Friday, July 10, 2020

7 Quick Takes about the Start of Summer, Part Two of Our Baby Rat Adventure, and Accidentally Becoming a Pioneer Woman

It's 7 Quick Takes Friday! How was your week?


It's officially summer and that means our The Educational Summer Vacation is here.

You can read more about the details here, but in a nutshell we learn about a different country every week with books, movies, music, food, field trips, and activities. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the one time a year I do crafts with the kids.)

The map on our dining room wall, with all the flags of the countries we've done previously. There are another dozen flags around the rest of the room that couldn't fit here.

Usually our summer schedule only allows for a handful of countries, but since Coronavirus did such an excellent job at squashing all the vacations we'd planned and the camps the kids usually attend, we get to do a lot more.

Here's our 2020 travel itinerary:

July 6-10   Israel
July 13-17   Mexico
July 20-24   Indonesia
July 27-31   Morocco
Aug 3-7   Thailand
Aug 10-14   Saudi Arabia
Aug 17-21   Cuba
Aug 24-28   Somalia

Starting tomorrow, every Saturday night I'll be posting about what we did that week. If you've got insider advice or resources to share for learning about any of this year's countries, let me know!


I said all my kids' camps got cancelled, but that's not entirely true. In fact, my 12-year-old is "at camp" right now.

Every morning and night, he his church youth group has a Zoom devotional. Each day they have assigned scriptures to read and activities to do at home, like cooking or hiking with your family. And once a day they gather in small groups for an outdoor activity like an egg drop or model rocket launch.

It's kind of weird driving him somewhere for a few hours and then having him come home and occasionally take a Zoom call and that's camp. I can't even say it's good or bad, it's just really different.


After losing our pet rat Piper's entire litter last week, we were determined to give our other rat, Scout, the most serene postpartum experience possible when she gave birth last Sunday.

Scout enjoying a snack.

Everything seemed to be going great with Scout's babies until Day 8, when we woke up in the morning to find four of them dead. After that Scout mostly moped about on the outside of the cage and didn't seem inclined to attend to the rest of the litter.

She had a good diet including extra protein for nursing, but I think she must not have had enough milk. When we finally took her babies out to feed them ourselves, they were all severely underweight.

They still are, but they've been hanging on like little troopers for the last 5 days while we've been painstakingly feeding, cleaning, and warming them.

We're not out of the woods yet, but it's getting to the point where I'd be more surprised to lose one rather than surprised they're all still alive at feeding time.


The first thing I did was call around trying to find proper feeding supplies for babies who weigh 7 grams. I called five different veterinarians for help and let me tell you, none of them cared at all.

Three said they couldn't help us, one said she wasn't sure how they would bill such a thing (heaven forbid you could give away a 15-cent plastic syringe and feeding tube to prevent the deaths of six baby animals!) and two said they'd check and call me back but never did.

So we had to figure it out on our own. Thanks this lady who wrote the rat-raising Bible of the Internet (and exactly zero thanks to the local veterinarians,) we've developed a method that works.

First, you swaddle the rat in a strip of paper towel, which keeps them warm and also keeps them from batting away the syringe (they're really squirmy.)

My daughters call this look "the ratty taco."

I prefer to think of them as tiny Jedis.

Then we feed them using a some tiny syringes I bummed from the pharmacist at CVS (who may or may not have been under the impression they were for measuring medicine for my own child.) We inserted paintbrush bristles into the end as sort of a wick because believe it or not, the end of even a 1 mL syringe is enormous for a baby rat.

Eyes are still closed but their fuzz is starting to come in, tails are getting longer, and they have whiskers now.

We usually work together and it takes about 45 minutes, then we start over again about three hours later. It's exhausting but I really hope at least one of them makes it to adulthood.


We call the baby rats "he" and "she" willy-nilly. You can't really tell until they get older.

I overheard my 14- and 16-year-old in the other room and one kept referring to the rat she was feeding as "she."

"How do you know it's a girl?" the other one asked.

"I just feel it in my heart."

There was a moment of silence before the other replied, "That's not a very good method for sexing rats."

However, as the days go on we actually can tell (or at least have a reasonable suspicion about) what gender some of them are.

We've been reluctant to officially name them because we can't be sure they'll ultimately survive, but the kids have started calling the tiniest one Pickles and the biggest one Thanos so I think it's happening regardless.


We're also pet sitting for a friend's two guinea pigs, so in our house right now we have what you might call an overabundance of animals. Which is weird, because up until a month ago I was sort of anti-pet.

Funny how life works.

The kids are in heaven because our adult rats are entertaining to watch as they run around investigating everything, and the guinea pigs are content to just sit in their laps and be petted as they read. They have the best of both worlds.

I like the guinea pigs but can't quite get over the vacant look in their eyes. On one hand it's sort of cute, but on the other hand it's like the cold gaze of a serial killer.

I could go either way on the guinea pigs.


We were on a family walk this weekend when my 16-year-old pointed out some "root beer trees."

Have you ever heard of this? She learned about it in a nature program at school years ago. They're called sarsaparilla trees (I'm 38 years old and I just learned while writing this Take that it's actually not "sasparilla".)

Sure enough, she peeled off a twig and the inside smelled strongly of root beer.

One thing led to another and someone said we should make root beer, and Phillip said you can boil them in water to make a sort of root beer syrup and add sparkling water to mimic carbonation, and before I knew it there was an Instant Pot full of sticks on my kitchen counter.

Looks like when the kids go outside and make "soup" out of mud and random stuff they find in the yard.

Upon further investigation, we found the trees we saw weren't sarsaparilla; they were actually black birch. But birch beer is a thing, too, so we still went ahead with it.

Phillip made the soda and I bought vanilla ice cream to make birch beer floats, and it was pretty good.

Birch beer floats, I guess.

The kids insist that we do it again, but next time use our ice cream maker so everything is homemade.

Fine, but I draw the line at milking my own cow for the the ice cream. I don't know how COVID life is going for everyone else, but I'm turning into Ma Ingalls over here.

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Jenny in WV said...

I've been so distracted, I'd forgotten about the "Pretend Vacation Around the World". Those posts are my favorite!

AnneMarie said...

Ooh, your "birch beer" floats look delicious. What a fun idea! Once when I was younger, my family made root beer but we used a kit that included extract, which is not near as cool as you guys using your Instant Pot with a bunch of sticks. I was at a friend's house drinking tea the other day, and while I was sipping my oolong, I suddenly realized that the entire kitchen smelled like root beer. Apparently, she decided to make a pot of sarsaparilla tea and it smelled amazing!

Kimberly said...

I'm so glad to hear the your baby rats are hanging in there!

Unknown said...

I was wondering too about Aroubd the World. Mostly because I wondered if your library was open. Good luck all you little rat mamas! I'll see if I have any Thailand stuff. At least you get to eat pad thai.

Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

Yay!! Around the world is back! I always enjoy seeing what you guys do. Wow - you are putting a lot of effort into the baby rats. I hope it works out. And the birch bark floats are crazy impressive!

PurpleSlob said...

Wowza!! so impressed with you, Ma Ingalls!

Jenny Evans said...

Unknown: Our library is sort of open. You can do curbside pickup, but only for items they have on the shelves at that specific location. No interlibrary loan, which we always used HEAVILY to do this in the past. :(