Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Right Place at the Right Time

Spring is trying really hard to come to the ranch right now, and one of the signs it might be succeeding is the turkeys in strut.  This time last year I had a shiny new camera and a 200mm zoom lens and a powerful determination to get an awesome turkey strut photo.

Dad used to take me to call up turkeys when I was little, and even as an adult I’m still amazed at their springtime transformation.  They go from being this drab funny looking bird with long legs to a picture-perfect ball of fluffed feathers, fan tail, and glistening color – all to impress the ladies, of course.  And the gobbling!  Always makes me think of spring.

Anyway – back to last year.  Mr. HH tried his hardest to put me in a position to get good photos, but I quickly learned that turkeys are tricky birds.  They always heard us, or saw us, or smelled us…or were just plain out of reach.  I can’t count the number of times we got up early, put on head-to-toe camo, and crawled around in ditches on our stomachs only to come up with mediocre results from too far away.  In fact, this was the best I could get…and I’m pretty sure as soon as I snapped it, these guys were headed over the hill.

So, here it is almost spring turkey season again.  And the last thing I could possibly do in my current state is crawl around in the pasture on my stomach with my camera tracking those darn turkeys.  I had no hopes for those turkey photos this year.  My main physical activity is lifting my pregnant self off of the couch and to the bathroom and back.

Which is exactly what I was doing last weekend at the ranch house, when I heard that familiar gobbling sound.  Oh, did I mention it was coming from my kitchen? 

Two big tom turkeys were gobbling at their own reflection in my patio door.  And not only were they beautiful with the sun shining on those feathers, but they had absolutely no interest in leaving any time soon.  I was no more than 5 feet from them, and yet I got to take a video, take pictures with my new portrait lens, and switch to a zoom lens for some real close ups.  It was as if they had scheduled a photo session and were posing for me!


Spring turkeys from the porch

The sad thing was that there was no one home but me to see this little front-porch nature show, nor does anyone believe me about how long they hung around.  We have turkeys pass through the yard all the time, but I felt pretty lucky for the half-hour I got to spend with these guys.  And the best part?  No belly-crawling required!

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Sunday, March 6, 2011


Remember last year when we had to go get a load of young first-calf heifers and I was a little nervous about driving the big trailer?  Well, this year I am way too pregnant to drive pretty much anywhere, and certainly can’t be any help branding and moving cattle.  Lucky me, huh?   Actually it would be nice to be able to pull my weight (haha) around here, but that’s another story.

So, another new set of young cows came to the ranch this past weekend.  While I was hoisting my huge self from couch to bed and back, Dad and Mr. HH had to do all the branding and hauling.  I did learn that if you’re not involved in the branding, you are also not immune to the horrible smell!  It nearly knocked me down when I went to get into the pickup.  But still preferable to the ‘vet smell’ my loving husband brought home the next day…ah, the joys of ranch life.

Anyway, so when they unloaded the calves it turned out they had a runner.  What’s a runner?  It’s a calf that…runs.  And runs.  And runs. 

When they are really small baby calves have only a few instincts:  get on your feet, follow mom, drink lots of milk, lay where mom puts you, and when all else fails - RUN!  This little guy hit the ground outside the trailer, and since he didn’t see or smell anything familiar (including mom), he decided to employ the ‘run until something stops me’ strategy.  Never mind that he was running away from his mom and getting himself so lost he would never find his way back.

Mr. HH and Dad had to chase him over 3 pastures (several times, to hear them tell it), both on foot and on 4-wheelers before finally cornering him against a fence.  One football tackle and one calf-passenger ride later the little guy was finally returned to mama, but not after making 3 grown men chase around like rodeo clowns for 45 minutes.

But really, how can you be mad at a face like this?  Easy for me to say.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Electric Fences are Not My Friend

Mr. HH spent this past weekend putting up an electric fence around the new house.  The thing about electric fences is that they are kind of a temporary fix – as in they take 1/10 the time to put up but you spend 100 times as long fixing them and finding insulators.  We will eventually have a ‘real’ fence separating us from the cows, but for now this will let them graze the section of pasture next to the house and hopefully keep us from feeding more hay than we have to until Spring finally arrives.

Everyone should have at least one good electric fence story.  I actually think I could do a short series on them, but I’ll try to spare you the monotony by summarizing my favorites.

We once had a mare who was terrified of going through electric fence gates…she would walk through in a half-prance, half spinning frantic state as she tried to watch both her front and back halves to make sure the fence didn’t sneak up and bite her.  Thinking back on my own experiences, I can’t say I blame her.

I remember once when I was maybe 7 or 8 riding with Grandpa and a couple younger cousins.  Grandpa told ME to get the gate, which made me so proud of my little self…after all, I knew how to get an electric fence gate without getting shocked, right?  Well, somehow the handle had gotten cracked and as I grabbed it I broke away the remaining insulating plastic and stuck my tender little hand right against the conductive  metal.  Turns out it’s hard to look cool in front of your little cousins while sniffling tears into your coveralls.  I think Grandpa tried to cover for me by getting out and fixing the gate right then, which did give me a little time to regain my composure, but my ego-bubble was pretty damaged.

As humiliating as that was, it was not my worst shock.  My worst shock was when I was a teenager walking through the horse pasture to go get my rotten horse who had run all the way to the road just when I needed to catch him.  I guess the grass was damp enough to get my jeans wet, and in typical teenager form I wasn’t paying attention to my proximity to said LIVE electric fence.  I swear I only brushed my hand up against it, but apparently my wet legs were super conductors.  It’s the only time I’ve actually been knocked down by a fence – literally blown back onto my butt on the ground thinking, “huh, maybe that mare is onto something about these things…”

I don’t really know how this one ended, but I’m sure it was spectacular.  A couple of ‘city folk’ came out to go turkey hunting, and Mom and I were the only ones home when they came walking though the yard.  Mom gave them directions from the porch and the customary, “Watch out for the electric fence down there.”  Mr. City Hunter just chuckled and told her, “Oh, I know all about those.  I just grab onto them really tight and then they can’t shock me.”  Mom tried to tell him NOT to try it on our fences, which were intended to be strong enough to deter even a 100olb fur and thick-hide-covered mama cow, but he wouldn’t listen.  I’m guessing the laws of physics and that whole ‘shortest path to ground’ argument wouldn’t have worked either.  I don’t think they got a turkey that day, probably because the screaming scared them all away.  Maybe I should have introduced them to the mare so she could teach them a thing or two about proper fence etiquette.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Life of a Cell Phone on the Ranch

There are few things that have a rougher life around the ranch than cell phones.  I don’t know what it is about them, but they cannot catch a break around here.  Just a few examples of what a cell phone has to deal with:

Case 1:  This poor cell phone was used (as most of them are) as a flashlight while walking out from a deer stand.  It turns out that running the screen for that long drains the battery – who knew?  And then it was lost out of a coat pocket while walking through the brush.  It took about 3 days to find it.  They don’t ring too well with a dead battery, in case you were wondering.

Case 2:  This phone happened to be in Mr. HH’s inside coat pocket while he was working outside in the mud.  The phone stayed clean, although the coat did not.  Shouldn’t be a problem, right?  Until he decided that the best way to bust the dried mud off of the coat was to beat it repeatedly against the concrete sidewalk.  That phone never stood a chance.

Mr. HH’s last phone was a cute little slider phone he got when we moved to Texas.  I decided to be smart and insure it through the carrier, since up to that point the estimated life span for one of his phones was about 4 months.  Hah!  That dumb phone never broke, and I ended up paying more for insurance than I would have for a new one.  Guess the joke was on me.

Then last year we happened to get a couple new phones for free, and I gave him the one with a slide-out keyboard.  Which he thought was the dumbest thing ever…until he learned he could text his brother from the tree-stand during deer season, at which point it became the best phone in the world.  Go figure. 

It is a durable little phone, but not durable enough to endure being snapped over the tailgate of the truck while loading tile for the ranch house.  Unwilling to pay full price for his precious phone, I found a replacement screen, got the tools, and we fixed that sucker right up.  Sorry Nokia, but I’m pretty sure the warranty was voided when he dropped it in a cup of orange juice a few months ago anyway.

The other thing he loves about this phone is its super super loud alarm.  It is the only alarm that can reliably wake him up in the morning.  Of course, it also wakes up me, the cat, the dog, the neighbor’s dog 2 blocks over and the National Guard, but whatever.  Two mornings with the new screen (after the state of Kansas called to tell him to shut off his alarm) I heard a suspicious clatter from his side of the bed, followed by a few choice words and the sound of a phone being repeatedly turned on and off.

-“Is everything ok over there?”


-“Are you sure?  Because it sounded like you dropped your phone onto the bed rail and it hit pretty hard.”

-“It’s fine.  Leave me alone.”  Beep beep beep as he is pushing buttons trying to get the screen to come back on.

pause….beep beep beep…

-“Do I need to order you another screen?”

-Sigh.  “Better get 2 this time.”

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

I’m on Their Side Now…

Ah, wintertime.  The time of year when we wait, and wait, and wait on the cows as they slowly meander across the pasture to get fed.  It is also the time of year when Dad and Mr. HH gripe at the cows for being so slow.  And they complain that the cows are in the way, that they fight with each other all the time, and that they eat too much.

Maybe I never noticed it so much before.  But it’s more likely that I just relate to the mama cows more strongly since I am sharing their condition.  Of course they are slow and cranky: they are 8 months pregnant! 

I really feel for them this year.  Plus it’s cold, I’ll bet their feet and their backs hurt, and here we are making them chase after the pickup truck to get their cattle cubes. 

I’m sorry mamas – I think you look beautiful!  Now let’s all go put our feet (or hooves) up and wait for these babies to get here.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Attack of the Crazed Cow (I mean Heifer)

This is one of those embarrassing stories that I have kind of tried to block out, but really it’s just too funny not to share.  It’s been 12 years, so I can finally look back and laugh instead of cry.

Here’s the background:  in my small, agricultural-based school, one of our extra-curricular activities was showing livestock.  Think Animal Planet show dogs, except this is teenagers raising and showing pigs, sheep, cattle, chickens….pretty much all your farm animal categories.

Dad wasn’t too thrilled when I wanted to pick up ANOTHER activity - especially one that would tie up one of his cattle pens, require hours of work, and take up dozens of his weekends but he held his tongue - and so I showed my first calf in the 8th grade.

Mostly it was a blast, but it was a lot of work, and I’m not sure it was smart for little 100 lb me to take on 500 lb animals on a daily basis.  For 3 years, I was happy to go pick my show calf out of the herd each spring, write a check to Dad, and show in the ‘Commercial’ heifer classes.  But then, in the 11th grade, I really really really wanted to move up to the Registered class!  You see, all of the big shows required your calf to be registered. (Ok, full disclosure – I could have instead shown a steer,  but I  just couldn’t stand to train a steer all year and then send it off to the processer.  I only showed calves that I kept to use as mama cows, because I am a big sissy.)

Lucky for me, Dad was soon doing a bull trade with a registered breeder in Kansas.  As part of the deal, he arranged for a ‘nice, gentle’ registered heifer to be delivered as well.  No, that’s not something you normally buy sight-unseen, but it was a good deal and I sure wasn’t going to complain.

Now, I’m not sure if the trailer-ride from Kansas to Oklahoma made a nice, gentle calf turn into a crazed hell-heifer or if that tendency was there all along, but something went very very wrong with that animal.  The worst part was that she was not only crazy, but SMART!  She hid her insanity for months and months as I dutifully worked on training her to lead.  She would obediently follow me around the lot in her halter, tolerate baths and blow-drying, and load peacefully into the trailer.  A regular puppy-dog – I was so proud.

Then came the day to take her up to school to get ready for our local show.  Everything went fine, until it was time for her to get her first haircut.  Unfortunately, we had decided to do the ‘trimming’ during school hours – in front of several classes of high-school Ag students.

Just so you know, this is the kind of chute a show calf goes in to get trimmed.  Well, at least this is what it looked like when we started.  As soon as the groomer touched her with those shears, my ‘calm, gentle’ heifer lost her dear little bovine mind and promptly turned one of these into a pile of scrap metal. 

Except the headpiece, of course, which she proceeded to drag through the show barn, through the show ring (tearing it apart), and through the pig pens (destroying them and releasing a dozen show pigs out the barn door).  All in about….30 seconds.

Did I mention the barn door was open?  Well of course it was.  It was a nice day, and the animals don’t exactly smell so good, so we were enjoying the fresh air.  My heifer spotted that sunshine and headed for it like a guided missile.  Before I knew it, she was outside of the barn, out of the parking lot, and out into the street. 

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details.  Dad says that he could only make out a hysterical few words amongst the tears over the phone – something about “Crazy heifer….(sob)….ruined the show barn…(sob)….running down Main Street….Broadway…2 hours to catch her….(sob)…tried to run over the teacher…BRING THE TRAILER WE’RE TURNING THIS NUTCASE OUT TO PASTURE.”  You get the idea.  It took about 20 high school boys to corral her into a trailer, by which time I was so humiliated I could barely watch.  I heard the groomer say something like, “Well, you know these kids have to work with them…”

To everyone whose pig or cow (or Ag teacher) was traumatized that day, I really am still sorry.  Can we all just laugh about this now??

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gag Gifts

It’s no secret that Dad is not a big fan of Christmas shopping.  Since Mom doesn’t usually need anything that they sell at the lumberyard or the feed store, he kind of resents having to go into any establishment that doesn’t fall into those categories.

But gag gifts, now those are a different story.  Dad will go out of his way, and actually SHOP to find a gift intended to amuse a crowd, and even better if he can embarrass the recipient at the same time.

This year’s lucky winner was Mr. HH.  Dad even went to the trouble of wrapping these himself. 

The ‘toolbelt’ includes diapers, rubber gloves, a face mask, goggles, tongs, a rattle, powder, and baby wipes…Mr. HH thinks it’s hilarious.

And the back of the shirt details diaper instructions (although how he’s supposed to read this when it is on the BACK of the shirt is beyond me), written in a language Mr. HH can understand….baseball.

I guess you didn’t learn much about ranch life on this post, except that we probably wouldn’t   survive around here without a sense of humor.  I hope Mini HH can put up with the rest of us.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello Facebook Comments!

Have I said lately how much I love our followers?  The comments and stories and funny remarks are part of what makes this blog so much fun for me.  And I want to make it as easy as possible for you to comment, so I’m trying something new. 

Below this post (and on all other posts), you should now see a Facebook comment box.  If you got here from a Facebook link, you should already be logged in and ready to comment.  If you don’t have a Facebook account, or have commented before using the normal comment system, don’t worry – it’s still there.  Just scroll down and comment as you normally would.  Both sets of comments will show up.

This is a new feature for Facebook, and a new setup for me to get used to, so hang with me as I work out the kinks.  Let me know how it works for you!

P.S.: One more note:  you won’t see the Facebook comment box on the main page…that was just too confusing, because that page changes with each new post.  But as long as you get here from a link to a post, or use the Archives on the right to open a post, Facebook commenting will be turned on!

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Physics of a Water Line

If you live in a city, or even in a small town (we actually live in a small town during the week, so I’m speaking partially from experience here), you know how sometimes you’ll be driving down the street and there are all those orange cones and a city work crew out with trucks and hard hats and shovels and they are digging up a water line?  If it’s close to your house, you’re probably thinking Oh no, I’ll bet the water’s out, I wonder how long until they get it back fixed again?

Well, on the ranch it’s a little different.  There are no orange cones, no hard hats, and no city work crew to help out.  There’s you, there’s a shovel, and there’s the lumberyard.  Unless it’s a Sunday, which it usually is (how do water lines know what day of the week it is??), and in that case it’s just you and a shovel and whatever bits and pieces of plumbing parts you can find from the last time you fixed a leak.

And instead of just wondering how you’re going to fix dinner that night with no water (pizza, anyone?), you’re looking at a herd of a hundred thirsty cows standing over an empty tank.  Talk about some impatient customers.

But here’s the part that gets me.  We can have a water line that runs for a mile, and if it’s going to have a break, do you know how to predict WHERE the break will be?

Because this never fails.  Wherever the line is at its absolute deepest depth….the furthest down you could ever have to dig to find it to fix the leak….that’s where it will break.

Unless of course there are other factors which would make another spot even less convenient.  Like, say, underneath the porch of your in-progress house.  Here I think Mr. HH is on the phone with Dad at the lumberyard.  Thank goodness for cell phones, at least.

Once I was bringing one of my college friends home with me to see the ranch and spend the weekend.  She was from Jakarta, which is a city of about 10 million people in Indonesia, and I don’t think she had ever seen such an unpopulated area.  As we drove down one of the last country roads, and we hadn’t seen another house in several miles, she started getting worried: “Um, you do have running water and stuff, right?”  I assured her that we did, and electricity too!

Mom called my cell not 15 minutes later to tell me that there was a problem with the lines and the water would be off all day.  Welcome to the ranch!

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Sunday, January 2, 2011


Oh, my poor little neglected blog!  I am so sorry it has been so long since my last post.  I know, I know, it’s not your fault that I’ve been lost in a tornado of travelling for my job, taking a programmers certification exam, pregnancy-related exhaustion, holidays, and most of all, house construction. 

And yet, after all I let all the superfluous luxuries like recreation, cooking, dishes, laundry, and personal hygiene fall to the side, you were the next on the list to suffer.  Please forgive me and believe me when I say that it is a new year and a new beginning for us.  If you can find it in your heart to let this one go, then I say we just pick back up where we left off and never speak of this little incident ever again.  What do you think?


Anyway, did I mention Mr. HH and I are building a house on the ranch?  Yep, because taking care of and paying for one house and a cattle herd and part of a ranch was just not demanding enough.  In fact, we got together last spring, and decided that not only did we want to challenge our marriage and our bank account by trying to get pregnant, but also at the same time, we would design, subcontract, and oversee the construction of a second residence.

If it sounds like a good idea to try to agree with your spouse on every tiny detail of an entire house – light switches here or there?  Golden oak or honey oak stain?  Routed or arched cabinet doors? – then you should probably ask my husband how it works when one of you is 6 months pregnant with the memory retention of a mosquito and the emotional control of a crazy person.  If anyone wants to send him a sympathy card, he probably deserves it.  Or maybe a gift certificate for therapy….

But seriously, the house is amazing.  To watch something actually come to life after seeing it only in your head – it’s indescribable.  When we stood on that hill overlooking the meadows and the river last summer there was nothing but sage brush and cow patties.  But we looked at each other and knew that it was home.  And soon it will be!  Granted our vision won’t be complete until the main house is built, but it will still be home for us and mini HH for several years. 

Just because I haven’t been blogging doesn’t mean I haven’t taken pictures, though.  Back when we started the project, we mounted my little weatherproof time-lapse camera to try to capture the outer construction.  It turned out better than I expected!

Here is the camera we used:  just a simple outdoor camera with a timer.  This one is actually designed to capture the growth of something over many weeks or months, like a flower in your garden.  Or in this case, a house.

August pics 006

I set it to 15 minutes, and we checked batteries and transferred the pictures every 2 weeks for the past 4 months.  I filtered the results down to just those periods where there was actual progress, and here is the final video:

And since the ending doesn’t really show the front of the house, here is a better view:

Actually, the exterior was pretty hands-off compared to the interior.  Now it’s more of an all-consuming constant barrage of decisions and purchasing.  Meaning we have made plenty of late-night trips to the home supply warehouses, and trucked many pickup-loads full of supplies from Texas to Oklahoma.

I have a set of pictures detailing the progress of the interior as well, but I want to wait until it’s complete before the ‘big reveal’.  For now, I’ll show just a couple views of the inside.


Sadly, I won’t get to see it again until next week.  Can’t wait to see the progress then!

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