Category Archives: Cats, dogs, chickens, and other critters

What’s that smell?

“Your upper lip.”

That was a joke in my family that, as kids, we found vastly amusing. Another one that was equally giggle-worthy to our pre-teen brains was when someone said “excuse me”, and someone else would say “There’s no excuse for you!”

Kids are silly.

The smell was not, as it happens, my upper lip. Today was round one of mowing. It’s rare that I will do all the mowing on the property in one go, because it takes about three hours plus change to do that on a regular-size growth of the areas that need to be mowed. Because I’d been in the hospital, I missed my mowing date earlier this week, and things were a bit higher than usual. In addition, all the areas that had flooded with the daily rains we received in June are now dry – because we haven’t received any rain of significance since July 1. Such is Florida. Those areas could not be mowed while they were under water, and the grass in those areas today was almost up to my hip. Today’s session of three parts of the first group of areas I usually do in a batch took almost three hours by itself.

One of those areas is outside the gates of our tiny development here. We don’t have a HOA (how I hate them!), which is terrific, but that also means when something needs to be done, like a fix for the gate, someone has to organize it, then divvy up and collect everyone’s share of the cost to fix it. No problem for me on that; there’s a guy down the road who handles those sorts of things.

It also means we don’t have a HOA to hire a lawn service to deal with the hedges at the gates or the grass that we are responsible for, from the gates to the main road. For awhile, the guy across the street from us – the guy who has a garage mahal that’s almost as large as his house – had a lawn service, and they would mow out there. He dumped them at some point, and a couple of times he did the mowing outside the gates, then for some reason, he stopped. Since it needed to be done then, and needs to be done now, I’m doing it.

Today was one of the few days that the county doing their mowing jobs of the strips on the sides of the roads and in the ditches/swales coincided with my mowing, something that doesn’t happen often. They, of course, are in air conditioned cabs. Yours truly is on a lawn tractor, without a shade. As I started my run out there by the road, I noticed they’d missed a spot at the end of their responsible area. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just run over it and it will be done, too.

As I neared that spot, mowing around the telephone/electric pole in that side of the of the outer gate area, the breeze kicked up and I got a snootful of the most horrid smell, but one I know: death. For awhile now, I’ve been wearing a mask as I mow, as it isn’t good for my lungs to be inhaling all the things that get kicked up during that mowing time, but some of the odor managed to get through then and a few times as I went back and forth on that side of the areas outside the gates.

I thought, ugh, something has died, fairly recently, and the wind is bringing it to us. I got up on the spot the mowers had “missed” and found that the wind was bringing that smell from much closer than I imagined: there was a dead raccoon at the edge of the road there, baking in the Florida sun (it was 96F when I went out to mow). How did I know its death was fairly recent? I’ll tell you:

First, the body was pretty intact. A lot of times around here, when something dies near the road, they’re usually run over a few times. This poor creature wasn’t.

Second, it wasn’t bloated (yet). If something sits long enough in our heat, it starts to bloat as the insides get hotter and hotter. It didn’t look too much bigger than a regular sized raccoon to me.

Third, and finally: nature’s clean up crew had not yet arrived to start dealing with it. We have tons, and I mean TONS, of turkey vultures around here. Last weekend when I went to the store, I saw not one but two individual examples of those birds at work. Today, as I was mowing, I’d not seen any on that raccoon, hopping around as they jockeyed for the power of having the first go, and there were none circling above in the sky. That tells me the raccoon’s death was recent: they had not gotten to it at that point.

I had to stop after just those three sections for a few reasons: almost three hours bouncing around was eating into time I was supposed to be on the helpdesk, I’d used almost a full tank of gas on the tractor (that one tankful usually allows me to finish four or five sections in this particular area group), I was getting hungry, and I was sweating so much that my hands were slipping on the wheel, no matter how often I was wiping them on my equally sweaty and wet shirt.

It was a bit windy, as I mentioned, everything is quite dry from no rain, and I was filthy, covered in dirt from head to toe. After getting the tractor cleaned and back in the shed, I got a shower, had some lunch, and worked.

And now, I’m eating again, a bit sleepy, planning my day tomorrow, but planning to write this evening despite the fatigue as my “real” work slows down for the weekend, since that’s the time I have for it. Between Wednesday evening and this morning, I had four more ideas for stories involving the main character in the book I’m working on. Clearly, I don’t lack for ideas, as one of the previous posts showed. Some are more fleshed out than others, and I thought of a title for one of the new ones last night when I was trying to get to sleep, and just as clearly as being overflowing with ideas, I need to write faster. Much faster, and much more regularly. Getting the writing in each day can be a struggle, as of course the “real” work is often unpredictable, given the nature of it, but it’s time to take what I can get, when I can get it, and, as Neil Gaiman says, make good art.

That’s it for this one, peeps. More later, as always. Be well.

Critters

Big mowing day today at the ranch. We’ve had a ton of rain, so there are still areas where it’s flooded and can’t be mowed. There are also places where the water has been absorbed or evaporated enough that the ground is springy, but not under water, so it can be mowed.

The problem with those areas is that they stink: a fetid, dead smell enveloping you as you drive by, cutting grass that’s almost hip high because the area was previously flooded.

In addition, in all of these area, the mosquitoes are heinous, even with the addition of mosquito dunks and granules thrown in to try to keep the larvae to a minimum. The mosquitoes are also gigantic, much like any other pain in the ass annoyance/invasive species down here: giant slugs, giant snakes, giant roaches, etc. I smacked three of them and left a bloody trail where they had landed and immediately tried to bleed me dry. But some of their buddies made it beyond my slapping and got me here and there.

In other news, one of the turtles made an appearance after I’d mowed the front of the property. This is one of the smaller ones. I think there are three living here, one of which is massive and probably quite old.

The kids had a good time crouching down with it, looking it over, and taking pictures. I’m sure the turtle was thinking what a horrible commute it was having.

There was also a small harvest going on: peppers, green beans, and sungold tomatoes. It was raining, so it was a bit of a short harvest, but the bell peppers are doing fantastic, the tabascos are beginning to fruit, the paprikas, anchos, and cayennes are producing crazy amounts, and the giant jalapenos (for stuffing) are just beautiful. There isn’t a ton of bug/critter activity on the peppers, and that’s good since I’ve basically neglected them. I’d love to have some of the green bells to age to red, but down here, leaving them past the green stage is usually an invitation to have the pepper get scalded or go soft. There’s a reason red peppers are generally grown in greenhouses and cost more than greens: they take longer and they need more specialized care.

Of course, once you harvest, you have to wash. There wasn’t much in the way of dirt or anything else on these, but someone loves to wash the veg, so of course…

She did an excellent job, too, even if she was eating every other sungold. Both the soul eating baby (kid, now, I guess) and the monkeyboy ate bell peppers like apples. There’s nothing quite like fresh, right out of the garden veg to get kids to eat their vegetables.

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

Focus

Things that happen out in the country, if you happen to live there: sometimes, your satellite ISP sucks. After sending a rather blistering note to them night before last, amazingly, things have been much better on the uplink side than they had been. Since everything for my actual work was taking so very long to get done during that little episode, I’ve missed a day on this. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it (“You can’t even keep posting for three days in a row, loser!”), I’m just going to accept that some things are beyond my control and rely on other people Getting Shit Done. Now that those other people have, I can move along here.

I also had a doctor visit yesterday – a new gastro doc, since my regular doc’s rather large practice and my insurance company are on the outs and have been for almost a year. Much as I love my doc, the fees for self-pay at a specialist’s office are incredible. That means setting up with a new one to deal with what has the classic symptoms of pancreatitis, with no one willing to actually say so. Which I suppose is fine: even if they’re not willing to make a 100% diagnosis on it, we’re still changing my diet anyway to help with the flareups – since I have no gallbladder, it just makes everything worse.

What that means, eating-wise, is lots of low-fat/no-fat foods, more vegetables, less dairy, way less caffeine (sniffle), and various meds for when the flareups hit. I had one in November that landed me in the ER, and another in December. For the latter, I just went back to my primary care doctor, who is a peach, and he gave me scrips for the same meds the ER doc did. While this whole thing is not something I can control 100%, I am taking the steps to minimize any instances, because I have to tell you, the pain is excruciating, the vomiting is copious, and it’s an all around nightmare. In my case, the vomiting meant dry heaves, and in that first round, I started heaving and could not stop until the ER folks got me hooked up to an IV with both fluids and some amtiemetics (read: stop puking/nausea meds). I would recommend, as I’ve done with this whole cancer business, that you avoid it if at all possible. I also managed to lost somewhere between 15 and 17 pounds in the past two months thanks to that. The doctors are frowning on that part, and I’m having trouble taking in enough calories in any given day – nothing new, but bad in this case – to keep the scale hovering between 100 and 103. It’s a work in progress.

To close this out for the day, and to end on a better note, there’s nothing like a dog to show you unfettered worship and love.

Until tomorrow, peeps: keep being awesome. Or, if you’re not awesome yet, keep working on it.

Letting the new year in, quietly

I’m not a fan of large crowds, and especially not large, drunk crowds, so I spend my New Year’s Eves at home, chilling out, reading, and watching football. This year was no different.

Redneck neighbor guy apparently scraped together some pennies this year to invest in fireworks, as there were random pops of things going off well before midnight. Loud noises like that are things that scare the big dog, so he winds up close to me, regardless of where I am (including in the bathroom).

The puppy ignores all that, but also is always by my side – he’s very loyal.

So, we plopped ourselves on the couch (and floor), watched some football, and then watched The Boondock Saints, recommended to me by my little brother. Not bad.

Beyond the random firework noise, which was minimal, we had a nice quiet entry into the new year. That’s the way I prefer it.

*I tried to post this last night, on the 2nd, to stay with my goal of posting every day, but naturally my ISP – a satellite company I will not name – crapped itself on the uplink side. Those images up there took eight and six tries, respectively, to upload, and I won’t even go into the timeouts all over the place. I finally sent them an email (via my phone, because even their customer page wouldn’t load) asking them WTF was going on, and this morning on the 3rd seems to be better – although it’s storming here at the moment, and they’re not very good about staying up during rain. Or fog. Or sunshine. Or anything. We’ll see if it stays that way after I return from my doctor’s visit and a run to the store.

I am not a Scorpio

I’m a Pisces, astrologically speaking, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I had a visit from a member of that group. An actual member.

Scorpion, now deceased

The most common one we see at the ranch is the Hentz striped scorpion – that’s the critter above. It’s the most common of the three types found in Florida, as it happens, and none of the three are lethal. Their stings can be painful on the scale with a wasp or hornet sting, though. How do I know this?

Because that critter there got me, twice, the other night when I went to bed. Somehow, it got into the house. Then, somehow, it made it to my room. After that, somehow, it managed to crawl up into my bedsheets. When I laid down, it went under the sleeve of my shirt, near my armpit, and, feeling threatened at that point by the motions of my arm and the tightness of that space, proceeded to sting me. Twice. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on at first – I thought perhaps I’d carried a bee with me all day long and she’d finally had enough, but when I hit the flashlight app on my phone and looked, there it was. I flung it on the floor, and let me tell you this: those things can move fast.

It was just shy of three inches long. Was is the operative word, as that scorpion, like the parrot, is no more. But it did give me the creeps and now when I finally get to bed, at whatever oddball time that is, I have to scout around to make sure no other visitors from that particular clan are looking to abuse my hospitality by invading my house.

 

My hero

The cucumbers, running rampant in he front garden north, got some trellis work today, and the green beans, caught in the tentacles of those cukes, were freed to go about their business.

When I completed multiple levels of trellising on both sides of the cuke runs, I found my hero standing over the dead body of one of his enemies, which he had been stalking for a few days now.

Fearless mole hunter

The common eastern mole, making messes of yards everywhere for eons.

Dead mole

I did not cut it in half with the scissors, no. I just didn’t have any gloves with me during that particular excursion to the garden, and simply used the tool I had to pick him up and toss him over the fence into the ditch area by the road to allow nature’s cleanup crew (vultures, ants, etc.) take care of it.

Time for lunch

A small pair of birds built a nest in a ponytail palm we had brought up on the back patio during one of the more frigid evenings in our “winter” season. We hadn’t quite gotten to putting it back out before they started building, and when we realized what they were doing, we couldn’t move it at that point – that would be rude!

The female laid a total of four eggs, and on our occasional peeks, it seems all of them hatched into the usual ugly, reminiscent-of-dinosaurs babies. We have some pics of them both pre and post hatching, but for now, a little clip of one of the parents bringing home the bacon, as it were.

20160424 PM feeding

Let’s do the time warp again

This day, the first day of the new year, has been an odd one. I was up well past the turn of the year, until almost 3 AM. My oldest dog got me up at 4:45 so he could run out and do some business. We all went back to bed, but were up again just before 8 AM. Since then, it’s been nonstop work, either outside (and I’ll have a separate post about that) or inside. No naps, except for the dogs, and it’s about 7:15 in the evening right now but it feels like late evening. Very late evening. Like “this would be a good time to call it a day” evening and go to bed. But it’s far too early for that, and I still have to eat again today as I’ve only had two so far: my usual to start the day, and then this for the new year, as is traditional.

Beans and rice and cornbread

Beans and rice and cornbread, with diced onion and ham. It doesn’t look like much – the soul eating baby could probably eat three of these – but it’s about what I can handle. I managed almost all of it. The leftover, sans onion, went to the dogs. We could all use a little luck for the new year, I think.

 

Helping

A common orb weaver, hanging out in the leaves of the horseradish plants, waiting for something unlucky to come along.

Orb weaver spider

As you can see from the leaves of the plants, the beetles were having a go at them. Since the value of the horseradish is in the root, not the leaves, and as the leaves are plentiful and mostly intact, the plants can weather the bug attack without too many issues other than those cosmetic. Every bug these helpers catch and devour is a plus.