Viscacha, Vermin and Varmints (Oh My!)

2013-01-29 09.06.31Viscacha! I love the way that word rolls off my tongue. What’s a viscacha, you might ask? Besides being a word that starts with the letter “V,” a viscacha is a rodent-like animal in the chinchilla family that resembles a rabbit and lives in South America. See you learned something today. No? Well I did anyway!

A vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia) in the Sur Lipe...
A vizcacha (Lagidium viscacia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I’m grasping for topics as I wind up these last few days of the April A to Z blogging challenging (see my lame umbrella post from yesterday) and today I’m resorting to writing about vermin or is it varmints? I’m not sure, but I do know I’m not a big fan of them. Seeing as I don’t live in South America, I haven’t seen many viscachas, but living in rural Ohio in an old farmhouse I see my share of  pesky insects and rodents. I used to fear many of these loathsome fiends, but I’m much braver since I’ve been somewhat desensitized to them. Now that I’m a mother, I find myself forced into the position of the brave exterminator when unwanted beasts invade our home.

Here’s a rundown of the various vermin found around our farm and my ability to handle coming face to face with said creature:

  • Mice – We get these in the house a lot – especially after the farmers bring in the crops. If the mouse is dead in a trap, I’m OK with picking the entire thing up and throwing it away – trap and all (I don’t recycle). If it’s alive in the house and I see it, my heart start still jumps and I might stifle a scream; however I don’t have to move into a hotel overnight.
  • Spiders – Typically we get brown wolf spiders and daddy-long-legs. I can smash them with my shoe if they are below me. I’m not too crazy about killing them when they are on the ceiling, although I am brazen enough to suck them into the shop vac.
  • Wasps, Hornets and Bees – These still scare the crap out of me. I must have a can of Raid and be able to spray them from afar. If I can though, I’d rather shut the door and wait for my husband to get home and send him in for the kill.
  • Snakes – We once had a corn snake eating a frog in our barn. I also saw a garter snake in the yard before. Both times I’m sad to admit, I let out a blood-curling scream. I was taken off guard. I went my way and the snakes went their ways and that’s the way I like it. Luckily I rarely see these cold-blooded ones. If one got in the house though, I’d definitely think about putting a for-sale sign in the yard.
  • Bats and Birds – Luckily I only see these creatures flying around outside and they don’t bother me in the least. I’ve never had one in the house and I hope I never do. If a bird, or especially, a bat found its way into the house, I’d definitely being checking into a hotel until the exterminator could come.
  • Skunks – One summer day the girls and I were going for a bike ride, when a small, wobbly black and white animal slowly walked by us. It was not a kitten, but a baby skunk. We slowly backed away and fortunately were not sprayed. My husband smoked their den and I haven’t seen another.
  • Opossum – These guys truly creep me out with their pointy noses and long tails. I’ve only seen them in the creek and ditches when I’m driving at night. That’s bad enough for me!
  • Raccoons – We had two of these masked guys in our barn.  Some people eat them. I do not. Some people wear them as hats. I do not. They are another varmint that my husband takes care of. They no longer reside in the barn.
  • Groundhogs – These animals are also called woodchucks. I don’t know why. I do know they are lousy at predicting when spring will be here. One decided to make his burrow right beneath our living room window. Bad move on his part. He’s joined the skunks and raccoons on the other side.
  • Turtles – One day I heard my littles one screaming from the garage. I ran outside to see what was wrong and found a box turtle milling around. I found a big shovel, scooped him up and took him out to the field. See you later little guy!
  • Rabbits – They’re so darn cute, but not when the eat all my flowers before they can even bloom! My oldest daughter raises domestic rabbits for 4-H, so I have a soft-spot for the little cotton tails. They know they’re safe – at least from the humans – the barn cats are another story.

So that wraps up my vermin list. I don’t think I missed any. From afar I’m very brave, up close not so much, on me I’d probably freak out.  On the bright side, at least I don’t live in place with poisonous, deadly varmints.

What kinds of vermin do you deal with? Anyone seen a viscacha in the wild?

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Where Did Summer Go? And Why Does Winter Last So Long?

Leaves

We went from tank tops and flip-flops to sweaters and ankle boots over night. Not quite literally, but close to it. The beginning of September had us sweltering in 90-degree plus sunshine, while today on the brink of October we saw 60 degrees and cloudy skies. That’s northwest Ohio for you though – the season changes here are never gradual. One moment it’s summer, the next it’s winter. I expect the snow to start blowing any second now. My favorite season blew by quickly this year. The warmth of summer, the long days of sunlight, ice cream cones and, watermelon are only memories and photographs until next year!

While I love the beautiful colors of fall, caramel apples and pumpkin pie, autumn’s onset always saddens me a bit. Much like that first robin I see hopping along in my yard fills me with hope of the warm days to com, the first leaf I see that’s turned a bright yellow or a crimson red always shoots a small pang of dread through me. In only a few short weeks, I’ll be driving home from work in the dark, scraping snow off my wind shield, and heating up the hot chocolate and chilli.

I’m resigned that winter is coming and I have no power to stop it. I’ve already started packing up the summer wardrobe and bringing out the winter one. My next chore to move the kids’ bikes, balls, scooters and other junk to one side of the garage so I can pull my car in. This is top priority as we’ve already had one freeze warning that I dodged.

Winter does have its good points, I suppose for some, although I have a hard time thinking of them. I don’t like to be cold and I’m not coordinated enough for down hill activities at high speeds. In my opinion winter would be a much better season if it would last from December 23 to December 26. On the other hand, winter does make me appreciate summer more, I guess. Next April when the weather changes from 30 to degrees to 60 degrees, I’ll be pulling out the shorts and sandals and cheering about the “heat wave!”

Who am I kidding? I am confident I would appreciate sunshine and 70 degrees without negative wind chills and ice storms. I guess I could move south or west, but my family, my friends, my church and my job are here in the winter zone. Hmm…I wonder if I could convince everyone to move with me? Now that’s an idea to ponder…

What about you? Do you long for or dread those snowy, winter days?

My Thumb Is Not Green…Is Yours?

A few months back the girls and I wandered Wal-Mart on a lonely Friday night. Every few moments one of them would point to some must-have object along the way and beg me to buy it for them. My head already ached and really I just wanted to go home and veg when we made our way from the cat food aisle past the gardening section.

“Look, Mom! Seeds!” My oldest excitedly pointed in the direction of brightly packaged flower seed packages. The flowers on the fronts smiled at me and I thought, “why not?” Growing flowers from seeds could be fun and educational at the same time. We could plant the seeds, watch the grow and finally transplant them outside when it go warm enough. I imagined the girls and I admiring our beautiful wild flowers as we cut them into colorful bouquets.

“OK!” I said. “Let’s pick out some flower seeds.”  The girls squealed and giggled as they picked out various varieties of flowers: zinnias, daisies, pansies… I tried to read the backs to see what type of lighting requirements they required, but gave up as they excitedly tossed the packets into the cart. Next, I picked out a mini-greenhouse. It was only five bucks and included little dirt pods that you just added seeds and water to. Perfect. Finally, the girls picked out gardening gloves-blue for the oldest, a princess pair for the youngest and red for me. As we headed toward the check out, the oldest talked me into a watering can. We had everything we needed, except a green thumb, but more on that later.

Later that evening, we poured the water over our dirt pods and the flat disks magically grew and grew. We had dirt everywhere, but the girls happily pushed their seeds into the dirt and spilled them on the dining room floor.  Thirty minutes later our green house planted, the only thing left was to wait. We didn’t have to wait for long. Within three days, the seeds sprouted. Instead of the recommended two or three seeds per pod, some had six or seven. The youngest protested as I pulled the smallest sprouts and left the strongest. I’d already learned from past experience this process is a must. A several days later the oldest excitedly pointed out the sprouts were getting their cotyledons.

Lost Helpers

“Cotyl whats?” the youngest asked as her sister explained that these were the second set of leaves to grow on the plant. I was impressed. She did learn something at school even though whenever I ask her what she learned she could never remember…

The weeks past and finally it was time to transplant our young seedlings outside in the flower bed. We pulled on our gloves and got out the rake-thingy and the little shovel. We dug and planted and dug and planted. Within ten minutes the girls lost interest and I dug and planted, dug and planted. Planting a flat of flowers was harder and took longer than I remembered. I wiped the sweat out my eyes with the back of my glove.

“What’s that wet stuff on you, Mommy?” The youngest asked.

” Hard work,” I told her.

“What?” she asked.

“Nevermind…”

“Can I have a drink?”

Satisfied, with the tiny rows of  flowers to-be, we packed up our flower planting tools to get a juice box. The next morning I woke a little early to water the fledgling flowers, only to find carnage.  Tiny leafless stems, holes where plants once grew, if only briefly, remained where less than 24 hours before our little plants represented the hope of a beautiful cutting garden.

Muddy Gloves

A few weeks ago, I noticed the local greenhouse had flats of flowers on sale 50% off.  Not, one to give up, the girls and I picked out some beautiful petunias, begonias and other flowers I do not know the name of. The girls excitedly pulled their gardening gloves back on to help me replant. I started to dig, or rather, chisel a small hole in the ground. Rock-hard from lack of precipitation, the ground did not budge beneath my shovel.  After what seemed like hours of futile digging I only had a shallow, dusty hole in which to place my wilting flowers. What we need, I thought, is some water. And so, I drug the house around to the front of the house a proceeded to turn our dusty dessert into a swampy mud pit. Not my brightest idea, but I was at least able to dig a hole deep enough to plant our flowers.

Relieved each  morning to see no sign of the marauders that destroyed our first attempt, we watered and weeded our little flower patch every evening. The girls took turns hosing down the flower beds and each other as unfortunately we saw no sign of rain in the near future either. Last weekend, we were out of town for the weekend and unable to water our flowers.  The temperatures soared into the 90s and the sun baked our flowers a little too much.

The Dried Up Ones

On one end of the flower bed we found several shriveled, dried up petunias  (notice in the picture above the weeds still look healthy and green)
and on the other end our mysterious digging nemesis had up-ended several more.

The Dug Up Ones

Big sigh… So what do you think? Three times a charm? Try, try again? Or hang up the gloves until next spring? Do you have a green thumb? What’s your secret?

Spring Fever Rages

When I think of the month of March, typically I think cold, rainy gray days. I think of the smell of water-logged, dead earthworms laying in the parking filling the air. At some point during the month where mother nature may give us snow one day, rain and wind the next, and the warmth of the sun the third – or possibly all three in one day, I sight the first robin of the season and smile. I notice the leaves sprouting on the trees and the daffodils poking up through the muddy ground and know the hope for warmer days is near.

This March, however, we in the mid-west have been blessed ( although some snow sport lovers out there may think us cursed) with unseasonably warm weather. And I don’t just mean a day above 50 degrees here and there, but we’ve actually had several weeks of high 70’s and low 80’s. Yes, we had 80 degrees and sunshine in the middle of March. It is heavenly! It makes me wonder if someone up there in weather land got there M months mixed up. It feels more like late May than mid March, but I am definitely NOT complaining and neither are my children.

The girls wore shorts to school today. They didn’t even take along their jackets. The flip-flops and sandals were dusted off weeks ago. Everywhere I turn, children are playing and riding bikes, people are walking their dogs, flowers and trees are blooming and the diehards out there are actually mowing their lawns instead of shoveling snow. I love it!

Spring fever definitely rages in my home and workplace. Co-workers and I walk to a local cafe for lunch not wanting to return to our florescent-lighted, windowless cubicles afterwards. Not so much because we don’t like our jobs, but more so because the sun is calling us, luring us to sit and just absorb its warmth and bake off the winter pastiness and dreariness of the past three months. When 5:00 PM rolls around, I have approximately two and a half hours left of warm bliss that I take full advantage of.

A few nights ago I walked with my daughters. Actually I was the only one that walked. The oldest road her scooter and the youngest her two-wheeler with training wheels. We had a wonderful time walking and rolling and talking and laughing until… Until the youngest got tired of riding her bike about halfway home. She was just too tired to go on, especially after she’d tipped it a bit when she went down an incline (you can’t really call it a hill). From that point on she walked and whined about calling someone to pick us up while I pushed the bike (which I’d vowed not to do – sigh). A few moments later a car came up fast behind us (we live on a country road in the middle of no where, so I don’t see why people need to go so fast especially when the can see us walking along miles or at least yards in advance). Anyway it scared my oldest daughter and she veered her scooter off the road and wiped out. She scraped her leg although to hear her tell it you’d have thought it was broken. So now, I’m pushing the bike and scooter, while they both whine about calling their Dad to pick them up (even though the house is only yards away.) Oh well…at least we enjoyed the fresh air.

Last night our endeavor out was much more pleasant. We headed to our local park. Typically these excursions find me pushing two girls on the swings, helping them across the monkey bars and then collapsing on the bench to watch them. Tonight I took a different approach. I became a kid too. While I still pushed the swing, I never made it to the bench. I went down the slide and across that slider ‘thingy.’ I tried to pull myself up on to the top of the monkey bars as I’d done in my youth, but couldn’t quite make it – I have a lot more “girth” to move than I did when I was 10. Next we tried to skip stones across the pond (try being the key word) and then switched to seeing who could throw the farthest. No one was fishing, so I figured no harm. The girls smiled and laughed. When the sun started to set, we raced to the car, I would have won too if it weren’t for my shoes.

Today we’re supposed to hit 84 again. I haven’t figured out what we are going to do tonight yet. I’d like to get the flower beds cleaned out, but maybe will just shoot some hoops instead. I do know we won’t be sitting in front of the TV. The next few days rain is in the forecast and the highs are only in the 60’s. I am trying not to be disappointed. I am trying not to get spoiled, but I am. I think I might cry if the temperatures dip back into the 40’s or worse 30’s. And if it were to snow again before next December, well, I won’t be happy. For now though, my winter coat and boots are packed and my shorts and sandals are front and center. I’m going to feed that fever for as long as I can!