Bring on the wolves…

Since my freelance writing job is basically full time now, I decided to put notice in at my city job. It was only two afternoons a week, but between the long commute and the inclement weather making it even longer, it just didn’t make financial sense to keep doing it. I do miss the opportunity to talk to people about all the mundane things office folk chitter about, which, to be honest, was the only reason I got a job outside the house to begin with.

So now when I need a break from writing, I wander around the house, starting random conversations with Gene or waxing philosophical to the dogs, both of whom are usually snoring right next to my desk. Did people really darn socks back in the day? Our socks always get holes underneath, so wouldn’t it hurt to stand on the stitches? Where do the turtles go in the winter, and do you think they’re cranky when they wake up? Why are those pesky Asian beetles so attracted to my desk?

These are conversations worth having, and yet Gene keeps finding reasons to disappear outside.

But on the plus side, now I have more time to do things like help him get firewood. Today he brought me to a stand of birch that required 4 wheel drive to access, and I may or may not have had a near panic attack at the overall condition of the “road”. It’s fairly remote, and he said there were wolf tracks all over the place and I should probably bring my gun. I assured him I’d watched that Liam Neeson movie twice, and took notes both times. Since I’m now fully schooled in the art of punching a wolf, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t actually get to see one.

I was probably making a bit too much noise, as I got to chop all the rounds that Gene cut for me after dropping the trees. I discovered I’m excellent at making kindling, but sadly not on purpose. Occasionally I’d miss the log completely and bury the ax blade to the hilt in the ice, other times I’d miss with the blade but take a direct hit on the handle. F-bombs were plentiful, which is why we didn’t see so much as a Jaybird.

But yay for kindling!

Ahhhhh, February

As I look outside at the fresh 10″ of snow, I’ve come to a realization. I tend to go a bit cray cray around this time of the year. Every time I find myself looking out the window, even if it’s at something totally cute like a puffed up Jaybird or a happily munching deer, in my mind I’m seeing butterflies hovering around daisies and fat bumble bees buzzing across the green grass towards bright yellow sunflowers.

Then the snow plow goes by with a tremendous screech and it’s back to winter again. Sigh. I’ve found recharging in the sunbeam that hits the couch helps, although I learned the hard way it’s best done when Gene’s home so a five-minute break doesn’t turn into a 3-hour nap and an almost-missed deadline.

A little retail therapy doesn’t hurt, either, in the form of seeds. For Valentine’s Day Gene let me place my seed order without supervision, so I’m impatiently waiting for orders from no less than 5 of the nation’s finest nurseries to arrive. I’ve also been adding to Gene’s spring to-do list, which is currently topped with “build Monarch habitat for lovely wife who never asks for much”.

Now I’m not one to air drama on the Internet, but I’m mightily displeased at the direction my Save The Monarchs project is taking. My grand plans have been downgraded as follows: Monarch hatching facility → building → structure → large screened in box. And Gene walked past my latest set of sketches muttering something about “no benches in the box.” Marriage is all about compromise, so if he promises to build me a bench inside it, I’ll quit pestering him to make it recline.

In other news, I haven’t been headbutted into the barn wall by the baby goat lately. But before I let my ego get *too* puffed up, it’s largely because I slam the stall door in her face before she can follow Cocoa into the milking area. Milking is pain free, but nowhere near relaxing. It’s hard to be present in the moment when there’s a raging goat on the other side of the wall, making her displeasure known to all who reside within a three-mile radius. Plus, she’s like dolphin-level smart. I have to open the stall door to close the outer barn door, and she gives me this “I’m so cute, don’t you want to pet me?” look and then she’ll just stand there while I close up the gates. Then I turn around, and at the exact moment I realize she’s between me and the other door – she charges. She’s like that kid from The Omen, only pointier. I’ve taken to Googling “Is goat bacon a thing”.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (is in short supply around here)

I used to really enjoy milking. I’d look forward to it – leaning my head against Cocoa’s soft back, feeling her breathe and the listening to the milk splashing into the jug. She has a very pleasing scent, considering she’s a goat. Kind of like a mix of hay and cinnamon. Plus, now that the milking station is inside and out of the wind, it’s downright toasty in the barn. So milking used to be my favorite chore.

No doubt you’ve picked up on the past tense. Cocoa’s daughter Mocha has decided to declare war. On me. It partly has to do with the configuration of the milking station – Cocoa is up on the platform, so she has access to both the top of the hay feeder (where she can shove her entire head into the flake), and she has her own bucket of grain.

The platform is up against the stall wall, so unfortunately milking Cocoa also means I’m standing between Mocha and the most delicious food any goat has ever had. Despite the fact that she’s got the same exact grain in her own food dish, the whole situation is no bueno as far as Mocha is concerned.

Her horns are pointy, and she likes to aim for my knees – probably because they’re conveniently at her head level. Or worse, she’ll rear up and go for a much bigger target. She’s a fat little thing, and she has some heft. I daresay she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s even taken to hiding under the milking platform, and suddenly erupting from her cave like one of those creepy moray eels in every underwater nature documentary ever. She thinks it’s grand sport to try and ram me when I’m carrying both milking containers and can’t fight her off without spilling them.

Gene says I should just shut her in the other stall while I milk Cocoa, but that seems like the equivalent of caving in and buying your kid the Snickers bar in the checkout line. It solves the immediate problem, but doesn’t address the underlying issue. My first strategy was reasoning with her, which generally took the form of me braying, “You want some of this? Bring it!” which she, unfortunately, took as an invitation to consider it brung.

Then I decided I had to establish myself as the alpha goat by simply grabbing her by the horns, throwing her to the ground, and pinning her there until she respected my “authoritay”. Great idea in theory. In practice… let’s just say I have to work my way up several Greek letters before reaching Alpha status. Baby steps.

At least the deer like me. I’ve almost got one of the yearlings eating out of scoop, and if I take too long feeding the chickens they’ll practically follow me into the pole barn to remind me they’re starving. Now there’s 11 deer that show up like clockwork, and walking out of the coop to find all of them standing in the driveway staring at me is still a little disconcerting.

I’m really excited for spring, because I happened to look out my office window the other day and see the buck and one of the does getting up to the kind of shenanigans that perpetuate the species, so I’m hoping she’ll feel comfortable enough to bring her fawn to the feeding station. It will no doubt be the most photographed fawn in history.

That’s my buck!!!

I seriously can’t believe how fast time is going right now! … and that’s my excuse for having a month in between posts 😉 I wish I could say it’s because I was catching up on Law & Order reruns… but my writing job is almost full time now, and there’s only so much typing I can do at once. Plus, you know, Law & Order is on.

I am glad hunting season is over though, it was a traumatic time for me. It all started when I noticed that the jaybirds and chickadees were looking particularly hungry, and they’re all poofed out and cold. So in addition to their morning peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet buffet, I started putting out dried corn. Then a mama deer and her tiny baby started coming by… so I convinced Gene to buy a bag of deer feed.

Fast forward a month, and now I’m responsible for a breakfast, mid-day, dinner, and evening food service for a herd of 9 adorable deer. Even a pheasant showed up one morning! (On a side note, Gene said if I don’t quit going through a bag of deer feed every 3 days I have to get another part time job).

The problem is I’ve gotten what some might call “attached”. They know me, they barely move when they see me walking to their feeding spot with two bright pink scoops of food, and I can walk within 10 feet of them. Which is actually a little scary, being surrounded by that many deer so close. And when I turn my back they creep up and start Hoovering the feed, so if I turned around I could probably pet one. One of the younger males has even started making puffing noises if I don’t get there fast enough. I hope he doesn’t start stamping his hoof, I don’t think I could run with two full scoops.

Anyway, during hunting season, every single gunshot I heard made me worry about my deer. Specifically, my buck. He’s a beautiful 4-point, which apparently they call an 9-point out here. Gene got rather tired of me roaring, “That better not have been my buck!” every time a shot rang out. And he told me I’m not allowed to talk about it in public, especially around people wearing orange.

But in my defense, we did just send Porkahantus and Chief Big Ham to freezer camp so I’ve been feeling extra protective lately. I am proud of myself though, I helped with the butchering! Not the sad, loud part of course, but I did get to use a bone saw for the first time. I didn’t realize that Gene and our friend Alan would team lift an entire half hog into the house, then thump it down on the kitchen table (note to self: need bigger table), but I handled it well. I only almost threw up once!

Now that the piggies have transitioned to a higher plane of existence, the goats have moved into the barn for the winter. They roam their pasture during the day, but we lock them in at night where it’s warmer. Which, of course, necessitated some redecorating. I convinced Gene that in order to feel fulfilled, Cocoa and Mocha needed some climbing equipment. I sketched out some grand plans, but he opted for two huge wooden spools. I have to say, the spools were a hit. As was the indoor milking station he built for me. I love the outdoor one, but it gets a little chilly with that wind blowing, and after the 19th time Cocoa kicked over the milk bucket I took the hint and added it to Gene’s to-do list. Both Cocoa and I are much happier milking in the barn.

The weather here has been crazy. We had our first blizzard, which coincided with our first power out. I was sitting at the computer, working on some dating advice that the world needs to know, and suddenly – darkness. Now if you’ll recall, I got through the Dark Days just fine, even when I was without power for 4 straight days. But apparently it left me with PTSD because I actually shrieked. At least it was only for 5 hours this time…

We’re being invaded!

There’s no denying the weather is beautiful. Crisp air, leaves turning a rainbow of colors, and almost-freezing temps at night. Which, apparently, mice don’t like. My first inkling there was An Issue was when I woke up and stumbled toward the coffee maker one fine morning, only to find three of our four cats lined up in front of the stove, staring intently underneath it.

Then they started staring under the couch. And the table. And the other couch. Until one night, Wesson comes trotting proudly down the hallway with what we thought was one of his toys until he dropped it and it went rampaging down the hall and disappeared somewhere in my office. Sigh. Someone missed a memo, because I don’t do mice.

Gene has set traps everywhere and gleefully announces his kill count every time he hears one snap. He even had to set some in my car, blaming my habit of leaving my bag of work snacks in the front seat. Since I only work in the city two afternoons a week, the bag just kind of sits there, apparently smelling delicious. Who knew mice would climb through an air vent just to eat trail mix? So foul. At least I discovered the evidence before I stuck my hand in the bag. Shudder. I mean, it’s trail mix. Half of it looks like mouse leavings anyway. I’m kinda off trail mix right now, actually.

At any rate, after trapping 5(!) mice in my car, I’m seeing them everywhere I look. Whether they’re there or not. An innocuous beet just chilling on the counter got me screaming, and I hold my breath every time I open a cabinet. After having a mini-meltdown in the pest control aisle of the hardware store, the employees assured me that everyone has this problem in the fall. Which oddly enough doesn’t make me feel one bit better. It just means there’s a lot of mice out there roaming around.

In far happier critter news, we got a rooster! I wanted to get a guardian for the flock since we free range them as much as possible, and roosters are great for sounding alarms. After asking around for a few weeks, I found someone with an extra Rhode Island Red roo, and Bessie and I went to pick him up while she was here for her yearly fall visit (yes, she got to see a mouse. I was not thrilled to learn they’re downstairs, too.)

Midas fit right in with the ladies, and already has his harem of favorites picked out. He’s a really sweet rooster, unlike Sean Paul from back in the day. I don’t feel the need to carry a shovel and watch my six when Midas is around. His favorite thing to do is find treats, then call all the hens over to have some. He’ll even pick up little bits of corn and drop them in front of a hen! It’s really cute.

It’s hysterical to watch them all chase the frogs and toads. Apparently those are good eats if you’re a chicken, and all 18 of them will tear around the yard trying to catch one. I feel bad for the poor amphibians, they’ve always been near the top of my list of favorite wildlife. I save them when I can, and look away when I can’t.

Who knew we had all this space?

If there’s anything I would change about the house we bought, it’s the cabinets. Don’t get me wrong – they’re beautiful. Solid wood, amazing construction, built by hand to last forever. Also built before “family size” was a thing. Each shelf is only 8 inches tall, so good luck trying to fit the 50-lbs of nutmeg I just bought at Costco. Which was a very good price, by the way. (Apologies if you’re not a Simpsons fan and missed the reference.)

At any rate, we had a lot of things stored on the counters. A lot. I’m no Martha Stewart by any means, but cluttered counters have always vexed me mightily. The last straw was the 5-gallon water filter contraption that Gene stored on the counter when our water filter pitchers kept dying. It’s two huge white buckets that are like 3 feet tall combined. And that puppy took up a lot of valuable real estate. It’s not that I don’t appreciate delicious water, but having to move it from side to side depending on which upper cabinet I wanted to access got real old, real quick.

I guess Gene finally got tired of me flipping the channel over to “Hoarders,” looking at the counters, and heaving mighty sighs every time he walked in the room, because a few days ago he built me a pantry! It’s got a custom fit cubby for the filter, plus plenty of storage for canisters, boxes, and assorted snacks. I painted the inside the same tropical blue that’s in our bathroom, because I firmly believe all pantries need a pop of color. And I’m definitely enjoying all the new counter space!

I’m glad he’s done with this DIY project, because I’ve already got another one lined up. We were doing the monthly shopping in Virginia the other day, and decided to explore some of the back roads a little. I saw the most magical thing – a fully enclosed cat pagoda in someone’s front yard that was accessed via a plastic pipe leading from the enclosure up to a window! Sure it looked kind of tacky how they’d taped off the window to hold up the pipe, and 8 feet of black plastic tubing hanging out of the house would probably make the collective heads of any HOA board members explode (good thing there’s none of those in a 300-mile radius!) but I know when Gene builds it for me, it will be super chic and incredible looking.

He was quick to point out we don’t have any suitable windows for that sort of thing in the entire house, and didn’t seem enthused when I reminded him how dryers were vented by cutting a hole in the wall and this was just a slightly larger, way more functional version of that. But he’ll come around, I’m sure of it. My only concern is how do you get the cats to use it for the first time?

Our little one, Charlie, tends to be a bit spikey when she’s unsure of a situation, and I can pretty much guarantee shoving her down a dark tube leading to the Great Unknown counts as a “Situation”. Even if I did screech “go towards the light, kitty!!!” while I was doing it. And let’s be honest – it’s gonna have to be a big pipe if Thing 2 uses it. While he’s nowhere near Chunk’s stature (miss you everyday, big boy), there’s a certain diameter, not to mention reinforcing, that’s going to required.

So ya, Gene’s got some planning to do. Especially the part about keeping it heated in the wintertime. But I’m sure he’ll come up with something spectacular!

Fall has arrived… and it’s still August!

Our porch is now monarch free! I actually miss walking past the habitat every day and watching the caterpillars busily munching, but it was a great feeling to watch the last monarch flutter over to the zinnias to dry his wings. Although it quickly turned to panic 45 minutes later when a freak rainstorm blew through and I had to round him up and put him back on the porch until it stopped.

I’m very excited for the next monarch season! Since Gene kept muttering about how much space the habitat took up on the porch, I’ve been drawing up plans for a screened in monarch palace/refuge that will be freestanding in the yard. I’m envisioning an aviary about the size and shape of a few gym lockers, and it’s going to be awesome. I’m sure Gene can’t wait to build it, and have his porch back to normal.

It’s just as well the monarchs have moved on, because I’ve got a new full time job – keeping the hummingbird feeders filled. They are preparing for their fall migration, and drink sugar water at roughly the same rate beer disappears at a frat party. At dusk, 9 of them will swarm around the one by the living room window, all vying for a drinking spot.

We have another feeder right outside the office window, but that one has been claimed by Pong. Named for the ping pong ball he closely resembles, Pong refuses to share.

Sometimes he’ll lurk just around the corner, then ram rival birds off it as soon as they perch. But usually he’ll just sit all day on the rope holding the feeder up and watch me type. We finally bought two feeders for the front yard, so hopefully that will help ensure everyone gets their fill of sugary goodness.

In other bird news – the chickens have started laying! We’re only getting two eggs a day so far, but it’s a start! I’ve taken to keeping them in their enclosure until mid afternoon, then unleashing them for a romp around the yard. That way they’ll get used to laying in the coop, and be safe from predators most of the day.

We unfortunately lost one to an owl; they were all hanging out in their favorite shady spot, and I came out to give them their scratch grains treat. As I was walking up to the woodline, I saw a gray shape flap way up into the trees. My first thought was “Wow, she’s flying pretty good for a chicken.” And then I saw what had happened, sigh. But I’d still rather have them be happy and ranging than safe and cooped up all the time.

The pigs, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind their pasture one bit. They’ve got their pool, a nice clean barn to stay in at night, and all their favorite napping spots. Quite frequently I’ll go out to feed them, and as I get close to the barn I can hear them snoring in the sunshine, in a happy hog pile.