All Creatures Great and Small: The Power of Pets

I missed National Pet Day on April 11 by a few weeks. But if you own a dog like Scotty or a kitty cat named Sophie, every day of the year is pet day.

In 4th grade, I drew a cat and colored it charcoal gray. It appears I was as interested in making the wallpaper pretty as I was in drawing a green-eyed cat with its wee kitten.

KittenArtMarian1947?

In first grade, my teacher Miss Longenecker introduced our class to reading via the phonics method with the drawing of a cat illustrating the hard “c” sound. She probably used the Hay & Wingo textbook entitled Reading with Phonics (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1948).

 Hay & Wingo, Reading with Phonics, J. B. Lippincott, 1948
Julie Hay & Charles Wingo, Reading with Phonics, J. B. Lippincott, 1948

We never had a pet cat, probably because my mother was allergic to cat dander, but several memorable dogs cavorted through our childhood. Sporty, an Airedale Terrier mix leaped and frisked around Grandma’s ankles when I was very young.  Boots, a black and white Smooth Fox Terrier, flushed ground hogs from their holes.

My sister Jean remembers other animals too: Our dad raised Angora rabbits housed in wooden crates in the barn attic and another Smooth Fox Terrier named Minnie, as small as she sounds. Sister Jan says we used to dress her up with doll clothes and send her down over the hill to Grandma’s house.

Our brother Mark’s dog, 3-legged Skippy, butterscotch and cream colored, lost one leg when a truck ran over him. Still, he skipped, ran far, and jumped high with just three legs. You’ll see part of his rear end and his tail in the second picture.

MarkDogMailbox

 

Brother Mark with sled and Skippy in the snow 1961
Brother Mark with sled and Skippy in the snow  1961

 

We all remember Ruthie’s little lamb that felt like mine when I wiggled my fingers digging deep into its wooly coat.

My Aunt Ruthie loved animals all her life, especially dogs. Her last four dogs were Schnauzers, known for their fierce loyalty and protective power. The pure-bred Schnauzuers were all named Fritzie – Fritizie I, II, III, and IV.

In this photo she was probably holding Fritzie III in her lap. The devotion you observe in this photo flowed both ways.

RuthieDogPiano

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Like most children, our kids Crista and Joel wanted a dog. We shopped ads in the Dollar Saver for our dog back then and were taken in by the phrase “loves children.” That’s how we found Me-Too, a kid-loving-mailman-hating dog of questionable pedigree. Still, the children doted on her and adopted her into their play. Here the frame of their baby buggy became a carriage with Me-Too as the pony express.

WondaChairCristaJoel

 

Research

Not surprisingly, research shows that pets promote health, both physical and emotional.

Pets in the household can reduce everyday stress – lift one’s mood and provide physical contact. They provide an outlet for nurturing too: Pet owners have a living thing to care for. And finally, pets keep one active: walking the dog, feeding the cat.

Several of my writing friends admit that a pet dog or cat serves as muse: Kathy Pooler, Merril Smith, and Susan Weidener. Other authors have pets that appear on their blog posts from time to time: Laurie Buchanan, Janet Givens, and Elaine Mansfield. Lord David Prosser observes that his alarm cat Oscar wakens him from slumber every morning. And photographer Lady Fiona’s dogs enliven most of her fabulous photographs. Marylin Warner is training a puppy, but I don’t think she would call Scout her muse yet.

* See note below.

 

Books with animal characters

Books of my childhood:

  • Anne of Green Gables – Dog Monday
  • Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls’ dogs – Jack, the brindle bulldog, and Bandit, the stray, appear in her books
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Literary works:

In The Odyssey, I recall Homer’s beloved Argos, who patiently waited for him at journey’s end. Maybe you remember this faithful dog too.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, cats romped in the Bennett household, at least according to author Pamela Jane.

Anton Chekhov wrote a short story entitled The Lady with the Dog, preserved here in statuary forever viewing the Black Sea in Yalta. When we visited in 2011, Crimea was still part of Ukraine.

CrimeaMarian2011

 

In the 1970s James Herriot books were all the rage both here in the States and internationally. Herriot, an English veterinarian, immortalized farm animals, pets, and their owners in his popular series set in the Yorkshire dales and moors. I read many of the titles: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and The Lord God Made Them All.

 

What pets populated your home or the pages of books you loved? What items can you add to the list of benefits of owning a pet?

Leave a line or two here. You can also include endearing (or not) pet anecdotes.

Incidentally, if I inadvertently missed listing you as an author with a pet muse, please bark at me, so I can rectify the oversight ~ pronto.

 

Daisy with Jenna in pigtails
Daisy with grand-daughter Jenna in pigtails

 

Coming next: Baby Beads and Wooden Blocks: Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

5 Memoir Lessons Learned from a Special Birthday Cake

Earlier in January I baked an apple cake for my husband Cliff’s birthday celebration. All agreed it was scrumptious. However, it was my second attempt at the same recipe for reasons to be divulged in my next blog post. As they say, practice makes perfect! Matilda Butler, who earlier followed a similar plan on her website, would agree.

AppleCakeSuccess

Step 1: Make a plan. Even if you are an accomplished chef or fabulous cook (I’m neither), read the recipe carefully and anticipate how you will proceed. I didn’t have a tube-shaped bundt pan, so even before I began, I had to make a trip to the grocery store for the proper pan.

BundtPan

Memoir Lesson 1 – Don’t fool yourself into imagining writing will be easy. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different mindset.

Even if you end up changing your plan, you have something (like starter dough!) to begin with.

 

Step 2: Assemble what you need. Anticipate the ingredients and tools necessary. Pull out the mixer, bowls, wooden spatula, measuring cups and spoons. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator to bring to room temperature if necessary.

Memoir Lesson 2 – A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict – your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw it as a timeline? Write an outline?

What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme.

 

Step 3: Be aware that you may need to make adjustments. Even though I knew where I was headed before I began (a perfectly baked cake, I hoped!) I had to make a few changes. I ran out of clean measuring cups, so I had to wash one. A phone call interrupted the process, so I had to quickly drizzle some lemon juice onto the apples so they wouldn’t turn brown.

Memoir Lesson 3   I didn’t open up the spice cabinet or pull everything down from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the batter. I had to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Stories have to fit your theme.

 

Step 4: Keep at it until it’s done. I was not done with the cake until it had been iced. Preceding this was planning –> mixing –> baking –> cooling –> de-panning–> icing.

 

Memoir Lesson 4   Memoir writing requires a series of steps to name a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), writing a book proposal, finding various types of editors and an agent, planning for publication. You can find a more complete list of steps on Laurie Buchanan’s website here. 

 

Step 5: Celebrate! Light the candles and let the birthday boy blow them out. Serve everyone else a slice.

Cliff and birthday cake ablaze with candles
Cliff and birthday cake ablaze with candles

Memoir Lesson 5  Cake bakers hope the eaters will find their slice delicious. What delicious morsels of truth do you want your reader to get out of your book? That’s the memoir’s takeaway. Brooke Warner says it’s “ a gift to the reader, something heartfelt, universal, and true.” Figure out what that something special is in your memoir.


 

As a reader and/or writer, what writing tips would you add to this list?

Any cake-baking advice? Have you ever tried a baking project that turned out to be too elaborate?

 

(Watch next post for full apple cake recipe.) Coming next: Hoorah, My 300th Blog Post with an Oops and an Aah!

Playing Tag, The 2014 WIP Tour: Who’s Next?

On the playground of Rheems Elementary School, Red Rover, Hide and Seek and Tag were standard fare. I wrote about fun at recess in a blog post last September entitled Games We Played.

Google Images
Google Images

In the blog world, I have been tagged in the 2014 Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Tour, offering authors the chance to share snippets of their Works in Progress. When Janet Givens tagged me, my first reaction was this: “I’m so busy in my personal life and my writing life, I don’t know how I could possibly squeeze in another thing!” At the time, she did not remind me that she herself was busy promoting her just-published memoir of her years in the Peace Corps At Home on the Kazakh Steppe while keeping current on her blog.

Before I said, “Okay, I’ll do it!” she explained, “It’s really simple. There are just three rules.”

1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you. (See above.)

2. Write a blurb about and give the first sentences of your next three blog posts (or book chapters)

3. Nominate four other writers to do the same.

 

While thoughts of my memoir are incubating, I have spent time here on my blog mining material that may be woven into my book some day. Here, in chronological order, are the opening lines of my next two blog posts and a blurb from the preface to my work-in-progress memoir. That makes three!

 

November 8: “How to Tell Your Children What’s What” 

Unlike Hansel and Gretel whose mother tried to starve them and then lock them out of the house, Mother Longenecker provided well for her children and left behind, not white pebbles or bread crumbs, but hand-written notes tucked away to tag her heirlooms.

 

November 12: “Purple Passages and Fine China”

La Lectura es el viaje de los que no pueden tomar el tren.        – F. Croisset

(Reading is the journey of those who cannot take the train.)

Excerpt from preface of my untitled memoir, WIP:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;

He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

The Longenecker family doesn’t have a cat in residence but we all live together in a little crooked house. Crooked as in lintels above the bedroom doors that slope crazily so much so that they can never be closed tight. Crooked as in floors that sag slightly so that water flows oddly when I’m on my hands and knees washing up the kitchen linoleum. Sagging steps from the 1903 part of the house leading down to the cellar. Every night I sleep downhill on my hard feather pillow.

But there is nothing crooked or saggy about my upbringing . . . .


Now it’s my turn to tag 4 writers for the 2014 WIP Tour:

1. Laurie Buchanan, holistic health practitioner and life coach with inspirational posts weekly on Tuesdays with Laurie. They are short, sweet, and wise.

2. Marie Keates, blogger tells true stories with a British accent. When her fat-girl-slim-blog was hacked (decimated) recently, like a Phoenix she rose from the ashes and now posts at I Walk Alone.

3. Melodie Miller-Davis, author with over a dozen books/cookbooks to her credit, most from Herald Press, she writes weekly on her blog, Finding Harmony.

4. Marylin Warner, writing coach, short story and memoir author, writes of the remarkable connection to her literary mother suffering from Alzheimer’s in her blog Things I Want to Tell My Mother.

I hope you’ll click on the links and visit their sites often.

None of the four are under any obligation to play tag. But I hope they do. I’m looking forward to reading bits about their Works in Progress. So, Laurie, Marie, Melodie, and Marylin. You’re it!

*  *  *

Coming next: How to Tell Your Children What’s What

Face to Face Encounters: The Very Best Kind

Author Kathy Pooler invites her readers to gather “around her kitchen table” for weekly discussions on her blog post. Readers of Laurie Buchanan’s blog know she usually posts on “Tuesdays with Laurie.” Most bloggers publish posts on specific days of the week which their subscribers have come to anticipate. It is a call for intimacy among kindred spirits in the often impersonal environment of cyberspace.

Yes, there are helpful forums available online that attempt to add sight and sound to the interaction. For example, author/writing coach Sonia Marsh and writing organizations like NAMW (National Association of Memoir Writers) frequently schedule Google Hangouts and tele-seminars that combine live voice and Skype-inspired imagery, adding another layer of intimacy to enhance the exchange of ideas.

Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterist all allow postings of photos with text. Facebook often seems like a picnic with “likes” for yes’s, and sometimes offers back and forth conversation like a game of ping-pong. And I think of Twitter as a kind of hors d’oeuvre party with guests flitting like bees from one cluster of flowers to another, sipping nectar here and there.

Flickr Image
Flickr Image

Yet it’s true. Without the internet, I would never have even met writers whose friendships have been cultivated from countries all over this planet– Australia, Canada, Sweden, South Africa, or the Philippines. And unfortunately the chances of meeting these fine folks for coffee or tea any time soon seems pretty remote. When possible though, face to face encounters add a three-dimensional quality that is hard to duplicate online.

This past October, I was invited to share breakfast with Shirley Showalter, famous for her memoir BLUSH, in her home overlooking the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg, VA during Homecoming at EMU.

SHSandME

This past Saturday in June I met blogger Traci Carver, teacher and writer extraordinaire, as she breezed through Jacksonville on her way further south, meeting for lunch at Cozy Tea in the Riverside area of Jacksonville. Though a generation apart, we found common ground discussing teaching English, Downton Abbey, European travels, our families, other shared interests. Her award-winning blog claims she is from the cotton pickin’ South, yet she has an international world view having lived in Southeast Asia for several years. A story-teller extraordinaire, she spin tales from the cotton of everyday life into pure gold.

TraciMarianCozyTea2

In each case, the encounter was only an hour or two in length, but a level of intimacy develops in face to face encounters that online encounters are hard-pressed to duplicate. Obviously, non-verbal cues and nuances of personality and facial expression are often masked by the limitations of tiny pixels on posts.

Despite claims by science fiction writers, the phenomenon of transmogrification seems a long way off, probably a good thing! Thus, many writers find writing conferences in glamorous cities a great way to meet, greet, and even bond over coffee or lunch.

In the meantime, we can hope for serendipitous encounters along the way with our fans and fellow writers. I know I do!

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Have you had a face-to-face encounter with someone you have known only through the internet?

Someone whom you’ve known for a long time, but haven’t seen again until recently? Any other special encounter?

CozyTeaSign