the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keeping Warm

For ten years my little barn cat Zoe has lived outside in the chicken coop and barn.  She has been quite happy and healthy there.  But there's a new dynamic since the white and black tom cat moved in last year.  Between he and Sophie, meek little Zoe has started taking shelter in the garage to escape the conficts. 

Don't judge me for not letting her in the house - if she can't stand up to the 2 cats in her barn, she'd never survive the larger pool of house cats and indoor-outdoor cats.  But with no insulating hay stack to curl up in, she needed protection from the frigid temperatures.  I hooked up a little 125-watt heat lamp, made a bed of loose hay, and put food and water nearby.  She's still shy and skittish with anyone but me, but it takes a lot to make her move out of her new bed.  I think this must be her coziest winter ever.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Puzzles With Cats

I'm an addict.  I need between 1,000 - 1,500 pieces every week.  I could do more, but I'm trying to keep it under control.

Cats help.  That is, they pretend to help, while being incredibly hindering.

Here, try this piece...
I'll just lay over here, out of the way.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Ella has the typical white whiskers of a tuxedo cat.  They shed out like all other hairs, but Ella's "eyebrows" have a pattern of falling out at the same time...but just on one side. 
It's hard to take her seriously until they grow back in!  The dogs might not care if I laugh at them for no apparent reason, but cats take offense.  GREAT offense.  Looks like I'll be biting my cheek for a few weeks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Share The Author Love!

If you ever told me, "I loved your book!" you made my day.  That book (any of them) was my baby, and putting it out there for everyone to read was both exciting and terrifying.  Your compliment gave me the best warm-fuzzy ever!  Even if you thought it was just okay, I'm glad you liked something about it.  If you thought it was a disgusting piece of garbage and a waste of paper, I will kindly ignore your bad taste because I'm obviously nicer than you.

But do you know what's worse than a luke-warm review?  No feedback at all.  Disappearing into obscurity.  Horrors!  All those months of creative effort, and NO ONE NOTICED!  It's an author's nightmare.

So if you liked my book, you can do one more thing for me, and for other authors whose books you've loved: tell others.

Post it online.  If you buy on Amazon or another online retailer, you can leave a review.  It's easy.  "I liked this book" is sufficient.  Or you can ramble on for paragraphs, listing everything you loved or hated about the characters, the setting, the author's voice, or the name of the hero's dog.  Why bother to do it?  Some readers pour over the reviews as a guide when deciding to buy.  Others just look to see how many stars a book has been given by readers, which is prominently displayed beneath the title on Amazon.  It affects sales.  (Did you think this was just about adoration?  No, I'm a crass materialist and I like paychecks.)

If you're really into reading, try Goodreads or similar sites.  You'll find people who like the same things you like and their reviews might lead you to other terrific authors to try.  Or you can warn them about a book that disappointed you.  Go ahead, vent.  It's anonymous and free.  Just for God's sake have an opinion!

Authors will adore you for it.  We really, really will.  We're often shy, introverted types who keep our crazy ideas to ourselves, but on the inside we're attention seekers saying, "Here's my idea of a good story!  What do you think?"  We want you to tell us.


(Personal plug of last book because hey, this is my blog, and it was great!)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fertilizer Matters!

See these weeds in my pasture?  That's their normal size - about as tall as my wheelbarrow.

Below are the exact same species of weeds, but these are growing about 50 feet away in my vacant chicken yard.  It's the first time in 17 years there haven't been chickens in there to peck every green thing to death.  The ground is a few inches higher in there, due to years of compacted chicken poop.  And man, does that stuff work well as fertilizer!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yum, Wasps!

A few weeks ago a large hole appeared near my garden one morning.  I checked it out, wondering if the groundhogs were expanding their territory, but found this instead:
That's what's left of a yellow jacket nest.  The combs were empty of larvae, and a couple confused wasps crawled and buzzed around the nest.  Whatever snacked on the larvae must have done it hours before, because the rest of the hive had evacuated.  For all the years I've seen yellow jackets crawling into the ground, I've never seen a nest dug up.  I had to check this out.

To the Google!  (This is where I get all tingly!  I love research!)

It turns out the larvae are a favorite snack of raccoons and skunks, both of which are plentiful around here.  So maybe someone had a nice meal.  Or maybe they got there too late, after the larvae had hatched.  Either way, the nest was doomed.  At the end of summer the old queen dies and the new queens fly off to mate and ride out the winter until they can begin a new nest in spring.  There were probably thousands of wasps in there.  Fascinating!  But I'm glad I didn't know that this summer when I was picking rhubarb a foot away from that hole.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lost Summer

This summer I lost a good friend to cancer.  Another close friend was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer and began chemo.  And I wrote a book.  Lots of conflicting emotions and pressures.  I thought I handled it all pretty well.

I didn't, not entirely.  Because I lost the interest in life's curiosities and humorous moments that compels me to post on this blog.  I know that now, because it has come back.  And so I will take a moment to catch up.

I mentioned back here when noting my horse's 31st birthday that he would look much better once his summer coat came in.  This is what I meant:
Much better, yes?  That was a month ago.  Now he's shedding those fine hairs, replacing it with a thicker winter coat.  But still looking good!  You go, Fritz!

We also added a member to our family.  My friend who passed left a lot of pets - a little too many for one person to care for.  One of them was a dog we fostered for 6 months during my friend's first round of chemo.  She loves us, loves Nikita, and loves cats, so she passed the entrance exam with flying colors.  She lives here now.  This is Lily:

It's kind of weird to have a dog that barks an alarm when she hears someone come up the driveway.  After thirty-five years of friendly-but-stealthy huskies, we finally have a tough little watch dog who greets visitors with, "Stand back or I'll cut you!"  Good girl, Lily.
I also enjoyed the annual trip my mother makes from Florida to spend the summer with us.  With my usual writing deadline that keeps me busy, she had a lot of time to fill.  She read a lot of books - I didn't keep track.  But I did keep track of the jigsaw puzzles she did:
I helped a little.  I can't walk past a jigsaw puzzle in progress and not stop to find a piece.  Or twenty.  But my book was done on time, the puzzles were all finished, and summer is over.  Moving on.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Readers, Writers, and A Book Club

A couple weeks ago, I spoke at a book club.  My first one!  I've spoken to aspiring writers before, discussing all aspects of the writing business, but never to readers who weren't interested in being published.  And man, was that different!

These ladies read everything, mostly fiction, but all genres and not usually romance.  Some authors they've read more than once.  Jane Austen and I are tied at four for having the most novels read by the club.  Since Jane's no longer with us and they're reading my fifth novel soon, I'm about to become the most read author.  Take that, Austen!  (This may be the only contest in which my books beat out Jane Austen's.)

Here's what I learned that was unexpected, and fun - readers get to know your books.  I mean, they KNOW them.  Better than I do!  These ladies would speculate about minor characters whose names I couldn't even remember and wonder if they'd have a bigger role in the next book.  Or whip off the name of a store like they shop there all the time.  It was all so real to them. 

At first I was dumbfounded, but on the drive home I figured out why I was so dense about my own creations.  I wrote and re-wrote and edited those books until I didn't want to see them again.  I changed characters' motivations and backgrounds half way through the story in order to work something else into the plot.  I even changed some of their names.  The book in my head is littered with sub plots that were cut or revised, and people who changed from happy-go-lucky to closed off and brooding.  But my readers know only one version.  It's unmuddled and smooth, and it works

And that was the BEST compliment anyone could give me - my fictional town and people became real to them, at least for a few hours.  That's any writer's ultimate goal, and that book club overwhelmed me with how well it worked for them.  What a thrill!  Thanks, ladies!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Expecting Fawn(s)

Remember this little deer family?  This is them last week.  Mom's looking pretty pregnant to me!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Writing A Blog (or, What Have I Gotten Into?)

The following is an actual email conversation between me and my daughter, which started out talking about Jenny Lawson's blog,, then sequed into the natural mother-daughter topic of "let me tell you what's wrong with you" (in which either party can be the one pointing out the faults, but this time it's her):
Ariana:  And where's your post about the book club? You'd better be working on it. Jenny Lawson posts pretty much everyday and you're never going to maintain an audience if you don't post on a regular basis. You don't have to start posting everyday right away but you should aim for once a week or something so that at least you're consistent.
Me:  I used to do 2 and 3 times a week and tried to keep it up. Sometimes my life just seems too irrelevant and dull. Or doesn't fit with the stated theme of "writing" or "rural life". Maybe I'm confining myself? Or maybe I'm not all that fascinating. Or maybe I'm a harsh judge of what others would read and like. That one, probably. And moody - that too. And unambitious. And apparently self-critical.

Don't confine yourself. If you are writing about yourself or something you experienced then it fits with the theme of your blog. And yes, you probably are too harsh of a judge of what others would enjoy reading. You shouldn't be so self-critical but if you are, then at least write about it! Quit being so unambitious!
Me: And I have been working on it, in my head. But it has no point yet. Not a sharp enough one, anyway. Which I guess means I am dull. But I did send Stevie and Steve a sort of clever email yesterday - does that count?

No, a "sort of clever email" doesn't count because it's not out there for your fans to see. It might be progress in terms of getting the creative juices flowing but you still have to post.
And one more thing - if you post nearly every day, you start opening way too much of your private life to the internet. People love that they feel they know Jenny and her husband and kid. Same with Heather Armstrong (  She separated from her husband about a year ago, then they divorced, and she couldn't NOT mention it, but it was very abbreviated and mysterious. And when big things like that overwhelm your life, other things can screech to a halt, and there's not much else to write about. So...what was my point here? I think it's that if I want to write more blog entries I might have to get a life, and not get too wrapped up in my family. That sounds almost mentally healthy. I didn't mean to make that point.
(Thanks for the bog entry, Ariana)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tree Hugger Kills Trees!

My mission in life: 1) save all the cats and 2) plant as many trees as possible.  Guess which one my husband agrees with?  But that's another issue.

This week I cut dead branches  from two large spruce trees that are partially shaded by a maple which
had killed their lower limbs.  No problem, it makes for a nice shady nook, perfect for a hammock, or mabe just a big rock.  But there was one problem.  One gut-wrenching, guilt-inducing problem - the maple, already a parent to three fine-looking saplings on my property, had shed seeds all over the bare ground beneath the dead branches.  About 50 tiny maple trees had taken root.
New life!  And they had to go.

My tree-hugging soul screamed, "Save them all! Transplant!"  Except the ground is thick with tree roots and impossible to dig in.  There was only one solution: pull them out and (shudder) throw them away.  Then go sob into my pillow all night for murdering baby trees.

You know I saved a couple.  When I yanked their fragile stems, they came out, miraculously, with lacy, intact root systems.  A sign, right?  I cradled their little bodies gently as I transfered them to sunny temporary homes in the corner of the garden that serves as my tree nursery, recently vacated by three crab tree spalings.  Then I watered and caged them with chicken wire to protect their tender leaves from deer.  Maybe, like the crab saplings, in three or four more years they can be moved to permanent homes, survivors of the great baby tree massacre of 2013.  And I will look at them and be happy for the two trees I added to the world - after brutally killing 48 of their siblings.  Sigh.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Bandaid-Filled Life

A confession first:  Internet, I shaved my legs for you.  There's something I never thought I'd say.
But I did it so I could show you this:
That's my legs today.  Both shins are scraped and if you look closely you can see a bruise above my left ankle.  There's another one behind it.   Nothing life threatening here.  Not even unusual, at least not if you're five.  What's embarrassing is that I'm far past five and my legs will look like this all summer, bumped and scraped in some form or another.  It's not even worth showing you my hands.  Suffice it to say my fingernails haven't seen polish in more years than I can remember.  Why bother, when they would be nicked before the end of the day? 
I could avoid all this if I took my exasperated husband's advice - "Be careful!" 
I don't want to.  I'm careful about the things that matter - I wear my seatbelt, I file my taxes on time, I don't leave potato salad out on the counter too long.  Life has enough rules.  But if no one gets hurt except me, I don't really care about being careful.  Careful isn't fun.  Ask any kid.
If I live to be eighty, I hope my legs still look like this.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Virgin Gambler

That's what this would be titled if it was a romance novel, because publishers love drama and sex.

Or I could simply title it Lucky Me.  You should stop now if you hate those beginner's luck stories.

I had never been to a casino before, and for years I've been itching to try it out.  You never know, I might need to use the experience in a book.  (By the way, you can justify SO MANY THINGS this way!  I highly recommend a writing career just for that handy excuse.  Got arrested?  You had to, because how else could you write about it with authenticity?  I've yet to use that one, but it's good to know it's there.)

So, since my husband and I got a free room at the Motorcity Casino in Detroit (that's another story) we tried out our luck. 

He has none.  He told me this ahead of time, then proved it with a fast $5 loss.  Then another $5 loss when I insisted he try again.  In fact, you'd have thought pushing those buttons on the slot machines was aversion shock therapy.  He couldn't quit fast enough.

My turn.  I'd done my research, Googling casino gambling.  I was disappointed to learn that the biggest money-suck at casinos is the slots.  Darn it, that's what I wanted to try.  The best odds were in blackjack.  So I studied up, got some coaching from my son-in-law and the dealer, and turned $25 into $65.  Good, right?  But not what I wanted to do.  And over all the noise, one of those slot machines was calling my name.

I found it.  A 10 cent machine with lots of 7's and bars and gaudy amounts of cash in glowing letters across the top.  I slipped in a $20.  My daughter suggested I go for the highest amount of lines and matches to increase my odds.  Okay, what do I know?  I pressed the 9 and and the 5 - a $4.50 bet.  Sevens and bars began spinning.  Then jerked to a stop.  My machine began ringing.  Down at the bottom, little numbers whirled faster than a gas pump spewing $5/gallon gas.  My original amount of $20 was long gone.  $40 flew past.  Then $60.  Still dinging and spinning!  I asked my daughter if this was for real or if my machine was broken.  She assured me it was real.  $100 spun past.  Then $150.  It finally jerked to a stop.  My virgin $4.50 bet had turned into $186.00.

You better know what button I pushed next: Cash Out.  I carried that voucher safely zipped in my jacket pocket where I could fondle it for the next hour or two while I played some more.  Not much, though - I was so pleased with my first-ever spin that I couldn't get into it.  When I was done my total winnings were $230.  Plus another free room I'd earned by playing for an hour.

What did I do with it?  Tiger stadium was about a half mile away.  The Tigers were home, on a winning streak, and Verlander was pitching.  We took a cab to the stadium, bought the best box seats we could find ($52 each) and had a terrific time cheering them to a 6-1 victory.  It was way more fun than gambling, and I still went home $100 richer.

I have to use that free room this summer.  I figure if I go during a home stand and allow a couple hours to win enough for box seats, we can have another great night out.  Gosh, this gambling thing is a good deal!

Yeah, go ahead and laugh.  Wave at me from the bleachers; I'll be in my lucky seat, right behind the Tigers dugout.

Turtle Time

It's that time of year again - turtles crossing the roads.  And as usual around here, my first turtle is a Blandings Turtle.

I'm not sure if it's a boy or a girl because I didn't turn it over to check.  I'm not joking - the males have a concave underside.  But girl or boy, at this time of year it's almost certainly out looking for a mate, which makes it pretty frisky for an old turtle.  From the size and the faded shell, my guess is 50 to 60 years old.  That means the turtle and I are contemporaries.  If we'd had time to chat we could have compared growing up in the 1960's and being young adults during those weird disco-70's.  But I was pressed for time and just gave him a safe escourt across the road. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Waking Up From A Long Winter's Nap

So I've skipped some time here.  Let's call it seasonal affective disorder - those short, dark days take their toll.  But that's over, and here's what I've missed -

April 8th was Fritz's 31st birthday.  Way to go, Fritzy!  Unfortunately at this time of year his winter coat is starting to shed out and he looks pretty mangy.  But for the record, here he is today, playing Wild Horse on the Range, standing in mud and drinking from puddles.  Because trudging back to the clean water in the barn would just be too much trouble.

That scruffy coat gets brushed out every day, most efficiently with the shedding blade, littering the stall floor with crescents of horse hair.  If he looks muddy in that close up, that's because he is.  All that loose hair is itchy, and he rolls every day.  I'm just glad he can get up and down easily, and flip himself over.  He can get as muddy as he wants.

And on a smaller scale, you might remember our little cat Harley who likes to kill inanimate objects.  She finally found the ultimate prey at my granddaughter's second birthday party:

Think you're tough, T-Rex? 

You're going down!

Guarding her kill:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Trees In A Box!


What do you mean, you can't see anything?  There are 140 trees in that box! 
Literally, in the box.  The corrogations in the cardboard contain approximately 70 tree seeds (and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi) per square foot, which means all parts of the box.  Yup, we're planting an empty box.

Life Box Company is not only concerned with perpetuating life on our plantet, but also with doing it without creating waste products.  In fact, they made the packaging beneficial to growth.  Basic instructions are right on the box - two boxes, in this photo:

I haven't started it yet, but that soak and chill part is interesting.  Soak for 10 minutes, and chill in the refrigerator for 6-12 weeks.  I think this simulates the dormant period of winter, because if you plant in the fall, you skip the refrigeration step.
I don't expect to have a forest - many seedlings don't survive in nature, and I imagine deer, rabbits, and assorted others will make a tasty snack of some of my baby trees.  But as a prospective parent, I am looking forward to some or all of the following native species:
Douglas fir                                                     river birch
Arizona cypress                                             water birch
Blue spruce                                                    paper birch
Lodgepole pine                                              desert willow
pitch pine                                                       American sweetgum
Eastern white pine                                         American sycamore
Virginia pine                                                  American elm
mountain hemlock
white cedar
Stay tuned for the next twenty or thirty years and watch my babies grow up!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Writing Technique

My granddaughter took over my office.  She may be a future novelist because I swear this is the same technique I use!  Maybe I should try a pacifier, too.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Deer Friends

I never fed the deer before this year, but with a lack of apples and crab apples and God knows what else after our weird weather, I figured they needed some help.  I get a regular crowd of 9 does every morning, with a few others straggling through after them.  These three are my favorite - a mom and her twin babies - because I've watched the little ones since last last spring when they were tiny spotted fawns, all legs and curiosity.  They are far too used to humans, which worries me, but they're only copying mom, who is also used to living close to people.  The whole herd now recognizes my whistle for calling the horses in, and they come trotting across the neighboring hay field, knowing corn and sunflower seeds will be out soon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Heat, Nor Gloom Of Night...

Aha, but what about ice?  Gotcha there, Post Office.

 Last night, after several inches of hard-packed snow on frozen ground met a good hard rain, all the dirt roads turned into sheets of ice.  Cars were luge sleds.  This was my road this afternoon, after several hours of 50+ degress started melting some of the ice.
And right in front of my driveway:
The mail lady didn't come today.  I don't blame her.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Pep Talk In Every Drop!

Feeling down?  Need to know someone's in your corner?  Have a cough drop.

But it has to be a Halls cough drop, because they have "A pep talk in every drop!"

Who knew?  I didn't, not until my recent sore throat when I looked down at the wrapper of my Halls tropical fruit flavored drops, and saw, "Buckle down and push forth!"  Huh?  I smoothed out the paper and there was more.  "Nothing you can't handle."  "Don't waste a precious minute."

That's a lot of advice from one cough drop.  So I yanked the two previous wrappers from the waste basket.

"You can do it and you know it."
"Get through it."
"Put your game face on."
"Flex your can-do muscle."
"Let's hear your battle cry."
"Seize the day."

All that advice on one wrapper!  Better than a fortune cookie!  On to the next:
"Be resilient."
"Fire up those engines!"
"Go for it."
"Get back in there champ!"

All right!  I feel so much better!  I may start carrying these things around with me as my own personal trainer/coach.  The Halls advantage.  Watch out world, I'm pumped!