I don’t remember opening an Old Country Buffet…

The other day, Gene noticed that the baby squirrels don’t nap much on the deck anymore. Instead, they just fall asleep right where the food is. That’s some varsity level gluttony going on.

They’ll sleep there for hours, little paws dangling off the side, fluffy tails blowing in the wind… quite the relaxing vista. Although pretty soon I’m going to have to hang the feeder with a stronger rope.

Chupa, of course, is beside himself with outrage at such blatant displays of laziness. When he’s not howling and raging at them through the window, he’ll put his paws up on the windowsill and stare daggers at them. He positively vibrates, it’s really funny. The squirrels don’t even care anymore. They just sit there and stuff their fuzzy little faces, pausing occasionally to chuck a husk at him.

But squirrels aren’t the only thing getting bigger and fatter around here. The Monarch caterpillars are getting HUGE! Gene pretends like he doesn’t care about my daily updates concerning their width and girth, but I’m sure deep down he’s happy to be indirectly contributing to the Monarch preservation movement.

It’s a tad disconcerting that I can’t tell which end is which… both their heads and their butts sport an impressive pair of antennae. They also don’t seem to move all that much; they’re either camera shy or nocturnal. It’s obvious where they’re chowing down though, and where they’ve been.

Fun Fact: Caterpillars poop a lot! And considering their relative size, it’s an impressively large pellet. I don’t recall that Very Hungry Caterpillar kid’s book imparting that little nugget (heh) of wisdom, so I thought I’d share.

In other developmental news, the pigs have found a fun new game. They’re not content to just ram their water bucket to get my attention. Now if I dare let their food bowl go empty for longer than roughly 30 seconds, they’ll carry it out to the pasture and hide it in the tall grass. They obviously think it’s a grand game, because they race around grunting while I try to find it.

Fun Fact: Pigs also poop a lot! I REALLY regretted not wearing muck boots when I went on the great food bowl hunt. Sigh.

 

How Can Something So Little Eat So Much?

In the last several days, I’ve been having to refill the bird feeders at least twice a day. And every time I glance over at one, there seems to be some manner of squirrel hanging off of them. Usually two or three, in fact. They devour sunflower seeds at an alarming rate, but on the plus side we’ve got wild sunflowers popping up all over the place now. I can’t wait til they bloom!

Besides – they’re adorable. They must have a nest somewhere close, because there are 3 or 4 tiny squirrels rampaging around now. They’re so young they aren’t even afraid of Gene (yet), and one of them let him pet it! Mostly they congregate on the deck, where they flatten themselves out in a most disconcerting manner and take epic sun naps after hitting the trough.

Of course their mere presence drives the dogs nuts, especially Ceri. She would pace in front of the railing for hours if we let her, trying to levitate up there through sheer will power. The adults have gotten used to her, to the point where they’ll fling themselves from tree to tree, about 4 inches from her face right at eye level. Apparently the squirrels of the Northland are jerks like that, because Washington squirrels didn’t participate in such shenanigans. They’re particularly fond of pulling up a chair to the buffet by the window, and gorging themselves while the cats keep tabs on their every movement. It’s actually pretty relaxing to watch them, until Chupa realizes the Squirrel Channel is on and tries to launch himself through the window.

So many butterflies!!!!!!

I have never lived in a place with so many butterflies flying around, so I figured they deserved their own post. So if you’re not into butterflies…. what the heck is wrong with you? Who doesn’t like butterflies?

I’ve even braved tick-infested, knee-high grass in the pasture to stalk a particularly beautiful monarch or yellow swallow tail. Actually, you all should be proud of me. I don’t even freak out that much when I find ticks on my clothes. I just calmly shudder, flick them off, and go about my business. (Not so much ticks in my hair. That’s still a Code 2 emergency worthy of ear piercing shrieks.)

It seems like everywhere I look, there’s a butterfly. They especially like basking in the sun on the gravel driveway, which is all well and good until Ceri spots them. She does love a good chase, but thankfully she has yet to catch one. That would be almost as traumatic as the time I watched an adorable bright green tree frog eat an equally adorable ruby red ladybug. So much vibrant color, mixed with so much tragedy.

Anyway, my ultimate dream is to photograph a yellow swallowtail perching on a white daisy, but they don’t seem to prefer that type of flower. They go more for the lilacs, dandelions, and these pretty little weeds that look like someone dipped a dandelion in bright orange paint.

My friend Jennifer has a huge patch of milkweed that she cultivates specifically for the monarchs, and she let me take home some cuttings with eggs on them! The population of monarchs has seriously declined in the last 15 years or so, so a lot of people are consciously trying to protect the eggs and caterpillars (called “cats”), then releasing the monarchs out into the wild.

And now… I’m one of those people! I’m officially a Monarch Guardian, having hatched out quite a few cats already! I brought home some milkweed cuttings with eggs on them, and put them in a vase of water on our screened in porch. The porch is perfect, because it offers protection from predators, but natural temperature and humidity conditions.

I’m looking at it as a chance to observe first hand the miracle of one of nature’s most spectacular transformations, but Gene’s all, “You’re going to let a bunch of worms crawl around our porch???” I assured him that the cats will stay on the milkweed for about a month, until they crawl up the walls and make their cocoons. So technically, the worms will be suspended above his head until they hatch – and we’re both short, so who cares?

There’s at least 2 feet of wasted space up there, so who better to fill it than hatching monarchs? Once their wings are dried, I can open the door and let them out into the wild blue horizon, and Gene can pry all the dried up cocoons off the rafters once they’ve all flown the coop. It’s a win-win situation!

 

Let loose the hogs!

sun napGene and I spent the afternoon fencing off the pasture for the pigs. They were starting to get used to their barn enclosure, and comfortable enough with me that they now run up for treats whenever I open the gate. So we figured they were ready for the Great Outdoors.

While dodging multiple rainstorms, we fenced off a huge area for them in the pasture. It’s filled with tall grass and clover, with plenty of room to romp. I opened the barn door, and watched as they rampaged through the grass for the first time.

clover pigCutest. Thing. Ever. I had mowed a path around the perimeter of the pasture, and they took great delight in running in circles. Then they started smelling clover and happily digging up roots.

They even played chase with Gene! It reminded me a little bit of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park; the waist high grass would sway in their wake. The non-stop happy grunting totally blew their cover though.

happy pig

Who knew a farm was so much work?

Apologies for the long time between posts! Things have been crazy around here, between getting all the fields ready for planting, then the actual planting, and the mowing. Oh, the mowing. The grass grows unbelievably fast here, and I’m firmly convinced that the longer the grass, the more ticks there are. But on the plus side, I always see a ton of cool things during the 4 hours or so it takes to mow everything.

My favorite so far was a mama snipe and a baby snipe. She was hanging out in the orchard, and not at all happy to see a riding mower invading her space. I wish I could have gotten a better picture, but I didn’t have my good camera with me, and every time I stopped the mower deer flies attacked my head (more on that in a minute). I watched her lead her baby into the brush, and then she came barreling back out at me and tried to get me to “chase” her away from her nesting spot. It would have been adorable, had she not looked so genuinely pissed.

I’ve also seen tons of snakes, toads, and on one memorable occasion a bright green tree frog and a grouse while mowing. I try so hard to make those straight lines like you see in magazines, but sadly our yard looks more like someone mowed after a two-margarita lunch. I blame the toads. I don’t want to stop the mower to wait for them to amble across my path, so I end up just swerving out of their way. Butterflies too. I’ve actually left patches of wildflowers un-mowed, just because they look so joyful flying around them. Add to that the sunflowers that are randomly popping up near the bird feeders that I refuse to mow down, and ya… it looks a little haphazard.

I’m just happy that I finally figured out the mower has a brake. When I asked Gene why he didn’t tell me, he stared at me like I had four heads (I get that look a lot). We have a fairly steep slope in the front that leads down into a creek. I’ve actually had to abandon the mower and go get him to finish that section because I was afraid of losing control and driving straight into it. I’d get going so fast down the hill that I wouldn’t be able to turn the mower fast enough at the bottom. But now that there’s a way to impede my forward momentum, I feel much more in control.

Men want me, women want to be me.

I love being outside, whether I’m mowing or not. Now that I’ve mowed the walking trails, I’ll don my new bug hat, hose down with bug spray, grab my camera, and go on a nature walk. The flies here are unreal. And so very persistent. But I refuse to let them win, and dress accordingly. Gene got me some “tick-b-gone” insect repellent shirts that are eye searingly fluorescent, so ticks show up easily. And I tuck my pants into my socks, which keeps ticks from crawling up my legs (shudder). Although sometimes I forget that I did it, and it takes me an embarrassingly long time at the store to realize why everyone is staring at me. It doesn’t help that I have an affinity for bright pink socks…

I think my favorite thing about living here, despite all the obnoxious bugs, is that every single time I go outside I see something mind blowing. Like a mama deer with a just born fawn, baby robins, or an owl hunting. And lightening bugs! Our front yard looks so festive at night, with twinkling lights flying all over the place.

The other morning, I went outside and was greeted by the strangest grinding noise. It was loud. I couldn’t figure out what it could possibly be, until I looked over at the woodshed, and saw a squirrel gnawing on a piece of deer antler! I’m not sure if he was sharpening his teeth in preparation of defending himself against Chupa, who’s proven to be a mighty hunter, or if he just wanted some extra calcium. But either way it was super cute.

In other news, we got some piglets! I’d like to introduce Chief Big Ham and Porkahantas. Right now they’re in the barn, and tomorrow we’ll be fencing in an area of the pasture that they can roam in. I’m busily trying to win them over with treats, like bread, cucumbers bits, and watermelon. They’re very sweet, and I think once they get used to me they’ll enjoy cuddles.

The dream has died….

dragon's breath

If this guy can grow one… I can can too!

Long time readers may remember my obsession with growing the world’s hottest pepper. Trinidad Scorpion? Check. Fatalli? Check. People keep developing the new world’s hottest pepper, so keeping up is half the fun. Imagine my excitement when I heard tell of “Dragon’s Breath”, a tiny little pepper brand new on the scene that scored a whopping 2.48 million on the Scoville scale. (For all you non-nerds out there, basically Satan would eat that pepper and be crying like a baby).

Sadly, before I could even Google “Dragon’s Breath pepper seeds for sale”, Gene put his foot down. And he doesn’t do that often. In fact, the only time in recent history is when he reminded me that bringing home geese would be tantamount to asking for a divorce. (Probably because I was watching the goslings at the feed store, and telling him how incredibly cute and fuzzy they were).

peppers

Pictured: nowhere near “Weapons Grade”

Apparently he doesn’t believe I’m capable of handling a pepper that can literally kill you if you eat it, and requires storage in a specially sealed container. I said I should be allowed to pursue my dreams, and that if civilization ever breaks down the pepper numbs your skin enough to perform surgery, so it’s a First Aid kit must have. (It was developed for use on people who are allergic to anesthetic – growing it is actually furthering science!!!).

He reminded me of the time I chowed down on a Fatalli pepper and drooled fire for 3 days because I accidentally swapped the “hot” and “mild” pepper labels, and added that I wasn’t ready for that level of responsibility. Sigh. I have to admit, he got me there. I still have flashbacks to that day in the garden, when all I wanted was a snack. I’ll just content myself with growing the Carolina Reaper, which is holding strong at spot #2 on the “World’s Hottest” list.

IMG_4607Pepper drama aside, we’ve been spending the last few days putting the tractor to good use. We finally got the tiller yesterday, so we spent hours prepping our fields for planting. And then we drove over to our friend’s house and did their fields too. And by “we”, I mean “I”. Gene accused me of being a tractor hog. He created a monster when he showed me how to do it. There’s something about the rumble of the engine, the smell of the dirt, the swath of destruction in my wake, and the warm sunshine that’s totally addictive. The only thing I would change is the bugs.

THE BUGS. I can’t even, with the ticks. I took Ceri and Chupi for a walk yesterday, and pulled 2 off her on the trail, then 3 more off her at home! They don’t seem to stick to Chupi, which is good. They do, however, stick to me just fine. There may have been some screeching involved. And a panicked phone call to Gene. Possibly even tears. The thing that gets me the most, apart from the obvious, is the fact that they literally appear out of nowhere. I was sitting at my desk, writing away, when all of a sudden there was burning on my arm and boom – there’s a tick. I had just looked at my arm 30 seconds ago, and no tick. Clearly spontaneous creation is a thing in the Northland.

water bug crop

I seriously wish ticks were this big. No way this fellow is hiding in my undies.

I’ve started to spend an inordinate amount of time checking myself out, actually. Because I constantly feel them crawling on me. The other day I was hanging out with my friend Jennifer in her field, and I felt one crawling up my leg.

She’s all, just take your pants off and check! I must have looked shocked, because she added that folks dropping trou in plain sight doesn’t even warrant a second glance around here. It’s that common. And I have spent a good amount of time wandering the aisles of the grocery store, staring down the front of my shirt, making sure nothing’s moving around down there. Sure enough, no one even bats an eye.

In non-creepy-crawly news, the summer birds have come! We’ve had our hummingbird feeders out for two weeks now, in eager anticipation. And they’re finally here! The first time I saw one I was writing in my office, and heard it bounce off the window (don’t IMG_4601worry, it was fine). I have NEVER lived in a place where birds bounced off windows as much as they do here. Every few minutes there’s a thwack noise from somewhere in the house, and it always leaves behind a feather smear on the window. I was warned that grouse crash through windows with somewhat frightening regularity (the locals call that “dinner”), but for us it’s the song birds. Usually they’re fine, but every once in awhile we’ll find one on the porch, shaking off the stun. We’ll move them to a safer location and after awhile they’ll fly back to the feeders for a post-concussion snack.

Our wardrobe is worth millions!!!

This was a rough weekend, but life rolls on. There’s a sense of emptiness to the house, because I keep expecting to see Chunk hogging the warmest spot in front of the stove or taking up my half of the couch (not that he ever got kicked out of it, I always just sat on the floor). And it’s really weird to be able to pull up the blanket in the middle of the night. 30 pounds of cat made that particular task impossible. But he left behind some wonderful memories.

Today was good because I discovered our wardrobe is worth quite a bit of money indeed. We’re talking major Benjy spinnage. I stumbled on an ad for jeans at Nordstrom’s that have a (and I quote) caked on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty. And here’s the kicker – they cost between $350-600!!! Just think about that for a minute. Some fancy city boy will pay that much money to *look* like he actually made/built/worked with his hands. I’m totally outraged that I have not met that idiot.

Because I would only charge him $299.

There is literally a big pile of money languishing on the basement floor right now (don’t judge, tomorrow is laundry day). And here’s why my product is better than Nordstrom, and I dare say even Neiman Marcus, because they saw muddy jeans were sold out on Nordstrom’s site and hopped on that bus with a quickness. You don’t have to wonder what kind of knock-off, made in China, “mud” you’re really getting on your pants. I can tell you exactly what substance has fouled your fabric.

Want to really impress the ladies with your hard work ethic? I’ve got jeans with snags from bunny claws because I couldn’t get the Wheat Thins out of the box fast enough, and jeans that say “I fell into the hog’s wallow and slipped around for a bit before Gene helped me up”. If it’s mud and rips you’re looking for, I’ve got a pair with one knee torn where a giant turkey bit me. And I was so shocked I fell right into a pile of turkey poo. That’s like two birds, people. That’s the smell of money.

And if you feel the need to look like you know how to run a fence, build a barn, repair a riding lawn mower, chase down a goat through blackberry brambles, or rescue a chick that wandered too far into the woods, Gene can hook you up. Canning, painting, staining, chasing a dog through a sprinkler and slipping in the bright green grass – we’ve got clothes that have lived. I’ve even got a nice pair of khaki dress pants decorated with happy puppy prints, because when I come home from my city job after being gone for four hours and Gene opens the door and yells “Where’s mama???” the dogs totally lose their minds.

Our clothes tell stories. And if your clothes don’t, I can totally hook you up for only $299! Plus shipping and handling, and a small “You need to get out and live your life” processing fee.

What our bathtub almost looked like!

I’m not kidding, I’ll even go down to $250. Because that’s what it cost to get our septic tank pumped this weekend. It all started last week, when I noticed that every time I took a shower, the toilet started to sing me the song of its people. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s that if a toilet starts making any noise other than “flush”, you’re about to whip your checkbook out.

After listening to the toilet gulping air for a few days, it progressed to the throne refusing to do its job. Then the bathtub got into the action – whenever you dumped a bottle of Draino down the toilet and attacked it with a plunger, that’s where everything ended up. (Calgon, take me away indeed). Long story short, after doing some research I learned our septic tank had never been pumped. House was built in 1984… that’s some historic poop geologists would be interested in! Sadly, the septic guy didn’t see it that way and refused to give us a discount.