, hopefully, a cab at the other end. I arrived after midnight in the pitch black of the countryside, but got delivered safe and sound to my cousin’s house. How did I do it?

Over 10 years ago, I took a very conscious leap of faith to leave a secure job and go freelance so I could pursue my dream of writing and illustrating children’s books. My income was not even covered, but I believed that somehow, despite my many apprehensions, I would be okay. I’d be lying if I said that the time in between hasn’t had its stress, crises and challenges, yet I made it. Except for one thing. I haven’t made nearly the progress I had hoped towards my dream. The next leap is before me.

And that’s where that little mountain goat comes in. Sometimes we can feel like we are suspended in mid-air. We know we jumped; in fact it may have been necessary to jump, or we sorely need to, but how we land depends on us. I want with every fiber of my being to be as sure-footed as that little kid, who knows in her heart of hearts, in the deepest recesses of her mountain goat soul, that she will land safely and securely, most likely on all fours.

Søren Kierkegaard once said, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.”

I stand at the edge, breathe in my inner mountain goat, and leap.

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I do. Even if I’m not doing very much of it at this very moment.

Yesterday I received a notice from Pinterest that someone had pinned one of my French Bulldog drawings from one of my boards which features only my own Frenchie artwork. (I have others I’m working on, but they’re not active yet.)

I don’t know why I feel so inordinately touched when someone pins one of my drawings, but I do. Why do I still feel so surprised when someone appreciates my work? Since many people actually do, I thought to share a drawing I did not too long ago of a grey wolf.

I have a deep fondness for wolves and feel very connected to them. I actually feel connected to all animals, and my work in Frenchies has simply been part of my path. When I visited the board where this kind person had pinned my French Bulldog pencil drawing I was greeted not with just Frenchies, but drawings of all kinds and subjects. I was entranced. They reminded me of how much I really do love to draw. I felt inspired.

I realized I need to make time. Not find it, but make it. It’s a challenge in an overly busy schedule, but when I looked at all those drawings, I felt happy. I felt happy because I know that that’s inside me. And I don’t have to draw for a reason, such as working on my portfolio or illustrating one of my picture books; I can draw just because I like to draw. It’s seems like such a novel idea, yet it’s hardly a new one.

And so, once again, I am offered a lesson I haven’t yet learned – different time in my life, different presentation, somewhat of a variation on a theme. I do believe that we all have lessons to learn in our lives, and we will be given them again and again until we catch on. Sometimes I feel like a pretty slow learner, but I’m sure it’s all unfolding exactly as it should.

And for those who’ve read this post, and who very possibly agree, I thank you for stopping by, for briefly being part of my world and perhaps sharing yours, both of us unfolding together.

 

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