Preparing for a New Arrival

When i decided Sili needed a companion my mind immediately went to a Great Pyranese. They were majestic. They were huge (bigger than coyotes). They were brave, fiercely protective, highly intelligent, job oriented dogs. They were also massively fluffy (not gonna lie, there was a cuteness factor pulling at my heart strings). However, i wasn’t sure this was the type of dog we needed for this particular property. Everything i had read about them indicated that a great pyranese would not be condusive with our type of fencing. Also, they tended to give the orders rather than take them. They were used to being left alone in the hills to look after a herd of sheep on their own. They weren’t the type that could be made to sit, fetch, or roll over on command. I wondered whether Sili would still follow my orders if she saw another dog calling their own shots. Also, and most importantly, the several thousand dollar a/c and heated dog house (some assembly required) i had purchased online was a large, not an extra large. I began looking at other breeds. Then suddenly it hit me. I had always loved Australian Shepherds but never thought about owning one because i didn’t have the land or the lifestyle that would be required to have one. Well, now i did. An aussie was exactly what we needed. They were highly intelligent and easy to train. They were fearless and high energy working dogs. They were known for being bold (what we needed). They were bigger than Sili. And most importantly, they would fit in a “large” sized dog house. So i made up my mind. We would find an aussie. As soon as i started researching i realized two things. 1. Aussie puppies go fast. 2. Aussie puppies are insanely expensive. I made up my mind. We would not be paying over 400 dollars for a puppy. Most of the Australian Shepherd puppies in the area were listed at 800 to 1250 per dog. I made up my mind that when the right opportunity arose and an australian shepherd puppy presented itself for less than 400 dollars, we would go get it. Only problem, where were we going to put it? I figured i had better get to work on constructing the uber expensive freight delivered dog house. I spent over $2000 on the thing and all together it weighed 384 lbs. it seemed like an investment i should seal against the elements in some way. I had a can of “chestnut” colored paint in the tool shed. I figured that ought to seal it well enough. So i set a piece of cardboard in the yard and placed brushes and a stir stick on it. I pried open the lid of the paint can with a screw driver and begun painting all the pieces “chestnut”. Half way through the day i would turn the pieces that had sun-dried laying in the yard and paint the other side. I inherited my grandmother’s ivory skin so i had anticipated a risk of sunburn. I had sunscreen on my eyelids, my ears, and even on the part in my hair. The only place i didn’t think to put it, was my butt crack. I don’t think anyone intends to have plumber pants. I sure didn’t. But, with hands full of paint, i wasn’t going to reach down and pull my migrating pants up. I kept thinking, “i’ll get them as soon as i finish with this piece…” but there was always another piece. Eventually all the pieces of the dog house were painted. They laid in the grass drying under the bright sun. I went inside the house and leaned on the counter. Suddenly i felt pain. I lifted my shirt up and turned my head. The little strip of skin directly above my butt crack was not crab red, but maroon, almost brown. It was beyond burnt. It was so burnt i considered calling a doctor to see if there was a protocol that should be followed. It was as dark as the paint. I placed a bag of frozen peas gingerly onto the remnants of my skin and realized this would one day be a very strange tan line. There are no pictures included here for obvious reasons. There’s an unspoken rule in life. It goes something like, “If you are stupid enough to wear pants showing your butt, don’t have photographic evidence of you doing so, and if you do, don’t share it with others whom you wish to respect you.” My sunburn took weeks to heal. Layer upon layer of skin peeled, one at a time. I do still have a dark brown line across my butt where the pants sat. I learned something. When painting, wear a long-tailed shirt. The pieces of the dog house were painted, dried, and placed back into the shed to await assembly. We were one step closer to a new addition, an alpha puppy.

Before and After

Yips in the Dark

When i met the sellers they told me that they had enjoyed listening to the coyotes yip in the dark many a night but they hadn’t heard them in a while. They feared the sheep farmers up the road had finally won the battle and wiped out the remaining of the coyotes who were eating their flock. I didn’t give much thought to the subject for a week or two. I had no reason to. I hadn’t seen any coyotes, though i checked the mud for tracks and scat each time it rained. There were plenty of fox, one possum, at least two raccoons, an armadillo, an occasional road runner, and a herd of deer that frequented the property. However, much to my contentment, no sign of coyote or mountain lion. I assumed there were none in the immediate area but i never left the tiny house without a weapon, just in case, especially at night. Anyone who had met my dog Sili knew that she would follow her momma into the mouth of hell if that’s where her momma went, for loyalty ran deep in her veins. Anyone who had met my dog Sili also knew that she was afraid of everything, from other dogs to thunder. She was a medium sized dog, about 27 lbs. she could be feisty when cornered but her nature was not that of an alpha. Sili was a follower. She was a valued member of my pack but she wasn’t in charge of our property. She was one of the charges on it and it was my job to keep her safe. So when it came time for Sili to go to the bathroom after dark i would pull on my shoes and my belt and accompany her into the star-lit darkness of the night. I would stand in the yard watching her as she timidly searched for a spot to do her business before hurrying past me towards the porch. When squatting she would glance back at me frequently to make sure i hadn’t gone. This cemented in my mind the need for a second dog. Not only was the property too much for Sili to guard by herself, Sili didn’t appear to feel confident, even with me standing armed in the yard. Sili didn’t feel safe. I knew what she needed. She needed an alpha; one that was smaller than her. Sili didn’t accept any kind of dog she thought might have a chance of winning a fight with her. Sili needed a puppy. A headstrong, confident, bold puppy who would one-day usurp her in size and rise to be her alpha…one who she felt she could probably whoop in a scuffle on day 1. I began researching dog breeds with the idea that when the right puppy surfaced, i would know and we would seize the moment. One evening, about 45 minutes before sundown, i was driving home when something ran across the road directly in front of my car. I could see it plain as day through the windshield. It looked right at me as it crossed the road, a haunting boldness in the expression on its face. It looked like a giant fox with a more dog-like snout. I didn’t know what it was at first. I knew coyotes to be bony desperate creatures with mangy coats and hollowed out faces, timidly hiding in the shadows, following neighborhood folk as they walked their yorkies and chihuahuas, waiting for the owners to turn away or answer their phone for just a second too long. This animal was confident, healthy, well-fed. Its face was full, its coat beautiful, and not a bone visible. No fear in this animals eyes. I had expected it to fear the vehicle about to smack into it but it seemed unphased as it trotted across the winding road. I made a mental note that Sili needed a companion that would grow larger than her. The coyote was larger than her. Even if she did find her bravery, it wouldn’t be a fair fight were they ever to cross paths in the yard. Sili spent a great deal of time sniffing all the areas of the yard. She seemed to know what i was realizing and she refrained from drinking water after nightfall and stayed close to the porch when made to go out to potty. Two days after i had seen the coyote cross in front of the car, i had fixed dinner, washed the dishes, and let the dog out to potty. Sili was standing in the yard. She was very stiff. She sniffed the air instead of the ground. I was frustrated with her because she was dragging the process out. I barked at her under my breath, trying not to wake the neighboring ranches, “go poop, Sili! Go poop! Its not hard. Pick a spot!” Sili remained frozen. I heard rustling in the darkness. Immediately my mind went to Max and i scanned the yard for his little glowing eyes, expecting to see him rooting in the dirt for bugs or displacing all the mulch in my pile. Then i heard a noise that sent a chill down my spine and made my blood run cold. A howl. Not a distant howl but a right-here howl. I had read that coyotes often sounded closer than they were. I was hoping there was truth to that because this one sounded loud enough to be standing somewhere on the property. Another quieter howl answered the first one in the darkness. There was a coyote very near to us having a conversation with at least one other in the distance. As the conversation continued i looked at sili, illuminated by the moonlight. She was standing 30 feet from me. She was looking at me. I couldnt make out her expression in the darkness but i knew from her rigid posture she was terrified. I motioned towards the porch with my hand. She stared at me. I motioned again and again for her to go to the porch. She stood frozen in the yard. The howl was louder now and i could hear dry grass crunch though neither Sili nor i were moving. I realized Sili was not going to move. Perhaps she knew better than i how close they were and feared movement would call attention to her position. I didn’t care what was in the yard or how close it was anymore. I was going to get the dog and go to the house and nothing was going to stand in my way. I unsnapped the holster for the machete on my belt and crossed the grass to where Sili stood. I could hear grass crunch on a different side of the yard. I wondered if the coyote had circled us or if its buddy had caught up. I reached the dog and placed my arms under her belly, lifting her into the air and heading back towards the porch. She remained rigid in my arms; frozen in place. Once i made it to the porch i climbed the stairs, set Sili down, turned the door knob, and lifted her over the threshold into the house. I locked the door behind us and turned on the porch light so i could see. The porch light only illuminated a ten foot circular area of grass near the porch. It revealed nothing. Sili looked up at me, her eyes wide with fear. The howls seemed very loud for a while. Then they became quieter. I told Sili, “it sounds like they’ve gone.” Sili shot me a look that said, “i will shit on the floor and take the consequence before you convince me to go out there again.” I didn’t offer her any more water that night and i didn’t require her to go potty again before bed. She held it, gladly. When i was standing at the stove making ramen i heard a strange noise. It sounded like a bunch of crazy people yipping in the night. At first i thought it had to be teenagers drunk out of their minds dancing around a bonfire somewhere but i quickly realized it was the coyotes. In all likelihood, they had caught dinner. I thought about what the sellers had said, about the coyotes eating the sheep. I looked over at Sili, her eyes wide with terror. I realized suddenly, she was probably smaller than a sheep. If they could take down sheep, they could take down Sili. I began leaving Sili inside when i did chores close to sundown and if i heard the coyotes at a distance, i put her inside and went back out to finish alone. One night i had worked at three different facilities. I had spent over 12 hours working. I was sleep deprived and hungry. I’d had to pee for several hours. And the following morning was trash pick up day, so i had to get the can out of the shed, drag it across the property, open the gate, and take it to the side of the road at the intersection. The trash can had wheels. As it rolled over the rocks and dirt it made a lot of noise and it filled my ears. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. I was about halfway through the yard when all of a sudden, loud and clear as day, i heard a howl. I looked around. It was overcast. There was no moon to see by. There was nothing but impenatrable darkness staring back at me. I strained my ears to listen. I couldn’t tell what was wind moving the tree branches or paws in the grass. There was another howl, to the other side of me. There were at least two coyotes nearbye. I thought about leaving the trash can in the yard, but, what would we do with the trash? If it wasn’t at the corner, IWS wouldn’t pick it up in the morning. I unfastened the holster for my machete on my belt and continued towards the gate. The howling rang in my ears and i kept thinking that i was moving in the wrong direction…away from the house. I thought, “at least Sili is inside, thank God.” I drug the trashcan to the corner of the intersection and set it in front of the gate. Then i started back in the direction of the howling. As i walked alongside the fence on the outside of my property i thought i could hear what sounded like a dog walking along the inside of the fence but i was sure there was a possibility my tired fearful mind was playing tricks on me. The howling stopped. As i closed and chained the gate there was only silence. I walked slowly and purposefully across the yard. I rested my hand on my machete until i got to the porch steps. I looked out into the darkness. I could see nothing. I opened the door and stepped inside. Sili was beyond happy to see me. I think she feared me captured or eaten or something. She wagged her tail back and forth and laid at my feet licking the air as she did when she was nervous. It stormed later that night. As tired as i was, i didn’t sleep. The coyotes were becoming too comfortable with our property. We needed another dog. A big dog; one who would bark at coyotes. Bigger than a sheep maybe. I wondered exactly how big a sheep was up close.

The Neighbor’s Cows

I’ve never actually met my neighbors. I prefer it that way. There is an access road to my one neighbor’s property that runs along the length of one side of my property. I see their truck and their suv drive along that dusty white road all the time but i never say hi to them and they never say hi to me. We’re perfect strangers. Best neighbors ever. My other neighbors that live across the street from me, they stop at the mailbox on the corner to empty it once in a while. I never say hi to them. They never say hi to me. I don’t know what they even look like, just their car. Again, best neighbors ever. Across the street on the other side of my property is a man that owns 22 acres. I know this because everyone in any kind of government office that has access to a map mistakes my property for his, and i have to hear about his property anytime i want to do anything from securing an address for my property to trying to get a private contractor out to stack and assemble some furniture. This man and his wife apparently owned 22 acres and they had a small herd of cows. I figured that detail out one day when i was standing in the yard and i heard “moo”. I stopped digging the hole i was working on and listened. Suddenly, there it was again, “moo”. The dog had heard it too! She was standing at attention with her ears up, a look of cautious curiosity on her face. I thought, “it couldn’t be!” I dropped the shovel and ran through the tall grass to the edge of the fence where i gasped. There stood 5 big healthy cows, tucked in amongst the trees and brush. They looked funny standing amongst the cedar trees. I had only ever seen cows in open fields. They looked so out of place between the branches, like stealthy secret cows; camoflauged. Sili and i stared at those cows for a good half hour. Sili had never met a cow, and i hadn’t been up close to a cow in over a year. I was beyond ecstatic that my neighbor had cows. It meant i would get to hear them and see them frequently without having to worry about deworming, keeping the flies at bay, feeding, and housing them. Over time, i began to realize that the cows only made noise at a particular time in the evening. They were only ever near the fence next to the road (and across from my property) at this certain time every evening. Soon i found out why. One day the dog went nuts barking and snarling and running through the tall grass in the direction of the fence. I followed her to see what the ruckus was about. I couldn’t see the men well through the trees, but there were two of them. I could see jeans and boots next to the pickup. In the pickup was hay. The hay was deposited near the fence, the gate was closed, and the truck disappeared. The cows descended upon the hay, mooing. Each evening i found myself in the yard doing chores, i would listen to the clank of a chain on a metal gate, the engine of a truck, and the mooing of contented cows living their best life. I hoped they were pet or dairy cows. I couldn’t bear to think of them slaughtered for meat. But, they were not my cows so it wasn’t my business. A couple months later the cows were all standing at the fence on a saturday. I looked over and noticed a calf. One of the cows had a calf with her. It was so precious. She was a really good mama, always checking where her calf was and nuzzling his head. If she walked in a certain direction, she turned to see if her baby was following. Sili and i stood in awe for a long while. New life had been created and was growing up before our eyes. I wondered if it was a bull calf or a heifer. Since they appeared to dwell among the trees, i began to refer to my neighbor’s cows as forest cattle. I enjoyed listening to the forest cattle moo in the evenings and when i heard metal clank against metal i knew it was time for their supper.

Old School Bathtub

It may have taken me forever and a day to realize that the heater was broken but i noticed early on that the hot water heater was not up for the job. I could manage around 6 minutes of warm water in the dead of winter and 10 minutes of hot water in the blazing heat of summer. With a sub-par water heater and a well pump that didn’t have a holding tank, the thought of a bathtub had crossed my mind. I could always boil water for a bath but i couldn’t fix a cold shower. I wasn’t looking for a major bathroom renovation. I was dead broke at the time. So i turned to the pioneer days for a rather basic solution. Way back in my childhood i remembered watching an episode of little house on the prairie. There was a bathtub without a drain. It was the basic model; before we came up with all the fanciness that hooks up to city plumbing. The main problem with this kind of tub was that i had to be able to lift it to drain the water after the bath. That little detail effectively governed which size tub i could look at buying. I was determined to find a tub that wouldn’t rust and wouldn’t weigh a ton. So i went to our local everything store; Gibson’s. I bought the smallest steel tub i could find that i could still sit in. I drove it home and set it in the bottom of my shower. I filled the pasta pot with water and set it on the stove to boil. Once the water was bubbling i switched off the stove and carried the pot into the bathroom where i carefully dumped the contents into the steel tub. Then i turned the shower knob all the way to “hot” and emptied what warm water there was in the water heater into the tub. Once it was 3/4 full, i dipped my hand in. It was nice and hot. I sunk into that bath like butter. That water felt so good on my tired sore muscles. It was better than a cup of iced tea to a dying man stranded in the desert. I sat in that tub until my fingers and toes looked like raisins. It was so luxurious to be able to soak in hot water. That settled it. No more showers! I began getting up an hour early to boil water and soak in a hot bath every morning. I was more sleep-deprived but so refreshed. When the water had lost its heat i would step out, wrap a towel around myself, and tip the edge of the tub, gradually pouring the bath down the shower drain. When the tub was empty i would set it in the kitchen on the cool stove to dry. Eventually it came time to put flea and heartworm meds on Sili. She could only tolerate the topical ones. Once a month i would make a bath in the evening, soak in it until it felt comfortably warm instead of muscle soothing hot, then hurry over and remove Sili’s collar, lifting her into the tub before the water lost any more heat. I used a bowl to pour the water over her to rinse away her coconut oatmeal shampoo. Once all the greasy medicine was washed off i would lift her out and wrap her in a towel, tipping the tub to drain the muddy dog-hair laden soapy water. I would scoop the dog hair off the drain and put it in the trash bag to protect the septic tank. She would sleep on the kitchen floor afterwards, giving her fur a chance to dry. Showers were bearable during the summer; even enjoyable in August. However, during the winter this steel tub became a very important piece of our daily routine.

Occasional Supply Runs

Living an all-natural chemical free lifestyle is hard to do when the grocery store in my town is the shell station up the road. So, i end up buying all my shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, perfume, and makeup online. However, amazon is not always cost effective. Each person listing an item can decide what they want to price it at and if the buyer wants that item badly enough, they will pay it. I have in the past seen one bottle of the shampoo i use listed at 55 dollars + shipping. I will wait until i am almost out of an item trying to see if someone will list it at a reasonable price. If they don’t, i have to dedicate a weekend to driving into a big city for a supply run. Whether i buy online or in the city, i generally buy in bulk to save on shipping/gas money/wear and tear on the car. I try to have at least 3 of the large items, 6 of the medium items, and 20 of the small items in the box under the bathroom sink following a successful supply run. It’s important i stay stocked on the day-to-day items and keep inventory of what i have because i can’t just run down the road and pick another one up if i’m out of something. Its a long drive back to the products i was brought up with.

The Quiet

My favorite time of the day is dawn on a weekend. I’m at work long before sunrise on the weekdays so i generally miss this time throughout the week. However, on Saturdays and Sundays i can catch the quiet. The quiet is the time right before the sun comes up, when the sky is lightening but nothing is awake yet. The time when the nocturnal animals have turned in for the night and the daytime ones haven’t woken up yet. Not a bird sings. Not a cricket chirps. It’s just quiet. It is light enough to see your hand but not yet light enough to make out colors. Everything is either shadow or other. There is no red, green, or blue. It is my favorite time of the day. It is best experienced in silence, with a good dog at one’s side.

Cat-Proofing my Grandmother’s Rocking Chair

When i lived in apartments i had separate rooms and if something was off limits to the cat i could just close the door. In the tiny house, everything is open. So i had to come up with a way to cat-proof my grandmother’s rocking chair. I stretched trash bags over the cushions and put them on top of the free standing closet when not in use. However, there was still a square of felt stretched across the seat of the rocking chair. The cat would definitely christen this if given a chance. I decided a piece of wood would be the way to go; a flat piece of wood i could slide in place when the chair was not in use. Just to make sure she abhorred it, i would rub it down with lemon oil. I bought a piece of plywood at home depot. I knew from past experience that they did not do diagonal lines. They could only cut things into perfectly straight squares and rectangles with their jigsaw beast. So, i watched a youtube video and taught myself to use a circular saw. I laid the board of wood on an overturned bucket and marked where i wanted it cut. I anchored the piece with my knee and made the cuts. Then i sanded all sides and edges of the piece of wood and drenched it in lemon oil. Once it had dried i blotted the excess oil away with paper towel and tested it out. As soon as the lemon scented piece of wood came within 3 feet of the cat she squinched up her nose and ran. I slid the piece of wood into place on the rocking chair and my place was officially cat ready. Eventually our cat would pick something else to pee on (the stove burners) at which point she would join my friend and her family. However, at this point in time we were still moving mountains and air trying to make sure the environment was set up for her best level of success in our family.

Bambi Bones

One day Sili emerged from behind the shed with this in her mouth. Now, my dogs are diggers, so it would do no good to give the poor bambi a proper burial. It would essentially be like putting the skull in the refrigerator for the dog to snack on later. I didn’t feel right throwing the skull of an animal in the trash. It was once a deer with a promising young life. Its story didn’t deserve to end in a white forceflex trash bag. So, i put it on the fence railing of the porch. We had a couple windy days and it blew off the porch railing, so now it sits amongst the pots in the herb garden on a chair. Every so often from winter all the way into autumn a dog would show up on the porch with a femur, a vertebrae, or a rib. So proud. Just beaming, walking around with their prize in their teeth. I put the other bones in the trash. They were not especially clean bones and it appeared other animals may have had a turn before the dog chewed them. I didn’t want any dog of mine eating after a coyote or fox whose vaccination records i couldn’t check. So, every time i found a bone it went in the forceflex trash bag for weekly collection. But, poor bambi’s skull sits on the porch surveying the land of its scattered remains.

Ah-Ha Moment

I’m sure the a/c – heating unit was broken a long time before i realized it because it hadn’t been heating since i moved in. However, i didn’t know how strong this little unit should be. I thought maybe the weather was just too much for it. I didn’t realize i needed a repair man until the day we skirted the house when the handyman pointed to my block of powdery ice in the yard and said, “you know that’s broken right?” I turned and looked where he had pointed. He dusted some of the powdered ice off of the unit and said, “it’s not supposed to be like that.” I had thought the ice had come from the sky, as we were standing in the freezing rain, but he assured me it had nothing to do with the weather. So i called a repair man. He gave me a very fair price but i would have to wait for the part to be ordered and shipped from out of town. For a week my daily routine involved de-icing the a/c unit with a butter knife. There were some metal tubes coming out the back of the a/c unit in a loopy motion that reminded me of a hotwheels track. The repair man said this was a problem. It would have to be cut and sautered back together in a straight line. The a/c repair guy was an honest guy that came highly recommended and did good work. The job was done earlier than expected and the unit has worked great ever since. The minute hot air came out of that thing i had an ah-ha moment. I had been cold all winter because the heater was broken.