Your Favorite Book at Age Six

It may only be April, but I’m working on my Christmas/Birthday gifts.  A bunch of my nieces have fall birthdays, so there is a lot of money spent after September 1.  Years ago I realized it was smarter to buy everything throughout the year.

Of course, I am the aunt who always buys books.  Because who can have too many books?  This was so easy when they were young.  I just grabbed a book and read it multiple times in the store.  If I could still stand it after the tenth time through, I got the book.  (After all, I might be reading the book a lot.)

Now they are old enough to read by themselves.  I am completely stuck.  It occurs to me that you, my reader, might have an idea about books for kids.

So, what did you love when you were six?  Leave your favorite book’s title in the comments below, along with why you loved the book.

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Do You Ever Agree to Do Too Much?

It never fails to amaze me how I take on too much.  Trying to break into writing is hard.  We added a baby and I decided I could watch Cheekies and write without a Mommy’s Assistant.  We lost Ammo, so I got a puppy.  My husband is being promoted and I agree to homemade cheesecakes and ice cream.  Homemade by me, of course.

Because I have nothing better to do with my day than spend the day working in a hot kitchen.  Making a mess when the mixer was at a higher speed than I wanted it because a baby pushed the lever.  (Eggs, sugar and cream cheese went all over the place along with whipped cream!)  Of course there were already Cheerios all over the floor.

I distinctly remember volunteering to make and decorate a sheet cake.  It would have taken less time over multiple days.  And Lumpy could have helped by watching Cheekies Assistant.  But, no, I agree to way more than I probably could handle.

Am I the only one who agrees to almost everything?  There has to be a twelve step program for people who agree to do too much.

Going Without Shoes 2012

Yesterday was the first time in a long time I didn’t leave the house during TOMS One Day Without Shoes.  It was weird.  Cheekies and I did go shoeless in our backyard.  It isn’t the same as going out and about.  The backyard also isn’t a walk in the park.  I came back inside with tons of stickers stuck in my heels.  You can guess how much fun that was.

I did take a few pictures of Cheekies’ feet.  See these feet?  They look perfect.  They are perfect.  Could you imagine these feet broken, cracked, bleeding because I didn’t have the money to get shoes for Cheekies?  I can’t.  TOMS is only one company that gives shoes to kids.  And TOMS works with “giving partners,” or Non-Government Organizations.  These NGOs could always use your donations.  Check out a few so little feet like these don’t ever cause a child pain.  (And so little legs always stay the right size and don’t balloon up because of a disease that they got from a cut in these cute feet.)  May I suggest World Vision?

One Day Without Shoes is Today

Today is TOMS One Day Without Shoes 2012.  Cheekies and I are going barefoot.  Why go barefoot?  To bring attention to the shoeless epidemic.  Is there really a shoeless epidemic?  What is so wrong about going barefoot?  Is this really that serious?

I could write an entire blog post.  Wait, I did last year.  Below you will find a repost of a post I wrote last year that will answer all those questions.  If you need more answers, go to http://www.onedaywithoutshoes.com.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about Cheekies and my experience without shoes today.

It’s not book related, but I wanted to share one of my favorite activities with you.  Every year the gang at TOMS Shoes holds “One Day Without Shoes.”  I love being involved, but thanks to a doctor who doesn’t think it’s a great idea while pregnant, I won’t be an active participant this year.  I’ll blog about last year’s great experience while on vacation, and I’ll try doing as much as possible without shoes if I’m out on the 5th of April.

Why go without shoes?  To bring to light a huge epidemic in our world.  A lack of shoes.  Yeah, I hear a lot of people questioning why this is an epidemic unless you’re a woman whose best friend is the Dillard’s Shoe Department.  If only it was that simple.

Shoes are the most important things in the world.  Imagine living in a developing country where there is no sanitation.  The ground is covered with feces, soil with diseases, mud, used medical supplies, urine (human and animal), glass, sharp metal and other bits of trash.  Rocks so sharp they can cut your feet are scattered all over the ground.  And you have to walk miles upon miles to find clean water, medical help, food, and if you’re lucky go to school.  (Oh, and you don’t have the money or means to prevent or treat any disease you get from your walk.)

Imagine walking being harmful to your health.  Podoconiosis shows up from being exposed to an irritant soil, usually volcanic soil, day after day.  Your feet and legs swell to the point they look like they belong on an elephant.  Don’t click this link if you are easily offended, but Wikipedia has pictures of people suffering from Podoconiois.  Imagine being a child and living with the disease.

The worst thing is Podoconiosis is 100% preventable!  How can you keep yourself safe and healthy?  Shoes!  I’m not kidding.  All it takes is simply wearing a pair of shoes and you can’t get this horrible disease.  It’s not the only disease one can get due to a lack of shoes, especially in developing countries.

How can you help?  Glad you asked.  First, tell everyone you know about how important shoes are in daily life.  A great way to get the message across is One Day Without Shoes.  Even if you go for just an hour without shoes people will ask you lots of questions.  Check out the website and participate in a community event with other concerned people going without shoes for children around the world.

Get online!  Spread the message to your buddies via Twitter, Facebook, and your blog.  Email your friends and families.  Blog or microblog about your day without shoes.  I’m really thinking of doing some shopping without shoes, even if the doctor is against the idea.  Pregnant women in developing countries and in parts of the US can’t afford shoes to protect them and their fetuses.  Why can’t I do a few minutes in a parking lot without a pair of shoes on my feet?

Get the kit from TOMS!  It’s free, and the graphics are really, really, really cool.  Besides, you really wanted a new graphic for your Facebook account and your Twitter account.  Oh, and there are widgets for your blog, too.

Go a day without shoes!  I thought I knew what life without shoes would be like before I participated last year.  Turns out life isn’t all that great, especially when your grandma’s yard is filled with poky plants, not nice soft grass.  If for some reason you think going without shoes makes you look crazy, go to TOMS and buy a flag.  (It’s $5 off the website.)  Buy a necklace, and TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a kiddo.  (Which means for $28 you get a necklace and that great feeling of giving the gift of a healthy life to a kiddo.)  By a t-shirt, and the gang at TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a kiddo.    Or create your own t-shirt with the stencils online.  I’ll be in my really cool Threadless t-shirt from last year.  (Assuming it still fits, or I’m going with my TOMS shirt from 2 years back.  Get your friends involved and create an event.  Heck, TOMS even created a letter for you to use.  They believe in making it easy.

And when it’s all done, and you really want to slip back into your shoes, don’t let it stop there.  Tell your friends and family and your online community what you did during your day.  Let them know how living without shoes changed your life.  Pass the word on that shoes are one of the easiest ways to stop diseases.

PS: Can you tell this is one cause that’s really close to my heart?

Sickle Cell, A Baby, A Puppy & In-Laws

The last week has been physically stressful.  I have Sickle Cell Disease.  Yes, last I checked Sickle Cell is a “black problem.”  And I’m pretty sure I’m white.  In reality calling Sickle Cell Disease a “black disease” is wrong.  More and more doctors are realizing that Sickle Cell doesn’t discriminate.  It is pretty equal opportunity.  But because it is considered “below white people” – or that is what I figure the problem is – doctors refused to diagnose me as a child.  I just had “severe” anemia.

Needless to say, now that I know what is killing me I go through life differently.  It amazes me most mornings when the sun comes up.  Having Cheekies?  That’s a miracle that was supposed to kill both of us.  (Actually getting pregnant was a miracle.)

But I admit things get hard.  Champ is a puppy, and when I have a flair up Champ can take a lot out of me.  Champ and Cheekies together can wear me out.  It means I need time to get well.  And there is where the problem comes in.

My wonderful in-laws have one grandkid; Cheekies.  To make it worse we are 700+ miles from the in-laws.  My mother-in-law has spent years hoping for a grandchild.  Which means every time I turn around she’s calling with great news.  “We want to come for a visit.”  Of course, I usually say “Sure, why not.”  After all, Cheekies is their grandchild.  It doesn’t matter how sick I am.  It didn’t matter last weekend that the world spun every single time I stood.  I still let them come.

You can guess what happened.  The in-laws had a great time with Cheekies.  They spent so much time here we didn’t eat lunch.  (Which is a huge problem when your body can’t produce hemoglobin.)  After they left I was ready to collapse, but Lumpy needed a nap.  Being a woman I let Lumpy recharge Sunday.  After all, Lumpy has to work.

And that’s when things went from bad to really bad.  By Tuesday my blood pressure was so law it wasn’t funny.  I couldn’t stand and I’m pretty sure I fainted while letting Champ out at 2:00 in the morning.  At least I think I fainted.  The world went gray and I woke up with my nose on the floor.

Lumpy took yesterday off.  He said something about not trusting me.  A day in bed was extremely useful.  My hemoglobin is still low, but my body had 24 hours of repair time.  Did I get any writing done?  Nope, I could barely put together two syllables to form words.  But I should get some done today while Cheekies nap.

Introducing Champ!

In one of those great moments of weakness I decided we needed another dog.  We lost our greyhound, Ammo, back in November and our old girl, Jet, didn’t adjust to being an only pup.  Jet especially didn’t adjust to Cheekies finding Jet interesting.  Our veterinarian highly suggested we think about adding to our family.  In fact, Doc Morrow went as far as picking out a shelter for us to visit and a dog to look at.

A week ago we went out to Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary.  Safe Haven is a no-kill shelter in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  There we were greeted by Jeff, the sanctuary manager.  Jeff let us leave Jet in a spacious dog run the size of a yard while we walked through the kennels in search of our new companion.  Jeff took us to the kennel of a poor pup named Champ.  Champ has been at the sanctuary since last June.  His first family gave Champ up because of Champ’s size.

Champ is an Anatolian Shepherd.  If you have never seen an Anatolian Shepherd they are rather large dogs.  Large may not be the right word.  They are giants.  Anatolians were bred for one reason and one reason alone; to protect stock out in the middle of nowhere Turkey.  Anatolians are fast, clocking around 35 miles per hour in their glory days.  (Slightly less than a greyhound which clocks at 43 miles per hour.)  They are lean, but large.  Some are very furry, like Champ.  Others aren’t that hairy.  These wonderful creatures are very protective of their “flock” or “herd” but since they were bred to keep lions, bears and such away from the stock Anatolians aren’t exactly prone to attack.  Anatolians will act larger than they are in an attempt to get you to back down.  They have a stubborn streak a mile wide.  Anatolians are a bit headstrong.  It’s like dealing with a stubborn teenager.  But, Anatolians are really big lovable teddy bears with their people and stock.  (Anatolians have also been used by Jack Hanna to help cheetahs.  You can read about it in Frenemies for Life.)

Anywho, we decided that an Anatolian Shepherd would work for our family.  Jet seemed okay with Champ when we introduced her.  Jet does look small compared to Champ.  It was love at first sight for Cheekies and Champ.  (I’m pretty sure Champ thinks Cheekies is a little puppy.)  Lumpy made friends quickly.  Within about fifteen minutes we decided we were bringing Champ home with us.

And that is when the fun began.  Champ has always been an outside dog; until now.  This means housebreaking an adult dog.  (Which is surprisingly easy when you already have a dog that is housebroken.)  Champ has never been with a senior dog.  That has added a whole new set of things to teach him.  Champ couldn’t understand why Jet didn’t want to run around and play.  Poor boy doesn’t understand that someday he’ll be old and may have cancer, too.  Luckily, Champ is almost three so he isn’t as active as a puppy.  We are teaching Champ not to lick the baby to death, even if the baby giggles happily whenever Champ gives her a kiss.  And there is the big one: No growling at Jet!

Obviously, it is a bit harder than I thought.  So far we have come quite far.  Champ has stopped growling.  Well, most of the time he doesn’t growl.  He has begun understanding the rules for living with a senior dog.  In fact, for only being together a week life is going great.  The only thing that has really suffered is my writing.  Between the vacation and Champ I may not get a short story written this month.  Oh well, this will work itself into a story soon enough.

Our New Dog, Champ
Champ's First Day

I’m Back After the Baby

I’m back.  The last couple of months have been pretty horrible.  Between my health and the rejection emails piling up, I couldn’t bring myself to blog.  Okay, it was more my health than the rejection letters.  The rejection letters convinced me that I wanted – no, that I needed – to work on my manuscript.  While my health interfered, I managed to rewrite parts of the manuscript.  I also began two more manuscripts.  Plus, I started and finished a couple of short stories for competitions.

After spending a few months extremely sick because I was pregnant, I gave birth in early August to a beautiful baby girl.  I was induced, and in labor for over three days.  (Not much fun, in case you are wondering.)  “Delivery” was all of five minutes, a lot of blood loss on my end, and one very blue and purple baby who wasn’t breathing was the result.  Thankfully, after the cord was removed from her neck, and CPR was performed, there was a very small little cry.  Not bad for a thirty-six (almost thirty-seven) gestational week baby.  The baby is fine, now.  She recovered a lot quicker than I have.  I’m still on bed rest, and now under the care of my general practitioner.  (My general practitioner is smarter than the OB/GYN doctors, if you remember how stupid those doctors were.)

With my general practitioner’s permission, I am back blogging!  (She had me pretty much sleeping for the last three weeks.)  Now that I’m back, this should get fun.  Like I said earlier, I have a couple of new short stories for Glimmer Train Press’ monthly contests.  The baby is extremely easy at the moment.  All she wants is me to just lean back and place her against my torso.  Oh, and change her when she’s wet, and feed her.  (Yes, the little one cries when she’s wet.  That includes bathtime.)  I’ve redone the manuscript, and I’ll send out queries again soon.

Life is slowly going back to normal.  Hopefully that normal doesn’t include lots of rejection letters.  Let’s have a new normal with lots of requests for more materials.

No Calories Means I’m Cool!

I’ve decided there is something good about the diet I’m on at the moment.  Since I’m not getting enough calories for me – let alone the baby – in a single day, I don’t have many to burn.  The way the human body works means the baby gets what she needs first.  Then I burn the rest of the calories off while doing aerobics.  (And then some!)   Well, since it’s summer in Southern New Mexico I thought I’d be hot.  Really, really, really hot as the temps went above 100F.

Funny thing, but calories help you control your body temperature.  And without the calories I am completely freezing!  Even when our air conditioning went out it was the dogs that alerted me to the heat.  It was my husband who went “you’re suffering heat sickness!  More water and ice!”  No calories means I’m nice and cool.  Maybe that’s why the doctors put me on this diet.

Diet and freezing during 100F+ weather aside, I’ve had a bit of luck with this month’s short story.  There is a great chance that I’ve figured out my opening and closing for the story!  This is wonderful news for me.  I might actually have this one polished before the end of the month.  That would be great, especially since I’d really, really like to get a head start on August’s story.  Something about a baby in August…

Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be ready for another day of editing.  I’ll let y’all know when it’s finished!

Sick Over the Weekend

This past weekend my family showed up for a visit.  That was all well and good until my A/C went out Saturday.  It’s summertime in the Southwest.  And it is slightly hot.  And my idea of dealing with the lack of A/C was going shopping.  At the Plaza.  In the afternoon heat.  Without A/C, because the world isn’t air conditioned.  Somehow, I got heat sickness.  Usually, I can fix that on my own.

The twist?  Almost everything I’d usually do isn’t on the new diet.  No Gatorade or anything with electrolytes.  No sodas, so no club soda.  (We’ve got really, really hard water, which my stomach doesn’t like when I’m sick.)  No saltine crackers.  No dry toast.  I can eat veggies and some meats.  That’s not what a stomach wants when it’s sick.  I called the OB/GYN clinic, and they just suggested I didn’t eat until I felt better.  (Because not eating while pregnant is usually a great idea.)

I did manage to work out once Sunday, and twice yesterday.  It wasn’t exactly the best workout I’ve done.  Stopping every few minutes because you’re sick probably doesn’t help anything.  My temperature went up and up.  (It maxed out at 103F.)  Even broth wasn’t my friend.  Yet, I got the aerobics in for the OB/GYN and took my blood sugar.  Which it turns out isn’t true because your pancreas sends out glucose whenever it thinks the stomach has gone to work.  (Um, yeah, the pancreas needs a lesson about being sick.)

Oh well, I’m still alive.  I’m late on the blog today, but I’m alive.  Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be better, or on the road to recovery.  If not, I’m gonna yell at the OB/GYNs.  (Yeah, I’m hormonal at the moment.  Being sick makes me cranky.  A double whammy for the doctors.  And all I want is one day of things that’ll make me feel better.)

I promise I’ll figure this out and get back to blogging tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll discuss my writing plans for the month.  Until then, I’ll be sleeping, doing aerobics, and not eating.

Repost: Day Three- Friends & Ranching

I had a really bad weekend.  That meant I never got around to writing a post for the blog.  Instead, I’m reposting a post I wrote the third day I had a blog.  The writing probably shows how new I was.  Feel free to skip today if you wanna.

One of my friends pointed out that blogging exclusively about publishing might bore him.  Let it not be said I do not listen to my friends.  Therefore, Jack, this blog is for you.

I believe I mentioned previously that I am writing my novels about a ranching family in West Texas.  What do I know about ranching?  A bit.  I know there are cows, calves, heifers, steers, bulls, horses and depending on the rancher, dogs.  Every rancher seems to have a different month of the year they like the calves to drop in, but it is mainly springtime.  Any calf dropping in July or later is a late season calf, and there are major issues to watch for.  Every single year some factory (cow) decides that they don’t want to be bothered with a calf, causing a rancher to raise the calf by hand.  Come fall, you have a lot of mad cows as you cut the calves and cows.  Oh, and if you are my father-in-law (who is not a rancher) you use a temporary corral that can easily be broken out of and start a stampede.

I know ranches out here in the west are large.  I know that they are in the middle of nowhere, and close to town.  Ranchers are easily distinguished from farmers.  Farmers are talking about rain and crops.  Ranchers are talking about rain, crops and calves.  Ranchers seem to be less likely to wear overalls.  They wear boots of all different types.  The lines around their eyes show the stress and joy they’ve lived.

I know that supposedly at the La Junta, Colorado auction house black steers with white faces sell better than anything else.  Once more, that information is from my non-rancher father-in-law.  I know my father-in-law insists on calling his place a ranch.  I’ll give him that they run cattle.  Last I checked, the cattle operation was significantly less than the farming operation.  So, anything I say is advice from my father-in-law is advice from a man who makes his living on a John Deere tractor, not an ATV or horse working cattle.

Obviously, I have little to no idea what I am talking about when it comes to ranching.  I mean, there’s Holsteins, Brahma, the mixed breeds most of the West does, Longhorns, Limousines (which are not a vehicle), and a ton more.  Don’t forget to add buffalo to the ranching breeds now.  Ranching is not easy.  Riding the rodeo circuit is not easy.  Farming is not easy.

Oh, and while I listen to Western Underground, my husband has found what I like to term “Farmer’s Underground”, that doesn’t mean I have a clue what I am talking about.  Our playlists are crazy.  Mine is Don Edwards, Wattie Mitchell, Chris LeDoux, Michael Martin Murphey add some Shooter Jennings and Lynard Skynard and I am happy.  (Alright, throw in some Jessie James, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Josh Abbott Band, Eric Church, Merle Haggard, Waylon, Willie and Johnny Cash, and some Kris Kristofferson and I will be happy.)  My husband has Chris LeDoux, JP Riemens & The Barflies and Joe Walsh.  (Yes, I made a Chris LeDoux lover of my husband.)  Oh, and some oldies.  We both like the classics; Bach & Beethoven.

The funny thing is that unlike the Luke Bryan song “Rain is a Good Thing”, rain is not always a good thing to a farmer or rancher.  I know this because rain is the main topic discussed anywhere in a small town.  Back in Lamar there is “The Horseshoe of Wisdom”.  If you’re from a small town you will recognize what The Horseshoe of Wisdom is.  It is not an actual horseshoe that you pick up and are suddenly knowledgeable.  At the truck stop on the edge of town the section by the short order cook area looks like a horseshoe.  All of the old guys gather there in the morning.  And yes, I mean old.  These are the farmers and ranchers who have sons who have sons farming.  If you sit at The Horseshoe of Wisdom you quickly learn rain is a daily topic.  It either needs to rain or needs to quit raining.  This talk is not limited to just The Horseshoe of Wisdom.  Go over to BJ’s at lunch or around midafternoon when the guys are coming in to town to run errands and you hear the same talk.  And, if your friends are anything like my friends (Howdy Leslie) all you talk about some days is the lack of rain or too much rain.  If it doesn’t rain at the right time the crop dies.  If it rains at the wrong time you can’t harvest.  Rain=moisture.  Moisture=mold.  Mold=spoiled grain/hay/cotton/nuts.  Now, you’d think this doesn’t matter to our friendly rancher.  After all, who cares if the farmer brings in that milo or hay?  Except, that milo and hay is food for horses and cattle.  If the crop is bad, the price of feed goes up.  Everyone, I don’t care who you are, has to have winter feed in the West.  Down in West Texas you are worried about not having enough vegetation to feed your herd.  From about Albuquerque up through Canada one blizzard without feed will ruin you.

Ranchers and farmers are a tough lot.  They seem to rarely ask for help.  I know this because I don’t think I’ve seen my Texan father or my father-in-law ever ask for help.  But, if you need something, they will give you the shirt off their backs without it looking like a handout.  Some of my best friends have come from country backgrounds.  Actually, most of my best friends have.  Some of the hardest workers I know have been country.  It was these qualities I based the characters in my book off.  I tried to give them the best – and the worse – qualities in my closest friends, family and me.

So, there you go, Jack.  A post not on my attempts to find a publisher.  I try to please.  Okay, only every now and then and only for certain people.

A quick update on where I am with finding an agent: I am still waiting to hear back from the first agent I queried.  I doubt I will, since I sent a horrible letter.  That’s why I bought a book on how to query an agent.

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As always, thanks for reading and coming on this journey with me.

-Amanda Nicole