Interview with Alfredo

October 16, 2017

Meet Alfredo

*** We are attempting to interview Alfredo, a rooster in the series, “The Adventures of Long Tail” but he doesn’t seem to think his microphone is working…***

Alfredo: So, are you going to interview me?  Oh!  Hello there!  Didn’t expect a beautiful white rooster like me to be talking, did you?

Alfredo whispering: (Guys, are you getting this on video or audio only?)

Us: Audio only.

Alfredo: (Oh, just sound… bummer.)

I’m Alfredo, the most beautiful white rooster to ever walk the planet!  And I live on this lovely farm with a sturdy henhouse and yard filled with beautiful hens and pullets… all my lovelies.  (So, just ignore that mean-sounding jealous crow in the background, that’s only a tiny, little, dull, worn-out, old rooster who’s jealous of my harem and my beautiful white feathers.  Can you guys filter him out in the final cut maybe?)

NOT Alfredo: “ALFREDO!”

Alfredo: Okay, maybe that yellow rooster in the picture is the king rooster of this henyard and I’m the second in command… (but a guy can dream, can’t he?  Guys, you can remove the first half of the sentence later.)

Anyway, so there are humans in the human house (scary thought, isn’t it?  Guys, have you ever seen a human?) and there are giant creatures all around outside of our sturdy fence and solid wooden henhouse but I have defeated many enemies!

NOT Alfredo: “ALFREDO!”

Alfredo whispering: (Can’t a guy do his own interview without interruptions?)

Us: This is live, Alfredo.

Alfredo: (This is live?  Bummer… maybe I should flatter him then so he’ll be quiet.)  So, I’m not the big hero all of the time.  Mr. Big Yellow Long Tail the Magnificent is always the hero.  It says so in the books… every one of them says “Long Tail, the great yellow chief” and he always is the big hero.

I’m done now!  Signing off, is that okay Mr. Long Tail?  (Is he gone?  Okay, so maybe I should ask my human writer to start the next book with “Alfredo the Beautiful whom the hens and pullets adore…”)

Us: ALFREDO!  That isn’t the book format!

Alfredo: That wasn’t a rooster crow!  Who said that?  Yikes!  A voice I can’t see!  Maybe there are more of them!  Alfredo is hiding in the hay until they leave – better yet, you go fight them for me, will you?  Bye!

*** We were unable to get Alfredo to return to the microphone and face the unseen voices.  So, this ends the interview with Alfredo the Rooster.  Read more about his hiding (ahem, his “bravery”) in “The Adventures of Long Tail.” ***

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

A Storm and Chicken Story

August 26, 2017

A Storm and Chicken Story

One day we were playing outside and a storm came up.  Not a cute little Pooh bear thundercloud with a few raindrops, but a giant, hurricane-wind, flash-lightning-fireworks-in-the-sky, shake-the-whole-house-thunder, all-people-hide-inside kind of thunderstorm.  (Okay, it was a simple, everyday, Florida thunderstorm.)  The winds were swirling chicken feathers and fluffing them out like towel-dried cats.  Smaller chickens were hop-flying to stabilize themselves as they fought for the safety of the henhouse.

After drying off from the first wave of rain, the girls peeked outside and giggled at the chickens until the raindrops were so large we couldn’t see the henhouse anymore.  The late summer winds blew the tree limbs around like strong autumn breezes scatter just-raked leaf piles.

“Mom, can you tell us a story with a storm?” Asked Rebeccah.

“A Long Tail story!” yipped Kimberly.  She was five, and she loved Long Tail.

So we snuggled on the couch with lightning flashes illuminating the room through the big windows and started what would become “Long Tail and the Big Storm.”

The chickens of the yard were ruled by Long Tail, the great yellow chief, and guarded by Long Tail and Alfredo, the white rooster imported some time ago.  Under this rooster team, the hens and pullets scratched and gossiped and laid eggs all day with no worries.

On one autumn day the bright sky darkened with angry clouds.  The sun hid.  The birds in the woods started crying warnings and flying away.  Two small humans who were playing in the henhouse with the baby biddies, heard a booming crack of thunder and jumped!  They put the baby biddies back in the safe brooder and left the henhouse.

“Look at those little humans!” cawed Alfredo, laughing, “running like rabbits!”

A giant bolt of lightning lit up the sky just behind the woods and a cannon-loud BOOM of thunder shattered the air.  Alfredo scrambled into the henhouse and hid under the brooder.

All the hens laughed at the silly rooster.

Even Red Feathers and Golden Eye, two of the youngest pullets, laughed at him.

Long Tail strutted by, “when the water falls from the sky, we come in.” Long Tail was not afraid.

A big wind shrieked through the henhouse.  It blew the people door open!

Can Long Tail save his flock?  Be sure to check out Long Tail and the Big Storm to see just how this courageous rooster accomplishes this brave feat!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Conquering Ticks

August 10, 2017

Conquering Ticks

We live on what we call a tiny farm.  It’s just over an acre.  It was abandoned before our landlord bought it, spruced it up, and cut down all the brush.  When we arrived in April, we discovered that a twenty-foot walk from our carport to the front step attracted lots of ticks!  Not the big, easy-to-see dog ticks, but tiny ticks the size of a period!  (Yes, some are so small they can fit on the head of a sewing pin, the girls have tried it – they also are fascinating to look at under a microscope because the light goes through them!)  Some were slightly bigger.  (No, we’ve never taken pictures of them!  We are usually inside when we find them and we smash, burn, or flush them, instantly!)

Research taught us these were a variety of deer tick.  The small ones are called “seed ticks.”  In part of the tick’s life cycle, they are newly emerged in their tick form (small adult form) and need just a little blood to finish growing.  So they bite and release.  The duration of this bite is between ten minutes and an hour, so sometimes we caught them and got them off.  We got very adept at distinguishing tick bites from the bites of other minuscule horrors of Florida, like sand gnats, mosquitoes, fire ants, and yellow flies.  We all know that ticks attach themselves once they are full adults.  (For this variety, full adult size is about 1/8th of an inch in diameter – the size of a small print “o”.)

I hate ticks.  (Who doesn’t?)  I don’t like pesticides.  (We want to eat food from this yard!)

Luckily, I have chickens!

Chickens are opportunistic omnivores (aka, scavengers).  This means while most people envision them eating dry seeds and corn, they actually have a palate that inclines them toward consumption of living organic material such as insects, microscopic organisms, fresh new plant shoots, and anything moving that is small enough to fit in their beak.  My chicken flock has always been known to hunt actively for mosquitoes and flies.  (Yes, they run along under the flying insect and jump to attack once they perceive catch is possible.  Several times they have smashed into a fence or wall while hunting in this manner.  Side-effect: human entertainment.)

Roosters (grown-up males) seem to find ant larvae a delicacy and get all excited digging up ant beds and telling the others, “here, some awesome food!”  (A few hens join in this feast, but others look at the ant-larvae-loving chickens with “eww, gross” expressions.)

Our laying hens (females) and breeding roosters stay in the covered henyard.  Our “biddie-babies” (the girls have made-up terms for every stage; this is newly hatched to 6 weeks) and “baby-toddlers” (6 to 10 weeks) share the brooding pens so they can be protected from rain, draft, and heat in the pre-feathered chick stage (biddie-babies) and to protect them from our area’s population of kites (beautiful, small hawk-like birds who hunt young chickens).  The “big toddlers” (10 to 15 weeks) and “teenagers” (15 to 24 weeks) roam near the henyard because they are too big for the kites to carry away.

They will forage all day for insects and leave the free-choice feed completely alone.  They stay within about 25 feet of their water source at all times (during or just after a light rain, they may wander a bit farther, but not normally).  They LOVE seed ticks!

Within two weeks of our natural pest control plan, we could walk to the carport with zero ticks!  Within a month, the strip of back yard where we hang clothes and the kids play was nearly tick-free!  It’s been five months and they have cleared an expanded circle that includes parts of the front yard.

(My bulb beds helped grow the circle as they love to eat insects that eat the bulbs and the plants hold dew.)

Slowly, our chickens are conquering the tick population in the rest of the yard!

In closing, if you have a tick problem and don’t mind chickens scratching through your plant beds, maybe consider a pest control plan that rewards you with organic fertilizer… and eggs too!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart


DVD Books

July 23, 2017

DVD Books

I’m one of these people who loves real books.  The smell, the weight, the way my finger anxiously waits behind one edge of a page while my eyes finish it quickly – I’m immersed in the writer’s world and feel like the book surrounds me.  To me, nothing will ever replace the printed book.

I’m also a computer programmer; I understand that as the paradigm shifts with new technology some things go extinct.  We shifted from room computer brains to a tiny chip stuck in a device that fits in our palm – and this tiny smart phone is smarter than the room-sized computers!

Thus, I am a paradox.  I collect and buy print books but publish ebooks.  I love writing using colored pens in notebooks but I can format .docs and .pdfs for ebook and print submissions (everything is submitted electronically now).  Remember typewriters?  I skipped those completely.  So I’ll explore any method of presenting my books to my audience.

I have audio-books (The Home Edge Readers) as the short lecture format was easy to read.  The purpose of this custom series is to teach students new terms – so audio was a good idea as they can hear the terms pronounced.  My father is a wizard of production; he produced these.

He had another wizard idea and asked for all my rough pictures and illustrations for Long Tail.  I emailed them to him and he produced a DVD Book.  Basically, this is a DVD (plays in any normal DVD player) with the story coming up as one page on a screen with illustrations, printed words, background sounds, and audio text.  (“Grandma Pearson” reads the story as the words are on the screen.)  My girls loved this!  (It is now what Lucas calls “grandma chicken movie.”)

Vivid colors grab the audience’s attention.  There are rooster crows, farm sounds, running feet, and other background noises as the narrator reads the text that is printed on-screen.  Older children read along (like a sing-along-song video) while the activities and changing screen images keep the younger ones’ attention.

Further projects are on the way, but for now “Long Tail and Red Hawk” is our pilot DVD Book.

It’s another way to read a children’s book.  I like to compare it to a graphic novel with narration.

It’s entertaining, short, and fun.  I even catch my teenager sitting on the edge of the couch or leaning behind it, pretending she wasn’t watching the “kiddie movie” when she sees us notice her.  For about fifteen minutes, they enter Long Tail’s chicken world and they are hooked!

Learn more about it (and try it!) here:

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Yard Work Day

June 30, 2017

Yard Work Day

Today was a yard work day.

I love yard work day because I love to mow grass.  With our push mower, it’s a walking workout where you can sing your lungs out and no one can hear you.  Today I was interviewing Ethan while I mowed instead of singing.

The girls love yard work day because after we spend hours yanking stumps and sticks and dead wood out of the ground (this yard was Florida brushland 8 months ago, so it was loaded with hidden spikes where bush stumps stick out of the ground), we can burn them in our fire pit (8 concrete blocks set in the dirt off the backyard in the middle of the dirt pit – I like to pretend that’s the summer kitchen; it might be, someday).

The dogs love yard work day.  Primrose likes it because she gets to be outside with us.  Sheba gets the whole house to herself – and we’ll come in to find her stretched out on top of the couch with a nest made out of her blanket.

But the critters who make the absolute best of yard work day are the chickens.  They follow the mower like rats following the Pied Piper, each hoping to snatch more dislodged bugs and fresh, juicy greens than every other chicken.  They race to whoever is raking and scratch the hay all over finding bugs. (10 adult chickens can smooth a leaf pile flat in less than a minute!)  They spy a child toting the full hay bucket toward their henhouse – Crow Cackle Cackle! – they call all other foraging chickens as they race back to the henhouse to inspect and rearrange their new hay immediately.  Soft grass cuttings make hay.  Thicker, brush-type cuttings make the hen yard mulch.  We fill this “hen yard mulch” about 6 to 10 inches deep and the chickens continually scratch and add nitrogen to it for a few weeks.  We use this finished, fertilizer-infiltrated, shredded indigestible plant material to mulch our bulb beds and for our future garden.

The bonus of yard work day is that everyone feels like we’ve accomplished much, we all clean up, eat dinner, and sleep.  The children all go to sleep as soon as they are out of the bath.  Even Mom is tired, but after the last outside chore (herding the reluctant chicken flock back into the hen yard for the night), I breathe in the sweet smell of cut grass, fresh earth, and wood smoke.  And we finish our yard work day with sticky, gooey roasted marshmallows over the dying fire’s embers.

Working outside always relaxes me.  I totally love how when God made us and put us in the perfect environment; perfection was a garden!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Capturing Places

June 24, 2017

Captured Places

Have you ever walked through a place you loved so much you drew scale drawings of it and built models?  I love architecture.  I plan each building and area – in most of my stories, even down to the plants and what color flowers are in season!

Once, I walked through a house with my parents.  This house was three levels with huge seat windows in every upstairs bedroom – the architecture of its large, open, bright rooms inspired the castle rooms in The Princess and the Swans.

The drab gray stone buildings in the K’vell training complex in Web of Deception came straight from a series of compact, functional, barracks-style buildings on an old property we explored once.

The Ann, Mary, and Susan Mysteries take place in my second-favorite childhood home.  The inside of that house is exactly as it is in real life – including the wrap-around second-floor deck and the loft-lookout bedroom on the third floor.  I added the aviaries, fields, and barn the way I wanted them (the only real-life outdoor structures in the stories are the dilapidated pool and the little next-door house) but even most of the bushes the girls hide in are on the real-life property.

In the Adventures of Long Tail, the chicken yard is exactly as we had it in the house Kimberly and Lucas were born in. (But the time stamped in those books is just before Jaquline was born.) Even the hen house is set up exactly as we had ours with the 4-level biddie brooder and incubator on top.

For me, it helps to visually see places in my worlds.  Lego bricks are great for scale buildings!  I even make maps and blueprints for most worlds and buildings so I never mess up my directions as I bounce from one storyland to another.  Continuity is very important to me (my perfectionist nature, I guess, but seriously… if Long Tail’s hen house was different each time, or if Ethan went down a different corridor each time to get to the Observation Deck, wouldn’t that be odd?)

Writing also helps me capture the best of places I remember (or dream up).  If I love a house, shed, barn, park, or yard layout, it will be in a book someday!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~Nancy Tart

Eggs of Giants

June 13, 2017

Eggs of Giants

One cool thing about keeping a flock of chickens (aside from the 5am alarms) is that they pop eggs out!

Before we had chickens, I thought all eggs were white and exactly the same size and shape.  With the first time our Buff Orpington hen announced to the world that she plopped a smooth, clean, egg in the nest box, my preconceived notions about eggs were shattered.

It was BROWN!

It was TINY!

This giant, beautiful 6 pound hen had laid an egg that may have weighed 3 grams (okay, maybe a little bigger than that).  It didn’t have a yolk!  Maybe our chickens were broken.  Of course, they weren’t broken.  Most heavy breeds lay brown eggs.  Buff Orpingtons are heavy breeds.  Most first eggs are small and even the most proficient layers occasionally have an egg without a yolk.  They never did lay what I previously thought of as “normal” eggs, instead they were huge eggs (extra-large) with the occasional super-giant egg containing two yolks.

Currently, we have a rainbow of large chickens in our flock.  Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Barred Rocks lay various shades of brown eggs (actually, pale apricot to medium walnut brown) and some have speckles!  Our Easter Eggers lay green, pale pink, and occasionally spotted eggs.  We also ended up with some White Leghorns, who are smaller than the others, but lay extra-large white eggs.  Our Golden Phoenix (who is a mottled English walnut color with a ring of golden feathers around her neck and scattered about her dark head) lays a torpedo-shaped almost pink egg 6 of the 7 days in a week.  Just like each of us are unique, each hen lays an egg with her own distinct size, shape, and color!

Young pullets (a female chicken is a pullet until she starts steadily laying eggs) will sometimes start out producing small eggs for the first week or so.  In the picture, we had a new layer’s tiny, a “regular” sized, and a double-yolker from our White Leghorn.

Another fun thing about having chickens is observing the variety of egg colors and shades when packing our eggs in their cartons.  We have at least one white and one green in each dozen but most of our hens lay an assortment of pink-brown shades called “brown” eggs.  They say you can tell what color a chicken will lay by the bottoms of their feet! (In our experience, not exactly, but pretty close)  In our last batch of biddies, we had three with blackish green “soles” of their feet. The girls are hoping to find a dark olive egg or maybe even a purple egg!

Yes, the girls name our chickens.  These names (usually for attributes or specific colors) usually find themselves playing hens or pullets in the Adventures of Long Tail.  Sometimes their creative names end up inspiring an actual story character (like Jasmine Rose in The Devonians).

The girls’ favorite part of chickens is the raising challenge.  They enjoy plotting color mixes as they separate them for breeding, watching the incubator for 21 days and squealing “babies are coming soon,” tending new hatchlings, encouraging them to explore, helping them grow, and seeing their breeding experiment results as they become pullets and cockerels.  Then they usually say goodbye to newly laying pullets about 18 – 26 weeks or promising-looking cockerels about 10 – 14 weeks as they prefer to sell them when they are “past the danger stage.” (aka too big for most hawks and no longer needing brooder care)

I love their learning adventure (as Rebeccah says, breeding in chickens is more colorful than Mendel’s peas) and we all enjoy the rainbow of eggs in various sizes the happy hens provide.

Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time,

~Nancy Tart

The Real Egg Thief

June 6, 2017

The Real Egg Thief

We had forty little chicks in the high brooder.  It was back when our little 4-level brooder held three batches of monthly chicks in stages and by the time they were in the bottom level, they roamed the yard. (At 12 to 13 weeks, our breed was too big for almost all predators.) Hardware cloth (wire) protected them from everything and a warm heat lamp kept them toasty (until their feathers come in at about 4 weeks, chicks need 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

But one morning when we went out to feed them, a corn snake had feasted!  He had popped the staples and lifted up one corner of the hardware cloth to slide his seven foot body inside their tiny brooder and eat at his leisure.  He was so camouflaged in their warm hay floor that we didn’t see him at first!  We just saw that almost all the baby chicks were gone.

Corn snakes are very important around farms because they eat rodents and other pests.  We had to relocate him to another area and use big u-nails instead of staples to make our brooder big-snake-proof.

Naturally, any adventure with our chickens turns into a Long Tail adventure!  In Long Tail and the Egg Thief, the snake only eats eggs and tries to scare off the chickens.  And, Long Tail’s humans shoot the snake with an arrow (this was because Christina and Rebeccah had been doing archery lately, so they thought that was cool).  Usually, farmers don’t kill snakes unless they are poison snakes that pose a threat to livestock and people.  We have a black racer snake living under our house and he routinely gets fat with mice that would try to get in the henhouse (or in our house).

Since then, we haven’t lost any chicks to snakes.

Raising chickens, like many things, is a learn-as-you-go activity.  You can read and research forever, and try to do your best.  Sometimes, everything will go along fine, but other times, the unexpected (three hungry fence-destroying neighbor dogs, a seven-foot corn snake, or a family of five dive-bombing 4 foot tall eagles) will show up and you learn from those mistakes on what to do next time.

For me, most of the upsets in our continuing chicken flock become adventure stories for Long Tail the Rooster.  That’s seeing the bright side.  Because just like everything in life, we can’t go back, only forward!  Let’s march on, chicken adventures!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later,

~Nancy Tar

The Chicken Castle

May 25, 2017

The Chicken Castle

   It was one of those days when I felt productive.  I’d managed to get the house cleaned, was hanging my third load of laundry, had finished catching up financial reports after our move, and everyone was still breathing.

Then there was a squeal that makes any mother immediately drop anything.  It was followed by “stay in that castle!”  (Okay, no one is hurt, probably.)  With my adrenaline pumping like a bass drum in my ears, I try to breathe and respond without screaming “WHAT HAPPENED?”

Jaquline and Jillian had built a castle with the outside blocks and had corralled the 23 one-week-old chicks into it.  Platinum, Chicka, and Sherlock (yes, they named the chicks!) decided the grass outside of the castle was better than the feed inside.  While the girls squealed and attempted to catch the chicks (Mix prong-horn antelope speed with mongoose evasion & you have a young chicken) 19 of the remaining biddie flock fled the castle.

“Mom!” Jillian wailed, (I was back hanging clothes) “Only Kerjack obeyed.”

“How can we keep hawks away from you if you don’t listen?” Jaquline said to the chicks as they gathered in one spot under a billowing sheet.  (Hawks only have a chance because they have super stealth.)

I spied a teaching moment! Perfect!  So I left the clothes and helped them gather the chicks to the safe spot where hawks usually don’t spot them and the girls could attempt to watch them again.  I told the girls: that is what we (parents) feel like when we give warnings (like the latest for Lucas, “don’t try to grab the goose at the park!”) but children choose not to listen.  We know what the danger is; like they know the danger for the chicks.

Jillian looked at her shorts.  “Like when you say wear pants but I have shorts and mosquitoes can bite me easier.”  Jaquline pulled up her pants and checked her legs for bites, then announced, “but I have long pants so I listened and I have no mosquito bites!”

Bingo!  This day now feels super productive!

Thanks for reading!

Type at you later,

~Nancy Tart

Rise of a Rooster

May 20, 2017

The Adventures of Long Tail (Rise of the Rooster)

   Fun Fact: The “Adventures of Long Tail” stories started with a dream my little brother had!

We had just moved to a house where the neighbor had dozens of peacocks and peahens (boys are cocks, girls are hens) that lived in her house.  They roosted all over our yard, her yard, the next door junkyard, and almost everywhere.  We had chickens.  These peacocks were chicken-chasing masters.  We were always shooing peacocks away from our henhouse to collect eggs and feed our hens.

My little brother came down one morning telling us his dream about when he was a rooster fighting all the peacocks away so he could have all the hens himself.  He ended the battle by snapping a peacock feather in half with his sharp beak and crowing.  He said the feather tasted like bacon. (That was probably because I was frying bacon.) He said he was a rooster with a long tail.  Instantly, my crazy brain created “Long Tail.”

My Long Tail is a huge yellow Buff Orpington rooster at full boisterous maturity (big, brawny, and full of confidence).  He is the top rooster (in the stories, I say “chief” rooster).  He rules the chicken yard and likes to crow.  He has red feet and giant spurs.

My girls loved my “Long Tail” stories.  (I would never have put them on paper without the girls’ encouragement – they seemed too silly!) When they started their chicken flock school project, our best Buff Orpington rooster was instantly named “Long Tail!”

The world of “Long Tail” and his adventures is the house where the first “Long Tail” was hatched, with the big white henhouse and chicken yard we spent hours building.

When Rebeccah colored the illustrations for “Long Tail and Red Hawk,” she used our “Long Tail” as her model.

However, in the DVD books, “Long Tail” is played by “Woody” and “Woody Jr.” – two Barred Rock roosters from the “school project” flock I started as a teenager!

Inspiration comes from many places!

Check out the current “Adventures of Long Tail” stories:

Long Tail and the New Rooster

Long Tail and Red Hawk

Long Tail and the Big Storm

Long Tail and the Egg Thief

Long Tail and the Lost Biddie

Long Tail and the Big Ball


Thanks for reading!

Type at you next time…

~ Nancy Tart