the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hot Book, Warm Water

Today was the Big Day when THIEVES LIKE US hit the bookstores, so I scraped off the barn dirt and the eau de horse, and went down to my local Borders to sign their copies.  They had twice as many copies of this book as the last one, because they said the last one sold out in a few days.  Cool!

And back at the barn, I've made the last step toward winter, plugging in the water heaters.  The horses have a submersible coil in their large water bucket, and the chickens have a heated base for their water can, pictured below.  The little dish next to it is for Zoe, the cat who sleeps with them every night.

Monday, November 29, 2010


If you didn't see the previous post on the grape vine root we were hacking out, you'll have to go back and read it to appreciate today's post, because...I WON!  The Beast is dead!
And because I'm so proud of my kill, here it is again, with a Coke can for comparison.  If there were only a way to mount it and hang it on my wall...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Botany Lesson for Writers

A tip for all the writers out there:  The next time you want to describe a character putting down roots, and you want to make his connection to a place sound really tenacious and permanent, forget all those comparisons to big oak trees with deep roots.  Turns out they've got nothing on grape vines. 

We've been clearing vines from the strip of trees by our road, and found they all connected to one big mother vine.  Grape vines grow back as fast as you can cut them, so we decided to get the beast at its source and dig out the roots.  If you've ever tried this, you're no doubt laughing hysterically right now.  Roots are a euphemism for the insane things a grape vine does underground.  Those suckers are twisted beyond belief, like they didn't know which direction to grow, so they tried all of them.  This is the monster and its many tentacles that lay just below the surface:
About half an inch of the little swirl at the top is all that showed above ground.  The rest is a tangle of roots fused into one freakishly deformed mess.  Our next step will be to take an ax to the root that starts at the bottom center of the mess and dives down to the right, then up again.  It's as big around as my upper arm.  God knows how many more like it are tunneling off in other directions.  I suppose at this point we could throw a gallon of herbicide on it and cross our fingers, but after all this effort, and all the miles of vines we yanked out of the trees, it's become personal.  This monster will die at our hands, and we will drag its splintered, hacked-up body to the burn pile and set it on fire.  And dance around it.  And laugh.

I'm all right.  Really.

Friday, November 19, 2010


When I can, I like my posts to reflect what I'm writing.  And this one sure fits!  My hero and heroine are not hiting it off well at all, having prickly conversations filled with verbal barbs.  So today I give you...(drum roll)...barbed wire!

A lot of our property used to be pasture land, most likely for cows or sheep.  The fences were never taken down, so all along the perimeter, mostly overgrown with saplings and shrubs, we still have metal posts with 4-strand barbed wire fencing.  It's vicious stuff, and not any less so now that it's all rusty.  The deer constantly step over, under, and through it, and if they do it at a dead run I can't believe there aren't some accidental entaglements.  I've worked over the years to take down what I can, and most of it is gone now.  This is the last section I worked on, with the wires already cut from the post on one end.
Each strand is about 10 feet long.  I fold them back and forth in one foot lengths and put them in the trash.  Leather gloves are a good idea.  Also a tentanus shot.  (My hero and heroine aren't quite that nasty.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


If I hadn't stopped working on my new book today to answer the phone, I never would have been looking out the window and would have missed this group of turkeys crossing my pasture.  It was eight hens, all walking in a row.  I grabbed the camera and raced outside, through the barn, and stepped quietly out the back barn door.  I got there in time to see the leader stop, let the others bunch up while she consulted Mapquest, then lead them in a U-turn into the tree line, back the way they'd come.  I don't see them often - they seem to prefer heavy brush and trees to open pasture.  Someone should tell them that a week before Thanksgiving isn't the time to take a stroll out in the open.

This is the lady in charge, looking back to see what's taking the others so long to cross the pasture:

These are her friends, milling aimlessly while the leader re-thinks her decision to head across another field.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Characters and What Lies Beneath

I'm just beginning to write a new book now, and letting the characters take shape in my mind.  It's a process of layering - outward actions are driven by inner motivatons and conflicts.  What lies beneath the surface is what determines the real character.

So this was timely:  Hauling manure past a large bush in the pasture, I saw what the outer leaves had hidden all summer - a baldfaced hornet nest.
 The hornets are gone now, or dead.  But it might explain a couple hard lumps Remi had on his neck earlier this year.

What's hidden under the surface in not always nice - in people and shrubbery!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Romance...of a Sort

I recently finished writing a romance novel, the first in a two-book contract.  I've just started writing the second romance novel in that series.  And in between I've been reading.  Yes, romance novels.  So I'll admit it's on my brain a lot.  But I'm not the only one.

Yesterday I spotted a big doe in our side yard between the barn and the house.  Does and fawns walk through there all year long, cutting between one field and the next, so it wasn't unusal to see a deer there.  But this one was alone, and didn't seem interested in nibbling the grass or checking out the apple trees.  She stood still as if listening, very alert.  Then she trotted quickly toward the house and cut into the field next door.  She wasn't gone fifteen seconds when I looked up and saw another deer standing exactly where she had been.  This one was a buck.  Despite all the deer around, we rarely see bucks except for brief sightings in the fall.  And never near the house.  Although I'm not sure he really cared where he was; that wasn't what he had on his mind.  He stood as still as she had, sniffed the air, then started forward at a slow trot, looking around as he did and showing off his perfect, if modest, three point antlers.  As he neared the field where the doe had gone he must have spotted her because he suddenly broke into a run and was gone.

Obviously, the doe knew he was following her.  And although she was coyly leading him on, she wasn't trying to get away.  I wouldn't even call it playing hard to get.  Just making him work for it a little.  It's not like the heroines I write about, but it's still the same game.  Romance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


My new passion is splitting firewood.  No, really, I love it!  There's nothing more satisfying than the thunk of an ax digging into a log, making it fly apart into neat sections.

I should probably emphasize that my husband doesn't make me do it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure he's grinding the enamel right off his molars at the thought of me alone in the barn, swinging an ax.  That's where I split wood, usually while I'm waiting for pokey old Fritz to finish his grain.  It's just as relaxing as petting the barn cats, and more productive.  We need it - our wood stove helps reduce the amount of propane we use to heat the house all winter.

My work area, with a stack of last year's wood behind it and kindling-size pieces on the oak-plank block:

We keep seasoned wood in the barn so it's always dry when we want it.  The rest of it is stacked outside to dry in the air and sun all year.  In the winter, it's covered by tarps to keep the snow off, because we'll use at least half of this stack this coming winter.  I'm working on filling that front center section between the trees next:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fourteen Years of Spiders

This is not creepy-crawly, I promise.

There's an old cabinet in our barn that was there when we bought this farm.  It was once a decent piece of furniture, with its wide shelves and sliding glass doors.  Probably sat in someone's dining room.  But somewhere along the way it absorbed a spill that give it a vague odor of insecticide when the doors are left closed.  That must have been it for the dining room.  We let it stay in the barn, but only use it to store metal things like chicken water cans and water heaters.  With the doors open.  It stands near the wall, with some old stall doors we stuck behind it 14 years ago.

This morning, for some reason, I looked behind the cabinet while the morning sun was shining in the open barn doors at just the right angle to hit behind the cabinet.  And for a moment fourteen years of spider webs were touched by brilliance, turning dusty old webs to spun silver.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Smells Like Fall

I know, I know, it's air pollution.  But there are too many leaves to mulch around here.  Besides, it's like burning a pine-scented candle at christmas; THIS is what fall smells like.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nap Time

It's a rough life down on the farm.  That ground can be hard.
Fritz, standing.  Code Red and Remi down for the count.

Monday, November 1, 2010


...or rather, it's evil cousin.  This bittersweet came from Asia about 150 years ago and is invading the territory of our native bittersweet, and worse, killing our trees.  It's a pretty death - the vines are loaded with orange berries this time of year.  Last month they looked like this as the outer shell was just beginning to peel back from the berries:
Now the leaves have fallen off and the shells have peeled off the berries, leaving a gorgeous tangle of orange:
It's beautiful, and before next spring I'll rip out this vine and begin the endless battle to keep it from returning and choking out another tree.