I am an accessory to aggravated assault and I blame Lucy!
My former sweet, little angel has never shown an interest in birds. Chipmunks? Yes. Squirrels? Definitely. Groundhogs? Think fatality. In the animal kingdom-also-known-as-my-backyard, she saves growling and running around the yard 30 mph for small, skittish mammals. Birds are barely worth a low huff, wet nose, or tail twitch.
Our vet thinks Lucy is a part Border Collie, part Black-Lab (aka. Labracollie), which explains why she loves to retrieve tennis balls and herd young children. When Lucy herds, she uses a “soft mouth” and wet nose, bonking and nipping as if to say, “Hey, you sheep, you cows, cluster!”
When Lucy’s outside, she surveys the meadow (umm, yard) from the porch, alerting us to cars and passersby. I’ve read that Border Collies hypnotize herds with their intense, brown eyes, and I believe it. Lucy stares at us intensely with her “people eyes,” hypnotizing us with her inner thoughts. (“Give me meat.” or “Play ball with me.”)
A few days ago, we spotted a Blue Jay fledgling on our driveway. It was all fuzzy down and short feathers. I was fascinated. (Hon, do you know me at all?) I squatted down. It stared at me. I inched closer. It squeaked. I came a little closer. It hop hop hopped down the driveway. Adorable! Lucy was indifferent. Since birds were never a cause for maniacal barking or hypnotism, how was I to know she was secretly Jekyll and Hyde?
The next day, Lucy and I spotted the fledgling on the sidewalk. “There you are,” I said. “Aren’t you cute?” I said. “We won’t hurt you,” I said. Lucy lowered her head as if to sniff the bird, so I let her get a bit closer. All of a sudden, she lunged and grabbed the bird!
After yanking Lucy’s collar while screaming, “Bad dog!”, I picked up the baby bird* who wasn’t bitten or bleeding but limp-ish. Oh no! Did Lucy break its neck or pick it up with a “soft mouth?” Was the bird was just shaken up, stunned and going to come-to later? I searched the internet to find out if birds play dead, and found that some people witnessed this phenomenon, but without confirmation by an expert, it seemed like a wish.
When I returned to the scene of the crime later that day, the baby bird was gone. Did a cat find it? Or a fox? Or–maybe, just maybe–as soon as we left, it perked its little head up and hopped away?
One can only hope.
* It’s a myth that if you touch a baby bird, the mommy won’t take care of it anymore. Click here to read more.
Even if I weren’t living in a historic Victorian built in 1882, I might have a mouse in my house. But an old house has lots of great places for a mouse to come and go at will: fissures in the foundation, chinks in the brick, fireplaces, wood beams and an attic. Cute little field mice have made their presence known for years, mostly in the winter. When Polar Vortexes plus long winters equals long-term stays, I set friendly traps baited with typical mouse fare. Say cheese. Our visitors usually high-tail it outside in warmer months.
One year, my cat cornered a cute, little field mouse in the bathroom. Kimba announced her prize and the mouse sat in stunned silence. It was squeak-less.
Another year, my cat discovered a tail trailing back and forth under a kitchen cabinet toe-kick. Note to mouse: pull in your tail!
Hon, if you think my ambivalence towards cute, little field mice is due to my love of children’s literature, you would be mistaken. I’ve always loved animals, even–gasp–rodents. Just ask Hubby or my kids. They think I’m crazy when I say I bond with wild animals, but I actually do! We make eye contact. We “speak.” Either I’m Dr. Dolittle or I was a Cute Little Animal in a past life!
Do you think I should add “Bonds with Animals” to my cover letter bios? Maybe if I do, agents and editors will know that when I write from an animal’s perspective, I am being authentic. But, I digress!
This year, our cute, little visitor seems to have moved in permanently. I heard ch, ch, ch, ch under the fridge and shone a flashlight so I could see him. I placed the open end of a friendly trap adjacent to the fridge with a bit of bait. No luck.
The next night, he moved to the linen closet.
I repeated my flashlight shining and friendly trap setting routine, switching out cheese for peanut butter. No luck.
When he moved to the laundry room, I tried to entice him with dog food. Still no luck!
Not only was this mouse disinterested in ordinary mouse fare, he was brave. My daughter ascended our creaky stairs to find the cute, little field mouse sitting in the hallway, perky as a bunny at dusk.
About a week later, Hubby was hanging out in the kitchen when you-know-who scurried out from underneath the fridge. The mouse looked at Hubby with his small, dark eyes and twitched his nose and whiskers. Hubby asked, “Who invited YOU into my kitchen?”
If creaky stairs and encounters with people couldn’t scare him away, could our dog Lucy?
When we’re in the yard and Lucy sees chipmunks, squirrels, and groundhogs (see Lucy versus Groundhogs), she either wants to make friends with them or eat them. There was evidence that the mouse had played in Lucy’s toy bucket, which sits right next to the dog bed. Lucy is also known as The-Dog-With-Bionic-Hearing-If-Deli-Meat-Is-Being-Unwrapped. Since the mouse had evidently roamed freely unscathed, I can only assume this rodent is not only a gourmand, but a hypnotist as well!
We finally called in the big guns (a pest control person) who put out more friendly traps. Still, I heard ch, ch, ch, ch under the fridge.
Since the cute, little field mouse hasn’t been interested in cheese, peanut butter or dog food, I wonder if he might like mousse. Chocolate mousse. I like chocolate mousse. I bet we would bond!
“I have this theory that people make an implicit decision as to whether they’re going to stay young and curious and interesting and interested, or whether they’re just going to let themselves age.”*
Call me “Motto Mom.” Maybe mottos would roll off my tongue even if I didn’t have triplets, but mottos have allowed me to live in the moment. One of them is, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” If it’s a snow day, and there is NO WAY I’m going to get any work done, I allow myself to enjoy the found time. Guess where you’ll find my kids, their friends and me? Outside playing because 1) living on a hill makes us the “Sledding House,” 2) you’re never to old to play, and 3) there’s always hot chocolate and marshmallows afterward!
You know what else I’m good for, besides serving snacks and hot drinks? Videoing the shenanigans. Except when I decide to video the “sled train” head on! Ahhh!
Lucy is my chapter book’s muse. She and my main character both have silky fur, flappy ears, round, brown eyes and a fluffy tail. My muse shows me how a dog behaves, and my uncanny ability to translate WOOF adds to my main character’s authenticity. Writers are advised to “write what you know,” and I know Lucy. You know?
Top Ten Reasons Why Lucy Is My Inspiration Puppy
(with commentary from Lucy)
Lucy is not just a dog, she’s also a:
1. LEG BONKER. Lucy gets attention is by bonking her wet, black nose into legs. Again and again. “What do you want, Lucy?”
Lucy asks, “Do I have your attention now?”
2. VACUUM CLEANER. Lucy finds the messiest eater and places herself under his/her chair. If it falls on the floor, it’s hers.
Lucy says, “I’ll eat whatever YOU are eating!”
3. FOOT WARMER. This canine is hot, and I don’t mean that in an inappropriate way. Got cold toes? Get a dog!
Lucy says, “Feet schmeet. It’s still petting.”
4. POOCH PILLOW. Need a cuddle or a cry? Tired? Bury your head in a Pooch Pillow and you’ll feel better immediately.
Lucy says, “I’m an affectionate girl.”
5. SMARTYPANTS. Maybe its the Border Collie in her or maybe I’m just bragging, but that dog knows a lot of words.
Lucy says, “First of all, I don’t wear pants and, second of all, of course I’m smart. I watch your every move.”
6. SECURITY GUARD. Lucy announces strange cars parked in front of our house (or anywhere up and down the street), men walking up the driveway, and delivery trucks–especially the mail truck–by barking her head off, ripping up up her doggie bed, jumping on the front door, growling like a psycho doggie and bolting down the yard at 30 mph.
Lucy says, “Don’t complain. I’m just doing my job!”
7. TENNIS BALL CATCHER. Lucy LOVES tennis balls so much, she could play ball all day. I throw it and she catches it mid-air. When I toss the ball up a hill and say, “Roll it,” Lucy nudges it with her nose so it rolls back down to me. See? Smartypants!
Lucy says, “Tennis balls are chewy, bouncy and roll-y. And you’re playing with me. What’s not to love?”
8. LOVER GIRL. Pet Lucy and she reaches out to touch you back. Want to be greeted in the morning? Get ready for lots of licks. Trying to leave the house? Have work to do? Too bad. Lucy the Lover Girl will flop on her back and beg for a belly scratch. She’s very distracting!
Lucy says, “I give what I get.”
9. HYPNOTIST. Seriously! She hypnotizes us with her eyes. She stares into our souls. I read that Border Collies hypnotize their flocks of sheep or cows with their eyes, and we think Lucy’s part Border Collie. I dare you to look away when she stares at you.
Lucy says, “What’s a soul?”
10. COMEDIAN. True, I DON’T laugh when Lucy rolls in…shall I…say disgusting things? But, most of the time she’s a comedian. Like when we put her outside to get some “fresh air” (see #6) and she stares at us through glass doors. Or when she rests her head our laps during dinner. Reaching for a napkin, instead you find a Lucy’s head on your lap and she’s begging for people food with her hypnotizing eyes.
Lucy says, “Glad you find my begging amusing.”
Hon, do you have a pet? How does he or she inspire you?
My doorbell rang at 9 am on a Thursday morning. There stood my neighbor with a lost dog, a Boston Terrier. She’d put her big dog’s leash on the small dog, giving it an “on-the-lam” appearance. It was yappy. It had attitude. It barged right in.
Lucy, my sweet dog, isn’t so sweet when delivery trucks pass the house, mailmen deliver the mail, workers come to the door, or when small dogs with large attitudes try to assert themselves. Lucy barks, jumps, and runs around like a nut, saying, “I’m the alpha dog!” She did all three while I chased her around with a leash, clipped it on her collar, and tried to restrain her from pouncing on the small pooch. Morning mayhem!
The Boston Terrier had run up my neighbor’s driveway, and my neighbor figured a fellow dog-lover-like-her might know who it belonged to. I had a hunch. She started making calls, taking photos of the dog and sending them to its Likely Family.
My neighbor and I both had to be somewhere in 10 minutes. What should we do? I ran both crazed canines upstairs to my college daughter’s room to wake her up.
Lucy was riveted by Rosie (we found out her name when we called the Likely Family), but not in a good way. While making calls, taking photos and sending them, Rosie had eaten Lucy’s entire bowl of kibble, drank from her water bowl, and snuffed and huffed at Lucy. Lucy was having none of it!
Teen Daughter graciously got out of bed and gave up going to yoga. Instructions? Separate the dogs and watch Rosie (she might need to relieve herself after eating more than her body weight in kibble) until her Mom, a teacher, arrived.
My neighbor left, apologizing for leaving us with a lost dog. I left to go to work, apologizing to Teen Daughter that she’d miss yoga.
Later, I got the full report. Teen Daughter kept the dogs on two sides of a glass door. Lucy was riveted by Rosie. Then Rosie barked and Lucy barked back. A lot!
Rosie’s mom arrived around 10 am and Rosie was on her way home (where she was going to get a replacement battery for her electric fence collar). The morning excitement was over.
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 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.
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.
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, concentrateon 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 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.
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?