Antsy Valentines

Hang onto your chocolate everyone!  It’s time for . . .

The Third Annual Pretty Much World Famous – Valentiny Writing Contest!!!

Valentiny Writing Contest 2018

Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people 🙂

The Contest:  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentines Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is hopeful!  Your someone can hope for something good or something bad.  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone hopeful (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day 🙂 Follow the link to learn more or enter yourself.  https://susannahill.com/2018/02/10/follow-your-heart-the-3rd-annual-valentiny-writing-contest/

I’m having so much fun, I wrote a second  – 214 words Happy Valentine’s Day!

Antsy Valentines

“Oh no!” Mason stared at the calendar on the anthill wall. “Valentine’s Day and I didn’t get a gift for Abeegail. She’ll be stinging mad if I show up empty-legged,” he moaned. “I hope I find something on the way to school!”

He searched the meadow for clover, Abeegail’s favorite flower. Nothing, only dead grass and crunchy leaves. He checked the flower shop, but they didn’t sell clover. Losing hope, Mason walked on in the cold February wind. “My feelers are going to freeze and fall off.” He scurried across the playground, staring up at the giant humans on their way to school.

Plop! Clickity plop! Candies tumbled from a girl’s backpack. One crashed in front of him and he smacked into it. His six legs tangled together. He stared at the purple candy. “This is perfect!” he exclaimed. Mason grabbed the treat and dashed to his classroom.

“There you are,” said Abeegail, buzzing over to him. “I was getting antsy waiting for you,” she giggled. “Get it? Ant-sy?” She handed him a tiny jar, “Honey from my beehive.”

“Thanks,” said Mason, blushing. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said, handing her his gift. “Hope you like it.”

“I love it,” cried Abeegail, as she read the words on the purple candy heart. “Bee Mine.”

Valentiny Contest – Hope’s Valentine

The Third Annual Pretty Much World Famous
Valentiny Writing Contest!!!

Valentiny Writing Contest 2018

Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people 🙂

The Contest:  since writing for children is all about “big emotion for little people” (I forget who said that, but someone did so I put it in quotes!) and Valentines Day is all about emotion, write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is hopeful!  Your someone can hope for something good or something bad.  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone hopeful (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day 🙂Follow this link to learn more, read the entries, or, better yet, submit your own entry!  https://susannahill.com/2018/02/10/follow-your-heart-the-3rd-annual-valentiny-writing-contest/comment-page-2/#comment-47801

Susanna Hill’s contests are so much fun! Here is my first entry:

Hope’s Valentine

Emma skipped to her porch munching a Valentine’s cookie. As crumbs dribbled down, a tongue reached out from under the steps. “What?” She scrunched down and a dog’s nose nudged her hand. Emma yelled through the door, “Mom, come quick!”

“Goodness,” said her mom, kneeling next to Emma. “She’s starving. Let’s get her inside.”

Emma reached in, “There’s . . . a puppy!” She clasped a wiggly, chocolate-colored pup in her hands. “Look, there’s a white heart on her forehead! I’m calling her, Valentine!”

The dog snuggled up to Emma and her puppy. Something sparkled through her matted fur – a tag. Emma squinted and read, “Hope.”

The dog’s tail thumped.

“Are you Hope?” Thump. Lick. Emma called the number etched on the tag.

“Hello?”

“Hi, I’m Emma Willett. Do you have a dog named Hope?”

“Heavens, she’s been missing a year. Is she okay?”

“Yes, but very hungry,” said Emma, giving the woman her address.

“I’ll be there soon.”

Later, Hope whined as Emma greeted a silver-haired woman.

Hope flew to her, wiggling from nose to tail. Joy lit the woman’s face, replaced by concern as the puppy scampered up. “I can’t keep them both. Would you like the puppy when she’s old enough?”

“Oh yes!” cried Emma. “She’ll be my chocolate Valentine!”

Gliding into 2018

I’m the one in the red hat.

I’m an adult, competitive figure skater, so of course I watched the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on January 6-7, 2018. These elite skaters are incredible. The speed, intensity, focus, and ability is mindboggling. There were surprises, exultations, disappointment. Some costumes twinkled as if lit by a million fireflies and others were somber, monochromatically dramatic. Watching them energized me, inspired me. February will bring the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and I will follow those skaters chosen to participate with fingers crossed for perfect programs and medals.

The thought of medals brings me back to my own skating. Adult skaters have their own national championships. We are divided by gender, ability level, and age brackets. In 2015, at 58, I began my fourth year as a competitive skater and I participated in my first U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championship. I entered two events: Ladies Bronze IV Freeskate and Bronze IV Light Entertainment. My first time and I won a bronze medal for my freeskate and a silver for my light entertainment. As we received our medals a man spoke from the small crowd surrounding us, “You are all national medalists and no one can take that away from you.” My heart skipped a beat as I realized I was one of a select few older adult skaters who sweated and struggled to achieve something I believed was reserved for young athletes.

I’m still in awe of someone who can land a quadruple-anything jump. Heck, more than one revolution is crazy for me to consider! Yet, I’m proud of my accomplishments.

My latest Light Entertainment costume for Gonna Wash that Man Right out of my Hair – from the musical, South Pacific.

Keep moving, keep smiling, and keep dreaming.

Reflections on 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m sitting on the sofa reflecting on the year. I had two goals – lose at least ten pounds and get published (paid). As far as the weight loss goes, I’m happy to report that I only have 15 more pounds to go! I did get a popular article published in the Cactus and Succulent Journal (unpaid). Therefore, I didn’t achieve my goals, but I did accomplish many things this year.

I have three main areas of interest at this moment of my life, beyond home and family activities. They are competitive figure skating, writing, and botanical studies, mainly cactus.

Competitive Figure Skating

Bronze medal, Fort Collins Classic 2017.
Bronze medal, Fort Collins Classic, April 2017.

Things could have gone better. I have a jump, the flip jump, that has gone AWOL this year. It was consistent enough last year that I advanced to the silver adult level in December 2016. Since then – frustration. It’s not a particularly hard jump, even for someone, say, over 60. It was my favorite as a teenager. I relearned this jump a couple years ago and had a fantastic day where I landed ten in a row. The next day, I heard, “don’t be surprised if it comes and goes,” and it has come and gone ever since. This year – mostly gone, especially in competition. I competed in only two competitions this year and did not cleanly land this jump in either.

It is hard for me to comprehend how far this “might come and go” mentality has wormed itself into my brain. However, the jump is almost back and when it is, I’m keeping it!

The rest of my skating is much improved. I have a decent scratch spin, a better back spin, a lower sit spin, and faster camel spin. My other jumps are stronger and more consistent. I’ve learned the Dutch Waltz and am learning the Canasta Tango, the first two ice dances. I started practicing the elements for the first of two adult gold-level tests.

Most of this was to take my brain off from obsessing about the flip jump. Didn’t work. Therefore, my goal for 2018 is a consistent flip jump. I informed my coach that I am not entering another competition until it is consistent 90% of the time. Currently, it is 0.001%, well maybe 0.01%. I probably land one out of a 100.

Writing

My goal for 2017 was to have something published and be paid for it. I had a popular article, Cacti Conundrums, published in the Cactus and Succulent Journal. They don’t pay to publish, but unlike many scientific journals, they don’t charge to publish. Publication, paid or not, is a success for me.

In addition, I was a finalist in the WriterUnboxed.com, Flog-A-WU writing contest http://writerunboxed.com/2017/07/20/flog-a-wu-judgment-day/, finishing second out of 119 entries. I was a finalist for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators first Golden Pen award. Also, I earned an honorable mention in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie writing contest.. https://susannahill.com/2017/11/17/the-2017-halloweensie-contest-winners/

Poppy Okapi catching raindrops on her tongue.

Other notable accomplishments: I created a website nancyrileynovelist.com, created a Facebook page, and recently, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I drafted five picture books and began sketching illustrations for two of them. I wrote six stories for potential publication in children’s magazines. I sent query letters to agents for my memoir and received one full manuscript request. All in all a good start on my writing career.

My writing goals for 2018 are to continue my publication efforts for my memoir, edit and illustrate my picture books for submission to literary agents, and to write more nonfiction essays for children and adults. I want to grow my online platform and utilize social media tools better. Since I’m a novice to Twitter and Instagram, I have an immense opportunity for improvement.

Botanical Studies

Two years ago, when we moved to our current house, I discovered three small, cylindrical cactus species growing on our land. This was the basis for my Cacti Conundrums article. Since I’m retired, and because we own 35 acres of foothill-shrub and grassland habitat, I have started two different studies – one to study methods of stimulate mountain mahogany growth, and the second to study rabbit herbivory (browsing) on the cacti species.

Mountain mahogany is an important food shrub for mule deer. In my area, it is not producing much annual growth, which is the part that deer eat. So, the deer nibble all the new bits and the shrubs struggle to flourish. I’m experimenting with cutting shrubs at certain heights to stimulate more annual growth. Stay tuned for progress reports!

Nylon hedgehog cactus in bloom.

There was scant precipitation in 2016, resulting in rabbits (we have many) eating anything with any moisture, including my little, cylindrical cacti – grr. I’m attached to them, not any rabbit. So, now I’ve marked 100 nylon hedgehog cactus plants to track the percentage consumed by rabbits during the 2017-2018 winter. Fortunately, there are plenty of nylon hedgehog cacti!

Final Thoughts on 2017

Scout – January 1, 2018.

It is now 2018 and 2017 is in the books. Last year was full of opportunities and accomplishments. This new year presents opportunities for many more accomplishments. I’ve already made my bed, brushed my teeth, and taken my dog, Scout, on a long walk. I’ve almost finished this post and the day is still young. I think I’m off to a great start!

“Free” Food

 

It’s late summer and my garden is in high gear with green beans and zucchinis multiplying at light speed. So too are the wild fruit-bearing plants on our 35-acre paradise. Last year I discovered that chokecherries, golden currants, and wax currants growing on our land here in northern Colorado. I’m the gatherer in my marriage, so I gathered loads of berries and made my first-ever jam (just not a jam person). It didn’t jell properly, but it was proclaimed delicious. Even I tried it on waffles and loved it.

SNOW!
Wax currant blossoms.
Golden currant blossoms.

This spring, I anxiously watched the buds swell on currant bushes and chokecherry trees. Then, in early May – disaster! A late, heavy snow crushed bushes, froze flowers, and kept bees in their hives, resulting in few flowers and fewer pollinated. However, nature is resilient and I discovered pockets of currants and chokecherries that survived the rigors of our spring and the drought of mid-summer to produce enough berries for a small batch of jam.

Chokecherry flowers.

I picked all the ripe and nearly-ripe berries I could find. Songbirds warbled around me protesting my thievery, but I ignored them. Don’t worry, I left them some, just seemed the right thing to do. I picked three different batches and refrigerated them until the weekend. When I’m picking berries, I imagine how it must have been to be a pioneer or a Native American gathering food and preserving it for the winter ahead. I wonder if children had contests to pick the most or the biggest berries. I sometimes wonder if Laura and Mary Ingalls raced to see who could fill their pails the fastest. Have to do something to occupy your time.

Wax currant berry.

I used the recipe I found last year and started the jam-making process.

http://highaltitudegardening.blogspot.com/2006/08/chokecherry-jam-recipe.html

Remember to stir, stir, stir. Cherries and sugar can get pretty sticky and may burn to the sides of your pot.

Golden currant fruit.
Chokecherries.

Add 1 cup of water to every four cups of cherries.

Simmer over low heat until fruit is very tender.

Use a large spoon to press the chokecherry pulp through a sieve. (Three cups of pulp make about 3 half pints of jam.)

Add an equal amount of sugar to match the amount of chokecherry pulp.

Put sugar/chokecherry mixture back on the stove and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Cook to a temperature of 9° (F) higher than the boiling point of water. *According to Aunt Lillian, this temperature check will deliver a rich flavor and thick consistency.

Pour into hot, sterile jam jars to approximately 3/4 full.

Seal and process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes.

Give the jam 24 hours to slowly cool.

Simmered fruit pulp to be mashed through a colander.
Jam with pectin simmering in pan.

I gathered about 6 cups of chokecherries and currants combined. To this recipe, I added about a ½ of frozen store-bought slice peaches, because they were getting freezer burn and needed to be used. I also used classic pectin to help jell the jam, following the package directions.

After an afternoon of washing, simmering, smashing through a sieve, cooking with the pectin added, sterilizing 4-ounce jam jars, lids, and rings, filling the jars, adding lids and rings, and boiling for 15 minutes in a water bath to seal the jars, I was exhausted. I produced 9, 4-ounce jars of jam and an 8-ounce plastic container for my husband. The classic pectin worked perfectly and the jam is wonderful. It was also a boatload of work for a small amount of jam.

Nearly finished!

Gathering wild berries might seem like free food, but there is a high cost in time and energy. I don’t regret the afternoon spent reviving ancient food preservation skills and inhaling the aromas of wildness and sugar bubbling on the stove. Last Christmas, I handed out nearly two dozen tiny jars as gifts. This year, my family and friends will have to be very, very good to wrest these tiny gems from my rosy-stained fingers!

Okapis – draft illustrations for my first picture book.

I feel like someone’s watching me.
Something bright flashed in the woods.
An eyelid scrub is so refreshing!
The leaves are so-o high!
Got ’em!
Still as a stone.
Washing my ears.
Catching raindrops.

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.

Someone Has To Finish Last

 

Vail Invitational 2017 – Adult Silver Free Skate

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.

For the Love of It

 

Practice, practice, practice . . .

Amateur – Doing something for the love of it, generally considered unpaid.

April 2017 – third place

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!

Cactus article accepted!

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.”

Our home in the foothills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pincushion cactus (Escobaria vivipara)
Nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus).
Mountain ball cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii).