Saturday, July 19, 2014

Making Hay While the Sun Shines #farming #amwriting

One of the blessings - or curses, depending on how you look at it - related to writing crime fiction is that I can't help but look for danger in almost any situation. It's summer, and that means it's time to make hay in East Texas - or not, depending on the weather. We've had a beautiful spring and summer so far, and the pastures are lush with grass. Some farmers are working on their second cuttings of hay, but we've just had our first cutting done.

Since many of my friends live overseas or have never had a chance to see hay baled, I wanted to share a few photos of how the process works. And, as usual, I'm looking for creative ways to kill my characters. It's that blessing or curse thing.

The Musick Men are our hay balers and they start checking out our pastures in May, but we're usually not thick enough to cut until June. Hay baling is a five-stage process if you count the growing stage, and I guess we should.

Stage 1: Growing. Pray for rain and hope the grass grows. Yes, it's that simple. You can fertilize and amend the soil, but without rain, there's not much hope for hay.

Stage 2: Mowing. Essentially, you hook a great big mower to your tractor and drive around the pasture in ever decreasing circles until you've cut all the grass. Leave the grass to dry and pray for no rain.

(Nope, those aren't the Musick Men, that isn't our house or pasture, and their tractor doesn't look like that. I had a great photo of Mr. Musick the Younger cutting hay, but can't find it. If you squint and tilt your head just right, this is kind of how our mowing went.)

Stage 3: Fluffing. The technical term is raking, but it looks like fluffing to me. After the hay dries, attach a rake to your tractor (the attachment looks like modern art against the sky, doesn't it?), and drive around the pasture in ever decreasing circles.

The rake fluffs the hay and leaves it in neat little rows, like this:

4: Baling. This is where the fun comes in. Attach the baler to your tractor and drive around the neat little rows, sucking the hay up into the baler, rolling it into a round bale, then tying it with twine and dropping it out the back. Looks like a dinosaur giving birth, if you squint and turn your head just right.


 (Those babies are nothing to mess with - they weigh in at 1,500 pounds or more. Hefty.)

5. Stacking. This part might seem silly, but you've got to get the baled hay off your pasture so you can start growing grass again. 

The Musick Men are kind enough to stack our hay where it stays relatively dry and is easy to access in the winter.

Now for the killing part. Is there opportunity for one of my characters to die when baling hay? Absolutely, particularly if the baddies are baling the hay. Sadly for real life farmers, the risks related to hay baling are all too real. Accidents happen every year, resulting in amputations, deep cuts, broken arms and legs, crushing, and death. The Musick Men are some of the good guys and thankfully, are conscientious when they're working with farm equipment.

In the fictional world, there's a great chance that one of my bad guys won't be so conscientious and will die while baling hay, or maybe when an errant bale rolls over them. Oh the fun we have in the country...

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Is It Possible to Have a Real Friend on Social Media?

I've seen a few comments lately about whether the friends you make on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter are really friends. They question whether you can have a meaningful relationship with someone you've never met, and are likely never to meet. Some say yes, others say no. I'd say the people you meet through social media are pretty much like the people you meet in 'real life': a collection of folks who stay with you through thick and thin, those whose company you enjoy on an occasional basis, those who run at the first sign of trouble, and those who simply are trouble.

Although I've lived in big cities and traveled pretty widely, I'm somewhat naive when it comes to meeting people and making friends. (If you were traveling on the London Underground between 1999 and 2007, I was the gal who made eye contact and smiled. You might've wanted to have me arrested for aberrant behavior, but I couldn't help it. Still can't.)

Maybe naive is the wrong word. I have few reservations when it comes to meeting new people and making friends, and I rely on my gut to determine whether you're someone I want to know better.

Is it easier to make that gut level determination in person? Possibly. I watch your body language, hear the tone of your voice. I feel the strength of your handshake, observe how you interact with those you might consider less than yourself, like wait staff or receptionists. On social media I rely on your written interactions with me and with other people. Some folks I've met through social media make me uneasy due to their language, the nature of their comments, or the inconsistency of their behavior. We can all be who we want to be online, but it's hard to be someone else full-time.

There aren't many people who make me uncomfortable. On the contrary, I've met some wonderful people who provide great support or comfort, and who make me laugh. People who are genuinely happy when I achieve something big or small, and share my frustration when things don't work out as I'd hoped. People who trust me with what's going on in their lives, and want to know what I think and feel about what's happening to them. People who help me when I need it, and will ask for help when they need it. Aren't these the kinds of things friendship is about?

Maybe I'm being naive again. It's quite possible. But I've had the pleasure of meeting a few of these cyber-friends in 'real life', and have found everyone I've met so far to be just who they presented themselves to be online - a real friend. Will every encounter turn out that way? Probably not, but I'm grateful for those that have.

What about you? Do you think it's possible to make real friends through social media?

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