Monday, December 16, 2013

A Lovecraftian Christmas

This won't be a long blog post.  You see, I am descending into madness.

There is an evil witch haunting me.  I let her hang around last year--the infamous Weather Witch.  She was my friend, actually, and we cheered on every single opportunity for snow.  I gave her up when I moved to the country.  See, I thought I ought to be more respectful of the weather.  I didn't know that behind the cute fur-trimmed parka lay a loathsome beast which knew my name.

So, the spring was an odd one.  Super hot one day, cool the next, and wet after that.  And sometimes, it was even all in one day.  The summer was even weirder--cool enough that plants grew slowly, wet enough that what grew redefined the term, and cloudy enough that the sun didn't help ripen much.

At least, that was the case in my garden.  Apparently, everyone else had nice tomatoes, and healthy corn, and a great crop of pumpkins.  Oh well, right?

And then the fall...where we alternated between cracked earth and thick gloppy mud.  And days of incredible heat.  And then the several days of snow.

The Weather Witch's tentacles are emerging.  She's preparing to trap me on the farm.  I just know it.  The last two weekends are just a taste of what she has in store for me.  Cars trapped in the ice, an inaccessible driveway, sheets of ice sliding off the roof.  Snow, then ice, then freezing temps, then a bit of sun to make a nice soupy mix, and then freezing temps again.  I go out to clear this or that, or dig out a tunnel... and I hear her breaking ice in the woods.  Maybe I just missed seeing the squirrel or a deer, but the slithering sound is NOT ice melting down the branches.  The footprints are suspicious...
Those are cloven hooves!  Not deer!

And then I make it into town, and the roads are clear, and what snow I see clings desperately to a few shady lawns.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  No scary winged creatures sitting in the trees, calling to me.  No ice tunnels under the path I walk, waiting to drag me to the underworld.  No odd drafts where there should be nothing, or loud skittering behind the walls.  (How could those be mice?--there are two cats and a dog!)

She's here, and she's coming for me.  She wants me to go all R-E-D-R-U-M.  The rage cannot be expended on battling ice, or cleaning.  She keeps tempting me to explore new buildings, looking for sleds or shovels or towing cables... and then I come upon the scythe, or heavy duty chains, and even the hand saws.  

Right now, I hear the incessant dripping of ice on the roof.  Drip, drip drip, drip, drip, drip drip.  The clicking of the heating system.  Click, click click, click click.  The never ending honking of the geese.  I hate them.

Must get out.  Must go hike through the woods to find my car.  Must get out.

She's coming for me.  But first I better go into the shed to look for a bigger shovel.

[satire.  look it up.]

Monday, December 9, 2013

Idiot's Guide to Winter

Hey there, City Kitty!  Welcome to the country!  Glad to have you here-- I know you're eagerly looking forward to pretty white fields, and icy ponds, and the quiet solitude to appreciate the sound of ice melting and the single snap of a dead twig in the forest.  I just wanted to let you know that there might be a bit more to winter weather than that.

Oh, you got a generator?  Smart move!  So many people never think about a generator until they need it.  You are ahead of the curve, what with the snow and ice coming.

It's still in the box?  Well, that can be remedied without too much trouble, although it really is a good idea to know where it will be set up and how far it'll be from the house.

You don't have a transfer cable yet.  Hmmm.  Okay, you have some work to do.

I know the forecast is for only 1-3 inches of snow.  (bark of laughter)  Honey, I'll let you in on a secret.  You are in the mountains now.  So, don't believe what the forecasters tell you.

Yes, you are in the mountains now.

Yes, you are.  Look out that window.  See the peaks there, where you can see that they are already white?

Oh, you did notice that?  Yeah, I suppose it is kinda pretty.  But it means that whatever you think is gonna happen will be worse right here.


No, I am not going to take you on a snipe hunt next.  

Okay, please stop interrupting.  Whatever they predict for this part of the county, you need to expect the high end, and then a bit more.  Rain, snow, wind, whatever.

Yeah, you've been in the county for twelve years.  Good for you.  You were in the central part, as in, the part that is not in the mountains.  So, preparing for 1-3 inches of snow in the 'burg is no big deal, even with some freezing rain after.  Here, make it the worst case scenario.

Look, you cannot walk to the corner store if you need something!  You cannot walk a few measly steps to visit a neighbor.  You have a freaking mountain as part of your driveway-- you have to maintain constant vigilance! 

(Sigh)  Yes, that was a HP quote, and your driveway doesn't have a literal mountain.  Are you the only one allowed to exaggerate?

Okay, look, City Kitty.  Lemme break it down for you, and stop interrupting!

First, don't park your car where you won't be able to move it out.  Icy hills are not the friend of your cute little city car.

Second, don't assume the county will be out to plow your road any time soon.  A farmer will beat them to it, but they'll do it on their own time.

Tin roof-- great for the country.  It also collects snow and ice.  And then it slides down.  And falls.  Don't bother digging charming paths there.  Stay the hell away from where it falls unless you want to die.  

Don't assume you'll only be trapped for a day.  Prepare for three.  It's called being prepared, remember?  And that means, since you are still insisting on drinking your fancy store-bought spring water, that you need to buy more than five gallons.

Last, stop trying to look cute.  Seriously.  No one cares if your new 3-layer winter coat has been properly accessorized.  And your cute little fuzzy boots?  They are not waterproof.  If you are attempting to free a car from snow/ice/slush, mud will find you.

You're welcome.  Advice is free.  But just you wait 'til winter hits.

And get your stinkin' generator set up before you need it.

[We just got like 6 inches of snow, followed by a steady freezing rain, all in freezing temps.  And more snow tomorrow.  I've spent the last 24 hours smacking my head with my hand-- I was woefully unprepared.  Hopefully, I've learned a lesson.]

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Unexpected Posting

As I was driving around most of the day, I was trying to decide which of many subjects to tackle for today's post.  Thanksgiving?  Visitors?  The mysterious brunette who invaded the farmhouse oh-so-briefly and wrecked havoc?

And then I came home today after multiple errands and found what remained of Gandalf.  Alas, poor Gandalf is no more.

A four-legged predator captured her in the driveway, killed her, and carried her off.  We found this scene, and I followed a trail of feathers leading off into the woods.  The Boy is heartbroken.  I am sorely disappointed, as Gandalf was the champion egg-layer. I will have to find some more chickens.  But, out of the sadness in the house right now, the marvelously amusing blog I had planned will have to wait until next week.  

And now, we will pay homage to this brave leader and pretty bird, who sacrificed her life to enable Vader and Leia to escape.  I suspect her death was a lot like this...


Monday, November 25, 2013

Bloody Cold

Okay.  Full disclosure here.  I grew up in Texas.  I am a total weenie when it comes to the cold.  I've learned to adapt (sort of) and live with it (complaining all the while, and enduring the mocking from my Alaskan friend) but I grew up in a place where they freaking closed the school system one time because it was too expensive to heat the buildings.

The temps have not gotten above freezing at night recently.  The days were in the high 20s, and once you factored in the wind chill, in the teens.  Bundled up in a drafty farm house, I've felt a little like A Christmas Story'Randy:  "I can't put my arms down!"  And I look about as cute.

Today is a heat wave of up to 36 degrees, so I'm managing with a tank, silk layers, blue jeans, a fleece sweater, and sheep-skin boots.  Inside.  When I go out, I add a cashmere scarf, a wool hat, and a long duster.  Oh, and the matching bronze opera length gloves.  In my defense, there is also some wind today.

This winter has been bloody cold so far.  Even the squirrels have fat rolls!  Yesterday, the Husband went to check on the girls in the morning (23 degrees, thank you!), and we found their water frozen solid.  Oops.  We  purchased a heated chicken water reservoir.  This required extensive rewiring and re-arranging of the coop.  (But you know what?  It is worth it.  LEIA LAID AN EGG!!)  And don't try to lecture me on it technically still being autumn.  I will throw some ice chunks at you.  Because we have ice.  Lots of ice.
Ice from the chicken water dish.
Oh, and my cute bronze leather gloves!
Iced frog pond with heater.
I saw a bird land on the heater
to drink the unfrozen water
at its edge.

The big pond with ice.  Small break at bottom left.
 I've been so cold that when asked to put together a Christmas list, the first two items were sweaters and long sleeve shirts.  And I admit, I couldn't wait.  See, there was a sale at Target with 40% off of some cute sweaters and long sleeve shirts.   (2 and 3)  At the rate I am going, I will be layering the sweaters by the time Christmas hits.  Again with the "I can't put my arms down!"

So, you are probably wondering why I don't just turn up the heat.  Our heating runs on propane.  That means, every so often, a huge truck comes and fills a 500 gallon tank, and we pay about a billion dollars for that.  So, we keep the house around 60 or so during the day, and around 55 at night.  What do I do?  I hang around in the part of the house that has radiant heat in the floor, or I just put on extra layers and force myself to get quite energetic if I want to take them off.  I vacuumed the whole house Saturday morning, and I was free of layers for an entire two hours!

And bed time?  Ha!  I wear my thermal pajamas and then crawl into a bed with flannel sheets, a comforter, a thick fuzzy blanket, and a velvety/fleecy blanket over me.  

Now, I do own a very useful garment called the Couch Potato.  It is basically a very thick fleece sack with long sleeves and little elastic bands at the bottom for my feet to stick out of.  It zips from the high collar down to about my knees.  It isn't really attractive.  I look like a waddling amoeba in purple.  I mention this because I have been resisting it so far.  I keep thinking I can get by with lots of layers over my lined jeans.  But I know it is coming.  And I am thankful to have it in reserve.

Just wait 'til I have to pull out the Dog.  But that is another post altogether.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Animals on the Farm

"All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."
-George Orwell, Animal Farm

Katt is much improved, and back to being the top cat.  She's regained her attitude, and she's certainly back to catting around.  I watched her bravely stalk a female cardinal... by sitting in a fierce pose and watching it until it flew away.  It's a shame, because that cat has got quite a set of claws.  She was an angel when I took her to get them clipped, but she mauled Wine Friend on Saturday night.  Evil beast... or as he said, "She's a cat."

Amy, on the other hand, is curious and adorable, and a threat to no one but the insane person who walks up to the door.  Then she turns into this fierce, slobbering Cerberus.  Children flee and huge men quaver in fear...until I open the door, and she suddenly becomes the world's most affectionate puppy, her tail wagging so hard her body contorts.  But otherwise?  She came into the chicken coop with me once.  The chickens backed into a corner, and one took a daring fly at Amy...who just kinda turned her head and went back to sniffing chicken poop.  They now ignore her.  Even squirrels don't run away much.

Now, Amy and Katt have finally settled on their pecking order.  They touch noses until Katt swats at Amy.  Katt will approach Amy sleeping on her dog bed and sniff at her until Amy gets up and leaves, at which time Katt settles onto the warm spot left behind.  Katt chases Amy around the kitchen island, her tail lifted in delight as Amy tries to escape with her tail tucked between her legs.  Oh, and this is the worst:  they get fed at the same time, and Katt will eat two bites of her food and then settle just outside the mudroom, watching as Amy finishes scarfing down her own food and then sniffs at Katt's food, at which point Katt saunters in again and forces Amy to slink off.

Ah, good times.

But, it isn't all hissing and scratches and a 70 pound dog scurrying away from a 10 pound cat.  Other times, they seem to be able to ignore each other enough to get along.  Very cute, right?

 In other news, the chickens are pooping and eating and STILL refusing to leave the chicken coop.  I'm getting one egg a day from Gandalf.  I eat two eggs a day for breakfast.  The Boy eats eggs for breakfast, and the Husband likes them as well.  Adding in the occasional need for eggs in baking or cooking dinner, we are about five chickens down in terms of production.  It might be time to add a few more chickens to the mix.  Or, maybe Leia and Vader could find the time between pooping and eating to try laying a little.  Snicker.

Prongs came home on Friday.  I am very pleased to announce that we had some challenges settling him into his new home.  As in, wow, that is a whole lotta packages in the freezer.  We came home with over a 100 pounds of venison, and the loin is as big as a pig loin!  And I can promise, I am pleased to have the meat.  Last night, we ate ground venison in some of the ratatouille I made this summer, when I was swimming in squash and tomatoes.  Amazing to think that most of that meal came from within 100 yards of the house!

And now I am planning the menu for Thanksgiving.  We will have a house full of people for that meal, and I am so excited.  I'll be able to use the butternut squashes from the summer, a local ham, and jars of relishes and sauces that were canned from our own garden.

I am still holding out hope for the Husband to bag Tom.  He's a big guy, and he's been all over the farm.  Turkey hunting is hard, and this guy seems pretty active.  But, he would make a lovely addition to Thanksgiving dinner.  (Way better than the back-up turkey taking up space in the other freezer).

And honestly, I would just love to have another animal in the house.


Monday, November 11, 2013

City Kitty Learns a Lesson

[Warning to other city cats, potentially objectionable content follows.  Country cats, feel free to proceed, and please don't laugh too much.]

Perhaps you are wondering why I'm posting later than usual.  I had planned another cute little entry about what a big old chicken I am, and how chicken the chickens are.  I didn't attempt to push them out into the light of day until Friday, and each day, they have refused to exit.  Elvis has still not left the building.

As my morning began, I had my day planned out.  Feed the Boy breakfast, drop him off at school, make breakfast for myself and enjoy my coffee, and then skip the morning walk since the Husband was hunting, to finally sit down and type out the new entry.

I made the Boy two pieces of cinnamon toast, and one fried egg (harvested yesterday from Gandalf, who is now using one of the nesting boxes).  I fed Amy and Katt.  I put a filter (unbleached, of course) in the coffee machine and was pouring the first scoop of fair-trade certified coffee (ground at home!).


I jumped.  I peered through the window and saw through the bushes beyond the lawn area a blaze orange Yeti walking.  The Boy shrugged and said, "Well, that was a surprise."  I then looked over my shoulder at Amy, who is ANOTHER chicken, and was relieved to see that she didn't hear the gunshot over the crunching of her hippy dog food.  A few minutes passed, and Amy whined to be let out for her morning constitutional.  Unsure how to proceed, I texted the Husband.

Me:  Didja get one?  And can I let Amy out?  
Him:  Maybe Prongs.  Yes, just near house.

I shared the news with the Boy, who said that he was proud of Daddy.  I took Amy to the front door and let her out, and thought about it.  First thought was that I was pleased for Husband, who hadn't had any luck yet this season, and anticipation of being able to cook with ground venison again, after three months without.

Him:  Found him.  He's a big son of a gun.

I took the Boy to school and came home, mostly looking forward to my jalepeno (canned from my own garden, naturally) and egg sandwich and my coffee.  And then came the request for help.  I emptied the truck bed, and then cautiously approached the top of the hill which slopes down to the upper pasture.  I saw Husband over a big object that could only be a deer.  I hollered down to see if he wanted me to drive the truck down.  Even from that distance, I could see the disbelief in his body when he yelled back that I should probably wait awhile.

Fine.  I made breakfast and enjoyed it.  I went out to the chicken coop to check on the girls.  I was considering starting the laundry when I saw him waving me over near the barnyard.

I went and saw Prongs.  I couldn't believe that he was just laying on the sled my husband was hauling.  He still looked so full of life...until I saw the other side of him.  Gulp.  He'd been field dressed.  I was just staring at him, when my Husband gently suggested that I go put on his car coveralls to protect my clothing (pretty blue lounge pants with matching jacket) from blood.

I am not going into all the gory details, or tell you all the things that disturbed my delicate sensibilities.  I simply had a rude awakening.  I love eating the local meats:  venison, the local sheep, goats, chickens and beef.  But I've still been getting it all in little plastic bags.  I've been separated from the reality of how that meat gets on my table.

At one point, I grasped Prongs' foreleg near the shoulder as we were attempting to haul him into the back of the truck.  It could have been one of Amy's legs:  muscular and softly furred.  Except it was cold.  Prongs was dead, and would never break into the hen house again, or lead a couple of does into the yard to munch on the bushes.  I'd never be able to expertly identify which of the three bucks we'd caught on the game cam, because we are down to two.

The Husband asked if I wanted to go to the processor with him.  I've been there several times, picking up all those little plastic bags of venison.  I'd never taken a deer there.  So I went.  They weighed Prongs in at 130 pounds.  He had a 9 point rack (8 normal ones, and another one inch spike beginning.  There were two more tiny spikes, but apparently you don't count those).  The processor began to cut off the rack with a saw, and I had to turn my back.  There are pretty cows there.  I started counting them.
The Husband got my attention, because he needed to know how I wanted the meat.  I turned back, and thankfully the worker had moved on to one of the other deer waiting to be processed.  I watched as he skillfully began to skin the doe.  It was okay to watch, if not fascinating.  But I had to walk away when he turned his attention back to Prongs.

I was quiet on the drive home.  Husband asked if I was okay.  I cracked some jokes:  I'm married to Voldemort!  Looks like Santa was hauling the deer this year!  I'm gonna have to kill off a supporting character on the blog!

It's been an interesting morning.  I'm okay.  I'm glad my eyes are no longer shut so tightly.  But my comfort zone wasn't stretched today.  It was totally breached.  Here I thought I was getting my hands dirty already.  I have my family so accustomed to pure venison that beef tastes weird to us.  I completely support the much-needed reduction in the local deer population.  But then I finally got to see just how a running, jumping, and fascinating animal winds up in my freezer.  I feel like a stupid city girl who might as well go sit out all night with a sack held open, waiting for snipes to crawl in.

Am I happy we'll have venison?  You bet.  Do I wish that I hadn't known Prongs?  Absolutely.  Do I think I am going to have the cajones to actually purchase some chickens for meat and then do what needs to be done?  I doubt it.  Apparently I might be too much of a tender-hearted, overly-sensitive little princess.  I always wondered how small farmers and 4-H kids could raise animals for slaughter, but in an abstract way.  Now I have a tiny bit of understanding.

So, tonight, I will raise a glass (of a medium body red that would totally work with venison) to Prongs, who was a lovely addition to my country adventure, who provided me with plenty of smiles, who will feed us for several months, and who helped teach me a lesson.

Never name your food.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Am Chicken

Last Friday, the stork visited and left behind three bundles of joy.  

Okay, my girlfriend who has chickens came to drop off three chickens.


We did finally finish the coop.  It is kind of a chicken mansion.  Large enough for a dozen chickens at least. Six good size boxes filled with pine shavings.  Two layers of chicken wire buried under fresh earth and going up the walls for safety. A fancy stone ramp at the brand new chicken door.  An entire bale of fresh straw strewn liberally throughout the space.  A beautiful multi-level roosting system with room for several birds.  And new locks and updated latches at the repaired and renovated split door.  The only thing lacking is color TV.

And now we have three chickens.  Who are nesting on the floor in the straw.   And filling their water dish with straw.  And ignoring the roost unless I lift one up.  But at least I got some eggs.

Allow me to introduce the cast of this animal circus.

First, we have Gandalf.  We didn't name her, but I loved the gray and white reference, so we kept it.  Gandalf is molting, and a hard girl to catch.  She is also the leader of this motley crew.
Next, we have Leia and Darth Vader.  They look similar, but one has a black bum, and the other has a white bum.  Ironically, it is Vader who is the easy one to catch.  We are enjoying the birds.  I spent about half an hour with them yesterday, just watching them.  I am surprised by just how much of a mess three girls can make, but being a girl, should I really be surprised?

We have not let the chickens outside yet.  I am a little concerned about the whole free-range thing.  Of course, if you think about it, it would be smarter to go ahead and lose one to a fox/ raccoon/ hawk/ chicken-eating deer before I get attached.  But, I am a chicken.  

My girlfriend gave me some great advice (other than keeping them in their new home for a few days before allowing them to venture outside.)  She suggested opening the door, going inside and showing them the door, and then sitting back with a cup of coffee to see what they do.  I am going to follow this advice.  I will have a big mug of coffee.  Otherwise, I might go chasing them down to beg them to reconsider the great outdoors.... That mug of coffee might just need to be fortified.  

(Pity my son in a few years.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Katt and the Other Kitty

Everyone in the house has been sick except for the dog.  The Husband and the Boy have colds.  I am suffering from allergies exacerbated by the chicken house construction (why oh why didn't I wear a mask when moving all that dirt?).  The Husband is also still suffering from throwing out his back when we were finishing the chicken coop.  And Katt is not well from something we don't understand yet.  And my girlfriend's dog had to have emergency spleen surgery.  Okay, her dog doesn't live here, but it sure seems as though sickness is everywhere.

Lemme tell you about illness in the country.  There is no quick five minutes to the doctor's office when you live out in B.F.E.  It is more like twenty minutes.  Not terrible, but think about last time you were suffering from a cold.  You think, yeah, I can manage to get myself to the doctor's office without killing anyone.  You don't have that option in the country--you have to be well enough to dodge the suicidal deer and raccoons  (Why are there so many raccoons running across the road?!?)  and not turn off the side of the road when you sneeze 8 times in a row.  Or, think about when you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription for a hard-core nasal spray to combat the allergies that have been making your ears pop for two weeks and leaving you gagging from the amount of mucus dripping down your throat.  What do you do when the pharmacy says it'll be an hour?  Do you drive twenty minutes home to wait for twenty minutes and then drive the twenty minutes back?  No.  You spend an hour wandering through the drugstore and packing a shopping cart with all sorts of shit that you never knew you needed because you cannot remember the things you actually might need.

Do I sound a little cranky?  That is to be expected.  Don't get me started on what happens if the Husband's back pain gets so bad that I wonder about whether or not I can get him to the hospital if need be, and remember that there is a narrow twisty staircase to navigate just to get him to the main level.  And wow, if I called an ambulance?  What are they gonna do?  Cut a hole in the building and lower the stretcher out by crane?  The crane that could not possibly get down the gravel driveway without hitting about seventy trees?

And then there is Katt.  Katt was a fairly tough country kitty when we got here.  In the last two weeks, she has suddenly had a personality switch.  She is affectionate, and demanding attention, and always underfoot.  And she paces.  All.The.Time.  She's still eating and drinking.  But her foot slides every once in awhile.  And, unlike most cats, she keeps being underfoot, actually under our feet.  So, I think, I ought to take her to the vet.  OOOO!  Another twenty minute drive over gravel roads with a displeased cat bouncing around the backseat as I attempt to miss the worst of the potholes.  And then the vet thinks that maybe Katt had a stroke, or brain trauma, and that she ought to have blood work and a few other tests done.  Poor Katt.  At least she can still chase Amy when she want to.  But she's no longer the Katt I've grown to enjoy.

I am desperately trying to remember what the City Kitty used to do, other than drive a lot less.  I am haunted by the pretty party clothes and gorgeous and impractical footwear that catch my eye in the closet.  My new ring will likely collect dust with all the other bright and sparkly baubles that go unworn as I miss art shows, spontaneous dinners out, or even hanging out with friends at my favorite bar. 

Going into the bigger town, where I used to live, is about a thirty minute drive with traffic, but mostly on paved roads at least.  But going in to teach a lesson or go to an appointment or visit Costco is suddenly like an outing.  I dress up as much as I can justify.  I add earrings and try new eye makeup. I accessorize with cute scarves and try to remember to change purses so they actually match my outfit.  But, I mentioned driving on gravel and dirt roads?  Your car gets dirty.  Like crazy dirty.  And then you brush up against it as you get out of the car and get a white smear on your clean pretty dress.  Real cute.

You probably wonder if this rant is going anywhere.  It is.

I miss city life.  I feel like Katt, whose personality is changing to fit her new physical limitations.  She cannot see as well, so she stays at home and cuddles with the warm people.  I am throwing myself into making that chicken coop, and baking pizza crust from scratch since no one delivers out here.  I spent all day yesterday in the kitchen, making homemade chicken soup for the boys and canning the last of my peppers, before making that pizza crust.  But I am raging against the change in me.

I recently went to a party that I overdressed for-- I had to carry my high heels into the car so they wouldn't sink into the gravel and mud.  And I bought that crazy town ring.  It is bigger than my thumb.  And I never wear rings.  (Where am I gonna wear it?  To open the chicken coop door?)  Last night, after all day in the kitchen, I decided to go into town at the last minute, so I could sit at a bar and look pretty, and then watch a movie in a climate controlled, bug-free environment.

I am clearly having some adjustment issues.  I ought to learn from Katt's example, but the City Kitty is not as adaptable as Katt is.  I get frustrated and should go for a walk, and commune with nature and appreciate what is around me.  Instead, I dress up and flee into town.

I'll be in town tomorrow.  And I am looking forward to it.

(This clearly isn't over.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mother Nature Is Trying To Kill Me

I've got this great friend who thinks I am totally a City Kitty.  I texted him Friday morning....
Me:  A muther****ing deer hit my car this morning.
WF:  As in walked up and hit it? Or as in committed suicide?  And as always...are you okay?*
Me:   Yeah, this is getting old.  I was driving and then felt a shudder, saw the deer flying across the trunk.  It took out the triangle window, door knob, the spoiler, and ****ed the trunk..  I'm okay.  Shaken and pissed off.
WF:  You need to move back to the city.  Mother Nature is trying to kill you.**
Me:  [Husband]'s shaking his head.
WF:  Am I wrong?  And seriously?  The chicken coop tried to kill him!***

*After years of spotless driving, this last 11 months I've had some vehicular challenges.  
** Interestingly enough, the three car accidents were here... in the country.
***As we attempted to do the last bit of construction on the coop, the Husband threw out his back.  Spent two and a half days heavily medicated and on his back. 

I guess I am a real Country Kitty now--I've been initiated into the Deer Collision Club.  The deer ran off.  And while I hope he's dead (because otherwise he'd be lame and in pain, I mean), I wish he could have died near the road so I could have at least HARVESTED HIS ROADKILL @SS!!!  'CUZ 50-100 POUNDS OF VENISON TOTALLY WOULD'VE MADE UP FOR TOTALING MY CAR!!!  Because, see, this car was a 1996 Saturn.  Bluebook value is between $600-$1200. Bye-bye, Saturn.

Bragging rights?

I am trying to see the bright side of things.  As everyone keeps telling me, I came out unharmed.  The Boy wasn't in the car, where he would have been showered with broken glass.  If I had been driving even a bit slower, the deer would have hit the driver's door rather than the backseat door.  And I was lucky that an off-duty sheriff's deputy happened to drive by almost immediately, and he stopped and helped me.  

(Kinda off topic, but really not:  I am just gonna give a HUGE shout out to the county's sheriff department.  Every single accident, these guys have been so helpful and friendly, and I even had three different deputies stop to offer help after the second accident, when I was just waiting for the tow truck.  These guys are awesome.)

Anyway.  Mother Nature is totally out to get me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sounds In The Rain

(and now for something completely different)

These are the sounds I might hear in the rain
when I walk the fields this morning:
the drip drip drip of individual drops into puddles of standing water;
or the soothing applause of the rain as it meets the treetops
and the soprano hiss as I move beneath the pines;
the percussive patter of the falling rain in the gravel;
or perhaps the calm chirping of two cardinals as they hunker down
into the fading tall grasses, and take startled flight at my approach;
the rustling and snapping of dead wood as a doe abandons
her warm nest among the fallen leaves, flashing a glimpse of white;
and the steady rumble of the water disturbing the surface of the pond
and the splashes of the tiny rivers forming in the earth.

Those are the sounds I might have heard in the rain
as I walked in the fields today
and learned that I am no country girl:
for these are the sounds I did hear in the rain
and noted
when I walked the fields:
the protests of the dead thistle as the dog galloped gleefully along the path;
the steady swishing of my rubber boots
tangling with leaves and grasses
as they carried them along for a noisy ride;
the airplane beginning its descent as it approached the airport thirty miles away;
the occasional hiss of a car passing on the muddy dirt road across the field
and the distant wail of a siren far to the east;
and the noisy buzzing of my cell phone next to my body
as it vibrated a useless notice about the rain.
But mostly, what I heard
was the sharp and incessant tapping of raindrops overhead
as they struck the umbrella,
that I could not convince myself to set aside.

October 10, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hornets and Roofs in a Nutshell

European hornet, lateral viewEuropean hornets pretty much suck.  They are huge, and they are mean as hell when disturbed, and their sting feels like sticking a flaming ice pick through your skin.  Here is a pic I got off the internet.  I chose the one with a pin through its body because I HATE them.

And we had a huge nest in the hollow of a huge old tree in the front yard.

I say had, because one wandered into our house on a cool night and decided that my Husband's pillow was a great place to chill.  He stung the Husband in middle of the night, which necessitated a crazed visit to the ER, which involved waking up the Boy, which made me rage against the next one I found flying lazily around the bedroom the next day.  I employed my best curse words and a lethal application of fly swatter.

And then I got on the internet and found a local exterminator.  Two days later, two charming gentlemen arrived to employed a three-step plan to destroy the nest.  Wham, bam, and suck it, hornets.

BUT.  The thing that kinda sucked more than the actual wasps... is that a bunch of guys came to clean and paint the roofs of the house and corn crib.  And they came the first day after the hornet nest had been powdered with poison.  That means the hornets were pissed off right about then.  And I was pretty sure that getting stung while clinging to the roof of an old farmhouse was NOT in the contract.

I warned the contractor, and even suggested they begin with the corn crib, which is a few hundred yards from the nest.  He gave me a funny little smile and asked where the outdoor faucets were.

I spent three days waiting, just waiting for a howl of agony followed by a shudder on the roof preceding a big thud in the yard.  Every time I heard voices, I paused to make sure that it was a request for more paint/rags/hose and not a "Oh ****, run!"  Three days, when every rattle of the metal roof made me pause to identify the noise as a step and not a body dropping from lethal injections of hornet venom.  Three days fearing for the lives of those swaggering roofers overhead.  I even worried for the exterminator.  

But, I am a worry-wort, really.  My husband got all the bad luck, apparently.  Everyone else was lucky, thank goodness, and had a happy ending.  No one else got stung, the hornets are mostly dead, and the roofs are all shiny and green now. 

I'm thinking that next time, maybe I outghta make sure to check ahead of time before scheduling a hornet nest's destruction, just to make sure that there WON'T be men dangling from the roof at the same time.  But maybe that's just crazy talk.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Prongs and the Chicken Coop

Maybe you remember, Faithful Readers, that we were planning to attempt a chicken coop.  That hasn't been forgotten.  

Apparently, when you are a big old idiot like me, and obstinately determined to renovate an existing structure rather than just buy a nice Amish coop, it takes a lot longer to plan, price and compare materials, forage for usable scraps, scrap your original plan, then hold the second plan, then glean free stuff from the side of the road, and clean that stuff.

So, here is a photo of the old play-set that we'd intended to convert originally.

We figured we clean it up, kill the poison ivy, enclose the main structure, extend the roof down to the balcony area, add a door, a window, and use one of the pre-existing nesting boxes left for us, and we'd be good.  But the roof said otherwise.  See, I love the shingles.  But making a non-leaky roof would have required removing the shingles.  And replacing a roof?  Lazy girl said, not as such.

So, we looked at the other outbuildings.  Country Kitty had told me that all the outbuildings had been used for chickens at some point, but one seemed to be the best choice.  Here is what it looked like before we began.

 There was a lot of work involved, obviously, but the roof only has one leak!  Never mind that the floor was a minefield booby trapped with tunnels dug by Clarence and his entire extended family.  And that a tree was growing almost through the rock foundation.  Or that the back of the building was completely inaccessible due to overgrowth, making the east facing window a complete and utter joke.  Or that the sheer volume of grape vines, wild blackberry, Virginia creeper, and even some poison ivy gave the impression that it was the sole reason the building was still standing.  

Still, it seemed like an easier job to me, to fix an existing chicken coop rather than convert a new building.  So, we began.  We removed all the debris... mostly by transferring it to the other side of the building.  (But we stacked the lumber neatly, and placed the pots carefully on a flat surface.)  After we cleared the floor, we dug it up, filled in Clarence's deepest holes with every big rock we could find, and then leveled it all, raking and removing all the small debris we discovered.

The Husband got out his chainsaw and began removing the worst of the limbs from the tree growing out the foundation.  Armed with a whacking stick (which is different than a web-wand) and a pair of gardening clippers, I began attacking the overgrowth and vines.  I whacked everything in my way with the stick, and clipped only what refused the move.  I truthfully wondered, at the beginning, where one acquires Agent Orange, but then I discovered the true pleasure of the whacking approach.  I highly recommend it to any one in need of some constructive violence.  Upset about creative differences with your spouse?  Not after that!  Frustrated by your child's inability to keep Legos off the floor?  Not now!  Irritated because your hair is growing out and looking less cute than it did even a week ago?  Not even a worry.  (Those are all hypothetical, of course.)

 Anyway, after that, it was cleanup for all the remaining vines clinging, and marveling over the finds.  The skull from a medium sized animal!  An old county road sign.  A license plate from the 1960s.  We made a list of what we needed to plug holes and fill in that blank wall.

Minor cleaning, measuring tapes... and a hugely lucky find of windows and lumber from a free pile at the local farm stand.

I've gleaned some plywood scraps, and have been playing with them, trying to fit them without having to cut much.  (Did I mention I am lazy?)

So, the work is progressing nicely.

But someone is not pleased.   You see, the day before we began clearing, I saw this guy, and watched him wander inside the building.  If you look carefully through the little hatch in the front wall, you will see him. It is his favorite place to spend an afternoon.

This is not creative license.  This is not exaggeration.  He goes in there!  Just yesterday, I was unloading the windows from my truck, making an awful racket, and I opened the top half of the split door and SAW him leaping through the far door to leave.  Look at the bottom right-hand photo in the quad above.  You can see the outline of his body in the dirt.  

Here is what the space looks like after I finished work today.  This photo shows the half the building we are not using.  There is no door attached on that side, so I laid the old door down across the doorway.  Can he still get in if he wants to?  Sure.  But why would he when the path to his favorite nesting area is blocked like this?  

The buck has been named Prongs, and I sure hope he'll keep hanging around the property for another few months.  He'll be welcome in the house, just like the chickens...


Monday, September 23, 2013

Spawn of Turtlezilla

Friday the 13th.  A day of bad luck, and terror by chainsaw.  The world ends, and the unholy creatures crawl out from their lairs to devour the innocent.  Friday the 13th: the day I met Turtlezilla, face to face.  I am grateful that I've lived to tell the tale.

Now, for most of this year, my husband has been setting up his game camera (game cam, for those in the know) all over the farm, just to see what there is and where.  Mostly he was interested in establishing a pattern for the deer over the course of the year.  But one week, way back in May, he set it up down at the pond, just to see what was going on there.

Oh, the goslings were so cute!  Lots of deer, some raccoons, and cute little painted turtles enjoying the sun.  The occasional glimpses of the heron: amazing.  It was also interesting to watch the 4'x8' raft drifting here and there in the pond, tethered by a long rope, but also drifting with the small currents and the wind.

But we also saw this...

What. The. Hell.

It is like a freaking dinosaur crawled out of the ooze and muck from the bottom the pond and ate the world.  This is a snapping turtle, supposedly.  I think it is a radioactive mutation that somehow wound up in a farm in Virginia.

We named it Turtlezilla.  

Turtlezilla quickly became the stuff of legends:
  • "The goslings are gone!  Turtlezilla must have eaten them!"  
  • "Did you hear that big splash?  It must have been Turtlezilla jumping off the raft!" 
  • "No otter this year.  Turtlezilla must have scared them off."  
  • "Wow, the remains of a dead deer.  Turtlezilla must have got him."  
  • "Don't let Amy near the pond!  Turtlezilla might eat her!" 
  • "Don't let the Boy near the pond!  Turtlezilla might eat him!"

The Husband was concerned, obviously, especially when other shots showed more than a few large turtles.  So he emailed the local CPO (Conservation Police Officer, which is code for game warden) with the photo above, asking if he could recommend anyone who deals with turtles.

See, here is the deal about snapping turtles.  They pretty much have no natural predators once they reach a certain size.  And their bites can do severe damage.  They usually only bite humans (or dogs) when they are out of water, and feel threatened.  However, while they are scavengers who will eat plant or animal matter, they are also active hunters, who will dine on other reptiles, fish, birds, and small mammals.  ( Click this link if you want a brief overview of snapping turtles.

And now enters the hero of this story:  Luke Hoge, Turtle Hunter.

Luke showed up and I took him down to the pond.  We explored the paths, and then he set up a handful of traps and promised to come back on Friday.  Friday, the 13th.

I take one to two walks around the property every day.  The first evening of the traps, I could tell immediately that one had caught something.  The bobber, (in this case a gallon size jug) was BOUNCING in the water.  BOUNCING.  

Luke returned on Friday around noon.  I asked if I could tag along when he went to check his traps.  He's a nice, friendly guy, and he seemed pleasantly surprised, if not amused, that I asked, but he was willing enough to have a dumb city girl who wore knee high boots tag along.  I grabbed my phone and took off after his truck.  (And I should note here, and there really isn't an actual road to the pond.  He widened our walking paths beautifully.)

He parked and hauled in the first trap, which was attached to the raft.  Nothing...  He waded out into the pond, armed only with a pair of gloves, and hauled in the second trap.  And I squealed like a little girl.  He'd caught not one, not two, but THREE turtles.  Two HUGE snapping turtles and a painted turtle.

For reference, that itty bitty little painted turtle, was actually about 6 inches long.  The larger of the two snapping turtles was about triple that.  He was two feet,and longer than that when you add in that monster tail and huge snapping beak.  Luke guessed that this guy was probably about 60 years old.  (I have no idea how to tell how old a turtle is.)  The female was maybe 14 inches?  He kept the two snapping turtles and released the poor painted turtle, who was trapped with two hostile animals who could not stop hissing and lunging at each other.

These are scary creatures!  Their beaks were lethal looking.  Their claws were over an inch!  And they were fearless.  Luke had to keep twisting to avoid their head and the nails.  He let me snap the pictures, and then he tossed them into the back of his truck.

Luke checked the last trap.  Two more big snapping turtles, a male and a female.  The male was not quite as large as the first guy, maybe 2-3 inches shorter.  The female was the smallest of the four.  Luke estimated her at around 9-10 inches.  They were tossed into the truck as well.

As Luke began to pack his equipment, I asked a ton of questions, which he was willing enough to answer.  Turtles have to be a minimum of 11 inches to harvest for meat.  (He planned to re-locate the smallest female.)  The oldest turtle he's ever harvested was about a 150 years old.  (Wow.)  He says they taste kinda like the dark meat on a turkey.  The hatchlings (which are vulnerable to predators) are about the size of a quarter, and they have a 10-20% survival rate.  He also said that if the turtle is in the water, there is usually no danger.  They'll mostly just slink down into the mud and keep their distance from humans and dogs.

As we finished talking, we heard an odd sound.  I followed Luke to the back of his truck, and I kid you not... One of the males was making a break for it.  He'd managed to climb up the tailgate and was preparing to jump.  

We stood back and just watched.  (Seriously, did you click on the first link?  Look at the picture of that beak, the claws.)  He jumped, tumbled over, and began making a run for the pond.  (Well, as fast as he could.  He IS still just a turtle).  Luke grabbed his tail and got him back in the truck.

So, the temperatures are already declining, and yet Luke managed to capture four good-size snapping turtles in just under 48 hours.  He believes that we've got a great habitat for them, and we are sure to have more adults.  The pond is just under a half-acre, so it is possible, especially with several other ponds nearby.

Now, I have spent a lot of time comparing the photos.  Granted, I never did get a tape-measure out while Luke had them here.  And I only have that one grainy game-cam photo of Turtlezilla.  But, based on the dimensions of that raft, and some measuring of the original images, I think the big guy we caught is not Turtlezilla.  I don't think Luke caught him.  I think Turtlezilla is still there.  

We haven't seen the last of Turtlezilla.  And he knows we came after him.

[Acknowledgment:  Notes were taken during my interview of Luke Hoge, but I was standing out next to a pond, typing his answers into my Crackberry.  I attempted to double check what I recorded by verifying information on the web, and I feel reasonably confident that I relayed the information he gave me correctly.  BUT.  If I didn't, then the mistakes are all mine, and not Luke's.  Same goes with the measurements.  I tried to record what he told me, but I may have screwed those up as well.  If any of you are super computer nerds and want access to the original images so you can prove me wrong, then leave a comment.  Lastly, Luke was amazingly polite and also pretty damn funny.  I would happily recommend him to any locals who suspect they have a snapping turtle problem.  If you would like his contact information, then contact me.  Here is a video of him working his magic.]

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Am Clarence

Hi.  My name is Clarence.  I own a farm in Virginia.  I'm a big guy.  How big, you say?  Well, the other day, I was sitting on the compost heap, and I heard a human, a female human, scream, "Holey S**t!  There's a bear cub over there!"

That's an odd human.  She comes out to feed me from a ceramic bucket, but it is never the same food.  I like the slightly rotten tomatoes.  I ignore the crumpled egg shells, and am not fond of the coffee grounds.  One day she gave me a whole head of slimy lettuce.  I just sat basking in the sun and nibbled it from the leaves all the way down to the stem.  Yum.  The best was when she tossed out two overripe spaghetti squashes.  I am ashamed to admit, I devoured them both at one sitting.

As I was saying, that human, she is odd.  She wears a funny leaf or something over her head, sometimes brown, sometimes, black, and sometimes blue and green.  And she wears these weird rubbery things on her feet.  Those look like they'd be tough to chew.  And, though she comes out to feed me every day or so, other times I hear her calling the black furry barking dog to chase me.

I thought she was amusing at first, the human.  Once, I was watching one of my females with our twins, and the human started barking at them.  Seriously.  She barked, and she sounded fierce.  My family scattered, and the human's companions all laughed.  Now that the human has her dog here all the time, I know who she learned from.  I didn't think humans were smart enough to learn animal languages.

I have tunnels everywhere.  I have quite a network, although my favorite door is in that compost heap.  But the human and her male seem intent on finding me.  They actually set up a camera to try to find me.  Ha!  As if they could find my holes.  You can only find one of my holes if you step in one, but more on that later.  The camera.  They set it up all over my farm.  At first, I carefully sneaked under the camera and ate the female's vegetables.  That game got old.  So then, I decided to just ignore it, and go about my business as usual.

One day, as the camera was making those tiny little noises, snapping me as I walked by, it hit me.  Maybe it would be more fun to photo bomb the camera.  So, I took a big bite of leaf, stood up on my back legs, and started chewing.  I did it a couple of times.  I wanted to show it my bum, but I am too short.  But that gave me the next idea.  I could get my animal friends to photo-bomb as well!  Whenever I saw the camera, I would tell everyone where it was!  What a great idea!  We got to work.

Yeah, good times.  The buck tried to do the photo bomb, but he wound up mooning the camera instead.  Show-off.

However, all good things come to an end.  The female got her male to set up a gun and shoot it.  He shot at paper, which I think is pretty odd, but I know what happens next.

So, I laid a trap.  In one of my outbuildings, I have an old network of holes and tunnels coming up into the floor.  The female was in there, and I watched her carefully step around the holes.  Then she left to go investigate the outside walls--I think she was considering the building for a chicken-coop.  While she was gone, I connected two holes together just for her...inches under the ground.  I mean, why else would I dig such a shallow tunnel?

Sure enough, she came back.  She stepped around the big holes by the door, and then moved to step between the two connected ones.  One foot down, and the tunnel collapsed, and she screamed as her foot sank into the dirt.  She jumped away, screaming as she ran out.

I just about died laughing.  I wonder what else I can do to provoke that noise again.

I am Clarence.  I am a groundhog.  I am legion.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Before, from the study
It all began with a rose.

The garden just beyond the morning room windows was teaming with plant life, intended and otherwise.  I gazed many times upon the plants and weeds, wondering which was which, but was too busy to get my gloves and boots on and haul myself outdoors.  After all, there were still boxes to unpack, furniture to arrange, and laundry to be washed, folded, and ironed.

The point is that weeding that garden was on the To-Do list, but way at the bottom.  And well, I like to think that green is green, and flowers are flowers.

And then I noticed a pink flower.  It was a rosebud.  I thought, I would love to smell that rose.  After all, Country Kitty wouldn't have planted a modern rose that smells only of the pesticides and fertilizers required to keep it alive.  I decided to go take a look.

The path was no more.  There was waist-high grass and weeds, and some odd flowering plants that were eye-level.  I had no idea what they were, but they were keeping me from the rose.  Defeated, I walked away.  That rose preyed on my mind, however.  What would it smell like?  What would it look like when it opened?  Would it hang around for awhile?

That evening, at dinner, we repeated the increasingly familiar pattern of my son talking too much to eat the food while it was still warm, and then refusing to eat.  It is frustrating, and nothing seems to avoid it other than giving him pizza or hot dogs or hamburgers.  Which I refuse to cook special for him.  So, I was getting increasingly impatient; and, I happened to look over his shoulder and see the pink rosebud peeping through the weeds.

I stood up, and calmly excused myself.  I put away my dinner things, stepped into my garden shoes, pulled on my hat and garden gloves, and blundered in.

I steadily filled a garden waste barrel with clover, various weed grasses, and creeping vines.  I cleared area in the dirt around the peonies, the lilies, and the pond grasses. I yanked all sorts of dandelions and crab grasses from the stone path.  It took me forty-five minutes to make the approach to the bush.  I was too tired and sweaty to remember to sniff the rosebud.

Two more weeding sessions.  I had decided that I would clear the entire garden before I enjoyed that rose.  I made four trips to the compost heap.  I discovered that the eye level plant really was an evil weed whose flowers were about to burst like tiny dandelions.  I dodged spider webs, crawling beetles, and about seventy-two thousand gnats.  I surprised the frogs as I cleared around the pond.  I caught a glimpse, after one of the weeding sessions, of a chipmunk exiting the cleared area, his cheeks bulging with seeds.  I replanted the few bulbs I accidentally pulled up, and I mourned the single paper lantern that I unceremoniously yanked out from behind a stone urn, not recognizing what it was before I pulled.

I finally finished.  I circled the garden a few times, pleased with the results, and frankly thinking that, although the garden now looked a bit nude, it was gorgeous. 

I collected my gardening tools, and the few straggles of weeds already drying sadly in the sunlight that I'd missed when clearing the debris.  I made my approach to that glorious pink rosebud which was on the verge of spreading the top petals by now.  I moved closer, breathing the heady aroma of a real rose.  My nose touched the silky petal.  I inhaled deeply.

And then I sniffed a gnat up my nose.

I think the hummingbirds are bloody lucky that their nostrils are so small.