Top Ranch Pen Posts 2015 #4

Surprisingly enough–thanks to someone sharing it on Facebook–#4 of the years’ most viewed posts  is from a few years back. It is a tribute to my late father-in-law–the most aggravating man who ever lived–and could probably be a study on the complicated dynamics of father and daughter-in-law relationships. I certainly never would’ve guessed I’d miss the old feller every day of my life.

Anyway, I hope y’all enjoy the re-run.



Earnest and Tucker

My father-in-law, Earnest, was a farmer, and one of the most aggravating men who ever lived.

Earnest was born during the 1930’s Depression and Oklahoma Dust Bowl into a family of impoverished sharecroppers. His dad supplemented farming by working as a carpenter and on road crews to feed his family, but he didn’t get any richer. When Earnest was thirteen-years-old his dad got sick, so he left school to take his father’s place making a living for his four younger siblings. He hired out as a farm laborer, even plowing behind mules at times.

Along the way, my father-in-law learned other trades, including carpentry, which paid the bills much better than sharecropping. He married and had kids and lived his life, but he loved farming more than anything. He nearly bled red Oklahoma dirt. Finally, in his fifties, he got back into farming with some old machinery and a quarter-section of land (160 acres) on which he grew wheat and cotton. He ran cattle on other pieces of rented pasture and he was as happy as a king with a mighty kingdom.

Earnest was stringy and tough, with a work ethic almost unknown today. He was a gifted carpenter and cabinet maker. He actually believed the Bible as it is written, considering the commandments to be…well, commandments…not suggestions. He was violently honest, as in: “Yes, I do, too, owe you this penny. You can either take it, or have it for dinner, but I’m not gonna owe nobody nothin’.” He loved to tease and he laughed uproariously at his own jokes. He loved his family more than his life. He’d give anybody the shirt off his back.

He would’ve taken a bullet for me–his daughter-in-law–without hesitation. Still, he was one of the most aggravating men I knew.

He called me Snooks. (Imagine. Even today, my sons call me Snooks and snicker.) He stuck his nose in my business and made suggestions. He tried to sneak money to me–or even pay our bills sometimes–when he thought we were in a bind. He teased me when I had unfortunate mishaps with my cooking and many other things. He slipped his three grandsons candy, or coffee, or whatever they wanted. He gave me nutritional advice–he who ate sausage biscuits every morning at the gas station.

The two of us used to have heated political debates. An especially lively one was about Ross Perot. If you are less than forty-years-old, you probably have no idea who Ross Perot was, but if you are over forty and a Republican, you remember he was the little guy with big ears and a bigger mouth who got Bill Clinton elected instead of George W Bush’s old man, George H W Bush. I tried to tell Earnest he was throwing his vote away on Ross Perot, but once he got something stuck in his head, he’d waller it into the ground.

Technology baffled my father-in-law. The first cell phone he bought in 1998 took all my patience to watch him try to get it hauled out of the front pocket of his bib overalls, flip it open, and try to figure out how to answer. Every time. I mean, he wasn’t trying to de-fuse a bomb, or anything, was he? And then he yelled into the device like the person he spoke to was across the seas.

As someone who had plowed behind mules and worked on a harvest crew–using open topped combines and moving wheat with shovels instead of power augers–a combine like ours (below), was a marvel for him to behold. He’d go on and on about Gramps’ and my marvelous farming equipment, while to me, we owned aging pieces of junk that cost us a fortune in repair bills.

Summer 2012 545

The most aggravating thing my father-in-law did, however–hands down–was sometimes when I’d stagger out of the bedroom about daylight, he would be sitting on the couch reading the High Plains Journal. He’d look at me in all my affronted glory and make some remark about me sleepin’ all day. Then he’d laugh his head off, tickled to death. Very, very annoying.

The years passed and I was busy. I couldn’t pay attention to him all the time. Besides, aggravating old farmers tend to live forever, don’t they?

I don’t remember when he stopped teasing and laughing. When he lost interest in his cattle and how the cotton crop was shaping up. When he stopped sitting on our couch at daylight. Just, somewhere along the way, he gradually turned into a dried up old man who wasn’t happy anymore. I wasn’t wise enough then to see the agricultural, social, and technological revolutions he’d lived through in his lifetime had left him behind. Confused and alienated, he longed for a simpler time.

He died in 2004, but if he’d lived he would’ve been eighty-years-old last Sunday. And y’all want to know the strangest thing about that aggravating old farmer and me?

He gave me many of the best parts of my life–and now that it’s too late–I’d give everything I own to walk out of the bedroom about daylight some morning and find him sitting on my couch again.


Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy this super catchy take the Rend Collective lays on Hark the Herald Angels Sing (or Hark the Hairy Angels Sing as my boys used to call it.)


Redneck Chicks At The Ranch Pen

In spite of my dark mutterings about hatchets and stew pots, my old hens have decided to mostly retire from the egg laying business and devote themselves to pursuing the stray grasshopper and luxuriating in dust baths. With all costs factored in, Gramps and I have been paying about twenty dollars a dozen for our eggs.

Seized by thrift and a hunger for eggs, I forgot how busy my schedule is at this time and shot off an order to Ideal Hatcheries in Texas–the surprise special, a grab bag of chicken breeds at a discounted price. The last surprise special I ordered grew up to be the worst laying hens ever and I had promised myself NEVER to be surprised like that again. Unfortunately for me as a middle-aged person, the memory ain’t what it used to be and I forgot what I had promised myself. The upside is, when the pullets start laying next spring, I can hide my own Easter eggs.

Hmmm…what was I talking about? Oh, yeah.

I had ordered a surprise and that is just what I got. For those who don’t know, you can actually get your chickens in the mail, but the mail carrier either isn’t allowed to haul them around in his car like the Beverly Hillbillies, or else he doesn’t want to listen to them cheeping, so at daybreak one day, the young lady at the post office called, wanting me to pick up my chicks. Surprise! Because I had forgotten the little gals were coming, they were essentially like the dove Noah sent out from the ark–they had no rest for the soles of their feet. Other than their small shipping box.

The pullets took up emergency shelter in the laundry basket in our house, but I needed to do laundry. The chicks had to change residences and the only place that was going to be protected enough was inside the hens’ run where raccoons couldn’t reach them. However, the hens posed as much threat as the ‘coons. Some people who aren’t around animals impart human emotions to them, which is usually a mistake. Lots of animals are just hard-down mean and old hens are some of the meanest. Most of the time, a helpless, human baby can be placed in a group of humans in safety, but baby chicks amongst the hens? No. The old hens will peck them to death. Chickens are where the term “pecking order” comes from, I believe, and newly hatched chicks from the Ideal Hatchery of Texas are WAY down in the pecking order–in fact, they look like chicken nuggets to the hens.

Aside from the danger mean, old biddies pose to them, newly hatched chicks have a need for heat. In nature, they are protected beneath their mother’s wings where it is just the right temperature. Ideal Hatchery chickens have to have a heat lamp or they will bunch up seeking warmth until they actually suffocate and trample each other. Their heat lamp can’t be in just any old place, either. If the hens can reach it, they will peck the bulb and break it, or–like the giant-brained hen I had one time–they might stand beneath it until it melts their feathers. In addition to heat, the young chicks need plenty of special feed, called chick starter, and fresh water–which they will not get if the old hens have access to it.

As a result, I sent out an emergency call to the nieces, JA, and TL, who in true good-hearted redneck girl fashion, rushed to help me whack together the shelter you see above, using old wire gates, pallets, paneling, truck tire rims, bungees, zip ties, wire, and feed sacks. We were proud of our building skills until we realized the little puffball chicks didn’t have enough guts (literally) for the wire barriers to prove an impediment to their freedom–they squeezed right through the holes. We spent a lot of time racing around, trying to capture the runaways, giggling while we darted this way and that with old hens squawking and scattering. We had a wonderful time and eventually got most of the holes plugged up by leaning old boards against them.

The chick on the right is making its gutless escape through the wire

Aw. Maybe that’s why I keep ordering the surprise specials.

All that trouble to eventually get this:

And finally just for fun, Danni’s nemesis, THE GREY HEN who flies like an airplane (almost) and eats eggs as fast as the other hens lay them while never bothering to lay one herself:

As always, thanks so much for reading. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy one of my favorites of David Wesley’s, Whom Shall I Fear.

Hoping For Posthumous Fame During Poetry Month At The Ranch Pen

Red Mountain, Colorado

Red Mountain, Colorado

We’re still observing National Poetry Month here at the Ranch Pen. Last week, I went so far as to compose a fantastical poem about the Schwan man who visits our place every other week, but I realized later that it lacked that certain, well, shall we say…power to touch human emotion and remain in the common psyche forever. Which is a real shame, but…whatever. I doubt Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet, had any idea while penning My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here two-hundred-plus years ago, that some middle-aged farm woman transplanted from the mountains of Colorado to the dry, flatlands of Oklahoma would read it with her heart squeezing from homesickness. Considering that, I feel there is posthumous hope for all my poetical works–Trumpet of the Schwan ManOde To a Little Goat (Deceased) and Ode To a Green Cowdog–at some point. However distant.

But seriously, this poem is for you, flatlanders, fellow displaced highlanders, and Robbie Burns lovers. Enjoy.


My Heart’s in the Highlands

by Robert Burns

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.


As always, thanks so much for reading. God bless all y’all and enjoy Ross Harris singing My Heart’s In The Highlands.

Top Ranch Pen Posts Of 2014–#2

The second most viewed post of 2014 surprised me because its the exact same as last year’s–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow And Hey! What’re You Doing To My Tractor? I still don’t know what drives the viewers to this particular page, but they’re probably poets who appreciate my brilliant re-do of Mr. Wadsworth’s The Wreck Of The Hesperus–Wait. What’s that? You think my do-over stinks and is a desecration of a work of poetical genius? Oh, dear…Sorry. Lots of static on the blog. You’re breakin’ up real bad. Can you hear me now? No…?

Rats, must’ve lost her. Oh, well, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a farm gal or she would’ve enjoyed the pictures, at least.



I’ve recycled the following pictures from an email–an oldie, but a goodie–that circulated amongst us ranchers and farmers a year or two ago. We all chuckled. And winced. And remembered when one of the kids, or the ex hired man, or even–goodness sakes–the owner/operator buried the tractor.

For those of you who drive around on paved streets and highways, I’ll attempt to explain the wrecks below.

red combine

1. Instead of The Wreck of the Hesperus  memorialized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, we’ll call this wreck The Wreck of the Old Case International Combine. The conversation between the old sailor in Mr. Longfellow’s poem and the skipper–just berfore he wrecked the Hesperus– went like this:

The skipper he stood beside the helm,
      His pipe was in his mouth,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
      The smoke now West, now South.
Then up and spake an old Sailòr,
      Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
“I pray thee, put into yonder port,
      For I fear a hurricane.
“Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
      And to-night no moon we see!”
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
      And a scornful laugh laughed he.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (And if you can believe Wikipedia, his granddad’s name was Peleg Wadsworth. Why don’t we ever hear cool Bible names like that anymore?)
The conversation between Dad and the kid on the cell phone went like this:
“The kid sat high within the cab,
his earbud in one ear,
and he took the call from his old man,
and never missed a gear.
Then up and spake said old man,
who’d drove that road before,
Don’t go that way, son, he said,
for I fear the road is sloughin’ off  ’round that tin horn in the wash ’cause the county’s too cheap to pay for a longer piece of culvert.
The kid pocketed his smart phone,
a scornful laugh laughed he,
For he would show his old dad,
a real combine man he’d see…”
(And I humbly beg your forgiveness for messing up your really good poem, dearly departed Mr. Longfellow)

3 trac

2. This wreck we’ll call Some Dumb Guys With Tractors. The farm wife is taking the picture for future evidence. She is saying, “Seriously? I can understand one tractor, but three? And now the trackhoe, too? But, hee hee. This picture is going to get me that new saddle. And maybe a new riding lawn mower, too.”

Tractor and planter tear down power line

3. This wreck we’ll just call, Hired Man As Soon As They Get The Juice Shut Off To Those Wires And I Get My Hands On You, You Are Dead.

tractor runs over front end loader

4. This one we’ll call, How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You To Pick Up The Bucket Before You Let Out The Clutch?

cat tractor in a mudhole

5. This one we’ll call, Don’t Text And Drive, Goober!

back hoe bucket sticking out of ground

6. Should we call this one, Wife Buries the Hatchet With the Handle Stickin’ Out But Husband Buries the Trackhoe With the Bucket Stickin’ Out…or what? I’m at a loss here.

broken windshield combine

7. And this one…my goodness. Don’t Ever Hire Somebody to Harvest Your Corn Who Huffs Hairspray While Smoking ? 

(It appears both the back and front windows have blown out, allowing the corn in the grain tank to spill through the cab and onto the platform.)

steiger tractor backs over grain bin

8. Ah, and lastly, a Steiger tractor wreck. I’m very qualified to comment since I’ve had many adventures in an old Steiger tractor. (But not this one, I pomise.) The scene could have gone like this:

“Whoa.” Me stomping on the clutch and brake.

“Whoa, now.” Jamming on every lever in the cab with hands and feet. Starting to sweat profusely. “Oh, Lord…I said whoa, now!”

Two sets of back duals hit the grain bin and start to climb. “LORD HAVE MERCY, WHOA!”

Using both my boots, I finally shove the gear lever out of reverse. Tractor lurches forward, slamming nose into gravel. Motor dies. I slump over steering wheel, shaking. Sitting at odd angle. Sneak peek over shoulder.

This is not my fault. I told him to fix the brakes.

So What Do Y’all Think?

  • Is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow one of the best American Poets ever?
  • Do you have an explanation for number 6?
  • Should Gramps have fixed the brakes like I told him to, and why didn’t I name one of my boys Peleg?



Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy the Gardiner Sisters singing A Strange Way To Save The World.


*These young artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just love their music.

Chaos, Humor, Beauty, and Grace At The Ranch Pen


I looked at my drawing board a few days ago (above) full of old projects, half-finished projects, and ideas for possible projects, and it struck me–my drawing board is a reflection of life at the home place right now. Chaos, humor, beauty, and grace.

As I mentioned in my last post about a month ago, a fifty-two-year-old man–who was most likely intoxicated and shouldn’t have been driving–plowed at 85+ mph into our son’s pickup and it is only the grace and mercy of God our son’s wife still has a husband, his kids still have a dad, and Gramps and I still have a middle son.

Our son is recovering from his injuries–which we are unutterably thankful for–but since the wreck I fully understand why the organization Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is called MADD. Gramps used to work with an alcoholic who liked to joke that he was a member of DAMM, Drunks Against Mad Mothers, but I wonder if the alcoholic would think that cute little acronym was still funny if a drunk killed or maimed his wife or child?

We are a family greatly blessed because we didn’t receive the news that #2 had been killed–so many other families have, and many more will as long as people continue to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs and while the justice system continues to release repeat offenders. Sometimes we hear that the state doesn’t have enough money, or the jails are too full to keep all the impaired drivers off the roads…well, families, hospital beds, and graveyards are full of drunk drivers’ victims, too.

Next week if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll try to run a few of the top Ranch Pen posts of 2014. Until then enjoy the Piano Guys doing a beautiful job on Come O Come Emmanuel and my prayer is for God to help all y’all through your chaos with humor, beauty, and grace. And, please…stay safe out there.


Suspected Drunk Driving At The Ranch Pen


The good news is, Son #2 lived through the wreck ten days ago when a suspected drunk driver hit him while he was on the job. (Because the cops haven’t gotten the blood sample from the other driver back from the lab, I have to say suspected drunk driver even though the guy smelled of alcohol at the scene–and in spite of the fact that two weeks before, that same guy wrecked another truck in a felony DUI incident and has a string of DUIs from past years.)

God has been kind to us and Son #2 is recovering from his injuries, but my brain power is limited even more than usual at this time. I’ll be absent from the blog until our lives settle down. Until then, buckle up and God bless all y’all.