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.

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).

 

 

 

 

 

Out and about without Scout 03/05/2017

Scout, my young American Brittany and walking companion, had better things to do today, so I walked the property alone. So sad, but look what I found! Half of a worn out, rusty horseshoe. Pretty cool. The horses were interested in what I was looking at and came over to inspect. They’re glad they don’t have to wear shoes.

Yazzie, my husband’s Rocky Mountain Horse mare.
Quincy, my paint gelding.

Out and about with Scout – 02/26/2017

Rabbit tracks in fresh snow

I have an 18-month-old American Brittany named, Scout. He’s a boy scout, not a girl scout. I take him for a run almost every morning around our 35-acre property and we see all sorts of things. Today it was the Rabbit Highway – why I worry about my wild cacti! http://nancyrileynovelist.com/?p=116

Possible bobcat tracks.

We also spotted these tracks. We think it could be a bobcat! We have observed a bobcat roaming across our land twice this winter. Pretty exciting stuff for wildlife biologists!

 

 

Do rabbits eat columnar cactus in Colorado?

Yes, rabbits eat columnar cactus in Colorado. Darn it!

Nylon hedgehog cactus in bloom.
Mountain ball cactus in bloom.
Spinystar or pincushion cactus in bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

When I moved to my current home north of Fort Collins, Colorado, in September 2015, I discovered three species of columnar or globose (round) cactus growing on our land. I found hundreds (really) of nylon hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus), a dozen or so mountain ball cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii), and three spinystar, pincushion, or

Colorado hookless cactus in bloom.

nipple cactus (Escobaria vivipara). I was very excited because I’d spent the previous two summers searching for another small columnar cactus, the federally threatened Colorado hookless cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus), over near Debeque, east of Grand Junction.

 

Last year, I located all these plants on my 35 acres. I flagged them, began to collect field information, I watched them grow buds and bloom. I practically named them! Then, the spring snows and rains ended and the summer heat arrived. Little moisture came with it. As summer turned to fall, my cacti began to disappear, gnawed by rabbits. One day a nibble, the next a bloody root stump left, often with a pile of droppings left as Peter Rabbit’s calling card.

Mountain ball cactus eaten by rabbit.
Same cactus two days later, looking like a bloody stump!
Colorado hookless cactus nibbled by rabbits.

 

 

 

 

 

Are there others who have suffered the same ravages to their cacti or garden plants?