Thursday, February 28, 2019


The last day of February. I cannot say that this has been an unexciting month, even though the excitement has sometimes been of the panic-and-worry type. Worry about the weather. Worry about the animals. Worry that spring is still too far away.

Looking back, I must complain that once more, we missed a chance at a picture perfect winter. The snow came, but I can think of only one day when it was perfect: good snow for play, plenty of sunshine to lure you outside. The ice storms and the cold were intimidating and now that we're nearing the season's end, I will admit to looking forward to the day when it all melts.

(The snowman survived it all, though most of his olive mouth was eaten by deer and his carrot nose has fallen to the ground. No one bothers to stick it back inside. He's so icy-brittle that you'd have to really work hard to get it in there.)

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I go out early to feed the animals and am again disappointed to see no one in the garage. I feed the cheepers, leave some dry food out in case the cats come back and head back to the farmhouse. On the super-upside, for once I don't have to chip away at any ice on the path leading to the farmhouse door. No new snow, no new ice. How lovely!

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Ed and I talk about the cats. Why am I so in love with them? Generally, I'm not drawn to cats. They always seem so unaffectionate. I understand that this is their unique trait: they are independent. I get that people love them unconditionally. But if you asked me to again consider bringing a cat into the house, I would say -- no way, not a chance.

And yet, this little cat family is special. Stop Sign has a history with us and when she had her little ones, we were very happy. To get them safely to adulthood seemed like a fair goal.

And so when I step outside in the morning and am greeted by silence, I'm disappointed.

Ed grins -- you sure are attached to them.
You want to have them in the house, don't you?
I did not say that. I know you hate all those cat hairs.
I'm sure they would be at loose ends inside anyway!
Probably true...

It's not clear that you could domesticate these guys: they are one foot into our lives, but honestly, if they disappeared one day and we never saw them again, I would not be totally surprised. (I would be crushed, but not surprised.)

I look out at our rural road. It's not exactly busy, but cars do zip by every couple of minutes. Such a danger to these cats, who never look left or right before crossing!

I just want them to be safe.
You want them to be here, in the garage.

He is right.

Minutes later, I see the two little guys! Here's Dance, sauntering in. And Jacket is with her.

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And they are ravenously hungry, especially Jacket who probably has not eaten for two days. Still, Dance, the smaller one, is the lead girl. Jacket has learned that Dance gets first dibs. If he wants to eat, he has to work the Step-and-Dine (which she avoids). And he does. And they eat every last bit of food.

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Breakfast for us too. Finally.

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Happiness is seeing the two little guys together again. (But where is Stop Sign?? Always the worry...)

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In the early afternoon, the picture, from my perspective, becomes complete. I look out the kitchen window and boom! There they all are, playing.

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I make the hundredth trip outside, this time to greet Stop Sign and to load up the dish with food for her.  I'm happy to see her filling out now - she was such a scrawny girl! Too, the little guys are growing! Dance, the smallest, looks older than her sweet two months.

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And so you could say that the month ends on a high note. Even Whiskers makes an afternoon appearance. The animals that have made us (well, me) panic and wring our hands all month are fed and at peace. We've gotten better at meeting their needs, but of course, we are only one small piece of their complicated existence. For now, I'm relieved that tomorrow starts a new month -- one that will surely give us better weather and also give these farmette cats (dare I call them that?) another boost into a stronger life.

In the afternoon, I pick up Snowdrop.

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She is, unfortunately, not here for long. We barely have time to finish a book, to start a new game....

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 ... and then I have to hand her over to her dad.

I have a bus to catch. You know my route! Car to bus, then the L train, then a walk through familiar blocks ...


... to Primrose's home. Time to check in with the 11 month old girl! And of course, with her parents.

(I leave plenty of instructions on cat care with Ed. As if I knew even a fraction of what he knows about looking after cats! And now I turn away from February, from cats and cheepers and icy paths that lead to creaky barns, and give my full attention to the young family living in Chicago, where, by the way, I see not a speck of snow or ice.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019


This month will go down for me as the month, where I tried to understand the comings and goings of four cats: all living in the wild, one (Stop Sign) being quite comfortable mixing and mingling with us here, at the farmette, two being her offspring, and finally the fourth -- the newcomer, rather transient still, but appearing to rely now on some food from us.

I can't say that I feel any more confident about predicting their movements now than I was a month ago.

And so this morning, I am no longer surprised by who is in the garage and who is not. I am not surprised that one hour later, that configuration changes. And I wont be surprised if everything changes, several times, or not at all as the day progresses.

I can only hope that the cats, all four, know how to keep themselves safe. We can help them with food and discouraging predators. But the rest -- well, they move according to their own compass.

This morning (a cold one!)...

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... at first there were none, then, for a long time, there was only one (Dance)...

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... then there was another (Stop Sign)...

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... then, by late afternoon, there were none once more. Jacket did not appear. Neither did Whiskers. Footprints in fresh snow tell us that no sure footed predator came around in the day or night.

I'm out, I'm in, I'm out again. I shovel, I scrape, I feed. Ed says (over breakfast)...

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... I can't keep up with them in the way you do. They're going to have to manage on less oversight when you're gone!

But of course, my spring travel is a couple of weeks away. Who knows what we will have here then! And the cheepers! What are we going to do with the cheepers once the snow melts and they demand a release?

The mind spins as we cycle through our animal quandaries.

And so it's really great to put it all aside and focus on my afternoon with Snowdrop.

 (leaving school...)

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(dancing up a storm...)

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(if it's Wednesday...)

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(an Olivia book at Storybook Ballet? Well that's good news for this little Olivia fan...)

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(cant quite remember where in the story Olivia sports an umbrella, but Snowdrop is mighty pleased to have this prop...)

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And afterwards? Several more trips to the garage, keeping an eye out, even as all is quiet and the temps keep on falling. Is March here yet??

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


The next ten days surely will test our love for living in the Upper Midwest. Cold. Snow showers. Icy ground cover. Arctic blast. Cold.

We turn our attention away from the weather. But I think our winter weariness has its effect even when we're inside: yesterday, I turned up the thermostat a whole degree over and beyond where we usually set it. Both of us wanted the extra warmth. How luxurious to be able to do this! How tough it must be for all the animals who must manage all weather extremes.

My morning walk to the garage, barn and writers shed is brisk.

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And again, I am met with surprises. And I think -- how many permutations and possibilities can these farmette animals offer us?? Haven't we run through all of them by now?

There are no cats, anywhere. Well, that's not surprising. We know they've been running away at night. We just don't (yet) know why.

As I rumble around the garage, I find one possible answer: in the back, where there are the sad traces of Cupcake (it's hard to clean these things in the dead of winter), I find what is surely coyote scat.

Somehow, I'd never really given much though to the coyote problem. Hawks -- I see them very often. Daily, in fact. But coyotes -- they're so elusive. We never see them here. Ever. I know they roam at night and every blue moon, I'll find scat on the ground during the summer, but it's very rare.

Do coyotes eat kittens? You'll have read, I'm sure, horror stories about coyotes and wolves snatching pets and little children. The former (not the latter) has a little truth to it -- coyotes are omnivores. And in February, they intensify their search for mates and food.

People tend to think of these animals as living in forests and hiding in the great wilderness, but of course, coyotes, foxes and raccoons are very much part of the urban landscape. There is a UW project that seeks to record and track the movement of these animals in Madison (read about it here) and as I look at the map of recent sightings, I'm stunned at how frequent they are. It is a certainty that the farmette, too, is going to be in the path of one such animal pack.

We can take steps to try to keep them away. No more laziness about picking up all traces of cat food. (We've improved on this already!) Hide the compost. (We generate a lot of fruit and veggie trimmings, to say nothing of wilted flower waste, and we tend to be lackadaisical in the winter, thinking that no one but the groundhog cares what we dump in this temporary makeshift compost pile.) Put up a sensor light. (Ed has one at the sheep shed. It's not too hard to flash one by the garage.) Be prepared to make loud noises at night. And hope that spring will come soon.

In the meantime, I do have an animal worry. Of course I do! Late in the morning, Stop Sign comes back with Dance.

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So where is Jacket? Yes, he has been missing in the past, but only once was he separated from his sister for a long time -- right after the Great Massacre, when everyone scattered and stayed away for many days. I watch mom and Dance together and I think positive thoughts -- Jacket is fine, Jacket is fine. But then, why is Dance meowing a lot all of a sudden? It doesn't sound right.

Though of course, I cannot read cat minds, nor can I interpret their behaviors very well.

Breakfast. (His eyes are closed on purpose. Why? Because he is Ed.)

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And then I go out to get a haircut. You can tell I have travel within a few weeks -- I only think of haircuts before a trip.

I return to the farmette and see Jacket running toward the garage. He hits the food right away and refuses to tell me why he stayed away all morning.

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In the afternoon, Snowdrop is here.

(It's so slippery! Sooo slippery!)

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(Studying carefully the books that she does not want to read.)

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(Spirited play!)

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(Followed by a pretend nap time. She makes up fake beds. I think she plays the "sleeping child" role very, very well! )

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Later, much later, we go out to the car so that I can drive her home. I glance over toward the garage. This is what I love seeing -- the three of them, in a row, feeding off of each other's physical warmth and love.

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I haven't seen Whiskers today, but Ed tells me he comes around in the hour I'm away with Snowdrop.

I return to the farmhouse when it's already dark. And so cold outside! I turn on the kitchen lights and set in on dinner prep: a lentil soup to warm your bones. I ask Ed -- shouldn't we throw some more food into the kittie dish in the garage? He says no, we should taper off these late day feedings.

I start in on my veggie chopping.  Stop Sign must have seen me in the kitchen: the lights are on, I move from one place to the next, and as always, I keep an eye on what is going on outside.

Hey, it's a romp of the kitties!
Ed, I think they're heading out... No, wait! They're coming here!

It just melts my heart: Stop Sign has done this repeatedly in the past -- come to the farmhouse door to let me know that she needs (they need?) more food. Today, she teaches the young ones that this is what they must do. Their reward? Yummy can of mixed grill.

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We wait a few minutes and then Ed goes out to do the evening rounds: all cat dishes are removed, all lairs are inspected, some lights are turned on. He tells me later that he found no sign of the cats anywhere. Perhaps they left again. Maybe over time, it will be safe for them to stay.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Monday's little ones

Just as the Oscars were approaching the denouement -- the moment when the director prize was to be announced (I was especially curious if the Polish director of Cold War -- the movie my friend slipped into my suitcase when I was last in Warsaw -- would luck out and walk away with the big prize), Ed said -- we caught a mouse.

Such a relief! There may be another mouse. Indeed, there likely is another, but tonight's bold evening visitor has been tough to corner. I don't want to risk having it do a miraculous Houdini escape maneuver and so I suggest we set out to release the little devil right away.

I nearly miss the final Oscar prizes, but still, it's worth it -- we have a beautiful if cold night drive through a chilled and frozen landscape. We wish the mouse well and send him flying out into a clump of bushes.

This morning, the drop in temperatures is pronounced. Our front storm door looks like this:

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And the outside world looks like this:

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I am no longer surprised by what combination of cats will be there to greet me. Yesterday -- only Stop Sign. Today, no Stop Sign, only her babes, Jacket and Dance.

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They rest on the blanket, but, too, they take little forays along the path. Looking for mom? I think so, because when she shows up later in the day, they are ecstatic.

I need not remind you that it is Monday. We are back on schedule! Sparrow comes to the farmhouse just before breakfast. We play first. I haven't spent much time with the little guy in recent weeks and so I test the waters.

Turns out he's the same happy little guy. Well, not so little: Sparrow is fast outgrowing clothes sewn for a 12 month old.

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Breakfast, for my two guys.

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(I don't know that he loves sweet potatoes... Like nearly everything here for him, this is a hand me down from Snowdrop's baby days.)

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(When Sparrow is here with just the two of us, he tracks Ed's every move. Predictably, he likes it when Ed messes with him.)

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As for toys -- well, I give him choices: I reach into Snowdrop's piles and pull out what's safe. Duplo characters. A music cube. Sticky blocks.

It's not even close: he likes the music cube just fine, has not the slightest interest in the plastic characters, and plays enthusiastically with the sticky blocks. I'm just so amused by this: I mean, Snowdrop is a terrific builder of tall towers, but all her passion seems to run to her story filled hours of character play (big, small, plastic, plush, imaginary, real -- it hardly matters). Sparrow may still lean in that or any other direction, but today, he just wants to connect sticky blocks and occasionally, bang on the music cube.

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(Stop Sing shows up. More food, please!)

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And then I pick up Snowdrop (who eschews paths in favor of deeper snow.)

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(Did you really buy chocolate chip cookies just for me??)

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(What should we play...)

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(When I tell her I need to dash out for a sec to refill bowls -- Stop Sign had just returned -- Snowdrop insists on coming with me and doing the job herself. Stop Sign is no more afraid of her than she is of me.)

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(Oh that crunchy snow!)

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Inside again: we're playing "California, on a sunny day."

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(A pause for a review of "what's growing in California right now." The list is long.)

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As night settles in, Whiskers returns for round two of his food grab. Such a furry guy: if I didn't know any better, I'd say he' just a stuffed pillow, taking you along for the ride.

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Nigh time. There's  a forecast of more snow, but I'm not really listening. In February, you take one day at a time and you find the time to recognize and acknowledge its singular beauty. And secretly, you count the days til spring.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

where the winds blow

A light snow fell last night. Just enough to deceptively cover the ice on the ground.  But it's soft ice. We had had a day where it flirted with the idea of melting, but in the end, icyness won and now it looks like we might have it with us for a while. The thermometer is registering below freezing temps. Still,  I have a very short window where I can try to remove at least some of the softer ice from the pathway that links the farmhouse with the parked cars. I hack away. It's now, or not until spring.

Looking back, I think -- what a waste of time.

The winds pick up, the temps continue to drop (we are getting those dire warnings of -25F, or -32C wind chill readings for the night). The path is quickly covered and any remaining slush turns hard as rock. We're in for a week of slippery walkways again.

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All this takes place quite early. I am up and out, curious about the cats. More than curious -- I am a bit anxious about them.

This morning, I smile as I find Stop Sign in the garage. But she is alone. She waits patiently while I refill the bowls. I notice that they are scattered and empty. Someone came in to eat at night. The suggestion that there is a night stalker is no longer just a suggestion, it's a near certainty. We resolve to pick up all traces of food going forward (we'd resisted, lest the kitties came back in the wee hours, hungry, looking for food!).

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Stop Sign settles in on top of boxes deep inside the garage. She seems to be waiting, but of course, that's just me second guessing a cat's mindset.

I feed the cheepers. I agree with Ed -- with the longer days, they are getting restless inside their enclosure.

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I try not to think about our cheeper options. It's like dealing with farmhouse mice: with those little rodents, there are no perfect solutions and most of the "good enough" solutions don't work on all mice. So too, with the cheepers -- there are no good solutions. We know that. We simply have to choose among the imperfect ones.

I set the bowl of food for Whiskers. It really is windy and cold. I wonder if he'll show up. He has never missed a day since he first started coming here. He is a calm cat, who makes his rounds and this is one of his stops. We're okay with that. Perhaps we'll be able to trap, treat and release him in the near future. It's a daunting task, but when the right moment comes, we'll have to go through with it. Vaccinations will protect him, spaying him will tame the desire to mate and control. But for now, we're just getting him used to eating here.

As I go back to the garage, I keep wondering about the kittens. Are they hiding? And this is when I see Stop Sign's footprints from this morning. She must have arrived fairly recently because they are quite fresh.

Will they tell me where she spent the night?

I follow them (backwards, of course).

I'm not really surprised to see that she had walked all along the driveway. It is one of her promenades. Today, she clearly came from across the road.

And this is when I spot our neighbor. Well, he's sort of a neighbor: he lives across the road and over the hill. An interesting guy: he grows trees over acres and acres of land in some kind of an arrangement with the Department of Natural Resources. He gets some tax relief for this. If he were to allow hunting on his land, I believe he'd get an even bigger break, but he doesn't do that. He likes his trees and I'm sure he doesn't mind the small tax break that comes with doing this.

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But even more interesting is his familial situation: he is married to a woman whose mother was a "Larsen" -- the family that long ago farmed these lands. (Indeed, these were the people who once inhabited the farmhouse where we now live.) He's a sweet guy and we usually chat about grandchildren and the weather when we find ourselves checking the mail at the same time.

Today, I see him trudging back up his steep hill. I call over to him. He stops and we talk. Not about the grandkids this time, but about the cats. I was sure that Stop Sign, Dance and Jacket are burrowing in someone's space nearby. It turns out that at least some of the time, the two little ones hide under his porch. He's not much of a cat person and so he mostly ignores them. I think he worries that they're birders. I'm more inclined to think that they catch his mice, lucky guy! At the farmette, none of them have ever hunted for birds, but of course, we give them food.

I tell him that the whole bunch have been spooked lately and we're trying to figure out why.
Coyotes, he says with confidence.
Coyotes? Maybe. Ed is not convinced. You'd hear them if they were nearby,  he tells me later.
But we do hear them! Just like we hear the owls! In the summer, when the windows are open!

It strikes me that we have quite the large number of predators: hawks for sure. Owls too. And possum, and raccoons, and coyotes. Skunks, occasionally. Foxes maybe. What doesn't come here at night in search of meat?

Eventually, Stop Sign disappears again. I'm imagining they're all guarding against the cruel wind, under that porch across the (dangerous!) road and over the hill. I'm hoping to see them soon.

In the meantime Whiskers comes, eats, departs. At least he offers a touch of predictability! The others? We're still completely surprised by them.

Breakfast, late, after a thorough house cleaning.

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And now we have only a half a Sunday left and it must include a trip to Farm and Fleet for more cheeper food and a better mouse trapping device.  This last item on our list is nothing short of impossible. I will not bore you with the details of what's wrong with each implement. Something I find more or less acceptable is completely unworkable in Ed's view, and vice versa. I grow impatient. Still, we have to improve on what we have. Four of our traps have at some point been successful but this current mouse ignores them all. We are determined to get it out of the house, even if we must resort to banging it on its head and throwing it away with the trash.

Eventually, we stuff some options into Ed's big pockets (the guy will never use a plastic store bag, not for anything!), haul the sacks of feed and grain treats and head for home.

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Was there any playful moment today? Oh yes! On the way to Farm and Fleet we stop for two games of bowling  at the nearby alley. It's not a game I'm good at, but I enjoy watching Ed compete against himself and sometimes I do get lucky. (Today was not one of those days.)

And in the evening, I hurry to prepare dinner for the young family.

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(Predinner munchies)

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(Where Snowdrop discovers that she really really loves smoked salmon. With or without a cracker.)

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(Sparrow tries out a "walker" that Snowdrop once rejected. He loves it, showing a great expertise at moving backwards in it.)

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Did you notice how light it is outside? The longer days, the heightened expectations -- spring is coming. I promise!