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,┬áthat’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.

With 80 acres to choose from… you have to go there?

I’ve discovered one downside to having a roving herd of chickens happily roaming the property. Despite having 80 acres to wander, they all seem to end up crammed in my dahlia bed. The one spot of decorative landscaping I’ve poured all my efforts into is being treated like the salad bar at Old Country Buffet.

Sigh. This is why I can’t have anything nice.

I can’t possibly kick them out – they look and sound so happy. The raised bed is packed with a ton of sunflowers and dahlias, so it’s impossible to see them in there. But when I walk past it and hear all the delighted clucks and contented coos, it’s impossible to be mad.

We’ve recently started letting the goats wander outside their pasture, and guess where Cocoa invariably makes a beeline for?

Unlike the chickens, she actually does leave a swath of destruction in her wake, which I discovered the hard way after watching her trying to inhale a 3-foot tall sunflower in the time it took me to get from the gate I’d just opened to grabbing her collar. Then she did her best to mow down a baby sunflower while I was hauling her back to greener pastures.

The pigs also got to check out the yard, although it was wholly unintentional. The latch on the barn is a bit sticky, so when I heard it “thunk”, I mistakenly thought it had latched. About 30 minutes later I was online working when Gene looked out the window and announced the presence of two gleefully rampaging hogs. While they didn’t eat the sunflowers, they did come close to trampling a few.

We let them explore for a bit, but when they started heading into the dense underbrush in the wood line it was time to get them back to their pasture. Easier than said than done. As far as the piggies were concerned, it was game on. We tried everything, from rounding them up with the riding mower (moderately successful) to chasing after them with a long lead MacGyvered into a lasso (less successful) until we finally got them cornered in the pole barn and shut the door.

Never have you heard so much grunting, which quickly turned into indignant pig squawks when Chief Big Ham finally blundered into the loop I’d created and I was able to fashion it into a harness. Gene pulled him into their fenced off area, with Porkahantas following close behind to make sure nothing bad was going to happen to her brother. He kicked up such a fuss that it took a bowlful of treats and 3 buckets of fresh water in his pool to console him. He had a snack then curled up in the cool water for a nap, and all was forgiven.

In other news, another monarch hatched out! Plus we’ve got two more chrysalises on the porch, which should open in another few days. Gene and I were over at our friend’s house yesterday where the milkweed came from, and I was searching under the leaves to see if there was a second wave of eggs yet. I stumbled across the biggest tree frog I’d ever seen, a fat fellow just a bit smaller than the palm of my hand. Gene said he got that big from eating all the monarchs as they hatched, which I guess is a good survival strategy even if it does make me shudder.

The transformation is complete!

I can’t believe it’s been over a week since my last post, and I really can’t believe July is almost over. This summer is going incredibly fast, although you wouldn’t know it from the state of our corn. It still looks like it did a month ago, which is 6 inches tall and resentful. It’s going to take awhile, I think, to get the soil built back up.

But in far less depressing news, the monarch emerged today! I’ve been watching the chrysalis like a hawk, because my friend Jennifer told me they turn black, then translucent, right before it happens. Sure enough, last night the cocoon looked really dark, and then this morning I could see the monarch’s wings inside! I reached in the front door to grab my phone off the kitchen table so I could text a pic to Bess Bess, and guess what happened during the 30 seconds that took me? Ya, I missed the Big Reveal by *this much*.

But even though I missed that part, it’s been fascinating to watch as he gets ready to fly away. At first, his body looked like an anaconda that swallowed a soccer ball. Instead of being long and thin, it was smushed up into a ball. He slowly straightened it out and took on more recognizable proportions, and all afternoon he’s been been flexing his wings and just generally chilling on the porch.

Even better, I have one more chance to watch the process from start to finish, as one of Monstro’s habitat mates has made a chrysalis right in the middle of the porch ceiling! Now I can photograph it from all angles.

All of the critters seem to be actually enjoying the warmer weather. The pigs requested a swimming pool in their pasture, which naturally I obliged.

Every morning I dump 2 or 3 buckets of water into a hollow they made, and as soon as they hear the splash they come stampeding over to lounge about in the mud.

Their favorite way to spend a lazy, hot afternoon is sprawled in the wallow, blowing bubbles with their snouts in the muddy water. It’s really cute (and loud) when they both get going.

The chickens have completely gotten over their hesitation about roaming in wide open spaces, and now I look out the window to find them hanging out by the goats, circling the truck looking for bugs, and cheerfully wandering the long driveway. They’ve claimed a wooded gully right by the woodshed for afternoon siestas, and I’ll find them perched on low branches contentedly watching the world go by. Once they start laying we’ll probably miss a few eggs, but they’re so gleeful about exploring the world I think it’s worth it.

Cocoa and Mocha spend their time napping in the sunshine and browsing clover. Cocoa’s favorite part of the day is milking time, because she gets to snack on grain while I milk her in the morning and evening. My friend Angela came up to visit for the weekend and wanted to learn how to do it, so of course Cocoa picked that exact moment to unleash her hidden-up-until-now stubborn side.

Normally the she’ll waltz right up the ramp and settle in to her grain bucket, and I go about my business with zero issues. But the moment she’s got an audience? Power struggle time.

She kicked the container, stepped in it, or tried to sit down on our hands. Of course my T-Rex arms can’t handle that kind of wide load, but you know what they can do? Take away the grain bucket. She quickly put two and two together, and that ended the milking shenanigans.



Our family is growing!

After slightly more than a year without goats, we’ve finally got some again! I’d forgotten how much I love hearing the noises they make, especially when they realize you’ve got carrots in your hand and you’re walking their way. Gene and I went to pick up a mom/daughter duo from a beautiful farm about 90 minutes south of us, and they’ve really taken to their new surroundings.

We renamed them Cocoa and Mocha, mostly because they’re such a beautiful rich brown color (and the Kardashian clan has forever tainted the name Khloe). They are alpine/nigerian cross, and Cocoa reminds me a lot of Buttercup. Gene built a really cool holding pen out of recycled pallets, and they were quite the hit at the gas station.

We fenced off the other half of the pig’s pasture, so they have half the barn to themselves, and plenty of fresh clover and hay to graze. They’ve been exploring for about 5 hours now, and I don’t think they’ve stopped eating for longer than 30 seconds. They’re like fat kids at a huge candy store, running from one tasty flower to the next because it all looks so good.

Once they’re used to the routine here, we will open up the pasture so they can access all the hay fields. In the winter they’ll move into the pig’s quarters, which is furnished with plenty of heat lamps and cozy places to burrow in the hay. By that time the pigs will be at Freezer Camp, so it’s perfect timing.

In other exciting news, we have our first cocoon! I had built a new milkweed station on the porch, since the caterpillars were munching through the amount of milkweed that a little mason jar could hold way too fast. I dragged in a big black storage cubby and filled it with sand, then buried large mason jars up to the rim and filled them with water. I also covered them with plastic wrap, because I’m pretty sure caterpillars can’t swim. I poked a bunch of milkweed into the jars, then placed a variety of branches perfect for cocooning in the tote as well.

The other day I could only find three caterpillars on the milkweed, and when I pointed it out to Gene, he’s all “one of them is hanging right there” then pointed to the rafters. He said it had been there since that morning, and I demanded to know why he didn’t come running to tell me immediately because that qualifies as News.

The caterpillar had attached itself to the window casing, and was hanging in a J-shape, which is what they do right before spinning the cocoon. I was really excited to watch that process, but since it was hanging there doing literally nothing and I had a deadline, I went into my office for about 45 minutes to work. When I came back out, it was done making its cocoon, and was back to doing nothing but hanging there. I was really bummed that I missed it; apparently it takes less than an hour from start to finish.

Of course the caterpillar picked the worst spot possible in terms of photographic angles and lighting, so it’s really hard to get a good shot of it. I can’t move the habitat that’s right in front of his window because it weighs like 100 pounds now. And I can’t climb up on the couch, because quite frankly that’s a lot to ask of fake plastic rattan. Besides, I’m pretty sure the 3 caterpillars we can’t find are cocooning under it, and I don’t want to disturb them.

I figure in about 10-14 days, I’ll wake up to a porch full of Monarchs, and that will be a happy day indeed. Besides, there are still three smaller caterpillars still in the habitat, so hopefully they will avail themselves of the branches I so thoughtfully found for them.

The only other excitement around here this week takes the form of an unassuming $20 Dust Buster that we’ve managed to convert into a weapon of war. Let me back up a bit, just to complain about mosquitoes. They’re huge, they’re numerous, and apparently their goal in life is to get inside our house. We had rolled up newspapers staged in every room, and I’d finally gotten to the point where I could pretty much sleep through the sounds of battle waging at 2 am.

Not load bearing, apparently.

Not so much a picture falling off the wall and my desk breaking because someone decided to step on it in order to reach a particularly vexing winged blood sucker. (And on a side note, what’s up with that IKEA? Take some pride in your cheap mass produced desks why dontcha. It wasn’t Gene’s fault, it’s yours. Shameful.)

At any rate, something clearly had to be done. And since we had a rebate credit at Menards, what better way to spend it than procuring a WMD? Broomhilda (a fitting name for a warrior indeed) has racked up at least a 100 victims, which we can verify because you can see them still buzzing around the filter bag. Even better, it gives us another full foot of reach, so Gene doesn’t have to clamber up and over the furniture any more. I really think it’s going to come in handy this fall, too, to suck up any flies who make the mistake of thinking our warm cozy nest is an inviting place to spend the winter.

Happy 4th!

It’s hot. There, I said it. Not even the baby squirrels are running around. It was the first almost-90-degree day we’ve had since we moved here, and of course it had to fall on the one day I had “all the yard work” penciled into my schedule. But I was really excited to try out the weed eater my dad gave me over the weekend, because our yard was packed full of waist high monsters.

He had an extra one, so that was cool. Slightly less cool was his response to my asking if I could borrow both of them, because if I had a weed eater for each hand it would take half the time. Time management is important, because I haven’t used one since we got here last year. I broke the one we had in Washington, probably due to my “ehh, it’ll cut through that” philosophy. It’s the same way I tend to operate the mower, which for some totally unrelated reason wouldn’t start today.

I drove down to the Twin Cities to hang out with family and friends for the weekend, and I ended up taking my camera to a local park. It had an amazing lily garden, filled with every variety imaginable. So now I have a new dream in life – cultivate a new lily variety. I have no idea how you do it, or if they’ll even grow in Zone 3a, but I really want to have a flower named after me. And now that Gene refuses to let me grow the World’s Hottest Pepper, I need a new calling.

I’ve been taking my camera out for drives around here, too. The wildflowers are gorgeous, especially the lady slippers. They are Minnesota’s state flower, and tend to favor drainage ditches and low lying areas. Which means you’re doing epic battles with horseflies to find them, but it’s totally worth it. They apparently pop up in the same areas over and over again, one of which is right down the road from my friend Jennifer’s house. She gave me detailed directions on how to find them a couple of times, then finally resorted to tying a piece of pink plastic tape to a tree. Once I finally spotted them, I’m… not sure how I missed them. But whatever, the important thing is I got a great pic!