Monday, December 18, 2017

Pet News 28: The Mysterious Cat Unmasked

The book, Cat Wise: America’s Favorite Cat Expert Answers your Cat Behavior Questions written by Pam Johnson-Bennett, is a must have for cat lovers and parents. Johnson-Bennett sets up the book by theme, followed by a multitude of questions with their detailed answers. As a cat behavior consultant, Johnson-Bennett gives this information in a down to earth manner, focusing on the needs of the cat at all times and explaining the reason for their behavior.

Such topics include how to get your cat to let you pet them to teaching them how to play without biting. For example, the use of the squirt bottle to deter cats from climbing tables or scratching furniture isn’t really accomplishing what you expect. Instead, Johnson-Bennett says, the cat is being punished and the trust diminishes. It’s important to find out why your cat behaves the way they do to modify their environment/behavior.

Other topics include the reasons your cat purrs, meows, hisses, and kisses to everything on poop and pee. For example, scooping the litter box at least twice a day is essential to maintaining a clean place for your cat to eliminate as well as make sure they continue to eliminate where they’re supposed to. The author mentions that you also get to check on the cat’s health by examining their poop and how often they pee to detect any problems early.

Further topics include dealing with a multi-cat household to aggression issues. For example, help your cat be calm by taking him to the vet for an exam, provide a safe place if the cat becomes agitated or stressed.

There is so much Johnson-Bennett goes over- from indoor vs. outdoor cats to feeding to grieving a pet. It’s a great resource to understanding our cats.
Here are a few websites to check out (but you’d have to look at the back of the book for all the ones the author listed):

Monday, December 11, 2017

Teaching Moments 10: Decode + Understand + Heart = Read

The following book titled, Teach Anyone to Read: The No-Nonsense Guide by Lillie Pope, PhD, is a great resource for teachers. The book provides a myriad of information about teaching students how to read and why.

Pope explains the difference between the traditional phonics (decoding or teaching of skills) and the whole language approach (sight word or balanced reading approach). Most of the time, students learn with a combination of the two, with an emphasis on sound, using all the senses. Importance is made to adapting to the student’s needs and having an open-minded, flexible, and prepared teacher that makes reading fun. She also differentiates between developmental (students first learning to read) and remedial learning (students exposed to reading but have not mastered).

The author mentions that expectations play a big role in the classroom. Students who succeed know the teacher expects them to work hard and mirror their positive attitude toward learning. One way is to practice the same skill in a different way with different materials. These include games, repetition, speaking skills activities, and writing. Providing choices and cutting back on distractions help students succeed.

Don’t hesitate to check out Pope’s book for more on reading and strategies to better prepare yourself to teach reading.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quotes 29

“There are no gains without pains.”
Benjamin Franklin

Most writing advice says to sit down and write. Sometimes, you get advice about how to squeeze time into this endeavor, which is something I’m always looking for.
Time is the only factor affecting the quantity of writing one does. And you know what? It’s okay.
Yes, okay.
The quality of writing is much too important to blame on quantity or an inability to write. Yes, sometimes we have to write stuff that would make your poodle cringe, but by the end of that draft, the writing is better.
So, write, write, write. Like Franklin says, you won’t get there by staring onto the screen. You have to give up some things to make time for writing. Ten minutes? Go for it. Thirty? Sounds great. An hour? Even better.

The idea is to build on what you’re doing. It’s the same with painting or cooking. When you’re first learning how to do it, you have to make mistakes until you need to form a base before the details or it tastes just right. But you won’t get there unless you make a little time to try. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Books I’m Reading 36

Fire Up Your Writing Brain: How to Use Proven Neuroscience to Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Writer by Susan Reynolds. This book provides examples of research-based methods or information in terms of how we use our brains and how we can use it to our advantage when it comes to writing. Reynolds mentions a lot of ideas to get the muse going.

Dragonbane by Sherrilyn Kenyon is a Dark-Hunter novel about a dragon forced into a human body. Though, he can change from one form to the other, his life had been filled with tragedies. It’s a great read and is on top with the Acheron and Styxx stories written of the same genre.

Frankenstein Underground by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, and Dave Stewart. This is a graphic novel about that famous monster, but with a twist, and without spending so much time on its development. It deals more with his thoughts and feelings. The character was in the Hellboy series.

Crush: Love Poems by Kwame Alexander. This collection also includes poetry by other poets/authors.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Writing Endeavors 16: Breathing PART III

There is still a lot of work to be done with the novel I’m working on so, here is another set of links to some of the poems that were published online. Enjoy!

I’d like to thank all the editors and publishers who accepted my work.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

“Featured Poet” and “Welcome”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why I Write 19: De-Slump

There are days when writing comes easily, and others when writing gets harder. Sometimes, the ideas flow and other times, there is nothing flowing. Of course, if we weren’t writing, we wouldn’t be breathing… just kidding. But it does have its merits. Writing becomes part of who you are. It’s like drinking water when we’re thirsty. It has to be done.
These past few days, there have been many obstacles to my life which make it harder to sit down and write. But instead of dwelling on that, I focus on what I have accomplished thus far: two chapters in three weeks for recent Fantasy novel, 12 poems, a revised query letter, and edited one chapter to previous novel. Not bad. right?

So, if you find yourself in a slump (as I have) go back and see what you’ve done. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself. The important thing is to write. Write inside your head. Write on a pad, napkin, etc. Write on the computer/laptop, etc. Even if you only have ten minutes, write. Giving up is not the answer. It’s hard, and it might get harder trying to balance life, but write. Write or grow a phantom limb. Haven’t done that, yet, but adding it to your routine in some way helps 😊.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Short Stories & Such 36: I Regret Sleeping on that Couch

The following short story was from Writer’s Digest January 7, 2014 daily prompts. I never had the chance to write the short story and since Halloween and Day of the Dead passed, I tried it. I think I went over the 500 words mark.

The prompt was:
You’re a struggling musician who is playing small clubs on a summer tour across the country and who generally sleeps in your van. But one night, in a small town in (fill in the blank), a concertgoer offers to let you sleep on his/her couch. You take the offer, but by morning you regret it. Write a story that explains what happens.

I Regret Sleeping on that Couch

Most days I put on summer concerts for the people in different towns with a crew of a dozen. Mostly beach scenes, but a few small clubs around the area. After each concert, I get to top the day in my van. Snooze and hit the road. Alone. Not much of a home or bed to sleep on. As the tour across the country continues, and I meet up with other musicians, the days get longer. They’re just like me, though. Struggling. So, I don’t offer much except company and a few beers. We practice and tune our instruments. My guitar strings need changing and I’m running out of band-aids. Someone offered me a special cream to smear on my hands before I play, but time seemed to waltz by as I traveled.
One night, my luck was changing in the small town of El Segundo. A concertgoer offered to let me sleep on her couch. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a night that ends up with me kissing them on the (clearing throat) cheek before heading out. I swore never to do that again. Not after Sarah slashed my tires for making out with her friend.
            “That’s alright, I’ve got a place to crash. Thanks.” I give that smile of mine that usually lets my teeth shine.
            “You mean that gallop out there you call a van?” She smirks and crosses her arms. “I’ve seen you the previous night after your gig and stroll over to it like a cat in pain.”
            I watched her lips move. What did she know about me snoozing in my van? Better yet, what did it matter. This girl had style. Her brown boots reached up to her knees and her mini skirt… well, it was pretty tiny.
            “Look, I’m fine. I’ve got a nice ride.”
            “Come on, my apartment’s less than a mile away and I can see you’re in need of a good shower after the great performance you gave.”
            Then, she did it. She placed her slender hand on my forearm, tracing the letters on the tattoo of my favorite song.
            “My brother will be back tonight with his girlfriend.”
            “Big brother?”
            “Yeah.” She giggles in a cool manner.
            Then, she did it again. She touched me and stepped closer. “But we got the rest of the time to ourselves.
            Call me romantic. Call me stupid. Or call me desperate. My back was killing me from sleeping in my van. Maybe a little break from the confinement might actually do me some good. Swearing off women should not be a priority. Besides, I smelled like sand and a real shower with soap would do wonders to my complexion. I think.
            I nod and the next thing I knew I was trailing her red Pontiac. It was in good shape, too.
            She led me to her apartment room, which was on the third floor. My mind must have been doing a number because I don’t recall the streets we passed to get here or the name of the hotel. I wasn’t stoned or had any beers tonight. Maybe I was groggy and tired.
            “Here it is.” She spun around as she entered the room. Her mini skirt rose a little and her blouse hug her chest. She tossed the keys on the table stand behind the couch and wrinkled her nose.
            “Want to get the door?”
            “Oh.” I set my guitar down and closed the door behind me.
            She took hold of my hands and guided me to the bathroom.
            “It’s not much.” She turned the water spout on and felt the water steam up. Her eyes fixated on mine. She bit her plump lower lip and sprayed some water on me.
            Giggling, she offered a towel and left the bathroom. “Have fun!” she called out.
            I scratched my head and spotted my reflection in the mirror. A shave would be nice, too, but a musician had to look the part. So, scratch that thought.
            After a long shower, I wandered out into the living room. I set my jacket hanging on my guitar and sat on the couch. I looked around, but she was nowhere to be found. I guess this wasn’t my lucky night. Her brother was coming soon anyway. What did I expect? A free ride?
            Sighing, I lay my head back on the couch pillow and watched the ceiling. The city lights reflected through the window causing their own aurora. My eyes felt heavy and the next thing I knew, I was asleep. Restful as it was, I regretted it by morning. Her brother had arrived and he wasn’t too thrilled to see his sister laying on top of me. And when I mean on top, I mean her head resting on my crotch. My fly was open.
            The guy was like six-foot seven or something. He grabbed my shirt and lifted me off the couch. His sister crawled away and screamed to let me go. Another woman held her shoulders.
            “So, you’re the bastard who’s been sleeping with my little sister?”
            His eyes were huge and stared at me with a ferocious intensity you find on wrestlers. Wait, that’s wrong. Wrestlers are good liars.
            “Listen, I just crashed here last night,” I said.
            “You what?”
            “I don’t know your sister… I don’t even know her name.” I pulled on my shirt, but his grip was solid. “I’m a musician…”
            He let go of my shirt and turned to his sister. Then, back at me, but with his fist.
            I fell back and hit my head on the couch armrest.
            “Oh, Phil!”
            Her hands raised my pulsing head and she set her cheek beside mine.
            What the heck?
            “You pegging him, Edith?”
            She nodded and set my head down.
            Phil grabbed the back of my shirt, dragging me to who knows where. Everything grew dark and the next thing I knew I was on a hospital bed. My head pulsed like a ping pong ball bouncing in a snow globe.
            But I did remember the word the siblings used: pegging. Pegging me for what?
            The door opened and she, Edith, stood there, gaping at me with her sultry eyes. She licked her lips and stepped inside.
            Gosh, that mini skirt… but my heart was pulsing just like my head for some reason. I’m never going to accept another offer to sleep on someone’s couch.
            Edith traced the edge of the bed before getting closer.
            I watched her move like a panther next to me. She placed her hand on my abdomen.
            “How do you feel?”
            I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t even sure how I got there and for what reason they admitted me in.
            “Good.” She spread her fingers over my abdomen and curled them, clinging to the robe. “I’m sorry about Phil. He can get a little over protective.”
            “Where’s my guitar?”
            “Hmm.” She tilted her head back and I saw her white neck. A silver line for a vein.
            “I love the way you say ‘guitar.’”
            She looked down at me and her eyes were bloodshot red. “You won’t need it anymore.”
            “What do you mean?” I pulled the bedsheet off. “I have a night concert.”
            “No. You. Don’t.”
            Fangs grew from her teeth.
            I tried to jump off the bed, but metal straps appeared on my wrists and ankles.
            Her body was warm as she crawled on top of me, she grabbed the hems of my collar and sank her fangs on my carotid artery.
            Jimmy take me to town…

Monday, October 30, 2017

Teaching Moments 9: Books! Books! Books!

Books written by great writers need to be celebrated. One way is to share them with others and if you’re a teacher, share them in the classroom to help students understand the past.
Here are a few books with related themed that may be used for Black History Month or to speak about hate, race, and being different:
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book deals with desegregation in 1959 and how the two main characters deal with the changes, including in themselves. It is a great read and gets you thinking about all the things we have now that we should be grateful for and for all those who fought the system.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. This poetry collection gives a brief history about the Harlem Renaissance and short bios of famous poets of the time. Grimes uses some of their poems to springboard her own poems on the subject, using their words as end words in the lines of her poetry.
Solo by Kwame Alexander is a story written in verse about a teenager named Blade. Blade is the son of a rock star who isn’t the greatest parent. Blade learns about life and what’s important. Great read.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. This book delves deep into the issue of black vs. cops and the emotional trauma a sixteen-year-old girl must surpass when her best friend is killed. Life for Star changes as she becomes a witness to a murder and must learn to speak up for those who can’t. Family dynamics, poor vs. rich, gangsters, and more are part of this perspective building to get to the heart of the matter. Thomas does a wonderful job placing the reader there with Star. Must read.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Art 17: Diana 1

During a Life Drawing workshop back in 2013, a model named Diana posed for the class. I thought she was great because she moved like she belonged there, at that moment in time. All her poses spoke volumes. Using a regular pencil, I sketched the figure in three- minute-intervals on an off-white page. This was the third pose of the bunch and my favorite. My focus was on the movement from her hip. What do you think?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pet News 27: Making your Home a Safe Place for Pets

Here is a list to get you thinking about your backyard when you have a pet given by the Humane Society of the United States ( Note that it doesn’t matter if you live in a house, an apartment, or other dwelling. The important thing is making sure your pet is safe and has the basic necessities.
  •          always have water available

(whether in a large bowl, birdbath, or man-made small pond)
  •           provide a nutritious and balanced diet

(look for treats, kibble, and cans made with authentic ingredients)
  •          avoid harsh chemicals on your lawn

(like pesticides that may harm both your pet and children)
  •          make your swimming pool safe

(teach your dog to swim, but never let them swim unsupervised, fence the pool or purchase a top to close it, have a way for the pet to climb out)
  •          keep cats indoors

(cats can still have a fulfilling life if you provide views to the outside, a fenced patio, leash training, etc.)
  •          clean up your yard during Fall and Spring

(this is when ticks and fleas grow in abundance and like to hide in tall grass or accumulated leaves)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Books I’m Reading 35

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michelle Borba, Ed.D. The author provides nine essential habits that help build empathy in children. She provides examples and different strategies to get kids practicing to be empathetic.

Ozone Journal by Peter Balakian is an excellent poetry collection with various themes related to Native Americans, Nairobi, Armenian-Turkish border, and more. Balakian has a gentle writing style which captures a lot of the sensitivities about his subject. Great read.

Unlikely Heroes: 37 Inspiring Stories of Courage and Heart from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland. This book is filled with pictures and stories of the various animals, from llamas to dogs, who have shown caring or helped others.

Unlikely Friendships Dogs: 37 Stories of Canine Compassion and Courage by Jennifer S. Holland. This book is filled with heartfelt stories of dogs becoming close friends to the animals they care for, from meerkats, to pot-bellied pigs to kittens and goats, there’s a lot to say about the kindness these dogs provide and get in return.

Booked by Kwame Alexander. Written in verse, this story is about a middle school boy trying to piece together the changes in his life- from his parent’s separation to getting the guts to ask a girl out, and from dealing with bullies to learning to love words. This book is a great read.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Writing Endeavors 15: Breathing PART II

Still working on my fantasy novel and querying agents. I’ve submitted to poetry publishers, too. Here is another compiled list of links to some of the poems that were published online. Enjoy!

I’d like to thank all the editors and publishers who accepted my work. Don’t forget to follow =)

“the Loss” poem read live at Café Gallery in Chicago
“Veteran’s Wish” (scroll down)
“Seasons” (scroll down)
“Hidden Crush” (scroll down)
“Milk” (scroll down)
“Pheonix Song” (scroll down)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quotes 28

“Always do more than is required of you.”
-General George S. Patton
To all those service men and women and volunteers who have assisted during the various catastrophes around the globe, THANK YOU.
That’s what this quote brought to mind. All the people who put themselves in harm’s way or are available after the harm is gone are important. Their dedication is amazing and needed.
This quote also reminded me of what your donations do for the different charities, helping provide food, shelter, and equipment to others. A deep thanks to all of you.
I’m sure by now you have seen the different places to send funds to those in need due to the hurricanes and earthquakes. I will list a couple of places to send donations (food, toys, money, blankets, etc.) to our animals in need.
-learn how to help with the animal’s environment and about a painting giraffe
-learn the extent of this horrible practice and see how you can help the Born Free Foundation
-learn how you can make a difference in a horse’s life through the different fundraising events
-learn what the National Wildlife Federation is doing to combat conservation efforts for all wildlife and their environment

-learn how this group is gearing to enhance the sanctuary and what they do to help the different animals in their care

Monday, September 18, 2017

Art 16: Reclining Beauty

This piece was done back in 2015 in a Life Drawing Workshop. I used pastel colors to draw the female model in a reclined position within the twenty minutes given. 
Though, the hands and arms look mechanical and need a little work, I do like the way the color enhances the shape of the body and adds dimension. 
If I had more time to work on it, I would focus on the shoulder areas to get a better feel for the arms. What do you think?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Short Stories & Such 35: Final Lunch

The following prompt came out of the Writer’s Digest Magazine. I had cut it out, but didn’t write the date (oops) of the issue. The prompt was: “When a man takes lunch to his wife’s office, he’s told that she hasn’t worked there in weeks.”
Here’s what I came up with. Maybe you’d like to try the prompt, too =)
Final Lunch

Every morning, my wife leaves me breakfast on the table, covered in one of those cake lids. The steam fills the lid’s inside area until I release it by lifting it. The smell of sunny side up eggs or the spinach induced platter consume my nostrils. Beside the dish, she usually leaves a note with different messages. Whether she’d be late or something for me to do or ‘have a nice day,’ but today, there was no message (and no breakfast). I looked around the pristine kitchen and couldn’t find it. Which got me to thinking about how hard she worked at the firm and a minor slip like this was nothing compared to that, so, I decide to buy her lunch on my day off to surprise her and thank her for all she does. What husband wouldn’t?

Carrying the take-out lunch from Claim Jumper’s, I headed up the elevator to the fifteenth floor, when the doors opened, the gray and white walls of the lobby led me to the receptionist. A whiff of anti-bacterial soap hit me and I loosened my tie.

“Good afternoon,” I said with my friendliest smile.

She looked up and removed her glasses. Her hair in curls and her nails painted blue. “Good afternoon. May I help you?”

“Yes. I would like to see Mrs. Amanda Esparza.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t think she works on this floor. Maybe—”

“No, you don’t understand. Mrs. Esparza is my wife and this is where she works. Please check your records.”

The receptionist cleared her throat and stood. She was an inch or two taller than I. Then, she lifted her index finger in a gesture to wait and she walked into the office behind her.

Sweat trickled on my forehead. Probably from the hot food I carried, but I stood there like an upright spaghetti noodle searching my memory for a possible wrong floor number or the staff had changed?

After a few minutes, the receptionist walked out and looked me up and down, inspecting me and searching for some explanation. She frowned and sighed before biting her lower lip.

“Your wife hasn’t worked here in weeks, Mr. Esparza. I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I’m new here myself and I’m not familiar with everyone’s names yet.”

Blinking, I watched the food bag roll off my hands onto the floor. “Not worked here?”

She nodded as her eyebrows pressed together like an accordion.

I bent to pick up the spill and tossed the bag in the receptacle beside her desk. I scratched the back of my head and turned to her. “Do you know where she went?”

“I’m sorry we don’t have that information.”

She placed her glasses back on and proceeded with her work.

All I could do was gulp. What could have happened? When did this happen? Without answers, I decided to head back home and wait for Amanda’s arrival. Short of a panic attack, I decided to call her mother when it was past midnight. Better yet, I decided to pay her mother a visit. Somebody had to know something about my wife.

The sound of a motor stopped me from opening the door. Then, a thud for the door made me step back. But when the stomp of feet got closer, I knew there was more than one person outside. The gun was under the bed in a shoebox and I grabbed it. The rough handle glued to my sweaty palm. Securing a flashlight, I rushed to the kitchen. I wiped my palm on the back of my pants, then, turned toward the living room. My wife walked in… with another man.

She turned the lights on and led the man inside. They didn’t speak, so, I decided to step in.

“Honey?” I hid the gun behind me and left the flashlight on top of the counter.

She turned, her chin up, brown eyes wide, and long ponytail swaying.

“I went to your office…”

The man narrowed his eyes. He had a gray suit which complemented his blue eyes.

She smiled. The kind of smile she gave me when she wanted me to massage her feet after a long day. I would kiss her toes and she would…

“I must have been at one of my lunch meetings,” she said.

I neared her and got hold of her arm to lead her further from the man who never spoke. I inserted the gun inside the back of my pants.

“They said you don’t work there anymore,” I whispered. “What’s going on? and who is that man?”

She placed a finger on her lip, and said, “That’s the new Mr. Esparza.”

After minutes of composing myself, and giving her the gun, Amanda made it clear what changes were needed. All of it involved the new Mr. Esparza. I was suddenly out of her plans, which made the next part the ultimate blow.

“Before Mr. Esparza kills me, am I entitled to why?”

Amanda held the rope around my wrists and pulled me to the backyard. “Sometimes, a girl gets bored, too, honey.”

She kissed my cheek. That’s when the knife went through my back. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Happy Labor Day!

Enjoy time off, relax, spend time with family, friends, pets…
Visit the site next week for a new blog post. Follow me on twitter @m_a_Arana
Here’s a link to an older post about writing:

Monday, August 28, 2017

Books I’m Reading 34

Living Wealth: Discover How to Get 12 Parts of Your Life into Balance and Harmony by Roz Townsend. The author delves into different facets of your life that affect your emotional being and how to change your thinking about them.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll. The book is accompanied by a cd in which the poetry inside is read aloud. An example of different forms of poetry are included. The author also provides short biographies of select poets and writers with a sample of their work. This is a great resource for teachers and aspiring poets.

Styxx by Sherrilyn Kenyon is the story of Acheron’s twin brother in the Dark-Hunter series. A prince who was never treated as one, yet, seen as spoiled and pompous. It is the story of a man who defies all odds and still be humble and just and caring. Quite an interesting character.

National Geographic’s Rarely Seen Photograph’s of the Extraordinary by Susan Tyler Hitchcock. This collection of rare images of nature really opens up your eyes to the variety on earth. Beautiful pictures you can escape to.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Writing Endeavors 14: Breathing PART I

Someone once said writing was like breathing. At times, writers stop breathing, but they can’t hold their breaths too long. I’ve been writing stories for the past five years (more if you count the poetry I started in High School). It had always been a dream to have something published. So far, I have two short stories, one non-fiction piece, and am querying agents for two novels I’ve written. Presently, I am working on a fantasy novel and continue to write poetry.

Since the novels have yet to be published (and I’m told it takes writers years before they do), I compiled a list of links to some of the poems that were published online. Thanks to all the editors and publishers who accepted my work. Enjoy!

“Witness 2011’s Massacre” 

“Just like the tree…” (scroll down- note that contact information has changed)

“I carry a crutch…” (scroll down) 

“A Place for Me” and “Stolen Love” (scroll down)

“California” (scroll down) 

“Veils on my Eyes” (scroll down- no photo) 

“Earthquakes 2012” (scroll down) 

“Earthquakes 2012” also won the 12/12/12 Contest and some comments are written here:

“To the People of Earth”