Is it really almost February???

Apologies for 3 months in between posts. But in the interest of total transparency, it’s all Gene’s fault. Now that I’m full-time (and more, depending on the week), it gets to be around 7 pm and he starts to bellow that I’ve been hogging the computer all day. And he’s not wrong, so in the interest of compromise and fairness I go sit on my butt in a different room, and stare at a different screen. But since we only have one computer… ya, blame him.

So, to catch everyone up on the last few months around here…

The Vermin Wagon is mouse free (knock on wood). The dryer sheets totally worked! I don’t know why they don’t advertise the pest control aspect in commercials, that would probably triple sales, at least around here. I even have a tagline – “Yo, vermin, it’s time to Bounce.” (You’re welcome, Proctor & Gamble.)

It’s cold. So very, very cold. But I had to laugh, I was down at my parent’s yesterday (more on that in a minute), and the nightly news anchors were going on and on about the polar vortex that’s hitting Minneapolis and bringing “Historic Cold” (their voices implied the capitalization.)

Then they said the low would be -20. Seriously? That’s called “January” around here, and I don’t recall us getting mentioned at the top of the hour. There’s been at least a week where -20 was our high. We need to buy a new thermometer, because the one we have routinely runs out of mercury because it’s that cold. So ya, I was parading around the Twin Cities all day saying, “Wow, it’s so warm here!”

But we have had a few days this month where it was over zero, and on those days I bust out a heated pool for the geese. It started with bringing them a bucket of warm water so they could dunk their heads in, but when Higgins tried to climb into the bucket I insisted Gene take me into town to buy them a proper tub.

It was a huge hit! He wouldn’t let me go back and buy two more, though, he said they could take turns. But he did keep filling it up with more warm water as they emptied it, so he’s not totally heartless.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, we were supposed to get a ton of snow this year. We probably would have, too, if Bess Bess hadn’t come to stay for 2 weeks during the government shut down.

While it barely snowed a single flake, she did have fun playing pioneer. She hauled wood into the house, kept the fire going, baked fresh bread for Gene, and had a great time snow shoeing with Ceri. She had ample opportunities to practice standing up after a fall, thanks to Ceri’s penchant for stepping on the back of your snow shoe just as you’re picking your foot up.

But it hasn’t been all fun and games around here – I spent the last week being rather stressed out. It all culminated this morning – with my court date.

Let me back up… on Christmas Eve, I was headed down to my parents as I do a couple times a month. And as per usual, I was exceeding the speed limit by just a bit. Only this time, the trooper who stopped me wasn’t impressed with my credentials, which I keep helpfully, and obviously, displayed right next to my driver’s license.

So ya, I got myself a big fat ticket. He walks back up to the car, piece of paper fluttering cheerfully in the breeze, and I’m all… so this is how it feels. He then proceeds to act like he’s doing me a huge favor by *not* writing me for going 90 in a 70. He only wrote it for 80. As it turns out, he was actually doing me a favor. That ticket would have been twice as much, although not accurate. I’m positive I was only going 85 when I dynamited the brakes upon seeing I was about to blow the doors off a trooper’s car. Sigh. Did you know they have radar out the back end too? Where was that when I was a cop?

At any rate, since my driving record was spotless up until this point, I called the district court to find out if I could go to traffic school or something so it wouldn’t go on my record. And that’s when I found out speeding tickets are criminal citations in Minnesota, not infractions like they are in Washington. A measly 10 miles over the limit is a petty misdemeanor in this state – that’s the big leagues! So Gene’s been walking around the house ever since I told him that, humming (or outright bellowing) the theme to COPS, and talking about “my record.” Sigh.

So I requested a court date to see if I could go in and talk to the prosecutor about options. So of course the letter they sent with the court date is emblazoned with “official court use” and all that – they should have just addressed it to “The Felon Residing At…” It would have been more subtle. I used to deliver the mail – I know how it goes. Now everyone in town knows about it. That’s at least 5 people.

And today was the big day. I was stressing about it all week. What to wear. What color nail polish says “I take court seriously, but not *too* seriously.” Which tier of haircut to get – I sprung for $10 higher than I usually pay, since it’s an investment in my future and all. Then the car battery picked this week to die, because of course it did. Gene had to go and buy a new one, since I was freaking out that if it wouldn’t start I’d miss my court date, it would go to a warrant, I’d get arrested and terms like “prison wallet” would become part of my daily vocabulary.

But everything turned out fine. The court house was 3 1/2 hours south of us, but only an hour north of my parents’ place. So I spent the night there, got up at 5 am, and was lurking in the parking lot by 6:30, even though I didn’t need to be there until 8:30. I have to say, the court process itself was pretty interesting, having never sat on that side of the table before. You check in, tell them if you want to speak with the prosecutor first (who wouldn’t?) then sit and wait until they call your name. It took less than 60 seconds for her to check out my driving record, then offer a “continuance for dismissal”, meaning if I don’t get another ticket in 12 months, it’s like it never happened. I didn’t even have to bust out my “There’s $100 in my wallet… or maybe there isn’t” line.

Then you go before the judge, she accepts the offer, you pay the court fee (which is essentially the same as the ticket price) and it’s a done deal. Now I’m relegated to grandma driving, and have the cruise control set at the exact speed limit. On the way home, I got passed by a semi towing another semi. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A snow plow flashed his lights at me!!! But whatevs, I’m not getting another ticket. Besides, I have to say the New Andie never arrives anywhere about to Hulk out. Not worrying about the constant battle of getting ahead of the tool in front of you is very freeing – because now I’m the tool in front of you. Plus there’s time to notice all types of details – fat hawks sitting in the trees watching for mice, a pheasant in the tall grass, a porcupine ambling along the treeline, an ungodly amount of roadkill, and an entire outlet mall just north of Forest Lake! Who knew? Driving is a much more Zen experience now, so I will thank the Trooper for that.

 

The Only Way To Travel…

We had freakishly warm weather today, which was a nice change from yesterday’s low 20s. Today hit 68, so we unpacked the hose and kiddie pool for the geese, and they had a blast. Gene said they were having so much fun it seemed unfair to deny them a pond all winter, which got me thinking about whether or not letting them into the bathroom for some tub time when it’s 50 below would work. Gene said absolutely not, but I’m sure he thought I meant all 3 of them at once. That would be silly, I’d bring them in one at a time.

tractor rideThe beautiful day was also a great excuse to do some tractor work, and I have to say I can’t believe we’ve had it for almost year and I’ve been clinging to the side while Gene drives it down the highway to the east fields. I could have been reclining in the bucket this whole time!

I figured that out when against Gene’s advice I opted to wear my favorite tennis shoes instead of muck boots while we spread straw over the honey and goji berries. He suggested I ride in the bucket on the way back so I could try and minimize the mud damage, and now I refuse to ride anywhere else. Not only is the view awesome, it’s a surprisingly comfy ride. I rather imagine the Troopers wouldn’t be too thrilled with my new favorite mode of conveyance, but I’ve only ever seen one on our highway so I’m not too worried. Besides, what do they expect me to do? Walk?

Despite the balmy near-70 temps, I thought I’d plan ahead for once and sketched out some plans for a warming station for the goats. My thought was if they had an igloo like area inside the barn, their body heat would warm it up and they’d be super comfy at night. Gene brought back some straw bales for me, and he set it up next to the milking area. As you can see, it’s got direct access to a sunbeam, climbing opportunities, and plenty of sleeping space:

And here it is an hour later:

Sigh. Apparently you can’t give goats nice things. But at least we can use the straw to mulch things, which means more tractor rides for me!

 

Snow Day!

We woke up this morning to almost a full foot of snow, and it was beautiful! It was still lightly falling, and undisturbed in all directions with blanketed pine and poplar trees as a backdrop. And then Ceri rampaged across it with her Jolly Ball for hours. So much for pristine, “cozy cabin in the woods” postcard views. I have to say she did create some decent walking trails though.

But not everyone appreciated the first real snow of winter. I opened the coop doors and the geese started running for the door like they always do, then came to a skidding stop just before the ramp and refused to go any further. It’s not the first winter rodeo for most of our chickens, but they wouldn’t come out until Gene plowed the driveway with the tractor and I shoveled a path from the coop door to the cleared area.

A sole guinea ventured out, found it distasteful, and promptly flew up to the very top of a poplar tree. And then proceeded to sit up there and screech non-stop for the next hour. The rest of the guineas were smart enough to stay in the coop, but they kept screeching back since they don’t like to be separated. Since another storm is supposed to come through tonight (and they were being that loud – some of us have to work, you know) I enlisted Gene to help me persuade him to leave the perch and go back to the coop, by way of launching snowballs at him until he decided to come down and do something about it. Gene had much better aim, but we still only managed to chase him higher up in the tree. He finally came down when I threw some scratch grains in the cleared area, and I was able to tuck everyone up safely for the night.

We weren’t really expecting this much snow so early on, so we spent part of the afternoon taking all the vegetable pots off the back deck so I could shovel, and unearthing the remaining hummingbird feeders. Next we’ve got to build the little warming area out of stray bales inside the barn for the goats, although I’m hoping we’ve got a little time before the temps plummet below zero. Cocoa and Mocha were thoroughly unimpressed by the snow, and only ventured out during the sun breaks. They also demanded extra hay to make up for the sudden lack of green grass.

The early onset of cold weather has also heralded my least favorite season of the year – Mouse Invasion. We’ve only caught a few in the basement so far, but I think that’s because they’re all hanging out in my car, now nicknamed the Vermin Wagon. (Heh, I can truthfully say I drive a VW!) I drove down to my parents the other day and Bess Bess was visiting at the same time. We were going to go grab a coffee (can’t do that around here!) and she visibly recoiled when she opened the passenger door, then wondered aloud why a stench that bad isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Ya, apparently that stupid Febreeze commercial is based in fact – “nose blind” is a thing. Sigh. I got independent confirmation from my friend Jennifer that yes, my car does indeed reek of mouse, and no, deploying an entire bottle of Febreeze inside it didn’t work. So now it’s stuffed with a full box of Bounce dryer sheets, both inside and under the hood, because the internet says mice hate that smell. And if the mice hate it, it’s my new favorite thing. As a result, the car now smells like a laundromat exploded – totally worth it. I figure I’ll know it worked if the mice don’t rebuild the nest I swept off the engine block. Shudder.

Hope you like squash!

Not going to lie… gardening in zone 3a has been a blow to my ego. Good thing my ego is massive, and can take the hit. But seriously… I know growing things here is possible, because my friend Jennifer’s garden is robust. Peppers, tomatoes, corn… hers grows. Ours, on the other hand, looks like the “before” picture for one of those Miracle Grow commercials where the take home message is anyone can grow stuff, even when your garden looks like this! [insert photo of ours]. Sigh. We’re basically pretending we never planted corn, and the only tomatoes I managed to get were cherry size, and had such thick skins they were displeasing to chew. Even the birds are leaving them alone, so you know they’re bad.

But there is a silver lining – I can grow squash! Gene helped me harvest it, all the while grumbling about where we’re supposed to store so many. Then he started saying things like, “Merry Christmas! Here’s a squash!” after I suggested we could clear out a space in his man cave. I also learned the hard way that cold weather apparently makes slugs gather on the bottom of squashes. Shudder.

The other veggie I managed to actually grow was a yellow type of zucchini. I’m sure it would have been absolutely delicious, if I’d picked it when you’re supposed to instead of waiting for it to magically turn into butternut squash. It got way too woody to eat, but the chickens love them so I’ve been stomping on one every afternoon.

I’ve also been dispensing peanuts every morning to the jay birds, a flock of which have moved back now that it’s getting cold again. There are also two gray jays hanging around, which are a slightly smaller, much more dignified variety. They have a very distinctive call, but I don’t get to hear it very often since they don’t sit in the trees and screech at me. They’re more into the “hang out and look starving” method of getting treats, which works out rather well for them as they now have two fully stocked suet cages to choose from.

 

 

Snow’s Flying!

stormToday was a momentous occasion – we got sunshine, snow, sleet, and hail!

Each weather pattern seemed to last approximately five minutes, and changed from one to the next with no discernible rhyme or reason all day.

Tonight it’s dropping into the 20s – not the first frost, but the first hard freeze where I can likely say goodbye to the last of my flowers.

I also bid adieu to the Pollies today. After doing quite a bit of research, I found out they can hibernate in the bottom of our garden pond all winter!

I spent an hour or so carefully draining their tank water through our second-best kitchen strainer (much to Gene’s abject horror), and once I was sure I got them all they were re-homed to the pond.

Getting them there was a bit of a hike, and I quickly regretted not taking Gene’s advice to wear my waders. Turns out dead cattails aren’t actually load bearing.

But squelchy shoes aside, the Polly experiment was a resounding success. All of the ones that had started to grow legs earlier in the month have turned into frogs! Only about 30 of the 150+ were still in full on tadpole stage – perfect for hibernating.

Gene has also been busy outside. He built a new, fully insulated door for the chicken coop, and added insulation around all the windows. Once it’s cured, we’ll cover it with trim. I had originally been tasked with shooting the foam into the gaps, so when I asked Gene how to do it, he’s all “read the can.”

Those instructions were hard core. Not only did it admonish me to “prepare and practice,” it also warned me to wear gloves, a mask, and insinuated that deploying the spray improperly would likely cause the entire planet to implode. Well, maybe not that last part, but it was seriously gloom and doom stuff. At any rate, by the time I gathered all my personal protective equipment, Gene was already done spraying it around all the windows. Minus any safety gear whatsoever, I should add.

He also installed a higher roosting bar for the guineas, in an effort to dissuade them from roosting in the pine tree. It works great, as long as I go outside just after dusk and shoo them inside. Occasionally one jumps into the tree as I’m herding them, and I’m not going to lie – few things in life are funnier than grabbing the branch the guinea is perched on, pulling it down, and launching him back up into the air. Great sport, that. No wonder they try to get as high as possible, as quickly as possible.

In other noteworthy September news, Bess Bess came for her annual visit and fell in love with the geese. She also turned them into bread-loving monsters, and thanks to her now I get honked at incessantly until I go back inside and come back out with a treat of some sort. They’re not shy about taking it, either. I’m surprised I haven’t lost a finger yet.

Whenever I have a project to do outside, I can count on three helpers tagging along. When I was getting the painted mountain corn tied into bundles to dry, they decided the cobs and shoe laces were what I brought for them to eat and went about trying to sneak them off the trailer. It was actually really funny watching Higgins trying to waddle off with a huge corn cob. Not so much when he untied my shoes for the 15th time. But he eventually figured out how to undo a double knot, so it was hard not to be impressed.

 

It’s officially Fall…

Well, not according to the calendar, but the weather has definitely turned around here. The last of the monarchs just hatched and flew off, bringing the count officially above 30. All but two hummingbirds have headed south, the leaves are turning yellow and red, and we’ve had our first frost already!

The frost actually touched off a mild panic on my part, since some of the Pollies don’t have their legs yet. They’re still in full on tadpole stage. The original group have all turned into the cutest frogs ever, but the new ones are rapidly running out of time before the snow starts flying. So we (and by “we” I mean I) figured it would be a good idea to heat the tank to speed up the process. There happened to be an extra fish tank heater lying around, so now it’s in the bucket and the Pollies are happily swimming around in 70+ degree water, even when it’s 32 outside. Plus, we still have the huge 150 gallon tank that Gene said is too big for this house, but it’s not to big for the shop! Worst case scenario, the Pollies can winter in there.

In other tank related news, I finally got to set up a tropical fish tank in my office! It’s just a 20 gallon, since Gene was adamant that 150 gallons of water is far too heavy to house on the first floor. I was lamenting that fact to my friend Jennifer, who sagely observed that I don’t fall into the basement every time I take a bath, and the tub holds *way* more water than that. I pointed that out to Gene, and he said I’ve just been lucky so far.

But a small tank is better than no tank, and it’s perfect for a school of neon tetras. I spent the evening setting it up and decorating it, and Gene had the brilliant idea of running the hose through the window so it was super easy to fill up. After the water has cycled, I’m going to drag him to World Of Fish in Duluth. It’s a two-hour drive, but so worth it.

Other than all that… the only other news of note is that the barn swallows have fledged. Now they’ve taken to sitting on the cable line that runs from the shop to the house, and shrieking for someone to bring them delicious snacks. (Not unlike the sounds that emanate from my office, come to think of it…)

They’re really cute to watch, but mama swallow is even more protective of them now that they’re out of the nest. Whenever I walk under the cable, which is often, she’ll fly directly at my face. Lucky for her I’ve got cat like reflexes and she’s only gotten my hair like four times, tops.

I can’t figure out why I don’t get more done…

I try not to let 3+ weeks pass in between posts, but in my defense I’ve been dealing with *a lot* of distractions lately. The weather has been so beautiful, it’s hard not to want to be outside. And that’s exactly where all the critters want me to be. It seems like whenever I get into a writing groove (since I can’t ignore deadlines for that long), I’m faced with this:

Puppy eyes are my kryptonite. Who could deny her a romp around the yard? Then I’ll come back inside, sit down and mentally steel myself to write something witty while simultaneously being informative, then decide I need a cup of coffee. (Or, in all honesty, yet another cup of coffee).

On the way to the coffee pot I’ll glance out the deck door, and have to rush back outside to save my potted veggie deck garden from 3 hungry geese. So much for the baby gate, apparently they’re smarter than your average toddler.

rampaging geese

Even Charlie is in on the “let’s keep mama from working” plan. Whenever I have a note I want to jot down on the legal pad by my keyboard, I’ll have to go hunt down a pen to write with. Not only does she flip them off the desk, she grabs them and runs off to cache them away somewhere. It’s also open season on paper and binder clips.

charlie pens

And don’t even get me started on the hummingbirds. They hover by the window and glare inside at me if the sugar water drops to what they consider to be an alarming level. You know what else has a powerful glare? Baby swallows. There’s a nest of 4 of them in the barn rafters, almost directly over where I milk Cocoa. Not only does mama swallow come flap in my face, she’s taught her babies how to creep me out:

gargoyle swallow

Seriously, some church in London is missing its gargoyle. They’re also experts at giving me the stank eye:

vexed swallow

So now I try to milk, hay, and water as quickly as humanly possible considering I’m outnumbered.

Of course, it never pays to be in *too much* of a hurry around here, since this is what happens if you do something like leave the truck door open because there’s more to unload:

truck

first PollyWhenever I need a few moments of Zen, I’ll head over and visit the Pollies. They’re in various stages of development, and just doubled in number since I acquired most of Jennifer’s remaining tadpole stash as well. They weren’t getting enough protein in the trough, so we made the executive decision to re-home them.

The ones I’ve had since the beginning are already starting to turn into frogs and find new homes in the garden! So that’s one mystery solved – they’re tree frogs. And super cute, the size of my pinky nail.

cocoonOf course, they’ll grow up to eat Monarchs, but that’s what the Sanctuary is for! I’ve lost count of how many adults we’ve released now, it’s more than 25.

There are 7 more chrysalises waiting to hatch, and then we’ll be done for the season. I’ve already got grand plans for expansion…

Speaking of rapid expansion, with Jennifer’s help I managed to solve another mystery. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed whenever I go outside (as we’ve established is often), I rapidly start to sound like Darth Vader after running a lap around the Death Star.

Jennifer came over the other day, and asked what was growing underneath the bird feeders. I’d originally thought it was daisies, but when they never blossomed figured they were some kind of pretty weed. I left them alone (and occasionally even watered them) because the chickens LOVE spending the day nestled in their little forest. Plus it cracked me up watching the weeds sway back and forth as they ran around looking for dropped sunflower seeds – totally reminded me of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

At any rate, she broke a length off, took it home, and looked it up in her book. Turns out it’s ragweed. According to my allergy test, I’m allergic to its pollen. But they should have amended the results to Ragweed, Vicinity Of, because it hasn’t flowered yet. And when I went to yank it all out, I had to pop 2 extra Claritin just to stop wheezing. I was smart enough to wear gloves, but next time I should think about long sleeves as well. Sigh.