Vacation Week

Last week was Vacation Week here in Maine. If you are picturing me lounging in the sun, fruity drink in hand, keep dreaming.  The only downtime I got was Sunday, between the hours of 12:30 and 2pm.  I didn’t see a single fruity drink the whole week, unless you count the orange juice I had to wipe off the windows when the kids missed the sink.  The one highlight? My husband also took the week off. Normally this would have rocked beyond belief.  But since we are LIVING THE DREAM of 250 year old home ownership, Vacation Week was Hell.

Highlights of Hell included:

Cleaning out the basement.  Normally I wouldn’t complain, a little tidying here & there, but our basement was so congested we had to rent a jumbo sized construction dumpster.  It arrived Friday afternoon.

Let the Vacation begin!  Our super duper olde house had some super duper olde wood in the basement.  As you can see here:

All the construction debris from upstairs had to be stowed somewhere.  Unfortunately, the recent rains which flooded our basement also waterlogged much of the discarded material.  Causing it to mold as well as rendering it ungodly heavy.  The rodent excrement peppering much of it was just a bonus.

It took us four days to haul everything outside to the dumpster.  And if the backbreaking labor wasn’t memorable enough, its aftermath was truly unforgettable.  Likely b/c of something I breathed in/touched/otherwise ingested while hauling all that crap, I spent two nights splayed across the bathroom floor, longing for death.  There is something about a severe GI upset that scars a person.  Twice in 3 days is enough to induce psychosis.

In between the wood hauling, full body chills & bathroom trips, we enjoyed nature.  And we didn’t even have to leave the house!  When you are Living the Dream like we are, you discover all sorts of things you never knew you had.  Like red squirrels!

OOOooOOOh!  Yes he (or she) IS VERY CUTE.  My older daughter was beside herself with worry and desire, both to save and KEEP the squirrel.  I am wild about animals. but frankly, I draw the line at eyedropper feeding an infant squirrel ten times a day for the next who knows how long.  After 2 days of trying unsuccessfully to reunite baby w/momma, we took him (her) to the nature refuge.

So, where was that squirrel hiding?!  Remember all that wood in the photo above?  Well, it’s reeeeaaallly hard to see, but there in the back you can faintly make out some wood paneling/shelves.  These walls/shelves were put up by the former owner, who had hoped to use the basement as a workshop – before realizing how high the water table is.  Back before we bought the house, our home inspector urged us to remove as much of this stuff as possible.  50 years of flooding hasn’t been good to this wood.  These walls/units were serving no other purpose than to 1) hold water, 2) mold, 3) conceal stuff.  Stuff like the squirrels who’d been living behind them.  As well as a lot of chewed up batting, poop, and potential structural issues – which, thankfully, we’ll now be able to see before they wreak havoc.  Here is the space with the beautiful brick archway exposed.

But the nature discovery didn’t end there.  Oh, no.  With all that work we’d been doing INSIDE, we hadn’t noticed just what a beating the outside had been taking.

When we moved in 8 months ago, we had a green lawn. Over the winter, the green naturally turned brown. As spring has sprung, much of the grass – mostly out back – has regained its verdant look. But the lawn out front?  About a month ago, these strange brown patches started appearing. Subtle at first, now downright ugly. Initially the dead grass fit the pattern of being urine burned. Along the edge the sidewalk, where dogs do their business. Or, as one neighbor suggested, it could have been salt burn from the snow plowing. Initially this made sense, until these brown patches began to grow, moving up from the sidewalk to the upper part of the front yard. My husband and I wondered whether it could still be dogs? But our neighbors are courteous, and we had such a mild winter. Surely, neither explanation could account for this, and no other yards seemed touched. The dead zones kept spreading and our concern grew.

I went out late last week to investigate. I brought along a heavy metal rake, and began first by poking, then by scraping the surface of the grass. The brown dead areas came off effortlessly, and just below the surface, to my horror, I found:

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!  WHITE GRUBS. Dozens and dozens of them. I spent some time removing the dead zones, which of course just so happen to be DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF OUR HOUSE. Facing the street. Where everyone can gaze upon them.

Ughhh.  Yes, it is UGLY.  Having had a mere postage stamp of a yard in Philly, we had no freaking clue.  How could we have possible hedged against a nemesis we didn’t even know existed?!  And so, we got to work.  Once again.  We spent time researching online, investigating natural and chemical pesticides, trying to determine the best course of action.  I wish I could tell you we did it the happy holding hands way, but this time – it was us or the grubs.  We decided to take the dirty route and poison them using Grub-Ex.  I did not want to do it, but dammit, we have invested everything we have & more in this house and I will not let some white grotty grubs take my beautiful lawn away.  OH NO.  Our next door neighbor lent us her spreader and we put that Grub-Ex down on every inch.  2 days of work and the lawn’s still ugly as sin.  But hopefully it’s on its way to health.  Time will tell.

The icing on the cake came at the least expected time.  I went to relieve myself and was greeted with this.

No droppings in the (lived in portion of) the house, no sign of them at all – then BAM! a dead one in the TOILET?!  When the mice are jumping ship, is that a sign?  Sigh..

Differences between butterflies and moths

I took the ladies to the Academy of Natural Sciences last week, and one of our very favorite exhibits there is called BUTTERFLIES! I like it almost as much as the stuffed bird room on the third floor, and the super sweet Cowbird in the Children’s room who absolutely loves my older daughter and always talks to her when we visit. Cowie, Cowie, he calls, and puts his head down for a scratch. ANYWAY. At the Buttterflies! exhibit, we spoke w/ a friendly & highly knowledgeable staff person who explained to us the difference between moths & butterflies, something I had always wondered about but never quite knew.

Three easy ways of identifying a MOTH vs. BUTTERFLY:

1) Moths are mostly nocturnal, i.e., they’re active at night and rest during the day. Butterflies are the opposite – awake during the day, at rest during the night.

2) Moths, when they rest, spread their wings out to each side, wide open. Butterflies, on the other hand, close their wings together & keep them upright. They may gently beat them up and down while feeding, but mostly keep them closed rather than spread to each side.

3) Moths have short, feathery antennae, while butterflies have long, thin antennae w/ a “club” (nub-like doo-da) at the tip.

Some other interesting facts (excerpted from National Geographic Kids magazine):

Atlas Moths are the largest moths in the world, some w/ a wingspan of 12 inches. But they live for only three days. Sad.

Monarch Butterflies eat poisonous milkweed plants, rendering them toxic to other animals. Other types of Butterflies, such as the Viceroy, mimic the Monarchs coloring to fool predators into avoiding them as well.

Butterflies have sensory organs on their legs which act as tastebuds — so they can literally “taste” how ripe fruit is just by landing on it. PRETTY COOL.

When butterflies emerge from their chrysalis cocoons, their wings are crumpled and wet. If they don’t unfurl them properly and let them dry, their wings will stay wrinkled and they won’t be able to fly.

Caterpillars are eating machines. Some may grow to 100 times their original size.

Click HERE to read about the Four Stages of Butterfly & Moth Metamorphosis: Egg, Larva (Caterpillar), Pupa and Adult.

Lastly, my younger daughter & I very much enjoyed a picture book about Butterflies called Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope & Sue Riddle. I dare you to read it and NOT have the catchline stuck in your head for weeks.


Dear Prudence

It’s a bit hard for me to believe it’s 2008. With the jumble of the holidays and all of the travel, by the time we got home it was already here. I came down New Year’s Day with a terrible respiratory cold, which started out as a runny nose and quickly degenerated into total head congestion, sore throat, burning sinuses and complete malaise. Oh, the malaise…. From fine to wretched in 6 hours flat. And if you can imagine all of that coming on top of the vertigo I’d already been fighting for 2-plus weeks beforehand, you can see why 2008 is just catching up to me now. Fortunately, Sunday I felt my real self beginning to break free of the chrysalis of plague, and by yesterday I was finally feeling normal again. Not wanting to crawl into a ball and sleep. BREATHING in_and_out of my nose! Dizziness, almost gone. So I’ve been trying like mad to catch up on a whole slew of things – basically life – that had to be put on hold while I was down for the count. And unfortunately, one of those things is our little rabbit, Prudence.

For those of you who don’t know me in “real life,” our family has a whole slew of pets, and I can pretty fairly be described as zookeeper. Well, last week being so sick, most of the animal tending fell to my husband and older daughter, with me doing some minor tasks, like letting some of the pets sleep on/with me. I was holding and petting Pru while watching TV on Tuesday and Wednesday and she seemed fine. Thursday I noticed she seemed a little off and wasn’t eating. Friday she didn’t eat, and by bedtime that night, she’d begun acting really weird. Normally feisty and playful, Prudence was listless to the point of being almost unresponsive. When she moved in her cage at all, she shook, palsy-like. First thing Saturday morn we took her to the ER at my husband’s work. Apparently Prudence had been ill for some time, but the vet said that rabbits have an uncanny ability to mask sickness until it’s almost too late. Definitely something to share with other rabbit owners. They diagnosed Pru as being severely dehydrated and kept her over the weekend for blood work and further testing. Yesterday afternoon we finally got to bring her home, though we could have kept her at the hospital for an ultrasound and additional diagnostics. Please don’t get me wrong when I say that in a perfect world I would like for my rabbit to be able to have an ultrasound, but in my world (replete with 1 paycheck for 2 adults, 2 human children and a barn full of other animals), rabbit ultrasounds are at the bottom of the financial priority list.

Having said that, I am so happy to be holding a most alive! and sweet Prudence! The only difficulty is that we (first my husband, and now me) have to administer liquid antibiotics for the next 19 days via a thin mouth syringe, not too hard actually, but the real kicker is the liquid feedings via large syringe. Ho boy. Let me tell you, if it comes down to this, I think it will be a miracle if my bunny gets enough food/liquid to maintain life function. The food itself isn’t revolting, in fact, quite the opposite. The powdered “herbivore critical care diet” has the most pleasant smell – like a cross between fresh hay and anise. And we mix it with vanilla protein shake, similar to what they give patients in hospital for calorie-rich consumption. But it’s just so HARD to get her to eat it. First we have to lay a bath towel down on the floor, then wrap her up in it like a bunny burrito. Then you have to cradle her football-like in one arm, whilst maneuvering the syringe into her (most unwilling) mouth and then squirting it in. The feedings go in drips and drabs, with most of the food being wiped off her face. And trust me, you have to wipe it off because if you don’t it will congeal and then harden cement like on her fur. Then there’s NO getting it off.

You can just SEE how much this rabbit loves this process. And me, well doing this 2-3 times a day is reaaaallly fun.