Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kangaroo Mom and Baby Joey - Guest Blog

Today I'm excited to welcome @PepiSmartDog's Mum Michele Brown as a guest blogger. Since she lives in Australia she has an opportunity to see and interact with kangaroos, which I find amazingly awesome. She has agreed to share her insights about how a baby kangaroo grows up, along with some wonderful pictures. 


It's always a delight to watch kangaroos grazing happily outside my living room window. Living in Queensland, Australia we have prolific wildlife, which at times keeps me busy as a first responder for animal rescue as well as being an RSPCA animal rescuer. As I write this, there are two teenage kangaroo boys, hanging out....(outside my living room window.)

Kangaroos hang out near my home
My American friends jokingly call me a Kangaroo Wrestler. Kangaroos are shy and sweet-natured. They live in strong family groups, known as mobs.When a kangaroo is born it's completely helpless and totally blind only the size of a small grub.

The little 'grub-like creature' crawls through its mother's fur and into her pouch and attaches itself to her teat to suckle. The baby is known as a Joey and it lives in its mom's pouch for around one year, then spends the following year staying very close to its mom at all times, giving the joey  two years with it mom.

During the first year inside the pouch, after a number of months, the joey starts spending a few minutes outside its mom's pouch. Seeing a baby joey having its first look at the world and testing its long legs and tail for the first time is very special indeed.

In the joey's first steps into the world, it hasn't yet worked out how to use its long legs to hop and its long tail to spring off, into the hop. Once joeys work it out, they spring up and down almost on the spot, in sheer exuberance. But after one or two minutes of jumping up and down like a spring, the joey will scramble straight back into the safety of mom's pouch.
Roos basking in the sun

At the end of the first year when the joey is ready to move out of its mom's pouch, it is a big kangaroo. It's actually astounding that it can even fit in a pouch or that the mom is able to hop with such a heavy and cumbersome load onboard.

At this point the young kangaroo is able to stay out of the pouch and become part of the 'teenage' group who like to practice boxing each other and other fun things, but the joey will still stay next to his mom for another year, until he completes two years with her. And he'll always be part of a mob.

@PepiSmartDog and Michele Brown

Thanks for sharing this story with us, Michele, and thank you for hosting the Thankful Thursday blog. I'm meeting a lot of fun pals and hope to meet many more. I learned a lot about roos and baby joeys and I love the pictures. Your description of the joey trying to figure out how to hop got me thinking about a children's book I had the opportunity to edit a few months ago: Baby Groundhog's First Day Out.  I'd love to read a book about a joey and I know just the person to write it *hint hint*.

Late breaking news! We have a new calf!
So I am thankful for her too. We named her Violet.

This is a blog hop, so make sure to follow the other links on the blog for fun stories and pictures. And join yourself. The hop runs all week, not just on Thursday.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Characters Talking -- Knowing the Slang

When I'm writing dialog, one of the things I take seriously is the way a character uses slang. I try to be consistent, not only with the character's personality, but also with the slang that was popular during the time period. This is especially challenging for characters like Regan Worth because she uses A LOT of slang. It's also challenging for characters like Swampy because he invents his own slang.

While working on  Dirty Money, I find myself doing a lot of research on the slang of the 1920s, but also on the slang used in the years leading up to the 1920s. While Regan would use current slang, Maggie O'Malley probably wouldn't. However, Maggie might use the slang that was popular in 1900 or 1910. A character's background is a factor as well. Dylan Worth spends a lot of time in jazz joints, so his slang would be very different than his best friend Duncan O'Malley's slang. However, since they grew up together, they might both use slang from their past.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the slang used by the Dime Store Novel characters. 

Regan Worth
“So he’s a DICK. That’s worse! I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole place. Besides, he’s a wet blanket. He never even smiled at me.” -- High Rollers

"Horsefeathers! I've seen the women who hang on you at the Owl. There's not an ounce of fat between them." -- Dirty Money

Hanover Fist

“I prefer shooting dice.” -- High Rollers

“Like the glue on your shoe,” Hanover said, nibbling her earlobe a little.
“More like the gum in my hair,” Toledo grinned.  -- The Reunion

“It wasn’t the sex,” Hanover said. “I wanted the car.”
“Death traps,” Swampy said. “I want my coffin made from oak.”
“Then you won’t take a ride with me?”
“When gators eat marigolds.”   -- The Reunion

“Well, I’ll be a Louisiana snowflake.” -- From the Gator's Mouth

Duncan O'Malley
“You want me to be a flat foot?”  -- Angels in Hell's Kitchen

“I’ll cut you slack for awhile, but I do want you to let your old man know that Duncan O’Malley walks Hell’s Kitchen now and that I won’t put up with a child beater.” -- Angels in Hell's Kitchen

Do you have a favorite character who uses slang?  I'd love to know.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Fateful Call of Cthulhu Campaign

This morning I've been thinking of how our Dime Store Novel series began. Its genesis was insidious and its gestation long and sometimes painful. But that night in 2003 (or thereabouts) when it was conceived will live on, not only in the stories that eventually grew from the planted seed, but also in the minds of the gamers who sat around the table in the basement at Jester's Cards and Stuff while John spun a tale that drew us in and made some go insane. 

Well...not actually insane. You see, we were playing Call of Cthulhu a role-playing game created by Chaosium, based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. In Call of Cthulhu, you have plenty of chances to die and even more opportunity to go insane because as the horrors of the world are revealed, you need to make a sanity check. And believe me, John filled the campaign with plenty of horrors.

Toledo Cats
I played a character named Toledo Cats, a Jamaican herbalist who had some ability with magic. I also had a black shapeshifting cat named Voodoo.

Our friend Tony played a detective named Hanover Fist. Yes, it was Tony who came up with the name, so anyone who thinks Swampy was cruel to name him that can blame Tony. It was not Swampy's fault at all. In fact, Swampy would not even get the breath of life until several years later.

Hanover Fist
One of the younger players, who was new to horror and easily unnerved, played a cub reporter named Tyler.

A couple other players played thugs -- essentially hired guns. O'Malley made his debut appearance too, but from the grave. He didn't have much of a back story yet and he certainly didn't have a wife and daughter. But he did have a strong enough friendship with Hanover to compel him to call from the grave. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story started with Hanover driving his old black sedan to investigate strange happenings at a house in New Orleans. Toledo, who had been his friend since childhood, flagged him down and told him to take Voodoo. Hanover didn't know Voodoo's powers, and in fact had never liked the cat, but he took her anyway because he knew Toledo had a way of knowing things.

Tyler flagged Hanover down and convinced him to let him tag along on the investigation, against Hanover's better judgment. The thugs met him there. So did Toledo. She appeared by his side just as he stepped out of the car. Tony and I rolled spot and we both saw a young black girl touch an oak tree and then disappear. The air was still, but the rocker on the porch moved back and forth. We both made our sanity checks. Tyler was not so lucky.

He tried the door and it was locked, so he started shooting it. Eventually, we got inside. By this time the thugs had joined us. The phone on the counter rang. Hanover answered it. The caller said, "Hanover?"

Hanover recognized the voice as his friend O'Malley, who had been put in the ground some months earlier. "O'Malley?" Sanity check. Tony's dice were lucky.

"The answer lies below and danger above." Click. Dial tone.

We went to the kitchen to find a door to the root cellar. We were looking for answers, not danger, right? The thugs went upstairs -- ready for a fight. Inside the kitchen, Toledo and Hanover missed their spot checks and were allowed to proceed to the root cellar. Tyler was not so lucky. He sees men at the kitchen table playing cards. One man holds the deadman's hand.

Deadman's Hand -- Aces and Eights
Unfortunately, his face was also missing. Sanity check for Tyler. Again he missed it. Tyler is seriously starting to lose it. He smells something cooking and looks on the stove. Guess what's in the pot. The man's face. Sanity check. He has only a few sanity points left. He looks up. The ceiling fan is spinning. It gets faster and faster until it chops his head off...well, he thinks it does. It's all just a hallucination, right? Well, Tyler won't find out for quite sometime. He sits out the rest of the game, blubbering away, not knowing if he's alive or dead.

Meanwhile, the thugs battle ghosts upstairs and Hanover, Toledo, and Voodoo battle the priest causing all the trouble in the basement.  Funny thing, I don't remember much about the specifics of the battle. The thing we thought had tentacles, but then it's Lovecraft, so that's to be expected. And, of course, we won the fight. Otherwise, the characters would not have lived on to go on more adventures and eventually spark the idea of a book series. But that's a story for later. For now, I'll leave you with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft:

It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Walking the Fence

Sometimes you just have to set life aside and go for a walk. I don't do it enough. But yesterday the nice weather lured us outside. It wasn't an idle pleasure walk. We were walking the fence that surrounds our woodland pasture for the first time since the cold set in just before Thanksgiving. With all the harsh winter weather, we needed to survey the damage, fix any major breaks, and make plans for strengthening the fence in the coming months. I took the camera along just in case I saw something interesting -- or some sign of spring to prove that winter is over.

We found surprisingly few problems as we descended down the hill -- a few limbs were were able to move, a couple of wires that needed to be tightened. Those we were able to fix. We made note of a couple places that were fine now, but would need to be reinforced soon. We'll need more poles, so we made note of it and moved on. We also discussed plans for expanding the fence a bit this summer.

Rock formations - the mystical place
At the bottom of the hill, we turned and walked along the rock formations. The first time I walked the fence ten years ago, I felt that the rock formations were a spiritual place -- a place of solitude and contemplation. Every time I walk there, I promise myself that someday I'll go there just to sit -- possibly with a notebook, maybe with some wine -- sit and listen to the sounds of the forest.
There are natural benches there, inviting me to do just that. But today was not a day for sitting. We had a fence to walk.  And so we walked past the rock formations and stopped briefly to note that the creek was not as high as we expected.
By chance, I looked down at the ground just in time to see these tiny tracks before they were obliterated by my own.

Our pace slowed as we walked up the hill. It's always easier going down. I kept my eyes open for signs of spring, but didn't see one. It was John who found the sign that spring is coming when this tiny bee landed on his blue jeans.

So on Thankful Thursday, I am thankful for many things: minimal damage along the fence line, the beauty of the paradise we live in, bees, and the scent of spring rain in the air this morning. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Facts and Fiction - Baby Bottles in the 1920s

Like many of the books in the Dime Store Novel series, the book I'm currently writing is set in the 1920s -- 1921 to be precise. Writing in the past presents a challenge for a stream-of-consciousness writer like myself. Just when the story is flowing, the images are clear in my head, and the words are pouring from my fingertips, that nag who lives in my left brain will shout out. "Are you sure it looked like that?  Did they even have that in 1921? You didn't live there, how would you know?"

And so I stop writing and head to Google or Bing or whatever search engine decides to present itself first. I don't know how writers survived before the Internet. The libraries must have been full of pajama-clad people with wild hair. And what about when the doubt struck at 5 AM or 2 AM?  Oh right...that's why we had index cards and sticky notes.

Anyway, back to my story. Such an event happened just a few days ago. I was chuckling away at how funny it was going to be to have Regan try to feed a bottle to a baby who'd only ever sucked at a breast. Regan --the party girl, already pooped on and now this. When suddenly I realized I had no idea what a baby bottle looked like in the 1920s.
Wedgewood Feeder, circa 1820

And so I searched. I learned an awful lot about the history of baby bottles that morning. Did you know that baby bottles have come in various shapes and sizes?  That the feeding vessels made of pottery have been excavated from graves dug more than 3500 years ago?  That the rubber nipple wasn't even patented until 1845 and wasn't of much use until 1900?
Allenbury Feeder
I finally came across the Allenbury Feeder, which had two holes: one for the nipple and the other to fill the bottle. Supposedly this was a more sanitary solution than the earlier feeders, which were difficult to clean. Banana-shaped feeders like this one were developed in 1894 and the Allenbury Feeder was popular in the 1920s. In fact, it was sold up through the 1950s. So it fits in fine with the timeline. It also works with the story because Regan will have no idea how to use this thing. I love when fact supports the fiction.

If you're interested in learning more about baby bottles, here are some links I found.
History of Nursing Bottles
The History of the Feeding Bottle
Baby Bottle, Victorian-Edwardian, Original

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sledding on the Cusp of Spring

It's been the coldest winter I can remember here in Southeastern Missouri. We've had numerous days with temps in the single digits and even well below zero and we've had snow cover for much of the winter. That is unusual here. Typically we have one or two good snowfalls, but the snow lasts no more than a few days. And we always have a January thaw. This year's January thaw lasted one day -- my birthday. It was a nice birthday gift, but far too short. The next day the temperatures plummeted back down.
I shouldn't complain. Truthfully, I love cold weather and I usually cheer the snow. However, this year's snow was just not great for playing. Either it was too fluffy or it was just too cold outside to do any more than the necessary chores.

So last Monday, with the promise of temperatures rising above the freezing point later in the week, we figured we'd better get out and enjoy that snow one way or another before it was gone for good. We got our sleds and headed out.

John made the first run and cut the rut. It was a bit slow, but not too bad. Then I made my first run -- pretty good, especially considering there was only about 3 inches of snow on the ground.

John's second run was faster and mine even faster. That's it up above. And no -- I did not try to run John down, despite what some might think.

We've been together over 25 years. If I wanted to take him out, I would have done it already. Besides, where would I get half of my story ideas without him? He's the idea man. I'm the wordsmith. It's how we roll -- or tumble as the case may be.

We flew down that hill a few more times, until both of us were breathless and our bottoms caked in snow. I wiped out a time or two or three, but that's half the fun of it, right?

Overall, it wasn't a bad way for a couple of middle-aged hippies to spend the morning. Some people might scoff at my crazy outfit -- Tinkerbell pajamas and an orange sock cap crocheted  by a friend of ours. Hey, I'm proud of how I look -- crazy and free and not really caring what the world thinks about how we chose to spend a not-too-terribly cold morning just on the cusp of a much-anticipated spring.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Me, a morning person?

Wow. I can't believe it's been over six months since I published my last post. I'm a slacker. Well, truthfully, I just got bogged down with work and life. Plus, John and I spent much of the last six months building a dog-proof fence because, although we live in the woods, recent events made us realize that it is just not safe for our dogs to run the way they'd like to. More on that in another post.

The pressures of work and building the dog-proof fence, made for excellent excuses not to write. Well, sure, I write all day. Tomes and tomes of words to train IT administrators and programmers. I'm good at it and it pays the bills. But what I made excuses not to do was the kind of writing I love -- writing stories.

So I made a New Year's resolution. I normally don't bother with them because the ones I make are rarely important enough to stick to a week, let alone a year. But this time, it was important. The first week -- success one day, cold weather, and fail. I was trying to write in the evenings when my mind was ready to just tune out and watch a movie. So I devised a plan. I would write in the mornings -- before taking care of dogs or cows or anyone. I would start the coffee brewing and let the words flow.

...and they are. The first week, I started writing between 6 and 6:30. Not everyday, but often enough that the immersion started. The story became the thing I dreamed about -- the thing that got me going in the morning. Now I'm in the fourth week, and I'm starting around 5:30 instead of 6, to get that extra half hour in before sunrise, when the hungry mouths start bawling.
Looking up from my writing to notice a view like this is a nice bonus

While I can't say I look forward to mornings, especially when the temperature is 2F with a negative something windchill, I do get out of bed. I start the coffee brewing, put my hands on the keyboard, and immerse myself in the story for an hour or an hour and a half while the sun edges up on the horizon.

For those moments, I am thankful. Check out the other people who are thankful. These are the people who keep me inspired.