Writing With Death Overhanging At The Ranch Pen

Kit Carson's gravestone Taos, New Mexico

A few years ago, Gramps and I visited the graveyard in a park in Taos, New Mexico where Kit Carson and his wife, Josefina, are buried.

One of our closest neighbors died this week. Statistically speaking, one out of one people dies, so there was nothing strange in her death. At over eighty years of age, our neighbor may have lived through one of the most radical periods of change in the history of mankind. She was an old-style Okie lady–tough, opinionated, a staunch Democrat, super friendly, and big-hearted. I liked her even though we couldn’t agree on politics. For years, she manned a spot at the polling booth in a local church where she tried–not always successfully–not to voice her opinions to the voters. Last Tuesday when Gramps and I went to vote, I missed her a lot.

Maybe her death and the deaths of many of our elderly farm neighbors in the past few years–along with writing a difficult book–is what set me to thinking about a quote from the writing craft book by James Scott Bell, Revision and Self Editing. 

“A gripping plot involves the overhanging possibility of death.”

~James Scott Bell~


What Mr. Bell meant was the stakes have to be so high for the character that if he or she doesn’t get what they need, they will not be okay. The character doesn’t necessarily have to get what they want, but their most basic need must be met or they will die…either physically, psychologically/spiritually, or professionally.

For instance, consider physical death. Every morning I want a cup of hot tea. I think I will probably die if I don’t get it. I will do almost anything to get tea in the morning. However, if the situation is distilled to basics, it turns out the only thing I actually need is just a boring cup of water to sustain my life.

Now, I can decide water is absolutely unacceptable. I must have my greatest desire–tea. Unfortunately, I don’t want to get dressed and drive to town. Do I:

  • Throw a wall-eyed fit and make Gramps miserable so he’ll stop drinking his coffee and go buy me some tea, or do I drink some of his coffee?

Gramps won’t share his coffee, I decide on the fit. Does Gramps:

  • Lay back his ears, refuse to go to town for tea, or offer me water?

I shrilly declare I’d rather drink gasoline and die than drink a cup of water. Does Gramps:

  • Say go ahead, see if I care, or try to distract me with a glass of apple juice?

I don’t want apple juice, either. He obviously doesn’t believe me about the gas. I feel honor bound to follow through, show him he has pushed me too far this time. Do I:

  • Show him a thing or two by drinking the gasoline and end up sputtering to an inglorious stop, or ditch my ridiculous pride and have some water-based apple juice?

All those scenarios (completely fictional) (except I must have tea) are where my story lies–what I want, what I think I need, what I’ll do to get my desire, and finally, what I truly need in order to avoid shuffling off my mortal coil.

If we think about it, the same things hold true as we write the stories of our real lives, too, so while we wrestle with our mortality and make decisions about the pieces of us we want to pass through time, let’s live so the preacher doesn’t have to lie at our funeral and let’s write like there is death overhanging.

Thanks so much for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Justin Hines and the Canadian Tenors singing Say What You Will.

*These artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just love ‘em.



Random Lunacy At The Ranch Pen

Today, I’m way behind on everything I can be way behind on, so I just have a few random lunacies to share. Possibly because I looked in the mirror and one of my favorite Hank The Cowdog lines of all time popped into my head, I don’t know why.

You look like a fossil and your mother’s a lunatic…


(The quote is from The Case Of The Dinosaur Birds by John Erickson, a Texas rancher, author, and very funny guy. I suggest clicking the link and rushing over to Amazon.com to download Mr. Erickson reading the story. And…sorry, Mom.)


I came across some funny memes. First, the one below is amusing to those of us out on the open plains trying to farm, or even protect our hair-dos and small children from blowing away.


One of my young friends shared the one below with me and I thought it was hilarious:


And, finally, the one that made my sister and me laugh our heads off but that I’d probably better not show–as an ultra-conservative Christian grandma trying to maintain my super G rated blog–was a picture of a southern-fried, scruffy, shirtless, redneck guy leaning on his old pickup and chewing on a hay straw. He looks bummed. The meme says: We broke up, but she said we could still be cousins. 

And finally, talk about crazy. Like old man Gene Howard, a character in The Cedar Tree from my Love Is Not Enough series, we have skunks living under our house. I think his lives under his bathroom, and oddly enough…ours does, too! A couple of months ago, we had only one skunk, but then she had babies. We were so excited, as you might imagine. The babies make cute sounds under there, growling, and mewing, and scuffling around in the middle of the night. Fighting. Going off. Wonderful. So far, we have captured the dog and all the cats in the skunk trap, but no skunks. I believe the youngster skunks are beginning to venture into the yard, now, because last night when Gramps and I returned from church, Nellie the cowdog was running around like a lunatic, plowing up the ground with her nose, freshly sprayed with eau de young skunk.

Thanks so much for reading. Until next time God bless all y’all and enjoy Tim Hawkins doing his looney take on Delilah.


Cool Tunes At The Ranch Pen

image via somewhere on the internet

One of the good things about living in the sticks is the rural radio stations. Our local station keeps us up to date on farm news, senior citizens’ lunch menus, and the obituaries. As an added bonus, the morning news’ host features a spot called “Local Talent” which is exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes the kindergarten class sings. We hear teenage bands, church groups, and bad karaoke. Now and then, we hear cowboy poetry (we have some really good local poets). One of the local crop duster pilots sings occasionally (he’s good, too). But, last week we heard something I’d never heard before. Even though the talent wasn’t local, it grabbed every farmer in the county with its cool factor, made us remember our dads’ and granddads’ tractors, and made us smile, too. So, until next time, God bless all y’all and I hope you’ll enjoy this video from Sweden (I think) of an old tractor that never missed a beat on Sweet Georgia Brown.

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stick At The Ranch Pen



Speak softly and carry a big stick~Theodore Roosevelt

The format for today’s post in case you’re afraid it’s just another political rant:

  • Political rant
  • Old people story
  • A heads-up about coffee and elephant dung
  • advice for preachers
  • the latest in rural fashion
  • Draft horse barrel racing
  • An opinion poll and a really cute grandkid

Do you feel safe? Neither do I

Usually I try to avoid politics, but I feel like the world is imploding around me. We have public beheadings of Americans, we have persecutions of Christian people on every hand, we have terrorists gaining strength at a terrifying rate, we have ebola and other diseases and it seems to me like it’s because the government is hamstrung by social engineering and politically correct mumbo jumbo to the point no strong action can be taken on anything–not even to try to keep the tax base citizens of this country safe.

As a girl growing up out on the farm, and then later as a smallish, ultra-conservative Christian woman raising boys and living in a man’s world, I pretty much adopted Teddy Roosevelt’s motto: Speak softly and carry a big stick. It was usually a figurative big stick, but in drastic situations it was literal. I didn’t get a lot of back talk.

Today, you know who I miss? President George W and the big stick he carried.

Old people problems

St Louis arch

View from the bottom of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Recently, Gramps and I drove our old people car to St. Louis where we didn’t see any riots. That, however, doesn’t mean there weren’t any. It just means we didn’t see them because we were too busy trying to get un-lost most of the time. We stopped for lunch at a Steak and Shake where we met a young man with family in a small town eleven miles from our house.  All roads lead back to Oklahoma, I kid you not. At Steak and Shake, I tossed back a lot of iced tea, forgetting about the old lady bladder I own. The tea was delicious.


We left Steak and Shake in our old people car and drove over to the Gateway Arch. We parked in an underground parking garage then wandered toward the arch, which was a pretty long hike. We were accosted by some people handing out pamphlets and practicing some type of yoga-ish poses. Even though I admired the grit in their gizzards it must take to accost old people on vacation, I always do not like to be accosted by pamphlet bearers. Gramps and I avoided eye contact and hurried away. We arrived at the base of the arch looking lost and confused (see above). There were no restrooms in sight. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any–it means we didn’t see any. As a result, our visit to the arch–one of the seven wonders of the modern world–was cut short by the demands of the old lady bladder. We retraced our steps at speed, flashing past the yoga people so fast they could only flutter their pamphlets at us with a despairing cry.

No Need To Thank Me

Today, Gramps was away at noon, so I read the World magazine while eating my lunch. Imagine my surprise to see pictorial evidence that in northern Thailand, people feed elephants coffee beans then dig through the fresh elephant dung for any undigested ones. The repurposed recovered coffee beans are flavored by the elephant’s digestive process making Black Ivory Coffee the “world’s rarest and most expensive coffee”. After studying the picture, I was almost sure I tasted something foul in my salad.

Advice for preachers

In another World magazine, I came across this excellent advice to preachers: “Don’t touch the girls, don’t touch the gold, and don’t touch the glory.”

The girls of the Ranch Pen–human and equine–sporting the latest in rural fashion



Like riding a tank

My blogger friend, Liz, from Mad Bush Farm in New Zealand, turned me on to draft horse barrel racing, which I had never seen before, but find fascinating. The power beneath those saddles is unbelievable and the horses look like they are much harder to handle than the run-of-the-mill mount. Give it a quick watch and see what you think.

Results of the opinion poll


The votes are in and according to the latest opinion poll out here at the Ranch Pen, the government’s job isn’t to win votes for a particular party, satisfy lobbyists, or cram our kids’ heads full of politically correct claptrap. Government’s main job should be protecting its’ citizenry from enemies, foreign and domestic–citizens like the little grandson, Tater, and all the other precious ones like him.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest and until next time, God keep all y’all safe from disease and meanness in this ol’ world, and enjoy David Wesley singing Whom Shall I Fear.

*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse the blog, I just love his music.


Mind Barf From The Ranch Pen

No More Mind Barf

While some people in this age of ebooks are churning out three or more books per year, Danni McGriffith Super-slow-author is not. I always think, “I should crank out more books like those prolific people do!”. Then I look at the scientific formula below (that I made up just now and metaphorically taped to my forehead) to remind myself why that ain’t a good idea.

3-4 books/year by Danni McGriffith=Mind Vomit


3-4 books/year by Danni McGriffith=Danni’s personal journal

Below I’ve included a fill-in-the-blank sample entry from my personal journal to prove my point.

Oct __

Woke up from a nightmare where I killed ___wearing only my___. Feeling mentally unhinged and prickly toward___. My___hurts. I also have a strange pain in my___. Clear skies, high south wind, 99*.

Obviously, I should confine the mind barf to the journal and the blog and write my way through my books at a snail’s pace. Which is what I am doing on the third book in my Love Is Not Enough series.

One of the main characters in this book is Annie DeRossi Campbell, an emotionally frozen young Navajo woman who is reluctantly coming unfrozen. Almost everything about her goes on beneath the surface. She’s an exhausting personality for the other characters to deal with and she’s an exhausting personality to write. However, I want her to be okay, so I’ll keep trying with her. You can read more about Annie’s origins here.

While we’re on the book topic, people have asked whether there will be a follow-up to my novel geared toward the younger set, Agnes Campbell’s Hat. I plan to write one, but have not started it yet. If only there were more hours in the day, or more and younger brain cells sparking around in the old cranium!

Finally, the first book in the Love Is Not Enough series, The Cedar Tree, was free for a few days this week. It made number two on the Amazon top 100 free books in the Western and Frontier slot and top ten in Family Sagas, so thank you very much to anyone who downloaded a copy. I really appreciate it. Remember, too, anyone with an Amazon Prime membership or Kindle Unlimited can borrow my books for free on their Kindle and if you have paid for a download, you can share it with a friend or family member on their Kindle for free, as well.

Until next time, thanks so much for reading. God Bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley doing The Stand.

This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse the blog, I just love his music. If you do, too, you can download it on iTunes.


The Most Precious Natural Resource At The Ranch Pen


The news headlines scream disaster and death at us every day, breathing worry and distress in our faces–even in Oklahoma with the horrible beheading (I can hardly bear to write the word) of that poor woman in Moore last week. I am not a preacher, but as an ultra-conservative Christian woman, I strain the events around me through the truth of my Bible and find hope in Jesus.

This week, I attended an event with my daughters-in-law, grandkids, and their homeschoolers’ group sponsored by the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service), which is a division of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The NRCS  was established in the Dust Bowl days of the 1930′s to help farmers and ranchers preserve their land that was blowing away because of poor farming practices in an extended drought. Today, the NRCS still helps farmers and ranchers manage and conserve their farm and grass lands, soil, and water. Our county NRCS agents have worked with Gramps and I on our farming/ranching operation many times over the years with sound advice (most of the agents are farmers or ranchers themselves) and cost-sharing grants to drill wells and plant grass on erosion-prone crop ground.

The NRCS event was aimed at third grade age kids. Several of the nearby public schools had bussed students to the outdoor classroom the NRCS had set up near a lake. They had also accommodated the home school group’s third graders. What they may not have known is, in the homeschooling world, if the third grader goes, so does the fifth grader, the first grader, mom, the baby, and maybe even grandma. Another thing they may not have known is home schooled kids learn hands-on. Everything their mothers/teachers do is an educational experience, so at each learning station, the kids mobbed the teachers, getting up in their business with their hands all over everything and asking rapid-fire questions.


At learning station one, an NRCS agent talked to the kids about land and water conservation, cutting up an apple representing the earth until only a tiny sliver remained to show the portion of land on earth able to produce crops. He also ended up showing the kids that one drop of water out of all the water on earth was the share of water in Oklahoma.

Gun safety

Gun safety at learning station two

The little girl at the left knew so much about guns she could have taught a hunter’s safety course. The grandkids, Roper, Ladybug, and Blondie are spellbound by guns, too. I think the game warden was somewhat taken aback by the gun knowledge in the group.

Station Three--hides and skulls

Station Three–skins and skulls

The skins and skulls station was a big hit with the kids. The instructor showed them a lot of hides from different animals native to Oklahoma and had them guess which animal each of the skulls had once belonged to. They learned about predators and prey, carnivores and omnivores. All of the kids felt their own canine teeth to make sure they were predators. Many of them also had varmint hunting stories to share with the instructor.


Station Four was all about pollinators native to Oklahoma. The teacher was a biologist whose job was managing the grasslands in that area, so he knew a lot about the plant, insect, and animal life.

Even though I don’t have a picture of this one, Station Five was all about soil, which I found fascinating since we make our living from it. I’m not sure the kids were as interested, but they did like the NRCS agent’s hydraulic core sample machine mounted on the side of his pickup. He pulled a soil sample from about five feet down in the ground. Four-year-old Grandson, Git R Done, told his dad later that he learned dirt was actually soil.

Station Six--Quail mamgement

Station Six–This lady taught quail management


Playing a wildlife management game–some kids are quail, some predators

Station Six was about quail management and how overpopulation of any one species can be detrimental. Nature has a way of evening the balance of everything which the instructor attempted to show through a game involving more quail than predators, then more predators than quail. The game was complete mayhem, but they all seemed to enjoy it. (Except, possibly, the teacher.)

Ladybug eating the lesson on wetlands

Ladybug eating the lesson on wetlands


Station Seven was a lesson about wetlands (rare in western Oklahoma these days) and their importance. The teacher asked the kids to tell her some of the animal life found in wetlands. The kids ventured a lot of guesses which included sharks and crocodiles, but the cutest one was from three-year-old Ladybug: Mermaids. The teacher then used a layer of chocolate cereal to represent the lower soil layer, chocolate pudding the mud, blue cool-whip the water, pretzel stick cattails, and then green sugar duckweed–the ecosystem of the wetlands. Then she gave a cup of the lesson to each kid to eat. Very clever.

Station Eight was taught by a park ranger. She was really good with the kids and taught them how to respect national park lands. Then she used pictures of animals to teach them the difference between domesticated animals and wildlife. I don’t have a picture of Station Eight since the temperature had risen to near one-hundred degrees and everybody was tired and ready to go home, including the oldest lady in the group (moi).


a little cutie whose name I don’t know and grandkids Git R Done, Ladybug, and Roper

And the last picture–hope for the future in our most precious natural resource: Our kids.

Thanks so much for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all while you listen to this one gifted man singing, I have decided to follow Jesus.

John Denver Trivia At The Ranch Pen

oklahoma sunrise

Sunrise on the homeplace

Gramps and I took some time off the past two weeks to celebrate our wedding anniversary and to visit friends who live in the middle of Kentucky–another world away from our farm in Oklahoma.

On our return, we headed west out of Oklahoma City onto the open prairie and I was reminded of an old John Denver song from the last century–1970′s, I believe–called Back Home Again. And that in turn, reminded me of some John Denver trivia.

Now, if you don’t know who John Denver was, you’re probably under forty-years-old and you’ll just have to Google his name. For those over forty, you might best remember him as a hippie-type from Colorado who sang such songs as Take Me Home Country Roads, Annie’s Song, Rocky Mountain High, and Thank God I’m A Country Boy. I’ve loved his music all my life and was sad when his life took a crummy turn with drugs and alcohol and his personal life apparently in shambles. He ended up crashing his airplane and died in his fifties.

So, getting to the trivia. On a bluff overlooking the Washita River not far from our house, there used to be a tall, old-style Oklahoma farmhouse with a single chimney and a wrap-around porch. Uninhabited for many years, the house’s board siding had weathered to grey and the wind had torn off much of the roofing and beat on the house’s south side so that it leaned toward the north a little.

Every time we drove past that place with my late father-in-law, he would say, “John Denver used to live there. Name was Deutschendorf then.” I was always skeptical because my father-in-law (wearing his denim overalls and Farmer’s Co-op cap) was hardly an expert on popular culture. However, he always declared John Denver had lived in that house on the bluff with his grandparents.

One day, I Googled it. John Denver’s name was indeed Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., he apparently had an unsettled childhood, his grandparents lived in Oklahoma, and his grandmother allegedly gave him his first guitar. Putting all that together, I can see how he might have lived in that house on the bluff overlooking the Washita River with his grandma and where his song, Thank God I’m A Country Boy, might have come from.

Sadly, a few years ago that house burned down. Big rolls of hay are usually stacked there, now, but Gramps keeps the memory of the old house alive. Every time we drive past he says, “John Denver used to live there. Name was Deutschendorf then. House burned down a few years ago…”

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed that bit of trivia, for what it’s worth. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy John Denver singing Back Home Again.



Oh, why not…Here’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy, too.