the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Monday, April 30, 2012

Free Range Ends

It was only two days after this post that the free range practice came to a tragic end.  I walked out to the barn in the middle of the day to find a scattering of feathers in front of the big doors.  Too many feathers.  More were inside.  Also inside were two confused chickens, instead of three.  The missing chicken was the white Aracauna, the girl who'd been so desperate to live wild and free that she initiated the chicken prison breaks.  I can only hope she enjoyed her brief freedom.

I herded the chickens back to the coop and locked them in.  That evening when I went out to feed the horses, a large raccoon scurried across the top of the stalls.  The murderer, returning to the scene of the crime.

I discovered I had lied - I can lock Zoe out of the chicken coop during the day in order to keep my two remaining hens safe.  She won't like it, but she can wait until evening when I feed the horses to go inside again.  She loses her option to come and go at will, but I keep my chickens.  She knows how to avoid raccoons; they don't.

A lot of farmers out here shoot any raccoons that wander into their barn.  Groundhogs and 'possums, too.  I don't.  And I think it's my responsibility, having the larger brain, to find a way to keep my "domestic" animals safe from the native critters without driving them away.  So I'm not looking for revenge.  But damn it, that was my chicken, inside my barn, in the middle of the day when all raccoons should be asleep - a clear violation of the Geneva Accords.  Not cool, Mr. Raccoon.  Don't make me haul out the live trap, because I will relocate your ass far, far away from here.  I've done it before.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kittens At 3 Weeks

Stray cat Whitney's babies:  This is much more like it - they're starting to look like cats.

And the mom isn't spoiled at all.  All strays eventually end up eating from silver bowls on silver trays, don't they?

I could narrate this, but really, what's the point?  Their cuteness speaks for itself.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Free Range!

My chickens have become escape artists.  It's the cat's fault.

The three hens are in a fenced yard for their protection - foxes and hawks would love to meet them.  But Zoe, the cat who lives in the chicken coop is free to come and go.  The white Aracauna was the first to figure it out - if she's quick enough, she can follow her out the door before it closes.  And then . . . paradise!  Grass, bugs, worms, and a limitless choice of gritty bits of gravel.  If you're a chicken, it doesn't get any better than that.

It started when I saw the Aracauna outside one day, with Zoe nearby, babysitting her friend.  I herded her back to the coop and chalked it up to an accident.  The next morning I learned differently.  The Aracauna waited for me to leave the coop, then charged the open door as I stepped out, making a break for it.  Seriously.  Like, "Out of the way!  Free range chicken coming through!"  And she took off.  It's possible to round up a chicken that wants to go inside because it's time for a drink of water and some cracked corn, but otherwise, forget it.  They run, jump, dodge, and flap, and it might be possible to corner them, but I'm not fond of letting a chicken make me look like an idiot.  She was on her own.

After that, it was a daily group prison break.  But it's not all bad - Zoe stays with them.  Sometimes one of the two stray cats vying for the new barn cat position are with her, too.  Must be part of the job application process.  I worried one day when the chicken-cat group wandered under the fence and into my neighbor's trees, so I called Zoe.  (And brought my camera along.)  She came, and so did her three girls.  I led the way to the coop, then stood back while Zoe pawed the door open and the hens followed her back inside. 

The whole thing is worrisome, because Zoe can't fend off predators.  But it's cute, and it's funny, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it without locking Zoe in.  Or out.  Neither is an option, so my free range cat is now accompanied most days by her three free range chickens.

If we make it safely through the summer, they'll stop charging outside when the green grass is gone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Birthday Fritz!

On Sunday, April 8th, my horse Fritz turned thirty years old.  I bought him when he was seven, and for twenty-three years he's been my best buddy. 

For a girl who grew up sighing over The Black Stallion stories about a fiery Arabian, a 14.2-hand Quarter Horse should not have looked like a dream come true.  Stocky and short (anything under 14.2 hands is technically a pony), he wasn't exactly the magnificent steed of my dreams.  As it turned out, he was better - sweet and steady, gentle with small children, and tolerant with inexperienced riders.  Both my daughters (who later owned more flashy Arabians) learned to ride on Fritz.  They love him still. 

Thirty is old for a horse.  This is Fritz today, less muscular than his younger self, slower and less limber, and still working on shedding out his shaggy winter coat.  But when I look at him I see the sleek, handsome horse I bought twenty-three years ago.

 Happy Birthday, Fritz!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

More Phishing

Another email today (see yesterday's post on Fans and Phishes.) from someone who obviously just wants my signature.  Can someone tell me why? 

Dear Starr,
My wife Mavis gets so much enjoyment from reading your books and she thinks you are a brilliant writer.

Would it be possible for you to send her a signed photograph or bookplate please.
She would be so surprised and delighted, it would really make her birthday extra special. 
Thank you and best wishes from
Keith Holt
25 Field Drive
DE24 0HF

This is when I'm glad that  - PAY ATTENTION HERE, PHISHERS! - I don't write under my own legal name.  Starr Ambrose has no social security number, no bank accounts, and no credit history. 

If anyone is ever considering whether to publish under their own name, my advice is DON'T.  There are too many people out there willing to take advantage of you.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kittens - 13 Days Old

Just for you all - I got nothing out of it whatsoever - I made another visit to the foster kittens next door.  Their eyes are just beginning to open, and they squirm around constantly, enough that mom spends most of her time out of the box where she can stretch out and pretend for a moment that she doesn't have five kids.

Aren't they cuddly? 

But sometimes, all that togetherness is just too much.

And the only way to get a good nap is to sleep alone.

Fans and Phishes

Fan mail has to be one of the nicest perks that go with being an author.  What could be better than having some stranger tell you the creation you labored over for months and months was absolutely terrific?  It made her laugh, made her fall in love with the hero, made her stay up until three A.M. because she couldn't put it down.  If you want to suck up to an author, say all that.  We lap it up, hold it next to our hearts, and repeat it to our best friends until they can't stand to be around us.  It's why we write. That and the paychecks, but really, that.

Then there's the emails that are effusive with praise, but just a little off.  Maybe they use that old cliche about a sister in the hospital who got through all those surgeries and treatments by reading your books.  She reads them over and over.  All of them!  You're her favorite author.  Flattering!  And the guy is so nice he's hoping you'll send him an autographed book so he can give it to his sister, because that would make her sooo happy.  Just send it to his address and he'll give it to her.


Authors give out plenty of promotional books.  But not to that guy.  And here's a tip, just for that guy:  authors talk to each other.  We have professional organizations and chat loops that make us all one big family.  And guess what we learned?  Your email from Canada is identical to the one other authors got from Russia and Indonesia, with names changed.  And we all got them, even the new author who has signed that first contract but whose book has not yet hit the shelves.  Imagine how surprised she was to learn she is your sister's favorite author, and that she's read all her books!

I got another of those letters a couple days ago.  This is it, and yes, the salutation was darker and in a different font than the rest of the letter:

Hi Starr,

I'm Jay and I heard about u from my girlfriend Azi. She LOVES your books! I keep seeing her with your books every day! I even think she has your books memorized!
The reason that I'm writing is that her birthday is coming soon and I was hoping maybe u could send her some goodies or even a book or two?? Since I'm gonna move to South Africa soon, I wanted to make this her best birthday ever and I was hoping you could help me with that... Please do tell me if you could send in some stuff for her. You could send the stuff to me at
No 48, Jalan Setia Damai,
u13/14a, 40170,
Setia Alam,Selangor,
Please and thank you!
p.s - She's going crazy looking for a copy of Lie To Me ... Can you maybe send it to her?? *Looks at you with puppy dog eyes*

Aww, Jay, you really got me with those puppy dog eyes!  Sure, I'll be sending you a big box of books and lots of other goodies.  Wait for it!