The cold has settled back in here in the Ozarks, and it makes me kind of sad. I'd kind of hoped the worst was over. (Yeah, yeah, I know it's still February, but a girl can dream.)
Sifting through my pictures from last week is staving off the doldrums, though. My animals have a way of making me smile. I'm sharing some pics in hopes that they'll make you smile, too!
I've been promising a friend to write a post about chicken coops for about a year now. (This one's for you, Sophie!) Since it took me so long to get around to it, I figure I actually owe her an entire series of posts. So, I'm putting together a series on animal shelters (coops, sheds and such) with tips on building them.
I'll post a step-by-step later in the week, but to kick things off, I asked one of my chicken friends to say a few words about her chicken coops because, well, I kinda have coop envy.
"Mamabear" Amy is one of the warmest, kindest people I know. She's always quick with a smile and a helping hand. Mamabear and I first met through a chicken group on Facebook and we've been friends ever since. She's here to say a few words about her chicken venture and those fantastic coops she built!
I was asked by Heather to say a little something about the coops I've put together. I'll do my best to truly make it "a little". Before I start, I want you ALL to realize I am by NO means an expert at raising chickens or building ANYTHING. I'm so NOT either but I do my best. With that said, here goes nothing....
I started with 30 tiny chicks late April 2012, knowing absolutely NOTHING about chickens or raising them. They grew quickly. WHO KNEW?! I had to quickly slap something together for these ever growing things...NOT A GOOD IDEA, truly.
This is what I've learned thus far: ALWAYS make your coop/shelter for your chickens BIGGER than you THINK you need. Apparently, ideally, one chicken should have 4 sq ft of space (I learned AFTER slapping my first "coop" together).
Secondly, have something for the chickens to roost on, be branches, left over lumber, old wooden ladder...so on, whatever your mind can think of.
Make sure to have roughly 12" of space for each bird. Next, have a nesting area for your hens, where they feel safe, BUT be aware, regardless how cozy and safe it looks to YOU, don't be too surprised if they decide to lay outside in the middle of the chicken yard, hide eggs behind hay bales or under bushes.
Other things to consider when making/buying housing for your chickens, is their entrance and YOUR entrance(to clean, collect eggs, or just sit with them), the type of bedding( I personally have found the Deep Litter Method has worked best for me), what kind of flooring(cement, wood, dirt) and are you going to free range or have a chicken yard/pen.
Being the self professed CHEAPSKATE, tightwad, stingy person...and so on, I like to reuse whatever I can get my hands on. I have been fortunate enough to get most of materials for FREE.
Alright, with that all said, here are just some of my coops I have either built, reused what I had or was given. I hope this helps give you some ideas. Remember, there is NO limit to what one can do, research your wants/needs and always always, HAVE FUN!
I got a call from the school today. Scratch that - I got the call from the school today. The call every parent dreads. I answered the phone for a robot to inform me my boys' school was on lock down. I had to get all the way through the message before they gave us the all-important reassurance that everything was okay. (They might want to re-think where they place that little tidbit in the message!)
As it turns out, an alarm was accidentally triggered at the elementary school. Since no one knew why the alarm was going off, resource officers implemented the lock down. I'm glad they acted quickly - even happier it was a false alarm. But in that moment, that moment that seemed to stretch on forever, my heart stopped.
When my boys came home, I asked them about it. I'm not sure what I find more unsettling, the fact that my 9-year-old was completely nonplussed by the whole thing or the fact that my 10-year-old went into survival mode when it happened. Blake told me all about turning off the lights and organizing kids to rearrange desks; then he went on to talk about the various "weapons" kids grabbed to protect themselves.
When I thought about a class full of 5th graders huddled behind a wall of desks with their scissors and heaviest books, prepared to defend themselves, it really struck me how very much our world has changed. I'm glad my son knew what to do because the scary truth is that, even right here in the middle of the heartland, he might need that knowledge. But it saddens me that we've come to this.
When I was a student, my biggest concern was that Brooke and her friends were most likely going to pick on me for any myriad of stupid reasons. Now our children not only have to deal with the meanies, they have to cope with legitimate threats to their safety while they're in school.
I have two sisters, both of whom are teachers in good school districts. Both have also had to guide their students through at least one lock down, and theirs weren't false alarms. I can't imagine how that would feel, to have a room full of crying and scared children looking to you for reassurance, to have a room full of children looking to you for protection against a gunman. Teaching has always been an occupation deserving of our respect, but that's taken on a whole different level in this new world we live in.
I don't know what the answer is. All I know is tonight, my kids get extra hugs and I'll be saying an extra prayer of thanks.
The sun was shining today and there was a hint of spring in the air. As if someone flipped a switch inside me, my doldrums passed and I was suddenly in a great mood, ready to take on the world. It's a little embarrassing the pull a little bit of sun has over my emotions.
The only thing that comes close to impacting my mood as quickly as sunshine is music. That's why having a soundtrack for each novel is so important to me. It's the soundtrack that transports me from my chaotic world into the one I'm creating. When I'm stuck on a scene, I can walk away from the computer, put my earbuds in, and see it all in my head. (Thankfully, I can do this while doing dishes or cleaning house so I can multitask. If I try to just close my eyes and picture it, I fall asleep.)
Anywho, in honor of Valentine's Day, I thought it would be fun to go through and pick one love song for each novel - the one that more than any other, captures the essence of the love between my main characters.
There were several songs I listened to a lot while I was writing Throwaway, but "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits was the song that sparked the fire that fueled this novel. To this day when I hear this song, I think of Jessie and Gabe. Man I love Jessie and Gabe. Everybody needs a Gabe.
I came really close to picking "The Promise" from When in Rome for my one song with this one, but "I Don't Want to Lose You Yet" by Steve Earle really is Rick and Veronica's song. It's also one of those songs I could listen to on a continual loop. Actually, both songs are. I think they are two of the greatest love songs ever made.
Whenever I hear "Drive all Night" by Bruce Springsteen, I could close my eyes and picture Neena in Charlie's arms. There is something so slow, sexy and tender about this song. I can't help but respond to it. The lyrics don't fit them as well as is the case for some of the others, but the sentiment definitely does.
This is another book that had a clear soundtrack to it when I was writing - an eclectic soundtrack at that. (We're talking everything from Abba to Aerosmith!) But the one song I listened to every time I needed to instantly see Gavin and Kate was "Dreams" by the Cranberries. Words can't express how much I love this song, or the way my soul soars when I listen to it.
Yeah, you might expect this one to be Ring of Fire - and that was part of my soundtrack when I wrote this one - but the song that embodied the relationship between Alex and Daniel, to me, was "Joey". While writing this book, I was listening to a version by John Bartley, the St. Louis musician who inspired one of the characters in the novel. Since he doesn't have a Youtube video out there, I've substituted the better-known version by Concrete Blonde. It's still pretty fantastic, if not quite as sensual.
Truth time - I have no idea what song inspired this book. Maybe because so many of the stories are mine, it didn't need that musical catalyst. (Not the love story - just the "too crazy to be fiction" stuff.) Maybe I just have the memory of a gnat. I thought about it pretty hard, and I seem to recall listening to a lot of Alison Krauss while writing this book. If I had to pick a song for Hailey and Ethan, it would be her version of "When You Say Nothing at All". Now that I've committed to it, I can't imagine another song for them.
This one's a no-brainer for me. Again, you might expect it to be the song that shares the same title, but it's not. Nope, whenever I hear "Would You Go With Me" by Josh Turner, I do two things: smile and think of Conrad Langston smiling at Rachel Cooper. And seriously, if you don't watch any of these other videos, you have to watch this one. It's amazing. The song might make me smile, but the video makes me cry. It's amazingly beautiful. And Josh Turner is a cutie. That never hurts. (BTW, this is another one I could put on continual loop. I'm not joking about that.)
This is another one that tempted me to cheat and list two songs. If Phillip Phillips hadn't released "Home" when he did, I might not have finished this book on time. That song was a huge inspiration for me, but it still doesn't compare to "Janey Don't You Lose Heart " by Bruce Springsteen. Not only is this song another I could quite happily put on a continual loop, it also falls into the "always puts a smile on my face" category. And, if that wasn't enough, it's one I totally identify with. Maybe it's not the typical song that conjures the image of romance, but there's something to be said about a guy standing by you when you feel like you have no new dreams to touch.
It took me a while to think of a song that inspired the romance between Cat and Cody. In my defense, I wrote the first draft of this book about twenty years ago. It was an entirely new set of songs that kept me going as I revised it. As I sat and thought about it, though, I had to stick with the one song that brings them to mind every time I hear it: "Little Wing" by Stevie Ray Vaughan. This song oozes sensuality and the New Orleans vibe. Whenever I needed to feel the sexual tension between these two characters, I'd play this song.
So, I'm kind of cheating and way down here at the bottom of this post, I'm giving a bit of a sneak peek at my next novel, Waiting for You. I can't say much yet, except that there will be lots of returning characters in this one. I'll be posting much more about it in the upcoming weeks. For now, I'll just say that I'm really digging the entire soundtrack for this book. It's another eclectic one - Josh Turner, the Statler Brothers, The Lumineers, Fun, Pink, Cher... the list goes on. But it's "I Will Wait" by Mumford and Sons that is Karise and Aidan's song. So much so, it helped pick the title of the book. This song absolutely soars at its peak. Love, love, love it.
That's my list. What songs do you think of when you think of my books? Did you have a reading soundtrack? I'd love to hear about it!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Thanks to one of my friends at Booktrope, I've recently discovered a site called BookBub. They're a great way to find deals on books, and I like to use them to find new books to read since sifting through the onslaught on Amazon can be overwhelming.
So I'm pretty excited to see Devil in Disguise is one of their featured Romantic Suspense novels today! (Thank you BookBub!)
If you haven't read Devil in Disguise yet, now is a great time to do just that. If you have, tell a friend!
As a Florida baby, I've never liked winter. Since I've lived in Missouri for thirty years, I've sucked it up and learned to adjust. (If you don't count the annual case of late-January blues.)
But this winter, this winter has come pretty darn close to breaking me, and I'm not the only one. There are those who say this is the way winter is supposed to be, we've just forgotten. I'd beg to differ. It's been so long since anyone I know has seen anything remotely resembling this, I think it's safe to say this is no longer normal.
There are others who make comments like, "What's the big deal? People just need to toughen up - you don't hear me complaining when I can't make it to the gym because of snow." Honestly, this mindset sends me into a Hulk-like rage. I'll just leave that one alone and move on.
The season started early when a freak storm hit the Dakotas, killing tens of thousands of cattle and forcing many ranchers out of business. Since then, the United States has been pounded by wave after wave of severe winter weather. Ice, snow, and subzero temperatures have not only made life miserable for millions, it's created dangerous conditions.
As of early January, the death toll from cold alone was over 20. As of this month, the death toll from this flu season stands at 40. The multi-day Atlanta gridlock left children stranded in schools and motorists on the highways, many of whom suffered exposure injuries. Across the nation, people are faced with empty grocery store shelves. Schools have canceled a record number of days. For me, school cancellation means more quality time with my kiddos and a bit of cabin fever. For many parents, it puts them in a bind, especially those who must choose between paying the unexpected childcare expense and buying groceries.
Since my family moved so close to winter's start, we weren't able to load up on firewood beforehand. That and the bitter, bitter cold means all five of us pitch in to keep up with cutting firewood, and there still have been many nights I've spent praying it would last until the next break in the weather. If it wasn't for random friends from church stopping by to bring more wood, we wouldn't have made it. Others, like a single mother I know a few hours from here, aren't so lucky. There are no angels dropping wood off on her door, so when she's not working her full-time job, she's out walking the woods near her home cutting wood to keep her children warm because she can't afford to refill her propane tank. Why? Because prices have nearly doubled since this time last year.
Our first goat to kid lost one of her twins to cold. Despite our best efforts, I don't think the second baby is completely out of the woods just yet. Without our warming barrels, I know we would have lost our entire kid crop this year. With them, it's dicey at best. Sometimes I hold the weaker ones to warm them; their little bodies are wracked by shiver after shiver. It hurts my heart to see my animals so miserable with the weather and I wish there was more I could do. I've been so wrapped up in my own farm, I hadn't stopped to realize that we were the lucky ones only losing one baby. Others have lost much more. A recent conversation with a local cattle farmer reminded me of that.
For those who haven't been impacted by this yet, remember that the cattle dying on someone else's farm were intended for your dinner table. This winter's effect will eventually reach you.
I haven't had a good night's sleep since November. Our stove burns for two hours, which means it has to be stoked round the clock to keep the cabin warm. If the weather stays in the 20s, the cabin retains its heat. More nights than not, we've dipped well below that threshold. Anything other than a roaring fire, and things get chilly. Another friend of mine recently worked three days straight without going home to see his family because he couldn't leave the barn without fear of losing animals.
That's not even getting into the millions of dollars of damage done by busted pipes and roofs that have collapsed because of "ice dams" forming, or the illnesses running rampant this year. My family has been sick more in the past three months than we have in the three years prior. I've hauled countless gallons of water to frozen troughs. My fingers and toes have been so painfully cold it made me cry more times than I could count. This has truly been a long, cruel winter.
My point isn't to use my blog as a means for self pity; it's this: those of us impacted by the weather are bone weary. We don't have much left in us. I know it's only February and I don't mean to whine, but I'm more exhausted than I ever thought possible or words could ever express. It's more than a physical tired, too. Until I'd lived it, I never could have understood it. And as miserable as I've been, I can't even fathom how my homeless friends feel - or the Syrian refugees living in tents during their own harsh winter. If you happen to be one of those people only mildly inconvenienced by the weather, say a prayer of thanks that you're safe and warm, and while you're at it, please pray for those struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
If you're someone who is in the trenches of this ugliness, hang on. Spring will come. You aren't alone. There are others out there who know and care what you're going through. And know that you're in my family's prayers.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.