Yesterday morning, I got a call from the Eau Claire Post Office Dispatch Center, letting me know that my chicks had arrived and I could come fetch them if I wanted them before Monday morning. So, I swung down and brought home a boxful of little, fuzzy, yellow Cornish Crosses. (I ordered the "Frying Pan Special" from McMurrray Hatchery this time around, and hopefully they will be super-healthy and grow fast!) They are very cute, and so much more lazy than my last batch of future laying hens were--they seem to want to sleep, eat, sleep, drink, eat some more, and sleep again. That's it. Must be a nice life for a newly hatched chick! All in all, they are doing well in the new brooder I made out of a rubber stock tank and an old quilt. I think they'll be fine in there for the first week or so in their little rubbery terrarium; by then, the weather should have evened out so I can look at relocating half to the shed and half to the grow out pen. The nice thing about raising chicks in the summer is that their feathers come in very quickly and they grow pretty fast, so at the end of July I should be able to enjoy a whole bunch of fresh chicken. I think my friends who are buying some of this batch will be happy, too.
It is absolutely a gorgeous day outside, one of those June days that makes you remember why it is that you love summer. I spent the entire morning outside, starting with hanging laundry, coordinating a chick pick-up (12 went to their new home in an orchard, lucky girls!), painting a new raised bed surround and bunny barn, and then mowing the entire yard which took a good two hours. I still need to weed-whip, but it got warm and I wanted to finish sewing curtains for the windows of the bunny barn. The rabbits get a lot of light, and they aren't particularly fond of it so I thought, curtains are in order! It was a little tricky to make them, because I needed to line them with plastic as rabbits, particularly the boys, seem to pee all over. It's kind of crazy, actually, how far out of the cage they can pee. Projectile peeing. Who knew? Anyway, it also gave me the opportunity to hang a big box fan in the open half of the dutch door, and introduce the rabbits to a cool breeze on a balmy afternoon. While I was out there, taking pictures and hanging the fan, I got to witness my neighbor's new routine of entering her detached garage. She opened the door, ran through it yelling, banged on a few things, and ran out of the opening retractable door. Ummmm....I don't know if she saw something scary, or if it was a preemptive screeching. In any case, she went back in and came out on her giant lawn tractor to mow her small yard. I opted not to stay outside and enjoy her glaring at me every time she came around the corner. (Can we say, very ready for a privacy screen?) It is too beautiful a day to waste time on grumpy people, so I am going to savor the joy of a project, well done. (The picture, incidentally, is of the finished bunny barn project. Isn't it too cute for words?)
As the privacy screen/partial fence is on hold, pending approval from the Village Board (which apparently only I am subject to, as no one in town whom I have spoken to that has a fence has ever had to get, but I was told I needed--most interesting, don't you think?), I put my mind to other things. One of which was stopping feeling so angry and attacked. I don't think grumpy neighbor can help it, her fear of "different" is so ingrained that it was probably only a matter of time before she reached her self-limiting limit and got mad at somebody. I decided that for my peace of mind, and to produce a written document, I am hiring a pest control expert to come, tour my property, and write up whatever he finds--or doesn't find. He should be able to come next Thursday, and shortly after I'll have a written report to mail to her, with a friendly cover letter, and "cc" copies to the Village Board. (Hah. Take that!)
I also was contemplating my deck in the back, which I love, but has this "unfinished" air about it. Plus, with the current privacy concerns, I thought: I don't want to feel observed when I am trying to lounge and read a book or have a fun evening by the firepit with friends! So, I called my handyman Jack and this morning, he and I built a nifty privacy screen/surround on the two sides of the deck platform that face into the neighbors' yards. I think it looks pretty darn great.
Or, at least, should get their prying, nasty little noses outta my business.
My lovely grumpy old lady (b***h of a) neighbor has opted to not discuss her concerns with me, like an adult, and instead attempted a preemptive manuever to air her grievances about my alleged attracting of a rat to her property to the village powers that be. Ahh yes, how nice. Lucky for me (and unlucky for her) that my good friend just happens to be the beat reporter for the local newspaper who covers the village meetings. Lucky me that my friend snagged her cell phone and called me quick to come down because nasty neighbor-lady was airing her woes. And lucky me that I was home, and was able to attend and address the facts of the matter. Fact #1 being, it was likely not a rat. There is no evidence of a rat, anywhere, nor is there a carcass of a rat, nor is there anything that would be attracting a rat. Fact #2 being that I not only know this because I am NOT STUPID, but I have it on the authority of the ag man from the county extension service. Fact#3, I offered to call a pest control expert, and neighbor-lady refused to take me up on the offer. Fact#4: We only have her word, based on her son's word, that there was a rodent in the first place. And Fact#5, I have been extremely accommodating and careful and considerate to this point, but my patience is wearing thin and seriously, enough slandering is enough. Let's not forget, either, that her conversation (read: yelling tirade over the phone) indicated it was my use of straw that attracted the rat, not the having of chickens or rabbits or dogs or cats on the property. It is also lucky me that at least one or two of the board members appear to have some inkling of sense, and are inclined to not take grumpy neighbor-lady's word as gospel. It is also lucky that one of them happens to be a farmer within the village limits, who agreed with me on the above facts. ((sigh)) I love my neighbors in general, but this particular b***h could just go choke on her own grumpiness and I wouldn't be concerned for her. Harsh much? You betcha.
So what is my solution, gentle readers? As her primary concerns appear to be seeing a "mess" when she looks at my yard (I believe she means my garden, but I'm not sure...she is very vague and just repeats "mess...messs...messss" like a deranged parrot with Tourette's syndrome), I thought I would take away her view. So I called my handyman Jack, and he is coming over tomorrow afternoon to take measurements to install a nice, tidy, tall privacy fence which will block her view of my garden and backyard. I will be checking with the town clerk to clarify any restrictions in said privacy fence, although I believe that there are none given the lack of ordinances in general in this village. You never know, though, so I will be a good doobie and check. I would prefer a nice hedge, but that would take too long to grow...and she would likely think it was untidy. Oh dear, her world must be so stressful, don't you think? Messy messy life everywhere. I am torn between the standard stockade fence, and a prettier one made of trellis panels that I could grow a nice rose across. But to eliminate her view, I am thinking that the dog-panel, stockade-type fence will be just the ticket. I won't even paint it pink in her side. I will, however, be secretly making rude gestures at her from behind it. Nyah nyah nyah. Blech.
In the garden, it is sad but true that you can have too much of a good thing. Take the case of rhubarb: I love it, it is terrific in so many ways, and right now, I have nearly as much of it as I have salad greens. I think I am going to set a new record for sheer number of salads consumed in one week....but I digress. Rhubarb, the wonder plant. Pick it, and it grows three more leaves to replace the one you plucked. Stew it, jam it, chop it, bake it, freeze it and save it for later, rhubarb is pretty darn versatile. After picking both plants to nubbins, I had waaaaaaaay more rhubarb than I needed to make a batch of rhubarb sauce (fantastic on ice cream or a slice of pound cake), so I decided to make a fantastic pie. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb pie. Doesn't the name just make you drool? Trust me, it is seriously good.
Rhubarb Strawberry Crumb Pie
Pastry for a 9-inch pie (frozen is fine)
3 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup flour
Topping: 1/2 cup each flour & brown sugar; 1/4 cup soft butter
Arrange rhubarb & strawberries in unbaked pie shell. Mix sugar, 1/3 cup flour and sour cream. Pour evenly over fruit. For topping, combine 1/2 cup flour & brown sugar and butter. Sift by hand until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of pie.
Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more, until fruit is tender. Chill before serving.
Why oh why have I not posted since last Sunday? Well, it could be that it's been a little wild around here. This past week was my last official work week of the school year, and the start-up week of my new teaching gig for a local university. Both events combined to make a nexus of evil that sucked my will to live for about 24 hours. This was followed by a couple days of frenetic house cleaning (it was raining and I couldn't mow the yard or weed the garden, so I had to face the dirt indoors), which have paid off in a new vacumme cleaner and a more tidy house. I managed to retain the minimum level of dirt that I require to feel sane and non-Martha-esque. The chicks are growing, and have reached the official "pullet stage": They now have real feathers, and are colored up real purty. They look like mini-hens, but still peep when alarmed/happy/eating/curious/pissed off. I have a feeling that their clucks are going to arrive soon. My grown-up hens are doing well, although egg production has been way off which is causing me to suffer. I need my scrambled eggs, or poached eggs, or omelets, or baked goods...in any case, the lack of eggs is causing some mayhem. The new rabbits (one doe and my buck, named Bucky) are doing very well. I think that the two older does may be pregnant--in any case, it appears that rabbit sex was successful for both parties, so I can only wait and see what happens in a few more weeks. I have it marked on the calendar, so I will know when to introduce the nest box (Day 27) and when to expect the kits to arrive (Day 31). One of the does is acting very pregnant--she started ripping fur from her belly, and is eating like kibble is going out of style. The other is acting moody, staring into space and grumbling at me when I reach into her cage to leave some hay. Bucky is bereft without his girlfriends, and keeps muttering at me. Poor guy, no extended honeymoon for him! The garden is growing well, and seems to be keeping ahead of the weeds. If it ever dries up, I'll be able to mow the lawn and do some weed-whipping around here. Right now, it is too damn humid and the grass won't dry, so I can't mow. I'm sure my neighbors are displeased. Ahh, well. They should be used to it by now, and be thankful I don't rent a sheep for the summer.
So far, so good. No rat invasion accusations. No failing of the water pump. One chick did die this morning, but it appears to have been due to a neck injury, not a disease. I did start everyone on a few day's of tetramycin, though, just to be on the safe side. (Dang germs.) Yesterday, I picked up two new rabbits at the animal swap in Fall Creek. They are really pretty meat rabbits: one is a 12 week old Californian doe, the other is a 9 month old New Zealand buck. He's a little on the small side, but he knows his job--and how. Watching rabbit sex is a little alarming. It's over in about 10 seconds, and you know it is done when the boy rabbit stops gyrating, makes this "wheeeee" sound and falls backwards. The girl rabbit just hangs out, with this bored look on her face. (I'm not sure, but this may be a social commentary on the majority of boy-girl relationships, cross-species.) So, after breeding his two new girlfriends (the New Zealand doe who had unexpected kits about a month ago, and the Flemish-NZ cross), everyone got some hay and some water and appeared to relax. Show's over, folks. This weather cannot decide what it wants to be, October or June. I'd be happy with late May at this point. It makes it hard to keep the animals content, where one day it is 90 and the next, barely 55 degrees. And the garden can't decide if it wants to grow, or go back into hibernation. Myself, I'd be happy with summer break, which is planned to start at the end of the work day tomorrow. Then I can dedicate myself to house cleaning, gardening, and relaxing for hours on end. I can hardly wait.
Turns out that my well water is possibly highly acidic, and it ate through the aluminum pump and pipe connecting to the inside water flow in under five years. The well pump guy had never seen anything like it. Nothing like setting a record for $1000-worth of damage.
Yes, I know. It should be the day of rest. It wasn't. Oh no, far from it. Woke up to no water, just a trickle flowing from the faucet after flushing the toilet and brushing my gummy teeth. I had to run down to the BP station and buy bottle water for my chickens. (That's poultry for you, demanding that Evian.) Then, I ran into Rice Lake for a load of pallets that will firm up the walls of the new shed going in, that will eventually house my rabbits. Back home to beg buckets of water from my nice neighbors (the distinction between nice and grumpy will be important soon), and then launching off to do some computer face time to get some homework done. In the middle of a discussion about wave interference and diffraction of sound waves, my phone rang. A check of caller ID revealed it was the woman known as "Grumpy Old Woman" neighbor. She and her late husband earned the title of Grumpy Old Neighbors shortly after I moved in five years ago. The second morning I was here, I was out with my little dog Hannah supervising a morning wee and out came Grumpy Old Man neighbor. He looked my way, and grunted. I called out "oh, good morning!" He replied with "get that lawn mowed". Ummmm....friendly. Things progressed from there, with any interaction involving a remonstrance to (1) fix something about my yard (2) fix something about my house (3) get my dog to shut up or (4) and my favorite, a talk I call "We Have A Problem". Ahh, yes, We Have A Problem. The best way to start a nonconfrontational conversation with your neighbor about something that is worrying/bothering/pissing you off. I highly recommend it. It makes the receiving party very open and receptive. Today's phone call began with me saying "hello" cheerfully, and was followed with a response of "Cris, We Have A Problem". Oh boy. My favorite! Just what I wanted on an already five-star kind of day....well, what followed was an accusation of causing rats to nest in her seldom-used spare detached garage. Apparently, when her son came over yesterday to mow the lawn and whack their small shrubs into submission, he discovered "rats" in the garage. This is the garage where doors stand ajar routinely, the loft door has been open for the past three years (all year long), and where it is accessed for the mower once or twice per week in summer or the man toys of snowmachine and 4-wheeler a couple times per season. In any case, my neighbor is convinced that because I use straw on my property for animal bedding and for mulch in the garden that the rats have come and nested in her garage. The interesting thing is, I have never (1) seen a rat (2) signs of a rat or (3) been aware that straw is the ultimate rat attractant. So attractive is it, that the rat will make its home in a place where there is (1) no straw (2) no food source from said straw or (3) no food source from any other means, such as garden, garbage, or bin of pet food. Apparently, my sheds with animal food, food dishes, and warm bedding are completely unattractive to rats, and they decided that my neighbor's garage would be the best place to rest after being no where on my property. Wow. Never knew rats were that distinctive. It couldn't possibly be related to the fact that a seldom used garage full of boxes filled with interesting things has stood open for years, attracting birds, bats, and goodness knows what else to curl up in there. Oh no. It is me and my straw. Oh, and my garden--rats like my garden so much that I have never seen them in it, seen signs of them in it, or even so much as pooped near it. After threatening me with "taking action" and berating me for "if you wanted a farm, you should have moved to a farm, dammit" and that I had better "fix this situation now, or action would be taken" (never was specified what that action would be, I have to admit that I am curious...), she hung up on me after I said that well, I wasn't going to get rid of straw and my whole garden because I didn't believe it was attracting rats, given that I'd used straw for the past four years and had never seen a rat or signs of a rat, but that I would move my compost operation (which is mostly straw or wood shavings and chicken shit, no food because it attracts rats) on the very slim chance that it had brought in the varmints. After swearing a little and thinking some seriously nasty thoughts about Grumpy Old Woman neighbor, I finished the bit of computer work I was hacking away at, fed the dogs, and went out to move the compost. It took me 1 1/2 hours in the heat to haul that sucker waaaaaaaay over to where the hen house and yard is. Very inconvenient for use in the garden, but far away from the garage in question. I suppose if it was attracting rats, I will now see them better since they will be able to the rat cha-cha right on the porch. Disco ball, anyone? You would think that I might go back inside for a drink and a grumble, but I did one better: I went over to see Grumpy Old Woman neighbor. At first, she wouldn't talk to me. Her response to my "hello" was "what?" Not as in"what did you say", but as in "what (the hell to do you want)" what. I came, bearing a half dozen eggs (which she sneered at, the B****H) and my checkbook. I insisted on paying her for the poison, refused to let her refuse to take it, and offered to call a pest control expert to assess the situation and remove the rats, if any survived the poison. I don't think she was expecting that, I think she was expecting an ongoing feud. Kinda sad, really. I've never been anything but nice and accommodating. Well, okay. There was the time that her husband came over, complaining that my dogs were pooping on his porch. My dogs, who are always fenced in. I pointed out, politely, that my dogs did not run free and maybe a different dog did it. Nope. It was mine. I was told again that "We Have A Problem" and to "take care of it or action would be taken". Oh, and the cat went into their garage...which must have been aportation, because the cats were all indoor at the time and had been for weeks and weeks. I pointed this fact out, got sneered at, was told to "take care of it", and--I admit, got a little pissed--then I replied "well, you know, the best way to keep animals out of your garage? Close the garage door." He grumped at me, muttered something about action being taken, and took himself off. These are two of the now six total interactions that I have had with this particular set of neighbors in five years. Anyway, back to today's fun and excitement. Turns out, this is a manifestation of Grumpy Old Woman neighbor's phobia about animals. When I was first introduced to her, a year after I moved in, her reply to my "hello" was: "If you ever need the ambulance, I won't be coming. Not even if you were dying." My initial thought was what the f**k did she just say to me??, followed by allrighty then, thanks neighbor. (She refuses to drive the local ambulance, which she always drives on calls, to houses that have dogs. Or cats. Or really, any animals. Its a hard thing in a rural, farmy area.) She is deathly afraid of having rats in the garage, maintains that they never had issues like this until I moved in, and cried. Well, I felt bad about the crying...her husband died around Christmas, and I get it, she's lonely and scared of rats. I maintain, though, that she doesn't have the right to accuse me without any substantial evidence that I caused this to happen, or to be quite so mean to me. All the time. Mean, always. Not so much fun, really. Anyhoo...she finally accepted my check, took the sneered-at eggs, and agreed that she would accept my apology (which I worded as "I am so sorry that you are so upset. Rats are very horrible") and would call me in a couple of days after some nephew or other goes in to see if there are any survivors of the chemical warfare. I may yet be calling in the Pied Piper. The upside is, she can't complain about me without looking like an ass (because I was very nice, and very polite, and promised to help with the situation, and paid for the damn poison) and.....here it is, get ready....the doors to the garage, all of them, are finally shut after 3 to 4 years of being open. Maybe no more rats will move in. Or raccoons, or pigeons, or anything else I can get blamed for attracting to her open, accessible, and very attractive lonely & seldom used garage. Dear lord, how I love this neighbor of mine. I am waiting for the visit from the village mayor-slash-postal delivery guy-slash-village lawman, because I just know that after she hung up on me, she took her Grumpy Old Woman self over to his house and kvetched. I am kind hoping he comes swagger-waddling up in all his portly, short guy, old gray man glory, swathed in beige with big, prominent stars on chest and ballcap, puts his hand on his trusty sidearm, and drawls: "Cris, We Have A Problem."