Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Making of "Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call"

I wanted to write a picture book about Lonnie’s dad teaching him the Loon calls. The Loon calls are so beautiful, I wanted to share them somehow with children, and I wanted to write another book to go along with the Lonnie the Loon series.

My first problem was to figure out how to interpret the calls into words, or letters. We can read that a duck can “quack” and a cow can “moo,” but how do you recreate a melody of sounds?

There are several websites that have sounds of Loons. I settled on two: The Loon Preservation Committee (www.loon.org/voice-loon.php) and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Loon/sounds). I listened to each call over and over again; my husband and dog thought we had somehow morphed to Minnesota. I finally combined some letters to make words that, when pronounced, could sound a little like the calls. I thought the children reading the book would have fun with the words.

I was still worried about creating an authentic book with sounds. I told my idea to several people, and an author friend suggested I insert a chip, like the ones used in musical greeting cards, in each book. She gave me a website to research, but I discovered that I would have to buy 100,000 of those chips – it’s hardly likely I would even sell 100,000 books in my lifetime, much less be able to revamp the cost of the chips. I also doubted if my publisher could pull that one off for me.

I finally had an ah-ha moment – I love those little light bulbs that flash in my brain. I was walking into the house with the mail in hand, and something round inserted into the junk triggered a long-lost memory of cardboard 45 records found on the backs of cereal boxes. I could actually play those discs on my little blue record player. My thought was to put the Loon sounds on paper discs and insert them in each book – but that is so 1955 – what modern technology can I use for the calls?

Another ah-ha occurred when I looked further into the junk mail and saw those little black square puzzles that are on everything these days. I discovered they are called QR Codes, and with a phone app, will take you to a link on the advertiser’s website. How very 21st Century! I downloaded an app on my phone and started pointing, just to see how they worked. Yes, what came up were advertisements or special offers.

If the QR Code takes someone to a website, perhaps they could take you to a sound. I contacted The Loon Preservation Committee and shared with them my idea. I asked them if I could use the Loon sounds on their website for my book. They not only said “yes,” they sent me MP4 sound files for all four sounds!

Okay, I have the sounds, now how does that dang QR Code work anyway? How do I put the sounds on my website? How do I direct the code to my website? So many questions that I didn’t have the answers to. So I called tech support, my son, Brian. He put the sounds on rennerwrites.com and created the QR Codes for my book – genius!

When I got the proof from my publisher’s designer, I tested all the codes with my handy-dandy little app. They worked! All the person reading the book has to do is press the black sound bar on my website when the QR Code Reader takes you to the correct page.

I’m so excited to have Lonnie the Loon Learns to Call in hand. I must give credit where credit is due, so I included a resource page in the book listing my son’s business and the Loon websites.

You can listen to the sounds of the Loon by clicking on Hoot, Tremolo, Wail, and Yodel: http://www.rennerwrites.com/sitemap/.

Oh, and buy my book!! You can contact me through my website, www.rennerwrites.com or by clicking on http://booklocker.com/books/7898.html

A review on Amazon.com would be awesome too!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Close Your Eyes and Dream

I pour a glass of wine and head outside to sit at the patio table. This is lovely…a beautiful time of day…so calming. I will sit, sip my wine, and close my eyes for a few minutes and dream. What do I see? Hmmm…

I see black dots that have tails moving down, down, down…then…bounce up from my eyelashes – up again, then they drift down, down, down…then…bounce. There are two of them, no, three. Hmmm…

This isn’t working. I wonder what I’m going to make for dinner… Ok…concentrate…close eyes.

Black dots moving down…slowly…now I see a faint light off to the left side…

Gosh, I have to grade papers tonight and get ready for class tomorrow. I wish I didn’t put everything off until the last minute. We’ve been off for a whole week during Spring Break…will probably have to review with the students.

Ok, stop…pay attention…

I’ll try to make the black dots go up…nope, here they come back down…one, two, three…bounce…bounce...bounce.

Listen to the birds. I love the way the birds chitter chatter back and forth with each other. They even chitter chatter at night. I thought they were supposed to be nesting when it gets dark. My husband says those are Mockingbirds that chatter all night long. Arizona birds chitter chatter more than Minnesota birds. But, I love the Minnesota loons…their calls are so haunting. In Minnesota, they would be announcing right now that they are heading back to their home lake for the night with their families.

STOP. I am concentrating too much…what’s wrong with me…why can’t I just dream?

Hmmmm…black dots…bounce…bounce…

I wonder what I’m going to get my kids for Easter. I bought the food today…will go to Costco on Friday…cook on Saturday…plan a plastic egg hunt…Shit, I forgot the milk.

Oh for God’s sake.

I drink the rest of my wine, get up, and go fix dinner.

Monday, March 23, 2015

From Top to Bottom

Five more gates and I’ll be at the finish line. I’m certain this is my best time.

Brigitte’s heart pounded behind her breast as her legs guided her body around the gates. She followed the silken snow path as if she were an automated machine, rounding the turns with precision. Her body was in perfect condition. The snow swirled around her skis as she abruptly turned just beyond the finish line, stopping the downward flow of her run. She set a new world record, and her time in the downhill slalom qualified Brigitte for the Olympics. The celebrations in the lodge were noisy and jubilant. Three athletes just realized their ultimate goal and were on their way to represent the United States in Norway.

A white fog pulled the snowfall over the sky like a curtain ending a performance. The skiers started their drives down the mountain, which became more of a challenge for them than rounding the poles on the slalom course. Brigitte maneuvered her compact car around the sharp bends, sliding on patches of ice that started to form. The wind blew a mound of snow off a pine tree onto her windshield, and Brigitte swerved left instead of turning right to follow the curve of the road. The force of the collision threw her body forward as her head pounded into the steering wheel. She didn’t hear the crushing metal as the engine pushed the steering column into her pelvis.

“Oh my God! What have I done!

Nicklas stood by Brigitte’s car, staring at the wreckage as he called 911 on his cell phone. He didn’t see her small car as it swerved in front of his truck. There was nothing he could do; he knew he was going to hit her. The snow silenced the dusk as the sirens echoed down the mountain.

I’m so cold. It’s so dark. Where am I?

Brigitte slowly opened her eyes and stared at a flickering square on the wall, a TV. A shiver went down her spine, but she couldn’t move her body. She saw a figure out of the corner of her eye.

“Are you awake, Brigitte?” Her mother’s hand stroked her arm, comforting the chill surrounding her body.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in Denver, in the hospital.”

Brigitte tried to turn to see her mother, but couldn’t move. “Am I paralyzed?”

“No, sweetheart, we’ll talk about it when you’re feeling better.”

At times, Brigitte thought her leg was there. She could feel the pain. She could feel her toes wiggle. But when she looked down her right side, reality settled in her stomach, making her want to vomit. Her right leg was gone, vanished. All her accomplishments, all her dreams of skiing on the Olympic team, disappeared like the snow that melted out her window as the spring sun perched in the trees.

Spring brought depression instead of hope. Physical therapy was painful and the wait for her prosthesis seemed endless. When it was finally fitted to her body, she hated it because it was so cold, mechanical, and uncooperative.

Summer sucked the energy out of Brigitte’s soul, but she continued to practice walking, then running, as her mother kept reminding her of the determination she once had to be the fastest skier in the world.

Fall swirled a new freshness into Brigitte’s spirit as she felt a desire to challenge the snow again. She was almost ready to strap on her skis to test her metal leg on the slopes.

At first Brigitte felt clumsy and awkward as she skied down the bunny slope, the tips of her skis pointing inward instead of parallel. She was humiliated to take lessons and have to start all over with a sport she had grown up excelling at. Finally, after two weeks on the green trail, her instructor, Todd, said he was going to turn her over to an expert for her needs.

What does that mean? Someone who can teach an invalid? Oh, snap out of it, Brigitte. My robot leg is going to propel me around those gates faster than ever.

Determined to compete again, Brigitte returned to the ski resort, along with some friends, the next weekend to meet her new instructor. The wind started to blow, and the few flakes of snow turned into a blizzard just as they settled into the cozy ski lodge. The room was filled with merry skiers as they drank hot chocolate and hot toddies, all talking about the fresh white powder they’d be conquering the next day.

The festivities in the air were contagious and the ski instructors joined the group, wagering bets as to who were novice skiers and who were experts. Laughing at their guesses, Todd took another sip of his hot toddy, his eyes briefly wandering from the men and women at his table, to another instructor across the room. He was sitting alone, staring at Brigitte. Todd excused himself from his table and walked over to the other instructor.

“I see you have your eyes on beautiful Brigitte. She is your new student. She qualified for the Olympic ski team before her car accident last year. She’s learning to ski all over again with her new prosthesis. Let me introduce you to her.”

Brigitte looked up just as the two instructors approached her table.

“Brigitte, I’d like for you to meet Nicklas Peterson. He’s going to take good care of you and make you an Olympic star again.”

Nicklas’s heart skipped a beat as he realized he had been responsible for crippling Brigitte in the car accident down the mountain last year. Now he was given the challenge of restoring her skill. Nicklas shook Brigitte’s hand, “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Larry the Lab

Larry is our Yellow Lab. We rescued him as a 3 month old, even though Hubby stated, “NO PUPPY!” Larry has been the best dog ever! He makes us laugh; he obeys our commands; he is mild 
mannered; he sleeps in my bed. Ok, he’s a little spoiled, but he has earned it. He doesn’t chew on anything other than his toys. He doesn’t counter surf. He doesn’t beg. He even has his own desk calendar, “Larry’s Words of Wisdom” – which can be ordered here:


End of commercial.

Larry has been a little costly as a rescue. When we first got him, it took almost six months to find the right food that wouldn’t cause him to have diarrhea. I even boiled chicken and rice for several weeks. His stomach caused him so much trouble, he got dehydrated and we took him to the emergency animal clinic. They found an obstruction, so he was transferred to another clinic where they did an ultrasound. We were an hour away from a $5,000 surgery, when he passed whatever was causing the problem.

His stool samples were still not fully formed, so while we were trying to get it all straightened out, we had to report to our vet as to the consistency of his deposits in the yard.

“Is it like soft serve or chocolate milk?”

“Well, no, it’s more like pudding.”

“Are they like tootsie rolls?”

“They are more like small tamales without the husks, but complete with corn chunks, which would be pieces of his yellow Kong toy.”

I’ve haven’t had so many discussions about poop since my children were toddlers.

We thought we were home free after settling on the right brand of dog food and treating his giardia, an intestinal bacteria. But, alas, in Minnesota last summer, we discovered a lump on his neck. Several trips to the vet, two different kinds of antibiotics, and an aspiration, lead the doctor to say simply, “Swollen lymph nodes…don’t know the cause…not worried about it.” The end.

The lump disappeared, until last week, when we felt it again. Hubby and I disagreed on the size. He said golf ball, I said large grape. Perhaps it was more like a small plum. I made an appointment for Monday with our vet, but on Saturday night, I spotted blood on his neck where the lump was. So at 11:30 pm we took him to the animal emergency clinic. After sitting in the 40 degree waiting room while the other emergencies were being taken care of, the vet took Larry in and gave him some sleepy juice while they shaved the area around the lump to see what it was. It turned out to be an abscess that had started oozing blood and pus, cause unknown. At 2:30 am we finally got Larry home as he staggered into the house, collapsing on the hallway tile. I’m sure you can relate to the feeling, like when you’ve come home after a night out with the girls. We got him to his little bed next to my bed, and I lay down with the light on, barely dozing off at 3:00 am.

Poor little guy. Now he’s on antibiotics and pain pills, which is affecting his appetite.

Larry is our life, and we certainly have learned some life lessons from our little doggy companion:

  • ·      Trust the ones you love, as they will take care of you.
  • ·      Show others you don’t want to leave the ones you trust by jumping over the kennel gate.
  • ·      Don’t complain or argue.
  • ·      Whimper when you hurt so you can get several pats and a pill.
  • ·      Sleep close to the one you love.
  • ·      Wag your tail, even when you don’t feel very good.
  • ·      Stay in bed if you need to rest.

We will do anything for our little guy, Larry the Lab.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Meet You at the Races

I went to Turf Paradise with some lady friends today. Turf Paradise is Phoenix’s horse race track and the 3rd largest sports attraction in the state of Arizona. It’s been a racetrack since 1956. When Hubby and I moved to Phoenix in 1975, the facility was out on 1,400 acres of barren desert. Bell Road was a dirt road. There are two tracks, an infield turf course and a dirt course around that. In 2003 the owner built a 30’ by 60’ equine pool for the training and therapy of the 2,200 horses that are housed there during the season. On May 5, the trainers will pack up their horses and take them to cooler climates – like Canada – just like many of the two-legged animals that live in Phoenix. From the dining club we viewed the mountain ranges to the North, East, and South, and we watched the ducks and geese on the lake in the center of the tracks.

Our group of ladies had the special privilege of touring the O’Brien Stables, one of 61 barns located
to the South of the track. We learned about the different types of shoes, bits, harnesses, and blinders that the horses wear. They really know their horses and what helps them when they race. Their horses were very friendly and enjoyed the star mints and carrots we fed to them.

I’m not much of a gambling person - I just don’t like to lose money. I walked away with $15 from the Black Jack slots at a casino one time. I consider that a big win for me. Because I play the nickel slots, I know I’m not going to win big, that’s why a $15 win is perfectly ok with me. My gambling friends would have just put the $15 back in the machines. And I’m not very good at betting. Hubby always tries to trip me up with his special bets. When we were in college I told him I really liked the song “Windy.” He asked me the name of the group who sings it and I replied, “The Associations.” He bet me $5.00 that I was wrong. Well, I was pretty sure I was right, so I took the bet. Then he said the name of the group is “The Association” – without the “s.” That’s pretty much the way the betting in our family has gone on in our married life together.

Once I figured out how to read the race booklet, I chose my horses and bet on all 8 races. I had taken a $20 bill out of my purse, and at day’s end I put $5 back in. I figured $15 for 4 fours hours of entertainment was pretty good.