Category Archives: Guinea Pigs

Depression Toolkit #21: Animals

We have two guinea pigs: Beatrix and Stripe. Both boars and both named by the children. They are remarkably manageable pets and a lot easier and more forgiving than the children. They make a number of different high-pitched noises and a few grumbly ones. As they are herbivores they do a wonderful job of keeping the grass short and finishing left over inner or outer parts of vegetables. Stripe is definitely the dominant one, exerting his alphahood by chattering teeth and shuffling on his hind legs and mounting Beatrix once in a while. Beatrix doesn’t like this, but they get along well enough otherwise. I have discovered that I like looking after animals and the daily routines. It makes me feel connected to nature and grounded.

Recently I discovered that they both had mites. I was disappointed for the sake of the guinea pigs, but also for myself as a task like fixing hurting cavies now requires a huge amount of Robinson Access Memory and can result in a frozen brain screen and needing to reboot.

So several mental Ctrl-Alt-Deletes later I realised that I already had anti-mite shampoo and needed to search the internet for advice on bathing them and scouring their hutch and cage. We have an outdoor hutch with a rain cover, a cage in the shed for wet days or ‘holidays’ and a run for the grass. I broke the job down and managed a bit each day. One day I bought the insect spray. Another I searched for bathing guinea pigs. Another I thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the cage. Today I finally cleaned out and treated the hutch, lining it with just newspaper, and sprayed all the tunnels/toys I intend to keep going forward. I also bathed the guinea pigs and clipped their claws for the first time, which was 96% successful and as our book says guinea pigs can’t die from cutting the blood supply I hope Stripe will forgive me.

Having bathed the boys, we noticed they started behaving differently. Stripe was still on top sociologically, but also literally for a huge percentage of the time. Joe thought this was hilarious. Lily reminded me that two boy guinea pigs can’t have babies so it’s a good thing Beatrix only has a girl’s name (where is she getting this from?)…

I separated them with a bit of cage, and when my husband got home he swiftly came to the conclusion that as they had had their first baths today, they probably couldn’t cope with each other’s smell until they got ‘reacquainted’. Every time we allowed them to mix Stripe was straight to the point, so tonight I am grateful that the hutch divides into an upstairs and a downstairs. Each has all they need and a honey stick to sweeten the deal, and they haven’t complained so far.



I think Stripe (black with white stripe) is digesting the property pages while Beatrix (agouti?) chills on the ground floor (triple aspect). Hopefully by tomorrow they will be happy to be friends again.



There is something calming about caring for animals, and with depression it is also overwhelmingly satisfying to manage new things like tackling mites and claw-clipping. I will have to keep a close eye on them and clean the hutch again, but I now know I can do it and that it is ok to pace myself.

I have wondered about other pets at times – fish sound interesting and not too hard. They are also very calming if all is going well. We can’t fit a cat or dog in our present property and do justice to them, but maybe in the future we could look into getting a larger pet. I searched online for which breed of dog would suit us best yesterday and every online quiz I tried suggested something different. I would love a tortoise if we could look after it well. And Lily has rather taken to a parakeet on youtube, but that is not going to happen.

Before we had animals we went to the zoo a lot and also other animal parks. Animals can be even more calming if they belong to someone else! Sitting and watching an animal is educational and takes your mind off your problems.

…ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Job 12:7



Changes of seed

My mini-orchard is growing! I am so excited I have upgraded them to Premium seating and am even remembering to offer them a drink several times a week.


The middle pot is still winning. However, I am loathe to prick them out in case I kill them all in the process; their roots may prove to be too close so we’ll have to wait and see whether they survive in the long run. If you know anything about this, do leave me a message. I am already aware we are unlikely to get edible apples, but as a green experiment it is fascinating for me and occasionally the rest of the family too.

Joseph enjoys helping me find new things for the guinea pigs (hay in this weather, particularly) and I’m sure it was my dad’s influence on him that led to this happening today:


Apologies for the poor photo quality (especially to my cousin Pete, whose blog here explains how to do it much better). I will need to keep it clean and well seeded, but after some very fat pigeons took all the seed I left out on the ground this morning while numerous smaller wild birds skittered around fruitlessly I decided enough was enough. I’m not even sure what the pink thing is, but Joe found it and hopefully our local passarines will like it. Berry and bug flavour. Yum.

Just in time too, for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 26-27th January. By then I intend to have learnt a few more names of birds. Perhaps I should use twitter to update you as I go. I do have a twitter account which now feeds here, but don’t tweet that often yet. Here is the sheet to use if you are interested (it links to the actual one):


Birds not shown actual size


‘Just give me a moment’ is a phrase you may often hear me saying at home to the children/husband/guinea pigs. That is, if you are an obsessed stalker with remarkably good technology and no one more interesting to check on.

‘I don’t think they’ve noticed, Bob’

What is a moment? A moment is all it takes me to do any one of the jobs I may feel the need to do around the home. Preferably two in fact. Time in my eyes runs differently from time as I perceive others to perceive it. You need to change into school clothes? Great. I will help you with that, while also putting away breakfast, cleaning three sets of teeth, ensuring our family additions have adequate vitamin C to stave off death for the coming 6 hours and checking that the world is still functioning without my close attention by reading facebook updates.

I am getting rather good at multi-tasking now that I am a proper mum of a ‘schooler’. Tomorrow is Lily’s first full day at school. She then has one more half day on Monday before the 2470 or so remaining school days kick in. Lovely. She has taken to school well, and already pointed out the square-based pyramids on the way home which I had not noticed. On the road. At the crossing. How does she know what a square-based pyramid is, when she has done fewer than 16 hours at school? I am genuinely impressed. (Unless I find someone has been secretly tutoring her to make me laugh. I have my suspicions. And then there is always my forgettery.)

Lily’s latest obsession is ‘Old Things’ as in ‘when was this built mummy?’ ‘was this music when you were little mummy?’ and ‘I like oldendays things and nowendays things too’. She is good at telling it like it is. ‘I want to move house because I don’t like living in an oldenhouse mummy’. Yesterday, after telling her I loved her sooo much, I got the honest response, ‘I love you too mummy, when you are happy’.


When I am happy.

Presumably not when I am busy, (can’t spare a moment, (just want to get this finished,) distracted,) normal mummy. Oh dear.

I could learn to be happier in my tasks. Is this what she means?

Honestly though, I have to admit this is something of a Martha moment for me. A little revelation. Lily is busy being herself, making me smile, growing and learning. I am busy being busy, and not attending to those fleeting and beautiful moments enough to cherish her and be happy with her. I am constantly needing a moment. And then we looked at Martha and Mary in our home group this morning. Yep. Guilt with a serving of guilt. All prepared lovingly by me, without much help.

Yes. That delicate balance of parenting and being. Of not attempting to fit in extra tasks when I should be revelling in the moment. Of choosing what is better. Of stopping trying to be a Human Doing. Of actually slowing down sometimes.

Not here.

This may be a lesson I really need to absorb right now. Mathematically, I am confident in the proportion of time we have already spent with each of our children living at home before they get packed off to University and/or Real Life as an Adult. I can tackle being a mum mostly without emotion: just getting on with it all. The merry backlog of jobs to do in the home will not unhide itself like a one-child den made out of a bath-towel.

Are all my moments already taken? Is time so profoundly unimportant to me?

I guess it depends on what matters. It matters that Lily qualifies her love and appears to not be impressed by her distracted mummy. That what she craves (her love language, in fact), is Time. That I am spending her moments on anything but her. It is also how she perceives this, importantly. So now we begin the phase of carefully planned Quality Time. Not as a reward, or as something jammed in amongst all the other moments in my day, but because I love her when she is having a good moment, a funny moment, a thoughtful moment or even a really bad dream moment. And I am grateful that I have this time, utterly grateful for the gifts of Lily and of Joe, and grateful that you cannot count the moments. You can just make sure the moments actually count.

Thoughts on Lily starting school

There are three days until Lily starts school. She is far more ready than I thought she would be. She has even decided where to go to college after, what her subject will be, and (because it helps to fill in the gaps) where she would like to go to high school.

Totally true. And, if you are interested: the local FE college, Art, the catchment high school, where we park for church.

I have ordered many labels and ironed in 19% of them, despite being told by a parent at the school that it won’t make any difference.

I have bought her shiny shoes, and will be helping her wear them in and prepare them. Not that they fit my feet (or likely ever did).

I have avoided instigating academic work with her over the summer (this is the daughter who begs to have friends over and then reads in a corner while they are here). Instead I have been making sure she is ready to take on new things, try new foods, carry things carefully and think about others.

We have had a full summer. We travelled to family, we visited interesting local places, we learnt a lot about flags, we learnt even more about guinea pigs and are now the proud owners of two more members of the family: Beatrix and Stripe. These wonderful little guys (yes) are still so young and shy that they do not realise they have an upstairs and a downstairs in the same hutch, and have to be moved each morning and evening. They really are incredibly loved by the children and are worth being allergic to hay for. I honestly think at least one of them has been trying to communicate in Morse Code (perhaps watching a programme about Colditz escapes was not the cleverest move before imprisoning cavies in the yard: who knows, they might even build a glider while we’re not looking).

(click on image for footage)

As the school deems it wise, Lily will not be starting until Thursday this week, and I am grateful for the extra time with her, but aware that she loves routine and wants to be at school so much that a staggered start taking two and a half weeks may drag on a little. She needs to belong in the school routines and make lots of new friends.

It will be good for her to be at school, and I am mathematically more than ready. Emotionally I am still waiting to see what happens as it all takes off: I want the best for her, but I also want the best for society, which I believe means sending her to the nearest state school and not packing her to a nice private option with all the consequences on us as a family.

In any case, these two at least will not leave to go to school. Beatrix is hiding under the stairs. Stripe is exploring the great outdoors. Within the confines of a guinea pig run of course. Although I am tempted to home-educate them. It would be far more convenient if they communicated in English, say.