My first picture books follow the adventures of a young okapi. If you don’t know, the okapi is a relative of the giraffe that lives in the rainforests of the Congo in Africa. They have a head similar to a horse, cloven hooves, zebra stripes on their legs, and a long, prehensile tongue that they use to grab leaves. Their tongue is nearly 18 inches long and they frequently lick their eyelids and ears as part of their grooming.
Okapis are secretive and shy. They are found together only when they mate and when a female has a calf.
Their only natural predators are leopards and humans. Habitat loss has reduced their wild population size to 10,000-40,000 and they are classified as endangered.
I decided to create illustrations of some of the events in my first book and post them here.
Yes, I love to figure skate, but who wants to finish last? Not me, not anyone. However, when you compete, someone is going to come in last. Yesterday, it was I. Damn! I knew I didn’t skate my best; I fumbled an important (in terms of the competition) jump combination and faked my way through part of my footwork. I finished strong with a decent salchow-loop jump combination and final sit spin, but overall it was not good enough.
I could make excuses – I didn’t sleep well because of the altitude (Vail is at 8,200 feet elevation); the ice was soft and therefore I was slow. All true. I could blame my coach, but she didn’t skate – I did. I could complain about the judges’ scoring, but they judge what they see. I could pick apart the other competitors’ performances, but that would be unkind and untrue. They skated beautifully.
Finishing last sucks. As my daughter said, “uber sucks.” However, she helped me get some perspective when she wondered how many 60-year-olds are competitive adult figure skaters? Not many. How many 60-year-olds are competitive athletes?
Yesterday, long after I’d skated, a woman asked me how it went. I said, “I came in last.”
“But did you have fun?” she asked.
“Yes, but it still stings,” I answered.
“It’s just a number,” she went on. “When Shelby (Lyons) was a little girl, she came in last all the time. She was so short she couldn’t read the score sheets, so we just told her the number, 4, 9, whatever.”
I did not realize I was talking to Shelby Lyons’ mother. Shelby, a wonderful coach at our rink, is a retired U.S. national medalist in both singles and pairs. She was the U.S. junior women’s national champion in 1996. Wow.
I came. I competed. I didn’t fall on my rump. Shelby and her mom said I skated well. That makes me feel better. My husband, my friends, and my coach are proud of me. That makes me smile. My husband said I’m beautiful (not a make-up wearer usually and had a new lipstick for the competition), but he’s funny that way. He loves me just the way I am.
My friends skated well, maybe even a couple personal bests. Hugs and high fives all around. I finished the day with delicious food and great conversation with friends, then a well-needed soak in the condo’s hot tub.
So, how did I do? I skated well and finished seventh.
Amateur – Doing something for the love of it, generally considered unpaid.
I am an amateur, competitive, adult figure skater. I skate because I love to skate. I take skating tests and compete because of the challenge. The challenge to push my 60-year-old body to jump, spin, and glide on a sheet of very cold, very hard ice. I have skated for over 40 years. I have committed untallied dollars in my pursuit of this sport. Most days, I feel it is a small price for the sheer joy of accomplishing a centered spin, a jump landed on one foot (the correct one), and remembering a difficult footwork sequence.
I have friends filled with the same joy and we share the training challenges together. We have husbands, friends, and family that embrace our passion and love us for engaging in this sport. We have others that will never understand us – at all. They might say, “Why? Do you do this for a shiny medal or a colored ribbon?” They try to relate a love, a passion in professional or paid terms.
I am an amateur skater, but I am far from amateurish. I am far from unpaid. I am seriously committed to the joy. I’m paid with the exuberance I feel when I skate well. Paid with high-fives with friends and cheers while I compete. Paid with understanding help when practices don’t go as well as I planned in my mind. And yes, there are shiny medals and sparkly dresses. I admit that I’m part magpie and I do like the shiny rewards.
In April 2015, I competed in my first U.S. Adult National Championship event. I was skilled (or lucky, depending on how I choose to look at it on any given day) enough to win a bronze and silver medal. When I stepped up on the podium and the bronze medal placed over my head, a man in the crowd taking photos said, “You are a national medalist and no one can ever take that away from you.” Chills ran up my spine. All that love and joy.
I am competing this weekend (July 15, 2017) in Vail, Colorado. There are a remarkable seven competitors in my free skate event. That’s unusual for a local competition. I’m competing for the joy and freedom I feel when I step on the ice. Wish me (and my friends) luck!
I just submitted a popular article to the Cactus and Succulent Journal and it’s been accepted for publication! Cacti Conundrums should be out in the September-October issue. I discuss my growing obsession with the small, round cactus species I’ve found on our property in northern Colorado.
Here’s an excerpt:
“When I took a break from unloading the U-Haul, I sat down on the grass along our gravel driveway. I glanced down and noticed a small, cylindrical cactus by my left hand. “Cool, columnar cactus,” I thought. “I wonder what kind they are?” I had no time then to figure out what it was, plus my plant keys were in a moving box and the computer wasn’t hooked up. I sighed and returned to lugging furniture from the U-Haul.”
As a writer, I look for advice and help to further my writing efforts. This post in the Northern Colorado Writers, The Writing Bug blog resonated with me this morning. My take-away message: Keep writing. Work through your fears. Do your homework. Have confidence (Do I hear Maria from The Sound of Music, on her way to the von Trapp ?). Keep writing (yes, I meant to repeat that!).
Whenever I frequent a bookstore and thumb through the pages of a new paperback, I’m transported back to elementary school and Scholastic Books. The Scholastic Book Club program was a highlight of my school year. My teacher sent home the list of available books with their descriptions and pricelist. I’d badger my parents about how much I could spend for books and then figure out how many books I could get for that amount.
The day the book boxes arrived in my classroom was like Christmas. My teacher carefully opened the boxes and arranged the books into stacks. The new paperback smell permeated the air overpowering the smell of chalk, sweat, and dirty sneakers. She gave each of us a list of the books we ordered and one by one we walked past the piles, grabbing the ones off our list. The final stop was back at her desk, where she double-checked our list and books.
Back at my desk, I admired the cover pictures and read the story synopsis on the back of each cover. Then, as I opened a book, the paper and ink smell of adventure carried me inside.
All the advice I hear about writing is, “Write. Write more.” Many writers use writing prompts to perfect their craft. Do you? Below is an image; what feelings does it bring out in you? Is there a story there?