Monday, April 28, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crowded House

I'm one leg into my first pair of shorts of the season when I hear, "Mommy! Come see!"

This has become a common refrain around here ever since Peanut, our hamster, had pups. But this time, the girls sound a bit panicked.

It takes me only a second to see what all the excitement is about: three of the pups have somehow made it out of the nest, down the network of tubes and onto the cage floor; another two are stranded half-way down; the rest are under Peanut who is fast asleep.

How did the pups manage that distance with their eyes still decidedly closed? And why wasn't Peanut coming to their rescue? In the past eleven days we've spent a lot of time watching Peanut's incredible maternal instincts--nursing her young, keeping them warm, and retrieving them when they fall from the nest. To see the pups so far from her watchful eye is disturbing.

I run my fingers along the side of one of the vertical tubes, our signal to her that food is on the way. She gets off the nest and makes her way down, walking right past her stranded pups. We peek into the nest. There four more in there, making nine in total--our first truly reliable head count since they were born. Peanut inspects her food dish, drinks some water, then heads back up to the nest... pup-less.

That's not right.

I quickly catapult to my own conclusion: the nest is too small. Not only is space an issue, but airflow. Two days ago, Peanut closed access to the nest on one side to keep the pups from falling out-- a brilliant, yet potentially suffocating solution. Perhaps Peanut had instinctively begun to move house, unloading five of the pups before running out of steam. One thing is for certain: left where they are, the pups will die.

'Don't disturb the nest for at least 2 weeks,' say all the websites.

But what if the nest isn't safe?

'Disturb the nest and the hamster mother may eat her young.'

What if over half of them will die without her?

I reach for the cage.

"What are going to do?" asks Emma.


The girls kneel close as I disassemble the tube system, sending pups tumbling softly to the cage floor. Peanut follows them out, visibly upset. The pups wriggle fiercely. I put the lid on the cage and sit back on my heels. Let the carnage begin.

Peanut sprints about the cage floor, filling her cheeks with the food she had stored in the nest. When they're full, she runs in circles like she can't decide where to put it. Finally, she disappears under the green shelf that holds her water bottle and hear a soft clatter as she unloads. She repeats this once--twice--three times.

"But what about the babies?" asks Mouse.

"Wait," I say, though I'm thinking the same thing.

So we wait. After what seems like forever, Peanut picks up a pup by the hind leg. It squeaks. I look for blood. There's none. Peanut carries the pup under the shelf then reappears instantly and goes for another. In fact, she does it nine times.

"Yey, Peanut," say the girls.

"Good girl, Peanut."

Then Emma asks, "Mommy, why do you have only one leg in your shorts?"


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What day is it, Mommy?

It can't be easy for kids in Switzerland to learn the days of the week. After all, they're only in school for four of them; weekends and Wednesdays are off. In our house it had become a real issue. No sooner did Mighty Mouse get into the rhythm of the school week than she was off again. Thursday mornings were routinely met with outrage. Can you blame her? Imagine being robbed of your Sunday every week since last September. Add to this the complexity of learning the days of the week in two languages and one is wont to forgive her completely--almost. Weekly hysterics do get old.

Here's my solution assembled from construction paper, sticky tape, and a clothes pin. On her insistence, it's posted on her bedroom door. She loves it and, what's more, she's known what day it is for over a week.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Apple Seeds: Week 10

These seedings, in their lifetime, could offset our carbon footprint by as much as 16,000kg.
Not bad, eh?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Eight is Enough

We're watching Peanut clean the nest when Mighty Mouse asks for the umpteenth time, "Can't we keep them?"

"No, sweet pea, we can't."

The latest count is eight--eight hamster pups who, in about four weeks time, will be capable of making still more hamster pups. The current litter is still mostly pink, but beginning to sport a fine white fuzz of fur. They're getting so big that Peanut can barely contain them under her belly. Any day now their eyes will open and they'll begin to roam. To date we've had only one parent commit to adopting a hamster. With seven homes left to find, I can't help but feel nervous.

Later, as we're walking to school, Mouse asks,"But what if they don't want to leave their mommy?"

I explain that, in the wild, Syrian hamsters like Peanut and her babies don't live together. "They'd end up fighting, sweetie."

She nods but looks sad. After a minute she stops and says, "I want to decide who gets them."

"The babies?"


I think for a minute as we start walking again. What criteria does a five-year-old use to determine if a family is hamster-worthy?

"Alright, you can help decide who gets them. Emma the Brave, too."

"Yeah!" She lets go of my hand and skips ahead to tell her sister.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Starting Over

"Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn't there, so he must go for both of them. It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.

As for the terrors ahead--for he did not fool himself that they were all behind him--well, you just have to stand up to your fear and not let it squeeze you white."

--from Bridge to Terabithia a novel for young readers by Katherine Paterson, Winner of the 1978 John Newbery Medal

It's been a rough week.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Money Matters: Take Two

"It's not fair. She has more than me."

The girls have just received their allowance. Emma the Brave wanted coins of all different denominations; Mighty Mouse chose all nickels. The result is that Emma has only six coins while Mouse has ten.

"She has more coins than you, not more money."

"I don't understand."

I explain that Mouse's coins are worth less and that's why she has more. "You actually have more money than she does. See?" I show her the bank books.

She studies them then looks back up at me and blinks. "I still don't understand."

Oh boy.

"Tell you what, you go play while I make something that will help you understand."

"Can I watch?"


Ten minutes later I call her back and show her this:

We place a coin of each respective denomination on every square: a 50 centimes piece takes up half the page; a nickel, only one twentieth. The ten and and 20 centimes pieces fall in between. We count by 5's, 10's and 20's, all the way up to 100 centimes or one franc, her weekly allowance.

"Now do you understand?"

"Yep... Next week I want all 5's."

"You got it."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The New Arrivals

Okay, so Peanut had been looking a little chubby around the mid-section. How were we to know she was pregnant?

Just to bring everyone up to speed, yesterday morning the girls' recently acquired pet hamster gave birth to a wriggling pink pile of pups. We'd had her nine days. There might be nine pups.

Getting a hamster was Kirk's idea. I wasn't so keen. To me, a hamster sounded like a kind of conciliatory pet--the one you settle for when your parents say no to the dog, cat or iguana you really wanted. We already had a dog, so I didn't see the point. But after months of unmanly whimpering, I finally conceded. After all, how much work could one hamster be?

Well, it turns out that a hamster that's just had a litter of pups is more worry than work. For at least the next two weeks the nest must remain undisturbed. We'll feed Peanut and she'll nurse the pups, but cleaning the cage is out of the question. This, of course, frees us up for the worry: finding homes for the wee ones before they start getting frisky. We've got 28 days.

Any takers?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Simple Pleasures According to Honey

Hiking in Hermance.

Diving after a stick.

Retrieving a rock.

Making tracks.

Treasures high...

...and low.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Apple Seeds: Week 8

Yesterday afternoon the seedlings got their first dose of plant food. We diluted it to half the recommended concentration just to be safe. Today every last one is sprouting new leaves.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I can't believe we met twenty years ago. According to you, I looked about twelve--this from a guy who, at the time, bore an uncanny resemblance to the tall bald guy in this center of this photo:

(Photo of Bull from Night Court)

Let's just say we've both improved.
I love you, Captain!
Happy Birthday!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Healthy Snack Cafe

If 'necessity' is the mother of invention, I'd be willing to bet that 'utter frustration' is the father. Allow me to illustrate :

Act 1: The Status Quo
MOM is surrounded by seemingly endless health claims when child enters.

CHILD: Mommy?
MOM: (still studying her Excel spreadsheet) Yes?
CHILD: I'm hungry.
MOM: (stalling against the inevitable) You are?
CHILD: Can I have a snack?
MOM: (standing up) Sure. What would you like? An apple? Some cheese?"
CHILD: I don't like cheese.
MOM: Since when?
CHILD: Since always.
MOM: Well, how about an apple?
CHILD: I don't want an apple.
MOM: Then what do you want?
CHILD: Crackers.
MOM: Alright, crackers it is.

Five minutes pass. MOM goes back to her spreadsheet.

CHILD: I'm still hungry. Can I have some popcorn?
MOM: (resisting the temptation to offer cheese again) You need to choose either a fruit or a vegetable.
CHILD: Corn's a vegetable.
MOM: Actually, it's a grain. How 'bout a carrot?

At this point CHILD walks to the refrigerator, opens it and stares blankly for a few minutes. MOM cringes as bottles in the door start to bead with condensation.

MOM: Please close the refrigerator.
CHILD: But I'm looking.
MOM: Yes, but I'm getting goose bumps.
CHILD: Fine.

CHILD reaches in, snatches something, then closes the fridge quickly, keeping her back to MOM.

MOM: What did you choose?

CHILD reluctantly turns around to display her selection: chocolate pudding.

MOM: Pudding is not a healthy snack; it's a dessert. Put it back, please.

CHILD returns the pudding to the fridge, slams the door shut, then slumps into a kitchen chair.

CHILD: There's nothing to eat.
MOM: How about that apple?
CHILD: (pause) Alright... Can you slice it?
MOM: Please?
CHILD: (sigh) Please.
MOM: You got it.

Sound familiar? Here's my latest solution:

Act 2: The Healthy Snack Cafe Opens for Business
MOM is filing rejected health claims when CHILD enters.

CHILD: I'm hungry.
MOM: Let's see if the Healthy Snack Cafe is open.
CHILD: Oh yeah!

CHILD runs ahead to the kitchen where she studies the Cafe menu*. Said menu is divided into three parts: Grains, Fruits and Vegetables, and Proteins. A 'healthy snack' includes something from each.**
*The management cannot guarantee all items will be in stock at all times.
**Any customer with poor manners will be refused.

MOM: So, what will it be?
CHILD: Crackers with hummus and a plum, please.

MOM and CHILD go on to make the snack together in peace.

So far, it's working.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Move Over, Honey...

...Peanut's come to town.

Peanut at the Buffet.

Peanut's Condo

Peanut Taking a Siesta

Peanut Planning to Take Over the Planet
One Exercise Wheel at a Time

Welcome, little one!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Reading Between the Vines

A typical Italian vineyard.

A typical Swiss vineyard.

Sensing any cultural differences?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Book Review: The Gift of Dyslexia

For the past two months I've been reading and doing math with children at a nearby school. For some, it's their second, third, or even fourth language; for others, it's their mother tongue. A few, however, are showing early signs of dyslexia, a dysfunction that has interested me for years.

It is easy to see dyslexia as a huge liability. How does one survive, never mind succeed, without such an essential life skill? In their book, The Gift of Dyslexia, Ronald D. Davis and co-author, Eldon M. Braun argue that the perceptive abilities that contribute to the development of dyslexia are indeed a gift, though a gift not especially conducive to interpreting symbolic language.

Persons with dyslexia are capable of conjuring multiple perspectives in their 'mind's eye' using the same visual input as the rest of us. Imagine being able to mentally see something from both the front and side simultaneously. Sculpting, painting, or assembling Ikea furniture might come rather easily; reading might not. Words require a single perspective. They cannot be read backwards, upside-down, or from the middle outwards. Add to this the ability to think visually and their difficulties multiply. Try to conjure a clear mental image that defines the word 'the,' 'and,' or 'because.'

Not easy, is it?

Davis and Braun go on to describe procedures for overcoming dyslexia which include Orientation Counseling, Symbol Mastery, Symbol Mastery with Words, and, finally, Spell-Reading.

During Orientation Counseling, the individual gains conscious control of their perspective or 'mind's eye.' As a former physiotherapist, I found this portion of the procedure to be the least valid or reproducible. I am also not convinced that it's necessary.

Symbol Mastery assures the person can form and identify letters without using compulsive, non-constructive habits like The Alphabet Song. The dyslexic individual forms the letters of the alphabet out of clay and in reverse order. This tactile process increases the likelihood of the person latching on to a single correct perspective. The individual then learns to identify the letters out of order until they can do so faultlessly.

Symbol Mastery with Words allows the individual to form a single, concrete mental image for words that trigger his or her perspective to vary. This portion of the procedure appears to be the most challenging. Again, imagine forming a clay sculpture that illustrates the word 'because.' Luckily, the dyslexic individual is quite handy at creating mental images and comes up with such senarios himself.

Finally, Spell-Reading trains the eye to read from left to right. With this fixed perspective, recognition of words on sight is possible.

As you can probably tell, I am fascinated by this process despite my misgivings about Orientation Counseling. What incredible minds we have... I can hardly wait to try these techniques out.