An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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Swapping Homeschools

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We’re at Tiffany’s again (me, Toria, Fiona and Alex), but this time we’re at their house without their family.  We’re house sitting for the week while they’re on vacation — at the condo where we usually stay when we’re on vacation.

We’ve been here so many times over the years, but this is the first time that none of their family has been here with us!  Even when we came to watch the kids while Tiffany was having Milllie, we had the older kids here with us.  It’s quite a different experience!

To make matters even more unusual for us, I’m taking care of one of the little dogs that Tiffany tends to during the days, so twice a day I walk over with one or all of the kids and we take a very enthusiastic little Yorkie (I think!) on a very long, very enthusiastic walk as she makes little rhino noises (I swear!) and tries to pull us as 70 mph despite her tiny little legs and old age.  Then we make sure that all of her needs are met in her house and tuck her in her little bed on the couch and make sure her music is on until the next time we check on her.  It’s quite fun, especially since we’ve never had a little dog and we miss our wonderful collie rescue, Layla, who died last fall.

During the days, the kids jump on the trampoline and play Mario Cart, play educational games online and just play.  Toria and I read and surf the internet.  At night, I cook dinner and we watch our favorite shows on Hulu (Nashville for me and Toria, Smallville for all of us) and then read books before bed.

We all also do a LOT of yoga every day.  Tiffany and Co. do a lot of yoga and have mats and recommended apps for us, and we are big on the whole “when in Rome” thing!

Of course, we don’t do yoga quite as gracefully or peacefully as they do.

Don’t even try to tell me in all seriousness to yearn my sternum forward!  Yearn my sternum forward????  This is not a legitimate instruction.  🙂

Toria told me I was very difficult to do yoga with because I make her laugh too much.  Laughter is healthy, right?

We also drink proper English tea all day (since Tiffany is both proper and English) — though we add copious amounts of sugar that proper English people disapprove of!).

Tiffany’s house is the opposite of mine in most ways.  Mine is crowded and noisy.  Hers is minimalistic and quiet.  Mine is full of color.  Hers is almost entirely white (even the painted wood floors and full-wall fireplace).  Mine is chaos, hers is calm.  Mine is filled with oddities (brain coral, replica dinosaur teeth, jars of sand from all different colors of beaches around the world, musical instruments, historic costume pieces….).  Hers is filled with just a few well chosen items.

So it’s fun to be here, and good for us to live this other life.  We rise early and keep things tidy.  We do yoga and drink tea.  We eat smaller portions and walk miles every day.  But then we also play games and watch shows and act silly, because we’re still us, too.  🙂

We have a million things to get back to as soon as we’re back in Minnesota.  I have to finish my elderberry book.  We have to finish our portion of the renovations on our house.  There are tryouts soon for the Wilder Pageant and all sorts of opportunities and obligations for all of us.

But this week, we’re in Nebraska, living this life.  And it’s pretty wonderful too.