Grumpy Cat Helps #GiveFriskies to Cats in Need


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Grumpy … with a Heart of Gold

Once again, Grumpy Cat (Tardar Sauce) has stepped up to help cats who are far less fortunate than herself.  She’s championing a cause with Friskies to give 10,000 (!!) meals to cats in need, now through December 25th. Here’s how it works:

Each time you use the hashtag #GiveFriskies on Twitter or Instagram Friskies will donate a meal to cats in need across the nation.

It’s hard to be a cat at Christmas and all cats deserve a good meal. A couple of years ago Grumpy Cat, Oskar the Blind Cat, Nala Cat, Colonel Meow, and Hamilton the Hipster Cat starred in the following video that helped to feed over 500,000 homeless cats.

Grumpy Cat at Christmas

Kindness Comes in Many Flavors

Grumpy Cat and I both have a soft spot in our hearts for cats that have been left to fend for themselves under harsh conditions. If you don’t use Twitter or Instagram, you can help homeless animals in your community in lots of other ways. Here’s a few small things you can do that are not “small” at all:

  • Donate a bag of cat/dog food to your local Humane Society or animal shelter.
  • Give those old towels you were about to throw away to your local animal shelter. They always need towels and other types of bedding material.
  • Shelters always need disinfectant cleaners, bleach, newspapers, and paper towels. Next time you’re at Costco, buy extra and donate some to your local shelter.
  • Donate your time. Shelters need volunteers in all capacities.
  • Best of all, open your heart and home to a homeless or rescue animal. They will return the love one hundred-fold.

MJ Wright did a post on The Missing Spirit of Christmas that caused me to reflect on what the holiday season really means. For me, it’s kindness and generosity—but not the commercial-consumption kind—giving from the heart with random acts of inspired kindness. At the end of the day, true joy comes from helping one another…animals included.

It’s Hard to Be a Cat at Christmas…

Food Fiction ~ Culinary Character Elements


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November is the month of food in the United States, with Thanksgiving…a holiday entirely centered around food. So it’s the perfect time to talk about food fiction. Which apparently is a genre. Who knew?

A writing instructor once suggested that our class “include descriptions of food” to hook the reader and add depth to our stories. I haven’t taken that advice…yet, but I don’t discount its validity either. Many authors use food as a story element, creating an engaging character element in the process.

images of food and spices

I usually limit discussions on this blog to Young Adult (YA) and Middle Grade (MG) fiction. But in this genre, all my favorite stories come from adult fiction. And I don’t think its a coincidence that two of the titles have “chocolate” in them either. These books are all bestsellers that were made into major motion pictures. Proof that my writing instructor’s advice carried more than a little truth…when done right. [PC:]

I hope you enjoy these stories too. Bon appetit!

Like Water for Chocolate ~ by Laura Esquivel

Like Water For Chocolate is a tale of love, magic…and recipes.Like Water for Chocolate Earthy and laced with magical realism, this story of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico centers on the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter, is forbidden to marry (by Mexican tradition) and must look after her mother for as long as she lives. As fate would have it, Tita falls in love with Pedro and he in turn is seduced by her cooking, which is magically infused with her passionate emotions. Unable to have the woman he loves, Pedro marries her sister, Rosaura, out of desperation to be close to Tita. Over the following twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro circle each other in a dance of unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of bad luck and fate can finally set things right, allowing the two lovers to unite at last. 

In Like Water for Chocolate, the food Tita cooks becomes an extension of herself. Her emotions are infused in the food she touches, and anyone who eats her cooking experiences her emotions. Food becomes the vehicle through which Tita and Pedro fall in love, as well as the connection which sustains their passion until the can be together at last. This sensuous novel was made into a tantalizing motion picture of world-wide acclaim.

The Hundred-Foot Journey ~ By Richard C. Morais

Hundred-Foot-Journey“That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along once a generation. He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist.”

So begins the illustrious career of Hassan Haji, the unlikely gourmand who recounts his life’s journey in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Lively and brimming with the colors, flavors, and scents of the kitchen, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a succulent tale about family, nationality, and the mysteries of good taste.

This story shows us how the hundred-foot distance between a new Indian kitchen and a traditional French one can represent the gulf between different cultures and desires.

In The Hundred-Foot Journey, food is the character that unites family, directs fate, and bridges the chasms between diverse cultures. Food is also the catalyst that opens closed minds to new ideas, and opens hearts to the humanity within us all no matter the culture. This book was recently made into a delightful feature film, I highly recommend seeing. More than once.

Chocolat ~ by Joanne Harris

In tiny Lansquenet, nothing much has changed in a hundred years. That is, until beautiful Chocolat moive posternewcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive. Havoc ensues soon after with the breaking of Lenten vows in a strict Catholic community. It’s more than just chocolate that Vianne delivers. Each box of bonbons comes with a personal gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of the customer’s private discontents and a clever cure. Taken in by Vianne’s charm…and chocolate…the town folk abandon themselves to the culinary delight and happiness. A dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the gaiety of a chocolate festival result in a climatic resolution. Chocolat is a delicious mix of passion, whimsy, and of course, chocolate. 

In Chocolat, food (chocolate) is part of the main character, Vianne. But chocolate plays another major role in this story when it becomes the adversary—the catalyst for change in the small French village. Chocolate forces the strict Christian township to look at its narrow-minded ways and open their hearts and minds, choosing inclusion over exclusion. The Oscar-nominated film of the same name starred Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp.


What’s your favorite food fiction novel?


Time as a Story Element ~ Setting, Tone, Atmosphere, & Urgency


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clockNational Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is just around the corner—a yearly event in which writers commit to completing a 50,000 word (or more) novel during the month of November. One month. One book. Not a lot of time. So, time as a story element seems like an appropriate blog topic.

Stories unfold over a set interval of time. That’s a given. What I want to discuss is how different types of time can be used as story elements to set mood, further plot, and deepen character. [pc:]

Types of Time

There are four types of time that can be used to add atmosphere, set tone, and increase urgency in a story:

  • Clock time:  Sets mood and creates suspense.
  • Calendar time: Creates a context for events, such as prom, homecoming, and graduation.
  • Seasonal time: Creates atmosphere, as well as providing a backdrop and reason for cultural events and activities.
  • Historical time: Establishes a context for social ideas, behaviors, and attitudes.

These elements can be combined, as you’ll see in the following examples.

Seasonal Atmosphere

Calendar and seasonal time are a natural combination. A season is technicallyCover for A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck three months long, allowing the story to unfold during time. Seasonal time can be used to set atmosphere and integrate events particular to the season to further the story. One great example is A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. The story begins in the fall, with a Halloween outhouse scene that is laugh-out-loud hilarious, while also adding depth to the characters.

Home Alone movie posterSeasonal events can also introduce urgency that influence characters’ actions. The movie Home Alone is a perfect example.

When a young boy is accidentally left behind at Christmas–while the family travels to Paris–he is forced to defend their house against burglars, with side-splittingly funny results.

Ticking-Clock ~ Urgency and/or Advocate

You don’t really know a person until you see how they react under extreme pressure. DieHardWhich is why a ticking clock—a figurative pressure cooker—is a great way to reveal character strengths and flaws.

The ticking-clock can be combined with seasonal time. The Christmas party setting in the movie Die Hard is the perfect excuse for the entire company to be at the office headquarters at night with minimal security. It also provides a reason for NYC cop John McClane (Bruce Willis)–the estranged husband of a corporate VP, Holly McClane–to be visiting, so he can then take down the bad guys in badass style.

In the movie Back to the Future, time is both an advocate and adversary. Time is the vehicle (no pun intended) by which teenager Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back into the past to alter the developmental paths of his parents to create a better future for the family. The ticking-clock is BackToTheFuturethe electrical storm required for Marty to escape the past and get back to the future.

As the electrical storm gathers, Marty arrives at the clock tower as a falling branch disconnects the wire from the tower to the street. As Marty races the DeLorean toward the clock tower, Doc climbs across the clock to reconnect the cable. The lightning strikes, sending Marty back to 1985, but not before he sees Doc killed. Marty soon discovers Doc actually survived because of the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. Doc takes Marty home to 1985, then sets off for October 21, 2015 (Back to the Future Day!).

Historical Time

Sent coverHistorical time can define setting, social interactions, attitudes, laws, and mores. There are any number of terrific novels that transport the reader to a different historic time to experience life in another era. What I like about Margaret Haddix‘s Missing series, is the unique spin on historical fiction with a time travel twist.

In Found, the first book in the series, Haddix establishes the plausibility of time travel and the anticipation that the main characters are not who they think they are.  In the second book, Sent, Chip, Alex, Jonah, and Katherine land in 1483 in the Tower of London where the imprisoned Edward and Richard fearfully await their fates. Chip and Alex soon realize that they are princes Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York–come back from the future. They watch history unfold, trying to save the princes without altering time in a way that would kill them anyway. This book is rich with accurate historical details that bring the setting and characters to life. It also poses a unique possibility regarding the actual fates of Edward and Richard.


The International March for Elephants ~ Ban Ivory, Save a Species


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October 4th 2013 marked the first International March for Elephants. On October 3rd  and 4th 2015, the march continues.

Thousands of people around the world are marching to raise awareness about the devastating impact of the ivory trade. Unchecked it will wipe out the wild elephant populations by 2025.

Every 15 Minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory…

The International March for Elephants was organized by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) through their iworry campaign, taking place around the globe. If you are unable to join the march, there are other ways you can make a difference. Every day of the year.  [image from DSWT iworry program]

International March for Elephants poster

Launched in September 2012, the iworry campaign has attracted worldwide backing calling for a complete ban on the ivory trade.

It’s simple. When the market for ivory disappears, the killing for it will stop.

Recently, the United States and China laid the groundwork for a ban on all ivory trade. Some states, such as California, have also enacted bans on importing ivory. Progress is being made, but there’s still a long way to go if we are to save these majestic creatures from extinction.

You CAN Make a Difference!

It’s easy to think, “What can I do? I’m just one person.”

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust logoThe truth is, each of us can make a difference. Supporting an organization that is actively engaged in preventing poaching — one that also rescues orphaned elephant calves that are victims of poaching — is a way those of us who are continents away can make a significant positive impact.

The  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and returning orphaned elephants to the wild sinceKamok, DSWT 1977. The organization grew out of the family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness. Today, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. It is also pioneering conservation for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

Image of 1 day-old KAMOK ~ September 2013 ~ David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E founded the organization in 1977 to honour the memory of her late husband, David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE, the founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park. Since then, the lives they’ve saved is nothing short of astounding.

Backing Words with Action

It’s one thing to bang out a blog post, but my words won’t mean a thing unless I back them with action. I am happy to be fostering KAMOK and SIMOTUA, orphaned baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Fostering is only $50.00 US dollars a year. I know people who spend more than that in a month at Starbucks. It’s rewarding to know that you’re making a difference in a huge way…in the life of an individual elephant, as well as the protection species as a whole.

The following video of Kamok’s rescue demonstrates the level of care this organization extends to each and every animal in its care.

For information on how you can foster an orphaned elephant or rhino at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, go here.

You can also help in the following ways:

Together we can make a difference!

Idiotic Idioms: Expressions that make you ask, “Seriously?”


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There are quite a few common colloquialisms that are centered around food. Phrases with meanings that have little or nothing to do with food … or even eating. Here are a few of my favorites.

Dollars to donuts ~ A certainty

I’d bet dollars to donuts. Why are people betting donuts? Are they Krispy Creme employees, perhaps with a gambling problem? Seriously, what is up with that?

Dollars and donuts

This is a uniquely American betting term. However, I was relieved to discover it did not originate from actual bets that involved donuts. It’s an expression that indicates short odds. Dollars being valuable, while donuts are not. The phrase first appeared in mid 19th century in the newspaper The Daily Nevada State Journal, February 1876:

Whenever you hear any resident of a community attempting to decry the local paper… it’s dollars to doughnuts that such a person is either mad at the editor or is owing the office for subscription or advertising.

The phrase doesn’t appear in print again for some years, but is still used today.

I’ll eat my hat ~ A display of confidence

red cowboy hatThis next phrase is about something to eat, but not something you’d actually want to. Why someone would offer to eat their hat is beyond me. Where do people get this stuff? Absurd as it is, this phrase has been around since the late 16th century!

“I’ll eat my hat” is an expression used to convey confidence in a specific outcome. For example, “She’d forget her head if it weren’t screwed on. I’ll  eat my hat, if she remembers my birthday.”

The earliest example of the phrase found in print is in Thomas Brydges’ Homer Travestie, 1797:

For though we tumble down the wall,
And fire their rotten boats and all,
I’ll eat my hat, if Jove don’t drop us,
Or play some queer rogue’s trick to stop us.

Charles Dickens used another version of the expression in The Pickwick Papers, 1837:

If I knew as little of life as that, I’d eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole.

The expression later became popular in the United States, and is still used today. No one wants to actually eat a hat. Which is why the phrase is only used when there’s certainty about the outcome of an event.

Take the cake ~ Get all the honors

We’re on a roll (no pun intended) with food obsessed idioms, but back to something more enjoyable … and Strawberry cakemuch more logical. Like taking a cake. Because most everyone likes cake.

This phrase was used by the Greeks in the 5th century BC. The Greeks used ‘take the cake’ as a symbol of a prize for victory. Surprisingly, there’s no evidence of the English use of this phrase until it caught on in the United States in the 19th century.

In the US, the phrase became popular due to the cake-walk strutting competitions in the South in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The following is from The Indiana Progress, January 1874:

The cake-walk, in which ten couple [sic] participated, came off on Friday night, and the judges awarded the cake, which was a very beautiful and costly one, to Mrs Sarah and John Jackson.

In cake-walk competitions, couples were judged on their strutting style. The winners were said to have ‘taken the cake’, which was the prize.

In modern-day usage, the meaning has changed somewhat. Today, the expression is often used with sarcastic overtones. For example, “She got perfect scores on the SAT, but has a 2.0 grade point average. If that doesn’t take the cake…”.

Pie in the sky ~ A fantastical idea or promise

Pie in the sky … seriously? Why is there a pie in the sky? What were they smoking? You have to wonder.

The ridiculousness of this phrase makes it even harder to believe that it first had a religious connotation. I am not kidding. Originally, it implied the promise of heaven while continuing to suffer on earth.

blueberry pie

The phrase originated in America in 1911. A Swedish laborer named Joe Hill–a leader of a radical labor organization called the Wobblies, for which he wrote songs–first used the phrase in his song The Preacher and the Slave, a parody of the Salvation Army hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye.

The phrase didn’t become popular until the Second World War, however. Then it was used figuratively, to refer to happiness that was unlikely to ever come about. Similar to how the phrase is used today. The following excerpt is from the California newspaper The Fresno Bee, November 1939:

The business world is fearful that Roosevelt’s obsession with war problems will mean a continued neglect of questions which still restrict trade and profits. They are highly skeptical of Washington’s promise that they will ‘eat pie in the sky’ solely from war orders, which they decry publicly.

[Photo Credits:]

Bite the Dust ~ To die

This phrase has nothing to do with eating anything, not even dust. I wrote about this idiom in a previous post. To learn more, go here.

Fiction Writing ~ Socially Acceptable Insanity


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Kidding … But Only Just

A while back I tweeted, “Fiction writing is a socially acceptable form of insanity.” I was only half-joking, and was surprised by how many people seemed to agree with me. Later I discovered that some famous authors gave credence to that view also.

J.K. Rowling said that she is “perfectly happy sitting alone in a room, making things up in her head all day.” We applaud her because she’s written stories many of us hold dear. If a non-writer type person made the same statement, we’d worry for them.

Then there’s Ray Bradbury, who said pretty much the same thing:

Ray Bradbury quote

Keeping It Real

When fiction is done well, readers suspend disbelief, their world drops away, and the story becomes real…the characters, the setting, everything about the time and place. For an author to create a story that convincing, the world and characters have to become real for them as well. As Robert Frost said:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

At a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference a few years back, Judy Blume made a surprise appearance and added one better to Robert Frost’s quote:Marble statue

“If the author isn’t turned on when writing a love scene, the reader won’t be turned on either.”

The audience hooted, because it’s so true. If you don’t feel the spark when you’re writing a scene, the reader won’t feel it either.

The same standard of realness holds true for any art form, if it is to emotionally move its audience … whether it’s music, the visual or performing arts. To transmit a feeling through their work, the artist must delve into the emotion. One glance at the statue in this image, and it’s obvious the sculptor felt love on a deep, spiritual level. [PC:]

Reading ~ Socially Acceptable Psychosis

I came across the following description of reading and laughed out loud, because it’s a perfect match for psychosis:

…staring at marked slices of trees and hallucinating vividly for hours on end.

When fiction is done right, this is the effect is has on the reader. We become so fully engaged in the story…everything about it becomes real.

The reality a story creates doesn’t cease when a book is finished…for the reader or the writer. The story and its characters take on a life of their own. So much so, that many of us wish fictional characters Happy Birthday on social media (you know you do too, admit it).

The world the characters inhabit becomes equally real. Why else would thousands of people trek to Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in Orlando (and soon in Los Angeles) to visit Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and drink butter beer? Because that world is real to those who love those books.

Meg Cabot recently tweeted about actually googling the weather in Genovia (Princess Mia’s country). I love this. I can so totally relate, after having read the entire Princess Diaries series. This is fiction done right!

Meg Cabot tweet

Realistic Character Relationships ~ Friend Zone Fact & Fiction


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I followed several Twitter accounts aimed at high-school-age audiences last year, to keep a pulse on the voice, attitudes, issues of today’s teens–a socially acceptable form of Friends1creative eavesdropping.

The exercise paid off better than expected. I found the snarky male voice for my current YA project, and got a glimpse of a teenage guy’s point of view on topics. Topics guys typically didn’t discuss in front girls when I was in high school, but don’t hesitate to tweet about now. Thank you, social media.

One thing I was particularly surprised by, was how easily (it seemed) guys (in the tweets I was reading) believed they’d been friendzoned. That place no one wants to end up when it comes to their crush.

Friend Zone:
When one person (in these tweets it was always a guy) wants a romantic relationship with another person (always a girl in these tweets) and that person isn’t interested.

When “Friends” Doesn’t Mean “Friendzoned”

As I develop the relationship between the main characters in my current YA project, this topic came up again. Like so many teens, they have to navigate the pitfalls leading to a romantic relationship. Their personal issues intertwine with their character arcs to deepen the plot. How they relate to others shows who they are, and what they’re made of.

teenage relationshipWhat worried me so much about the “friendzoned” tweets was the innocence of the (girl’s) remarks that made the guy think he’d been kicked into the friend zone.

I realize a lot of tweets are meant for pure entertainment, especially those for a teenage audience. Still, over time I saw a definite trend across the accounts I was following.

In one repeated scenario, the girl referred to the guy as a “friend” after they’d just started talking and the guy assumed he’d been friendzoned. Maybe…but probably not. Healthy long-term relationships start with friendship. At least that’s been my experience. I’d worry if a guy didn’t want to develop a friendship, because that attitude smacks of a casual hook up.

Another scenario involved the girl who remarked “That is so sweet!” after the guy did something super nice for her. In his mind, that one short sentence sent him to the Friend Zone. Um… No. She was probably surprised by his gallant gesture, and at a loss for originality.

Friend Zone Fact and Fiction

My characters stress over being sucked into the Friend Zone mire too. They face the same relationship anxieties as normal teens, all while working to stay alive and outsmart the CIA. Which is the reason for these (hopefully) helpful guidelines:

  1. When you and your crush first start talking, if they refer to you as a “friend” it means they like you teenage relationships(read: romantically). It’s why they’re talking to you.
  2. The Friend Zone isn’t a virus you catch. You usually get there through misinterpreted signals and lack of action.
  3. Not all Friend Zones are created equal.
  4. The Friend Zone does not discriminate. Girls can get stuck in the Friend Zone too.
  5. You can put yourself in the Friend Zone. Don’t.
  6. The Friend Zone is not the Dead Zone.
  7. Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban, so anyone can escape the Friend Zone. It takes planning, positive attitude, and action.
  8. Starting off as friends is a good thing. Happy, long-lasting relationships begin with friendship.

[Photo Credits:]

Remembering Blake Snyder ~ Mr. Save The Cat!


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If  you’re lucky, at least once in your life you meet a teacher who explains things in way that no one else could … and you finally “get it”. Blake Snyder was that teacher for me.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! books and Beat Sheet Workshops on story structure transformed my writing career. He helped hundreds of other writers–screenwriters and novelists alike. Yes, hundreds. The truth is you can have the most eloquent writing style on the planet, but without a compelling story you won’t engage readers.

Blake Snyder passed away on August 4, 2009, but his spirit lives on in the stories Save The Cat! continues to influence.

Why Save The Cat?

I  rewrote my first novel three times, and still didn’t get the story right. Save The Cat!Worse, I didn’t have a clue how to fix it. A little internet intervention changed all that.

Amazon recommended “Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” based on past books I’d ordered about (real) cats. I’d never read a book on screenwriting, but since Save the Cat! was the last book I’d ever need, I thought, “Why not?”

Save the Cat! is the term Blake uses to describe the scene–usually early in a story–where the hero does something nice that makes us sympathize with him/her…like saving a cat.

Guidelines for story structure are a lot like the principles of music theory you’d follow to compose a song or symphony. Certain patters are intrinsically more pleasant to us, they resonate deeper and are more satisfying.

Save The Cat! explains the basic story types, then breaks each story into the 15 beats (plot points) that will make it satisfying. Following these story sign posts allows me more creative license when it comes to the actual writing. Who knew?

The Transformation Machine

Blake often talked about The Transformation Machine in relation to the hero’s character arc. Every satisfying story is about change, and the Transformation Machine forces the hero to do just that. On the hero’s journey, two stories are told: the external/physical and the internal/emotional. As Blake Snyder put it…

All stories are about transformation. And seeing this as a good thing is the starting point of writing a successful story of any kind. Something has to happen, change has got to occur. That’s why the opening image (the snapshot of the world BEFORE) of a movie script has to be the opposite of the final image (the snapshot of the world AFTER.)

You can hear the Blake himself talk about the Transformation Machine in the following video clip:


Blake – the Pigeon – in “Bolt”

Blake Snyder and Jose Silerio worked as a team, consulting on a number of Hollywood A-List movies. BOLT, the feature animation by Walt Disney Pictures, was one of those films. The following scene is a testament to their contribution. Blake, the screenwriting pigeon, and his writing partner pitch their movie idea. When I saw BOLT in the theater, I almost jumped out of my seat and yelled, “I know Blake!” Simply priceless!

Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds ~ Icon of Imagination & Innovention


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The Man Behind the Mountain

I admire a guy with the audacity to build a replica of the most iconic mountain in the Swiss Alps amidst the (then) orange groves of Southern California, within in sight of the Santa Ana Freeway … then “plussing it” with imagination and innovention (innovation + invention = innovention).

Matterhorn, Disneyland

Walt Disney was that man. But what most people don’t realize is that Disneyland’s Matterhorn wasn’t a glimmer in Walt’s eye when the park opened in 1955. A pile of dirt occupied that spot–from the excavation of  the moat for Sleeping Beauty’s castle–called Holiday Hill.

Opening Coincided with Anniversary of 1st Successful Ascent

July 14, 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the first successful ascent to the peak of the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most famous mountain. It also marked the anniversary of the opening of Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. Walt Disney was known for his meticulous attention to detail, so I’m sure he planned the coincidence.

Walt Disney and his wife Lillian loved to spend their summer vacations in Switzerland. However, it Matterhorn, Switzerlandwasn’t until Walt was in Zermatt, Switzerland filming the live action movie “Third Man on the Mountain” that he got the idea to build a to-scale (1/100) replica of the Matterhorn. Walt sent a postcard of the Matterhorn to Imagineer Vic Greene with the message “Build this!” written on the back.

Construction on the Matterhorn Bobsleds began in 1958 and the attraction opened on July 14, 1959, along with the Disneyland Monorail and Submarine Voyage. [PCs: Wikipedia]

Note: “Third Man on the Mountain” was based on the 1955 Newberry Honor book Banner In The Sky by James Ramsey Ullman.

A Roller Coaster “Inside” a Mountain?

I often wondered how Walt came up with idea for a roller coaster inside a mountain, until I read the history of the early railways in the Alps. Remember, Walt Disney was a huge railroad enthusiast–why there’s a railroad circling the park–and he and his wife spent many summers in Switzerland.

Glacier Express

A direct railway route through the Alps was considered as early as 1848. But it wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th Century that four great tunnels were constructed. Because the change in elevation from one side of a mountain to the other was too drastic for a direct route, spiral tunnels (helicoidal) were constructed to gain the necessary altitude and maintain the required grade for safe passage. You can read more here.

I spoke with Diane Disney Miller a few years ago while visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum, and asked if her father got the idea for the “bobsleds running through the mountain” from the spiral railway tunnels in the Swiss Alps? She smiled and replied, “I don’t know, but that certainly sounds like him.

The previous image is of the Glacier Express, Switzerland. [PC: Wikipedia]

Icon of Innovention

The new attraction had to twist and turn far beyond anything done before, and still remain safe. Bringing Walt’s idea into reality required innovention.

Hollow steel pipe track was used, instead of the flat tracks of traditional roller coasters. The tubular track had bracing welded to the outside of the rails, which allowed for contact with the bobsled on the top surface (with load bearing polyurethane wheels), on the inside to control horizontal movement, and on the bottom to restrict vertical movement. The tubular track was pressurized so sensors could alert when there was wear on the rails.

The bobsled cars are every bit as revolutionary as the track, as is the Ride Control System developed to operate and monitored the ride. The following illustration shows the intertwined tracks of the two bobsled routes, as featured in The “E” Ticket magazine (Number 42) — Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds, E Ticket Magazine

Note: A selection of “E” Ticket back issues are available through the Walt Disney Family Museum online shop.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. The following video is much more fun. Lederhosen aren’t required, but screaming is encouraged.

Matterhorn Bobsleds ~ Fantasyland Course (Right)

This video shows the 2015 refurbishment for Disneyland’s 60th Celebration, including a revitalized Abominable Snowman, updated special effects, and new props for staging.

Calling All Railfans (Train Buffs)!

I read (somewhere a while back) that the Matterhorn Bobsleds tubular track rail system was later used by some narrow gauge railroads, incorporating a third (tubular) rail at the center of the track. I don’t remember where I read this, and can’t find a reference. Would love to know if this is true. Thanks!

The Cats Behind the Mouse ~ Disneyland’s Feline Cast Members


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There are no words for the irony. Feral cats were original inhabitants of the Magic Kingdom…the place that started with a mouse.

Original Rulers of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

When Disneyland opened in 1955, the interior of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was empty. Later, when Walt Disney decided to build a walk-through attraction inside the castle, they discovered a significant number of feral cats had claimed it as their royal home. Unfortunately, there was also a huge infestation of fleas.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Disneyland, California

Homes were found for all the castle cats, the place was treated for fleas, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle became the walk-through attraction we know it as today. Everything was good. That is, until rodents began to take over the park. Again…the irony.

No one had taken into consideration that the castle cats provided a much needed service–they kept the park free of unsavory vermin. So, when a new group of feral cats found their way onto Disneyland property, they were allowed to stay. These cats were trapped, neutered, then returned (TNR) to their home “land”, to maintain a stable (cat) population.

It’s no spoof, I’ve got proof!

Today, the Disneyland Resort (Anaheim, California) is home to approximately 200 feral cats. Disney neuters, feeds, and provides medical care for the cats, and in return the cats keep the park free of rodents and other vermin.

Feral cats have a home – outdoors! And although they appreciate a can of cat food, they don’t want to snuggle with you on your couch. ~Alley Cat Allies

Feral cats are not socialized to people, and prefer to stay out of sight. I recently visited Disneyland with the intention of photographing some of the resident feral cats. Intention is the operative word. I managed to get pictures of 9 of the 200 feral cats, and consider myself extremely lucky. Here’s proof of Disneyland’s most elusive ca(s)t members.

Becky ~ Rancho del Zocalo restaurant, Disneyland

Early one morning, I caught Becky climbing up to her perch atop Frontierland’s Mexican restaurant, Rancho del Zocalo. The way she poses, you’d think she knows the Bougainvillea backdrop compliments her complexion.
Becky, Disneyland Cat

Francisco & Friend ~ Grizzly River Run, California Adventure

Francisco (left) hangs out at Grizzly River Run in California Adventure, and is one of the friendliest of Disneyland’s feral cats. He’s been known to come near the fence to give park guests excellent photo-ops. His** friend (right) came out too, but stayed at a distance in camouflage.

**Most tortoiseshell cats are female, as are calico cats. However, there are rare male tortoiseshell and calico cats. Likewise, most orange tabby cats are male, yet I have a friend with a female orange tabby.

Francisco and Friend

Giovanni & Friend ~ California Adventure

Giovanni (left) hangs out at the Wine Country Trattoria restaurant (California Adventure) behind the upstairs terrace. His friend (right) hugged the rock wall far in the distance, pausing only long enough for me to snap a picture before darting out of sight.
Giovanni and Friend, Disneyland Cats, California Adventure

Disneyland Hotel Feline Cast Members

Cats also patrol the property around the Disneyland Resort hotels. I stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, and found a few shy cast members luxuriating in the bushes surrounding the pool and Trader Sam’s on the warm, sunny afternoons.
Cats at the Disneyland Hotel

I know some of the cat’s names, because I follow the Disneyland Cats blog, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I’m not kidding.

High-Tech Cattitude

Disneyland’s cats follow in Walt Disney’s footsteps with their love (and mastery) of technology. Apparently, cats can type. Hemingway’s cats had opposable thumbs (polydactyl), so why not? You can get all the latest mews, I mean news, straight from the cat’s paws. That is, if you can handle a little (?) snarky cattitude:


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