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).


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.

Vaya con Dios, Chunky Monkey

Not going to lie, this is a tough post to write. Chunk passed this morning, and is no doubt drooling on the angels and pestering God for extra Kibbles. It was very unexpected; we had thought he was doing great after his surgery on Monday. But this morning I was writing at my desk, and he was sleeping by my feet. I felt him kind of shudder, so I went to get Gene for help.

Less than 2 minutes later he was gone. But it was fast, and he went out the same way he lived, surrounded by people and critters who love him. I feel like there’s a Chunk-sized hole in my heart, but my life was better for having him in it. If you have a Chunk of your own, give him or her an extra cuddle today.

I’ve made it to the Big Leagues…

I’m still absolutely loving the whole draw knife thing. Gene and I head over several times a week, and there’s something imminently satisfying about seeing a beautiful log taking shape under my hands. Plus, someone’s actually going to be living in a cabin made out of something I helped create!

As much as I love working with the wood, though, my favorite moment so far was when their draft horse Katie came over to check out the action. And by “check out”, I mean she straight snuck up on me. I almost screeched when Gene told me to turn around and she was like 16 inches from my face. I seriously don’t know how I used to be a detective. Katie is like 12 feet tall. Not sure how something that large making zero effort to be quiet got the drop on me. Shameful.

At any rate, I happened to catch a glimpse of my buffed up pythons the other day in the mirror, and it occurred to me that I’m getting paid to work out. Which pretty much makes me a professional athlete. I’m going to have to add that to my business cards… and start making some phone calls RE: endorsement deals. Between my air filter, nerd goggles and trendy t-shirts, I’ve got some primo ad space available.

I’ve even started eating like an athlete. Working out takes calories, so I make sure to pack snacks. Lots of snacks, because I do lots of work. My penchant for planning ahead paid off huge in the form of a happy accident! I had brought along some trail mix, which was mixed with my allergy-friendly $10 bag of chocolate chips. Then I forgot about it for a few days in a black truck. That’s parked in the sun. And it hit 70 the other day.

When Gene brought in the resulting bag of goo and asked me if perhaps I had forgotten something, I had the brilliant idea of smashing the mess into a large disk shape and shoving it in the fridge. And now, after 1+ years of not being able to eat candy bars because I’m allergic to so many of the ingredients, I FINALLY have a treat! I just break off a piece and chow down. It’s not quite the same experience as unwrapping a Snickers bar, but no complaints. It tastes amazing. I’m thinking I’ll market it as the “Andie Bar”, and sell it to loggers.

On a more somber note, we got some bad news today. Chunk had a small bump on his back hip that suddenly got huge, almost overnight, and today at the vet we found out there’s a 99% chance it’s a very aggressive cancer. So he’s scheduled for emergency surgery on Monday morning, since no vets in the area work weekends. I know a lot of you have been on the receiving end of some Chunk loving, whether you wanted it or not, so please send some positive thoughts his way. He’s a fine, big, strong kitty, and I’m a huge believer that the power of positive thinking makes a real difference. I’m sure he’ll be back in no time to drooling all over your shirt when you pet him, and stealing your chair when you pull it out from the kitchen table (because obviously you’re offering him a seat…)

So many deer!!!!

One of the things I love best about living here is all the wildlife. Even Mr. Waddles. When he’s not backing up and shaking his money maker, skunks are awfully cute. Snowshoe rabbits, chipmunks, normal squirrels, flying squirrels… everywhere you look there’s something amazing to see. Although I’ll have to admit I emitted a fairly loud yelp the first time I ever saw a flying squirrel. I was sitting next to the window, enjoying an adult beverage and watching Project Runway, when all of a sudden a flying squirrel hit the bird feeder hanging right outside with a huge bang. They only come out after dark, and they’re huge. Big eyes, bushy tails… fun to watch when you’re expecting to see them. Not so much when they take you by surprise.

When it got cold out, we hung up a bunch of bird feeders. Apparently word spread quickly, because now we’re operating a 24-hour, All-You-Can-Eat diner. Sunflower seeds are the best seller, followed closely by suet blocks. I had no idea the Northland was populated mostly by woodpeckers. There are hundreds of them. Literally hundreds. And now that it’s spring, they’re all claiming their territory by pounding on things. Luckily for them they’re super cute, and aren’t attacking the house. They attack the suet blocks instead.

So first came the birds, then came the deer. When it was -50 out, Gene wanted to make sure the herd stayed healthy enough for him to shoot one or two come hunting season. (While I disagree wholeheartedly with that last part, I’m all about keeping the herd happy). So now I start my day by scattering corn and deer grain and filling the bird feeders. I put peanuts out for the Jay birds, and god help me if I don’t get those peanuts out by day break. I was late one day, and woke up to the loudest screeching I’ve ever heard. I looked out the kitchen window, and there were about 30 angry Jays perched in the pine tree, yowling about the terrible lack of service.

To forestall anymore avian complaining, I make sure to stock all the feeders come morning. And the deers have adapted to the schedule; they show up like clock work. Without fail, just after sunrise, I’ll look out the window to see the younger deers come bounding happily down the driveway, making a beeline for breakfast. The adults come at a more dignified pace, and they all hang out until the feed is gone. Then they come back at dinnertime. So far the record is nine at one time. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep them out of my garden, maybe by putting so much feed down they won’t be hungry for delicious fresh veggies?