Archive for life in Florida

Babies and Budgets

SwampDaughter got home from work last night as the aroma of roasting chicken filled the air. “My check was deposited a day early; want to ride with me to Walmart to pick up some diapers and formula?”

“Dinner is almost ready, so I can probably go!” I answered. She had mentioned that morning that, if her check was in today, she needed to go. The kids had already done their homework, reading, and taken their baths.  They were good to go. Mommy just needed to sign their behavior reports and look over the notes and corrected work that had come home from school.

Dylan, the eight-year-old second grader, had bombed a language arts test because he hadn’t used a cedilla under his digraphs. Mommy and I looked at the test in perplexity.  He HAD answered the questions correctly, his spelling was perfect, but he forgot to put the cedilla. Every language arts test in his grade has multiple proofreader marks that must be used correctly, or the answer is wrong.

“What is up with this?” Mommy said.  “Granted, when I was in school, I did not see the need for algebra, yet now I use it daily in my job.  But this? What possible use could this be?”

“I think it’s called ‘creating employment for English majors through common core standards'”, I answered.  I have never, in my long and varied work history, had occasion to even know what a cedilla was, let alone the proper usage. I believe that he will see this multiple times in the future on standardized tests (sigh), so we had better make sure he uses same. I briefly pondered whether our news anchors and local journalists know about the cedilla.  Would knowing minutiae about diacritical marks help them to write (or read) news stories without sounding like 13-year-old girls with PMS? If so, they need to be put into diacritical re-education classes immediately.

After dinner, we headed to Wal-Mart for said formulas, diapers, wipies, and assorted baby paraphernalia. $150-some dollars later, we headed home.  Daughter looked over her bill in disbelief. “I got paid a day early, and I’m completely broke again!” she wailed.

“Well, that was a month’s worth of formula and diapers, right?” I asked.

“No, that was a WEEK’s worth of formula, maybe ten days. The diapers and wipies might last three weeks.”

DAMN! “Maybe we should consider cloth diapers….”

“I REALLY can’t afford those!”

Well. Maybe we can look into the cost of buying cloth for making diapers over the weekend. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about the formula. They are shorthanded at Mommy’s job, so she barely gets to eat her lunch, let alone having a full 20 minutes at lunch in order to pump milk. Her milk supply is drying up.

Babies really are expensive.

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ZZZZzzzzzzzz. Snorfle. Whut?

As those of you that are my close friends and confidants know, SwampDaughter was quite worried about the accidental new arrival, Lila. She was worried because little Lila would cost $250/week in day care, and she was already paying day care costs for the two boys (before and after school care) and full-time day care for little Zoe. All in all, the day care costs would run between $1,800 and $2,000 per month. The additional $1,000 a month cost was a budget buster for them.

“No problem!” I said. “Y’all can move in with us for as long as you need.  We’d LOVE to take care of the kids! ” However, I sorta forgot about the part where babies don’t sleep at night and if you do not attend to them immediately, they wake up the entire household.  Not being a new mother for 30 years kinda dims that memory of sleep deprivation.  Daughter has to drive an hour one way to work in the early a.m., so she can’t be up all night with a grumpy little baby (my decision, not hers).  Somehow I completely forgot about colic. I forgot about the horribly rude noises babies make in public. “Oh, what a pretty little baby!” somebody says. She responds with a huge toothless grin and a roof-raising fart.

But there’s the happy giggling when she sees her feet waving in the air. There’s the smiling and cooing when I stagger blearily to the crib at 2 a.m. after finally putting her down for the night (or so I thought) at 1:30 a.m. Even with a dirty T-shirt, hair standing straight up, and bags under my eyes that Samsonite would admire, Lila thinks I’m the second most beautiful person in the world (the first being Mommy).  There’s the little fingers wrapped tightly in the neck of my T-shirt or around my fingers. There’s the sleepy grin and unconditional love and trust when the baby is cuddled close and falling asleep.

The boys are up at 6:30 a.m. and leave the house to catch the bus at 6:55. During that time, I pack their lunch boxes, fix their breakfast, pack daughter’s lunch and breakfast, and pack SwampMan’s lunch and breakfast. There isn’t much in the way of convenience foods for us; we can’t afford ’em.  Breakfast is oatmeal, scrambled eggs and bacon, or a homemade baked good like pumpkin muffins.  I walk up the driveway with the boys to the bus stop while Mommy heads to work (unless it is one of her early days which is leaving at 6 a.m.)  I walk back to the house, feed and change Lila and, as soon as I put her back down for a little cat nap, Zoe wakes up for her breakfast.  When Zoe eats her breakfast, I try cleaning the kitchen, then Lila wakes. I run throw a load of clothes in the laundry, throw some soap in the dishwasher, and run grab a grumpy baby. I’m a lil’ grumpy myself, because I had hoped to get a nap in!

Before I know it, it’s time for Zoe to have lunch. I’ve managed to mop the kitchen but not the bathroom. I hope to have a shower and maybe a nap before the kids get home from school at 1:30 today, but it ain’t looking good. Zoe wants food, but the kitchen is wet.

And Lila starts to cry.

And the chickens haven’t been fed yet.  And neither have I.

I have about five loads of clothes awaiting folding, and another load on the line. And another load in the washing machine.

Somehow, we all need to get to the grocery store. I spent $200 on food this week, and didn’t get any meat for dinner tonight. How did that happen?

It has been five hours since I started trying to write a post. (grin)  Now y’all know why no updates…sheer exhaustion!

In retrospect, menopause was a darn good idea the powers of the universe came up with.

Poor daughter is run even raggedier than I.  When she gets here from work (about 5:30 – 6:00), she goes over homework with each son, gives Zoe the Mommy attention she is craving, nurses baby, and attempts to change clothes while I’m cooking dinner. Then it is time to send the kids off to bed, and she checks email with one hand while bouncing grumpy sleepy baby with the other.  By the time I’m done in the kitchen and can take baby, it’s usually around midnight.  Then she’ll get five or six hours of sleep, and start all over again.

An emergency beckons. Zoe has just informed me that there is a fly in the toilet, therefore she cannot go potty.  I advised her to flush it down the toilet, but she just looked at me with big tear-filled eyes because that fly may possibly extend its evil fly appendages out that toilet and grab her and suck her down with it. *sigh*  Probably a tiny little moth.

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We Really Should Pay Rent For Our Table

KC and I had breakfast again before she headed back to the west side of Florida. She was under strict orders from her husband to leave by 10:00 a.m. so she would miss driving through any late afternoon thunderstorms that might pop up on the way.

As usual, she was a delicate, lovely little flower dressed all in white. As usual, I was dressed in denim with splotches of mud (and probably chicken shit). We’d had a series of terrific thunderstorms the night before, and I raced to the restaurant after feeding livestock.

Maybe I should have checked little Zoe’s purse before we took her home yesterday because I couldn’t find my keys, although I am perfectly capable of misplacing my keys all by myself. I put them in the fridge if I have them in my hand while putting away groceries. I run them through the laundry. Mostly, if I bring them inside, I casually toss them on my desk, where little Zoe has been playing with her dinosaurs all week. Then I had to roust SwampMan because I needed his keys to his vehicle. After thinking it through when I got home, I realized I had driven SwampMan’s truck last because of groceries, grandchildren, and rain (his truck has a back seat, mine doesn’t). Since I didn’t need to unlock the door and was carrying groceries and grandchildren, I’d left them in his truck. SwampMan will not be caught dead with keys on a hot pink lanyard. I looked inside the console, and there they were! Little Zoe is innocent (this time).

As per usual, I shoveled in a breakfast that would put Godzilla into a somnolent slumber, while KC nibbled daintily around the edges of hers. For the first time in a long while, we had no children at our table, so the exchange of opinions may have been a little more forceful than usual.

It was great fun. Despite there being only two at our table, I’m pretty sure we were the most raucous group. It was much different than last time, when KC brought along a guest that was riding with her to the other side of Florida. She’d warned me ahead of time about the lady’s liberal leanings so that I would behave myself verbally, so I was almost on my best behavior. I’d much rather be on my worst behavior.

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Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Three-year-old granddaughter didn’t take a midday nap today, so I expected she’d fall asleep early in exhaustion after a long day. But nooooo. At 11:30 p.m., she was still chattering away in the kitchen about who she was going to marry when she grows up (that would be everybody in her family), how she wants a pirate ship and I need to build her one, and she wants a castle big enough for her, her youngest big brother, and myself to live in. And yes, that castle is to be built by me, too.

I told her she needed to get some rest and grabbed a flashlight to go outside. “Why you goin’ outside inna dark, MeeMaw?”

“I’m going out to find Momma Kitty. Her eyes don’t work very well anymore, and she sometimes can’t find her way onto the porch to get her food at night”, I explained.

“Oh, her eye batteries are broken?”

Oh, dear. How should I answer that? “Uh, yes, that’s it, her eye batteries are broken.”

“Well, you should go to the store amorrow and get her new ones, MeeMaw.”

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Happy First Tuesday in July

Our 3-year-old granddaughter has been walking around the house this morning with various stuffed animals under her shirt, proclaiming that she has a baby in her tummy and the doctor must cut it out. I am the doctor assigned to cutting open the tummy and delivering the baby to the waiting arms of the Momma. After delivering ten or so babies, I became the babysitter because Mommy decided that she had to return to work. Or maybe it was because I pulled out a needle and thread and said it was time for the doctor to sew up that tummy!

“Why not Papa? Why not let him take care of the babies while you are at work?” I inquired curiously. “No. Papa will scare the babies wif his TEEF!” Papa found his novelty snaggle teeth last night which he and our 7-year-old grandson both find absolutely hilarious. The 3-year-old granddaughter found them terrifying. She refused to hug or kiss her Papa goodnight for fear those teeth might suddenly appear again. She will not go near him this morning. She has neither forgiven nor forgotten.

In the meantime, SwampMan is losing his shit over various hoops of stupid he’s being required to jump through. He’ll read me a sentence composed of feel-good bureaucrat speak and scream at me “But what does that MEAN?” He’s on a completion deadline.

“Why are you asking ME?” I demand. “I’m not a member of The Borg any longer!”

“I’m asking you because of your expertise at translating bullshit!” Hunh. Seems I do speak a second language fluently.

Poor man is hopeless at this type of thing regardless of how many times I’ve explained that his responses don’t have to make actual sense, just contain the approved buzz words, preferably those contained in the senseless questions. I could explain this to him again, but he would accuse me of cynicism. Again. And he would be right. But so would I.

SwampMan lost patience with his bureaucratic joust and he and 7-year-old grandson have gone on a Man Quest to Home Depot. After they get back, they’re going to do Man Things at the Man Barn. We have been cautioned by 7-year-old grandson to Stay Clear on account of the probability of being bitten by snakes, cut by jagged metal or broken glass, or expiring via some other method. They’re going to Clean the Barn (no girls wanted, men only!) then build some new window screens.

Update: Zoe brought her Papa a LOT of stuffed animals this evening. “These are fo’ you to sweep wif!” she explained. Papa told her no, it was okay, she could sleep with her babies. He did not need them. “Yes, Papa! They are fo’ YOU. I sweep wif yo’ TEEF!” So she traded Papa her favorite stuffed animals for his scary snaggle-tooth teeth. Apparently those teeth are a sure talisman against monsters, bad guys, bald men, and spiders that may come creeping in the night.

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Dysfunctional Chicken Behavior

Arch had a question regarding a hen “sitting” on phantom eggs in the comments on a post below, so I thought I’d expand a bit on my answer to him, to wit: Chickens do some weird shit.

Hens, in the throes of wannabe motherhood and no eggs, will try to incubate rolls of tape, bottles of oil, stones, shoes, baseballs, tennis balls, boxes of nails or screws, any other egg-shaped or non-egg-shaped item you can imagine and some you don’t, or sometimes nothing at all.

The upside to this nonsense is that if there are orphan chicks or ducklings about, these girls make excellent, excellent foster mommas. The downside is that it is hard to change their behavior* until their urge to mother has been satisfied or expires, and sometimes crazy-ass hen will expire on a nest of non-hatchable things like light bulbs that were placed in the trash can in the barn before she is found and shooed away.

I currently have two pens of chicks being raised by high-motherhood-drive-but-no-eggs hens. One was in the sheep barn and wouldn’t leave my duct tape alone and, when I finally tossed the duct tape, she sat on imaginary eggs and wasted away. She’s a very happy mother to my incubator chicks. I unceremoniously removed her from the barn one day, put her in a pen with a 5-gallon bucket on its side for a “nest”, and stuck ten chicks under her wings. This is usually best accomplished at night so she *thinks* they hatched out overnight by morning, but not necessary in her case.

Another happy mother apparently had no eggs of her own, so she tried to drive a duck away from her ducklings and take them as her own. She succeeded with one duckling, so I put her in a pen with “her” duckling, some leftover standard-sized incubator chicks, and some bantam chicks I’d rescued from the nest of yet another duck. (Duck mothers love their chicks just like their ducklings, and take them swimming. This never ends well.) The hen/duck mothering without human intervention usually ends in tears as well for all concerned. Ducks grow in size much more quickly than the chicks, but they develop feathers much LESS quickly. Four-week-old chicks are feathered and can do some flying, four-week-old ducks are not and cannot. You can imagine the frustration of both when the hen is calling her ducklings to roost up in the top of the tree and ducklings have no flight feathers.

How do ducks end up hatching out chicks? Well, often the hens and ducks will just use a common (hidden) nest until somebody decides to incubate the eggs. Since ducklings have a week-longer incubation period than chicks, either the duck eggs will die and the chicks will survive, or the duck eggs will be incubated to completion and the chicks will die of starvation (or swimming). Sometimes a duck and hen will incubate the eggs together.

Why in the world would ducks and hens cooperatively incubate eggs since it doesn’t end happily? Well, in my world, I often end up with bereft orphans of both hens and ducks. Resulting orphans are raised together as siblings because I’m either too lazy or too busy to set up separate facilities. When sitting on nests, sometimes mothers and daughters co-incubate. Sometimes sisters co-incubate. Sharing a nest and parental responsibilities gives a greater chance of survival to the young. Since I often have hens and ducks raised as “sisters”, it is not surprising that they will cooperate to hatch eggs together.

All of my poultry would appear to need therapy.

And speaking of needing therapy and dysfunctional survival strategies, the hen that had been concealing her nest underneath SwampMan’s toolbox in the back of his truck has continued to do so no matter how many times we’ve removed the eggs or SwampMan has reached under his toolbox and flung her across the yard. Can you imagine driving down a highway, minding your own business when, suddenly, a chicken flies out of the truck ahead of you and impacts your windshield at a speed of, say, 70 mph? I could imagine that happening. I don’t remember that being covered under an insurance policy. I don’t think I want to call State Farm and ask.

That is why said chicken is currently imprisoned in a 5-gallon bucket on the porch on top of her eggs. I found her in the back of the truck AGAIN trying to hatch out eggs, but I had other uses in mind for the truck and a 3-week hiatus for chick production was out of the question. I’ll build her a more suitable habitat for her eggs than bucket on porch or bed of truck today, depending on how much help I get from grandchildren. The more help I get, the longer it will take. Maybe, maybe, MAYBE if she successfully incubates those eggs, she’ll stay away from the truck in the future. Or at least for the summer.

*Changing their behavior usually means changing their environment so that they don’t have a secluded nest to brood various eggs or replacement eggs in. Physically removing her from her chosen nest site and keeping her away in confinement for a few days to weeks will usually suffice.

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A Momma Duck Gets More Ducklings

We had a young teenage-type mother duck hatch out ducklings. All my temporary pens that I use for housing chicks and ducklings were unfortunately full, so I didn’t have anyplace to keep them. She seemed to be a conscientious, caring duck mother who was always hovering over her little ones protecting them.

I did not know at the time that she was missing an eye. She always kept the side of her head with the eye in it turned to keep me under observation. Had I known, I would have turned out a family with slightly older babies in order to give her ducklings a chance at life.

Muscovy ducklings have a hard time of it here. There are hawks in the day flying overhead looking for unaccompanied ducklings and chicks. There are owls and foxes and raccoons and possums at night. Even the very best of duck mothers commonly lose half to two thirds of their brood to predators.

Predators aren’t the only danger the ducklings face. The male ducks will crush their skulls and carry them around, trying to lure the mother ducks into range for breeding purposes. Then they’ll eat the dead ducklings. Some seem to acquire quite a taste for them.

When the ducklings were still less than a week old, I found the young mother duck calling and calling her ducklings that we never found. She looked behind bushes and plants. She ran and ran, calling. All night, she quietly called to her ducklings, but in a quiet, mournful tone as though she knew they were gone for good.

This morning, I heard the piping of newly-hatched ducklings calling frantically for their mother. I ran outside. There were three black and yellow balls of fluff running for their lives and calling mommy. A big male had a dead duckling dangling from his bill. *sigh* I quickly caught the three loose ducklings and put them in the back of my truck. I chased down the rogue male and put him in a pen so he could be butchered later. Then I gathered up the ducklings and walked around with them peeping loudly for TWO HOURS trying to find their mommy duck. No response from the females. A bad mother duck would leave her newly hatched ducklings to the mercies of predators for a short time to bathe and feed, but not for two hours. Mother duck was either on a nest somewhere far enough away that she could not hear the frantic cries of her ducklings (and the first-hatched ducklings may well have followed a non-parental duck away from the nest), or momma duck was a casualty in the night along with the rest of their siblings.

I caught the ducklings and put them in a small movable 4 x 4 pen recently vacated by a mother duck and her five half-grown ducklings. They squeezed out through the 1″ chicken wire. Drat. Back into the back of the truck with them while I think about this. I grabbed my net and went looking for the one-eyed duck. She was in the company of the two huge males that had probably eaten her ducklings. I chased her around the house and eventually netted her, and then put her in the pen. She was not very happy, so I waited until the duck profanities had ceased, and put the ducklings in. They immediately ran to the protection of the “mother” and huddled underneath her. She bent her head around so she could look at them with her one eye. She looked up at me with a “WTF?” expression.

She didn’t try to immediately bite them or drive them away which I took as a good sign. I put food in the pen, and she showed them where to eat. I put water in, and she showed them where to drink. Again, she didn’t try to drive them away. Occasionally, one would lift its voice in a call to its real mother, but a quiet cry now as though it knew it would never again be answered.

Will she accept them? I don’t yet know. Her ducklings have been dead for two weeks, and those momma hormones may be gone. She may yet suddenly decide to kill these interlopers masquerading as her own dearly departed ducklings. I hope that she will take them, though. They’ve been together for almost five hours, and she hasn’t killed them yet, which I’m taking as a good sign. She did bite one, though. Maybe he deserved it.

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Arizona’s 12th Summer

arizona at fort clinch

My goodness, it seems like just yesterday she was learning to walk. Time is flying waaaay faster with the grandkids than it did with the children!

I just thought of something really scary, too. If she reproduces on my Mom’s schedule, I could be a great grandmother in FOUR YEARS! If she reproduces on MY schedule, I could be a great grandmother in seven years.

On the other hand, her youngest sister is two years old. She may be so tired of small children by the time she grows up that she’ll just get a dog.

Contemplating great grandparenthood is really strange when I’m still not sure about what I want to do when I grow up.

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Swimming Lessons or No Swimming Lessons?

I decided to discuss swimming lessons for the grandkids over dinner with SwampMan and Dylan. Everybody is more amenable to suggestion when their stomachs are full, and this would be a hard sell.

“So, I’m thinking about getting swimming lessons for Dylan” I began. SwampMan grunted “NOT a good idea. They’re expensive. They’re time consuming. They’ll be completely wasted without immediate follow up and follow through.”

“Well, he’s already late for beginning swimming lessons” I continued. “He should have started long ago. At this point, he’ll have to be in a beginning class with three to five year olds.”

“When I went for swimming lessons, I was 12 years old!” said SwampMan. I had to be in a class of little kids like that. But the water scared the crap out of me, and I quit after one lesson.”

“I think I’m going to pass on swimming lessons!” chimed in Dylan while gnawing his MAN’S DINNER, which was a couple of ribs. “It would scare the crap out of me just like it scared the crap out of Papa!”

“Why Dylan?” asked SwampMan. “Why not the other grandkids?”

“Because Dylan is so impetuous!” I answered. “Besides, Jacob would probably be too embarrassed and cool to get into the water for lessons with little children, and you know how difficult it is to try to persuade him to try something new. Zoe can take lessons next summer when she’s four as long as I buy her a pretty pink bathing suit first. If Dylan goes first, maybe Jacob will decide that he wants to go too. Arizona has been swimming for awhile now.”

“What does ‘impetuous’ mean?” demanded Dylan. “You said I was impetuous, and I do not know what that means!”

“It means somebody that does things without thinking about the consequences!” I said.

“I’m not impetuous!” said Dylan. “Did you know that I drownded before?”

“What did he just say?” asked SwampMan.

“He said he drowned before. How did you drown, Dylan?”

“I fell into a pool at my day care, and nobody saw me. I went completely under water!” he said proudly. “Besides, I don’t want to have to wear stupid swimmees in a pool like a baby.”

I looked at SwampMan.

“Hmmm. I see your point. Well, what do the swimming lessons consist of?”

“Well, week one would teach him basic water safety, opening his eyes underwater, and floating with assistance. He has to pass all objectives to move on to week two, in which he would be floating and bobbing unassisted, swimming under water, etc. He wouldn’t really learn any swimming strokes until week three and four, and I doubt we’d get that far this summer. I really just want to do basic drownproofing in case he steps off a dock when fishing, or steps off a boat, or is running around the side of a pool and falls in!”

“You’ll be driving 70 miles round trip a day!”

“I know!”

“When do the classes start?”

*sigh* “Monday. It may be too late to sign up.”

We took our kids to get swimming lessons faithfully when they were small, but they didn’t *really* learn to swim until we got a pool. I was terrified that they would get into water and I wouldn’t be able to save them because, you see, I have a morbid fear of water. I can’t even stand in a shallow pool without hyperventilating. I should obviously live in a place with no open water, but here I am, in Florida.

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Breakfast with K.C. of Pixie’s Place

K.C. was back on this side of the state for about a week, so she joined me for breakfast at a local restaurant. We were not alone. We were each accompanied by one grandchild. Dylan was with me, and Kaylee was with K.C.

Kaylee is a lovely and petite blonde child who is usually quite quiet, at least with strangers. Dylan is a little rascal that is NEVER quiet, even with admonishing glares from me. They found that they liked the same breakfast. Kaylee had one pancake, one scrambled egg, and bacon. Dylan had a MAN’S BREAKFAST (as he put it) of two eggs, two sausage patties, and two pancakes.

They then discovered a mutual love of hide and seek outside while K.C. and I said our goodbyes. It is a little hard to play hide and seek while standing in front of a restaurant, but they did their best!

Later, when SwampMan got home, I told him all about the good time that they’d had playing together. “So, did you two set any dates for the wedding?” he asked. “What? NO!” I answered. “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Isn’t that what you wimmenfolk do when you get together?” he asked.

“Well, actually, we’re far more interested in how Obama traded terrorists for a deserter, and how we’re being overrun by illegals than in merging our households!” I informed him. “We’re concerned about terrorism affecting our families with a president who does not have the best interests of the country at heart. We’re worried about the possibility of the military being ordered back into a more dangerous situation with their hands even more firmly tied behind their backs and, in the event they are wounded or killed, not having the medical care and disability services to which they are entitled.”

“Say, how long WAS this breakfast, anyway?”

“About the same as usual.”

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