the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lessons From A Toddler

I don't normally post things about my immediate family members, but I may have to start doing that because it turns out I'm learning some interesting things from my grandaughter.  She may hate me for talking about her on the internet someday, but for now she's only 21 months old, and I figure it'll be at least another three years before she can spit in my eye with any accuracy, so there's nothing to stop me.

So, here's her latest coping mechanism.  When life gets too frustrating, or plain boring, and pitching a screaming fit would be too much of a bother, she throws herself on the floor and lies there.  Perfectly still.  Like a chalk outline from a murder scene.  And expressionless, because there is no known facial expression for the depth of her ennui.

Since grandmothers are genetically wired to fix any sign of despair in their grandchildren (unlike parents, who might see this as an opportunity for a quick nap), I kneel beside her prone body with concern.  "Oh no!  Is she broken?" I ask. 

No response from the victim.  I tenderly lift one floppy arm and move it around.  "Nothing wrong here.  How about this one?"  I flex the other limp arm.  "No, not here either." 

By now I'm getting an interested blink or two.  I move on.  "How about this leg?  No, it looks fine.  How about the other one?  Nope, that's okay, too." 

Is that little facial twitch a smile?  "How about her head?"  I gently stroke her whispy hair, checking for giant fissures in her skull.  "No, thank goodness!  How about her back?"

By now she's ready to smile at the probing fingers that tickle her back and creep around to her tummy.  And presto, she's all better.  Seconds later, she's on her feet, grinning with delight, showing me that she wasn't broken after all.

And you know what?  I think I want someone to do that for me every once in a while.  Not literally, but figuratively sounds good, doesn't it?

I need to start paying closer attention to that kid, because she might know way more  about life than I thought she did.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My First Love

Me:   Hey, The Voyage Home is on the Scy-fy channel now!
My husband:  You can't see that one too many times.

The best part - he was totally serious.  This explains why our marriage has lasted so many years.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Just Add Drugs

This scratching post sat on our landing for the past three months, sadly ignored by all 9 cats who are in and out of the house. 

Today I sprinkled dried catnip on it.  Two minutes later:

 "Where did this thing come from?  It's SO MUCH FUN!"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writing Dirty Books

I know several people who write erotic romance, both straight and gay stories.  Their sex scenes are, um, let's say explicit.  Terminology is raw, with lots of oportunities to make use of it.  Nudge, nudge.

By comparison, my sex scenes are tame.  You might have to read 100 pages before you find one.  Maybe 200!  I'll tell you what happens, but the emphasis will be on their emotions.  Romance, you know?  Then again, if you're used to reading Dan Brown or Sue Grimshaw, the scenes are a bit lively.  So let's say I write sexy romance.

But that's winthin the romance writing community.  Outside of it, definitions are a bit less exact.

Scene:  I am introduced to my neighbor's adult son, who is visiting.

Neighbor:  This is our neighbor, Starr.
Me: (shaking his hand)  Hi.
Neighbor:  Starr's the one who writes the dirty books.
Me:  Well, they're not really...
Son:   Oh, you're the one!

Sigh.  I guess that's me - the one who writes dirty books. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

They Love Me, They Love Me Not

I possibly shouldn't write this.  It's arrogant and picky.  But darn it, this must happen to all authors.

My first e-novella, "Wild for the Girl," was released last month, and in three days my latest novel, "Gold Fire," will be out.  That means reviews for both are beginning to pop up on various web sites.  Nothing's better than to hear someone say they enjoyed your book, the characters were great, and the plot was fun . . . unless the way they say it is grammatically incorrect.  Painfully so, like fingers on a blackboard.  Like, my characters are "well wrote."  It grates on my useless but fairly earned English degree.

Does that mean their praise for my writing is uninformed and worthless?  (We'll ignore any criticism, because obviously that's just crazy talk.)  Does it negate all those nice things they said?

Nah.  I think it's like the way I appreciate a painting by Monet.  My knowledge of artistic technique is limited to staying inside the lines; Monet's way over my head.  But I'd still put his pictures on my wall, and reviewers who don't know a verb from a past participal will still buy my books.  So their opinions are valid.  Even if they're not well wrote.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Difference Between Men and Women

The Set-Up:  A contractor is working in my kitchen this week.  He's listening to a John Grisham book on tape as he works, and we've discussed Grisham's books.  Also the fact that I write romance novels. 

The Scene:  I walk into the room as Grisham (on tape) recounts a sex scene.  Actually, he describes his character's confused feelings about the woman after having "done the deed."

contractor:  "See?  Grisham writes romance, too."
me (smirking) "Sex isn't the same as romance."
contractor:  "Yes, it is."

The end.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hook Them When They're Young!

Romance comprises half of the paperback book market.  Mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, mainstream fiction, etc. - that's the other half.  Readers love romance! 

Why?  MUST YOU EVEN ASK?  What's life without love?  But in case you feel you've somehow been manipulated into liking romance stories, into expecting a muscular, dashing hero to swoop a scantily-clad heroine into his arms. . . um, maybe you have.

See any similarities?

We suck in all those malleable young minds so that years later, when they see an echo of that childhood fantasy on the bookshelf, they snatch it up without question!

(The author of this book, Cheryl Ann Smith, is a good friend of mine, so I don't think she'll mind this free advertisement.  And remember, it's the publishers who pick the covers, not the authors!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Writing With A Reluctant Muse

Time to write my next book.  I set a trap for my missing Muse - an open Kindle with two new romantic suspense downloads, a glass of wine, and a fleece afghan.

Within minutes she fluttered over, eyeing the set-up suspiciously, then settled delicately onto the Kindle's home page.  She tiptoed across the screen and bent over to read the new titles, glowing with anticipation.  I leapt from behind the recliner and snatched her by the wings.

"#&!@%!"  She struggled, taking futile swings at the air.

"Time to go to work, lazy bones."

"Ef you!"  She spit pixie dust at me.  It drifted down to the cat sleeping on the couch.  He looked up, blinking in surprise, as if he'd just been struck by a brilliant idea.

"Save it, fairy," I told her.  "I haven't written in weeks and I'm going to need all the inspiration you've got."

"Buy a thesaurus," she said.  "And stop pinching my wings!"

"It only hurts because you're out of shape."

"I'm in prime condition!"  She arched her back in fake agony.  "Ow!  Ow!  You're killing me!  Someone help..."  She paused in mid-complaint.  "What's that?"

I dangled her in front of the computer monitor, the ultimate temptation for a Muse.  "That's my opening scene."

She squinted, then shot me a look of horrified disbelief.  "It was a dark and stormy night?  God, Ambrose, you need help."

"Like I said."

"No cliches!  How many times have I told you?"  She wiggled and made little fairy grunting noises as she scanned my desktop.  "Where's your notes?  What's the situation?"

Cautiously, I set her down.  She shook herself, scattering pixie dust, then walked with exagerated dignity to the legal pad on the desktop and began reading my notes.  I eyed the sparkling powder she'd left behind.  Brushing it into my palm, I patted it on my head.  Every little bit helps.

Meanwhile, my Muse was becoming interested.  "This sounds like romantic suspense."

"That's right."

"So she gets attacked in scene one?"

"If you say so."

"Of course she does.  Damn, Ambrose, how dumb are you?"

My Muse is rude.  She's also a sucker for a good suspense story.

"Her father just died, huh?  That's good," my Muse mused, reading my notes.  "But why are you starting at the funeral home?  A cemetery is creepier."

I typed a couple lines.  "Like that?" I asked.

She studied the monitor and tapped a finger thoughtfully on her chin.  "Make it colder.  Late fall.  And get rid of the stupid sunshine."

"Got it."  I backspaced and re-typed.

"Much better.  And the bad guy mingling with the mourners is good."  She read more, frowning.    "Where's the hero?"

"He's not here yet."

"Are you fucking kidding me?  Of course he's there.  Make it happen."

Obediently, I typed him in.

"Yes, see?  Like that."  She nodded approval.  "I like that she's suspicious of him and totally misses the bad guy."

"I have a good idea now and then."

"Not often enough.  Hey, where's that wine?"

"Later.  Write first."

She pouted.  "At least some chips, then."

"Trail mix."

She rolled her eyes.  "You are so boring, Ambrose."  She's wrong, of course, but I know better than to argue with her so I said nothing and waited.  "Okay," she fianlly said. "Let's get this thing moving.  Can we shove her into the open grave?"

"Absolutely!"  I typed, smiling.  "Welcome back, Muse."

Monday, October 8, 2012

End of Summer

My poor neglected blog!

It's been an eventful summer on the farm, mostly due to loss and near-loss.  A couple weeks ago, I lost the last of my chickens.  She let herself out and never came back - same as the one before her.  No trace left.  A Disney ending is looking more unlikely.

This means the chicken coop is now a cat house for Zoe, the little cat who bunked with the chickens.  So I dressed it up for her, going from feathers and hay to wood floors and rugs:

Zoe took one look and fled in terror.  Civilization is a frightening thing when you've lived your first ten years in a barn.  But she came back and gave it a try.  The bale of hay I added in the little room to the right probably helped sway her.

Hay for the horses - that's still a loss, but one I hope to correct this week with some outrageously expensive hay I will pick up myself an hour north of here.  The farmer hesitated when I asked if he'd ever put up that third cutting, which made me think he bought this batch at auction and is selling it to desperate horse owners like me.  I can only hope for a better growing season next year.  Global warming sucks in so many ways.

But this summer's near-loss has a happy ending - Fritz's hoof appears completely healed, to the point where my 30-year-old horse has actually broken into a canter. Several times!

Summer wasn't so bad, after all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I took this picture last year, just fooling around with different shots in my back yard.

Same tree, this year.

No apples.  No apples on most of the apple trees in Michigan.  Reports says Michigan lost 90% of its apple crop to our late winter thaw followed by a freeze.  I never even saw the blossoms - the tender buds died before they were fully open.
We have 3 apples trees and a ton of crab trees of different types.  So I did a search.  In my front yard, I found the one and only crabapple of the year:
It's not a pretty one, either.  I'm not even sure how it formed - doesn't there have to be cross-pollination with another blossom?  If so, there must have been another blossom, and now at least one more crabapple somewhere in SE Michigan. 
We'll feel these repercussions for a year, and not just in higher prices for apples shipped here from someplace where Nature didn't go a bit crazy last February.  The deer and birds munch on crabapples all winter.  I don't know what will replace them.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stupid White Guys

The day after the wholesale bulldozing of the previous post, these guys came by to "trim" the branches along the power line that runs to my and my neighbor's houses.  I let them in my pasture so they could get access to the lines, where they spent 5 1/2 hours topping trees and trimming side

branches on anything within 8 feet of the lines to save us from a power outage if a branch should fall in a storm. 

We weren't happy to see them.  They did this last year, too, along the front of our property.  It wasn't pretty; whole trees were taken down, and hacked trunks were left lying along the easement for us to take care of.  My neighbor was furious - they made specific promises about what trees would be cut and how much, then took much more when she wasn't watching.  Naturally, she asked this crew for specific details of what they would take, and let them know how unhappy she was with last year's careless workers.  One crew member assurred her it wouldn't happen again because it was most likely done by their Mexican workers, whom they'd had to "send home" because they were so inept.  They were Mexicans, right?

Oh, my.

I like to think I'm fair-minded, but I'm a passive milktoast compared to my neighbor who's a vocal opponent of any sort of inhumanity or social injustice.  The world could use hundreds more like her.  She stared at the man, speechless.  Even dum-dum's co-worker stood in awkward silence.  I wouldn't have given two cents for the guy's chances, and can only attribute his survival to the early hour and the fact that they took us by surprise with their big trucks and wood chippers.  My neighbor seethed and hyperventilated, and finally bit out a sharp response.  No, they weren't Mexicans.  They were white men.  Stupid white men.

The guy should have been embarrassed, but he wasn't.  It went right over his stupid white head.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

This Land Is Your Land (and the oil companies')

A story, because I love this land.

Four houses up the road from me, someone buried something 60 years ago.  The someone was Enbridge, Inc., a Canadian based oil company.  The something was an oil pipeline.  I never knew it was there. 

Should I have known?  No one was obligated to tell me.  My neighbor who owns the property it's on knew about it, but didn't give it much thought.  Maybe we all should have.

Enbridge has the world's longest crude oil and liquid pipeline system.  (That's from Wikipedia.  But if you want an idea of how extensive the oil transportation system is, check out this map .)  They've had a lot of leaks and spills.  Like, over 800 in a recent 10 year period.  A big one in Michigan in 2010 dumped close to a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.   They should have safeguards for that, right?  They do.  Operators overrode them when they signaled a problem.  Twice.  Hmmm.

So Enbridge wants to update these pipelines.  Good idea!  That inclues the one that runs just a few thousand feet from my house.  Right over my water supply.  Sounds responsible.  They'll just "seal" off the old line and put in a new one.  But, hey, times have changed and they want to ship MORE oil around the country right beneath our feet, so let's make it twice as big as the old one.  We'll just rip out whatever's in the way, because it's called "eminent domain."  Remember that from civics class?  You thought it was just for the state or the federal government, so they could build highways and such for the common good.  Nope.  They grant that right to Big Business too.  Your land is yours - except for the part that's theirs. 

It starts like this, looking all festive with their colorful pennants.
Then they bring in the heavy equipment, like this:
And this:
Enbridge can't park on the right-of-way they're ripping up, so they park beside it.  No one will miss this big tree, right?  It turns out it's legal for them to rip out stuff that's near their easement and that they say is in their way.
Hey, in another sixty years you'll never know the difference.

So yeah, I'm a little pissed off at the wholesale destruction.  Especially since I don't know what will happen when they need to bury their pipeline here - under the wetlands - where they aren't allowed to rip stuff out willy-nilly.

I talked to one of the workers about it, a woman directing traffic around all the huge trucks parked along the narrow dirt road.  And I learned more than the basic facts about what her employer is doing.  It's not Enbridge, by the way, it's the company that clears the land for them.  She's a single mom who was out of work for a year during Michigan's painful recession.  She was glad to get this job so she wouldn't have to lose her house.  Like so many people, she's willing to do whatever it takes to have a job, which for her means driving 90 minutes from her home in Battle Creek to Howell, where she then gets in a company truck and drives another hour to the work site here.  After a 10 hour day, she drives an hour back to Howell, then 90 minutes back to Battle Creek.  It's a long, tiring 15-hour day, but she's glad to have the work.  And she gets Sundays off. 
Ironically, guess what's right in her back yard in Battle Creek?  The site of Enbridge's 2010 oil spill that closed down 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River.  And now it turns out that Enbridge is providing the job that has saved her from losing her house. 
Nothing is ever black and white, is it?  But I'm still sick over the carnage that was wrecked through our peaceful rural landscape today.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Silver Sparks Vacationing Without Me Again

This time my last book is boating in the warm Gulf waters off Tampa.  (No, it wasn't there for the convention.)  Silver Sparks looks good in sea-blue!

I Have Gas!

Natural gas, as opposed to propane.  Or intestinal.

We almost have it, anyway.  As soon as we use the last propane in the tank, we will complete the switch-over.  It was a long time coming, but finally the gas company got approval from at least half the homeowners, and they laid a line down our road, along with a few other roads in the township.  After that, they laid lines for each house that wanted to hook up.

First this truck came.
Then this one.

Doing this:

With this:

It was a noisy day.  There will be a big bill to go along with it.  But in the long run, it will be cheaper than propane.  We have joined civilization.

Except for the well.  But I'm fine with keeping that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Then There Was One . . . Maybe

I am down to one chicken.  My adventurous brown Aricauna was gone when I went to the barn yesterday evening.  When she wants back in after one of her escapes, she usually hangs around the stalls, or roosts on top of the chicken yard, waiting for me. 

I looked; no chicken. 

I called; no response to my inviting clucking. 

With growing trepidation I walked around the barn, and searched inside, looking for a mass of brown feathers that would confirm my fears.  No feathers. 

I searched farther afield, looking through the pasture and in the trees behind it, far out of her usual range.  No feathers.  Baffled, I walked the entire hay field next to us, where I have seen a fox take a stolen chicken to eat it, then play with the remains.  But still no feathers. 

This is puzzling, but I've figured it out.   My chicken has gone on a grand chicken-adventure, perhaps getting lost for a time.  One day I will walk out to the coop, and there she'll be, waiting to be let inside.

This is what happens when you watch too many Disney movies.

Meanwhile, the last chicken and Zoe, the chicken coop cat, don't miss their aggressive roommate a bit.  They were sunning themselves in the dirt today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


A few years ago one of these plants appeared in my pasture by the manure pile.  It was pretty and amazingly fast growing - you could almost see daily progress.  (click on the photo to enlarge; it's a majestic weed!)

It quickly grew to 7 or 8 feet, and had green berries that turned to shiny black in the fall, eaten by birds.
The berries make a red ink or dye.
Wikipedia "fact" - the U.S. constituion was written with ink made from pokeberries.

Another fact, this one from personal experience:  pokeweed is prolific.  It loves horse manure and urine-soaked wood shavings.  This is now my manure pile every summer:

It's covered with a tangle of pokeweed.  The roots are buried so deeply in manure there's no getting them out, and weed killers barely faze it.  What's the point in waging a war I can never win?  I've decided to like it.  Pokeweed is part of my green contribution to the local wildlife.

But any stray berries that take root in my pasture are ruthlessly mowed to shreds.  Two manure piles make for quite enough pokeweed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fritz, Superhorse and Man of Mystery

Fritz is nearly back to normal!  This is from today, with the injured front hoof nearest to the camera.

For a horse that could barely touch his toe to the ground 3 weeks ago, his progress is amazing.  And the final verdict on the cause - we still can't be sure, but the farrier has now reversed his decision, and says it wasn't an abscess.  The evidence would show up by now.  Sooo, the best guess is a ruptured or detached tendon, perhaps the flexor tendon where it attaches to the coffin bone.  (For all you anatomy nerds.)  All I care is that my baby is going to make it.

He nearly didn't.  My farrier confessed that the last time he saw him he thought he was about a day away from . . . this was where he made motions of shooting a finger-gun at his head.  No one wanted to ever say it in front of me, but I could see as well as they could that we'd run out of options.

Fritz lost a lot of weight from the constant pain combined with the 100 degree heat, and he no longer wanted the magic oatmeal that was a staple for him.  I switched to applesauce.  He was thrilled!  He's been going through one 3-lb jar every day while I've been fattening him back up, and it works well.  I'm trying to wean him off his habit by diluting it with water, and so far he thinks that's okay.  Not having many teeth limits my options.  (The horse, not me.  I still have my teeth.) 

I mix the applesauce with Equine Senior pellets, which according to my one-year old granddaughter are yummy enough even when eaten plain.  Not that I encourage eating horse food (note to her parents,) but she popped one into her mouth before I could stop her.  It wasn't hazardous enough to risk getting my fingers bit off by going after it, but I tried to discourage her by saying "No!  Ick!"  She disagreed.  Giving me her sincere big blue eyes, she said, "Mmm!"  So for the record, Equine Senior might make a good breakfast cereal.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fritz Update - Progress?

When I left for conference, Fritz could hardly stand to put his toe down to take a step.  His hoof was in a poultice for the week I was gone, and when I got back he was putting some weight on his foot.  Today he walks with a pronounced limp, but he walks, using the whole hoof. 

We expected that the abscess would find a route out and we would see a sudden improvement.  Instead, we're getting a slow improvement.  Swelling and heat are both down around the coronary band, and the underside of the hoof is sensitive in front.  If there's a small seepage I can't see it.  But heck, I'll take whatever progess I can at this point. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

It's An Honor To Be Nominated!

I didn't win a gold statue, but I have my blue and gold flag that proves I was a finalist!  Well, it does unless you happen to come across one by accident.  I was operating on half a brain most of this week, and like a ditz, I left my flag at the Pocket signing when I had to dash off early to Rita rehersals.  When I checked later, it was gone.  I asked if it had been turned in, and RWA officials took pity on my addled state and gave me a new one.  Then I ran into my editor who told me she had my flag.  I could lie and pretend I finaled twice, but that's no fun.  So I told her to keep it - she's had many Rita finalists and winners over the years, and she deserves a flag, too!

For those who have never been to an RWA convention, many publishers hold a signing event, giving out their authors' latest books free to conference attendees, with authors on hand to autograph.  I signed and gave out 2 cases in the hour I was there - about 75 books.

There's another stack of books on the other side of me.  The flag is beside my computer monitor now, where I can continually distract myself with my past glory.  And thanks to Cherry Adair, (another Rita finalist) who sat next to me, noticed my sad state of preparedness, and whipped off a huge roll of gold foil stickers to put on my book covers that said, "signed by the author."  the extra touch  that says I'm a professional, even if I need to be steered in the right direction.

It was a similar scene at the Literacy book signing:

With my buds after the Ritas.  Cheryl Ann Smith on the far left writes Regencies for Berkley; Patti Shenberger writes for several e-publishers, and Beppie Harrison is published in non-fiction. 

 And now it's back to work on something new.  As soon as I finish the laundry, buy groceries, pick beans in the neglected garden, clean the barn . . .

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RWA Literacy Signing

You know that rush you get when you snort a line of coke right after chugging a Red Bull?  Me either.  But I imagine it would get you as charged up as I felt at last night's Literacy Signing at the RWA national convention here in Anaheim.  For three hours I got to meet readers and hear how much they enjoyed my books - that's a big enough high to be illegal.  And for others who were attracted by the book cover, I got to introduce them to my new series and my past books.  I hate promoting myself, but when they actually come to me...well, I can be persuaded to brag a bit.
That blue flag announcing me as a Rita finalist helped.  It's like a flashing neon arrow saying "Other authors loved this book!"  Maybe that helped get me a corner lot, too, right on the main aisle.  I met so many wonderful readers and authors! 

The books are donated by the publisher, and all proceeds go to literacy organizations.  RWA donates tens of thousands of dollars a year through this event, thanks to the generousity of the publishers and readers.  And I get an entirely selfish high by connecting with my readers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Still Waiting...

I keep hoping I'll have a happy update on Fritz's condition, but we are, incredibly, still waiting for the abscess to find a path out of his hoof.  Whoever thought good, strong hooves could be a problem?  He is more sore than ever and the skin above his coronary band is puffy and hot - something is happening, but not enough.  I am more nervous every day, because this has got to be putting added stress on his other feet.  Heck, on his whole system, just from dealing with the constant pain.  To allay my fears a bit, I had a compelte blood panel done to check the general health of his organs, and all is well, just an elevated white count from infection.  So we wait.

I am more uneasy each day, because I have to be gone next week.  On Tue. I leave for the Romance Writers of America's national convention in Anaheim, CA.  This is the BIG EVENT for me, as my book Silver Sparks is a finalist for best single title contemporary for both the Rita award and the Booksellers Best.  This may never happen again.  Fritz was supposed to be well by now.  Talk about conflict.  My husband will be here and will do his best to care for him, but Fritz is my baby.  I'm going to be a distracted, nervous wreck. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Right Job (You thought I'd say Write? I don't do cliches.)

I finished my novel!  Big cheer!  I'm on vacation!

Day One - no looming deadlines, no contract obligations.  Total Freedom!  I can do whatever I want, starting with the long-neglected laundry and vacuuming.  Ha!  I knew that carpet was beige!

Day Two - God, what do people do all day?  My head feels empty - no plots playing out in the background, no characters getting themselves into sticky situations.  How can I enjoy a novel when all I see is some other author beating me to a juicy plot line?  Unemployment sucks.

That, people, is how you know you're in the right line of work.  That, and when your husband says he's looking forward to retirement, and panic seizes your gut, and you blurt out, "But I don't want to quit working!" 

Did those words just come out of my mouth?  Yes.  I love my job.  Never saw that one coming.

But Starr, you say.  I thought writing made you frustrated, anxious, and constantly distracted!

I said I was happy, I didn't say I was sane.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Ultimate All In One Product!

I was walking through my local Tractor Supply store, and saw a large bottle of clear liquid with a name that gave no clue to its purpose.  So I read the label.  And what a revelation!  I can throw out both the Tide and the Mane and Tail shampoo because this stuff will wash both my panties and my horse!


Second Opinion

My farrier winced in sympathetic pain when he watched me lead Fritz from his stall.  Every symptom I reeled off and every observation he made led to one conclusion - a deep abscess caused by a stone bruise, probably under the coffin bone, and working its way upward to the coronary band.  As if to confirm it, today the hoof was warm in that area from the infection.

He trimmed the affected hoof to help put more weight on the back, to ease Fritz's pain a little.  He also trimmed the back feet, but couldn't do the other front hoof because Fritz could not bear to put that much weight on his sore left foot in order to pick up the right one.  But he moves a little better tonight. 

My job is to watch for a bulge along the coronary band where the infection will try to find an exit, and pop it.  It'll probably save him a day of pain before it breaks through on its own.  It can't be worse than the abscesses I've drained in cats.  Those things can be nasty.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grasping At Straws

Three weeks into Fritz's mysterious lameness, I still have a horse that can barely hobble and no clue why.  Lots of clues why not, though.

We eliminated more possibilities today when Dr. DeWitt injected the coffin joint (just above the coronary band of the hoof, a place you wouldn't normally recognize as a joint.)  The idea was to see if the pain originated in the deep flexor tendon by blocking (numbing) the area.

At the same time she also injected a steroid to act as an anti-inflammatory and pain killer.  If this area was the cause of the lameness, we would have seen an improvement in 10-15 minutes. 

We didn't.

We are now at the point technically known as shit-out-of-luck.  Outside of a one-hour trailer ride (with a horse that can barely stand on 4 feet) to the vet college at Michigan State University for a $2,000 MRI, we are out of options.  My bank tells me this is not a real option. 

Tomorrow my farrier will trim Fritz's hoof to help shift weight to the back rather than the toe, relieving as much pressure and pain as we can.  We will also see what he thinks about that bruised-looking area that may or may not indicate a deep abscess.  Vets have a lot of respect for a good farrier, who sees nothing but horses' hooves and knows a lot about their problems.

Meanwhile, Fritz eats less, and has been lying down more often to relieve the constant pain.  For a horse who usually lies down no more than 5 minutes at a time, it's alarming to see him down for one to one-and-a-half hours at a time.  My poor baby.

Through all this, I am re-writing the last chapter of my book, which is due by the end of this week.  That would be the Happily Ever After part, where all the nail-biting issues that kept the hero and heroine apart are neatly resolved, and we know that everything will work out for them from here on out.  Because life is like that - or so we like to think. 

I can be a fatalist if pushed into it, but I prefer to be an optimist.  I am living for the HEA.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Contenders

I said a couple months ago that two tom cats were contending to be the new barn cat.  I'm not sure I won't get stuck with both, since they seem to come and go at the same time and never fight. 

I call them Black Cat and White Cat - being a writer, I'm creative like that.  Black Cat is very ordinary, with one spot of white:

White Cat is different.  He's mostly white with a couple black spots on his body, a dark raccoon tail, and black that spills across his head and face like the result of a horrible accident with an ink bottle:

I hesitate to call him ugly, but that face is difficult to look at.  He's also a stalker.  He's waiting here on top of the chicken yard for Zoe to come out of the coop for the day.  He used to wait in the weeds, but he's getting bolder.  He's often there at night, too, when I put her in.  She used to trot out happily to see him, but now she lingers inside the coop, apparently waiting for him to leave.  Can't blame her - who wants a needy, clingy boyfriend?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

X-rays, Poultices, and Nerve Blocks, or What I Did During My Summer Vacation

I thought strangely rippled horse flesh was going to be my veterinary mystery for the summer.  I wish I'd been right.  (Update - the fungicide from TSC worked.  Thanks, Laurie.)

Nine days ago, Fritz came up lame in his hind leg with no obvious reason.  I gave bute (sort of like asprin for horses) and it got better.  Then came back.  Then went away.  Then came back, but this time it was the front foot and he was dead lame.  Time to call the vet.

We had a mystery - Fritz didn't respond to pressure tests and we couldn't localize the problem.  So she took X-rays for a better look at the foot.  First, front and side views:

The X-ray machine is the yellow box in the foreground.  Results are displayed within seconds on a laptop computer:

Cool, huh?  The third view was from a different angle:
Results: Fritz gets an A+ in feet.  They look better than expected, like a horse much younger than 30 years.  Wonderful!  Now, if he could only walk...
So the vet used a nerve block to numb the foot.  It's like when you get your mouth numbed at the dentist.  First she did part of the foot, and when he still couldn't walk, she numbed the whole foot.  This was the first injection - two, actually, one on each side of the leg above the hoof.  The second was about an inch higher:

Success!  Suddenly Fritz could walk.  Perfect - Dr. DeWitt can go home now.  Hahaha.  No.

Now we've localized the pain, and it must be an abscess we can't see and can't make him feel with pressure.  So if you've hung around these pages for long, you know what comes next - the poultice.

This stays on for three days to soften the hoof, so she can cut away more hoof wall and hopefully find the sore spot so she can let the infection drain.  That was Friday; I'm supposed to call in with the progress report Monday morning.  Meantime, I can increase the bute to see if it makes him more comfortable.

It didn't.  But it did give him an allergic reaction - irregular flat, raised areas all over his neck and sides.  Hives!  Great; cut back on the bute.

And by Monday - today - no change.  He's still hobbling, hesitant enough to make you cringe in sympathy.  So the poultice came off and she did more cutting away at the softened area.  (Not too soft, really - in this dry wether, hooves get especially hard.)  A bit more success - she made him flinch and jerk away.  Now we know where the abscess is, but it still needs to make its way through the hoof, and drain.  So we have another poultice, another green and black clubbed foot, and another three days to wait.  I sure hope this one works.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Kittens Aren't The Only Reason

I've been MIA with several animal issues, plus trying to finish my book.  Still in the process with both, but here's an update.

I neuter and spay all my dogs and cats.  I don't say that to get a patronizing round of applause, but to explain why it took me more than three years to spay Abby.  I adopted her and her brother, Simon, when they were about 4 months old, rescues who were found living under a deck, trying to survive on birdseed.  Both were frightened of people and terrified if touched.  I worked with them on that.  Simon got over it; Abby didn't.  After three years, we could touch her, but attempting to pick her up resulted in a terrified dive for cover. 

So spaying was delayed.  No big deal, right?  Everyone else was neutered.  Uh, wrong.  This is why you want to spay your cat:  (If you can't see the picture, press play anyway.  It works.)

Abby is complaining to Penny that none of the 4 male cats in the house is man enough to see what a hot babe she is.  Penny just wants her to go away so she can play with her leaf.  She will, but she won't shut up.  She'll cry like this constantly for a week.  Let me repeat that.  Constantly.  Then she might be back to normal for 6 months.  Or maybe for a week.  You never know.

 It gets old after 3 minutes.  After 3 days you want to crawl out of your skin.  After three years you say the hell with her terror level, bait a cage with catnip, and let her whirl, cry, and climb the walls until you can hand her over to the vet. 

This is Abby now.  She's not happy.  The rest of us are.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Horse Ripples?

I'm hoping some horse person can tell me what this is.  Or even if they have no idea what it is but have seen it before.

Remi has been developing rippled areas on his skin.  They aren't hard or callused feeling, and don't seem to bother him.  After a couple weeks skin will begin to pull away like a scab.  He has four areas like this.

The lower area here has already lost a section of skin in the center of the rippled patch.  To the right (sorry about the glare) is a patch that looks wet or rough - that's how they start.

This is low on his side - an older patch and a new one beginning below it where some skin is already off, even though it doesn't show rippels yet.

If it matters, Remi is a 15-year-old gelding.

I have Googled this and couldn't find anything about rippled areas of skin.  I can not accept that Google has failed me - I must be doing something wrong.  If anyone has better luck, or has seen this before, please let me know!  If the comments won't work for you here, send an email to  Thanks!