A Word From Our Readers, Episode 3

What with the death of Hugo Chavez, the Syrian refugee count reaching 1 million, the coming drone apocalypse, and everything else depressing in the world, we all really need something to cheer us up. So here are my top picks from the last six months of search engine queries that have landed people at Casteluzzo. I notice that among other things, I seem to have become quite a versatile authority on some esoteric facets of pet ownership.

“coffee table repurposed to hold rabbit cage”
“homemade dog cage out of cardboard boxes”
“goat gyms”
“epic rat cages”

You overestimate my inventiveness, as well as my menagerie.

“brut cologne out of date”

No way! It’s still very much da mode. See also: “infatuated with his smell”

“$150,000 worth of jelly beans”

Thanks. You shouldn’t have.

“christmas turkey wrapped in bacon”

Yes, I did. It tasted like 14 pounds of bacon.

“bacon wrapped dove”

I think this might be taking the concept a little too far . . .

“how to draw a sugar glider”

Good luck! I can’t even get a non-blurry photo of one.

“what is the best way to create a roller coaster with at least three hills and one loop that can transport a marble at least 2 meters from start to finish”

Why do people keep asking me this question?

“artificial spanish fir x-mas tree with raindrops”

Raindrops? Really? That’s a whole new dimension of flocked.

“motorbike sidecar” or “motorcycle sidecar” erotic film italy dead mother”

Um. I’m not sure if this film is really my style. Anyone else?

“can sugar glider eat ice cream”
“can sugar glider eat pepperoni”
“can sugar gliders eat popcorn”

No, no, and no! Please feed your sugar glider responsibly.

“people steal my trash in deltona”

Guilty as charged.

“hot american kissing”

Well, we’re American. And we’re hot. And we kiss. So yes. I guess.

“baby rabbit mask glasses diapers”


“creating a government for a marooned island people”

Is this some kind of political reality show?

“is it possible to take my sugar glider to school in secret?”

Looks like yes: “kid has sugar glider in pocket at school”

“dining room is not” buddha

Neither is my dining room. I’m sure the feng shui is off too.

“mushroom growing in bathroom natural conditions”

I don’t even want to know.

“i sometimes cook i always clean the bathroom i almost never clean the kitchen”

Look, I think we’ve had enough housekeeping confessions.

“praying mantis for sale in philippines”

Any takers? I hear they make great pets, and keep the bug population down too.

“green banana fitted with a stand and decorated” and “i capricorn i dream of papaya what it means”

I think it might mean that you should lay off on the exotic fruit snacking before bed.

graphic courtesy of wordle

Sugar Babies 2.0

It was Axa’s birthday last Tuesday, and it turned out to be a pretty action-packed week, so I have plenty to blog about. But first, some exciting news: we have new sugar gliders!

No, Merry and Pippin did not have babies (they are both, after all, neutered males). A friend of friend needed to rehome a pair of adorable little girls, and so my friend mentioned me. On Tuesday, Axa and Raj went with me to pick them up, and they’re now settled in at our house.

Following our Tolkien theme, we named them Galadriel (“Gala”):

And Nimrodel (“Nim”):

Sorry, I know it’s TMI, but you can see that she’s already what sugar glider enthusiasts would unblushingly refer to as a “bra baby.”

The girls are seven months old, and came with their own cage and accessories, which was good, because they need to be kept in a separate room from Merry and Pippin for a routine 30-day quarantine period.

After the 30 days, I’ll start swapping their toys and sleeping pouches so they can get used to each other’s scent. So yeah, I hope Merry and Pippin don’t mind sleeping in this:

Their previous owner made adorable little aprons with pockets for the sugar gliders to ride in:

I was worried that Gala and Nim wouldn’t like my blended glider food, but they took to it right away. They also seem to be adjusting well to their new humans. We had tent time last night, and they were darling. They are quite a bit smaller than Merry and Pippin, and a little more timid and easily startled. But they’re also more prone to just snuggle rather than dashing around from spot to spot like little madmen. In fact, they are sleeping in my shirt right now, which is just about the cuddliest thing ever.

I felt really bad for their owner, who obviously loves them to death. But they keep her husband up at night with their barking, and it was a deal-breaker. She needed to find a new home for them, but didn’t want to give them to someone she didn’t know, because there are unfortunately a lot of people who run glider mills and would love a couple of little females, especially here in Florida where they are so popular.

Sadly, I notice a lot of gliders being sold on craigslist too, and most are about the age of mine, from a few months to a year old. People get them and then realize after a few months that they are overwhelmed by their new pet. So yes, for the record, sugar gliders take a lot of time. They are loud. They are messy. They are expensive. If you’re considering adding sugar gliders to your family, here’s a more comprehensive list of cons to sugar glider ownership.

They are definitely not a low maintenance or easy pet. But if you have the time, the patience, and the inclination, they are utterly worth it all. We look forward to spending lots of time with our new little girls, and eventually, if everyone is amenable, putting all four of them together in a big family cage.

How do I love my sugar gliders? Let me count the ways.

It’s been awhile since we’ve had any sugar glider love here on the blog. So won’t you indulge me in a bit of shameless gushing? In no particular order, here are a few things that I just adore about my babies.

1. Sugar gliders are exotic in so many ways. They have little conversations with each other that sound like the barking of impossibly diminutive dogs. They clean themselves with what sounds like a tiny sneeze and back feet that are cleverly modified to form a tiny comb. And the way they climb on the ceiling of our screened in porch never fails to remind me of the classic Beauty and the Beast trailer to Lilo and Stitch.

If you take a look at a phylogenetic tree, you’ll find that marsupials branch off right after the duck-billed platypus, and before elephants, bats, cows, and whales. Sugar gliders look superficially similar to any number of small rodents. But up close their tiny hands and feet and noses have a distinctly alien look. As Darwin put it,

On seeing the marsupials in Australia for the first time and comparing them to placental mammals; An unbeliever… might exclaim “Surely two distinct Creators must have been at work.”

2. Related point: even though Axa  is allergic to a majority of furry animals from rats to cats to goats, she does just fine with sugar gliders. I hypothesize this might be a result of how distantly they are related to all those eutherian mammals typically kept as a pets. And no, I didn’t say eutherian with a sneer, or at least any more than a teeny tiny sneer.

3. I am a die-hard attachment parent. Axa barely touched the ground for her first six months of life, because I wore her everywhere when she was a baby. She is now seven, and Raj is five. They have their own projects and things to do, and little to no interest in being carried around all day by their mother. But my sugar gliders have no objection to sleeping in my sugar mommy “purse” all day long. When I’m in extra need of snuggle, I let them sleep under my shirt.

4. Merry and Pippin are not demanding of daytime attention. Like most people I know, I suffer from the modern curse of busyness. While I would love to give several hours of daytime attention to a tiny being of tribble-esque cuteness, I do have children and various other responsibilities. My sugar gliders are happy to sleep all day either in their cage or in my purse, and then get up and play with me when I’m ready to wind down in the evening. Or when I get up early the next morning.

5. They fly! Most of the time it only emerges in their dramatic little flying leaps, but their physiognomy is really very similar to the flying carpet in Aladdin. They are one of the most athletic little animals I’ve ever seen.

6. O.K., I admit it. I do enjoy both the subterfuge and the notoriety of carrying around two mysterious little balls of fur with me all the time. They are small and quiet enough to be utterly undetectable in normal life, which gives me the sort of feeling I imagine I might get if I were actually an alien masquerading as human. But if I feel the moment is opportune, it’s always a great delight to show them off.

7. Inside that little four-ounce body is a pretty big personality. Sugar gliders are determined problem-solvers. It’s so much fun to watch them opening boxes with their tiny hands, taking a flying leap to get onto the top of the dresser, or nimbly climbing up the CD player cord. I think they’re incredibly intelligent, but it’s an intelligence that goes in the opposite direction from trainability. In fact, I know they can tell what I want them to do, because they consistently do the opposite.

8. And finally, I have to say it, sugar gliders are the very personification of “cute.” Darling. Delectably sweet. With their  striped faces and huge eyes and impossibly soft fur, they just beg to be kissed and cuddled and adored. Back in the day, I would have been the first to feel smugly superior over a Facebook pass-along like this:

Now, not content with staring dreamy-eyed at my own pet sugar gliders, I happily seek out photos of strangers’ pets and only with great difficulty restrain myself from posting an endless stream of them on Facebook.

Well, I usually restrain myself . . .

photo credits: albino, sleeping, flying, babies

Inkheart, Marsupials, More Phineas, and The Handmaid’s Tale

Inkheart (Inkheart, #1)Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adored the movie Inkheart. It was funny and quirky, with lavish sets and costumes, even if it was a little weird that the main characters are named Mo and Meggie. Maybe it’s not so weird in German.

In any case, the movie is right up there with Ladyhawke, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride when it comes to glorious fantasy cult classics that don’t take themselves too seriously. Inkheart was also set in beautiful Northern Italy, and made me awfully homesick. In particular, Balestrino, the town on the Italian Riviera where Capricorn has his headquarters is now on my list of must-sees next time I go to Italy. So of course I couldn’t resist the book. And I think the book is as good as the movie.

This is a book that revolves around books, so people without a borderline idolatrous relationship with books might be annoyed by it. Cornelia Funke has a delightful way with quotations, and the quotes at the beginning of each chapter really add, especially if you’ve read most of the books from which they come. I think I just might take up bookbinding too.

This is a worthy addition to the children’s fantasy genre, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequels.

Pocket Babies: And Other Amazing MarsupialsPocket Babies: And Other Amazing Marsupials by Sneed B. Collard III

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My librarian found this for me in the children’s section when I asked for books about sugar gliders. It devotes a couple of pages to sugar gliders, but the subject of the book is marsupials in general. I didn’t know that much about them, so I found it fascinating. I am now even more delighted to have a pair of adorable marsupials living in my house. But I also appreciated learning more about some of their relatives. For example, did you know that wombat droppings, once dried, are the perfect size and shape to use as bricks? I am now planning a trip to Australia, with the object of seeing as many interesting marsupials as possible.

Sugar GlidersSugar Gliders by Caroline MacPherson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was the only book at my library specifically addressing the care and nurture of sugar gliders. There is some good information (and some adorable photos), but some, like the dietary recommendations, is outdated. If you want information on taking care of sugar gliders, I recommend searching online instead. And I’d love to talk to you about them if you’re considering adding some to your family.

The Eustace DiamondsThe Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a great book, probably a four star book, but I did get tired of reading about Lizzie Eustace by the end. She is such an annoying character. In fact, most of the main characters are fairly annoying in this book. There’s Lucy Morris, who’s so cloyingly sweet and good and subservient to her lover that I couldn’t stomach her. And Frank Greystock, who I think is a cad and shouldn’t be let off the hook by blaming Lizzie’s female wiles. Lord Fawn is ridiculous, and the rest of the supporting characters are just creepy. Still, it’s a fun story, and full of wry, witty narration and insights into human nature.

Phineas ReduxPhineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book, and I really love Phineas Finn. The weird thing about the Palliser novels is that the main characters in one book become minor supporting characters in the next. So I was happy Phineas got a second book all about him, even if I had to suffer through a whole book about Lizzie Eustace to get here. I’ve also always liked Madame Goesler, so it was great to see her get the limelight as well.

And I am slowly unbending in my opinion about Anthony Trollope. He’s no feminist, but he’s a good enough novelist to portray all his characters, including the women, as the complex individuals they are.

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If it is a mark of good dystopian fiction to make your heart pound and leave you plotting your escape from your society at the first glimpse of warning signs, then The Handmaid’s Tale was a success with me. This book seriously freaked me out. Not that I really need an extra excuse to plot an international escape, but still.

I like browsing the book section of thrift stores, because the books are usually under a dollar, and sometimes you can find some real treasures, even though most of the books aren’t really worth buying. I’ve noticed that there are books that consistently appear, so much so that you are almost guaranteed a copy (or multiple copies) at any thrift store you visit. In the United States, it’s usually The Da Vinci Code. In Ireland, it was The Handmaid’s Tale. I passed up at least half a dozen copies, and didn’t know what I was missing.

When I started hearing political commentary earlier this year linking The Handmaid’s Tale  to the War on Women, I finally decided to read it. And the Irish connection suddenly made sense. It wasn’t till 1985 (the year the book was published) that condoms and spermicides were even available in Ireland without a prescription. And the Republic of Ireland still prohibits abortion with fewer exceptions than even my very pro-life church (although more than the current Republican platform).

Atwood’s book is devastatingly well-written, and strangely prescient. In the near future of the United States of America, elements of the radical right stage a secret terrorist attack that blows up most of the government, and then publicly blame it on Islamists. Then they set up a “Christian” theocracy that is repressive, racist, and extremely misogynist.

Caveat: The Handmaid’s Tale is deeply disturbing, and contains a fair amount of sex and other material readers may find offensive. Accordingly, it may not make it onto my homeschool booklist for high school. Depending on what the political landscape looks like in ten years.

View all my reviews

photo credit


Yes, I’m in love. It’s hard to imagine a time when Merry and Pippin didn’t belong to our family. I carry them nearly everywhere with me, snuggled and sleeping in what looks to the uninitiated like an innocent little purse. In the evenings, Tony and I (and sometimes Axa) go out on the back porch and watch them climbing up and down the screens.

When we first got them, I would spend a couple of hours every night in a tent with them. They are so inquisitive and hyperactive that in the enclosed space they couldn’t help running all over me, and taking little flying leaps into my hair. Once they seemed fairly comfortable, I took them out to the screened in porch. They love it, and act like they’re in a jungle gym. They can even walk upside down, hanging by their claws from the ceiling. Every few minutes, they either leap or scurry down to check in with me, running up my leg and then over my shoulder to my back, and then back over the other shoulder and down the other leg.

And I’m slowly learning how to take photos of them. For example, here’s sweet Pippin, sitting on my knee.

I tried a lot of different camera settings, including the close-up, dusk, and museum options. The only one I really got to work was the “sport continuous” setting. Although without a flash, it has to make do with the available light in the room, it leaves the shutter open only briefly, and so sometimes manages to catch my little energy bursts. Although I still get a lot of photos that turn out as sugar ghosts.

And yes, Photoshop

is still my friend.

But I’ve also gotten some photos that are in focus enough to actually recognize. That’s progress.

My babies obviously take after me in the appreciation of fine music

and literature.

They still feel most comfortable on me or on their cage, both of which feel like safe places, as well as being convenient for climbing.

But they like exploring the rest of the house too, and especially hiding under the couch cushions, where they would happily curl up and sleep all day if I weren’t afraid someone would sit on them.

I can’t possibly get enough of them. Just call me the sugar mamma.

What do sugar gliders eat?

I know you’ve all been dying to read another post about my darling new pets. At any rate, I’ve been dying to write a post about them. Unfortunately, I have yet to get some really awesome photos that are truly worthy of their adorableness. So in the meantime, I’ll tell you about my exploits as an amateur zookeeper.

In the exotic pet world, diet for sugar gliders is a contentious topic with potentially serious implications. One of the most common hazards for pet sugar gliders (right up there with drowning in toilets and accidents with other pets) is calcium deficiency, which can cause paralysis and even death.

Naturally, before I got my gliders I did a lot of research online about diets. In the wild, sugar gliders eat a variety of sap and gum, nectar and pollen, honeydew, and insects. Needless to say, this is a somewhat difficult diet to replicate in captivity.

What you can find in most pet stores as far as glider food usually comes in the form of pellets. These are an O.K. occasional snack, but not a great staple food. Here’s the brand I got, along with the other snacks my gliders like: dried papaya, pumpkin seeds, and (ewww!) mealworms. These are the things I hand-feed them when they’re out playing. I also carry a few with me when I’m carrying my gliders around during the day, in case they need a pick-me-up.

But for an everyday meal staple, gilders need something different. There are several well-regarded sugar glider diet “recipes” out there. The one I picked is called the HPW diet. It’s an American version of a diet based on “High Protein Wombaroo” powder from Australia. Here’s what goes into it:

I scramble the eggs, then put them in the blender with the HPW powder, pollen, honey, and water. Then I freeze it. The great thing about it is that it freezes soft, so you can scoop it out like ice cream. HPW also comes in a version called “Complete HPW,” to which you just add water.

Along with their “protein shake,” my little gliders eat vegetables and fruits. At least in theory. In practice, they will often refuse to eat any fruits and vegetables (although they like avocado). Fortunately, as a mother this is not new to me.

I’ve been just giving them whatever fruits and vegetables we happen to eat in a day, since they eat such a tiny amount (a couple of tablespoons each, if that). But the HPW diet prescribes a certain combination of fruits and veggies that have a good calcium to phosphorus ratio. So today I finally got around to mixing it up. Here are the fresh components, which got mixed in with frozen berries, peas, beans, and mixed vegetables.

Yes, behind the vegetables is the huge pasta pot I ended up mixing it in, because the recipe makes a TON, and it quickly overflowed from my popcorn bowl. Everything was cut up into glider-bite-sized pieces.

Actually, those pieces (which are fairly finely diced) are the size of a large apple to a glider. It takes them about a dozen bites to eat a raisin. So cute. Then I divided it up in freezer bags.

I now have what must be a year supply of glider food in my freezer. I had so much, in fact, that I thought I’d whip up a green smoothie for myself with it.

It tasted . . . O.K. I’m going to try blending it up for the gliders tonight, to see if they find their fruits and veggies more palatable in smoothie form. And voilà! Dinner is served.

Bon appetit, Merry and Pippin!

photo credit

Announcing: the two newest members of our family!

Yesterday found me furiously nesting. I sewed until my sewing machine broke (actually, my sweet daughter broke it, but we won’t go into that). I swept and mopped the entire house. As I finished up the last of the dishes, I found myself scrubbing the outside of my frying pan with a stainless steel pot scrubber. Even as I scrubbed, I reflected bemusedly that whether my frying pan was sparkling would really make no difference whatsoever. Still, I scrubbed.

Finally, at 10:15 p.m., Tony brought home my new little babies. And so, without further ado, meet Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. (Merry and Pippin for short, of course.)

Yes, you’re right. It’s a blurry picture, and one of them is moving so quickly he’s become a photographic ghost. That’s because photo flashes can damage their eyes, and they are so energetic (and I’m not the greatest photographer).

But here’s what they look like in real life, thanks to a real photographer:

Tell me they aren’t the most adorable little beings you’ve ever seen in your entire life.

I have been wanting a sugar glider for years. I found out about them in California, where they are unfortunately illegal. Remember my first thought when I saw our lovely screened in porch here in Florida? Originally, I thought getting a sugar glider was just a dream, since our landlord had said no pets (other than fish). But when we started thinking about getting Axa a guinea pig or rat we inquired again, and he said a small animal in a cage was fine, and what he had really meant when he said no pets was no dogs or cats. Unfortunately, Axa turned out to be allergic to both guinea pigs as rats. And then I had the idea again of a sugar glider. The care and feeding of sugar gliders is a much more involved prospect than that of most small animals, so these are my pets, but I’m sure the whole family will enjoy them.

Sugar gliders are tiny marsupials with large, soulful eyes, a patagium (flying membrane), and the softest grey fur imaginable. My little gliders are 8-month-old rescues from a family who just didn’t have time for them. Gliders are very social animals, who in the wild live in colonies of up to twelve. To properly bond with a human, they need hours of time together every day. Since they are nocturnal, one of the major ways of bonding with them is to carry them around in a pouch under your shirt all day as they sleep. As an attachment parenting nut who would still be carrying around her five-year-old in a sling if he weren’t too heavy (and on top of that, too busy now with his own important engineering projects), I think sugar gliders might just be the perfect pet for me.

Sugar gliders are native to Australia, where they live in trees and eat Eucalyptus sap and insects. In our house, they live in a cage taller than me, full of baby toys and polar-fleece hammocks, and eat a complicated diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, mealworms (despite my rampant arthropod anxiety. Yes, that’s how much I love my new babies), and a specially formulated protein mix blended up with honey, pollen, and scrambled eggs. I feel like a real zookeeper.

Here’s a closeup of some of their “stuff”:

It’s been years since I got my sewing machine out for anything but mending or hemming cut-off jeans. Here are the results of my sewing project last night: a flannel-lined bonding pouch with inside seams, boxed corners, and velcro closure. Hey, it was harder than it sounds. For me, at any rate, with my rusty sewing skills.

You might recognize the fabric from my long ago (and ill-fated) foray into sewing all-in-one cloth diapers when I was pregnant with Axa. Funny, she doesn’t look all that happy with her diaper . . .

For now, my babies are adjusting to their new home, so I am limiting my contact with them to feeding them raisins through the cage bars, getting up in the middle of the night to watch them play for hours, and putting tiny blankies with my smell on them in their bed. Next week we will start the “real” bonding. I’ll let you know how it goes!

photo credit

Welcome Home, Part 4: The Florida Room

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but before I came to Florida, I thought that screened-in porches were just a really ugly way to obscure the entrance to your house, and make it seem dark, spooky, and forbidden. However, when I saw the screened-in porch at our new house, I changed my mind.

It reminded me a little of those gorgeous soaring aviaries in the San Diego zoo. And yes, my first thought was that we could get a pet sugar glider and keep it out there (Florida’s rules on exotic pets are much more relaxed than California’s). Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you ask Tony), our landlord won’t let us have any pets other than Axa’s birthday betta.

I had never seen a porch like this before, but in Florida they are very common. I think it’s because of the pervasive insects, which are theoretically kept out by the screen. It’s actually not a Florida room. “Florida room” is a synonym for sun room, so they are supposed to be enclosed by glass, not screen. Still these screened-in porches are so synonymous with Florida to us out-of-towners, that we like to call it our Florida room. In any case, I see a lot more screened-in porches than real Florida rooms here. And it makes sense. I really don’t know why someone would want to attach a greenhouse to their home in a tropical climate. It’s hot enough on a breezy porch with its own ceiling fan.

The children also like to just sit out there in their little chairs, watching the birds. And yes, if I count their time on the porch as “outside time,” we’re getting Charlotte Mason’s 4-6 recommended hours. We even have lunch out there most days, which is just delightful. The porch is also right off of our homeschool room, so it’s perfect for a quick turn on a tricycle if people have too much energy to concentrate on math, for instance.

In fact, it’s fortunate that we like our porch so much, since it’s pretty much equivalent to our backyard. They don’t really do fences here, as you can see (we learned at the ecology center that fences disrupt the fragile Florida scrub habitat). So we have a strip of lawn, the obligatory small tree, and then the woods. I’ll tell you about the woods in a future post.

About a third of it the porch (the normal porch part) is under a roof, which is nice, since it rains here fairly regularly. I love sitting on the porch and watching the rain come down. The rest wraps around and projects out from the house like this:

I haven’t really considered how I might decorate the porch. I’m not very good with plants, and we have the woods right outside, so we don’t lack for green. But I think it might be nice to get some adult-sized lawn furniture, or even a table where we could eat dinner outside together.

During the day, the porch belongs to the children, and they ride bikes, trap centipedes (yes, we need to get a door sweeper. It’s amazing how many bugs get through that little crack), listen to woodpeckers, and play endless games about Narnia. But at night, I like to slip out through the other porch door, which goes straight into my bedroom. It’s just the right mix of indoors and outdoors, and a perfect place to watch the evening unfold.