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!

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.

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?