Archives for the month of: May, 2007

Remember my friend who brought over the salt water aquarium?

She’s a clever one. She invited friends with kids for a cook out, Monday, and “oh by the way, my six-week-old kittens who have had their first shots and are ready to be adopted are upstairs in the bedroom, if you want to go see them”…

Molly spent almost the entire day on the bed with the kittens, giggling and snuggling and sighing.

Yeah, we brought one home.  She’s a very dear little furball, and kept popping her head up out of her box on the ride home, so Molly named her “Peekaboo”. (Boo, for short.) We set her up in Molly’s room with her own little food dish, litter box and sleeping basket.

The parallels to bringing home a new baby are obvious. Last night, Molly came into my room after midnight, weepy. “I love the kitten, but she sleeps a little and then wakes me up again and again. I need to sleep!”

Molly crawled into my bed, and I went to sleep in hers with the “baby”. I slept with my own infants in my bed and remember well that careful kind of sleep where you’re always aware of the little body you can’t roll over on. But my babies just woke to nurse… this one wants to pounce on my hair or climb me with her little claws.

My goodness, though, she’s sweet. Between romps she napped against my cheek, or my neck, or any place that seemed snuggly.

The other new-baby angst Molly is discovering is a sense of guilt about the jilted “old baby”.  Our cat Spooky is accustomed to sleeping in Molly’s bed and now she’s not invited — at least until new baby gets familiar with her new family. Molly sat with Spooky this afternoon and gave her some attention. I heard her say, “You probably think Peekaboo will take all your love, but there is enough love for everybody.” Spooky is, however, unimpressed with the little fuzz-wad thus far.  

The big challenge now is to get Molly to leave the kitten’s side long enough to do her homeschooling and eat her meals.

Grandma is coming tomorrow to wallpaper her bedroom (the border has kitties on it) — so Molly’s pretty happy, these days.

In other news… Connor’s snake escaped from its aquarium. We have not given up the search, but I am beginning to suspect we’ll find a crispy bit of snake jerky some day under the piano.

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After two years of keeping a humming, populous hive, I lost my bees last winter.  No sign of the infamous colony collapse, though I’ve been forwarded more articles and theories than I can count to explain the nation’s disappearing bees: cell phones, pesticides, genetically modified crops, overuse of antibiotics and miticides by beekeepers, and on and on.

In my case, something happened to the queen in late summer, and there were no more eggs. The hive was full of honey, but bees have a relatively short lifespan (replaced by the offspring of the couple thousand eggs a day the queen produces.)  So… no babies, no future. Usually bees can raise a new queen (or three) by feeding royal jelly to selected eggs, but we had an early frost and my guess is that there were no eggs to raise, or there was nothing left to feed the baby bees.

At any rate, I had a healthy looking hive, loaded with honey and pollen, untouched by antibiotics and chemicals… but nobody home. So in April, I ordered a package of bees. (I posted about it in an earlier blog entry). The queen in her little box with her handmaids is suspended in a wire box of maybe 50,000 bees — which went bzzz bzzzz bzzzz  all the way home.

I loaded the bees into the hive and all seemed to go well, but… no eggs appeared in the following weeks, no larvae, no capped cells of brood.  I was mystified. Did I damage or kill the queen by accident? Was she infertile?

After sufficient time passed, I decided to “requeen”.  I bought another queen and introduced her, with  her handmaids in the little queen box, into the hive.  The swarm seemed unimpressed.  Hmmm.

After a few days, when she had not eaten through the bit of candy blocking her exit hole (which both feeds the bees and stalls the progress so that her pheromones have time to enthrall the hive) — I widened the hole. As I returned the box to the frames of comb, I watched one of the handmaids climb out of the queen box, where she was instantly stung to death. It wasn’t looking good for the home team.

That meant there likely was still a queen in my hive, and her swarm was protecting her territory.  No wonder the new queen was in no hurry to come out. But the reigning queen wasn’t laying. I closed up the hive for a day or two, hoping for no real reason that the new queen met a better welcome than her handmaid.

Then I opened it again a few days ago, and found… drone comb.

Allow me to pause here and push up my nerd glasses, before I launch into what I consider a fascinating bit of bug trivia.

A queen is raised by worker bees.  If they are unsatisfied with their current queen, they will do this covertly. (This boggles me. Secret late night committee meetings? A classified memo? They email each other about the queen problem, vote, what?)

In some corner out of traffic, they build extra large, long, peanut-shaped cells out of beeswax, around a few of the ordinary eggs the queen has already laid. They keep the bad queen away while they feed those larvae on royal jelly, which (like wax) they produce from glands on their bodies. When the babies are large enough, the bees cap the cell with wax, enclosing the fledgeling queens as they do all bee larvae.

The first queen to hatch emerges from her cell, then immediately locates  the other queen cells, breaks them open and stings the “unripe” queens to death. The queen has a stinger that doesn’t tear out, unlike other bees, so she can sting repeatedly and live to tell the story.

So now she’s queen… but she’s still a virgin. She needs to make her way out of the hive, undetected by the old queen, and fly straight up in the air and make big circles, reeking of hey-baby-come-and-get-it bee perfume, and hoping for a mate.

Every hive has a proportionately small number of drones. While the female bees (“workers”) clean the hive, make wax, feed babies, guard the hive and forage for five miles in every direction to gather pollen and nectar, the drones just hang out. They have no stingers, do no work, and eat enough honey that they are generally evicted in cold weather to die on the doorstep.

But this is their big moment. Drones are much bigger than the other bees — like houseflies, with enormous eyes. (The better to see you with, my dear!)

They will sniff out our virgin queen and mate in flight. Like the bee who stings, though, they will lose their lives in the process.  They leave a seminal sac inside the queen which will hold a year or more worth of sperm for her to store, and then break free leaving their entrails trailing out behind the queen’s abdomen.  Still, she somehow managed to get more “dates” — each providing a year’s worth of sperm. She flies back to the hive trailing their guts like an ad banner behind a biplane.

(A quick aside: in hotter climates where Africanized “killer” bees can survive the winters, the succession of matings can make for a nasty surprise. If the queen mates with some docile and well behaved Italian and Russian bees, then the beekeeper can expect to open the hive and find a docile swarm. But if she had an Africanized boyfriend somewhere in the middle, that same hive will go suddenly “killer” when his seminal sac gets a turn in line in the queen’s system.)

OK, so back to my Shakespearean drama: the virgin queen returns mated.  The hive will now go find the old queen and assassinate her. The queen is dead, long live the queen.

Now: back to my drone comb. If our queen goes for her one maiden flight –the only time she will ever leave the hive, before she spends the next five to seven years laying thousands of eggs a day — what happens if she doesn’t get a date?

What if there aren’t enough drones in flying distance, or she has B.O. , or for whatever reason she fails to breed?

She returns to the hive, and begins to lay eggs anyway, even though she has never mated. It’s called parthenogenesis.

But here’s the poetic irony: she only can lay male/drone eggs. Once her workers raise the male babies and die off, the hive is doomed. (Anybody see that movie, “Children of Men”?)  There’s some kind of sweet justice there, though.. that even though her hive can’t survive, the number of drones it will produce in its dying gesture will improve the luck of other virgin queens and other local hives.

Me, I want honey. I can’t eat poetic justice.

When I pulled a frame with drone brood (the photo is above) life got even more complicated. Real beekeepers who actually know what they are doing explained that if the round-capped drone cells (drones are bigger, remember? so they get odd shaped cells) are laid in a scattershot pattern instead of in tidy rows, if the eggs are laid shallowly in the cells and some cells contain more than one egg, I might have a worse problem: not an infertile queen, but a laying worker.

That’s nature’s plan C: a queenless hive with no hope of survival, can produce a worker bee capable of laying drone eggs.

Why is that bad? Because I could find an infertile queen, by searching every frame of comb, and kill her. Then they would accept a new queen if I bought one.

But the workers all look alike, so there’s no way to know which one is laying.

I was so sad. It seemed like there was no way out of the situation, and it’s too late in the season to buy another package of bees. They wouldn’t have time to build up stores for winter if they are just getting started in late May.

So  I wailed to the beekeeping list on Yahoo, and I’ll be damned if a woman in Brooklyn, Michigan didn’t come to my rescue.

Monday morning on the way home from the lake, we stopped at the farmhouse of a total stranger — a woman named Cheryl.  She let my kids visit her 4 day old puppies, dug up hostas and other perennials to send home with me in a box, and best of all, pulled two frames of healthy brood out of one of her beehives and boxed it up for me. Capped workers, uncapped little fat white grub-larvae, eggs, and hundreds of nurse-bees clinging to the frames came along for the ride.

Though I rarely use gloves or my bee-hat, I put on all my gear, not sure what would happen when I introduced “new-bees” to the hive. On Cheryl’s advice, I smoked hell out of the hive, pulled the drone comb frames out of the brood box and popped her frames in, bees and all.

My hope is that the hive will seize the opportunity and start feeding some of those eggs royal jelly, and raise a new queen. Lord knows she ought to be able to find a date, with all the drones in my hive. I scraped out some of the drone cells, just to keep a balance.. and also because Molly’s mouse and Connor’s rat think sweet, fat little bee larva grubs are delicious.

I’ll keep you posted. I’m staying out of the hive for a while, and will check back in a week or two and see if there are queen cells, or eggs. I’m not in a hurry, since there’s not much I can do if this last ditch effort doesn’t work. Go, bees!

 

 

 

 

Last summer, before I started school, I tore out the fence around my 30X40 veggie garden, dug up the perennial plants and mowed it flat. It’s lawn, now, though volunteer arugula replaces the crabgrass and clover we usually grow for grass.

I knew I wouldn’t have time to tend, water, weed and harvest my usual edamame, snow peas, okra, several heirloom varieties of eggplant and tomato, garden greens and every kind of salad leaf, curly kale, strawberries, garlic, ground cherries, onions, blue potatoes, zukes and butternut squash, melons, peppers and gourds.

But I was miserable by fall, buying rock hard flavorless tomatoes at the store. I had underestimated how much my eye and brain are fed by pumpkins on the vine, gourd shapes, the production-mode of canning tomatoes. I even missed weeding. No garden toad, no crunchy asparagus snapped off the stem and eaten raw.

I still had — have — the cherry trees, the self-sustaining gooseberries, raspberries and currants, rhubarb along the back fence, and I stuck a few veggie garden plants in the front flower beds but it wasn’t the same.  I have my herb garden as always, near the kitchen door, and get a handful of blueberries from the bushes in front.

So this summer, I hauled four boards out of a dumpster at school and brought them home to make a very small raised bed. Three heirloom tomato plants and two super sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. I usually eschew hybrids but the sweet 100s fill an Ann Tubbs majolica or Theresa Yondo porcelain bowl on my table all summer, and the kids eat them like candy. We dry them and seal them in jars for crunchy snacks and winter pestos.

I keep telling myself that’s it… but what’s summer without grilled eggplants, peppers and zukes? I am eyeing the lumber fromthe treehouse the kids are taking apart, thinking maybe eggplants… and in the fall, I may set up my hoop greenhouse again for greens into the cold months.  For now I’ll spice up the grocery store salads with fresh herbs and leaves of the arugula I can still find in the lawn.

 

Sunday was the last regular sunday school class at church. The lesson was about recycling, animals and our environment.

The guest speaker was a woman who brought in several pet snakes, and taught the kids about their habits and habitats. She had a small tank full of snake babies, since one of her pets had given birth: baby checkered garters, as big around as a pencil.

Of course, Connor came home with one.  He named him squeaker, and feeds him earthworms.  He has a lovely olive color and intricate patterns. He’s as smooth as a polished stone, solid and cool in my hand. Watching  his sides expand and contract while he breathes is a strangely fascinating sensation.

I spent the rest of sunday planting moss roses, lobelia and pansies in the windowboxes, and mulching the raised flowerbeds in the front yard.  They are perennial beds and have been layered with mulch-compost “lasagna style”, but they haven’t looked too pretty this spring withthe sprouts coming up through fall leaves. 

Now the folks across the street are selling their house, so I’m sprucing up the yard to be as helpful as possible.  I hate the fake dyed-red mulch, but there were several torn/rebagged ones for a dollar each, so red it is. I am pretty sure the red color will be gone with the first rain, anyway.

Jeff took the boys to see Spiderman 3, and later we continued with our let’s-see-where-we-can-bike-to adventure, and found a way to the Bob Evans by the highway, through neighborhood streets.  Good old American comfort food, starch and grease that probably offset any health benefits of biking.

This morning the kids and I spent some time on geometry, then rode our bikes to the metropark for homeschool park day. 8 to 10 moms and dozens of kids usually show, and it’s a nice connection for everybody.  The kids fly kites and play red rover and tag among the trees, and the little ones make sand castles and play on the slides and swings. There are kids in the group my kids have known since they were in strollers. 

This evening Jeff dropped the kids at gymnastic/tae kwon do and then he and I rode our bikes to the grocery store for milk; I made 10 pints of yogurt, culturing now on the counters. I am rethinking all the places we do business and trying to find a place within biking distance. Of course, this is only going to be useful during the summer month.

(That’s not a typo, that’s my attempt at humor.)

Tomorrow my mom will pick up the kids to deliver Mobile Meals, and I’ll rent a u-haul trailer to go pick up a load of cedar and me-haul it to the wood kiln at EMU.  These May days are busy, but feel somehow unpressured; varied, and unscheduled. I think spending less time in my car has added to my sense of peace. No clock in front of my forehead telling me whether I’m late, gas gauge telling me how far to empty, kids arguing in the back, red lights and tailgaters. The bike ride includes the smell of honeysuckle and catnip along the trail, tadpoles in the ditches, shortcuts through parkinfg lots, perusal of neighbors yards and flowerbeds, fresh air and exercise.

Between my bike and the hammock I got for Mother’s day, this is turning out to be a lovely spring. It’s still sunny enough for freckles but too chilly for bugs. Nice cool sleeping weather, coffee on the deck in the morning. And getting out of the car means I have a new relationship with my “territory” – like when I was a kid. I know where the hills are, huffing up and gliding down. I know where the squished roadkill squirrel is, and whose dog barks along the fence when I pass.

Now if only I could hitch that U-haul trailer to my bike…

I went up in the garage loft and pulled down the old bike trailer I used to use for toddlers. Now I use it for groceries, clay tools, packages for the post office and general shopping trips.

We’ve complained in the past about businesses popping up all around us, traffic and noise… but now that gas is over $3 a gallon, and I don’t have to drive to and from school all summer, I’m able to bike to work (my class at the potter’s guild), to the park for homeschool meetings, to the grocery store, my bank, the post office, and anything along the bike trail (including Lowes and my doctor’s office.) I could go to WalMart if I had to.

Since my low carb diet has lost out to my wood fired bread oven, the bike will maybe keep me in shape, as well.

Yesterday we did drive back to EMU, Jeff and the kids and I, for my friend Ben Bigelow’s MFA show. I hadn’t been back since April. Diana was out of town for the weekend, but I stopped by the clay studio on myway home. It was kind of unsettling. Everything looked different than I remembered. The pots I had left on my shelves were not as good as I’d imagined.

I’m still making pots every day at home, but without the pressure or the critiques. I’d be dishonest if I said I was looking forward to going back for more of either, but I’m sure I’ll be up for it by fall.

Today I went to a workshop at the guild, where members had extruded all kinds of forms for us to work with for the afternoon. The pot luck was good as always, and I got to sit with Edith Franklin who I haven’t chatted with since NCECA. I managed to get a platter of bread and goat cheese pizza over there in the bike trailer with my bag of tools and Mark Issenberg’s coffee mug. It was a nice day.

When I got home, Jeff was making venison medallions with a red wine reduction, black rice, grilled veggies with eggplant and portabellas. We had a nice dinner with the sun and breeze blowing through our sunroom, and the kids took turns as usual telling what was the best thing to happen to them today. After dinner, they went out to sit in their climbing tree and eat popsicles and I beat Jeff at Scrabble (318 to 238). We climbed up on the roof and permanently sealed up the vent where the raccoons had broken in. (They’ve all taken off for wilder places.) I sat up there for a while looking down at my little yard, all lush and green, the cherry and plum trees, the raspberry vines, the gooseberry bushes already making berries. Then Jeff and I hung out in the hammock for a while, before he went to his woodshop to turn some really pretty walnut bowls, and I sat at the kitchen table making more ewers. Jeff’s bowl with the tumbling blocks it in the Salon de Refuses show right now, at the Parkwood Gallery across from the Art Museum. I had to teach the night of the opening but he took the kids, who apparently hung out near te pedestal telling passers by, “My dad made this!”

Now everybody’s in bed, Molly talking in her sleep across the hall from where I sit typing, and the cat purring on the arm of my chair. Connor’s rat is in her cage, chewing on the crusty end of one of my raisin walnut loaves.

I’m going to bed, myself. I love my bed, and these cool nights have been perfect sleeping weather. Tomorrow we’ll go to church in the morning, then I’ll work on the yard, mulch around the peonies and blueberries,, plant a few tomatoes, and go through boxes in the studio that need sorting. I sit down when I can and throw a dozen spouts, put them in a damp box, and then make ewers for them when I have a minute to myself.

I’ll check my hive, tomorrow, too. The queen is still in her queen box with the attendants, so I pushed a bigger hole in the candy blocking her exit, to set her free. The bees are paying a lot more attention to her, today, hanging all over the box, and getting really ornery when I pulled it out to check on her. I think that’s a good sign that her pheromones have taken over the hive. I just need her to get out and get laying!

More soon…

It’s a lovely weekend here. Mornings have been misty, with the intoxicating smell of lilac floating through open windows. Afternoons have been warm with fat floaty clouds, and the grass is growing so fast you can almost watch it happen. Evenings are cool, pleasant enough to eat out on the deck, and no bugs yet. Everything is blooming. An Eastern Oriole has appeared in our yard for the first time in 16 years, and belts out it’s pet-shop-parakeet-sounding tunes.

A groundhog the size of a small buffalo comes out of hiding in the evenings while we have dinner, and grazes around the brushy edges of our long narrow suburban yard. And after midnight, mama raccoon and her five (!) roly-poly offspring pile out of the ravaged roof vent like clowns out of a volkswagen. They single-file across the roof edge, over the gutter, across the top of the trellis that borders our deck and then across the railing to the stairs. The little ones scrabble and slip, bump into each other, chitter and squawk and otherwise look lik a cornball cartoon strip. I suppose they head for the neighborhood drainage ditch to find frogs and crawdads, though one night I ran out in my jammies to find the source of a pitiful wail, and found one little coon kitten stranded on top of my studio rainbarrel, looking for the way down. His mom was in a nearby evergreen, hissing at me, so I went back to bed and let her parent her own unruly kids.

Connor came in yesterday thrilled to announce that a pair of wrens have chosen my clay birdhouse this year, and have babies inside. Their music always feels like a blessing, and I love to see the tiny bird with their tails in the air, perched on my clothesline wit a mouthful of bug or cussing the cat from the rusty wire fence, so angry they seem not to know or care that they’re barely the size of a walnut.

I love that I have a kid who can get that excited about a family of wrens. And though I have no great joy in having coons under the roof, we at least have some wildlife in our scrappy little yard behind the Walmart.

The bees are thriving, as well… I need to take pictures. The ice cream truck is back with its over-amplified, repetitive song — the joy of neighborhood kids and the bane of their mommies.

(I know a woman who told her younger and more gullible kids, “When the music is playing, that means they are all out of ice cream.”)

The last few days have been busy, with the Toledo Potters Guild’s annual second sale (in conjuction with the mother’s day plant sale, at the botanical garden that houses our guild.) It’s nice enough that I can ride my bike to and from the guild, now, and so can my kids. They’d show up at the sale, bring me lunch, help out a bit… wander to the log cabin where somebody in period costume helped them make paper flowers for mom… then ride home on their own to play with roving neighborhood friends, raid the cookies or climb their back yard tree with a library book.

I demoe’d handbuilding, today, while another member threw pots. I had thrown a bunch of little spouts and ewer bodies, and put together eight or ten of them in a sunny spot near the sale table. Somebody emailed me the photo above.

I made a couple hundred bucks on pots I needed to clear out of my studio. Some had been dusty bisque, sitting on shelves since last summer, and I glazed them with my glaze test tiles. Others were experiments from EMU that were send home as unworthy of further consideration. The guild’s slice of the profit is minimal, the company was fun and the weather lovely… so all in all, a nice weekend. Maybe I’ll spend the money on a workshop in Indianapolis I’ve been thinking about, though I should be saving it for next year’s tuition.

Right now, middle son is listening to a Harry Potter book on tape while whittling a stick… Molly’s both listening to the story and reading Garfield (which always boggles my mind.) Eldest is having his first teen party in the basement of his out-of-town grandparents (equipped with a pool table, foosball, air hockey and wide screen nintendo/dance dance revolution). Jeff is upstairs at grandma’s being the responsible adult.

I am going to go unload boxes, photograph a few pots to put on my site, put the new ewers in the kiln and take a hot bath. I plan to sleep in on mother’s day and my kids have promised me coffee in bed at the crack of nine. We’ll head for the lake for a cook out with my mom… thank goodness for good weather!

This morning, Tyler’s Coming Of Age program at church (the UU version of confirmation, I guess) had their graduation celebration, in a service led by the 16 junior-high aged kids.

They each read the “credo” they had come up with for themselves during meetings, discussions and retreats, and Tyler played “Amazing Grace” on the sax.  Those verses are a bit more “salvation” oriented than what the UUs are accustomed to singing, but it’s a lovely old hymn and he did a nice job.

Then we drove to Monclova for Connor and Molly’s piano recital. It’s funny to see the little kids playing their simple tunes and remembering my own kids when they could barely reach to climb on the bench. Now they look so big, and are proud to be able to play such complex tunes.

We raced home because friends were arriving for an early supper, and to  plan a summer canoe-camping trip.

Now it’s late, the house is quiet and I’m running a bath. We cleaned yesterday at the potter’s guild, and the ton of class clay had arrived. Four kind hearted volunteers took turns sliding the 50 pound boxes down an improvised ramp into the basement, but as the only one at the bottom of the stairs, I lifted, hauled and stacked — literally — a ton of clay yesterday. I’m starting to feel it.

So sunday wraps up the week, recitals wrap up the lessons, and soon our days will be our own (more or less). I’m hoping for a hammock for mother’s day.

May 2: Sad rat story

Connor (11) took his beloved, almost two year old rat to the vet today. She’s getting a frequent bloody nose and is losing weight. He looked in her mouth and said there’s a tumor pushing down on the roof of her mouth, nothing he can do.

She has maybe a month, maybe two.. but when she’s suffering, C. can bring her in and the vet will euthanize her. The vet said (in front of my kid) that it involves an injection directly into the heart, and he doesn’t let pet owners watch because it’s kind of disturbing. I kind of wish he hadn’t said that but he was a nice guy anyway.

Con wanted so badly not to cry in front of the vet, but he’s so sad. When we got home we took Rattus outside under the blooming crab tree and let her wander in the grass in the sunshine. She still is eating and seems kind of OK, only she washes her face a lot which I think means it’s painful, and her eyes look a little bugged out. DS will have to decide when it’s time. The vet made it clear that she won’t just slip away — it will be unpleasant and drawn out.

So he’s cried on and off, spent some time with her, but it makes him really sad now. I reminded him that she’s not upset or afraid, and that we can make sure she has good treats and a comfortable end to her life. He’s been so good to her. When we were outside he blew away dandelion seeds to make a wish. He said he wished she would have “an easy time at the end of her life and a good afterlife”.

We’re doing a few looking-ahead things. He’s getting library books about chinchillas, which the vet says can live 12 years. And he’s planning to make a clay sarcophagus, rat sized, with an eqyptian-mummy-looking lid only with a rat face. I can cremate the remains in the pot, in my kiln, as the vet won’t do it.

I know some people hate rats but I have a kid who is going to have one of those life lessons, whether he wants it or not.

Plus he has strep this week.

Any ideas to help him out? He’s writing about it in his journal.

__________________

May 3: A better rat story

So I was up until one in the morning reading horrifying accounts of heart-injection euthanasia for rats, and looking up home options for doing it a gentler way. Rat lovers boards said, “If the vet won’t let you come in for the euthanasia, just say no.”

I looked into a homemade carbon dioxide chamber, or overdoses of meds. I talked to Connor about it this morning, but he was all conflicted and upset about the whole thing.

He took her outside to play in the grass, caught her bugs to eat like always, but looked so sad the whole time, since time seemed so short for her.

In desperation, I called another vet (Dr. Paul Pipher, a good guy who camps in sub zero temps every year to be the Iditarod vet.) He used to be Connor’s scout leader, and knows us pretty well. I asked if he could please, please do a general anesthesia before the heart injection… he says he always does. I was relieved and told ds about it, and we agreed that’s how we’d do it when the time came.

Then, later this morning, Molly came yelling out of Connor’s room– something was really wrong with the rat. We went in to find fresh, bright red blood (lots of it) all over the rat’s bedding, chest and front paws and flowing out of her nose. Con and I agreed that it was probably time for her to go, and that if this was what it was going to be like for her, we needed to put her down right away.

So off we went to the scout leader vet, Rattus in a box, Connor crying and petting her.

The vet was so kind, talked sweet to her, petted her. He asked if we wanted to bury her ourselves, and Connor said yes, and decided we’d wait in the waiting room for him to bring the body out, rather than going in to watch.

We waited. We were both in tears, me mostly feeling badly for Connor who really adored this rat, and has had her on his shoulder or in his shirt every day.

After 20 minutes or so the vet comes out, but no box.

“Interesting development”, he says. “Once she was out, before I did the injection, I decided to have a look at the tumor in the roof of her mouth”.

No tumor. Apparently she has such a bad overbite that despite the chew sticks we gave her, the bottom teeth grew so long they were PIERCING THE ROOF OF HER MOUTH. Thus the weight loss, the bloody noses, etc.

He cut the teeth off off, let her wake up (she’s still a bit groggy, he really had her under) and brought us in so he could show us the holes. He gave us antibiotics for the next week while her mouth heals and off we went, my son just as happy as he can be. PLUS the vet says two years is not that old for a rat, that he’s seen some four to six.

The sibs were thrilled to see him coming home with a live rat instead of a body.

She drank a little bowl of Dannon actimel when she got home, and is napping now in a clean box of cloth diaper rags in her cage.

Damn, I’m relieved. I had even considered doing a secret midnight benadryl thing to save DS the trauma… glad now I didn’t.

Yesterday’s misdiagnosis: $16
Today’s vet visit with antibiotics: $70
Happy kid: priceless.

We were sitting in the sun room doing our homeschool and we heard a thump behind the wall.

No clue. We looked in the pantry, checked around, went back to doing our studies.

Maybe ten minutes later, we heard the unmistakable, miserable chitter of a baby raccoon calling for mama. Yep, it was right behind the drywall, in a narrow divider wall between my pantry and stairwell. Way too narrow a space for mama raccoon (who has raised a litter in an unaccessible part of the roof, above our new addition) to come to the rescue.

The kids and I gathered to stare at the wall, and listened as little lost coonkitten tried to climb up… made it a foot and a half or so– then thumped down again and cried for mama. This went on for maybe half an hour, until we lost hope that baby would make the climb alone.

Fortunately, this bit of wall is still under construction from the new doorway for the sunroom we built on, and it hasn’t been finished yet. So I went and got a knife and a screwdriver and began cutting a section out of the drywall.

This little face peered out of the hole. As mad as I have been at the stupid varmints for moving in under my roof, the old maternal instinct kicked in and I just wanted the get this cutie back to mama. The kids were absolutely enamored, as well.

He’s waving goodbye before I climb up the ladder and stuff him into the roof vent his mom tore open to make a nest in there earlier this spring. Yeah, that’s right, I am putting raccoons INTO my attic.

At least until mama decides to take them all out on a night raid. Then I climb up there in my jammies and nail their little door shut.

The kids found it a nice diversion from their Singapore Math studies.