My Writing Process (Bunny Hop) Blog Hop

A Florida bunny.

A Florida bunny.

Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny.

Tween Daughter dressed up as the Easter Bunny for Halloween.

Thanks to Laura Sibson, I am participating in a “My Writing Process” Blog Hop. I added the Bunny Hop part as a nod to Easter, Spring, and my own beautiful Tween Bunny who is my first reader.

Laura Sibson

Laura Sibson

Laura earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts after discovering a passion for writing novels geared toward teens. Laura’s a fellow runner (she runs much longer distances than me), dog-walker, coffee-drinker, “ingester-of-pop culture,” and mom of teens. She lives in suburban Philadelphia and has impressed me with her knowledge of “Bawlmor” accents.

Laura describes the paranormal young adult novel she’s writing on her blog, Laura Sibson, A journey toward writing dangerously. Her novel sounds spooky and fascinating, and it involves the Black Aggie, a real statue that used to reside a stone’s throw away from my parents’ house, in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Do you think its a coincidence that Laura connected with a Bmore girl? I don’t know, hon. You’ll have to ask her!

My Writing Process Questions and Answers:

What are you working on?

Coco, the main character in my chapter book is based on a true story and a real dog. An article describing how a dog ended up on a NJ Transit train headed to Manhattan appeared in my local paper. We had recently adopted a puppy. A story was born! Coco’s inherent doggie abilities and desire to find bones will, hopefully, lead him on many adventures (meaning more chapter books).

In the picture book series I’m writing, my five year-old main character wanted to become a superhero just like his big brother. In the first book, he did it! Now he’s off to conquer the world (and his fears) as the fastest superhero ever.  I’m working on books about the day he thought his mommy was a zombie and about the time he battled deep sea creatures at the town pool.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Guess what one of my goals is? Hint: it’s in the name of my blog.  ENERGY!

I hope my writing grabs readers from the get-go! My manuscripts are populated by relatable characters, alliteration, funny phrases, and a dash of silliness. The universal theme underlying all of my manuscripts is family.  Whether the action revolves around siblings or parents and their children, the action happens between the humor and heart.

Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.

Lucy, the model for Coco Mercado.

In my chapter book, Coco stays true to his doggie characteristics, but his impulsivity takes him to unexpected places. He meets a zany cast of characters along the way and, inadvertently, saves the day while on the search for the perfect bone. This chapter book (and the others I plan to write), will fill the gap for elementary school kids who are one step beyond First Readers but not yet ready for longer chapter books.

My nephew, my muse.

My nephew, my muse.

Logan, my latest picture book‘s main character, is just like real little boys. How do I know? Because he’s a compilation of my “superhero” nephew, my son, and the boys I teach at pre-school and at the elementary school. My nephew says, “Activate! Pshht! Pow!” So does Logan. My nephew says things are “mega.”  So does Logan. Sibling rivalry amongst my triplets plus one more was rampant.  My hope is that kids will love Logan and his brother’s vivid imaginations while parents will appreciate the heart of the story.

Why do you write what you do?

I write because ideas pop into my head, words and phrases tumble off my tongue, and characters stand in front of me, tail wagging and arms crossed, begging to be brought to life.

I write because the child inside of me connects to children from toddlers to teenagers.  I still love playing in a sandbox, climbing to the top of the swingset, and sledding down a hill at lightning speed.

I write because I believe stories are magical.

How does your writing process work?

An idea or a character or a turn of phrase will start off as a wisp of thought. The ideas, characters and turns of phrases that stay in my head like a song-on-the-radio-you-can’t-stop-singing must be written down. If scenes start appearing in my mind’s eye, while I’m driving, running errands, walking Lucy and, always, when I try to go to sleep, then I have to get my thoughts on paper. The process has begun.

First drafts go to my wonderful critique group. I revise. Second drafts are critiqued. I revise.  Etc!

My most important revision tools are a thesaurus, dictionary, rhyming dictionary and critiques from my group (or an editor or agent, if I’m lucky). More importantly, I take my watch off, don’t answer the phone, concentrate on listening to how my characters would speak and inhabit the world I’ve created.

Last November, I signed up for Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge to come up with a new picture book idea for a month.  Thirty new ideas are now residing in my Idea Box.

Joining the My Writing Process Blog Hop, I’d like to introduce you to (drumroll, please):

Michelle Karéne

Michelle Karéne

 Michelle Karéne

Michelle and I connected on Twitter (Michelle on Twitter, me on Twitter).  Michelle not only has a blog called Michelle Karéne, Children’s Author, is a member of SCBWI and an aspiring children’s writer, she earned her doctorate in Biomedical Engineering, works for a biotechnology company, and has published fifteen articles in various scientific journals. Michelle’s short story, “Magnolia Fall,” will be published in the 14th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection. Michelle, who lives in North Carolina with her family, blogs about her chapter book and young adult works-in-progress, funny things her three daughters say, nature photographs and dinner ideas.  I hope you’ll check out her blog.

Thanks for reading, hon!

 

 

 

 

 

Mandel Bread (Passover and Regular Recipe)

Mandel Bread wrapped and ready for the school Bake Sale.

Mandel Bread wrapped and ready for the school Bake Sale.

Passover ingredients.

Passover ingredients.

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Mandel Bread batter.

Mandel Bread batter.

Form batter into

Form batter into narrow loaves not more than 3 inches high.

 

 

 

 

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Narrow loaves.

Narrow loaves.

Fresh out of the oven.

Remove from oven, slice, and turn slices on their sides to bake for approximately 5 – 10 more minutes.

Fresh out of the oven.

Fresh out of the oven.

Mandel Bread 

In 8th grade, I took a cooking class and hand wrote a recipe as we learned how to make Mandel Bread. When I came across the recipe on a piece of lined loose leaf paper, it was as if the delicious scent of cinnamon and chocolate swirled not just in my memory. I had to try the long-forgotten recipe.  Guess what?  That recipe stands, and the delicious scent of cinnamon and chocolate really did fill my house.

Mandel Bread (pron. MAHN-del bread), also known as Mandelbrodt in Yiddush or Kamishbrot in Ukraine, is an Eastern European cookie that is similar to Italian biscotti. Mandel means almond in Yiddush (and Swedish, thanks for the info Miss Marzipan), so the recipe for Mandel Bread usually includes sliced almonds.  But, since my kids don’t like nuts, I make mine without them.

Sometimes, they come out crunchy and sometimes, doughy. This batch, as Goldilocks would say, “came out just right!”

7th GradeTween Daughter, “Mom, would you please make something Kosher for Passover for our school’s bake sale?’

Me:  “I know just what to make!”

Happy baking, hon.

Mandel Bread (for Passover)

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar

1/2 pound margarine (2 sticks)

6 eggs

2 3/4 cups cake meal

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup potato starch

6 ounces chocolate chips

optional–1 cup chopped nuts

cinnamon/sugar mixture–approximately 1 Tablespoon sugar to 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Sift cake meal and potato starch separately.  After sifting and measuring, they can be combined.

3.  Cream margarine and sugar together.

4.  Add eggs one at a time.

5.  Fold salt and sifted ingredients into creamed mixture.

6.  Blend in chocolate chips (and nuts, if including).

7.  Form loaves on cookie sheet.  Keep loaves narrow and not too high (less than 3 inches.)    Dough will be loose and sticky.  Moisten hands with water for easier handling.

8.  Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mixture over loaves.

9.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until slightly browned.  Take out of oven.

10.  Slice loaves while hot.  Turn slices onto their sides, separating slightly.  Sprinkle more cinnamon/sugar mixture on sides of Mandel Bread slices if desired.

11.  Return to oven for another 5 to 10 minutes to dry out a bit more.

Mandel Bread (Regular Recipe)

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 Tablespoon vanilla

4 cups flour, split into 2 cups and 2 cups

2 Tablespoons baking powder

3/4 cup vegetable oil

6 ounces chocolate chips

cinnamon/sugar mixture–approximately 1 Tablespoon sugar to 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Cream margarine and sugar together.  Add vanilla.

3.  Add 2 cups of flour with baking powder, then vegetable oil, them remaining 2 cups flour.

4.  Fold in chocolate chips.

5.  Form loaves on cookie sheet. Dough will be loose and sticky. Moisten hands with water for easier handling.

6. Sprinkle cinnamon/sugar mixture over loaves.

7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until slightly browned. Take out of oven.

8. Slice loaves while hot. Turn slices onto their sides, separating slightly. Sprinkle more cinnamon/sugar mixture on sides of Mandel Bread slices if desired.

9. Return to oven for another 10 to 15 minutes to dry out a bit more.

Spring Bling Countertop Container

Glass marble decorated Countertop Container.

Glass marble decorated Countertop Containers.

1. Measure height and circumference of can.  2. Cut cardstock correct measurements to wrap around can. 3. Glue cardstock to can with white glue.

1. Measure height and circumference of can. 2. Cut cardstock to correct measurements to wrap around can.

Glue cardstock onto can.

3. Glue cardstock onto can.

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Let covered can sit for a bit so cardstock is secure before applying glass marbles.

4. Let covered can sit for a bit so cardstock is secure before applying glass marbles.

5. Apply glass marbles in rows  from the bottom up.

5. Apply glass marbles in rows from the bottom up.

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Applying glass marbles with glue gun.

Applying glass marbles with glue gun.

Creating a pattern with colors.

Creating a pattern with colors.

Creative Minds with their new Bling Storage Containers.

Creative Minds with their new Spring Bling Storage Containers.

Trying to come up with a new idea for my Creative Minds after-school class, I found this DIY craft on Creative in Chicago.  It was called “Bling Storage for the Bathroom,” but I don’t think these third and fifth graders are into makeup yet, so they will have the prettiest pencil cups in their grades.

These Countertop Containers were so fun to make!  We thought they would be a great party craft, party favors, or Mother’s Day gifts.  Creative In Chicago recommended lining the inside of the can with Cardstock paper, then covering that with Modge Podge, but we just worked on the outside of the cans.

Happy creating, hon!

Supplies:

–Soup Can (I took the top off with the kind of can opener that lifts the top off rather than slices it, so there were no sharp edges.)

–Cardstock paper in a color to coordinate with Glass Marbles

–Glass Marbles that are flat on one side (called “Decorative Fillers”in many colors at Michael’s craft stores)

–White Glue and Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks

–scissors, ruler, pencil

Steps:

1. Measure height and circumference of can.

2. Cut cardstock to correct measurements to wrap around can.

3. Glue cardstock onto can.

4. Let covered can sit for a bit so cardstock is secure before applying glass marbles.

5. Apply glass marbles in rows from the bottom up.  (We applied top down and bottom up, and bottom up is better because if the marbles stick up over the edge of the can it’s okay.  But if the marbles, stick over edge of bottom, the container will wobble.)

6. Sometimes there was a gap in the glass marbles, so I broke marbles in half to fill in gaps.

7. Glue Gun glue hardens instantly, but gets stringy.  We cleaned up the strings when container was done.

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

 

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

1. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl.

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl.

2. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture and stir.

Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture and stir.

Prepare dried fruit and nuts.

Prepare dried fruit and nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

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Add dried fruit and nuts to oatmeal mixture.

Add dried fruit and nuts to oatmeal mixture.

Pour oatmeal mixture into prepared baking dish.

Pour oatmeal mixture into prepared baking dish.

 

 

 

 

 

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Right out of the oven.

Right out of the oven.

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

Oatmeal On The Go Bars

I saw these homemade Oatmeal Bars at the pre-school where I work. A mom of a 3 year-old boy sends him to school with the most interesting and beautifully prepared lunches. She was nice enough to share this healthy recipe. I have to admit that substituting applesauce for sugar is not something I usually do, but these bars get their sweetness from the dried fruit. To up the sweet-factor, I may add chocolate chips next time. Did I hear you say that chocolate chips negate the healthy factor? To that I say, “Whatever works, hon!” To get my daughters to drink milk, I added chocolate syrup and called it “Cookie Juice.”

Ingredients:

2 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cup milk (any kind of milk–rice, almond, soy, cow’s)

3 Tablespoons honey

1/2 cup applesauce

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, blueberries, cherries, chopped up apricots–whatever you like)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans)

optional:  chocolate chips

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Combine first 5 dry ingredients in a bowl and stir.

3.  Mix the milk, applesauce, egg, honey, and vanilla in a separate bowl.

4.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet mixture, stir to combine and then stir in the dried fruit and nuts.

5.  Pour the oatmeal mixture into a buttered or greased 7 x 11 baking dish.  (I don’t own a 7 x 11 baking dish, so I used a 9 x 11.  The result was a bar not at tall as the ones I originally saw.)

6.  Bake for 30 minutes or until thickened and golden.

7.  Cool, then cut into squared and serve.

*Oatmeal Bars may be frozen in a sealed bag in the freezer for up to 4 months.  When ready, allow to defrost in fridge for 24-48 hours.

*Refrigerated Oatmeal Bars will last up to 5 days.

Dinosaurs Dressed Up

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All Dressed Up and Somewhere To Go

I’ve spent a lot of time at the  American Museum of Natural History, especially when my kids were little. We marveled at the dinosaur bones, studied the amazing wall in the Hall of Biodiversity, and gazed into space at the Hayden Planetarium.

Subway Art under the museum.

Subway Art under the museum.

Subway "fossils."

Subway “fossil.”

Subway "fossil."

Subway “fossil.”

At the museum a few years ago, I watched Tibetan monks build sand mandalas and meditated with  Abbot Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan Khen Rinpoche (Khen Rinpoche for short).

But, I’d never been to the museum in the evening, dressed up and as a guest at a fundraising gala.

A T-Rex, towering and fearsome.

A T-Rex, towering and fearsome.

The 94 foot long, fiberglass replica of a blue whale.

The 94 foot long, fiberglass replica of a blue whale.

Always impressive, the big blue whale seems to swim in mid-air.  At the gala, it floated above the tables and modern-day finery.

I had such a nice time at the Stephen Gaynor Gala, meeting Hubby’s colleagues, meeting Suzy B of Suzy B Jewelry, bidding on raffles, dining on a delicious dinner, and rocking to a set by Lauryn Hill.

And guess who I introduced myself to…

the MC of the night…

drum roll, please…

Anderson Cooper!

Anderson Cooper and me!

Anderson Cooper and me!

Anderson was gracious and friendly.  I shook his hand.  He asked if I wanted a picture and I said yes, but first I had some things to tell him.

I told him he was my favorite journalist, that I watch him almost every night, thought he did a great job covering the earthquake in Haiti, saw him when he was in the Ukraine, like the way he presents both sides of an issue but his panelists aren’t acrimonious, and wondered about the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius trial.  Anderson asked me (ME!) what I thought of the trial.  I seriously could have talked to him all night!  Then we had a photo taken.  My mom says, “No wonder he looks so happy in the photo.”

I am still thrilled thinking of it.

Hon, have you ever met someone you admired from a distance?  I’d love to hear about it.

Undersea Undergound

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Color, Composition and Creativity

I stopped in my tracks when I came across these beautiful undersea mosaics.  Along with the amphibians and insects featured in my previous post “Underground Art,” these glass and ceramic tile artworks are located under the American Museum of Natural History at the 81st Street subway station.

Still wondering who I met at the gala fundraiser at the museum last week?  If you follow me on Twitter, then you know.  If not, you’ll have to wait for the big reveal!

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I love the mosaic’s vivid colors, the detail in each scene, and the artistry.  It’s amazing that static material can evoke movement!

Hon, just imagine you’re scuba diving.

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Underground Art

Manhattan On My Mind.  

Last week, I attended a gala (very fancy!) for a private school in Manhattan. Who? The Stephen Gaynor School. What? A fundraiser. Where? The American Museum of Natural History. Hosted by? Well, that’s a surprise for later in the week.

I love the museum for many reasons, but I found another reason to delight in visiting. If you reach the museum by subway, specifically the 81st Street entrance, you will find gorgeous mosaic tiles.

Hon, happy hunting for underground art!

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My favorite?  Stay tuned…

Do you have a favorite?  

 

Naughty Dog! (Before and After)

Before the snow.

Before the snow.

After the snow.

After the snow.

Before the snow.

Before the snow.

After the snow.

After the snow.

In between.

Before the snow.

After the snow.

After the snow.

Hon, you know how much I love Lucy!

She’s my first dog and I think she’s the–umm–cat’s meow.  She’s a sweetheart, angel, practically my fifth child.  I’ve become one of those people who shows dog photos to just about everyone she meets.  She makes me happy and I want to share the joy.

But, one day she was so naughty that I debated a return to my former cats-only status. 

Every Sunday that’s not warm enough to bike, I run in the South Mountain Reservation.  Lucy is my running partner and she always has the best day running, playing with her doggie friends and swimming in the Rahway river.  Click here to see a video of her splashing and swimming with her friends.

I let Lucy off leash so she can run (and, let’s be honest, tire herself out).  She can be cagey about returning to me, but when I say, “Bye bye Lucy, Mommy’s leaving the store now,” she usually comes.  It may take a few minutes, and bikers may stop to watch and laugh at my attempt to use reverse psychology on a dog, but it’s all in good fun.  That was BEFORE THE SNOW.

AFTER THE SNOW, my sweet, little, black dog wasn’t such an angel!  One Sunday, we went on our usual run.  I let her off leash where the water runs over a dam.  Guess what she did next?

She ran far out on the frozen river, jumped off the edge of the ice and plunged into the freezing cold water!

I couldn’t believe it!  Horrified, I thought What should I do?  Should I go out on the ice?  What if its too thin and I fall in?  Should I call the fire department?  Does anyone have a long rope I can tie around my waist so I can slither over the ice on my belly to rescue my crazy dog?

Then Lucy’s head bobbed up, she hoisted her front paws and torso over the ice, and found the strength to scramble up and out of the water.  Boy, was I was relieved!  And mad!  (Parents, you know how our kids wonder why we yell when they get hurt?  I tell my kids it’s because we’re scared, and that’s just how we react.)

Lucy, dripping wet and shivering, stood for a few seconds on the ice.  I thought she’d run into my arms but, instead, she seemed to forget the whole “I almost drowned in sub-zero water” incident and bounded down to the snowy rocks below the dam!  That naughty dog!  I yelled, “Lucy, bye-bye, Mommy’s leaving the store!”  No luck.  I yelled, “Lucy, yum-yum’s” while holding out dog treats.  No luck.  I screamed, “Lucy, get over here!”  Still no luck.  Even though the temperature hovered around 20 degrees, I was steaming!

Twenty minutes later, I caught her and yelled, “That’s it!  You’re done!” and “You naughty doggie!”

The next day, my daughter ran into a mom she babysat for and told her about the “Lucy Incident.”  That mom said she saw the whole thing from the other side of the river.  She saw a dog run out on the ice, recognized my voice, and knew the naughty dog was Lucy.

Lesson Learned:  Lucy is not allowed off leash if the river’s turned to ice.

Also:  Carry fresh turkey in my pocket; she always comes for that.

Also:  My voice carries.

But, how can you stay mad at a sweet angel when she looks at you like this?  

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And this?

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London Broil

London broil, roasted potatoes and gingery sauteed carrots.

London broil, roasted potatoes and gingery sauteed carrots.

London Broil

My son was coming home for the weekend. What to make for dinner? Something hearty, of course! First I picked up London broil from the butcher, then I searched for a recipe. I found this Paula Deen recipe on the Food Network website.  Controversy over Paula Deen aside, this was an easy-to-follow, not-too-time-consuming, delicious recipe.

Happy cooking, hon!

Approx. 3 pound London broil.

Approx. 3 pound London broil.

Prep the meat with salt and pepper.

Prep the meat with salt and pepper.

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Reducing glaze.

Reducing glaze.

Slather meat with reduced glaze.

Slather meat with reduced glaze.

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Use a meat thermometer while broiling to determine desired doneness.

Use a meat thermometer while broiling to determine desired doneness.

Let London broil rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Let London broil rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Dinner's served!

Dinner’s served!

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Ingredients:

1 (3-pound) London broil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar

1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled

1 bay leaf

Directions:

Preheat broiler and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Season meat with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over a low heat, combine  vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and bay leaf.  Simmer until liquid has reduced by half and is syrupy in consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard garlic and bay leaf.

Put meat on baking sheet and slather with glaze.

Broil meat 4 inches from the heat until it reaches desired level of doneness*, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. When using the broiler, crack oven door open so meat doesn’t burn.

Remove from broiler to cutting board and let about 10 minutes** before cutting.  Thinly slice against the grain.

*Desired level of doneness means how well done do you like your beef?  Using a meat thermometer, take the London broil out of the oven when it reaches the desired temperature.  The meat will still cook for a few minutes when it’s out of the oven.

Chart of Meat Temperatures and Doneness

**Let the London broil rest before cutting it.  If you carve it right away, the juices will run out and the meat will be dry.  Let it rest, and the juices get reabsorbed.

Recipes for roasted potatoes and gingery sauteed carrots coming soon…

Hello Dolly

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My Aunt Jessica adopted a 12 week-old kitten a couple of years ago from a man who rescued kittens from under the  Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk.  Dolly had a severe ear mites infestation, a bacterial infection and needed to be spayed, but she had found her “forever home.”

About a year ago, it became apparent that Dolly had a more serious health issue.  One kidney was obstructed, filling with urine and ballooning to three times its normal size.  The vet said the choices were to remove the kidney and save Dolly’s life or do nothing, in which case Dolly wouldn’t make it; her condition was life-threatening.  The operation was expensive, but my aunt decided to proceed–there was really no choice when it came to Dolly.

Dolly, all better now, is shy with strangers.  Visitors might see a blur of caramel-colored fur streak past.  Before you finish saying, “There she is,” she’s gone.

With Aunt Jessica, she’s—well—a doll!  She’s so affectionate (umm, clingy), that she craves constant physical contact.  She loves tennis on television, walking behind the T.V. to find the tennis ball.  Snowflakes are fascinating!  She’s the first to “tell” my aunt when it snows.  She chirps, squeaks, purrs and mutters.  Clothes on a drying rack, especially undergarments are fair game.  Dolly will knock down her prey, dragging it around the apartment like a lion parading her kill.

On a recent visit, Dolly and I bonded, sort-of-ish.  I took these pictures with my phone which is why they’re grainy.  Still, I think you can see Dolly’s personality shining through.

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Curious enough to come out of hiding.

IMG_3341Sizing me up.  Friend or foe?

IMG_3352From a mouse’s point-of view. 

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Do you have a pet rescue story you’d like to share?

I’d love to  hear it, hon!