Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holistic Managment without Robots

It bothers me when people say that farmers, especially cattle farmers, are the largest contributors to climate change and global warming. The issue, to me, seems related to the industrialization of farming practices, such as feedlots and factory farms. Traditional farming works to maintain a balance of animals and land, whereas feedlots and factory farms cram as many animals into a space as they can. It’s unsustainable. I’m not against the people that choose to farm this way. I’m against a society so removed from its food source that these practices have to be relied upon. It’s unhealthy for the animals we consume and unhealthy for the humans that consume the animals. I found this website, Holistic Management, last night and looking into it today found a page about cattle and their contribution to global climate.

Over all, there are no easy answers for changing the world, but, as I learned from reading sociologist C. Wright Mills' book, The Sociological Imagination, the first step to a true democracy is an educated society, not a bunch of robots programmed to respond to certain stimuli in a specific way.

Happy Early New Year's

Got a good day of work in today. Well, yesterday at this point, but I did just get some major flaws revised. Sometimes that’s all writing is: fixing flaws. I feel good about it now, but we’ll see how I feel in the morning. If something’s majorly wrong with the manuscript, I wake up stewing about it.

I watched “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” for the first time tonight in its entirety. I’d seen bits and pieces before, but due to extreme cases of the tireds and perhaps an alcoholic beverage or six, I didn’t really catch it. Not a great movie, but definitely a fun one. I can see why Dad says it’s too crazy, too fantastic, but Jack Sparrow is a great character and I’m a lover of pirate-action movies from way back. Especially when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, true to pirate form.

I'd like to have major things to talk about, but my brain turns to mush after 1 a.m. Not sure if we're going out for New Year's tonight or not. If not, I have a stack of books calling my name and if so, I'll get a much-needed break. It can be a long time between breaks when I got focused on a project. And the next project involves restorations of antique tractors, something that'll require a lot of study on my part. Better warn Joe that I'm not going to be a lot of fun for awhile. Again. Luckily, the smelly dogs and winter-worn cows don't care.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get. (Mark Twain)

Hope everyone had a happy Christmas. I took an unheard of five days off from virtually everything, although I did get some work done on the last rounds of edits for the book and outlined book two on my cousin’s couch. Christmas hell went well and Joe’s birthday went better. Like he said, with my family, you can get as drunk as you want because everybody else is right there with ya and if you make an ass out of yourself, no one will remember.

The livestock fared well while we were away and the crippled cow seemed a little better today. Her ankles weren’t quite to fucked (technical farmer term). Dad and I did wood today. It was really nice out until about 3 p.m. when the wind came up and it got real dark. So we hustled around, got the load home and put the equipment away before a tree fell on our heads. The winds have been insane here the last few days. Like 45 mph gusts. And thunderstorms. Who gets thunderstorms in Michigan in December? I ask you.

I finished The Count of Monte Cristo over break. Great read. It feels really satisfying to finish a book that huge. If I was real ambitious, I’d learn French and read all this shit in the unabridged French version, but I’m lazy and took Spanish in college besides. I started Dracula the other day, after finishing Stephen King’s On Writing and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It sounds like I’ve been doing a lot more reading than I have though. The book has consumed my life the past few weeks, much to the detriment of my health and relationships. Maybe I need writer’s/reader’s rehab: “I am a writer, but I can change… Reading has destroyed my relationships. I hide book purchases from my significant other…”

Okay, I need a snack and a workout. Slap-happy Ax is never good.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cold weather writing

I’ve been horrible about blogging this past week. Went into overdrive to finish the book and just sort of lost track of everything else. But it’s mostly done, so I met my goal of having it under control by Christmas and ready to send out submissions by the new year, provided I get a new ink cartridge. I had an awfully productive week last week, thus why no blog. Awfully because the last stint on this book is kicking my ass. I got 7,000 words on Tuesday, unheard of for me. Wednesday I could barely pull 2,000 words, and Thursday I got 3,000. Crazy amount of work, especially after the pages of new scenes and a new character. 4,000 words on Friday and I got roughly done. Now just some major revisions of new scenes and ready for queries.

We’re heading out on Wednesday for a couple days with the family. Yey. Stressing over presents is bad enough. I’m an anomaly, a woman who dislikes shopping. Its fun when there are candles and incenses involved, or books (excited shiver), but shopping for other people I rarely see? Not so fun. And Dad and I are totally stumped on what to get each other. How sad is that? We live together and have no ideas what the other would like. It’s more because we’re both so low maintenance. We buy the clothes we want, or anything else we need, so necessities are out for gifts. That leaves frivolities, neither of which either of us are very big on. So we agreed over the weekend that we give each other enough all year long that nothing we could give each other at Christmas could encompass it. Fancy way of saying we’re out of ideas and don’t want to bother, mutually.

So other than beef sales this year being a nightmare, from slaughter to freezer and back out, nothing’s that new here. 50 mph winds yesterday and 20 below zero. I’m back to work and in a few days this whole Christmas hell will be over for another year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Farm and Lit

Dad and I took cows to Lake Odessa to the livestock sale first thing this morning and I got out of bed late (or rather on time for me) so I’m just now getting my breakfast and coffee. It’s a good thing I’m a morning person when it comes to Dad. Other people I take out my caffeine withdrawals on with a vengeance. Again, it was sad to see my babies go (big babies who lost their first calves due to hugeness of calf) but with the hay dwindling I’ll get over it. Especially after one of the sluts came in heat and the bull knocked down a perfectly rickety fifty year old fence to get to them. He didn’t, thank goodness, but we still have a mess of broken six by six’s to dig out of the cement, resink, and recement in the spring. I told Dad the renter (who’s a concrete guy) should work off his rent one month by repairing the cement we’ll have to bust up. I got the big “okay, hon.” Translation: not the worst idea I’ve ever heard but why are you still talking? Oh well. Gotta keep the ol’ man stirred up. That’s why the puppy and I get along so well, we both keep him hoppin’.

I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman last week. A book I swore I would never read. I was highly disappointed by The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, so I steer away from anything resembling it now, and for some reason that included The Golden Compass. But, I saw a Masterpiece Theater episode that did Ruby in the Smoke and loved it. So I read the book and dutifully looked up the author, who was, lo and behold, Philip Pullman. So, I said, how bad can it be? I liked the book. I think I would have gotten into it more when I was younger. Which is appropriate since it is YA fiction. Loved the bears. Still can’t decide whether to watch the movie. Usually films ruin what I love about the book, except on rare occasions with the European version of "Lady Chatterley’s Lover," "Lonesome Dove," and "High Fidelity." I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. Oh and "The Princess Bride," for those of us romantics. (SHH! Don’t tell anyone. I got a reputation… Oh who am I kidding? What reputation?)

So the wind’s died down and it’s just flat cold now. But cold is always easier to deal with without 40 mph winds. The cows seem fine with the cold. 27S came up lame two weeks or so ago and remains in the barn with Essential, by oldest, bossiest cow. It looks like 27S slipped on the ice and pulled both her back legs somehow or the bull bred her and hurt her. We’re not sure which. (Hey, you try standing on ice with a 2,000 lb bull on top and see if you slip.) She keeps her back legs tucked underneath her and has this puny look on her face. Her calf had weaned himself before we put her in the barn, but I’m still very concerned about both of them. 5U is one of the older calves, so that’s good, but it makes me think something was wrong with her milk production to have him weaned, eating hay and drinking water, at something like three months old. The other calves are still total titty babies. Oh well. Oddies that keep farm life interesting.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Christmas Shopping Skit

I can’t even believe how hard the wind is blowing today. Something like 40 miles an hour and at 20 degrees or less, the wind almost literally takes your breath. I don’t have to work in it, so I don’t mind. What bugs me is people going from their heated homes, to heated vehicles, to heated offices and back and bitching about the 3 minutes a day they’re out in the cold. I grew up working outside and know guys who work outdoors most the year, especially in this. So, to me, bitch if you’re out in it 12 hours a day, not 12 minutes.

Aside from that, I got 6,000 words last night while watching the French version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Figure that. It makes up for getting almost nothing Friday and Saturday. I did research those days, so that should count. And today Dad and I got our Christmas shopping on. It’s not all done, but we both hate it, so we do it in stages. Our shopping goes a bit like this:

Me: Suggests a few dozen stupid gift ideas.
Dad: No response.
We walk around the store, me pointing out more dumb ideas. We come up on something promising.
Me: What about this?
Dad: Sure.
I throw six in the cart.
The cycle continues for another gift item. 3-45 minutes pass.
Me: Okay, I’m hungry and have a headache lets go.
Dad: (at checkout) That all sure added up fast.

Or at least something like that. Dad is pretty helpful, but more in terms of the sure part. No agonizing over the perfect gift for that man. My gift ideas this holiday season? Scented candles and lots of wine with fun labels. Unisex, uni-fun. Now there’s just the elementary-age kids to buy for: hmm, Starbucks or Barnes and Nobel gift cards? Or maybe a bottle of vodka, some cigarettes, and a hooker. Bet no one else in their class gets that. :-) Later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other. (Erma Bombeck)

This time of year is never fun for me. I don’t like Christmas music or anything to do with holidays really, and my grandpa died two weeks before Christmas. I woke up thinking about that today. Well, that and would my dastardly villain live in the same house now that he’s a better dastardly and a bit more villainous.

My grandpa and I were close and holidays seem really hollow without him. He grew up during Depression days, so he liked having food on the table more than anything. There were times when they literally had nothing to eat and went to bed hungry. As I get older I have a better understanding of how important the little things were to him and it makes me miss him more. It makes me wish we’d had more time or that I’d been more present. Regrets are like assholes; everybody’s got them.

On a more positive note, I’m back making progress with the book. I got really hung up the past five days on a character, but we’re making headway again, one word at a time. It’s kinda like rehab, making it through one moment, and the next, and the one after that, only with words instead of not drinking. Especially since getting through word after word sometimes requires alcohol. Made a lot of sober progress tonight though, as in rewrote scenes for the umpteenth time and they finally work. I can get to bed before 2 a.m. for a change. Maybe get up at a decent hur too. Is that too much to aspire to? I used to be a morning person before I took up writing full-time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thoughts and policies according to Ax

Since it seems like all I do around here lately is bitch about the book, I thought I’d botch about something else today: the horse market. Or rather, lack thereof. It started watching the news last night. They ran a special report on the BLM mustangs, and granted, I don’t know much about the situation, but I do know it costs taxpayers money and that without a kill market for horses in this country, there is no alternative to make money from unwanted, crippled, or otherwise unusable horses. It even costs to dig a hole and put a horse in the ground! There is no way for anyone, government or private owner, to guarantee at least a minimal return per pound for the purchase of a horse. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing whoever worked to pass and actually passed the act not to allow horse slaughter in this country did not have an ag background. It might sound harsh, but farmers and ranchers, for the most part, understand better than most that you need a return on the investment you make on livestock. And with some livestock, it’s just some return, not even the breakeven price. Dad pointed out that if the mustangs could be slaughtered, the old, the sick, whatever, basically the undesirables, then the program would generate some income, the land could be managed easier, and there would be less reliance on people adopting horses. Horses are a huge expense, especially when the economy is in shambles. It’s not like a cat or a dog, a few hundred dollars a year, it’s a few hundred dollars a week.

I try to see the other side of the issue too. I can see why people get upset thinking about the slaughter of horses. Horses are amazing creatures, intelligent creatures, but the fact of the matter is that they are livestock. Cattle, in my opinion, are equally intelligent. I have cattle that I’d rather spend the afternoon with rather than my horse. Sheep are intelligent, in their own fashion. But horses, in our society, have fallen into a weird category in that they are not livestock in some parts of the country, but they aren’t house pets either. If cattle fell in the same category, more people would protest their slaughter as well, I would venture. We need a bottom line. That’s the plain truth of it. Horses are selling for a couple hundred dollars now and that’s no way to make a living. The sad thing is, you can’t even humanely dispose of a horse. I’ve heard many horror stories about people just leaving their horses to starve because they can’t get anyone to buy them and they have no other options for where to take them. Is that fair to the horse? Wouldn’t it be better for that animal to have a humane death in a slaughter plant than starve in its own backyard?

The moral of this rant: there isn’t one. I just wanted to talk about something other than the book. Hopefully it spawned some food for thought and doesn’t piss too many people off. This is my opinion from my perspective. Everyone is entitled to their own views and I’m not trying to stomp on that. It’s just that the farmer’s perspective is so rare in the larger scheme of things that I like to offer it up for contemplation once in awhile.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A weekend very nearly off

I tried to take the weekend off. I really did. But after Friday’s writing disaster, I found myself mulling and stewing over the problems in the book, watching movie after movie and going through a large ball of yarn in the name of progress. The good news is that I worked out what bothered me in the plot/characters. The downside is I didn’t get a weekend mental break. Even today, after more or less cleaning the house, I’m back at my desk looking up demons for Taylor to fight and trying to rename the breed of demon that cut her tramp stamp. (Does that qualify as a spoiler? Oh well.) I do plan on doing my Christmas shopping this week, but that qualifies as medieval torture without the pear-shaped apparatus (yeah, stuff of nightmares) rather than a study break. I do have writing groups though, so that should at least take me out of my own head for a few minutes.

Other than a little research diversion, I did end up taking most of the day to clean and knit and chill. I think I’m refreshed for tomorrow, thankfully. I need to make pages. But I’ve got some great new ideas to start on, so that’ll be fun.

I’ve been laboring through the giant middle of The Count of Monte Cristo. After Edmond breaks out of prison and completes his good works, there’s a section that takes place in Rome and France. A little dull, but necessary for the plot. It’s a good book to live with for awhile. The premise of a good man bent on vengeance intrigues me. I’ve been writing so much, I haven’t been reading a lot, other than The Count of Monte Cristo and A Short History of Nearly Everything. Neither one are short so I’ll be glad to get to Sellevision by Augusten Borroughs or something similar.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Goth nails and leftover pizza

I got through the jam yesterday. YEY! It took a night in jammie pants, pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and beer, but I got it and sailed on for 3,400 words. I’m trying to step up the word count and its working. If I keep it up, I should be done with this version of the book in fourteen days. That is if it doesn’t go over 100,000 words. I’m trying not to do that. 80,000 sounds more appropriate. Today I need to spend some serious quality time with my villain. Joy. An afternoon with a bunch of self-righteous sexual sadists. Of course, they don’t see themselves that way. Why couldn’t I write satire and have mocking cardboard cut-out bad guys? Silly me, I wanted sympathetic bad guys.

The plow truck just roared through. It’s all snowy today and very cozy. I read a chapter in A Short History of Nearly Everything that kinda freaked me out. It was all about bacteria and other little creatures that feed on larger mammals and cause disease. Apparently it’s a miracle bacteria don’t wipe out all larger animals. Of course, being that effective would wipe out their food source. Anyway, it was incredibly interesting. If I ever design a home school curriculum, this book would defiantly top the list for science readings.

Worked all afternoon and got 600 words. Granted, it was a particularly difficult section and I’ve been pushing really hard all week, but it’s disappointing. I hate haggling for every word. I don’t have many days like this. I’m not sure if that’s something to look forward to or something to dread. So it’s another Friday night at the desk, tapping out what I can and painting my nails black when I can’t. Goth farmer nails mean bad writing day. At least it made my grandma laugh.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I have writer's jam; and it don't taste like strawberries.

I’m completely jammed on the book today. Got to a point last night where whatever I’d done before just flat didn’t work. So I’ve spent the day trying to get unjammed, revisiting past plot points, etc.


But after some severe rewrites and a beer or six, I’m sure I’ll get back on track. Tay and I just need to reconnect (yeah, hippy-dippy-sunshine shit, but it works).

It’s been snowing all day and they’re calling for snow from here ‘til March. So far the calves all seem fine. I was worried about sickness in all this cold and damp, but they seem fine. The bull keeps romancing the cows and the horses got their feetsies trimmed today. So far they’re wintering fine on the pond across the road along with the young bull and his two ladies.

Maybe I need a night out. I’ve been really going at the book for several days. Maybe some time off would help. Clean the house, cook, knit, let my brain rest a little. All work and no play is, well, Axie-like.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Save the World: Plant a Tomato

Today I’m plugging Michael Pollen. Dad saw his interview with Bill Moyer and told me about it so I downloaded the transcript and read the interview after supper tonight. This man makes way too much sense to ever hold public office, such as Secretary of Agriculture. His whole premise is not invest billions of dollars in ag, but a grassroots movement on the part of people who eat to grow their own food, support farmer’s markets, and rediscover, as a nation, how to grow our own food. Like Dad and I discussed, in his lifetime, since the 1940s, we have lost the ability as a nation to feed ourselves. It’s gone from small farms and eating locally to the average piece of food traveling 2,500 miles from its place of origin to our tables. Not only is this expensive for the consumer, it’s unhealthy. All the food additives, which make the agribusiness corporations multibillions of dollars, are the leading causes of cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, according to Michael Pollen.

How empowering would it be to organize, as a nation, without largely relying on top-down enforcement, to make the switch from eating globally, to eating food grown within 200-300 miles from our homes? And I’m not just talking produce, but meat, eggs, butter, milk, bread, all of it. We’d be reclaiming our health, our environment, our food freedoms. Agriculture right now, as an industrialized model, accounts for a huge amount of pollution and global warming. As a farmer, it weighs heavily on my conscience that my actions, meant to care for the earth and nourish food from it, actually cause harm. But we don’t farm because we love it; we farm for the same reason most do, it makes money. At least it’s supposed to. And that’s the problem with centralized agriculture, the small, diverse farmer cannot compete with corporate farms. Not only that, but, again according to Pollen, centralized agriculture provides a huge opportunity for persons to stage acts of terrorism by poisoning our food supply.

Since Pollen says it all a lot better than I do (and so you all can get on with your day and stop listening to me rant) the transcript is here and the video can be found here. Let me know if it doesn't work right. Thanks for hanging out this long. And plant a damn tomato, people, jeeze.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Winter Driving and Factory Farmed Pandas

I loathe winter driving. For one thing, I’m a wimp about it. For two, I suck at it. Put wimp together with lack of skill and it’s a frickin’ mess.

I cleaned my room yesterday. Yeah, I know, alert the media. I’m the type of person who normally lives in quasi-organized chaos until it makes me crazy enough that I start organizing and, more importantly, throwing shit out. Haven’t used it? Pitch it. Zip really didn’t like going in that garbage bag. (Joke.) So the world feels all nice and streamlined today. For the moment. I’m sure when I go to write later, I’ll be tearing the place apart for that stack of notes that I know I just had.

We’re doing writing/reading group today. It feels weird not to go shopping and get a coffee, but there ya go. It is fun to set aside some time once in awhile to read someone else’s stuff and discuss a mutual reading assignment. And with there being no penalties for failing to do any of it, the whole system just rocks.

The snow has really piled up over the day. But the cows don’t seem to mind, all a bunch of big butts at the hay feeder. The calves look healthy so far too, no sniffles or sneezes or leaky butts. Well, I better try to get my pages for the day. All the running around this morning and writing/reading group this afternoon really cut into the day. Then Dad and I had this idea for factory farming pandas… don’t ask.