Category Archives: Critters

Duck update

I haven’t really moved in until I have a fire ring full of compost in the backyard. The five-gallon buckets are the latest in my epic quest for an acceptable duck-pond filtration system.

Plan A: Adopt four ducklings, free-range them in the backyard, and give them an $8 kiddie pool to play in and a $60 doghouse to sleep in, because it’s cheaper than investing $300 in the prefabbed chicken coop that I want but Ron says we can’t afford.

Plan B (four weeks later): Get tired of draining the kiddie pool with a bucket every two days. Build pond and biofilter — with hose bibb attached to the top to make water changes fast and easy — out of a $60 stock tank and another $60 worth of gravel, plumbing parts, and other materials. Feel terribly clever.

Plan C (12 hours later): Discover that biofilters made from five-gallon buckets float, even when filled with water. Cuss. Add sand, gravel, and various other media to try to get submersible filter to stay submerged.

Plan D (12 hours later): Discover that five-gallon buckets full of waterlogged sand and gravel also float, because to hell with the laws of physics, that’s why. Cuss. Jury-rig $4 system for anchoring filter in place.

Plan E (12 hours later): Discover design flaw in anchoring system that keeps pump from functioning in new filter. Cuss. Spend another $30 on parts to build an external biofilter.

Plan F (5 days later): Discover that ducks generate way more particulate matter than a simple biofilter can handle, thus choking down the pump approximately 37 times a day. Cuss. Rummage through shed, find small plastic tub and some bungee cords, and construct mechanical filter to protect the pump.

Plan G (3 days later): Discover that pump is way too powerful to get away with using half-inch fittings for the entire project. Cuss. Blow another $70 on parts and materials to construct a finer mechanical filter, a clarifier, and a filter with outlets of increasing size. Damage filter while building it. Cuss. Repair it with duct tape and caulk, because hell with it. Watch in amusement as duct tape and white-trash engineering one-up all previous efforts and filter works better than all previous attempts, ostensibly because of better engineering, but probably because duct tape fixes everything.

Plan H (Somewhere in the middle of all that): Discover, on first warm day, that duck poop attracts a veritable plague of flies. Research problem. Determine that deep-bedding method will control flies while generating good compost starter. Make plans to invest $250 in enough fencing to confine the ducks to a comfortable corner of the yard with their pond, their house, and their favorite tree.

I’m so glad we didn’t waste $300 on a prefabbed chicken coop we could have assembled in one afternoon….

Emily

Duck yeah!

I can’t believe I got away with this.

They already smell weird, and I’m pretty sure they are going to annoy me beyond belief, but don’t act like these aren’t the cutest little things you’ve ever seen.

I hired some help for the garden.
Complaining already. It’s gonna be a long four weeks.

Walter is a bit more curious than I’d like, but I can lock him out of my office easily enough to keep them safe when I can’t supervise.

“Mom! Mom, what is that? Is something alive in that crate? Can I make it dead?”

We’ll see how this goes. The good thing about ducks is that they grow faster than chickens, so they should be big enough to kick out into the backyard in a month or less.

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.
I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Four-legged bed warmer

Since the temperatures started dropping a couple of weeks ago, Ron has started doing something that lifts my spirits: When he goes to bed, he brings Lillian with him and lets her sleep on the bed with us.

His motivation is largely selfish: Dogs have higher body temperatures than humans, so Lillian is basically a space heater with feet. But she’s also very sweet, and very cute, and very good at making me smile every time I wake to find her snuggled up against me or curled up like a cat at the foot of the bed.

I have to stifle an “awwww” when one of us rolls over or moves the covers, and Lil whimpers softly in protest.

I laugh, remembering our late retired racing greyhound’s morning routine, every time Lil tells us she needs to go out by simply staring at one of us until we wake up, our subconscious apparently having realized we’re being watched.

I laugh again when Ron gets up, and Lil — who loathes him but cannot abide the thought of being left out — sits up, watches him intently for a moment, and then scrambles off the bed and dashes out after him.

And on nights when I’m tense or sad, I stroke the fur on top of her little head, soft as a baby rabbit’s, and feel my blood pressure dropping and my mood settling as my sweet little Chihuahua-Italian greyhound mix soothes me to sleep with her presence.

I love our whole pack, of course. Song is a big, sweet goober. Riggy is a funny little ball of irrepressible energy. And Walter is Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser rolled into one. They are our world, and we love them all immensely. But Lillian is the only member of the pack who can and will sit still long enough to cuddle with me on a regular basis, and that’s a Very Important Job.

If you don’t have a snuggly little dog in your life, I highly recommend adopting one. They’re worth their weight in gold.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Take your workout outdoors

In light of recent political events, I suspect the environment is going to need all the help it can get, and I strongly urge all of my readers to take every action you can to shrink your ecological footprint. To that end, it might be worth your time to search my archives or visit my Eco-Saturday, Vegetarian Friday and Tiny-House Preparations Pinterest boards to find ideas you can incorporate into your lifestyle.

This week, my Eco-Saturday suggestion also falls into the category of self-care, and it’s a fairly simple one to implement: Take your workout outdoors.

In the winter, it’s easy to look out the window and decide to skip the workout or move it indoors. Sometimes this is wise: If I can’t squeeze in a workout before I leave for work, I’ll hit the treadmill when I get home, because I don’t want to go jogging alone in the dark. If the snow is too deep or the streets are too slippery for a trip out on my Schwinn, I might put in a few miles on the stationary bike in my basement. But those indoor workouts always carry a heavier ecological price than a ride or run on the trail. The bike’s electronic display and tension controls sip a little power as I ride; the treadmill’s motor gulps it. More often than not, I could shave a few cents off the power bill and spare the environment a little strain if I simply made time to exercise outdoors.

Outdoor workouts come with an extra health benefit, too: This is the time of year when the days grow shorter, and your exposure to sunlight — which helps regulate moods — decreases, so any time you can spend outdoors will help offset that and reduce your chances of slipping into seasonal depression.

She is SO sick of my crap.
She is SO sick of my crap.

Today, Lillian and I incorporated an errand into our 45-minute walk with Ron and the rest of the pack. In her stylish new sweater, which reminds me of a certain Time Lord’s scarf, she helped me deliver a little Whovian-themed care package to the gentlemen responsible for installing the TARDIS in front of U.N.I.T. — er, Cape Girardeau Police Department — headquarters.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Pet-hair squeegee

A few weeks ago, I posted a trick I’d found on Pinterest for removing pet hair from furniture using rubber gloves. It worked beautifully, but I needed something a little faster for treating floors. Enter another Pinterest idea: a squeegee.

Normally, we associate squeegees with cleaning windows, but the rubber blade that prevents streaks on glass also comes in handy for generating enough friction to grab dog or cat hair and pull it out of a carpet.

That pile of hair came out of a section of carpet that was maybe nine square feet. Ron had just run the vacuum two days earlier.
That pile of hair came out of a section of carpet that was maybe nine square feet. Ron had just run the vacuum two days earlier.

Our collie mix, Songdog, is one of the sweetest dogs on the entire planet. He is also one of the messiest, as he sheds constantly. I sweep the living room, and within the hour, I see another sable-colored hair tumbleweed or two sneaking under the couch. Song spends a lot of time in our home office. Ron vacuums in there every week, but the vacuum doesn’t pick up everything, and those guard hairs on Song’s back are just coarse and stiff enough to weave themselves into the carpet and stay there.

Ron ran the vacuum Thursday.

I tried the squeegee technique Saturday.

This is what it pulled out of the office carpet:

You could just about make a Pomeranian out of that.
You could just about make a Pomeranian out of that.

It took about 15 minutes of crawling around on my hands and knees, scraping the squeegee over the carpet by hand, to do the job, but the end result is a rug that looks (and is) much cleaner, and the blade fluffed up the yarn pretty nicely in the process.

I’m not likely to expend this much effort every weekend, but I’ll definitely use the squeegee before the next time I steam the carpets. Put this one down as another win for Pinterest.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Family time

I love summer, but it puts a serious cramp in my style when it comes to spending time outside. Spring, fall and even winter are much safer times to take the dogs out for a walk or let them romp around the park, and after an exceptionally hot summer that started early and overstayed its welcome, I’m making a concerted effort to enjoy autumn.

To that end, we take the dogs for several walks a week, and when time and weather allow, I like to join them on their trips to the backyard, too. Part of this is of necessity (if I’m not out there to supervise, Lillian refuses to leave the porch, especially at night), but it’s also nice just to be out there with my four-legged family members.

Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.
Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.

There’s something soothing about hanging out with dogs. Their worldview is so different from ours, and they notice things I’d miss. Each dog teaches me something different.

Songdog is one of the most affectionate beings I’ve ever known. No matter what’s going on, he looks up at me like I’m the most important creature in the entire world. Give him even the slightest opportunity, and he’ll teach you what it is to experience unconditional love.

Riggy is utterly irrepressible, as rat terriers tend to be, and it’s a joy to watch him stride confidently through the world despite having lost his eyes to a genetic condition several years ago. Every walk with him is a lesson in perseverance and resourcefulness.

Lillian — who was part of a breeding operation but ended up in a shelter for nine months after her owner got sick and had to give up all her dogs — is almost heartbreakingly neurotic. She responds to things differently than any other dog I’ve ever had, and she forces me to slow down and think about how my actions might look to a six-pound Chihuahua mix who is trying hard to trust me but hasn’t quite figured out how to be a dog and needs a little help understanding what’s going on before she can be OK with it.

Together, the three of them are helping to buff off my rough edges and soothe my frazzled nerves.

Emily

Unexpected visitor

I spotted this armadillo sort of bumbling along Themis Street the other night. From a distance, I thought it was an opossum, but then I caught up to it and realized it wasn’t. That’s the second one I’ve seen in the last six months. Fearless little things; the first sauntered across my path like I wasn’t even there, and this one sort of walked with me for half a block and then just stood still and let me take its picture, because obviously indulging humans with photo ops is a totally normal thing for armadillos to be doing at 10:30 p.m.

The Riverfront Times ran a blog about armadillos in Missouri this summer.

I’m kind of delighted. Armadillos look like what you’d get if a dinosaur had puppies. Plus they eat grubs, which obviously makes them heroes in my book.

I had no idea they were so nonchalant about humans, though. Not gonna lie: I kind of wanted to pet this one, but I figured that was probably rude, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it would react. Something tells me Ron would NOT be pleased if he had to rush me to the emergency room because I’d picked a fight with an armadillo.

If we start getting them in our yard, I’m totally gonna sit outside all night with a dish of mealworms and try to make friends, though. Leprosy, schmeprosy. I want to pet a dinosaur puppy.

Emily