Writer of Soul-Searching Snark

Archive for the ‘Farm Life’ Category

Best Advice Ever!

Last fall, my mother very innocently said she’d like to “buy a few animals for the farm.”  Who am I to deny my mama, right?

We did some research and decided we wanted to purchase heritage breed animals–animals that were used a hundred years ago, but due to commercial farming were nearly bred out of existence.  Farmers bred animals for their specific features and ended up with different breeds that would have larger litters, grow faster, be weaned earlier, etc.  in order to make bigger profits. It makes sense, but we wanted to concentrate on those original animals, the animals that were deemed threatened or critical by the American Livestock Conservancy.

We got some books, did some reading and visited a friend’s farm. That’s all it takes, right? Shoot, we have 120 acres of prime Ozark clay and rock. We read how it was done, what else could a person possibly need to do!

Back in October, my other brother Darryl and I drove to Missouri to purchase a breeding quad of Ozark Mulefoot hogs. They are the sweetest things you’ll ever   sm14 sm16 sm28  meet.  Jed, Ava, Clementine and Ellen May.  Clementine gave birth in April with no mishaps or problems at all. She had five, fat, adorable babies. Oh goodness. So very, very cute!  Things were going great. We anxiously awaited the arrival of Ellen May’s litter.

Ellen May decided to be difficult. Well, I’m sure she decided she was going to go up into the woods and have her babies in peace, but we decided she needed our help.  Yeah, right. Help. The scene from Gone with the Wind about “I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies” kept running through my mind. As if I knew how to assist a sow give birth.

I knew the signs that she was about to go into labor. She was hanging out by herself, and after becoming getting increasingly intimate with her, I determined that she was lactating.  Sows give birth approximately twelve hours after they start to lactate. Of course, I had no idea when she actually started lactating. It could have been that very second, four hours previously, or as I’d hoped eleven and a half hours previously.

Like a good Mulefoot, she had made a nice nest in the woods. We didn’t want her to give birth on top of the ridge because a HUGE rainstorm was heading our way. The piglets getting wet and chilled would mean their deaths, not to mention the fact that the hillside where she was residing always ends up in the creek at the bottom of the holler. Didn’t want piglets in the creek.

So, Ma and I go to work. We try every way possible to get Ellen May to the shed. Food, prodding, Oreos, nada, nothing would lure her from her nesting area. So, I go to the shed, load my Subaru with a ton of hay and head back up the hill to give her some bedding. By the time I got to the top of the hill, Ellen May had decided to go to the shed. I go back to the shed, unload the hay and get her settled. She ate a nice dinner and all was well. Until, she headed straight baarck to her nest. After at least three hours of running up and down that damn hillside, we decided she was going to stay there and we’d check on her first thing in the morning.

I do NOT do mornings. Arising before 7 a.m. goes against every fiber of my being, unless I’m going fishing. Well, I was up by 6 and headed to the hog pen. Of course, Ellen May wasn’t in the shed. I unplugged the fence and drove to the upper ridge where she’d been the night before. I spotted her, called Ma on the two-way radio and climbed through the fence.

There was a weak, squirmy little piglet lying in the middle of the woods.  I picked him up, cleaned him off and took him to Ellen May. When Ma arrived, I scoured the woods looking for more babies. Nothing.  I plopped next to Ellen May wondering what was going on. Was she still in labor?  As I sat there, a squealing piglet emerged from a pile of leaves. I quickly grabbed it and took him to his mama. Then, I scoured the woods one more time. Then, another. It’s an acre and a half lot, but it’s all uphill. I figure if it were flat, it would be the equivalent to 90 acres. I covered the hillside twenty times as Mama sat with Ellen May.  Surely she wasn’t finished giving birth. There were only two piglets.

I ran to the house and grabbed those books. Ma and I sat in the rain and read everything we could find. I went to every website known to pigdom, trying to figure out what we should do.  Yes, I know now, we should’ve stayed up with her all night. So, please don’t lecture me on that. Lesson learned!!

As we sat there, watching Ellen May, we saw no signs of labor. I ran to the house and called the vet. The earliest anyone could get out here was 3 p.m. We had to do something. We reread all the books and the information I printed out from various websites. Finally, it came the time that we knew what we had to do. One of us had to go in.

Another read of Kelly Klober’s Dirt Hog yielded the best advice I’ve ever heard. “Never put your hand in to a pig’s dry vagina.”  Another trip to my house. I grabbed latex gloves (we use them in the greenhouse) and Vaseline. Back to the hillside. I climbed through the fence and sat next to Ma and Ellen May.  I thought discovering whether or not she was lactating was a bit personal. Trust me, that was nothing.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but Ellen May was done. We had two piglets.

I can’t for the life of me imagine that I would’ve tried to inspect Ellen May without using some sort of lubrication, but reading Kelly Klober’s words not only made me laugh, hysterically, during a very tense moment, they saved me from doing something stupid. Well, something else stupid. Why on earth I didn’t stay with Ellen May in the woods all night is beyond me. My gut told me to, but my butt told me it was time for bed.

Farming isn’t for the faint at heart.

We now have a farrowing house and hope this experience is NEVER repeated.

sm48 sm56

 

 

When Life Gets in the Way

This post was originally published in the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc winter newsletter, The Report

When I quit my job to pursue a writing career and moved back to Arkansas to be near family, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I could have developed a daily schedule that outlined the number of hours a day I’d spend helping my mother, driving to the nearest town for supplies (an hour away,) feeding critters and writing, but I didn’t. Why? Because I approach life the same way I approach writing—by the seat of my pants.

The pantsing method worked fairly well for a while. I dedicated four hours a day to writing. I’d wake up in the morning, drink something heavily caffeinated and then sit down at the computer. Stories flew out of my mind. My fingers flew over the keyboard as those tales were transcribed into works of literary genius. Anthologies published my short stories. Publishers clamored to buy my novels (okay, maybe not clamored.) My writerly life was on fire.

Then… life happened.smshed

I live on a farm. Not just any anywhere, but in the Ozark Mountains. Why is that different than say one in Kansas? There isn’t a single building on this place that has a new piece of lumber or nail in it.

“Buy a new hose? Are you insane? This one has been in the family for forty-three years.”

“There’s nothing wrong with rust, Claire. Just get a tetanus shot every ten years. You’ll be fine.”

My dad bought the tractor three years before I was born. Fortunately, it’s in better shape than I am, but like me, it has a hard time waking up in the morning and requires a great deal of pampering.

Not only do I live on a ramshackle farm, I live near my family. It took me three hours of quality time with my kin folk to recall my reason for moving five-thousand miles away in the first place. They’re nuts!

Somehow my writing time dwindled. Sure, I still had something heavily caffeinated in the morning, but that is where the writing routine ended. Instead of sitting down to better the world with my prose, I was outside feeding chickens and planting gardens. Farm workers needed to be fed and guess who cooked lunch?

Frustration ruled. I decided to take my writing life back. God knows, the romance world would weep without a new release from Claire Croxton! I’m a project manager by profession. I know how to create spreadsheets and I’m a master of getting jobs done on time and under budget. It was time to apply my skills to my writing life. I made a schedule. Wake up, drink caffeine, ignore e-mails, don’t answer the phone, hang a sign “I’m writing smut, stay out!” lock the door, write.

Then…life happened.

farm life 024It’s impossible to plan life. You can’t predict accidents, injuries, sickness or death. It’s impossible to know that your dad will die five days after being diagnosed with cancer. How do you schedule grieving time with your mother?

When your cousin calls and asks you to meet the ambulance at the hospital because her mother has been in a car accident, do you say “Sorry. I’m writing?” No. You go. Do you deny your mother’s request for a ride to the hospital to sit with her sister? No. You go. Do you refuse to attend your favorite aunt’s funeral because she’s being buried three counties away and you have to finish chapter ten of your latest novel? No. You go.

You forget your projects and you focus on your family.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough couple of years. Seems like every time I get back into the writing groove, something catastrophic occurs.

My mother, my greatest supporter, asked me the other day about my writing schedule. “Sugar dumpling, how’s that story, Loch Lonnie, coming along?”

“Not so well, Ma. I’ve been kind of distracted.”

She looked up from her knitting and said, “Call the Sisters.”

The Arkansas version of the Algonquin Round Table is comprised of brilliant novelists, poets, and inspirational speakers. We call ourselves The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Every writer needs such a group of friends—people who understand your frustration and appreciate your creative process. Folks who will look you square in the eye and say, “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever written and you’ve written a lot of really, really bad stuff. I mean really bad stuff! And this takes the cake.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong believer in critique groups. I’m eternally grateful to Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton for the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop. I’ll never forget the first time I read a passage at group. The stunned silence afterward wasn’t a good sign. Dusty telling me, “That ain’t bad for a government report, but this is fiction,” will forever ring in my ears. Their patience and guidance led to me becoming a published author. Critique groups are great, but they don’t know you viscerally.

Writers need to surround themselves with people who “get” them. That’s one of the great things about the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc.  Conference. Writers can meet likeminded individuals who understand what it means to spend hours in your head working out the dialogue to a love scene or devising the perfect way to kill your main character’s abusive boyfriend and disposing of his body.

smsistersSeptMama was right—she always is—I needed the Sisters. One e-mail was all it took. Within minutes, messages of encouragement filled my inbox and our next meeting time was arranged. Over wine and pizza, the girls listened to my tales of woe. After a few minutes of commiseration, all their patience seeped from their bodies and they went into fierce-encouragement mode. It is impossible to ignore, four, strong, intelligent, talented women staring you down and doling out nuggets of wisdom.

I’ll spare you the tears and snark and sum up their advice. It’s nothing new, but something I need to hear on a regular basis. Bottom line: Making your writing a priority is the only way you’re going to be a successful writer. Sure, life gets in the way, but you must always make time for your writing. It’s your job. It’s your outlet. It’s your reason for being on this planet. So, WRITE!

Sweet Taters

I love autumn.  Just love it.  The crisp morning air, the falling leaves (I’m waxing poetic here, so go with me, okay?  I’m aware that the leaves have been falling for months because of the drought,) harvest moons and hearty stews. I missed autumn when I lived in the Arctic. There were a couple of days when the tundra turned red, but it was quickly covered in snow.

It’s such a joy to work outside on a pretty fall day.  Today, we dug sweet taters.  Personally, I detest sweet potatoes. Can’t stand them. Can’t even eat the marshmallows off the top of the casserole. Bleck! Pops  knew I hated them and when I was a kid, he always made me plant them.  How cruel is that?  When  I lived in Kaktovik, I remember getting a box from Pops in the mail. Pops didn’t mail things.  That was always Ma’s department.  So, getting something from Pops was quite exciting

Life in a tiny Inupiaq village in the middle of the Arctic Ocean can be somewhat dreary to say the least. I lived for the mail. OMG. It soooo was freaking exciting to get a box. Since it was from Pops, I knew it was going to be good. I clutched the package to my chest and ran to to the truck. I couldn’t wait to open it.  It was like Christmas Eve.  Do you open the gifts that night or hold out the suspense until Christmas morning?

It didn’t take me long to tear past the brown paper wrapping and rip into the cardboard. Pops sent me something. Oh boy! Oh boy!

Imagine my surprise when I reached into the package and pulled out a giant sweet potato. Yep. That’s right, my father mailed a sweet potato to the Arctic. After phoning him and giving him a piece of my mind–while laughing, of course, I poked some toothpicks into it and grew the prettiest sweet potato vine in Kaktovik, Alaska.

So, as I savored the beautiful fall afternoon digging potatoes with Ma and my other brother Darryl, I smiled and thought of Pops.  I remember people telling me that he’d always be with me. It was little comfort to hear those words, but now I know what they meant and relish those tiny moments when Pops reminds me that he’ll always love me.

 

Ma and my other brother Darryl hard at work. Hey! Someone had to document the event. That’s work too!

Dig them taters, Bubba!

Yum Yum. Sweet tater pie, anyone?

 

Now, that’s a tater that would make one heck of a vine, don’t you think?

 

 

 

Just Ducky

This spring and early summer, the duck population here at WTF Acres went  from 11 to 3. One by one my feathered friends met their demise. We’re fairly certain the guilty party was a hungry fox. My building skills are somewhat lacking, so my solution for stopping the carnage was running an electrical cord from the house and scavenging drop lights from the greenhouse.  Using the little boat by the pond as a rack, I plugged those lights in and scared every owl within a 10 mile radius out of their trees.

The duck population remained at 3. Sure, the electric bill has averaged $453 a month, but my ducks are safe!

The other day, while surfing Craig’s List for folks selling goats, I discovered a lady in Garfield who had 6 ducks and 1 goose for sale. They were so cheap there was no way I could pass up the opportunity. So, on Wednesday, Ma and I loaded Apun’s dog kennel in the back of her car and set out for the wilds of northern Arkansas. We laughed because we aren’t very efficient farmers. Sure, the ducks were cheap, but it was a three-hour round trip to get to them.  We decided since it was an adventure, the price didn’t matter.  It was worth the trip because instead of 6 ducks, we got 8!  Woohoo!

Two springs ago when we got chicks, we decided we would never purchase another animal without having the proper pen for it in advance. We’d forgotten that little promise.  My plan was to come home and put the ducks directly on the pond, but our journey took too long and it was dark when we arrived home. So, we decided to put our new friends in the chicken house–which is free of chickens at the moment.  Unloading ducks in the middle of the night with your 75 year old mother should be an Olympic sport. After tripping over the hose, hanging myself on an electrical wire, stubbing my toe on a rock and nearly severing my hand on the rusty hinge that secures our state-of-the-art chicken house, we tucked the ducks into their new home.

The next morning, my other brother Darryl called. He thought we should wait until he arrived on Saturday to put the ducks on the pond. He figured he’d get the barn and pen ready.  Sounded like a marvelous plan.  So, yesterday we made a nice, cozy coop (or whatever it’s called for ducks.) As a result, we now have a pond with 11 ducks and 1 goose and pastoral bliss.

 

Ducks and goose in the chicken house

New home–red barn turned duck house

My other brother Darryl and nephew Darryl Jr. built a duck run from the shed to the pond.

Ducks being transferred from the chicken house to their new home. Apun was not happy about the condition the ducks left her kennel.

My other brother Darryl and Darryl Jr. complete the duck transfer.

 

The ducks make a beeline (or would that be a deeline?) to the pond.

 

 

The ducks had been kept in a chicken yard with no pond or water. When they got to the pond’s edge, they had no idea what to do.

The expression on the first duck’s face when she hit the water was priceless. It looked like she was thinking: “Hey cool! When did I learn how to swim?”

The original 3 weren’t that thrilled with their new neighbors.

The newbies eventually convinced the originals to love them, but it took several laps around the pond before it happened.

 

 

Perished Possum and Aromatic Armadillo

In an attempt to ready my yard for a quick pass of the lawnmower, I strolled through the grass picking up deer bones, sticks, and flower pots the dogs had dragged from the greenhouse. The aroma struck me first, then the crunch. I stumbled upon the rotting carcass of an armadillo–Apun’s favorite new toy.  Instead of moving the offensive lump of rotting flesh, I decided to mow around it.

As I mowed, I recalled a blog posting from my first spring in Arkansas.  I’ve decided to share it here, besides it includes my dad and Reba, who are both no longer with us.

Spring 2009,

The morning started out fresh.  A light rain washed the holler in a sea of mist.  The raindrops glistened and the leaves sparkled like emeralds.  The scent of lilacs was carried through the windows on a cool breeze.  Birds sang.  Butterflies fluttered.  Pastoral bliss.

A perfect day for Ma’s birthday party.

Of course, the party was being held at my house and since I’ve been in finish-the-novel-mode followed by edit-the-damn-novel mode, my house was lacking in company’s-coming-cleanliness.  I do the basics, on occasion.  Sweeping, vacuuming, laundry.  And, sure, the kitchen is usually clean.  No real problem there.  The only cooking that has been happening is the weekly baking for my critique group.  Haven’t even been cooking for the dogs lately, which is the probable cause for the ruination of my pastoral bliss.

As Dusty Richards often says, “No one has ever been killed by a dust bunny.”  So, the deep down cleaning has been lacking of late.  If you ask, Mr. Taster-Editor, he’d say it never happens, but who’s asking him, right?

So, yesterday morning, I was waltzing through the house with a blue bird on my shoulder tidying things up for the gala.  A box full of miscellaneous items needed to be returned to Ma—mostly dishes that she had so thoughtfully filled with delicious treats to sustain me during a writing frenzy.  Gotta love Ma!  Since I have no room in this house to store anything, I carried the box to the car to take to her later.

When I opened the door, a funky smell ripped through my nasal passages and my breakfast of Diet Coke and Ritz crackers threatened to reappear.  Instantly, my nose found its way to my shoulder to block the offensive odor from my olfactory glands.  I stepped outside and as my right foot made contact with the rock I call my front step, I felt and heard the crunch at the same time.

There are some crunches that are good.  For example, crisp apples, Captain Crunch, peanut brittle, Crunch and Munch.  I’ve been told that abdominal crunches are good too, but I refuse to believe.

The crunch on my front step didn’t fall into the good crunch category.  As soon as I heard it, I cringed.  Dare I look?  Was it a present from my must-draw-blood-once-a-day kitty?  Doubtful, since fresh kill rarely crunches.  It’s more of a smoosh.

I looked down and a jawbone lay desecrated under my slipper.  Of what?  I was unsure.  Until Paps announced he was going to mow the lawn before company arrived.  See, I come by my don’t- clean-until-company’s-coming philosophy honestly.

Paps mowing meant I had to pick up items in the mid-calf length grass before he arrived with the tractor.  Fireplace tongs, elbow length leather gloves, face mask and trash bag in hand, I ventured into the wilds of my yard.

Ma was going to help, but for some reason it took her an hour to roll up the garden hose.  Smart woman!

Apun and Reba followed closely behind as I cleaned up their treasure trove of death.  At least seven specimens of mortality were strewn among the Bermuda grass.  Enough to fill half a 33 gallon trash bag!  Bones, hides and armadillo shells everywhere!  I discovered the source of the jawbone when I picked up a pile of fur and the other side jawbone fell out along with the slimy possum tail!

Why the hell did I leave Alaska?  I didn’t have dogs in Alaska.  No way I’d walk one when it was thirty below zero.  Cats never went outside.  We were all safe, snug and kill-zone free in Alaska.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t scream, cry or throw up.  A big improvement.  I’m toughening up to Ozark life.

Apun and Reba were extremely upset by the discovery of their treats.  And for the record, I feed the dogs daily!  I’d just slacked off on the nightly omelet routine.  All canine-carcass-confiscation-concerns vanished when the family arrived and there were new people to pay attention to them.

Pond time made up for the missing, rotting-possum corpse!

Minnows were in abundant supply and everyone decided fishing would be great fun.  How redneck is that?  Anyway, the white bass are spawning and people were jerking fish out of the pond as fast as they could cast.  Which meant, lots of flopping fish action!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

At first Apun and Reba were working as a tag team, but with so people fishing they were missing out on some of the fish.  Eventually, they worked out a system.  Apun covered the north bank while Reba concentrated on the south.

Whew wee!  They got them some fish!

It was a catch-and- release day since no one was in the mood for filleting.  As a result, the dogs got to wrestle with the humans as they tried to get the fish off the hooks and they got to follow the fish as they swam back into the depths of the pond.

By seven last night, the dogs were crashed in the living room.  Too tired to even eat, which was upsetting because I made them omelets again.  Maybe they won’t feast on dead animals anymore?

Not very likely.

Karma Take Two

So, what goes around comes around. Remember the other day when I was talking about karma? My aunt and uncle lost their home in a fire and there was an abundance of well wishers and folks wanting to pitch in and help. My aunt and uncle are kind, thoughtful and generous, and deserve the kindness of strangers.

I, on the other hand, am experiencing one of those karma-bites-you-on-the-ass moments. As you know I have four dogs. I’m not a dog person, but strays keep showing up on my doorstep. I’ve said out loud, in front of God and everybody, that if I had my way, I’d only have 2 dogs: Apun and Luna.

Reba, the blue heeler mix, is a good dog, but she’s very jealous and she’s a bully. An absolute bully.  Luna quakes at the sight of her and that makes me mad. But, Reba is the only dog with any semblance of manners and she minds. Luna is a cute little pup that I found on the side of the road. She was around 4 weeks old and she wiggled her way into my heart. She never listens and she’s the master of reaching up on the counter and dragging down food. She’s annoying, but she cute and cuddly and I love her. Apun was the first dog to come into my life. She’s big, lame and partially deaf. Again, no manners. She runs wild, but does a great job of protecting the farm from coyotes and let me just tell you, a possum doesn’t stand a chance against her. That brings me to Kadee. Kadee is the latest addition to WTF Acres. It’s not that I don’t like her, because I do, but 4 dogs is just too many.

So, in front of God and everybody, I’ve stated that I wouldn’t be upset if the dog population on our farm dwindled. As a result, little Kadee has gone missing. Can’t find her anywhere. Even drove the dark roads last night and told neighbors she was missing. Nada. Poor little thing. She’s not very friendly, so I don’t think she’d go to somone if they called. She’s limping. I’ve been treating her for a torn something or other in her shoulder.

Am I sick? Damn straight. Do I deserve it? Damn straight. Does Kadee deserve it? Not at all.

Do you mind sending happy-puppy thoughts my way? Just think of all the good karma you’ll be reaping.

You Can Never Have Too Many __________________

My closet looks fabulous! Gorgeous even. In order to keep things pretty, I organize items by color. My friend, the master organizer, thinks I’m insane. She’s explained to me several times that I should organize the closet according to type of clothing: pants, skirts, shirts, dresses. I tried that. Really I did, but the purple skirts begged to be grouped with the purple shirts, so I went back to my color-wheel organization method.

The rest of the house still needs work though. All the books have been placed in bookcases and the pile of donate clothes has made its way into a plastic bag that is now sitting by the wood stove. I’m hauling everything else upstairs. I’ve decided to use the bunkhouse as a closet in order to get things out of the musty barn.

Sounds like a great plan, right? Instead of driving to the barn and sorting through tote after tote looking for a blouse, I just have to go upstairs. How can that be a problem? Well, you see… when everything is stored in totes its HIDDEN.

You can never have too many___________________

Shoes: black flat sandals, black mules, black Birkenstocks, black Mary Janes x 2 (The Israeli version and the Keen version,) black 1″ slip ons, black 2″ slip ons, black 3″ open toe pumps, black 4″ ankle-strap stilettos, black 4″ heavy-buckled dominatrix pumps, black patent leather thigh-high boots.

That’s just the black shoes. Don’t forget the red, brown, white, orange, purple shoes in addition to the sneakers, gardening clogs, hiking boots and farm shoes.

Okay, so I have a lot of shoes. When hidden in totes my obsession isn’t on display for all to see.

Unfortunately, I have other: You can never have too many__________

Quilts: When I lived in Kaktovik, I decided that I needed a hobby other than cooking. So, I started making quilts again. Kaktovik is an island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean with a population of 230, and there’s no road access. There was literally, I mean literally, NOTHING to do. So, I made a lot of quilts. I gave most of them away, but I still have tons. They were stored in the barn as well, but they smell awful–mildew, but fortunately, none is actually on the quilts. The result, they have to be stored upstairs. I have 9 quilts displayed in the living room. 9. In the living room.

Once again, my obsession will be laid out on beds upstairs and my little problem will be evident to everyone who walks up there.

You can never have too many________
Books, dishes, eye shadow, lipstick, purses, hoodies….

Am I the only one with this condition? Make me feel better and let me know what you have too many/much of.