My day is ruined.

OK, that’s a little melodramatic.  I’m just kidding.  But how would you feel?  Here’s the discussion from Facebook, beginning where I share the tragedy with the world.  Validation abounds.  Now do you non-users see why we like Facebook?

Having children who cook isn’t always as great as it sounds. Why is it so hard to say, “Mom, I just used the last of the___”? Why, why, why?!
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My failed attempt at blogging today

I’ve missed blogging lately, so today I set aside an hour of time to write a post. Since it’s hard for me to focus while life roars around me, I decided to hide away in my clean, quiet bedroom for that precious hour. I wanted to be able to think, to ponder, to formulate what’s on my mind and in my heart, so I could preserve my deepest thoughts and feelings here in my online journal. I wanted to create something deep and meaningful that my descendants could treasure in years to come, a way for them to know and understand me even after I’m gone.
Instead, I spent the first 35 minutes of my hour waiting for my netbook to boot, crash and reboot. Now I’m searching for instructions on how to restore it to factory settings. I also learned that it’s possible to attach a full size keyboard to my phone. This would enable me to smash my netbook into smithereens and repurpose it as potting soil, which sounds far more useful than its current state.
Maybe that’s too destructive. I could just pop all the keys off and use them to play scrabble, or use the hinge to replace the one on the kitchen cabinet that the squirrel broke last month. Maybe I could open it and set it on end as a bed riser?
If you have other ideas for my netbook, I’d love to hear them. How would you use it?

We capture our invader [part 3 of the indoor squirrel adventure]

 

Part 1: In which we have unwelcome visitors

Part 2: Our unwelcome invader is revealed

It was a beautiful plan that couldn’t fail.  The squirrel would dive through its customary escape hatch and instead of freedom, the other end of the dryer duct would drop her right into a rabbit cage with me poised to snap the door shut.

Kaitlyn and Deanna were in the laundry room, waiting for my signal.  I was below, ready and waiting.  Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Becca had crept into the laundry room to watch, leaving the door open behind her.

You see it coming, don’t you?

When we were all ready, they prodded the hiding squirrel.  She shot out from beneath the laundry and instead of heading for the dryer vent she began skittering back and forth in a panic behind the dryer, around and between my squealing daughters.

“Where is it going?!  What should we do???”

“Grab it!  Get it!”

“There it goes!”

“AAAHHHH!”

While I listened below in horror, I tried to piece together what was happening.  The squirrel had dashed around a bit, ran up the length of Deanna’s body and launched itself across the laundry room.  Then it had skidded past Becca and into the kitchen, where it hid behind the fridge.

They pulled out the fridge and scared it out with a broomstick, then I heard a thundering, laughing, yelling stampede cross the length of the house.  “Noooo!  Get the dogs!  Lock them up!”

The dogs barked helplessly from a bedroom as little paws skittered across the tile and children thundered back toward the laundry room.  I prepared myself.  Surely now the squirrel would escape and fall into my trap.

They yelled and headed to the other end again.  “It just flew off the top of the door frame!  It’s like a flying squirrel!!!”

“It’s behind the couch!”  I heard furniture sliding.  The stampede headed my way again.  I got ready to snap the cage shut, but with no expectation of actually being called to duty.  The noise moved again to the far end of the house.

“It’s in the Christmas tree!!!  Is it in the tree?  Where is it?”

I dutifully stayed at my post, amused but annoyed that I was missing all the fun.

Finally, I heard them moving one last time toward my end of the house.  Everyone was quieter this time.  The squirrel was exhausted, terrified, and losing hope.  It finally hid in the laundry room behind a small stack of vinyl tile.  As the girls moved the boxes away one by one, the squirrel’s body slowly emerged.  When the last box was moved, it stayed right where it was, hiding its face behind its paws.  They set a bucket over it and slid a vinyl tile beneath, and the chase was over.

I carried the empty cage up to the house where we carefully transferred our captive, and we all sat down to swap accounts of exactly what had happened.

note:  The video freezes after about 1.5 minutes. I tried to trim it but youtube was having problems so I’ll have to try again later. In the meantime, you’ll know when to stop because it gets really, really boring.

If you give a mom a minute…

She’s going to need 30.

Remember the book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?  One thing logically leads to another.  That books is a perfect description of what I did just a few hours ago, only I’m not suffering from ADHD like the mouse in the story.  My whole train of thought always makes perfect sense.  I’m sure you understand.

My sister-in-law was watching 3 of my younger children, and I called to tell her I was 15 minutes away, and I was bringing a bottle of wine so we could visit over a glass.

My house is less than a 1/4 mile from her house, so I just needed to stop in and grab a bottle before I headed over the hill.

When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed the door to the chicken coop was open.  For the safety of the chickens, I needed to close it before I left.

When I went to close the door, I noticed the feeder was empty.  I had a bag of feed in the trunk of the car, so I hauled it into the coop and filled the feeder.

While I was filling the feeder, I spotted a collection of eggs in the nesting boxes.  “Oh, Lydia is gone this weekend.  I need to gather the eggs for her.”

I carried the 14 eggs carefully in my shirt, and on my way across the yard I stopped to let the Aussie off her leash.  She gets tied up sometimes during the day, but always spends her nights in the house with us.  She promptly took off.

After a brief but fruitless period of yelling her name into the darkness, I continued up the drive to the house.  In the house, I found an egg carton and put away the eggs.  As I put them away, my alarm went off.  It was my reminder to give the Golden Retriever her medication.

I tried to feed the tiny pill to her disguised in a piece of baked potato, but she was unimpressed.  “Don’t you have any meat or cheese?” her eyes inquired.  The pill fell on the floor as she mouthed the baked potato and my eyes said to her, “EAT IT.  NOW.”  She decided to comply.

When I was done with the Golden Retriever, I remembered that the Aussie was still gone.  I went outside and called her.  And called her.  And called her.  Finally, she popped up at the bottom of the driveway looking far too happy.  If any of the neighbors is missing a goat or a chicken or a shoe, I think I know who did it.  I coaxed her into the house telling her what a good girl she was[n’t].

After my battle of wills with the dogs, I remembered that the alarm on my phone a few minutes served a dual purpose: I am supposed to take my vitamins when I give the dog her medication.  I opened 4 bottles in succession and washed the pills down with a glass of water.

The glass of water reminded me that I needed to go to the bathroom.  Really bad.  I did the potty walk to the bathroom.

On my way out of the bathroom, I passed a bottle of wine sitting on the counter and remembered why I was in the house.

And finally I was back in the car with a bottle of wine, heading over the hill to retrieve my little ones and visit my sister-in-law.

Our unwelcome invader is revealed

A few days ago, I told you about our unwelcome invader.

Based on the droppings and the fact that it was hanging out on the kitchen counters, we assumed it was a rat – or worse yet, a colony of rats.  We were in a tizzy, buying and setting traps everywhere we could.  We even bought some sonic repellents, plugging them into 4 outlets in and around the kitchen.  Yes, we were that desperate.

But when Deanna finally caught a glimpse of the culprit scurrying up the drying rack and diving behind the dryer, she laughed out loud.

“Mom!  I saw it!  It’s a squirrel!”

I think I can speak for the whole family when I tell you we breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Yes, they may be known as tree rats, but who would you rather have in your kitchen?

ugh! it's a disgusting ugly rat! somebody kill it!

can we keep him, mom?!

Not that we actually wanted to have a squirrel in our kitchen, either.  We still wanted it out, but not with the same passion and horror.  We just wanted it to stop breaking stuff and pooping, and we didn’t think it would agree to visit us on those terms.

We spent the next hour taking turns peeking through the crack at the top of the laundry room door, oohing and aahing at the adorableness of little squirrel hands and feet and fluffy tails.  We took videos and tried to get some photos.

Then we started thinking up a plan.  The plan seemed pretty simple.  We decided the squirrel was coming in through the dryer vent, so we would block the vent under the house and catch the squirrel while it was trapped in the laundry room.

Most of us kept watching through the crack while Becca and Kaitlyn went below to secure the exit.  At their signal, I opened the door and the squirrel dove behind the dryer.  I heard a scuffle and some excited exclamations: “I felt it!  Did you feel it?!  It went back up!”  They pushed the entire dryer duct up through the hole in the floor, then blocked the hole with a rock.

Step 1 had succeeded.  The squirrel was now trapped somewhere in the laundry room.  We were reasonably sure it was hiding in the inner workings of the dryer.

Umm…Now what?

We obviously didn’t think this through very well.

After a little consideration, we pulled the vent off the back of the dryer and peered inside.  Nothing.

I turned the dryer on for just a second then off again quickly, trying to flush the critter.  Still nothing.

We put a laundry basket over the opening and found a board big enough to cover the top of the basket.  We slid the board between the back of the dryer and the basket, stopping just above the vent opening, and Kaitlyn volunteered to stake out the trap.  When the squirrel ventured out of the dryer, she would drop the board between the vent opening and the basket, trapping the squirrel in the basket.  The rest of us left while Kaitlyn stayed behind, still and quiet.  We wanted the squirrel to think we were gone.

After a few minutes, Kaitlyn called me in.  She had seen movement under a skirt lost behind the washer.  A closer look revealed a furry tail tip.  We had been tricked! Now what?

We could have just put on a pair of gloves and grabbed the skirt with the poor animal wrapped up inside.  That’s exactly what some of the girls wanted to do, but I knew that a cornered animal would readily bite, and I didn’t know how strong a squirrel might be when it was fighting for its life.  I had no confidence that we could hold it like that.

I had a better plan.  A complete plan.  A plan that was beautiful in its simplicity.  I knew how we could catch this squirrel without having to chase it or risk being bitten by a terrified animal.

While the squirrel waited for the right moment to make her break for freedom, we put the duct back in the hole.  I went below the house and positioned the end of the duct inside a rabbit cage.  I even draped the opening of the cage with a pillow case so the squirrel couldn’t escape in the time it took me to yank out the duct and snap the door shut.

Perfect, right?  How could it fail?

to be cont’d

In which we have unwelcome visitors

Although we have lived in the country for the past 8 years, we have been very blessed.  We have never seen a rodent inside the house.  Well, except for the ones in cages, like all the gerbils we bred as snake and tarantula food.  And also the rabbits the kids brought into the house, but they were cute and domesticated, and are they technically even rodents, or just closely related?

Anyway, I felt very fortunate that we had never had to deal with an invasion of rats or mice.  We’ve had other invasions – armies of daddy longlegs come to mind – but never rats and mice.

But a few weeks ago, we came home to a kitchen that almost looked like it had been ransacked.  An entire row of jars holding dry goods had been knocked out of one window sill, and another row of pint jars holding water in rainbow colors had been knocked out of the window over the sink.  One cabinet door had been torn loose and was dangling from a single hinge.

 

We were shocked and puzzled.  We cleaned up and pondered what to do.  It was a very busy week, and somehow I managed to “forget” about the problem.  This wasn’t quite as hard as you might imagine, since there were no further signs of occupation.  No poop, no chewed packages in the pantry, nothing.  It never happened, I told myself.  The jars must have fallen, somehow.  Maybe the cat was taking liberties on the kitchen counter, and the dogs had challenged his right to be up there.

A week or two passed with no further signs of unwelcome visitors.  We had family from out of town staying with us, and all of us left in 3 vehicles to brave the crowds and do a little last-minute gift shopping.  I returned home late in the afternoon with a few of the children, and we found that there had been a poop party in the kitchen.  The entire counter was littered with rodent dropping, and things were moved about.  I was horrified, and we bleached every surface in sight, throwing away any food that might have been accessible.

Now it was obvious that we had been invaded.  I became obsessive about hiding every scrap of food before we went to bed at night.  I was concerned that hiding the easy food sources might encourage the critters to invade the pantry, but it never happened.   I checked the pantry constantly for signs of rodents, but found nothing.  I bought and set some old-fashioned mousetraps in the kitchen, placing them along the window sill, against the wall, and anywhere I had noticed a heavier share of droppings.

The next morning all the traps had been sprung but we hadn’t caught a single varmint.

Aha, we thought.  RATS.  We needed the big snap-traps.  We bought the big’uns and set them all over the counter.   Instead of relying on the prebaited traps, we smeared peanut butter on them.  Just for good measure, we also bought some rat-sized glue boards. We wanted to be sure this time was successful, because I was afraid our invaders would get smart and avoid the traps altogether if we didn’t catch them soon.

We had a few peaceful days with no signs of visitors at all.  Then we left again for a daytime outing.  When we came home, all the rat traps had been sprung and the bait was untouched.  The glue boards were empty – except for a few footprints!  They looked like this:

And they were surprisingly big.  We briefly wondered if we were dealing with a very young raccoon, but thought it would have been far more destructive.  It was a big rat, we decided.  And since the droppings varied in size, maybe it was a mother accompanied by her half-grown offspring.  I felt a rising sense of panic.  Did you know rats can have up to 20 young in one litter?

We gave up on the snap traps, but left the glue boards out just in case.  We caught 6 flies, 2 geckos, and our 12yo cat, Tim.  He was not happy about this.

Our invaders grew bolder.  We began to hear noises during the day.  We heard them behind the refrigerator.  We heard a big scuffle when we opened the laundry room door.

We considered our next move.  Should we get a younger cat, maybe a female with some hunting experience?  I wasn’t entirely ready for the longterm commitment of a new pet, but was ready to consider the possibility.

Perry came home with a battery powered trap shaped like a small mailbox that would electrocute rats.  We were seeing a lot of droppings on the dryer, so set it up there and baited it with cat food.  It was much too small for the cat to fit inside, so it seemed fairly safe.

Finally, it happened.  Deanna was the first to actually lay eyes on our visitor.  She was carrying a basket to the laundry room and as she swung the door open, she caught her breath.

“Mom!  I just saw it!  It’s not a rat.  Do you know what it is?  Do you know it is???”

read part 2

Advice to a young mother, or Why I’m thankful for a long driveway

Confession: my house is often a mess, even 10 minutes after we straightened and picked up.

I’m sure the underlying problem is that I have not sufficiently taught my children to put things away as they go through their day.  While they are very capable at cleaning up their messes, they are not at all capable of preventing a mess in the first place.

baby made a mess

Mothers of young ones, learn from my mistake!

The younger ones learn from the older ones, and bad habits are learned much more easily than good ones.  It’s usually easier to pick up after little ones than to teach them to do the job themselves.  It’s even easier to let the mess accumulate all day and clean up just once after they’re in bed.  But you may find a heavy price to pay in coming years.

Don’t just teach them to clean up their messes; teach them to put away each item as they finish and before they get out a new one.

If your children are older and you have already made my mistake, just move to a country with a very long driveway so you can see company coming in time to do the QUICK! CLEAN UP! That works too.

 

Life with Littles

I’ve often been asked how I got through each day back when we had lots of little ones and no older children to help out.  I have written about those bygone years before, but it’s been a long time and there’s no harm in revisiting old subjects is there?

The easy answer is that I got through the days one at a time. Anyone can run a house with 6 little ones for a day, right?  Just one day?  All it takes is 3 meals (2 if you cheat or run so late that breakfast turns into brunch), a load of laundry (better make it whites!), a few baths (or send them out to play in the hose; who will know the difference?), and straighten the house after they’re in bed.  Somewhere along the line, squeeze in a few minutes each of Bible reading and reading lessons.  It’s not ideal and it won’t work that way forever, but you can do this.  Some days you can do a little more, and some days your 4yo will tell you she was out of undies 2 days ago.

Don’t fret about the fact that you have to do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

God doesn’t give us the grace, or the energy, or the patience we need for the whole upcoming year all in one dose. He measures it out for us day by day, like the manna He gave the Israelites in the wilderness.  Planning ahead is good in general, but when the Israelites tried against God’s command to gather enough manna for the following day they found it rotted.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Do your best today.  God’s way keeps you coming back to Him.  If you start feeling like you can do this all on your own, things are about to go downhill.

I said that was the easy answer, but it’s not the only answer.

Things went better if I worked hard and made good use of my time. I had more energy back then and got by on less sleep than I do now.  We sometimes made cookies instead of doing laundry, but more often it was the other way around.  I once made a full round of fancy Easter dresses, working late into the night.  Never again, but some of those dresses are still in circulation.  Those days were often a blur, and I have mercifully forgotten much of the hurry and bustle and exhaustion.  I have also forgotten many of the good times, but that’s ok.  I have living and visible reminders all around me, and they remember.

Things went better if I reminded myself that this was only a season in life. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but remember those busy days won’t last as long as they feel.  In a year or two, you won’t have the same crew of Littles you have now plus a new baby.  Your whole crew will be a year or two older.  They will all move up a step, and the baby will have a new name and face.  In effect, you’ll have a new oldest child, not a new baby.  This realization was an epiphany for me when I felt like I was at the end of my rope with 4, 4yo and under.

Things went better if Perry and I stayed on the same page, and on good terms. We had times when our relationship wasn’t the best, and I’ll readily confess that these times were hard not just as a wife but as a mother.  There is a trickle-down effect, and parents need to realize that their relationship with each other and with God deeply affects their children.  I was and am a Christian first, then a wife, then a mother.  I am His, then his, then theirs.  I do the children no favors when I allow my priorities to become skewed.

Things went better if I was consistent in the children’s training. It’s so much easier to mother a child who obeys commands the first time than one who tests every boundary, every time.  I know every child is different, but a challenging child is not an excuse for ineffective parenting.  It only means we must – must – work harder at parenting effectively.  Invest time early, and your days will go much more smoothly.  That’s the blessing of consistent rules and discipline: if the boundaries are clear and firm, your children will learn that it’s fruitless to test them.  There is no need for 2’s to be terrible.

Things went better if I got sleep. This is more easily said than done, but sometimes we fool ourselves.  I tell myself that I need to wind down after the kids are in bed, but before I know it, it’s 1 AM.  It’s so easy to vegetate in front of the TV after a long day of chasing toddlers and putting out fires, but even now I know that my day will go better if I don’t allow myself that free time in the evening.  Go to bed!  Yes, you might need to wind down, but 40 minutes of winding down in bed is better than 3 hours of winding down in front of the TV or the computer.

Things went better when I thought of “me time” as a gift, not a right. If I didn’t feel entitled to “me time,” it was a sweet gift when it came.  Grocery shopping alone in the evening, volunteering to mow a lawn for a summertime customer while Perry stayed home with the kids, a late-night in-house movie with my sweetheart: these were welcome times, but if they were few and far between that was ok.  In the high-power career of Motherhood, you are a highly valuable asset to the corporation.  The hours are long and replacements are rare, expensive and poorly trained.  You knew that when you signed up for the job, right?

Things went better if my attitude was good. And now we’ve come full circle.  It was easy to stress about tomorrow, and worry that because we didn’t do reading lessons or Bible today our children were doomed to grow up ignorant heathens.  But all that was really required was to repent if I was squandering time or making poor choices about priorities, then try to do better in the morning.

Heard it in real life

You know those amazing stories about women giving birth when they didn’t even know they were pregnant?

Kim Brenneman of Large Family Logistics almost had an experience like that.  If my recollection is correct, she made it to 25 weeks without knowing, then had a preemie just 2 weeks later. You can read about it in the preface of her book, Large Family Logistics.

But almost only counts in horseshoes, as they say, and Kim did have just a bit of notice.  Anyway, I know somebody in real life who has experienced this.  She and her husband are very good friends of my brother and his wife, and we all spent an evening together last weekend.  I heard the whole story from the husband, then couldn’t resist going straight to the wife to get her version.  Of course they matched perfectly except for the varying levels of panic, hilarity and hysteria expressed or implied.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened: Jake came home from work one evening to find Diane suffering from back/stomach pains.  They assumed she was sick, and went to bed hoping she would be better in the morning.

During the night, Jake awoke to the sound of Diane crying out in pain.  He insisted on taking her straight to the emergency room, but hurt his back carrying her across the parking lot.  She felt better for a moment and finished the trek herself, then the pain hit her again.

Inside an examining room, Diane told the nurse, “I’ve never hurt so much except when my daughter was born, but I’m not even pregnant now!”   The nurse put 2 and 2 together and did a quick check, finding that Diane was 9 centimeters dilated!

They called for a doctor who arrived with just 12 minutes to spare.  Jake and Diane left the hospital with a healthy 5 lb, 4 oz. boy who they estimated was 7 weeks early.

Really.  You’ve seen stories like this in the news, and now I’ve met at least one woman who lived it.

Diane said her first pregnancy was very typical, which made it all the more shocking that she never suspected she was pregnant the second time.

She had regular cycles throughout the pregnancy.  She was at the doctor several times in the preceding months for other reasons.

She was overweight, but not dramatically.  She had been dieting, so she actually lost weight during the course of the pregnancy.

Jake confirmed that neither of them ever suspected pregnancy at any point before the nurse said the word dilated and centimeters.

Now she is expecting a third child and having a completely normal pregnancy.  With 7 weeks to her duedate, you could never miss the fact that she is expecting.

What do you think?  Incredible?  Or have you heard or even experienced something like this yourself?

Oh, that Boy. He’s gonna get it.

I made a new rule a few weeks ago: if anyone leaves the door open when they go outside, it gets locked behind them.  I instituted the rule during a cold spell, when the kids were often making a quick run to take out the trash and planning to run right back in.  Coats are often left behind on these trips, and because they’re in such a hurry they also don’t make sure the door closes all the way behind them.

Understandably, they want back in fast. They don’t like finding the door locked.  They don’t like being forced to knock and wait – oh the humiliation – until somebody hears and unlocks the door.  Also, when you live in the country and doors rarely get locked, there’s something infuriating about finding the door locked.  Because of this, the rule was surprisingly effective.  It was so effective that we forgot about within a couple of days simply because nobody was leaving the door open any more.

This morning was cold.  I went outside in short sleeves and socks to see Perry off to work and everything was sparkling with frost.  I was cold because I had stood out there for several minutes helping him load odds and ends into his car, but then I had to run out once more to take his forgotten keys.

Can you see where this is going?  Congratulations, because I didn’t see it.

As I ran into the house for the keys and out again, I left the door slightly ajar.  When I turned back to the house, the door was shut and locked.  Locked.

I knocked – oh the humiliation – and after a long 10 seconds, The Boy opened the door, smiling innocently as if he were pleased to see me.  I scolded him, “You don’t lock the door when I’m outside!”

He looked a little surprised and truly puzzled.  “But Mom, you left the door open.  You said we’re supposed to lock the door when somebody goes out and leaves it open.”

One of these days, Boy.  One of these days.