Work Excuse Number 637: Why I Was Late For Lunch

So, there was this 600lb tortoise sitting on the hose.

Thanks, buddy. I don't need to spread that hay or anything.

Thanks, buddy. I don’t need to spread that hay or anything.

Parked like a VW Beetle on the bale of hay I’m trying to spread.

Attaboy, pal.

Attaboy, pal.

I asked him to move. I asked nice. He said no.

"What you lookin' at?"

“What you lookin’ at?”

What could I do?

Incidentally, this is reason 1,234 why I love my job.

Let’s Go Over This Again

With my new job, school starting, and all the many and varied changes that feel like have hit all at once, we’ve gotten all loosey-goosey on the home front. I thought this would be a good time to go over the house rules again.

 

  1. Night time is for sleeping. If you wake up and get lonely, it’s not the time to haul out all your toys.
  2. In keeping with #1, night time is not the time to come hang with your parents. They are tired. Try lying in your bed and thinking about how much nicer Mommy and Daddy are when they’ve had a good night’s sleep.
  3. Should you find yourself unable to sleep and need to find Mom and Dad, choose a parent and take the most direct route to them. Do not drag yourself over the face of one in order to get to the other. To do so is disruptive and unnecessary.
  4. Laundry baskets are for laundry. They are not toy boxes, cages, or (and I cannot stress this point enough) emergency toilets.
  5. Mommy’s bras are Mommy’s alone. They are not for playing with.
  6. Although we may play games on the laptop sometimes, the computer itself is not a toy. It is not to be used as a step-stool or springboard.
  7. Sometimes sneezes catch us by surprise. I understand. That being said, try not to aim at Mommy’s face. The same can be said for gas and other gastrointestinal disturbances.
  8. If you do not like the food that is served, just don’t eat it. It’s not necessary to spit it back into your bowl and make loud hacking sounds.
  9. My food is just that - my food. Sneezing on it or touching it in any way does not give you dibs.

I sure hope you’re listening. I’m talking to you!

Are you listening, Pixel? I do not feel like you are listening.

Are you listening, Pixel? I do not feel like you are listening.

Come In For the Cute, Hang Around to Save a Species

Introducing Astrochelys radiata- the second one ever hatched by our zoo

Introducing Astrochelys radiata- the second one ever hatched by our zoo

See? Cute! Now, keep reading. You have the power to help save these guys.

Chances are, you didn’t know that sports could help save a critically endangered species. When we hear about an animal rapidly becoming extinct, our first thought is to wonder what we can do about it. Sometimes, there’s not a simple answer. Take the Radiated Tortoise, for example.

Astrochelys radiata, endemic to the island of Madagascar, is experiencing a dizzying population decline. In the last 10 years, numbers in the wild are thought to have dropped by half. The animals are being collected illegally for both the pet trade and for human consumption. This video explains  that the tortoises are not being consumed by those who are starving; they are a luxury item on restaurant menus in other parts of the world.  The assistance of local villagers is critical to saving this species, but there’s a catch.

In the villages around the spiny forests where these tortoises live, it is taboo to touch one of these animals or even to look at them. They believe that Radiated Tortoises are the reincarnation of their ancestors, and though they are not directly involved in the poaching, neither have they been in a position to stop it. This is changing. Through partnership with the Turtle Survival Alliance (go ahead – click the link and sign up for their free newsletter. It’s fascinating! Even better, go join!) villagers are beginning to take an active role in the survival of this species. TSA has helped build schools for villages who agree to help the tortoises. And now there’s a new opportunity.

Utah’s Hogle Zoo, in  partnership with Turtle Survival Alliance and Conservation Fusion, have come up with a wonderful and positive way to help both tortoises and kids. Through the Give Balls program, this partnership hopes to donate 250 One World Futbols, a ball that is designed specifically for the rugged terrain of rural villages and never deflates or needs pumping, to 10 villages in southern Madagascar. Through donation of the balls and other sports equipment, in addition to environmental education, it is hoped that the village youth will be inspired and empowered to protect the species that is sacred to them.

To donate a ball for $25, click here. There’s even a fun option to buy one, give one for only $39. For every ball donated, One World Futbol will donate an additional $5 to purchase uniforms and other equipment for the villages.

If you can’t donate at this time, you can still help. Share this post, or even write one of your own, to help raise awareness of this fabulous program. I know everyone’s dumping ice over their heads right now, but I think we can share the donation love a little. A goal of 250 balls is a modest one. Let’s help Hogle Zoo blow this goal out of the water!

Help kids to be kids while at the same time helping to save a species.

 

If the links don’t work, try clicking here. http://www.oneworldfutbol.com/campaigns/hogle-zoo or pasting it in your browser.

 

So Here’s How It Happened

I must apologize for my last post. It left people hanging. It’s my fault. I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks, and the new editor from WordPress was a little harder to use than I expected. I refused to switch back to the “classic” (read: “for those too old to adapt to the changing times”) editor, the post went live prematurely, and some of the changes I thought I had made weren’t saved. The post was a little confusing and incomplete. Let me fill in the blanks.

Go back in time with me 19 years, when times were simpler. Gas cost a mere $1 a gallon***, and only rich people had cell phones. My husband of two months and I went out to Carter caves in eastern KY to spend some time together before I began my last semester of college. We were early for our tour, so we took of to explore the woods. We had wandered probably a mile down the trail when we heard screaming.  It took us a moment to realize it was a cat, and probably a small one. I dug through the underbrush to try to find the source of the sound. The volume of the cries were in keeping with those of an animal with a limb caught in a trap. I found the little critter, all giant belly and eyeballs. She was not injured in any way. Her calls were a terrified version of “Marco Polo,” and once she clapped those luminous eyes on us, she wasn’t about to let us go. She followed us out of the woods, crying the whole way, begging to be carried. It was when we turned and saw this tiny kitten braving a running stream to keep up that we relented and picked her up.

Eight months ago, we said goodbye to that waif, having shared lives and home for over eighteen years. Eighteen years sometimes just aren’t enough.

My old friend

My old friend

I never thought I’d have another kitten. They’re troublesome little creatures. I can’t count the number of times I had to leave the bathtub to pull Piper off the living room drapes, and if I had a quarter for every plant our cats knocked off/turned over/peed in, I’d be a rich woman indeed. And there are plenty of adult cats who need homes.

So imagine my surprise when I felt a sudden urge to look at kittens on Craigslist. Two clicks later, I found myself looking at the most arresting face. Within minutes, I fired off an email to the rescue group’s contact person. She responded almost immediately. I asked a few more questions, and my heart sank when I got the response. The kitten was slated to make an appearance at an adoption event the following day, during hours I had to work.

There are other kittens in the world, I said to myself. And besides, it’s not a decision for me alone. I emailed my husband and included a photo of the kitten. Piper’s death hit him just as hard as it hit me, and to bring home another tiny tuxedo without consent would be wrong. I hit “send” and waited. And waited. I saw him check his email. And he was quiet for a long time. Finally, he closed the computer and left to go run some errands. I had to go to bed early, and he was still asleep when I left for work.  We never got to talk about it. Oh, well. It was never my cat. Never mine.

I thought about the kitten at work all the next day. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Not my cat. Not mine. Never was. I tried to put the whole notion out of my head. Not my cat.

I came home that evening. She was sitting on my bed like she owned the place. My husband had gone to the adoption event just about as soon as they opened to pick her up. She’s my cat now. Always will be. She’s mine. She’s my Pixel.

Pixel. Forever mine.

Pixel. Forever Mine.

 

 

*** I can’t vouch for the veracity of that statement. I just know that when old people tell me stories, they usually reference the price of gas somewhere.

The Thing I Said I’d Never Do Again? I Did.

I swore I was done. Finished. No more for me, thank you very much. I was wrong.

I thought I was ready for all of the changes headed my way; Squish starting kindergarten, the Padawan hitting middle school, and the Girl-child commencing her senior year of high school. For the first time in my life, all my children are school-age. We have freedom I haven’t known in nearly two decades, and I’ve been so looking forward to it.

So why have I spent the last few weeks mired in suffocating grief? Squish feels like he’s been five forever. I’m ready for him to grow up a little more. And we’ve been hanging on by our toenails, trying to help the Padawan survive a disappointing elementary school experience, counting down the days until he transferred to the stellar middle school. We’re there now. And it doesn’t feel as good as I hoped it would.

I’ve gotten a little weird, a little obsessive, pouring over family photo albums and baby books. But even as I chuckle over double-chins and gap-toothed grins, I grieve. I’m astounded that those oh, so familiar faces on the scrapbook page stare back at me like strangers. Who are these babies? I barely remember them. Time plays its paradoxical trick; babyhood seems at the same time yesterday and a thousand years ago.

I didn’t expect to feel this way. I thought I would celebrate our new status up one side and down the other, and I do. But I cannot deny the wistfulness. Sometimes in our grief, we do unexpected things. And I did.

I thought it was all behind me; the nights of broken sleep and all that good stuff. But we’re starting over again.

 

 

 

pixel

 

Proud big brother

Proud big brother

How to Raise Gun-Free Boys

When my husband and I first started talking about having children almost two decades ago, one of our concerns was the pervasive violence in our culture. Seeing boys barely old enough to write their names pretending to blow one another up was troubling, and we decided our kids were going to be different. We didn’t buy in to gender stereotypes. Kids are blank slates. We were going to raise our boys to be peaceful. We’re seventeen years into this parenting gig. Twelve of those years have been spent raising boys, and I’ve worked with hundreds of children aged preschool to high school, so I do have at least some experience when I offer this advice.

To raise gun-free boys:

  1. Teach them new meanings to common behaviors. Children naturally extend thumb and forefinger. Teach them it’s an “L” for “Love.” If that doesn’t work, I recommend gluing their thumbs and forefingers together.
  2. Monitor their television consumption. Weapons are everywhere on TV today, so screen time must be regulated. I recommend no more than fifteen minutes a day in ten second intervals. Choose shows carefully. We limit our boys to Thigh Master infomercials and reruns of Care Bears.
  3. Monitor their video games. Violence in video games is ubiquitous. Studies have shown that video games can skew perceptions of what is acceptable behavior.  Minecraft was shown the door, for example, when our boys began punching actual trees.  Stick with Reader Rabbit.
  4. Choose good playmates. Kids are easily influenced by their peers. I suggest never letting them play with actual children. A mirror is a reasonable substitute. Animals, preferably those without opposable thumbs, are a decent choice. Store mannequins are also acceptable.
  5. Choose toys carefully. No Nerf guns, of course.  I also recommend never letting them touch things that may to their eyes look like a gun. These items include, but are not limited to: coat-hangers, Lego bricks, sticks, high heeled shoes, kitchen implements, brooms, and, interestingly, a Thigh Master.
  6. Aim for early orthodontics. Namely headgear. If their lips can’t meet, they can’t make shooting noises. Little known fact – Little Willy Wonka didn’t have dental issues – his dad got tired of hearing him say “Pow! Pow! Pow!”
They can's say "POW!" if their lips don't meet. Use physiology to your advantage!

Use physiology to your advantage! Studies show kids in such headgear are also happier, too. They’re always smiling.

 

 

Stay tuned for the next in the series : Teaching kids that passing gas is a natural act, not a comedy routine.

 

 

Lose Some, Find Some: or Today I Spill the Beans

So I’ve been keeping a secret. I hate secrets. They put so much distance between us. So today, I’m just going to lay it right out there. I think you’re going to like it.

First, let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, an interesting species of turtle became extinct. Last seen in 1908, the Arakan Forest Turtle, Heosemys depressa, disappeared and was never seen again. It seems like a sad story, but stick with me. About 100 years later, in 1994, a scientist visiting a food market in Asia was astounded to find a few of these animals for sale! A relic population was discovered, and animals were taken into captivity in the hopes of forming assurance colonies and potentially increasing its numbers.

With wild-caught animals in general, and reptiles in particular, breeding isn’t a straightforward endeavor. With dogs and cats, boy + girl = offspring too numerous to count. With wild animals, the equation can be far more complicated. We are just beginning to understand and respect the complex social signals and mating rituals many animals require in order to reproduce. Cheetahs, for example, need a choice of more than one male in order to breed successfully. In the last ten years or so, our thoughts on cheetah reproduction has changed dramatically, and zoos have moved their charges to breeding centers when trying for cubs rather than keeping specific pairs of animals.

To complicate matters further, getting the first generation of wild-caught animals to breed doesn’t mean the species is automatically saved.  The offspring of these wild-caught animals are noted in the studbook as F1, the first generation born in captivity. Since it is no longer desirable, or in some cases even possible, to continue to take animals out of the wild, it is important that the F1 generation reproduce themselves. Breeding programs for many different species are in a race to produce the next generation, the captive-bred’s captive-bred, the elusive F2.

Sometimes that doesn’t happen. Take the white rhinoceros, for example. Animals taken from the wild, even as juveniles, have bred fairly successfully in zoos. The two older females at our zoo, for example, have produced an impressive ten calves apiece over the last 30 years or so. There are plenty of F1 calves in zoos around the country. But for reasons poorly understood at this point, there have been precious few F2s. The offspring of the wild ones are not having babies of their own.

Producing an F2 is a pretty big deal. It means that the diet and care given to the animal are more or less correct. It means that we’re moving in the right direction, and that we may be able to save some critically endangered species.

The Arakan Forest Turtle, an animal whose life in the wild we still don’t fully understand even 20 years later and whose diet and husbandry has been educated guesswork, has been bred in captivity several times. That’s great news, of course. But zoos and private breeders have been working with that F0 generation and producing  only F1s. Until now.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the first f2 Arakan Forest Turtle in the world, hatched at Knoxville Zoo about three weeks ago.

I looked in the incubator one afternoon, and this guy was looking back at me.

I looked in the incubator one afternoon, and this guy was looking back at me.

Click the images to enlarge.

This development is especially exciting because, unlike species who are endangered due to habitat destruction, there is still wild habitat for these animals to return to. If they continue to be bred in captivity in reasonable numbers, they may one day be able to go home.

So here’s  a shout-out right here to Brad Moxley, dedicated keeper at my zoo. Congrats, Brad! Your hard work  is paying off! It’s an honor to work with you, sir.

The One In Which I Confess

I could have, and I should have, and I would have. I really would have. But I didn’t. There. Now you know. I did not like Game of Thrones.

I wanted to. I have been looking for a new series to dive into, and Game of Thrones was primed to fit the bill. When I finish a book I love, there is nothing better than the knowledge that there’s another one waiting right there in the wings, another opportunity to immerse myself in that world and meet the characters I have come to love. I’m not just looking for a good read, I crave all the trappings of a rabid fandom, too. I want to type on message boards in the middle of the night, attend midnight book releases where I may or may not show up in costume.

Trelawney. Don't say you're not jealous.

Trelawney. Don’t say you’re not jealous.

I want the whole enchilada. All of it. Game of Thrones was my next hope. Several books to read? Check. More to come? Check, check. Fans out the wazoo? Triple check. So I gave it a go. And then a second go. And now I’m done.

Why didn’t I love it? I wanted to. I really did. But this series has more flaws than I can overlook, not the least of which is an insufferable author who has as little respect for his fandom as he does for the characters he writes. When an author laughs scathingly and says he should make them wait 20 years for the next book, I lose a little interest. But it’s about more than the author.

Martin writes cardboard characters. I guess he has to because he’s going to kill all of them, but it’s hard for me to engage with one-note wonders. I hate spoilers. Hate them. I don’t even read blurbs on dust jackets. But when I finally gave up on this series, I collected spoilers from lots of sources. Turns out, some of the characters are not as one-dimensional as they seem at first. And I might have even liked them eventually. But it shouldn’t take an author 1500 pages to show me. What if Han Solo and Greedo had dropped their breadcrumbs 10 lightyears apart when they made their trail in the woods? Their dad would never have found them. Wait. Back up. Hansel and Gretel. There we go. When it takes too long to develop characters, I get really bored.

I don’t have to like all of the characters to enjoy a book. ***Spoiler*** Draco Malfoy was an irritating prat for five-and-a-half books in the Harry Potter series. BUT he was a great foil for the protagonists. His interactions with the other characters evoked something, be it laughter or outrage. He made me feel something. Heck, I don’t even have to like the protagonist to enjoy a book. I could not STAND Lincoln in Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. He was a spineless little clownfish. Every time he looked out into the world and appeared like he was about to mature a little and stand on his own , he’d dart right back into that anemone. I did not like him. You know why? Because I know people just like him! He was a real person. He made me angry. He evoked emotion. By and large, Martin’s characters don’t.

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I'm gonna move out... Nah... Photo credit amazonaws.com

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I’m gonna move out… Nah… Photo credit amazonaws.com

There are too many characters, as well. There were four characters whose story-lines I kind of wanted to follow. That sounds like a lot, right? But they represented less than 10% of the population of the first book. I didn’t even encounter many of them in the second book, or their chapters weren’t big enough to matter. I tried skipping the characters I was bored by and just reading the ones I liked, but that meant skipping the majority of Clash of Kings. Too much work.

There’s almost no subtlety. Martin’s bad guys are mustache-twirling evil dudes. They’ll tie that damsel-in-distress right to those railroad tracks. But there’s no hero, either. Not only will the train run her the heck over, it will cut her into three equal pieces, and it will take her two weeks to die. Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Not the first three times, anyway. Eventually it becomes predictable. Imagine the very worst thing that can happen to a character. Then multiply it by five, and you’ve got Martin’s plot-line. Basket of puppies? Don’t look now, but those puppies are going to get put in purses and carried around by rich ladies. Poor, poor dogs. Are there little babies? No, not the babies! Is nothing sacred? Martin would write them having to watch six hours of Baby Einstein before being fed M&Ms and getting dropped back off with mom and dad. There’s your plot twist. You thought it was the kids who were being punished, didn’t you?

There were good parts. I loved the Others. I couldn’t wait for them to take over the whole world, actually. I liked Dany. Her storyline in the first book was the best part. She was the one character that was truly developed, and I was taken by surprise by how things turned out with Khal Drogo. I wanted to like the dire wolves. I hear they were pretty awesome later on, or at least had a great story. But again, there was too little of any of these to keep me engaged. If anybody wants to email me the story of the wolves or what happens with Dany, I’m game. I am just not invested enough to find out for myself.

What series do you absolutely love? I’m up for something new.