Dylan, my oldest, summed it up best: "Holly is the smartest dog we've ever had and sometimes, that's really irritating."
When we made the decision to get an Australian Shepherd, I knew going into it that they're the kind of dog that needs a job. Having owned an Aussie mix before I knew they were devilishly smart. With no other dog breed mixed in to temper them, there is something about a full-blooded Aussie that's a force to be reckoned with.
At three months old, Holly knows sit, stay, come, shake, settle, release, outside, pen, and leave it. She can open her cage to get her favorite toy or put herself to bed. She's potty trained (now that we've overcome the setbacks created by potty training pads - never again). She plays fetch like a champ and loves the game "where'd it go?"
But she also chases anything that moves (chickens are fun), forgets herself when excited (which is often) and is as bullheaded as a Missouri mule (you know she's going to dig her heels in when she gets "the look").
She's not a couch potato kind of dog. Holly is not the type of dog to be content in a yard by herself, either. I'm pretty sure that kind of life would literally drive her insane. This really, truly is a dog breed that needs a job or you'll both be miserable.
Because of the chicken thing, she can't be let loose on our 10-ish acres. She has to be walked on a leash until she's old enough to learn the ropes. But she's high-energy, so she needs lots of time to run and play. There are five people in our family and it takes every one of us to keep up with our little tornado. We work from home and homeschool and she is still exhausting. I can't imagine keeping up with her if I were working outside the home and she had 8 hours a day in a cage to store up energy. No wonder so many Aussies end up rehomed!
The thing about Aussies, and Holly specifically, is that they're deceptively cute. Everyone who sees Holly wants her - or so they think. But Holly's mind craves problems to solve, things to do, like most people crave chocolate. If she's bored, she WILL find something to occupy herself. Probably not something mom-sanctioned, though.
Her zeal for life is enchanting. Daily, she "helps" me with my chores with such enthusiasm I can't help but smile. Some of her quirks are super cute (like the Pepé Le Pew run). Some of her quirks are super irritating (like her need to dig to the bottom of her water dish every time).
Don't misunderstand the title of this post. I adore my Holly puppy. She brings me an incredibly amount of joy and has been a delightful addition to our family. When she and I have a training session, I know I'm incredibly lucky to have this once-in-a-lifetime kind of dog. Watching her mind work is like having a front row seat to a magic show. (And yes, you can see the wheels turning when she studies something.) And there's something special about being the person who's won the respect and loyalty of a dog like this. She didn't give it easily.
As my boys are growing up at break-neck speed, I look at this puppy and think she's going to be the one to go on adventures with me when the boys are off and gone. She's my baby girl and she's worth every second of trouble. But boy, there are lots of seconds of trouble...
I promised my husband I'd reduce the number of chickens we had. I promised myself I'd reduce our numbers so everyone would fit in the main "chicken compound" so we only had one group to feed at chore time. With this last amazing round of warm weather, we finished shuffling chickens around and finally had it down to 20 birds in the main houses/run. The little red coop was cleaned and boarded up - our "just in case" coop.
Then last night our neighbor and friend pulled in with a dozen chickens in the back of his SUV. Someone he knew couldn't keep them and he wanted to know if we could take them.
What person in their right mind would say no to a bunch of perfectly healthy laying hens? Right?
So we put them in the red coop for the night.
My sister called today in the middle of the day. She never does that during the school year. Wanna guess what she wanted?
Someone she knows has a bunch of chickens they can't keep and she wanted to bring them to us.
Wanna guess my answer?
Yeah, I'm going to be swimming in chickens for a while.
Snickers's oldest son is definitely the most rambunctious baby we have so far. His antics never fail to make us smile. I was able to catch a video of him meeting one of the cats for the first time, so of course I have to share!
It never fails that as the days get shorter, my mood gets grimmer. Every winter, there’s something that triggers a full-on case of the winter blues, and every winter it seems it’s something a little different, but it comes just the same. It’s as if the lack of sunshine makes it impossible for me to handle the bad stuff of life with the grace and faith that comes a little easier when the days are warmer and the breeze is gentler.
Whatever tips the dominoes of my descent, I’m usually in a pretty deep funk by January. This is the second year in a row that the aforementioned funk has halted book production. (Sorry guys - didn't meant to slow down Vance's stories so much.) Making books is enough to leave me wrung out - it feels an impossibility when I’m starting from a place that’s already dark.
Any other time of year, when things get rough, I can turn to my Bible, to prayer, to worshiping God, and the waves of life don’t beat me about so badly. In winter, I tend to turn to Regency and Victorian-era England. (My parents asked my eldest how I was a few weeks ago. His reply: “She’s pretty deep in Jane Austen’s world right now…”) At first it soothes me, but it can become a little manic if I let it.
It doesn’t help that January is a miserable, cold, nasty month in Missouri. Usually you can count on December and February to each give you at least a few days of decent weather each. But January is just biting cold, gray, windy, blustery, miserable and gross. Have I mentioned I really dislike January?
But this most hated of months does mean the arrival of seed catalogs, along with their pretty glossy promises of lush summer gardens. I can lose myself for hours sifting through the pages to put together my wish list. And when the total from that makes my eyes water, I narrow it down. And then I narrow it down again. And again. Aaaand again. Four or five passes in, I get my total to a number my husband can live with and place my order. Which means my seeds arrive mid-January, giving me two weeks to sift through the packets and dream and plan before it’s time to start getting serious about seedlings. By then, you can practically taste spring.
After last year’s terrible winter was so hard on our sweet baby goats born in January, I was determined to keep my girls from breeding for January babies. But one of our does wasn’t bred on the property (so I wasn't in control of when she bred) and the other, well, I’m still not sure how that little hussy managed to find her way out of the pasture to the buck pen, but she did. So I once again wound up with a doe bred for January 5 and one for January 10.
As the day approached, I eyed the weather forecast, not at all surprised to see that the one window of particularly nasty weather hovered over the due-date window for my girls. It’s been a flurry of activity around my house, preparing for the little ones’ arrival. We were determined to give them the best possible chance at life despite being born in the yuckiest of months.
As my girls started showing signs of delivery, my husband, our oldest son, and I started rotating shifts to keep an eye on the does so they wouldn’t deliver alone in the middle of the night.
To fully appreciate what’s going on, you have to know that Snickers, my son’s doe, is the farm favorite. She’s a sweet, friendly, laid-back little goat that charms everyone who meets her.
Cinnamon, my darling girl, is… contrary. She’s the doe that lets Dylan get the milk bucket full before she turns to him, smirks, and kicks it over. She was wild as a fox hair when I got her for basically free because I was told she would never even let me touch her. Now, she’s our herd queen and the apple of my eye. She’s kind of a punk to other people, but she gives me kisses and loves for me to scratch her neck. But I know my girl (the aforementioned Houdini-hussy): if there is a way to keep me on my toes, she’ll give it a whirl.
So as we approached the absolute worst day in the forecast this week, it was Snickers who had her twins in the last of the sunshine on the last reasonably warm day, giving me time to help her dry them and get them fed and into warming barrels before temperatures plummeted.
Cinnamon? She gave birth in the 1-hour window between checks during the absolute coldest moment of the coldest night this week. My husband checked her at 11 and there was no sign of labor. By midnight, I was frantically calling for help to towel off her twins before we lost them to chill.
I haven’t slept in days and I’ve pleaded with God to please let all of our babies live through this cold snap, but we’re the happy goat parents to four more babies after a whirlwind two days. Of course, three boys and one girl. Oy, the boys.
And suddenly, all the junk that sent me into a tailspin in December doesn’t seem to matter. It’s hard to be sad in the face of such pure and sweet new life.
So I think my goal for 2015 is to build a big, heated barn for my goatie girls so they can have all the January babies they want to have, because they’re the perfect cure for the winter blues.
The worst part of being stuck on the couch with a bum ankle has been being away from my animals. I've missed them so very much! Other than the day spent doctoring Twix, I've ventured out to see them only twice since I was hurt. The first time, they steered clear of me because of my crutches. The second, one of the dogs accidentally went mom-bowling. The sun and crisp fall air were beckoning me today, so I decided to give it another go. Thankfully, it went much better. Oh, how I missed my babies.
It shouldn't surprise me that this isn't going to be the post I intended to write and that it's not happening on the day I intended, either. I guess it surprises me about as much as hearing "It's a boy" on that third ultrasound. I kinda knew going in I wasn't going to get my little girl and it was probably for the best. But I digress.
I think I've mentioned before that over the summer, I started helping a few other Booktrope authors with their books. The position is called book manager because it's a mix of marketing and project management. It's a hard relationship to explain - for it to really work, both the author and the book manager have to be fully invested in the book and the whole crazy process. I say this to explain that I try to be really careful about who I agree to work with. I keep my author numbers small because everything about them and their book has to click with me and my bookish world or it just won't work - we'll both just wind up frustrated and that's not fair to either of us.
All of that to say that two out of three authors I work with had really big weeks this week for their books. Knowing this, I intended to spend my week pretty well dedicated to them and their books. Note the word intended.
Monday was derailed when my niece and oldest son were in a car accident (not their fault). Thankfully, everyone's okay and all I lost was a day. (Oy, though. That phone call. And that moment when you see the car, knowing your child was in it. Just oy.)
So I tried to regroup yesterday, to zero in on helping these two amazing women and their equally amazing books. Note the word tried.
An unplanned trip into town waylaid things a bit. The problem with being on crutches and relying on the boys to feed animals is they sometimes forget to mention you're running low on a particular feed in advance. With nasty weather settling in, I decided to make a run for feed and straw, figuring I'd check in periodically while gone and roll up my sleeves for realsies when I got home. Only when we got home, as we were distributing the newly purchased straw to animal houses and feeding everyone for the evening, Dylan noticed his doe was acting off. She wasn't eating, hanging back to herself instead of vying for the best spot at the dinner table with the others. When a goat doesn't eat, there is something wrong. Really wrong.
I took one look at her and realized she was in labor. Only problem: she's not due until January 14. So, instead of the very bookish evening I'd planned, I spent it taking turns with my husband and oldest son, sitting in the freezing cold with Twix, darling of the farm. Dylan bought this goat with his birthday money last year so he could start his own herd. We raised her from two weeks old. When she was little, she would race the boys back and forth across the yard. She loves to run. She's graceful and sweet and we all absolutely adore her. And now she was in pain, losing her baby and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was scared to death I wouldn't be able to save her, that the long labor would be too much.
Thankfully, we have some very dear friends just down the road who are experts in all things goat. They navigated us through this new aspect of goat ownership, and we were finally able to help Twix pass the baby she'd lost. Physically, Twix is doing well. But she's walking around her pen crying, looking for her baby. It breaks my heart. I want to gather her in my arms and rock her and tell her it'll be okay. All I can do is scratch her neck and tell her I know how she feels. I feel so helpless. (Don't even get me started on my poor son - sore from a car wreck, doing his level best to take care of his goat, and losing a whole year's worth of investment, not that the money even crossed his mind.)
What does this have to do with books? Nothing really. Except that every time I checked in online last night, I was either told not to worry about them, to be with Twix, or they were asking me how she was. These two women were having huge nights, nights that really mattered to them and their books, and they were worried about my son's goat.
It's the kind of thing that makes me realize how lucky, how truly blessed, I am to work with the people I do. I'd introduce you to them now, but I don't want it to get lost in all my ramblings about me. Instead, I'll post links to their books today and tomorrow I'll give them their proper due.
If you have time, you should check them out. Not only are they talented writers, they're amazing people - the kind worth knowing, the kind who'll brighten your day, the kind who make this world a better place.
Visit EJ Hanagan online or download Saving Jason - free on kindle through 11/13
Visit Lucy H Delaney online or download Waiting on Justin - only $0.99 as of right now, but it won't be for long!
The weather in the Missouri Ozarks this week is idyllic. Yesterday was my version of heaven on earth as I sat in the shade of my mimosa tree, surrounded by my animals as I read. Thinking about it now brings a happy sigh to my lips. But hiding in the gentle breeze is a nip of warning: Winter's coming.
According to the forecasters, this week will be the kind of week I live for, with evenings in the 50s and highs each day in the 70s. I am going to glory in it all week long. And I'm going to work like a mad woman to get my little homestead ready for winter, as ready as I can be.
So if I'm not on social media much or I don't respond to an email, know that I've turned my attention to farming for the week - and I'm loving every minute of it.
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.