Posted on October 12, 2012
This week’s email from the farm…
I love my chickens and my chickens love me – especially when I feed them.
I was checking for eggs in the nest boxes this morning when one of the black hens started moving hay from one next box to the other. I guess she is the designated interior decorator.
Meanwhile, Essie (short for Survivor Girl from the Christmas Eve massacre at Barneyville) follows me around the whole time I am in the chicken yard.
In fact, I have accidentally stepped on her before. That hasn’t stopped her. Anyway, she hopped up on the door to the nest boxes and watched the redecorating process.
She is the only chicken we have who will let you pet her. I guess I now understand how people can have pet chickens. But, she’s not coming inside. Already tried that with Einstein and look where it got him.
I know that is shocking to you, but this made me think of a song.
I have a chicken my chicken loves me
I feed my chicken on tender leaf tea
My little chicken goes bak bak bak
My little rooster goes cockle doodle doodle
doodle doodle doodle do.
Anyone else remember that one?
I did remember the song, but had no idea who wrote it or when. After a quick Google search, I discover Arkansas folk singer named Almeda Riddle (1898-1986) was the first to publicly sing “My Little Rooster.”
Also known as Granny Riddle, her acapella recording of the song appears on the 1997 cult film “Gummo.” If you’d like a listen click below:
If you’ve got a preschooler or kindergartener, gather them up to the computer screen and have a watch of this more pleasant sounding variation. They’ll love it.
Chicken Wrangler Sara isn’t singing, though it could be her. She is a professional musician and music teacher. It’s exactly the sort of thing she’d do.
Well, on second thought, maybe not. She’d probably bring Essie so the kiddos could pet a real chicken and sing!
YOUR TURN: I’m sure we have you humming the “I love My Rooster” tune by now. If you don’t have a rooster or a chicken or a pig or a cow or a …, what would you substitute for rooster in the song?
Posted on October 8, 2012
I’m having an Alexander day. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day where nothing goes right.
I’m sure you’ve had those days too, but you may not be familiar with the term Alexander day.
If not, you HAVE to read, Judith Voirst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s a delightful children’s book that will warm your adult heart. Click on the cover to read more.
Like Alexander, I must decide what to do with this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I could grump and get nowhere with my editing or…
since I believe action can alter attitude,
I’m choosing to blog about a recent experience in a wonderful little Panhandle city called Clarendon.
For the non-Texan blog readers that would be the northernmost 26 counties in the state. The part that looks like the handle of a pan.
On our travels between Houston and Colorado, we’ve gone through Clarendon on US 287 many, many times. Not a big city. Population is under two thousand. It’s home to Clarendon College (established 1898), the oldest center of higher education in the Texas Panhandle.
On our most recent trip through, I was having another Alexander day. This time because I had strep throat. The penicillin hadn’t fully kicked in so I was feeling pretty rotten.
We arrived in Clarendon late – 7:30 p.m. – and hungry. For all you city dwellers who think that isn’t late, small towns tend to roll up the sidewalks early.
We saw a sign for the Clarendon Steakhouse and pulled in praying it would be open. I was hoping the buffet had some soup that would soothe my very raw throat.
The building is a former grocery store converted to a restaurant with funny cowboys on the windows and friendly people inside. Very friendly and very kind people.
When we went inside, the place was about empty and the buffet was bare. My hopes sank. They were closed.
A waitress, in an apron that Vera Bradley would give her eye tooth to claim, greeted us. Turns out the waitress’ grandmother made her apron. I asked.
I explained how we were passing though, tired of driving, hungry and really wanted some soup. Okay, I admit I shared more detail than necessary, but I am a storyteller.
She walked us to a back table to check with the owner whose name was Mary. I think. Remember I was not having a good day and that affected my memory.
Mary pointed to her husband’s soup bowl filled with the most delicious looking chicken soup I’d ever seen. I know I looked a bit peaked and I must have drooled because Mary said she had enough for a couple of bowls.
She directed us to the “non-smoking” section. A booth at the store window under a ceiling fan. (to disperse cigarette smoke)
Sitting in the next booth was Fred Gray, local columnist for The Clarendon Enterprise. We shared writing stories. He even went next door to the newspaper office for old editions so we could read his “The Quick, the Dead and Fred” column. Check out some of his columns in the newspaper’s online edition you’ll enjoy them.
Naturally, I shared my business card with my website and told him all about my writing. And, I’d love for you to check out my Judythe Morgan books page. 🙂
Sarah, a lovely young Clarendon High School student, served as our waitress. She was excited and bubbly about her coming class trip to Washington, D.C. Needless to say, we gave her a generous tip to go toward her expenses.
Suddenly our tiring, drive of 540 miles with another 145 more to go before we stopped had become a pleasant vist with friendly people and delicious down home chicken soup.
And Mary wouldn’t let us pay for our dinner! Isn’t small town America wonderful?
Sharing has helped refuel my creative juices and improved my terrible, horrible, really bad day dramatically. I’m back to editing.
YOUR TURN: What about you? How do you combat a really bad, terrible, horrible day?
Posted on October 5, 2012
For an urban city farm, the Miller Farm produces a wide variety of products. I love the eggs. And, the honey Beekeeper Brian extracts is equally tasty.
Chicken Wrangler email today is about the bees on the farm.
Today has been a bit busier than a normal. I added blood donation to my already full errand list.
When I returned to the Farm, I discovered an interesting object on my kitchen counter.
It is a two liter bottle (which I had saved at Beekeeper Brian’s request) which is about a quarter full of clear liquid with what appears to be a banana peel in it.
This last part was confirmed by the discovery of both ends of the banana peel in the sink. Now being married to Brian for 25 years, I know this is something he has done.
I suspect it has something to do with the bees. Just in case you need a little humor to lighten your day, any other guesses?
I’ll let you know what this contraption is when I find out.
Then the next morning this Chicken Wrangler email arrived.
A moth trap!
Apparently there is a type of moth that takes up residence in bee hives and greatly hinders honey production. They are extremely attracted to the clear liquid in the two liter bottle which is actually a mixture of sugar, water and honey.
The banana peel puts off some gas thing as it ferments that is extremely unattractive to the bees so they are not tempted to join the moths in their final swim.
The banana must ferment for two days so tomorrow the bottle will go out back near the bee hives. I’ll report back on the success of the “two liter bottle/banana peel moth trap.”
Now I am sure we will all sleep better having solved this mystery.
~~Sara – who never ceases to be amazed at the wonders her husband discovers
I, too, am amazed at the things Beekeeper Brian can do. Some blog we’ll talk about his fly-fishing skills or his woodcrafting bowls or his dulcimer building skills. A multi-tasking beekeeper-farmer that Brian.
YOUR TURN: Ever found something unfamiliar on your kitchen counter?
Posted on October 1, 2012
I’m a week late this year, but next year I’ll be on time to celebrate the day Jeff Rubin established as the “celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semi-colons, and the ever mysterious ellipsis” in 2004.
Steve Laube posted this five minute repartee between Dean Martin and Victor Borge skit with Phonetic Punctuation. It’s hilarious any day of the year.
On a more serious note, if you have as much trouble with punctuation and grammar as I do, I recommend:
A humorous guide to correct grammar.
Or for the serious student: The Elements of Style
Click on either to read more and/or add to your writer resource shelf. I’m guessing many have the Strunk and White. It’s been around as long as Dean Martin and Victor Borge.
I think certain T-shirt manufacturers might want to buy one of these punctuation guides for their advertising staff.
Check out this Old Navy T-shirt ad with the phrase “Let’s Go” wrongly imprinted “Lets Go,” missing the appropriate apostrophe.
What’s the worst grammatical/punctuation error you’ve made or seen?
Posted on September 28, 2012
My latest email from the Miller Farm
PLACES I NEVER THOUGHT I’D BE…
In a feed store parking lot next to trailers full of cows waiting for my chicken feed
Standing two feet from thousands of bees while filling a waterer
And the latest addition:
Laying under a car in my driveway wearing a Vera Bradley floral apron while holding some piece of the car up while Beekeeper Brian puts in bolts.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anything, which is good since nobody else would want it 😉
The following reply arrived from my other daughter (who takes her children to Miller Farm on field trips) minutes later …
One question: why were the cows waiting for your chicken feed????? LOL
I know three kids (OK, 2 1/2) who would take your life any day of the week…we had a blast!
A short exchange this week, but one that raises a great, thought-provoking question: Would I trade my life?
My answer: Not for all the tea in China.
YOUR TURN: How would you answer?
Posted on September 24, 2012
When I started writing for publication, I repeatedly heard three “absolute must dos.”
Years later and many published works, I have my own opinion about those MUSTs.
#1 Write what you know.
First, imo, writing what you know is
easy lazy writing. I’ve done it, you’ve done. Who hasn’t?
BUT, we live in the technology age. These days you can research anything without leaving home.
Or looking at it another way, we write fiction. We can make it up!
It’s been my experience, as long as my reader can suspend their disbelief and buy into my story I don’t have to be an expert about what I’m writing.
I will qualify my opinion by saying that IF you write about what you know and what interests you, your story is more likely to come alive for your reader.
Good Sound research can produce an engaging story too.
So, don’t limit yourself to what you know. Explore. Be adventurous. Be creative. Research.
#2 Don’t write to market.
Indie publishing has blown this MUST out of the water.
On the other hand, if you write to the traditional publishing market, you might want to AVOID market trends.
By the time a manuscript is ready for what is currently trending, that trend may have died. Big Six publishers take too long from contract to reality in a bookstore. Do you really want to spend weeks, months, even years writing a book that won’t sell?
BUT if you’re considering indie publishing or e-publishing, I suggest you keep your eye on the marketplace. Publishers’ Marketplace offers deal news which is an indicator of what’s coming out.
Subscribe to the free lunch edition of Publishers’ Market place or spring for a paid subscription to the Marketplace. Check regularly to see what’s trending.
Then if you need a story idea, you’ll have plenty of ideas. You might find one that appeals to you and will likely be most saleable.
#3 Write the best book you can.
This one is absolutely, positively TRUE.
What sells a book or an article or a paper is CONTENT.
Agents and editors reject mediocre or unsellable submissions. Reviewers and readers will post bad reviews. So write the best, most creative, most marketable manuscript or article you can. ALWAYS!
I wish I could promise that you follow these MUSTs you’ll find success. I can’t.
There are two other elements.
Only one of my early advisors – New York Times bestseller JoAnn Ross — was honest enough to share this illusive element of writing success.
Thank you, JoAnn
So I end by wishing you luck because every author – aspiring or established – needs a boatload of LUCK and this perserverance quote from my website writers’ resource page:
You do not know what the next effort will bring because the future is not based on the past. That feeling of wanting to give up is based solely on the past, which really doesn’t matter anymore. What matters now is where you’re headed, not where you’ve been. And when you view it from that perspective, giving up is simply not an option.” ~~~R. Marston
What’s on your list of MUSTs for aspiring writers?
Posted on September 21, 2012
No recipes or no recommendation for the best fast food restaurant serving chicken nuggets.
Although if you’re ever in South Fork, Colorado, I do highly recommend the chicken strips at Rockaway Cafe & Steakhouse.
You’ll love ‘em. We do.
But back to the Miller Farm.
Today our resident chicken wrangler is sharing some observations and a follow-up on last week’s acrobatic chicken.
The follow-up first – Butterscotch, the acrobatic chicken, seems to have recovered nicely. I had intended to clean her hurt foot every morning but I have yet to be able to catch her. Since she is moving faster than I am, I would say she is doing pretty well.
Observations on the concept of pecking order…
We have introduced new chickens into our flock on several occasions. Usually we have a group of birds that have gotten large enough to move outside but are still somewhat smaller than our mature hens, putting them on the bottom of the pecking order.
One evening I noticed that there was some “discussion” about who got to roost on a particular perch. Little Grey Hen come running out of the coop then she ran back in.
I heard all kinds of noise and saw that a smaller black bird was trying to roost on the end where Little Grey Hen usually sleeps. She would have none of that and before I (or the smaller hen) knew it, the black hen was on the ground and Little Grey Hen was back on her perch.
My first thought was “They all rolled over and one fell out.” (from the song Ten in the Bed).
Thoughts on hatching…
We have an assortment of fowl (chickens and quail) in the brooder in the garage. They hatched over a period of two days.
The last chicken to hatch seemed to have its shell stuck to its back side. We left it alone for a while, knowing that the struggle to get it off was making the bird stronger.
At a certain point, however, we could stand it no longer, and I held the bird while Rachel carefully cut away the shell which was hanging on by a thread.
We added the chicken sans the large chunk of hanging shell to the brooder where its feathers were able to dry and the last tiny bits of the shell came off.
I thought about parenting – sometimes we have to help kids get completely out of their shell so they can begin their own life.
The baby quail in the brooder nearly drove me nuts. They started sleeping on their sides with their feet stretched out making them look dead.
I guess I opened the cage and woke them up enough times that they decided if they wanted to get any sleep at all, they’d better sleep on their feet like fowl are supposed to do.
I’m definitely getting more sleep as well.
Sara, the Chicken Wrangler, observed that a chicken’s process of hatching is like watching our children growing up. We need to help them out of their shells before they can begin their own life. Seems to me, that’s what writers do for their protagonists. We help them out of their shell. The literary term is character arc.
YOUR TURN: Do you see your child or your main character’s growth as hatching out of a shell?
Posted on September 17, 2012
I wish I could say NO WAY!
When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them questioned this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”
Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.
Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.
She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.
In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.
Some more phrases:
come hell or high water – proceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.
conniptions – get upset and raise a ruckus
hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see
hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT
screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all
bone tired – yep, been there
slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar
keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!
When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts.
I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson calls these “weasel words.”
I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.
Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others. (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)
During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.
BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.
Are you working on a Texas setting or character? Here’s a great resource: http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html
Other times, overuse in novel narrative becomes a stumbling block, pulling readers from the story.
When that happens, the reader does what no writer wants a reader to do—QUITS reading!
If colloquialisms are your writer’s voice, I caution you to be sure your reader can understand what you’re saying. Always remember what I learned in a Susan Wiggs workshop.
In the battle of words, the story reigns.
Our word choices should always move the story forward.
In case you’re wondering what I did about my CP’s question, I decided the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water” in the manuscript.
How about you…
Do colloquialisms, local slang and weasel words slip into your novels?
Are you guilty of using expressions you grew up with that might confuse a reader? Care to share some and explain their local meaning?
Posted on September 14, 2012
Anthropomorphism is a literary technique in which human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) are assigned to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. (I’m quoting Wikipedia.)
The word has been around since the 1700s.
Not being a literary writer, I don’t use the technique much, but I’ve often been accused of anthropomorphizing my dogs and other non-living things.
Doesn’t every one name their vehicle or their vaccum cleaner? Well, you should!
That’s why I understand completely when Chicken Wrangler Sara treats her chickens like they’re human, which is what happened when one of her hens named Butterscotch got herself into a bad situation.
Here’s the story from Chicken Wrangler Sara’s email. Additional comments not italicized are mine.
Our chicken feeder is suspended from the ceiling of the coop with a wire the size of a coat hanger. This morning, when I went to let the chickens out, one of them was hanging by one toe from the wire above the feeder.
One interesting thing about chickens is that if you hold them upside down by their feet, they get very calm. (Don’t ask how I know this.)
So the poor chicken, named Butterscotch, was incredibly calm. Now if I had been hanging upside down by my toe all night, I definitely would not be calm. This is just another difference between humans and chickens.
Anyway, I had to work hard to get her toe unstuck all the while explaining to her that chickens are not acrobats.
(Like the chicken was listening. More likely a little anthropomorphizing going on! LOL)
I ended up untwisting the wire which immediately freed Butterscotch’s foot. I carefully carried her out of the coop and set her by the water thinking she might be thirsty as are most of the chickens in the mornings.
So are the bees who share space at the Miller Farm with the chickens, making an interesting scene at the water cooler every morning.
(A bee blog for Miller Farm Friday is in the works. That’s really anthropomorphizing when you attribute human characteristics to things that can really, really hurt you!)
Butterscotch didn’t drink but hobbled to the front of the yard and sat down. I went on with the morning chicken chores, keeping an eye on her.
When I had finished, I picked her up to examine the injured toe. It had begun to bleed and was getting caked with dirt. I’m no vet, but I am a mom and I know that open sores and dirt are not a good combination.
So I carried Butterscotch up to the garage where we keep the betadine and poured some on her foot.
Then I gently washed it off with the hose and decided she needed to go to the chicken infirmary for observation. So I hollered for Catherine (her oldest daughter) to bring me a rag towel and laid it down in a laundry basket. Then I gently lowered Butterscotch into the basket and put a small waterer in with her.
I went back in the house but soon realized that if she happened to get out of the basket, her toe would be the least of her problems. The dogs would love to “play” with her.
Especially Bella. Remember she’s the farm daschund who is always watching and waiting for a chicken to get free. And trust me she’s not thinking about anthropomorphizing that chicken.
So I put another laundry basket on top and behold a “chicken infirmary.”
Butterscotch rested comfortably all morning and after a consultation with the resident chicken vet, Rachel, Butterscotch returned to the chicken yard.
She immediately started pecking at the ground for food then ran to where all the other chickens were pecking to see if they had found something more appetizing.
At last sighting, she was limping slightly but seemed to be glad to be “home.” I made her promise not to do any more acrobatics, and Chicken Vet Rachel decided to wash her foot every morning to prevent infection.
YOUR TURN: Are you guilty of anthropomorphizing either your pets or using the technique in your writing?