April 29, 2011

How my heroine Aggie will help the real world too

Blog, I've got some super exciting news. I just completed arrangements for the proceeds of sales of my new novel, Aggie's Nine Heroes, to go to a great charity called Kiva.org.

You see, Aggie's Nine Heroes has more going for it than quirky characters, suspense, adventure, romance, and a Care Bear named Bono. It also explores themes related to responsible living, charity, and benevolent entrepreneurship. Aggie's grandfather Bernie is a model for using one's gifts and financial success to make the world a better place. Meanwhile, Aggie and her team of heroes create a business dedicated to serving the needs of people in trouble. So, I wanted likewise to use the proceeds of this book in a manner that Bernie and Aggie would approve.

In Kiva, I found the perfect charity to support the concepts explored in the novel. Kiva is an 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that allows people to lend money via the Internet to microfinance institutions in developing countries around the world in the U.S., which in turn lend the money to small businesses and students.

Kiva enables people who otherwise would be "unbankable" to start businesses and become productive members of their local communities, while bringing themselves and their families out of poverty. The loans provided by supporters of Kiva are paid back in full about 98% of the time, so everyone wins. It's a brilliant concept that is being embraced by more people all the time, through Kiva and other organizations like it.

25% of the proceeds of my book sales will be donated outright to Kiva for ongoing administrative expenses. 75% of proceeds will be provided to investments through Kiva. I'm so excited to see what lives I and my readers can touch through this project! And it will all start after Aggie's Nine Heroes is released in June. Blog--and blog readers--stay tuned for the fun!

April 24, 2011

Cody learns to jump through a hoop etc.

As you know, Blog, our cat Cody has been working long and hard on clicker training, and we finally have a performance on video to document his great success. So I'm here today to share with our readers the proof that you can train a regular house cat to do the same cool stuff big cats do!

After seeing on the show "Must Love Cats" how easily kitties can be trained using a clicker, I was determined to try it at home. I started by ordering myself a copy of the book Cat Training in 10 Minutes by Miriam Fields-Babineau. I highly recommend this book as a terrific resource.

In addition to the book, I needed a few essential tools for Cody's training. The first, of course, was a clicker. They're not expensive, so spring for a sturdy one; you'll find them at your local pet supply store. I also needed cat treats, and nothing says "treat" to Cody like turkey. Training treats only need to be pea size or less, so even an ever-so-slightly-husky cat like Cody won't put on weight from training.

The one other item I really needed to lay my hands on, Blog, was a hoop. Now this proved a daunting task. It seems that no one actually sells sturdy plastic hoops suitable for being jumped through by housecats. Go figure. In fact, there's not even anything (until NOW!!!) on the Internet about how to make one.

I went to my local Home Depot, thinking "irrigation tubing," but they didn't have any that was a nice ~1/2" size. So I asked the helpful Home Depot Lady about plastic tubing. "What sort of thing do you need it for?" she asked. "I'm training my cat to jump through a hoop so I need to make a hoop," I told her.

Blank, confused look. "Okay," she said, "let's ask Jim, he's the specialist on PVC tubing." We found Jim. The H.D. Lady said, "She's looking for 1/2" plastic tubing," and he said, "What sort of thing do you need it for?" I told him, "I'm training my cat to jump through a hoop so I need to make a hoop."

Deja vu.

Anyway, the illustration shows what I ended up buying: some Pex tubing and a Pex fitting. It worked perfectly and took about five minutes to convert to a hoop for Cody. Here's the resulting hoop:

So, I have trained with Cody maybe 5 days a week, for five to ten minutes a day, for about five weeks. Honestly though, Blog, he learned each new trick in a couple days...continuing training is simply helping him focus so he's less distracted and confused. You can see in the video how well it worked! And the video will also show you a few things about how clicker training works.

The coolest thing I learned from training Cody is that a cat really does care enough about your opinion to want to learn to do what you ask. It's not just about the turkey. He really seems to love our training sessions and getting to play along and do things that get a pleased reaction from his best buddy (me). I'm looking forward to teaching him more tricks like high five, shaking hands, jumping from chair to chair, etc.

So I highly recommend you try this with your cat! And if you do, or already have a cat that does tricks, please share in the comments. Say it with me, Blog: "Yay Cody!"

April 17, 2011


Blog, I've talked before about how I am so often inspired by other artists when I craft stuff of my own. It's hard not to be inspired by really cool art and want to try your hand at similar work in your own style. That's definitely the origin of this watercolor I did yesterday which I call "Cat-a-chrome."

The inspiration for this painting was the work of Drew Strouble aka Catman Drew (I love that name...I keep singing it in my head in my Bob Seger voice).  I was introduced to Drew by the awesome Animal Planet Show "Must Love Cats."  A lot of Drew's work is very realistic--truly gorgeous--and way beyond my abilities.  But his "Colorful Cats" were featured on the show and I thought perhaps I could manage doing something like those stylized, psychedelic felines. 

I worked awhile on developing a style of my own for the cartoonized cats.  Then I figured I'd try a classic three-by-three arrangement and sketched them on watercolor paper.  I did final drawing in felt tip pen, then did the painting, then went over the pen a second time.  The painting came out pretty well!  I haven't done any watercolor painting in a long time, and it was really fun to explore the medium again.

And you know me, Blog, I'm always happy to have more cats in the house...even the 2-D kind!  Thanks, Catman Drew, for the inspiration.  I hope this post will send some cat art lovers your way!

April 7, 2011

We went to Savannah, you should too!

Did you miss me, Blog? Well, I missed you too, but I didn't miss the craptastic weather that was going on here in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, where I was it was sunny and in the 70s! Like spring should be! That's just one of the reasons why I highly recommend a vacation in Savannah, Georgia. Here are some more!

1. The unbelievable beauty of the place. I guess modern architects don't totally suck (Santiago Calatrava for example, the designer of Milwaukee's spectacular art museum).  But they did know how to build homes back in the 18th and 19th centuries. And public spaces. The 22 squares of Savannah are so beautiful, especially this time of year. The city has got to be one of the best places in America to find restored buildings...you can explore for days and not see them all. Here are a few fave examples, brought to you by ICU, my camera.

Me and Davie in front of the famous fountain in Forsyth Park

2.  The live oaks. That's what they call the prevailing trees in Savannah, "live" because they do not go dormant. I guess they lose their leaves once a year but immediately get new ones. These trees are known for the broad spread of their branches, making them pretty much the best shade tree imaginable. They are also super strong and long-lived. Many of the trees in Savannah were here before the birth of the United States! I totally fell in love with them.

The Candler Oak dates from ~1730

3.  The flowers. While we're on the subject of flora, if you travel to Savannah in late March/early April, the flowers are at their peak of bloom. And they are everywhere, especially the glorious white and pink azaleas. Our patio is nice in the summer, but not quite on this level. Wow, Blog.

4. The history. Even if you're not so much a history buff, you have to appreciate being in a place that was key to the original settlement of America, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. We saw the room General Lafayette slept in during his post-Revolutionary War tour of the U.S., and ate dinner in a building (The Olde Pink House) that was built in 1771 and used as a headquarters for the Union Army. So many places have remained much like they looked back in those days, like Factors Walk which was a commerce center for cotton in pre-Civil War days.

The Olde Pink House
Factor's Walk

5. The food. Speaking of The Olde Pink House, that is one amazing place to eat, Blog. In fact, we found scrumptious dining all over the Historic District. The seafood in this place is to die for. I don't know if I can eat the shrimp from Pick N Save ever again! There's also all kinds of quaintness in the dining locales. From the fabulous river view at Huey's to the elegant old charm of the Gryphon Tea Room, we loved eating in Savannah.

BLT salad and Southern Sushi from The Olde Pink House

Ceiling at the Gryphon Tea Room

6. The shopping. Savannah does have its share of touristy shopping, but it also has scads of fantastic boutiques that showcase the work of talented artists and artisans. (Intentional pun: SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design, is a big influence here.) We treated ourselves both to a print of the trees (see #2) and to this fantastic glass piece which we call the Time Tunnel Orb.

This just scratches the surface of the joys of Savannah, Blog. It's simply the most beautiful place I've ever visited. I'll put it to you this way: I had a fabulous time last year in Vegas but I didn't cry when I left! I comfort myself by thinking that right now in Savannah, those live oaks stand faithfully shading the lovely streets and squares, as they have for hundreds of years and hopefully will for hundreds more.