Posts Tagged ‘mice’

Of Mice and Men

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one.  I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

A full tray of D-CON is about to replace an empty one. I have spared my dear readers a picture of the dead mouse!

After driving through the night, we arrived in Maine on Sunday at 7:30 a.m.  Once inside, we were greeted by three totally empty trays of D-CON (mouse poison) and one very dead mouse (my husband had the unpleasant task of removing it).   A propitious start, I thought.

I’m always a little on edge when I walk into my house after a prolonged absence . . . especially between seasons, when there are extreme temperature changes.  Once the wildlife know we’re gone, they are only too happy to “house-sit” in our nice, cozy abode while we’re away.  Intruders of the non-human variety can mean anything from beetles, flies and wasps, to rodents,  porcupines, raccoons, fishers, or even bears.

When our house was being built, shortly after we installed our garage door, a very determined mouse gnawed at the hard plastic and rubber weather seal at the bottom, breaking it and creating a glaring point of entry.  This kind of damage was not covered under our garage door warranty, and repair would be expensive, since they’d have to take apart the entire door in order to replace the weather-stripping.  We decided to live with it, and try to fill the hole with spray-foam insulation and steel wool.

Meanwhile I took no chances, even though I didn’t really have a mouse problem – – yet.  I put trays of D-CON throughout my house:  under the kitchen cabinets, behind the microwave,  in our basement under our food storage shelves, and at the bottom corners of the garage door.  We do a visual check for possible mouse infestation each time we return to Maine from our home town, especially since that time when my husband went to use the bathroom upon arrival – – and found a dead mouse in the toilet. (We now make sure we keep the toilet lid closed before we go away.)  Once we noticed that the tray of D-CON behind the microwave oven had been delicately noshed, but no further signs of mice or their droppings were discovered.  (I should mention at this point that when our grandchildren come for the summer, we remove all the trays of D-CON for safety’s sake.)

This time, though, I had a feeling that mouse presence would be worse, because the house had been vacant for 3 weeks and outside it was terribly cold.

Sure enough, all the trays of D-CON inside the house had been ravaged.  One small dead mouse was on the floor next to our food storage shelves.  Fortunately, the food was completely untouched (I store large, emergency-sized non-perishables such as grains, flour, nuts, seeds, condiments, etc. in glass jars and industrial-strength sealed plastic containers that are inaccessible to non-humans).  Unlike rats (thank heavens we don’t have those!) mice desiccate and are odorless after death, but even then it is unusual to find a deceased one out in the open.  I only found a couple of random mouse droppings.  But the hole in the bottom corner of the garage door is a little bigger so it looks like we will have to have that weather-stripping under the garage door replaced professionally, after all.

The problem with finding evidence of a mouse is that, left unabated, they multiply rapidly. (You can click here to see what happened to our pop-up camper when it was taken over by mice two summers ago.)  I couldn’t be sure it was “only” one mouse, even though at present there was no evidence of more.  This meant an unplanned trip into town to buy more D-CON, a drive I was not enthusiastic about doing after being on the road for the past 10 1/2 hours.  After all, I had loaded the car with groceries from our home town so I wouldn’t have to do shopping for a week.   But with predictions of a snowstorm headed our way the following day, it was now or never, so we did make the 45-minute trek into North Conway.

But before setting out, there was even more important business to take care of:  getting our house warm.  We cannot simply turn off the heat when we leave, as the pipes will freeze, but we do set the thermostat very low so we won’t go through too much (expensive!) propane while we’re away.  When you’ve been driving through the night, the last thing you feel like doing when you come into the house exhausted and cold is building a fire and puttering around to keep it going.  I’ve learned from experience that before we leave Maine, I layer kindling and firewood in the woodstove and close its door, so all I have to do when I return to Maine  is open the woodstove door,  light the pre-prepared wood with a match, and an effortless fire awaits.  Even with the hottest of fires, though, it takes hours to bring the indoor room temperature from 45 degrees F (!) to 67 degrees F.  But by now I have the routine down pat and make sure that longjohns/leggings, sweaters, gloves, hats and coats are close by.

Suddenly we realized that we had forgotten to replace the screen panels on our porch with plexiglass ones.  We use our  porch, which is located just off the kitchen, even on sunny winter days, thanks to its ideal southerly location.  In the summer, the porch is shaded by trees and the cool breezes flow pleasantly through the screen panels.  In late autumn or early winter, once the leaves have fallen and the outside temperature cools, we replace the screens with plexiglass.  The southern exposure of the porch means that the sun shines on the plexiglass panels on a sunny day, and through this “passive solar” heat our porch can often reach temperatures of  60 – 65 degrees F on a 20 degree F day!

But because we had neglected to do the switch-over before returning to our home town, we were now faced with unscrewing the screen panels and screwing in the plexiglass panels in 22 degree temperature!  Needless to say that although we worked quickly, we were forced to seek shelter indoors in between each panel installation to warm our hands (gloves were too bulky to handle the tiny screws).

Taking down the summer screens...

Taking down the summer screens…

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

. . . and putting up the plexiglass panels

We had planned our departure from our home town carefully.  Since a snow storm would hit the East Coast on Sunday but not reach Maine until Monday, we decided to leave right after Shabbat, on Saturday night, and drive through the night.  We figured that if we could fit in a nap after davening (religious prayers at the synagogue) and lunch on Saturday (not an easy feat considering the short hours of daylight), we’d be rested enough to travel the distance to Maine, especially if we could  alternate the driving between us.  An added bonus would be the lack of traffic at night, but unfortunately we hadn’t counted on New York’s perpetually jammed George Washington Bridge (with the rip-off toll price of $13 for the “privilege” of traversing it) being busy even at midnight.   But once we managed to get out of New York the rest of the way was quick and uneventful.  Indeed, the very next morning our home town experienced a huge snowstorm even bigger than predicted, and the entire New Jersey turnpike was hazardous  with snow, ice, and accidents, so our timing had been perfect.

That same snowstorm finally hit us today.  I did manage to trek 3 miles in the woods with my very enthusiastic dog in the morning, while the snow was still sparse.  I walked with trekking poles in case it got icy in spots, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  The temperature was 22 degrees, but I was wearing layers and a down jacket and in reality I was a bit too warm.  At least now my cheeks have a rosy glow.

Instead of attending to work responsibilities (I have several clients waiting on photos), I spent the morning cooking enough food to last for the next 2 days.  I made a hearty vegetable soup, some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and a large tub of yogurt – – all “stick to your ribs” kinds of food for the coming cold spell. (Forecast for Wednesday night is 3 degrees F and 0 degrees  F Friday night.)

After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of yogurt to the milk and stirred well.  Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation.  Usually I let the yoghurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my wood stove.  After about 8 hours the yoghurt will solidify to the proper consistency.  I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more.  The next day I will spoon it into a large glass jar and enjoy.  This is about a 1-week supply.

Homemade winter yogurt:  After heating 1/2 gallon of milk to the foamy stage on my regular propane range and letting it cool slightly, I added a few tablespoons of  plain, store-bought yogurt to the milk and stirred well. Then I poured this warm mixture into a bowl, covered the bowl with a plate, and wrapped it in a beach towel for extra insulation. Usually I let the yogurt ferment in the trunk of my car on a warm summer day, but in winter I put the bowl on a trivet on my fired-up wood stove, since our indoor room temperature of 67 is not warm enough for the yogurt to culture properly.  After about 8 hours the yogurt will solidify to the proper consistency. I then let it sit overnight in the fridge to firm up some more. The next day I will spoon it into a large glass storage jar.   I like to use the yogurt to make smoothies, or to eat 1 cup plain with 1/4 cup of raw oatmeal and frozen blueberries mixed in.  This makes about a 1-week supply.

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Requiem for a Pop-Up Camper

This week we had to say good-bye, forever, to our beloved 1989 Coleman Newport pop-up camper.

We had camped in tents when we lived in California 30+ years ago, but when me moved East we realized that camping in tents was not very practical due to summer thunderstorms and high humidity.  When the kids were small, those middle-of-the-night thunderstorms were part of the adventure.  Before any camping trip, I made sure to check out dozens of age-appropriate books from the library, and bring along plenty of flashlights with large packages of fresh batteries.  Inevitably, sometime between 2 and 4 a.m., there would be a thunderstorm.  If they weren’t awake already from the loud booms and dramatic flashes of light, I’d rouse the kids from their sleeping bags, and we’d all go into the car to wait out the storm.  It’s dangerous to be in a tent, on the ground, during a thunderstorm, due to possible lightning hits.  So there, in the car, they’d cozy up in the darkness to their books and flashlights, and read until the storm passed.  When the storm cleared, we’d walk through the muddy ground to the tents, inspecting them for leaks and damp sleeping bags.  If the following day would be sunny, we’d simply hang the damp bags on an improvised clothesline strung between two trees until they’d dry out, usually in a couple of hours.  But after a really long downpour, or if the next day’s weather called for cold or cloudy conditions,  it meant that the next morning, instead of a planned hike, our activity would be laundromat-bound, where we’d dry the bags in commercial dryers so we would have a comfortable night’s sleep.  Even if there was no call for more rain, the high degree of humidity in the east coast air meant that things were unlikely to get truly dry, and then mildew would ensue.  When we began spending more time at the laundromat than the mountaintop, we realized that tent camping was no longer a viable option, so we bought a used pop-up trailer.

Meanwhile, our old tents did not go to waste.  It is my firm belief that everyone needs a vacation, even people (or should I say, especially people) who are poor.  But how does a large family of extremely limited means afford a vacation?  Camping!  Tents don’t have to be expensive (they start at $30) but why invest in something before you’re sure you even like camping?  So I came up with the idea of having a camping g’mach (free-loan equipment).  Families who wanted to try camping could borrow our equipment for free.  Slowly, the word spread, and people would call to borrow our tents.  At least 30 families borrowed the equipment over the next five years, and most of them went on to buy their own tents and other camping equipment.  Some liked it so much, they even bought used pop-up trailers and RVs.  Many told me how their camping experiences fostered and improved shalom bayis, and expressed with wonder how they were able to spend quality time with their children without the usual everyday pressures and stressors and minus the distractions of technology.  (When we moved to an apartment several years later, and no longer had adequate storage space for the camping equipment, someone else took over the camping g’mach.  It continues to this day, some 20 years later!)

Oh, the adventures we had!  Wherever we’d go we’d put a bumper sticker from that place on the camper, and our little pop-up was a visual travelogue.

Ah, the memories. Each place held its own adventures, tall tales, and mishaps

In retrospect, it would seem that our children did not share their parents’ enthusiasm.  Perhaps they were traumatized by pit toilets or the strenuous hiking, but as adults, none of them enjoy camping, and their idea of a vacation is a 5-star hotel.  Feh!  It is perhaps my biggest failure as a parent (although undoubtedly my children can think of much more grievous reasons that my parenting was less than stellar), but I am genuinely saddened by my inability to transmit my enjoyment of camping and natural wonders to my children.

A couple of years ago, four of my grandsons decided to spend a night in our camper (which is parked on our property) when they came to visit us in Maine.  One by one, throughout the night, they ended up inside the house:  wild animal noises had scared them.  (Unless you know what it is you are hearing, the noises can be very disconcerting.  For example, the sound foxes make when they are calling to one another sounds like a baby is being murdered.)   To solve this problem in the future,  I ended up finding sound files on the Internet of the various animals that frequent our woods.  Once they knew what they were hearing and that they were not destined to be that night’s dinner, the grandkids were able to relax a bit.  But that was probably the last time our camper was ever used.

The truth is, since moving to the White Mountains, I have had no real desire to go camping.  The multiple places in the past that we had to drive 10 hours to visit and go camping are now within an hour’s drive, so the many hikes we took are simply day trips for us now.  If I want to experience a nap outdoors, I can go on my screen porch and lay on the futon, or string our hammock (with built-in mosquito netting) between the trees.  Thanks to a project I assigned to my grandsons on their last visit, we now have a respectable fire pit (basically just a circle of large rocks and small boulders set on gravel) for campfires and outdoor grilling whenever the mood strikes.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, and having had the privilege of already camping in places I wanted to experience, such as the Grand Tetons, the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains, but I have no real desire to travel elsewhere anymore.  (The one exception:  I still want to visit Glacier National Park some day.)  I expect that the only real traveling I will be doing in the future will be in my visits to Israel, and occasional visits to California to visit the graves of our parents.

When four of our grandsons came to visit us in Maine last week, they expressed a desire to go camping one night.  We had a wonderful campsite picked out that is located only 3 miles from our home, alongside a stream with natural swimming holes.  But when he went to open up the camper to fill it with supplies, my husband was met with the unbearable stench of mildew and decay.  Cranking it open further, his eyes widened:  swatches of grey fur, 1′ high piles of mouse droppings, and shredded material everywhere.  Hundreds of mice had eaten their way into the camper, where they had nested throughout the winter.  They had lived there, raised broods there, partied there, and died there.  The multiple mouse holes had allowed water to get in, and the leaks resulted in mold.  There was not a square inch of the camper that had not suffered damage: the canvas walls, the floor, the foam mattresses, the wiring, the cabinets – – all completely destroyed by gnawing, shredding, defecation, mold, mildew,  death and decay.

Even before the mice attacked, our camper wasn’t worth much, monetarily speaking.  Due to its disuse and taking up a lot of space, we had actually thought of trying to get a couple hundred bucks for it on Craigslist, but sentimentality had prevented me from selling it.  Due to its age, certain things had already started falling apart and some parts of its interior were literally held together by duct tape.  But it still worked!  And oh, the memories!

That said, I wasn’t overly upset by its demise, although I can’t say I’m thrilled by the cleanup.  I had to buy hazmat masks against the odor, and latex gloves.  In the end, I wimped out, and I played the “helpless woman” card.  Which is weird because I’ve gotten used to impaling live wiggly worms on fish hooks.  But I just couldn’t do this job of sorting through the camper, so finding salvageable items became my beleaguered husband’s job.

Considering that 2 people died last week after contracting a rodent-born virus in Yosemite, the hazmat mask and gloves were appropriate. I could not do this job. I. Just. Could. Not. (Thanks, dear husband. . . )

I would have taken it to the dump as is, but we needed to empty out the many cupboards and storage areas to see if anything was salvageable.  And this being Maine, nothing goes to waste, not even a mouse-eaten camper.  Someone will claim it, deconstruct and remove the interior down to its bare bones, and use it as a flat-bed trailer to haul wood or a tractor.  So our little camper will continue to be of service, although not in the capacity for which it was originally intended.

We won’t be buying another camper to replace it, so I guess it’s an end of an era.  But oh, the memories!

I am so grateful for the many good times we were blessed to experience with our little ’89 Coleman pop-up trailer.

Postscript:  Ten minutes after posting an ad on Craigslist, we sold the camper for $100.  The buyers, just over the border in New Hampshire, will be using it as a utility trailer.  When I told her on the phone that it was mouse infested and pretty gross, she said, “No problem! We’ll just use our pressure washer to clean it up.”