the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dog Heroes

While my Rock flipping waits for drier weather and man-help, there's something else I've wanted to post for a long time.

We have owned and loved seven siberian huskies over the years.  Two of them had the privilege of saving lives, many times over.  They were blood donors.

Never heard of it?  Neither had I, until my vet held a testing clinic to find volunteer donors.  Not all dogs can do it - they have to have the right blood type, and they have to weigh at least 50 pounds.  That ruled out most of my dogs, but two qualified. 
Lasher was the only dog we've owned with a championship pedigree.  I mean the kind you'd brag about if it were yours.  Like, mommy was Queen I'm-So-Perfect, and daddy was King Big Shot.  But in dog terms.  Literally every last pooch on his family tree had earned a "Ch" in front of its name.  Except Lasher.  He was considered too big for the show ring.  Size discrimination!

But he made his life count for more than any fancy title.

Juneau was a rescue dog, about four or five years old when we got him.  How anyone ever lost him is a mystery to me, because he'd stick close to us, and get anxious if I left him.  A real sweetie.  The Siberian Husky Rescue League pulled him out of a pound and kept him in a foster home in hopes they would find someone who would take an adult dog.  Best move we ever made.  He had ten more years of love and devotion in him, and we got it all.

On average, Siberian huskies don't usually have the universal donor blood type, but Lasher and Juneau both did.  So we signed up, and every few months someone would call and ask if we could come in to donate blood.  I admit, the boys were reluctant heroes - Juneau lay stoically on his table while blood was siphoned from his jugular vein, with an expression that clearly said, "I'm only here because you made me do it."  Lasher resorted to pathetic whines, the big baby, but he got through it.

Lasher and Juneau donated until they were ten years old, when it was considered best that they stop.  But the program goes on - in my area it's called Buddies for Life, and is run out of Oakland Veterinary Referral Services - .  If you have a healthy dog that meets the qualifications, they would like to hear from you.  It's a small sacrifice on your part to take them in when called, but a warm feeling you will never forget when a thank you card comes in the mail from the family of the dog whose life was saved simply because your dog donated blood.  Heroes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Nikita got skunked last night.  I knew it from the first vague whiff, without even opening the back door and being felled by the odor.  It had to be the dog.  We're pretty far off the road and there's not much traffic, so skunks never seem to get hit by cars.  Dogs are about the only other thing that pisses them off. 

Cats know enough to stay away; in fact, cats aren't eager to meet any wild animal unless they intend to kill it.  It's likely one or two of my cats saw this skunk last night and crouched in the weeds, muttering, "Crap, it's you again.  Get out of my territory.  And wash yourself, why don't you?  You stink."  Cats are smart.

Dogs, on the other hand, will dash up to any critter just to get a reaction, the more startled the better.  Sort of a tag-you're-it mentality.  Wonderful fun, if you're another dog.  Not so much if you're a deer or a rabbit.  But if you're a skunk, then you're the one thinking, "Crap, it's you again.  Get out of my territory."  And then you raise your tail and make it happen.

Some dogs learn their lesson.  Mine don't.  So here's what I've learned:  Tomato juice turns your dog pink.  A pink, stinky dog is offensive in two senses.  Vinegar makes your dog smell like . . .well, really bad.  Like pickled skunk.  Whoever came up with these solutions had a light case of skunk odor and a black dog.

I rely on chemicals that claim to neutralize the scent.  Claim, because I've never achieved total neutralization.  They contain hope-inducing ingredients like citric acid and pine oil extract, and "fragrance."  I'll have to trust them on that last one, but I wouldn't call the result fragrant.  After a good dose, Nikita smells like a combination of modeling clay and Old Spice, heavy on the clay.  Not great, but better than skunk.  And she's not pink.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rock # 2, The Big Brother

They look so cute when they're sleeping don't they?

This is Rock # 2.  He woke up grumpy when we tried to nudge him out of his hole.  We made a little slope to help him out and got a really big strap, and decided to see just how big he was.  Turns out he was hiding some weight under there.  Also, I think, some claws that he used to dig into the ground and hang on.

It's hard to tell from the pictures, but this guy is bigger than Rock # 1.  We tried to move him - a brief video is below.

The stubborn little bugger stuck his nose in the dirt and refused to move.  I don't think my truck would have been up to the task anyway, seeing how hard it was just to tip his rear end out of the dirt.  This calls for heavy equipment.  And of course, I've decided he would look best in the front yard, which is at least 400 feet away.  For now, he's going to have to look good right where he is.  I still have to figure out how to flip Rock # 1.

Also, I have a novella to write before Nov. 1st.

Rock, Part 6 - Moving Day!

Finally, my project to dig a simple hole is nearly over!  After the Rock shrugged off our tow straps, stubbornly refusing to move, I spent a week pondering my options.  True nerd that I am, I ended up going with something I learned from the History channel.  It was a show about how Stonehenge may have been built - a bit more ambitous than my goal, but if anyone knew how to move heavy stones, it was those guys.  Basically, they rolled them atop a series of logs.  I didn't have logs, but it made me think that I might be able to slide the Rock along planks.  Like this:
I wedged the planks under the bottom, gave a pull with my tow rope and super-tough nylon straps, and . . .
It tipped over.  But it stayed wrapped in its nylon web, which is more than we'd been able to achieve to this point, so I went with the inelegant solution - drag it.

And it worked.  Man, those ancient Brits would have loved a few 4x4 trucks.  The Rock scraped a trail through the lawn, but the grass will recover.  And the Rock is unscathed - a far easier ride than the trip it took by glacier. 

There's only one problem - It's upside down.  Not that there's a "top" side, but I've grown fond of that scared, cracked surface, and I want to see it.  If I was able to tip it once, I should be able to tip it again, right?

That's my last remaining goal for the year, as far as my Rock is concerned.  Next spring I will have to dig out sod and landscape around it, making it feel at home while it gets acquainted with my other cool rock.  I moved that one from the pasture several years ago - this craziness has been going on for some time.

And there is still one more rock out there.  We spent some time working on it today, and I'll tell you about it tomorrow.  For now, I have good news and bad news:  Its bigger than we thought.  That's good!  I love big rocks!  And it's heavier.  That's bad, for obvious reasons. 

 But my insanity knows no limits!  Plus, I know a guy with a bulldozer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rock, Part 5 - The Long and Winding and Scratchy Road

The Rock is ready to move, but it has to wait until this weekend.  So in the meantime, I have a special treat for the nerds amongst you.  Yes, it's geology!  (wild cheering!)

With the dirt scrubbed off by rain, it turns out the Rock is showing its age, crisscrossed with wrinkles:

Those white lines are gouges, up to a quarter inch deep, left from the torturous journey inside the Wisconsonian glacier that dumped it in my yard.  Glaciers might be slow, but they don't fool around.  This one dug out the great lakes, then filled them with meltwater - that's some serious gouging.  Probably some hard jolts and extreme pressure, too, as evidenced by a huge crack down the middle.  It runs right through that "wound" in the center.  What a story my Rock could tell!  It was a long trip, too - the rocks that were left here when the glacier retreated were most likely carried down from the Upper Peninsula or Canada.

Hey, Canada - thanks for the great rocks!

You might have noticed Rock # 2 in the background.  I've done enough digging (come on, you knew I wouldn't leave it alone!) to get an idea of its size.  Rock # 1 measures 48 x 38, nose to tail (you figure it out.)  Rock # 2's exposed surface measures 47 x 42.  Uh-oh.  Another big guy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Horses on Wheels

Our farm has lost two animals.  No, no one died.  My daughter went to college and took her cat, Sally.  Nice cat, but socially dysfunctional since a previous owner cut all her toes off.  (They call it declawing - a neutral word, like "enhanced interrogation."  It's still torture for the one on the receiving end.)  The other cats threw a party when she left.

Also, our boarder horse, Code Red, has left.  He'd been here two years, since his owner adopted him from a rescue group.  He's a good horse, but stubborn about the one thing he hates - getting in a horse trailer.  It's not an unusual problem, but one his owner needs to solve.  She's been trying for two years, but Code Red objected.  Strenuously.  Now he's at a stable where a trainer will work with him.

I have mixed feelings about trailering horses.  Even though I did it for years, my sympathy is with Code Red.  Horse trailers don't ride like your comfy car - they're noisy, with no real suspension, so every bump in the road is a jolting bang.  Four-legged animals aren't made to balance while the earth shakes beneath them, especially in the head-forward position we often ask of them.  They do much better if they stand sideways and can brace themselves without pitching head first into a wall.

But we need to be able to move our horses.  For us, it was purely for pleasure - my daughters did horse shows and the high school equestrian team.  At first we hitched a ride with others, then borrowed a very old trailer.  I shudder to think how we squeezed Laurel and our friend's horse Magic into that little red box.  We literally closed the door on Magic's thoroughbred butt.
The following season we had our own trailer - roomier, but still that head-forward position, not to mention a bit claustrophobic.  The only picture I have of it is when we were unloading after a horse show:

My horse Fritz has limited trailering experience, and is certain he shouldn't be in one.  Smart guy.  But when we moved here he needed a ride, so we used a 4-horse stock trailer.  Using the divider to separate it into two compartments, the horse has room to stand any direction he chooses.  They'll choose sideways or at an angle every time.  So that's what we bought for our next trailer.

I can't say the horses liked it, but they loaded without objection.  Better yet are the aluminum trailers that don't heat up like ovens in the summer.  You see them a lot now, mostly slant-loads.  Horses are riding more safely than they used to.  But trust me, they could still use a horse version of Ralph Nader to reform the trailer industry. 

Well-trained horses do what their owners ask of them, trusting they'll be safe, including stepping into loud, vibrating metal boxes that move.  That's a lot of trust.  Ultimately, Code Red is right - horses don't belong on wheels.  Until we find a better solution, please drive carefully around horse trailers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rock, Part 4 - Out!

The Rock is out of the hole! That's as far as we got for today, because it turns out that getting it out and dragging it into the back yard are two different things.  We must reassess and re-equip.

This is how it happened:

My rock-moving neighbors brought tow straps and a small truck that thinks it's a big badass truck and loves to jump into harness and show off.  The process is in pictures below.  It took more than one tug, but we always made forward progress.  None of that Sisyphus shit I swore to avoid.

And all because I wanted some dirt.

Next is phase 2 - dragging it about 200 feet into the back yard.  We have a tentative plan.  But before we leave the south west corner of my property, let me take you back to when The Rock was still nestled in its hole, resting happily where the last glacier left it about 14,000 years ago.  I took a picture looking across the top of it, to a spot about twenty feet away.  Do you see what's poking out of the grass?
Yes, it's the barely exposed top of another large rock.  Perhaps The Rock's little sister.  Or . . . (cue the Jaws music) its Big Brother.  Will we ever find out which?  Oh, something tells me we will.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodbye, Borders

No one will miss the large bookstore chain more than authors.  For me, Borders represented a milestone, a mark that I had truly achieved my dream when my first book, LIE TO ME, appeared not only on their romance shelves, but on their New Releases table, right up front.  And my very first book signing was held at the Birmingham, MI Borders, where they made me feel special by telling my husband and kids to order whatever they wanted at the cafe, gratis, while they set me up with a table and a small group of chairs for my little talk to fans before my signing.  Coolest of all, I was featured on a sign on their front door, telling everyone that Starr Ambrose (Look!  That's ME!) would be signing her book.  It's deliciously spine tingling and jaw-dropping at the same time, one of those moments that stand out in the flashback review of your life.  I may eventually sell more books through Amazon, but it won't mean as much to me as my "I did it!" moment at Borders.

I asked if I could keep the sign from the door.  My husband framed it for me, and for several years it has had center place above my writing desk, flanked by framed covers from my books.  Thanks, Borders, for everything you did to bring authors and readers together.