Thursday, October 23, 2014

(UPDATED) The Short But Lovely Life of Charlotte Blonderson


UPDATE: The leader of the forum I keep mentioning is known as Norman's Mom. She's been caring for, breeding, and owning mice for over 30 years. After reading this post and seeing the late photos of Charlotte, she let me know that Charlotte's "double chin" was in fact lymph-node cancer. I will admit I was suspicious of that double chin, but she would never let me touch it, even when I was holding her. I think I had a lot of denial going on right there at the end. I'm grateful to know this is what the problem was so that I can recognize it if any of my other mice get it. Thank you, Norman's Mom, for all you do for mice owners and for helping me navigate this new world of mousie ownership.

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I brought my trio of female mice home from Petsmart back in August. Last Sunday, October 19, 2014, Charlotte passed away. I'm sad to lose my sweet girl, but she was old, and it was her time. When I first got her, I had no idea how old she was. She seemed quite chipper and youthful, and I mistakenly assumed that all of the pet mice in stores out there are quite young -- like one or two months. Wrong.

Miss Charlotte was already at the end of her lifespan when I got her. Petstore mice tend to only live between 1-2 years because of poor breeding (especially when the mice are only being bred as feeders). Petsmart doesn't sell "feeder" mice. They sell pet mice, so it's possible that these girls had just been at the store for a very long time. It doesn't really matter why they're older, it just matters that I didn't understand I'd be faced with a death so soon. I had the leader of the Fun Mouse Forum guess at their age ranges using photos of them next to quarters. She said Agatha (brown) is the oldest at 10-12 months; Charlotte was just a tad younger; Alice (white with brown bottom) is around 5-7 months. So I have much older mice than I wanted, but it's too late now because I'm in love.

I did shed some tears, but instead of getting really upset about Charlotte, I'm trying to stay positive and remember that whole Circle of Life thing and feel happy that she's free to run through the fields of Mousie Heaven and eat as many snacks as she wants. Charlotte started out "slimmer" but she got VERY FAT during her stay with me. It's my fault because I kept accidentally leaving peanuts in the food. They didn't really look like peanuts, so I didn't realize that's what they were. I saw her nomming on them all the time and finally figured out that's how she was packing on the pounds. I removed them about a month ago, and she started to slim down again, so at least I can feel good about that. (Mice shouldn't have peanuts or striped sunflower seeds because they are fattening and can also cause the meecers to develop allergies at any time.)

Anyway, let's look at some photos of my sweet girl. I was least attracted to Charlotte at the store because she's a Pink-Eyed White (PEW), and those tend to remind me of medical experiments. I only got her because she was part of the existing trio, but she started to grow on me and rapidly became my favorite. (Yes, I know mothers aren't supposed to have favorites, but I totally do.) She had a cute teardrop shape when she arrived:


She was SO happy to not have to eat that crappy pet store food anymore:


I ALWAYS busted her in the food bowl:


She also developed a deep love for the strawberry, as did Agatha and Alice:


Here, Charlotte's on the right. Alice is the one with her head tucked in. They were constantly in there snoozing together:


Charlotte tried very hard to keep up with the others on the Flying Saucer, but she always inevitably ended up in the middle, frozen in place while speedy Alice used her as a hurdle:


In this photo, you can see that she was starting to show her age. She was getting fatter and looking a little more scruffy:


If she hadn't already passed her 28-day pregnancy watch, I'd have assumed she was preggo. She was starting to get lumpy:


She also developed quite the double chin, but it was adorable:


Charlotte remained active even though she was aging. The new coconut was a favorite:


WHEEEEEEE:


Right about this time, I started to get worried about Charlotte. She was moving slower, playing less, and acting very geriatric. She always seemed quite tired and somewhat annoyed by her incredibly excited sisters:


On October 2, I asked the Fun Mouse Forum how to best care for an aging mouse. I could feel it in my gut that she wasn't going to last much longer. Charlotte was showing no signs of illness or injury, no wheezing or coughing, no odd stools. She was just "old." I wasn't sure if you're supposed to put them down or not. The forum leader told me that "getting old is not a disease, it just is." That's a very good way to put it. She said to just let Charlotte live out her life. So I did.

Charlotte always liked to hang out on the "lip" of whatever hide she was in. The other girls would fly over her and in and out of the coconut or the strawberry. Charlotte would tuck in her ears to keep from getting hit and patiently let them crawl all over her and groom her:


In this photo, you can see why I was certain she wasn't long for this world. She was sooooo tired this night, and Alice and Agatha were all LET'S PLAY AND BE PSYCHOS!!!!!! Poor, old girl just wanted to sleep:


She was losing weight from the no-peanuts diet, but you can still see her double chin:


Agatha is photobombing the old lady:


I had to remove this blue wheel from the tank because Charlotte would get stuck, and Alice would run so fast that the centrifugal force would splat Charlotte against the wall with no escape. One night, I decided to put her in the play bin alone so she could run if she wanted to. She plodded along slowly for about five minutes:


What is this? I can run (walk) by myself without anyone squishing me??? SO FUN:


But then she got all tuckered out and just wanted to sit:


So I took her out and let her sit on my lap. In her last month, she was tame. She would walk onto my hand and let me hold her:


I let her get down and explore the ugly bedspread for a while (the bedspread is there specifically for my animals). She didn't move very fast, so there was no chance of escape:


Then I put her back in the tank alone while the other girls went crazy in the play bin together. She waddled over to the gourd for a rest:


Then I put in the Cheerios, which are her favorite. She made a waddly beeline for them:


Overall, Charlotte's favorite thing was the strawberry. The other girls chewed through the lining to make little pockets to sleep in, but she was always there at the lip hanging out or snoozing:


Seriously, Agatha, I just want to sleep:


Here is Agatha grooming her. It's so adorable when they start grooming each other:


This is the last photo I have of Charlotte. She's snuggled up on the left, facing the back. Alice is in there with her:


Because information is power, I'd asked the forum leader to tell me what might happen if Charlotte passed while I wasn't around. She said the girls would most likely try to bury her. I came home on Saturday night around midnight, and I didn't see Charlotte, so I assumed she was in the gourd. I had a sinking feeling because the gourd was packed full, but when Alice saw me, she went running into the gourd, and I figured she wouldn't go in there if someone was dead inside. I was exhausted, so I went to sleep. I now carry a lot of regret about that. When I woke up, the gourd was still packed full of newspaper and bedding, and Charlotte was absent. Just as expected, she was in the gourd, and the girls had "buried" her there.

Female mice are best in a trio. They need each other badly. A solo female mouse will likely die of depression and loneliness shortly after one mouse in a duo dies. Agatha and Alice will be OK because they still have each other, which is comforting. I briefly considered going right out to get a new mouse to put in quarantine, but I have a lot of things going on right now, and I'm not sure I want the cycle of mice to go on forever, so I'm going to give it a little time. I struck gold by bringing home three healthy mice the first time -- no mites, no upper respiratory infections, no fleas, no problems with each other. I don't want to upset the relationship between Agatha and Alice right now, and I think my heart is a little too squishy to replace Charlotte so soon. We'll see. For now, I'll stick with the duo and give myself time to think.

The strawberries only last so long. Inevitably, the girls make a huge mess out of them, and they become quite stinky. I always have a spare strawberry around for when the current one is shot. I moved Agatha and Alice into the play bin and then gently moved Charlotte into the strawberry. I placed her aside, cleaned the tank thoroughly, and put a new strawberry in there for the girls. Then I took Charlotte over to my parents' house. Pa dug a hole, and I placed the strawberry in the rich, wonderful farmland of Iowa, right under a tree where the sunset shines each night. Charlotte will go back to the earth in her red, snuggly home.

Let's remember her in better times. Here is sweet Charlotte when she was younger back in August. So healthy and cute:


This is how I'll remember her, guarding her sisters in the strawberry, right there on the lip to make sure everyone is safe. Ears perked up! Full belly! Ready to snuggle! Goodbye, my dear:


I cleaned the gourd thoroughly and placed it back in the tank. I briefly considered getting rid of it, but then I remembered how much the other girls enjoyed it. Ever since Charlotte died, they've been sleeping in the gourd -- carefully shoving all of their nesting material up against the door and then climbing in the back window. I don't think it's a coincidence. They've abandoned the strawberry and the coconut for now. Perhaps they also just need a little time to mourn and be close to Charlotte in any way they can.

Don't worry girls. You still have each other! (Agatha: brown; Alice: brown eyes with white fur):


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wee Cabins for Two Redheads


Last weekend, my sister Dorothy and her husband Beloved came to Farmsville to plane wood. They need some wood to fix their deck, and Pa just tore down a whole hoghouse full of wood recently, so it was a good match. I knew they would be busy all day, and Ma recently hurt her knee and isn't super mobile, so I decided Little and I should have a Mini Day. It was faboosh.

NAME has a Special Events page where you can find simple, free, monthly projects. The one for last July was a Quarter Scale Cabin project by Thuy Means (Thuy is a wonder-NAMEr who does all kinds of fantastic things for NAME!). It was so cute and simple that I knew Little could tackle it. However, I also knew there was a major amount of super boring staining to do in advance. I've learned that the best way to teach others a project is to do the project in advance first to work out all of the kinks, so I stained three total cabins. One for Little, one for me, and one as a sample (that went to Ma and Pa).

Above, you can see the staining nightmare that I did over at my parents' house. Poor Ma had to give up half of her big table to the project, but she took it like a champ. I was able to get everything stained in basically one day. Meanwhile, I wanted to have some furniture for Little to put on the inside. Quarter scale, or 1:48, is quite fiddly, so I cheated and bought what we like to call "little brown furniture." I got mine from Quarter Source, but you can get it at many places. I ordered a bedroom set and a kitchen set. It's old-school furniture, so it's perfect for cabins. The bedding was awful, so I decided to redo it. I used "fun foam" -- that paper stuff that feels like foam -- to make the mattresses and pillows:


Then I put on some itty bitty patterned material for the comforters:


The sample cabin in the directions has the plain wood pieces for the roof, but I thought I'd mix it up by adding some red corrugated paper:


I glued the paper to the roof pieces so Little and I wouldn't have to wait for them to dry, and then I left everything on trays over Nerdtopia (thank you, Ma):


A few days later, I came back to finish the sample landscaping. This cabin is missing its chimney because I couldn't find small pebbles at the store. But here is the completed sample we used for Mini Day:


There's hardwood flooring inside:


My favorite part is the wee flower boxes:


Mini day arrived, and Little and I got going on our cabins. She did a FANTASTIC job. We had great fun together:


Here is Miss Little adding glue to her window boxes (I made them from scrap wood and colored them red with a permanent marker):


And here she is delicately adding flower clumps to her window boxes with tweezers:


Fantastic work, Little!!!!! I'm so proud of my budding miniaturist:


Cabin #2 was much easier for me since I now knew what I was doing:


Little took the red bed, and I took the pink one. You can see how I've organized my furniture here. I also gave us each little black cats to represent Little's cat, Kizzy. Mine is in the middle of the floor:


Here are all three houses together:


So so so cute:


Here is how Little organized her cabin. You can see that her wee Kizzy has taken over the bed:


One thing I added to the project was a little rock pathway leading up to the stairs. It's Scene-a-Rama gravel from Hobby Lobby:


We colored in the tops of the chimneys with black permanent marker. Then Little and I went hunting for itty bitty pebbles in the driveway. We found plenty, washed them, and then added them to the chimneys before gluing them on. I don't have a picture of that for some reason, but this photo shows the location of chimneys:


Overall, we had a WONDERFUL time together. I love being creative with my niece, and I could tell she really liked her cabin. Hopefully, I'll continue to nurture the mini bug in her for many more years to come.

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A HUGE thank you to Thuy Means for creating such wonderful, free projects for whoever wants them. The directions and a list of all of the supplies you need is right HERE just in case you want a wee cabin of you own. Be sure to check out the other free projects in the current and archives sections for more goodies. And if you want to join NAME, go HERE.