How to Choose a Rat

Like you said, fancy rats do make great first pets! As a domestic species, fancy rats are comfortable around humans and bond well with their owners. They don’t take up a lot of space and are intelligent enough to learn their names and some basic tricks. As a plus, they’re also fairly easy to litter train, which means that you won’t end up working as hard to keep their cage clean.

The Yin and Yang of Rats

Two rats are better than one. They keep each other company.

If you are planning to keep rats, I highly recommend that you keep at least two of the same gender in the same cage. Rats are colony animals and having more than one means that they don’t need as much human attention, so they’ll adapt easily to your kid’s moods and interests in them. Two rats can easily occupy the same space as a single rat and they’ll share toys, so they don’t require much extra resources to be cared for.

Well, with Turnwise and Widdershins out of the way, Alarum is still very lonely. She’s been demanding my attention for petting and cuddles 24/7 and she’s also taken to squalling and fussing when I won’t let her cuddle up in bed with me at night to sleep. While I like how affectionate she’s become, I do also have to go to work and school, so I went to Newcastle to choose some new cage mates for her. It’ll be hard to find roomies the same age as Alarum is, given her advanced age, so I’ve decided to get two really young ones to keep her company. That way, she can treat them as her own children and they’ll also keep each other busy when Alarum is too tired to deal with them.

With the horror that Turnwise and Widdershins have wrought on Alarum, I’ve learned a valuable lesson:  Never ever buy pet shop rats ever again.  Ever.  I’ve also learned from keeping Nimhe that there are a lot of rat breeders out there with little or no quality control when it comes to health.  Thus, I present to you my handy guide on how to choose a rat for your family.

Firstly, when going to the breeder, or the pet shop, ask about the rat’s age and gender, then ask to be able to handle them.  A breeder should definitely be able to tell you the exact date the rat was born, at least down to the month.  A pet shop owner should at least know the rat’s gender, if nothing else.  If they don’t know the answer to these questions, or won’t allow you to handle the animal at all, they probably have something to hide.

Secondly, check for signs of temperament.  It’s normal for rats to be skittish, but if they’re clawing at you to get away, or if they’re baring their teeth at you, then there’s something wrong with that rat – it’s not human-friendly and might turn feral later.  I learned this the hard way with Turnwise and Widdershins.  They were both somewhat aggressive towards me.  A baby rat should be interested in you and active.  Breeder rats should be especially human-friendly, since a breeder is expected to handle them daily and remove any feral ones.

Thirdly, check for health.  Do you hear wheezing or snuffling?  A little bit of snuffling is all right, but wheezing is definitely NOT okay.  Pay particular attention to the rat’s lungs.  If you put your ear against the rat and hear wheezing, then this may be a sign of a rat that will grow up to have major mycoplasmosis issues.

Finally, check the rat’s weight.  A healthy baby rat should have some meat on dem bones!  The ribcage should definitely not be visible.  You might be able to feel it when holding them, but you should also be able to feel some roundness in the tummy area.  Nimhe was a skinny rat and she later turned out to be very unhealthy.  Some types of rat do end up skinnier than others, though.  Powderpuff rats, for example, can look and feel quite fat even if they’re average sized.

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Cessnock engaging in her favourite activity: Napping

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Fassifern posing nicely for a photo (She was bribed with cookies)

Anyway, the two animals that I went to see passed the test on all accounts, so I put them in with Alarum.  She seems pretty happy with them and they’re both extremely sweet and human-friendly.  The new girls are called Cessnock and Fassifern, after some train stations on the Newcastle line.  Cessnock (Cessie), a mink berkshire, is a big crybaby who complains all the time about her life, but she’s also not as excitable and active as her sister.  Fassifern (Fassie) is a boisterous champagne hooded who loves climbing, jumping and running.

Overall, I’m pretty happy to have these girls as new additions to my miniature family.

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Titans of the Past Exhibition, Science Centre Singapore

Last Friday, we were invited to attend the opening of the Titans of the Past – Dinosaurs and Ice Age Mammals exhibition at the Science Centre Singapore. This is a massive display of real fossils and animatronic dinosaurs on loan from The Museum of the Rockies in Montana, USA, as well as animatonic ice age animals and life-sized fossil casts from Argentina’s Aurea Exhibitions.

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Getting ready to learn about dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals

J and Little E were really excited about visiting the Science Centre, as it is one of their favourite haunts, and I told them all about the fossils and robot dinosaurs [1] that they would get to see. They were so excited to receive trail and activity booklets tailored to their learning levels at the start of the exhibition! You can see them clutching the books in the photo above.

The exhibition hall is really huge, around 3000 square metres, and it is quite dark inside (although the information panels and the specimens are very well lit), so if your children don’t like the dark, do bribe warn them in advance[2].

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Finding out about the Torosaurus

We were absolutely captivated by the fossils that we saw! The children were in awe of the size of the creatures, and jostled with each other to get a good view of them. Each exhibit was accompanied by a series of well written and illustrated panels that showed how paleontologists gather information about the habits and behaviour of extinct animals by studying their skeletons and comparing them to living animals.

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J examines one of the many didactic panels and finds the only spelling error in the room.

What I found particularly fascinating was the work done by Dr Jack Horner[3] (the curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies) and his research team in comparing fossil specimens and discovering that the previous classification of dinosaur species did not account for the changes that an animal would go through as part of its natural development from birth to adulthood.

The beautifully displayed array of detailed Triceratops skull casts (seen in the picture above) shows how young dinosaur skull has such a vastly different appearance from an adult that it was mistaken for a different species of dinosaur by past paleontologists.

Little E, who was feeling a little bit reserved in the dark environment, was particularly taken by the idea of a ‘baby’ Triceratops and this helped to dispel any further fears she had about meeting the robot dinosaurs. In fact, the first animatronic display we encountered was that of a mother Triceratops protecting her young.

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Little E likes the baby Triceratops and meets a ‘real’ one!

J and Little E were so concerned for the baby Triceratops that they carried on talking to the mother and reassuring her that they would not hurt the baby! I personally felt that it was a smart move to put a less intimidating dinosaur in the front of the exhibition.

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Meeting the Argentinosaurus and Tyrannosaurus

We were most impressed by the size of the dinosaur skeleton specimens and casts. One of the casts, a life-sized Argentinosaurus, was so big that it took up almost the whole room and stretched nearly to the ceiling! J was particularly interested in the infamous T-rex, and its enormous teeth, growing in overlapping rows like a shark.

The animatronic dinosaurs were very life-like and were accompanied by very loud roars. Little E was a little bit nervous in approaching them, but as soon as she remembered that they were only robots (albeit very life-like robots developed by Japanese robotics company Kokoro in consultation with Dr Jack Horner) she became very brave indeed and started roaring back at them.

tyrannosaurus-t-rex-replica

Little E says ‘RAWRR’

There were so many fun interactive exhibits along the way, as well as a series of activity tables where the kids could do some colouring or craft work to learn about different species of dinosaurs. Bigger kids would probably enjoy watching the videos detailing the work of scientists in postulating the behaviour of extinct animals or attending one of the hands-on dinosaur forensic workshops.

J and Little E had fun participating in a mock paleontology dig site. The two of them squatted there for ages, ankle deep in fine sand, conscientiously using brushes to painstakingly uncover a half-buried fossil.

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Participating in a paleontology dig site and meeting some Ice-age mammals

Right at the end of the exhibition was a display of animatronic ice-age mammals such as the mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat. Apparently, it is the first time that Aurea Exhibitions has brought their work to Asia!

Sadly, all these magnificent animatronic mammals were crammed into a much smaller area, which meant that general effect on visitors was much less impressive (and the cacophony of sounds meant that my kids were not keen to remain in that room for long!) However, it was still interesting to look at these extinct creatures and compare them to the animals that are still living in our world today. J and Little E were certainly very curious about how these mammals lived and what the world might have looked like during the Ice Age.

If your kids are fascinated by dinosaurs, it is definitely worth bringing them to the Science Centre for a visit! The Titans of the Past exhibition is open now until the 24th February 2014. Click here for more information.


1. Or ‘Dinosaur robots’ as Little E insists that they are called.

2. At the launch of the exhibition, we were each given tiny little LED keychain torches to carry inside the hall, which my kids absolutely loved. If you have a small torchlight or pen-torch at home, bring it along and your children can pretend that they are real explorers!

3. Who, incidentally, was also the technical advisor for the Jurassic Park movies! Now I know who to blame for that T-rex scene that gave me the twitches for a year.

What happens when we waste

I was thinking about what you said about reducing your household waste and it really reminded me of this video that I watched recently.

Chris Jordan, the photographer who guided the Midway Project team, also works for National Geographic. In fact, one of his photos is on display right now as part of the National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photos exhibition at the ArtScience Museum.

I showed this video to the children (and the Aged Ps) and they were all very impressed by the impact that carelessly strewn waste would have on our wildlife. Videos like this are a good way to teach children about social responsibility and the impact of consumerism on the environment.

Birds are particularly vulnerable as many species of birds naturally swallow stones to aid in digestion. Of course, the gastroliths are eventually worn down and then passed out or regurgitated by the bird. It is clear that birds cannot distinguish between natural rock and plastic detritus. I think they may even mistake floating garbage glittering in the water for small fish!

Non-biodegradable plastic bits that float around in the seawater cannot be ground down in the bird’s gizzards, and not only do they leach chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, but they are also sponges that soak up toxic chemicals in the water and poisoning the creatures that ingest them.

Afterwards, we took a walk through the neighbourhood with the Aged Ps, where the kids inspected the drains for plastic litter (we found LOADS – Singapore is not as litter-free as one might expect). The Aged Ps even suggested that we visit the beach with a bin bag and a pair of pincers to help clean it up[1], and writing in to our church to ask if they would consider using biodegradable paper cups instead of styrofoam cups.

One step at a time!


1.Unfortunately, we missed the date for this year’s International Coastal Cleanup Event Singapore, but there’s nothing stopping us from doing our part on our own time!

Waste Not, Want Not

It occurs to me that I’ve thrown away a lot of things.  With three rats and all, I now throw away a large garbage bag of trash every week.  This is slightly unacceptable for a single person.  I understand a family needing to throw away that much trash, but little ol’ me by herself shouldn’t be producing that much waste.  Just this morning, I lugged out a bag filled with:

  • Rat bedding and litter
  • Pile of carrot tops that didn’t get fed to rats because they had too many treats and looked a little fat
  • A pile of apple cores.
  • One empty paper tub of ice cream.
  • A sheaf of study notes that I no longer need.
  • A pile of eggshells
  • Bones left over from a chicken carcass
  • Some food that got thawed out in the fridge for a while, but turned out bad so it had to go
  • Vegetables that went manky because I bought them on a bargain sale and they rotted in my fridge overnight
  • Dried lettuce leaves

I admit that some of this waste is due to my having ADD and forgetting that I had food in my fridge, but most of it is stuff I can’t eat to begin with anyway.  Plus, with three rats, the litter tray fills out a lot faster with waste which has to be carted out of my house before it gets stinky.

Happy Strawberries in the sun!

Happy Strawberries in the sun! The yellow stuff is the litter.

But then, it occurred to me: If you’ve got rat poop and said rat poop sits on litter that comes in big baggies that are labelled 100% garden safe!  Why not use said rat poop to fertilise your plants?

So I did.  And the plants (a few strawberries) were happy for a while, at least.

It turns out that garden friendly rat litter is also made of rice husks, which have a habit of drawing nitrates from the soil before finally breaking down, stealing precious nitrates from the plants for a long time before it actually gives the plants any benefits.  It also turns out that rat poop takes like, three to six months to break down, which meant that for three months, every time I went out to water my plants, I got a good look at the unslightly rat pellets just sitting there atop the soil my plants.  Plus, rats produce more poop every week, which meant that while this poop was breaking down, I was still busily throwing away a whole bunch of it and more stuff too, since rat poop isn’t the only organic waste that’s being tossed out of my place.

Bucket o' worms 'n bucket o' pickles

Bucket o’ worms ‘n bucket o’ pickles

So, I’ve decided to become all green and ecofriendly – reducing the amount of organic waste in my home by fermenting all my organic rubbish in a bokashi bucket and then feeding it to a nice, friendly worm farm.  The great thing about worm farms is that worms are much faster with their breakdown of organic waste into useful compost.  They also produce a whole bunch of liquid fertiliser that doesn’t burn your soil (provided you dilute it properly), meaning that your plants get a whole bunch of nutrients and stay happy for a long time.  The compost the worms produce also makes an excellent potting mix, which means I don’t have to buy any potting mix anymore and I have good organic potting mix to sell to people with gardens.

Red wriggler worms eating paper trash and a carrot

Red wriggler worms eating paper trash and a carrot. There was litter in there yesterday, but it looks like they ate it all.

I’ve filled my farm with little red wriggler worms, which are apparently the best worms for composting because they don’t get too upset if it’s too hot outside, they reproduce very quickly and aren’t too fussy about what they eat.  As an added bonus, I get to feed the worms to my rats when they reproduce!

I’ll keep you posted on how things go with the worm farm when my first lot of potting mix is created and I can start my garden anew!

Dear Mr Special Snowflake: An Angry Rant

So, a fortnight ago, Droo and I attended the Singapore Day event held in the Domain, which I had booked tickets for a while back.  The event was pretty fun and I had originally planned to film a follow up vlog about the whole thing, until I read about the controversy surrounding the day.

Your tears are delicious.

Somebody needs a WAAAAAH-mbulance.

Apparently, some “terribly unfortunate” Australian named James Poder didn’t prebook tickets online for the day and was turned away at the gate.  Outraged by his ejection from the grounds, he called 2GB radio to cry racism!  Obviously, he was being turned away for being white!  How truly terrible for him!

Seriously. Singapore Day was pretty well attended.  Obviously, the number of Singaporeans outnumbered the number of non-Singaporeans attending the event.  Droo and I did make a sort of game counting all the clearly non-Singaporean people invited by their friends to attend.  We counted about a dozen each.  So, we know for a fact that at least 24 non-Singaporeans attended the event (not including Droo).

So here’s a letter to Mr Poder and his oversized sense of entitlement.

Dear Mr Special Snowflake,

How dare the Singaporean Government pay the Royal Botanic Gardens oodles of money to use your property for a private event, hire an Australian security firm and event staff, and ship a whole bunch of hawkers and entertainers to Sydney without feeding your sense of entitlement?  How dare we use our own money to organise and plan an event in a public space without allowing the white people, the rightful owners of the land, to just waltz in without a ticket and poke things?  Truly, I weep with shame at our clearly brazen waste of Australian taxpayer money that we didn’t use to begin with.  Boo hoo hoo.  Waaaah.

The organisers were checking people for tickets, IDs or hand stamps all day long.  Did the mean Ms Event Organiser turn you away at the gate because you didn’t bring one of these things?  Did you go and wail to the nearest other Caucasian couple you saw because you didn’t get into an exclusive event?  Awww, did ickle bubbykins get a booboo on his substantial ego?  Poor precious.  We are terribly racist against people who don’t have tickets!

Look look look!  I have an Asian Friend!  He's SO Asian!

Look look look! I have an Asian Friend! He’s SO Asian!

I mean it’s not like YOU’RE racist, right?  Some of your best friends are Singaporean!  You’ve even been to Singapore a few times!  That totally entitles you to some special treatment that allows you to get into exclusive events without a ticket.

Let’s be serious now.

You didn’t get into the event because you didn’t book a ticket in advance.  Oh, you wanted to buy a ticket at the gate?  Tickets were sold out long ago, whiny boy.  I had to get mine two months in advance of the event and even then I couldn’t get enough for all my friends because guess what?  THEY HAD RUN OUT.

Maybe it’s time to put on your big boy pants and ‘fess up to your own stupidity.  You didn’t get a ticket, so you didn’t get in.  Don’t go crying racist when your whiny sense of white person entitlement makes your head bigger than it should be.

While you’re putting on your pants, why not watch this video of my best friend, Droo, enjoying an Old Chang Kee curry puff while totally ignoring your plight.  Droo is not only officially white, but also isn’t a Singaporean citizen.  But he somehow managed to get in.  So did all the other white people who are clearly milling about in the background.  I wonder how he did it. (HINT: He had a ticket.)

Sincerely,

A Becky Lee

PS.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone in receiving a Special Snowflake Trophy.  A Second Place Special Snowflake Trophy has also been given to the very racist Singaporean “gentleman” who wrote about being happy that there weren’t any “PRCs, India Indians, Bangla or Pinoys to annoy us“.  Shame on you, sir!  SHAME!

PPS.  Third place Special Snowflake Trophy goes to the folks at Newscorp for being lazy journalists, not doing their research properly, and giving this guy time of day.

Tuesdays with Little E

So, I met up with one of our Cousins recently, and she was asking me what I do at home with Little E when J is at school.

This is a question that I have been asked quite often, usually by people who have no kids or who are moms who work outside the home full-time. They aren’t being rude or condescending, just curious. I guess they can’t imagine spending so much time outside the office!

In any case, I actually find this question quite difficult to answer, because I don’t actually feel that I am ‘doing’ anything – Little E is usually the one who is ‘doing’ something whilst I act as a facilitator.

Anyway, here’s a little video I made on typical Tuesday morning with Little E [1]. Hopefully, it’ll give you some idea as to how I spend my time when I’m at home.


1. You may notice in the video that Little E puts on a CD of her favourite tunes. This is her current favourite music album which is a compilation of Beatles #1 hits (or, as J likes to call it, music from The Singing Liverpool Bugs). She particularly likes ‘Yellow Submarine’ (although she insists that the song is actually called ‘A Lello Soup Tureen’).

O bento, no bento

Hi Meimei,

Yes. I have seen those beautiful bentos that other parents make for their kids. And I salute them for their creativity and dedication to Food Styling.

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How to celebrate National Day

This National Day breakfast by Sharon from Little Miss Orange, for example, is brilliantly simple.

Just a spread little bit of strawberry jam on plain bread, add cheddar cheese shapes cut using mini-cookie cutters, and suddenly you get the Singapore flag. (Picture Credit: Little Miss Orange)

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All that’s missing is a banana

Here’s another bit of brilliance from the same lady – turning a simple omelette into a Despicable Me Minion, using carefully cut seaweed. (Picture credit: Little Miss Orange)

But I think that the guru of all lunchboxes is Makiko Itoh of Just Bento.

On her website, she teaches you how to select the right bento lunch box, bento food safety tips, and how to buildup a joubisai (a stash of lunchbox friendly foods). There are so many recipes and ideas on her site! And she makes it all seem so do-able.

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Cute and effortless!

I especially like her ideas for just using stickers to add colour and cuteness to a kid’s lunchbox.  (Picture credit: JustBento.com)

One of the reasons why I avoid decorating food is that I am kak-handed [1] and will probably end up over-handling and fiddling with the food far too much, thus germifying the whole operation, so this quick-and-cute method of decoration would really suit me.

Fortunately for me, neither J nor Little E require any packed lunches for school at the moment as they are both at home for lunch.

And ever since the Spinach Incident of 2002, I’ve not been allowed to make sandwiches for my husband.

In any case, I am not sure that I am capable of planning a healthy and varied packed lunch menu for the kids because I am already struggling with meal planning enough as it is.

I mean, you’re talking to the girl who ate peanut butter sandwiches for recess for 10 years. I may well continue the Daily Sandwich tradition when J starts Primary School in two years’ time. But yeah, that won’t stop me from making sure that my kids have awesome looking lunches.

Addendum:

Okay okay, you gotta check out these kiddie bentos by Justina from Mum in the Making. Not only does she style the food beautifully, but each meal has an educational component as well!


1. One of the reasons why I did not become a surgeon. I’d probably drop my scalpel right in there and spend most of my operating time just…fishing around..