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From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens

Linda, what a wonderfully practical exercise for your students. This is good stuff and will benefit them as they move forward. Great stuff.

Linda Taylor: Teacher, Editor, Publishing Professional

I’ve been intensely creating syllabi for the last month. Spring semester begins February 1 and I have three classes to prep. (I never appreciated my class syllabi for my classes in college. But now that I’ve had to be creating them, wow. What a lot of work and planning!)

One class I’m particularly excited about is a new one I’m creating called “From Manuscript to Book: How It Happens.” I did a version of it during a May term at Houghton College back in 2009, but I’m refashioning it to fill a full semester. Five local authors have entrusted us with their complete manuscripts (all fiction), and my class will become a publishing company (name to be determined) that will walk these manuscripts through the entire publishing process.

My students will work in groups. Each group will receive a manuscript and they’ll first work as content editors. They’ll keyboardconsider all the things fiction editors have…

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2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Generosity Begins At Home

Two calves and one mama. She accepted an orphaned calf

Two calves and one mama. She accepted an orphaned calf

A few weeks back we unfortunately lost a mother cow. The calf was old enough, barely, to be weaned. Nevertheless, the calf turned out to have different ideas. Something remarkable happened.

Typically mama cows push, none too gently, interloping calves away from the milk bar. To our great surprise, we found both the cow’s own calf and the orphaned calf suckling the generous mama cow.

I have never seen this before, nor have I read about it. The general rule is that a mama cow identifies only with her own calf, something to do with smell. I suppose every rule has an exception and this one made me feel really and pleased for the orphan. Thought you might like to see this.

Life is good on the ranch.

“Mama Duck-Me” Guest Blog by Trudy Hutton

How did I become Mama Duck? Earlier this summer we and our neighbors decided to raise some Rouen ducks for our pond (known in Texas as a “stock tank” or just “tank”.) We have raised ducks before—five or six years ago– but they have all disappeared through old age or predators and we decided we would enjoy them again.

The ducks are ordered from a breeder and come via mail at one day old. The post office calls first thing in the morning…and I mean first thing, usually about 6:00 a.m….that there is a cheeping box of birds to be picked up AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.


Our ducks, six cheeping handsful of down, lived for the first week in the laundry room in a large cardboard box. They had a heat lamp to keep them warm and we lined the box with newspaper to keep them semi-clean They are messy, smelly little things; the box needed to be cleaned daily, lined with fresh newspaper and food and water dishes refilled. Ducks like water. They really saw their water dish as a small swimming pool. Every morning about 4:30 they would begin cheeping for fresh water and food. Tom was the one who heard these early morning protestations and got up to fulfill their requests. Enough of that. The second week we moved them out to the shop and into an old poultry cage we had before used for our birds. Out of earshot and smell range (not to mention they were quickly outgrowing the box) we slept a little better.

We built a nice round chicken wire pen inside the fenced garden and filled a small wading pool for their swimming enjoyment.


DSC_0167Although they were growing fast, we had to build “duck ramps” for them to be able to get into the water and we placed a rock “island” in the middle of the pool for them to rest on.

Every morning we gathered the ducks into a cardboard box and transported them to the outdoor pen. In the evening we rounded up the ducklings, after chasing them around the outdoor pen and putting them in the box to transport back to the poultry cage. (Making the outdoor pen round was not a good idea – no corners to catch them in.) They are very fast little devils! I would “quack, quack” to reassure them that it was Mama Duck, and hopefully convince them to follow me.

After the second week the ducks had outgrown the small wading pool, so we added a larger one and took down the chicken wire pen. They now have full roaming rights to the entire garden area.


By the end of that week, they had the morning and evening routine down. We no longer have to transport them in a box between the garden and their night-time pen. Open the door to the shop and the cage door in the morning and I could lead the ducks out to the garden, quacking as we went. Tom says I flapped my wings, too, but I deny it.


After a few days I didn’t even have to do much as far as leading or herding. Now when we open the door to the poultry pen, out they march, in a close group, on their own.

About sundown we reverse the routine, usually following behind the ducks, as they seem to know it’s time for bed. They head straight into the shop and the evening safety of the poultry pen. A few nights ago, I was a bit late going out to bed them down and found they had already taken themselves inside for the night!


As the ducks grow we may have to find a bigger swimming pool. But before too much longer they will be big enough to move down to the tank and be on their own. Rouen ducks are identical in coloring to Mallards, but unlike Mallards they cannot fly more than 20 or 30 yards. By the time they grow enough to move to the tank, they will be able to swim into the middle of the water for safety from predators.

I still “quack, quack” when I feed them daily in hopes that when they do make the move to the tank, it will only take a few “quacks” to call them up to feed. We’ll see how the transition to the tank goes. The last time we had ducks ready to move to the tank, I walked down to the tank, quacking as I went, with 6 mostly grown ducks behind me. However, I barely got back to the house when we heard them quacking at the back gate. They had not only followed me down to the tank, but evidentially thought Mama Duck wanted them to follow her home. Time will tell about these little quackers..

King Edward Vlll and Wallis Simpson: An Historical Snippet

Most are familiar with the story of King Edward Vlll abdicating the British throne to “marry the woman I love”. Wallis Simpson was an American socialite with two living prior husbands who became the mistress of Edward, the then Duke of Windsor. When he became king, she wished to divorce her husband, marry Edward, and become Queen of England. Naturally this shuffling of bedrooms created quite a stir in the UK and its Dominions.

OSTENSIBLY to avoid a constitutional crisis, the king abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson, as the British press was fond of calling her. In August of 1939, Edward and Wallis, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, boarded a commercial liner going from Lisbon to the Bahamas. There they would sit out the war, carrying out mostly ceremonial functions in the British territory.

According to a now deceased close family friend who worked for the U.S. State Department , another reason existed for their virtual exile that Wallis tartly characterized as her own “Saint Helena” in reference to Napoleon’s six year exile by the British. This family friend, Fletcher Warren, shared this story with me one evening years after his retirement from the State Department. I never forgot his shared insights or his gentle nature.

Fletcher Warren who went on to a distinguished career as U.S. ambassador to several major countries described certain curious facts about the Duke and Wallis Simpson while in the Bahamas. He had been asked to monitor Edward and Wallis during their stay there. While acting as a liaison with the U.S. Department of State, he also was tasked with watching their activities and those with whom they fraternized.

While both Edward and Wallis had been suspected Nazi sympathizers and had ongoing relationships with Nazi officlals, to my knowledge no documented conspiracy with the enemy has been previously shown.

Mr. Warren described to me finding cryptic messages intended for Nazi spies sewn into Edward’s and Wallis’ clothing that was going out for cleaning. Their ruse to provide sensitive information to the enemy was discovered by Mr. Warren and the messages read. These actions were directly against the interests of the UK and would have represented treason. But what does a government and its allies do with an ex-king and his wife, a Duchess, who are so involved?

One thing would be to maintain a cover story related to the Duchess being unacceptable because of a lesser offense, say being a three time divorcee, and then encouraging the King to abdicate. Such a story of marital infidelities appealed to prurient interest but left the royal family unscathed from charges of treason. Such a charge conceivably might have brought down the British monarchy.

Based on Mr. Warren’s information, I strongly suspect  suspicions of Nazi leanings by Edward and Wallis were precisely on target. Their friendly dealings with Nazis and their statements of support for Nazi Germany after the outbreak of WW11 speak to this end. It is clear that the British government did not trust Wallis Simpson. The snippet of information shared herein suggests they also did not trust their own, recently abdicating king.

Makes for an interesting snippet don’t you think?

Mutt or Evolutionary Icon?

In previous posts I have mentioned a little brown dog of questionable lineage who adopted us a year ago. We call him “Little Jack”.

I should have known something was special about Jack when after finding him a home, my wife Trudy proceeded to enter a major funk. I actually had to call the man who took Jack and cajole him to return him. You see, Jack has this special ability to insinuate himself into the lives of humans. He is ultimately “pettable” and about as sweet and affectionate as any dog I have known.

The other day I witnessed another even more unusual characteristic. Jack climbed a tree! I mean he went straight up a tree to the second crook in hot pursuit of a squirrel. He was a good 15 feet off the ground. Imagine the surprise the squirrel must have had when he looked over his little brown shoulder and found a dog climbing almost as effectively as he.

Based on Jack’s appearance , we have wondered if he had  Catahoula in his background. Catahoula is a Louisiana bred dog used for hunting varmints.  To my knowledge, Catahoula is the only breed of dogs that climbs trees. Little Jack uses his claws in a highly effective, almost prehensile way that allows him to grip the tree (and my belly when he he tries to climb up- ouch).

Okay, here is my thought on Jack. Man and dog have been inseparable and symbiotic since the caves. What an advantage to have a dog scout for varmints, chase them and catch them but not eat them, and then bring them to his human for a meal. Jack has done this. However, I should mention that Trudy declined to cook the squirrel, making the excuse that she was fresh out of good squirrel recipes.

So my question is, “Is Jack a mutt or is he an evolutionary icon?”. Wouldn’t a meat finding extender for a human be quite a find? Wouldn’t this benefit humans in a similar way to how herding dogs have benefitted raising livestock? And Jack’s calm temperament and effect on people are undeniable (my wife is the perfect example). Jack and probably many other dogs have the ability to bring about a sense of pleasure and peacefulness.

So I will let you decide, mutt or evolutionary icon or maybe something else. I ImageWould welcome your thoughts.

Hutton’s Calves Take A Trip To Town–And Then Back Again

This morning with the help of my ranch hand, Francisco, and my long suffering wife, Trudy,  I loaded seven calves into the cattle trailer. They were big enough and ready to head off. I might have known something was awry, when the loading turned out to be easy, really too easy. It went without a single  calf bolting or hitch in the procedure of any kind. It was almost as if the calves hurried into the trailer in order to take their morning ride.

On arriving at the auction barn in Fredericksburg, I immediately became suspicious when no line of trucks with trailers existed waiting to unload their stock. It was then that I spotted a small but all too informative sign posted in the window of the auction house- “No sales on July 2 or 3”.

Silly me, I had failed to remember the auction barn closes on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It had never occurred to me that it would close for sales during the week of the 4th of July. Isn’t anyone going to eat steaks, hamburgers, or beef ribs, I fumed. Regrettably I was forced to point the nose of “the Old Goat”, my gas guzzling V-10 1999 Dodge pickup, homeward for the return trip.

I don’t think “cow” very well, but I would like to believe the calves enjoyed their outing. I know the ride along dogs enjoyed it, as Bella and Jack gave me numerous wet and raspy licks both on the way into town and on the way back to the ranch. With my face thoroughly washed and abraded, I unloaded the calves into the front pasture. They trundled out, looked blankly around, then kicked up their heels, and ran straight  in the direction of the herd. They appeared no worse for wear and had experienced a remarkably cool ride into town for a July morning in Texas.

My error today was certainly not my most painful as a rancher. For instance it does not compare to when I was pitched from a horse and broke my arm and jammed my neck, or in a second instance when i blew out a disc in my back trying to man-haul a stump out of the creek bed after a flood (in my defense, my tractor was broken and what else could I do?).

Now those two mistakes hurt! Mind you, I never in 30 years got injured swinging a reflex hammer at someone’s knee as a neurologist. Since retiring and becoming a rancher I have broken two bones, torn ligaments, blown out my back, and worst of all suffered numerous instances of major loss of face.

It’s also not the most foolish ranching mistake I have committed. Several candidates for this dishonor readily come to mind. Expanding my herd prior to the onset of a major drought might come in at most expensive. I never would have guessed that hay could get that expensive. Personally, I rather like the time when I determined to paint one of my pipe cattle guards red and black in honor of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Texas Tech University. I thought it would look nice and thought just maybe the cows would enjoy it too.

Trudy, despite otherwise having good sense and having utterly failed to talk me out of this folly, got down on her hands and knees and helped me complete the goofy project. I do recall her muttering under her breath most of the time it took to complete. Trudy, I think this would fall under the clause in the marriage contract, “For Better Or Worse”. You’ve got to admit, our marriage hasn’t been dull!

Looking back on it, I’ve made plenty of ranching mistakes. Perhaps it’s inevitable having been a “city boy” most of my life and having lived rural ranch life only for the last 12 years. But that’s the fun of it. I have learned more from my all too frequent mistakes than from the ranch books I have read or the Ranch Day Programs I have attended. It has been fun. Besides as Trudy and I say to one another if taking life too seriously, “No one is going to die from this.” In my previous life, I certainly could never say that.

Something Old And Something New

This week has been “ranch camp” for our grandchildren, Ramsey and Graham. They look forward each year to coming to the ranch where they have far fewer restrictions and new outdoor activities. This year they rode and bathed horses, bought and practiced magic tricks, explored the ranches, caught insects, ate around a campfire, and swam. With the clearing of our new second ranch over the last year, interesting items have been revealed. In addition to finding prohibition glass whiskey bottles and a bone yard created by a mountain lion (spotted a couple of times) other interesting objects include arrowheads, spear points, and scrapers.  We  carried out a dig looking for additional artifacts. We were joined by Tom and Linda Norris’ grandchildren from Lubbock and Grand Rapids.

Ramsey and Sydney digging for arrowheads

Ramsey and Sydney digging for arrowheads

The dig lasted about as long as did the attention span of 6 to 13-year old children. We explored what we believe is an Indian mound. Indeed we found a few points and a lot of flint knappings. The area (the location of which shall remain hidden) looks promising for future digs.

As I watched the dig unfold, I was reminded how ancient were the points and spear heads perhaps going back hundreds if not thousands of years. These  artifacts stand in juxtaposition to our young and promising  grandchildren who dug, raked, and strained the dirt. Youth meets remnants of an ancient civilization.

As the old saying goes, God makes up for growing older by giving us grandchildren. What a joy they are to Trudy and me.

Points found at Hidden Falls Ranch

Points found at Hidden Falls Ranch

Cockleburs and Velcro

by Tom Hutton

My typical morning routine includes feeding and currying the horses. Of late I have had to spend extra time painfully (for me not the horse) removing prickly cockleburs from forelocks, manes, and tails. These tenacious burrs have become so numerous and work their way in to such an extent that at times our horses have the appearance of wearing hair curlers.

This got me to thinking about Velcro. A little googling finds that a Swiss engineer named Georges de Mestral in 1941 invented Velcro. He was inspired after taking a hunting trip to the Alps and having to contend with burrs in his dog’s fur and on his clothing. He placed a burr under a microscope and found  that each spine had a hook, making them stick to virtually anything. This inspired him to fashion Velcro from which I assume he made enough money to fill a Swiss bank vault.

The cocklebur (Xanthium) that I must contend with in Texaas is native to the Americas and eastern Asia. I can only guess that the recent

Just a few of the Cockleburs removed from our horses

Just a few of the Cockleburs removed from our horses

drought in our area somehow relates to the heavy crop of these burrs.

Have You Ever Dedicated An Outhouse? We Did.

Outhouse inaguration-IMG_6271by Tom Hutton

Available time is one of the great joys of retirement. Earlier in my life as a physician, this commodity was always in such short supply . To fill our hours now, we look for fun activities. We even stoop to such lowbrow activities as dedicating new enterprises on our adjacent ranches with our wine drinking and good friends, Tom and Linda Norris. Recently we finished construction of an “outhouse” located behind our hay barn that actually houses a composting toilet (privies are illegal in Gillespie County).

To fully dedicate our new facility, I read “Ode To The Outhouse” as printed below. We also needed one brave, unabashed being to inaugurate it. Young Graham, our almost six year old, stepped up, and sat down, and with an audience gave his all.

An Ode To “The Outhouse”– Author Unknown

The service station trade was slow

The owner sat and rocked around,

With sharpened knife and cedar stick

Piled shavings on the ground.

No modern facilities had they,

Just a log across the rill,

It led to a shack, marked His and Hers

That sat against the hill.

“Where is the ladies restroom, sir?”

The owner leading back, Said not a word but whittled on,

And nodded toward the shack.

With quickened step she entered there

But only stayed a minute,

Until she screamed, just like a snake

Or spider might be in it.

With a started look and beet-red face

She bounded through the door,

And headed quickly for the car

Just like three gals before.

She skipped the log, and jumped the stream.

The owner continued to rock about,

As her stockings, down at her knees,

Caught on a sassafras sprout.

She tripped and got up, and then

In obvious disgust,

Ran to the car, stepped on the gas,

And faded in the dust.

Of course we all wanted to know

What made the gals all do

The things they did, and then we found

That the whittling owner knew.

A speaking system he’d devised,

To make the thing complete,

He tied a speaker on the wall

Behind the toilet seat.

He’d wait until the gals got set,

And then the devilish tyke

Would stop his whittling long enough,

To speak into the mike.

And as she sat, a voice below

Struck terror, fright and fear.

“Please use the other hole,

We’re painting under here!”