Monday, October 29, 2018

Step Outside of the Box

This past weekend I attended my very first Writing Workshop. It was suggested to me by a good friend and a published author of many books. First of all, it was at a local bookstore, it was one day long and the cost was reasonable. One author, Susan Cushman held the workshop and ran the logistics of getting it all set up. 

After checking it all out, I registered and received the information about the agenda for the day and what the participants would be learning. We were encouraged to submit fifteen pages of a manuscript to Susan with a synopsis of what she would be reading. It could be a short story, a memoir, a chapter or part of a chapter from a novel. The only exclusion was poetry. She would critique the manuscript to let each writer know what she felt about the plot, style, voice, characters, pacing and dialog. This was daunting enough, however, the next step would be that she would send each of the participants a copy of all of the manuscripts to take notes on and for us to critique. 

This very professional author gave us the guidelines and what to look for in reading/critiquing manuscripts. We were not editing, not looking for typos or grammar errors...strictly the way the words flowed in the style, as I listed above. Now, this was a time for me that I really did have to take a deep breath, let it out slowly and show myself that I did have the courage to let others read MY work. After all, I am a writer and I write not only for myself, but for readers, hopefully. Therefore, I need to know if I am effective and to be able to get guidelines from others on how to make it more effective.

As I started to read the other manuscripts, I began to see how this process worked. Forget the 'teacher' in me. I am reading the work of others to be positive and to encourage them to stay with what they have poured their heart and soul into. Certainly there is no discussion about the subject matter, and there is no need to be all gushy about their work, no matter how good it may seem. (And some of them were pretty dang good!)

This was all about helping each other become better writers. Susan started the workshop with a brief coffee and light pastry breakfast where we were able to informally chat some with each other. Trust me, so much better than other types of workshops that I have been to where they have "ice-breakers" that always seem to make you feel like you are a child. 

The first session was a craft talk by Susan that helped to give us background into writing scenes to move our narratives forward. She went over the guidelines for critiquing manuscripts. The second session of the morning was critiquing four chosen nonfiction manuscript samples. She guided the discussions and all of the participants were allowed to comment and question. 

At noon we went in the restaurant in the bookstore called Libro. It most definitely was a bit posh and the servers were very professional there. The food was actually quite good, however the time spent with other writers was one of the best parts of our lunch.

The afternoon session had seven manuscripts, all fiction. Everyone stayed within the guidelines that Susan had given to us. She informed us that these are guidelines that she herself learned by attending workshops for her novel. My own manuscript was the third one discussed and the information that I gained from Susan and the other participants was invaluable. Some of the questions and discussions were actually some of the very ideas floating in my own mind. By participating in the workshop, I was able to see a whole different perspective on some of my writing. I believe this to be a good thing!

Susan's craft talk for the afternoon session was how she was able to get published without an agent. She actually got four book deals in one year without acquiring an agent. Talking about how to get published in a variety of ways was extremely helpful to me, as I am sure it was to some others as well.

What would a workshop be without Happy Hour! Susan had complimentary wine and snacks. It was a time to make connections with other writers and a chance to say our goodbyes. We were able to choose one of Susan's books for her to write a personal note inside and autograph it for us. I chose "Southern Writers on Southern Writing." Seemed appropriate in that my novel title will be "GRITS." (Girls Raised in the South)

Now I am looking forward to attending more workshops when they are announced in the writer's publications that I subscribe to. After all, it is a business expense! 

I now know that I will work harder at not following this Writer's Map:

The quote from Jane Yolen states why this is so important.  "Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title, lists, a character sketch, or a journal entry.  Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Just How Much Do Dogs Really Understand?

There has been quite a bit of research done on how much dogs understand what we are saying to them. We, as humans, should pay more attention to their body language as we speak to them. This picture is Piper, my brother's Vizsla. Notice her head tilted to the left as if she is saying, "I'm trying to understand what you are saying to me." Other signs that a dog may be showing you that he is trying to understand human conversation is raising his ears, wagging his tail, intent staring at you or whining.

My husband and I know that our dog understands us. We did not need a scientific study to reveal this piece of information. Davis demonstrates this all by himself. We even spell words, like parents do around young children. If he hears the words spoken such as walk, go, or doggie-daycare then we can expect one very hyper active dog and nothing really will settle him except us talking to him to let him know that it is not for now. 

Dogs are a lot smarter than most people believe. They not only hear and understand, they can feel and read our body language. They are great listeners and we can pour our hearts out to them. This trust develops into a very special bond. If it is something positive that you are talking to them about, they will wag their tails and maybe even give a bit of doggie talk back to you. If it is more on the negative side, just watch his ears go back. Every morning when Davis hears a soft good mornin' and sees a smile, he goes to his box of toys and chooses one to bring to me.

Dogs have more intuition about people than most people have. The next time that you are out on a walk, or have a guest or workman come to your house, just watch your dog's body language. Does his tail wag in a welcoming way or does it dip down between his legs. It has been said that if a dog does not like someone, that should be a sign for you to be wary.

Dogs are great mimics and have an empathy for their owners. If you are happy and showing it, their tails will be wagging. On the other hand if you are sad or upset, they drop their ears and tails in sympathy for you. Our dog will come to check on us if we sneeze or cough and seems to have a look of concern on his face, even putting his head on our lap or trying to cuddle up with us on the sofa to try to make everything okay.

Scientists have used MIR scans on hundreds of dogs to try to find out how dogs process speech, its meaning and tone. They have discovered that it is similar to the way that humans do this. Most dogs have a vocabulary of 250 words, however, if you talk to your dog often and use repetition, respect, play and patience, your dog could raise that number significantly. 

When you are talking to your dog continue to remain positive and tell him how smart he is. Continue to make training time fun and give him new adventures and experiences. Having some of his favorite treats is always a good thing, as he will do anything to please you. We even have played around with hand signals and our furbaby follows them. He is a fast learner. We know that some of what he seems to understand so well is also based on our tones, body language and routines. When he sees me get my shoes on and grab my handbag, he is running from me to Steve and then to where his leash is hanging. 

His ears perk up at the first sound of a shoe hitting the floor. It is his cue to wake up and get ready to go. He can put on the most soulful, big brown eyes when we say to him that he can't go and point to his home. Davis goes in willingly and plops down, head resting on his front paws and just stares at us. Whenever we are not with him, I like to leave music playing or a ball game. Whether it helps or not? Let's just say that it helps me when we must leave him at home.

Last topic is about dogs watching TV. Before having Davis, I can't remember ever having a dog who watched TV like he does. His breeder, Kim Mills Davis, told me that when she wanted to get a picture of her puppies for sale, that she would turn the wall mounted TV on and all of the puppies would look up at the movement on the screen. Great idea! Our Davis loves watching most all sports that involve a ball, movies with dogs in them and even animated movies with one of our granddaughters.
Only the future can tell how much more our furbabies can learn and will they ever understand full conversations?  There are times that I believe our dog and many others do this now just by picking up on certain phrases and phrasing. Dogs, after all, are positively pawsome!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Day Care

Day Care is one of the most important choices you will ever make for your child. You want them to be happy and safe and with caregivers who love them while you are away. What about Day Care for your furbabies? Are they not just as equally important? Of course they are!

My husband and I are both very much dog lovers. So much so, that we knew that we could not take care of one the proper way until something changed in one of our jobs. We worked very long hours and many times unpredictable changes such as meetings lasting much longer than expected and both of us in positions that we could not just walk out to say, "Sorry, must go pick up our dog." We each left our home for work at 7:00 A.M. and rarely left before 5:00 or 5:30 P.M.That is no life for a dog to be left alone for that length of time. 

As I got closer to retirement, we talked about possibly getting a dog at that time. I researched what kind we may want. We even pointed out where he would be near our feet and if you can believe it, we even had his name chosen. We talked to others about their dogs and the vets that they took their pets to, just to gather important information when the time came. 

Once the time did come, BOOM! Everything happened so quickly. The Animal Clinic that kept coming up as highly recommended was Walnut Grove Animal Clinic. We live close to Walnut Grove, however, this clinic is a bit further in on Walnut Grove than we realized. In fact, it is 14.7 miles down the road. We pass at least 6, maybe more, on our way there. The decision was made that we would go to this Animal Clinic when we chose our furbaby. 

After reading about the different breeds we really wanted a Goldendoodle. It helped in that they are known for their intelligence, being non-allergenic, little shedding, clowning performances, and great personalities. Because of their intelligence, empathy, and need to please, they are often used for Pet Therapy dogs. 

I researched breeders and here is where the tricky part came in. The only ones coming up were a day trip away or more. Pictures are put up for you to pick out the pup of your choice on your computer. They will fly your pup to you (for a cost) or hire a driver. No thank you! Both of us are a "hands on" kind of people. In fact, in our imagination we could see that the puppy would actually find us. And he did just that.

Putting out a note on Facebook that if anyone knew of a local breeder to please private message me. A friend that I have known since elementary school days wrote back the name of her friend whose mother was a breeder just over the state line in Mississippi. After checking it out, I called and we set up a time to come out to their home to see the puppies and their parents. The writing was on the wall that we would find our new puppy. The breeder's name: Kim Mills Davis. Davis is the name that we had already picked out for our puppy. Coincidence? Our last name is Miles and if you flip it around to the jazz musician of Miles Davis, there you have it. 

Kim had us in her home and brought in a couple of pups at a time. They all were adorable. However, one in particular kept coming up to Steve's leg and cuddling up to him. He had a sister that was as cute as a bug and kept pushing him out of the way. The others just enjoyed playing around. Davis was THE ONE. No question. We saw his momma, a beautiful standard black poodle and his daddy, a handsome Golden Retriever. So size wise Davis would be somewhere between 45 and 65 pounds. At this time he was all of 15 pounds. So cuddly!

Kim gave us all of his papers before we left and told us to get him to a vet to be checked out as soon as we could. If anything was not right, she would refund our money or if we had already bonded, she would refund 50% if we had a note from the vet. I called first thing on Monday morning and being a new puppy, they took us right away. (By the way, Goldendoodle by Kim's Design is the site of our breeder. Check her out if interested.)

The front office staff, as well as the technicians that we met were super friendly. Then Dr. Taylor came in. She said that the whole staff in the back were all taking turns holding Davis and getting pics of them holding him. Davis, even at this young age met no strangers. We were offered the puppy package which included all of his needs for that first year, including having him neutered when the time was right. One of the technicians asked me to please bring him to Doggie Day Care when he has all of his shots up to date. That just kind of went over my head because I had never heard of such a thing.

Just as infants visit the pediatrician for booster shots, etc. so did Davis visit Dr. Taylor. Every time we went, I was even more impressed. I asked about Doggie Day Care and what they did. Steve and I talked it over and thought we would try it out when he was ready.

It was most definitely the best decision that we ever made. Even though both of us are home working as writers, Davis, at almost 2 years of age now, needs to run off his energy in a fun, safe, and loving environment. Walnut Grove Animal Clinic (WGAC) was most definitely the place. Since we started taking him here and there, we see how safe and protected all of the dogs are. They have upgraded the play area to the same kind of artificial turf that we have for our furbaby at home. They have baby pools and climbing equipment for all of the dogs to do their own thing. Our dog is in it for the pool, yet on his first report card it was noted that he was very shy and that the pool was not his favorite thing. That was the last time that was ever on his report card.

Before they upgraded to artificial turf, Davis had a favorite place to go. Needless to say, he had to have a bath before we picked him up.

We think that he believes that he is the official greeter for all dogs. With the renovation of WGAC, the new signage went up that calls it Resort Hotel and Spa. And it truly is. The dogs have a blast. It is wonderful for socialization skills. It is like a mini day vacation. We know that our dog gets lots of TLC all day long. In the car as we near WGAC, he starts trying to talk, as if to say to us that we are taking too long. Our feelings would be hurt, except when we do come to pick him up, he is that excited to see us come for him also. We are just so thrilled that he loves Chris, Chaney and Jess so much! He feels the same way about Dr. Taylor when we take him in to see her. 

For the record, we have set up times when he plays most of the day and toward the last part, he can get a bath or one of the expert groomers can work their magic on making him so handsome!  This happens only when he needs it. Normally he has eight hours of non stop play. They do get a rest time but I am betting Davis is just like our eldest granddaughter. Even in Pre-K she did not rest at rest time. 

The ones who run the Resort part of WGAC are Chris, Chaney and Jess and they love their dogs. And they treat each one of them as their dog. They know all of their names, as well as the owners. You can even go on line and see what your doggie has been doing throughout the day. Special instagram pictures of Meet the Pup Monday or Tongues Out Tuesday are posted also.

If you are still wondering about why Doggie Day Care is a good idea or not consider this:

*  for exercise and socialization 
*  human contact (especially if you work outside of the home
*  expert supervised playtime
*  relief from boredom
*  good solution for busy owners

And if you want a recommendation, what better than using Walnut Grove Animal Clinic, as it was voted best of Memphis in 2018! We agree! 

Look at all of the fun these pups are having:
They were loved, they were able to run freely in a safe environment and when our little guy (all 60 pounds of him) falls fast asleep within one mile down the road, walks in to nibble on some of his food and crashes by the front door, as if it is his job to protect us from anyone who may want to come in; this is when we know he had fun.
There are times that he does not make it all the way to the front door before he takes a break.
Once he has taken a little break, he comes over to us for some loving and looks at us with his soulful brown eyes, as if he were saying, "Thanks for giving me such a fun day!"

Monday, October 8, 2018

My First Writing Workshop

For quite some time now, I have been working on a novel that has been blazing in my head. There have been some interruptions (legitimate ones, not excuses) that have delayed my process, however, now is the time. No, I have not finished, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

To help me along, even when I was not working on my novel, I have been reading books by authors that I admire. I have subscribed to the Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers magazines to keep me up to date on what is happening in the world of writing. Plus, I started a blog that I was writing three times a week and now have cut back to once a week, just to work on my style and voice. The whole blog idea happened to be from my Marketing Advisor. Yes, I have one. A very handy one that just happens to be married to me and I love him dearly! He was a Director of Marketing at FedEx and is an avid reader. He has retired and is a writer also. We have our own offices and a lovable goldendoodle who spurs us on. 

 After reading some of my blogs,once I really started writing from within myself, he gave me a fantastic compliment. He referenced a style of my writing to an author that we both enjoy reading. Oh wow! I know he is a bit biased, yet just hearing this
comparison built me up to a new level of writing. 

Every writer tells others the most important thing is to write every day. This is something that I have always done, if nothing else but to write in my journal. I wish that I had started sooner than I did, however, I do have twenty years of journals stored. Who knows? Maybe I will become famous and my journals will be used for a biography? Or perhaps my children may want to flip through some to see what was on my mind on certain days/years? The point is that I wrote not for others, but for myself. My day does not seem complete without writing. 

After retirement from the field of education, I started my blog and have set up my office in order to carry on as a business working out of my home. It feels so right! I even have entered a writing contest from the magazines that I subscribe to. Nothing has come of entries yet and may not. It is getting my writing out there!

The exciting part of digging in harder and deeper with my novel is talking to a friend of mine about his novels and what advice he can give me. Greg sent information to me about a workshop locally that I may be interested in. I read all about the details and it made perfect sense to attend. So I registered.

The author who is guiding the workshop is Susan Cushman. After doing some research on her website and reading some of her blogs, I thought it was a perfect fit for me at this time. Some of my positive mantras that I post on my Facebook page say if you don't take that step into the unknown how will you ever know what could have been and how will you ever reach your goals without taking opportunities that may help you reach them.

Susan stated in her e mail to me after I registered about the set up of the day. There was a deadline to send 15 pages of your manuscript to her. She will
 choose some for the morning session and some for the afternoon session to critique with us in the workshop. I must admit that I was questioning my sanity for registering. Do I really want others reading my work and critiquing  it out loud to the whole class? I did rationalize that when I am published (stated positively) many others will be critiquing it. So perhaps this was the best way to find out what it is that I can do to continue to hone my writing skills. 

Certainly, I need all of the advice that I can receive. Once I saw the guidelines of how to critique a manuscript, it eased my mind. Susan explained that this is a guideline that is used in many workshops and that she has had her manuscripts go through the process. It was not to catch a writer out on grammar or spelling or typos...but more on the style/voice, balance of scenes, pacing, dialog, characters, etc.

Little did I know that everyone who submitted a manuscript received everyone else's manuscript for us to have read before the workshop so that we are familiar with the pieces and already may have some notes to add. We may decide to hand our notes that we wrote on their manuscripts back to them after the workshop if we wish. Plus, we will all have a copy of our manuscript with Susan's notes on it. 

The end of my novel is what I was working on (the story board and how and where I will end it) however now I believe that I will keep it simple in the plot until I hear what others have to say. If it means that I will go back to revisit some of my earlier chapters then that is what I will do. 

The one thing that amazed me was that two or three months, even six months after retirement, I had friends asking if my book was not only finished but when would it be published? Writing a book is not easy. It is most definitely what I have always wanted to do and now I have the time and energy to give to becoming what I have always dreamed of. 

When asked the question by Greg, my published author friend about why did I want to get published, my reply was to just get my name out there. Sort of a foot in the door...not expecting a best selling novel! He smiled and said, "Right answer!" In my own words, that is sort of like a one in a million chance and I am not that kind of writer yet. One step at a time and I believe with all of my heart that I am headed in that direction! 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sick Puppies

When my children seemed to be ill as young children, it was extremely stressful to know when it was time to call the pediatrician for an appointment. As a mom, you don't want to overreact, yet on the other hand you don't want to let something go that could lead into something more serious.

At least with a child, I had a bit of a history to base my decision on after a few visits to the doctor's office. One child would run a low grade fever, yet continued to play and no one would ever guess that he was ill. After two or three days of the fever, I would take him in, happy and smiling, only to be told that any other child would be crying if their ears or throat looked like his did. I would feel terrible. 

Then on the opposite side of the coin, was my drama queen daughter. I could not count the times that I took her in because she would act as if her ears or throat were hurting, yet it would rarely be any kind of infection. I learned to hold off on taking her in to see the doctor right away, unless I felt it was serious enough to be seen.

Now their children are  causing them the same worries, so it is something we all go through. The same can be said if you are a pet owner about when do you make the appointment and when do you wait it out? Our furbabies can't tell us how badly they hurt and where the pain is. 

This past week our puppy, Davis Miles, was not acting himself. He usually entertains us beyond belief or else is getting into some kind of mischief that puppies do get in to. 
This is why he has toys to help occupy his time when we are not able to play with him. However, it is not often that we find him lethargic and not interested in play.
When he did get up, he lost his breakfast on the floor. I won't go into details, let's just say a lot. Of course, it worried us but dogs, just as people get ill this way. Unless there is some other symptom that is worrisome, most of us will just keep an eye on them before jumping to conclusions. We did take up his food but left a bit of water for him. He just slept on the tile and only moved to the sofa to be close to us. His nose was still cold and moist. He was responsive to his name, just no interest in play. 

Later in the day he got sick again, but only a small amount. Made sense because he had nothing to eat. He did take small sips of water here and there; not his usual drink up the whole bowl at one time. We decided to call the next day if he was not better. He had a few sips of water and did do his business outside, which was a positive sign and then, without any food for the day, he threw up a little again. 

We called the vet the next day and got an appointment for him to be seen. We get there and he is acting like nothing is wrong. He is so excited, wagging his tail, jumping and bouncing around...making us look like we have lost our ever-loving minds. Thank goodness the vet knows Davis and us.

She checked him out and said his vitals are all good. It appears to be one of two things wrong. He either ate something that did not agree with him or he has a stomach virus, which animals get just like we do. She gave him an injection to calm his tummy and then gave us tablets to give him an hour before feeding him. We were to do that for three days. It worked! We surely were happy about that. Parents of furbabies are willing to pay the vet for her services and medicines when it all comes together and heals your baby.

Davis had two normal days of eating his food, playing catch, being his usual mischievious, loving self and went off to play with his friends at Doggie Day Care to help him use some of that puppy energy! He even took a dip in their pool with a friend