Thanks, Mr. Bill!

Sometimes you only think you’re taking one for the team.

It’s Spring Break. I know. Technically, it’s not even Spring. I don’t get to make these decisions.  When given an entire week of nothing, I’ve learned it’s good to plan at least a little something lest the critters get restless, so I planned a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium. I spend hours each week in a zoo already, but I do love to visit other facilities. The Padawan has had his heart set on being a marine biologist since he was three. We’re members. We make the trip several times a year.

That being said, we’re members. We visit several times a year, and we have done so for ten years or more, thirty or more visits. After a while, I feel like I’ve seen what there is to see. I do have my favorite exhibits. Turtles, anyone? But lately we haven’t been spending as long in each building as we used to. We know what’s there. We’ve read the signage. We’ve been, we’ve done.

And then there was yesterday. At first glance, our choice of days seemed a poor one. The place was crawling with kids; swarms of them, busloads of them, schools of them. But we’d made the two hour trip, so we were there, for better or worse. It was for better. When we picked up our tickets, the young lady at the counter advised us as to the location of a table where we could sign up for behind the scenes tours. Actual tours. Behind the scenes. For free. So we did. And that’s where we met Mr. Bill.

For our first tour, he took us behind the scenes in Rivers of the World and let the kids feed the fish. Those same fish we have been pals with for ten years? Yeah, my kids got to feed them. Mr. Bill handed out little handfuls of pellets and explained to the kids how to do it properly. He taught them about the species and how to identify males from females. And despite the distractions around them, his audience paid close attention. The man knows how to talk to kids.

I’ve kept fish for close to thirty years. Wow, does that make me feel old. I’ve fed them hundreds of times. No biggie. But the kids getting to help take care of a collection of fish at a world-renowned aquarium? That, friends, is a biggie. Even for the most jaded of folks.

Our second tour met right after we finished the first one, and it was with great delight that we saw our guide was none other than Mr. Bill. He led us to a classroom deep in the heart of the building and gave us an up close and personal encounter with my favorite things: turtles and toads.

We met an ornate box turtle who made quite a show of trying to snap his handler’s fingers, a snapping turtle who was far more docile, and a barking tree frog.

I can’t pick a favorite. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I can. It’s this guy.

Marine toad. He's as big as he looks, about six or seven inches across. Invasive in Australia, but look at that face!

Marine toad. He’s as big as he looks, about six or seven inches across. Invasive in Australia, but look at that face!

 

I’ve kept reptiles and amphibians for thirteen years. I have acted as an educator in a zoo for almost as long. And Mr. Bill still taught me some stuff. That’s no small feat.

When we were finished with our tours and encounters, we were all set to enjoy the rest of the afternoon at the Aquarium, and we did. But I didn’t need to. The hour we spent with Mr. Bill getting to see things we had never seen before were worth the two hour drive. If I hadn’t gotten to see another thing, I would still have left happy.

Thank you to the Tennessee Aquarium for offering the Keeper Kids program for free during Spring Break. And thank you to Mr. Bill for breathing new life into some old favorites. I’m tentatively planning another trip down this week. That’s how good it was. If you have a kid in your possession, or if you can borrow one (I cannot advocate stealing, though), hop in the car before April 15 and head for the Tennessee Aquarium. Spaces in the tours are limited.

 

This post wasn’t sponsored in any way, shape, or form by the Tennessee Aquarium. No octopus or marine toad changed hands. Although if they’d like to make an offer, I’m listening.

Maybe This Will Be My Day

The sun melts all around me, and yet...

The sun melts all around me, and yet…

It happens sometimes. The good things swirl around and around me, teasing with their nearness, but then they dance away again like bashful butterflies, never lighting on me.

The last couple of weeks have been like that. I feel like I am invisible. I see the people around me wallowing in the richness. I try to be happy for them, to experience their joy the way I know they would for me. But it’s hard. I am sick and sad and a little jealous.

I ask myself what’s wrong with me? Am I not as good as everybody else? Why them? Why not me? Am I invisible? I want to scream “HERE I AM!” Is there something wrong with me?

Sometimes I feel angry, too. I have  the same wants and needs as anybody else.

I pick myself up and move on. It is for me to choose how I view the world, and I choose hope. I get out of bed now each and every morning with one thought. Maybe today is for me. Perhaps it is my turn. And I feel that hope. And I hold onto it and I pray.

And one day, when I say it, it will be true. One day will be the day that someone says those words I so long to hear:

Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

Because I WOULD like to buy some Thin Mints. I have money and everything. And not a single Girl Scout has asked. It hurts. But maybe today will be my day. I have $4. Let’s talk.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Over and Out!

We tend to think of tortoises as slow. And subject to the laws of gravity. Sometimes we’re wrong.

This species (Manouria impressa) is pretty good at climbing. But they don’t always stick the landing.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

Nobody’s perfect, right?

Gratuitous belly button shot! Hatchling pancake tortoise. The umbilicus is the bright yellow patch. It is rapidly disappearing.

Gratuitous belly button shot! Hatchling pancake tortoise. The umbilicus is the bright yellow patch. It is rapidly disappearing.

Why You Don’t Want Me To Watch TV

Last night, I had a rare girls’ night with  my mom and my sister. We had a great time, but on my way home, I started to feel a little ill. I think the bacon-wrapped pork roulade was a little rich for me, and the venison was rather overdone. Chicken, okay? I ate chicken. With Lima beans and some dressing. Stove top stuffing, to be exact. Not guaciale seared scallops or cassoulet.

Our girls’ night consisted of back-to-back episodes of DVR’d episodes from the Food Network. Three hours of chefs sweating over what to do with the bizarre mystery ingredients unveiled to them in their baskets, and I felt like I had eaten my way across six continents. Television isn’t good for me.

I have a TV, of course. We paid $10 for it at a yard sale about six years ago. It works just fine. Okay, maybe everyone on the screen appears to be four inches tall and pink, and the sound quality is so bad that the television can be heard more clearly upstairs than in the room where it resides, but it’s good enough for me. And it’s obviously all that I can handle.

The set we watched last night was a little bigger than mine, the picture and sound clear as a bell. The people looked like people instead of Oompah Loompahs, and the food looked like food.  Well, most of it did. After a couple of hours, that line between entertainment and reality gets a little blurred, and I start to feel bloated from all that bacon. What is this obsession with bacon, anyway?  I don’t get it. Give me a pork bracioli and  broccoli rabe florets with a touch of raspberry truffle. That was actually not bad. Wait… Did I…? Chicken. That’s right. I ate chicken. I keep forgetting. The lines, how they blur! Maybe I just need new glasses…

I got so lost in my viewing pleasure that I know I will have to choose the shows I watch on a real television very carefully. I couldn’t watch The Bachelor without a divorce attorney present. I’d need to get my shots before I ever turned on The Amazing Race. I’m less worried about The Voice because I don’t even know what it is. Do they speak? Sing? Does the champion screamer win?

I’ve decided that television twice a month is probably all I can handle without gaining a lot of imaginary weight. I’m going back to books, I think. I’m better off with reading anyway. When I start The Hobbit for the millionth time, I don’t have to worry about those lines blurring because I already know it’s real.

 

Totally free-hand. If I were not a writer, I'd have to be an artist, right?

Totally free-hand. If I were not a writer, I’d have to be an artist, right?

 

What Just Happened Here?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I know. Especially if it’s Phoebe because she’s a special case. She thinks she has puppies right now. She has collected all of her lovies into a pile on the couch, and she spends her day mothering them. And smothering them.  And chewing out their squeakers. That’s mothering, right?

Ah, sweet Phoebe. The Joan Crawford of dogdom.

Ah, sweet Phoebe. The Joan Crawford of dogdom. The good news is that she’s officially retired as a show dog, so I can spay her this spring. Can I get a hallelujah?!

 

But that adage (axiom? allegory? alliteration?) doesn’t necessarily apply to humans. This old dawg is learning. And doing. There is hope! This has been my week of learning new things, trying new things, accepting new things. It is good.

For the first time in 25 years, I have submitted a piece for publication. I won’t hear for a while if it was accepted, but I’m okay with that. If I get accepted, it’s a publishing credential. If I don’t I get a rejection letter for the spike and an opportunity to thicken my skin. It’s a win either way. The important part is that I learned I could push past my fear and just do it.

This week, I also learned that time marches on. Squish and I went to Kindergarten Roundup, which sounds like it should involve cattle and lassos, but instead involves text books and tears. Mine. He’s going to start school in the fall, ready or not. He’s ready, of course. It’s the parents who are blindsided.

And then there’s my newest venture. I just signed on as a contributor to a local blog, and today my first post went live. You can find it here. If you have kids (or even know kids), go ahead and click over there. Today I shared my favorite free educational website for kids. I teach computer classes to grades K-8, and I love, love, love the website for a whole lotta reasons.

And now it’s the time in our program where I teach you something, too! Impressed tortoises are pretty adept climbers when the situation presents itself. Who knew?

What? There's a Girl Scout cookie table outside of Target? Get my purse. I'm outta here!

What? There’s a Girl Scout cookie table outside of Target? Get my purse. I’m outta here!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Happy Sun Day!

I know. It’s Wednesday. But this weekend, we celebrated the sun! Because it came out, and it was warm.

Gimme some salad! And some vitamin D!

Gimme some salad! And some vitamin D! That tongue slays me.

And look at the newest zoo baby! It’s a pancake tortoise, one of my favorite species.

Maybe Spring will come again. There’s hope on the horizon!

Is Everything REALLY Awesome? A Lego Movie Review

I have mixed feelings about my kids’ addictions to Lego bricks. I do love their educational value. The Padawan saves his money to buy sets that he likes, the more complicated, the better. He learned the value of following directions, and also not to pour all thousand pieces out on the table at once. Those who accuse sets of stifling a child’s creativity have never seen a ten year old redesign a space ship to give it more playability and durability. We have loose bricks, too. Very loose, under foot, even. I don’t mind. The boys love them, and they’ll spend hours building and creating. And we’re all hooked on the Mystery Mini Figures.

I hate the rampant commercialism. We went to a Lego Discovery Center a couple of summers ago. We’ll never go back. I looked into purchasing the Minecraft sets at Christmas. 469 micro bricks for a mere $35. Micro bricks. For $35, I can purchase a Lego set that is all of 3x3x3. Inches. $35 and Squish could hold the whole thing in his hand. No. Thanks.

When the Lego Movie was first advertised, I knew I would be dragged to see it. It’s PG, and ever since “Horton Hears a Who” introduced Squish to some fabulous new words, I’ve had a strict policy of prescreening anything rated higher than G. Last Sunday, I got up a wild hair to treat the Padawan to a movie, sans little brother.

I didn’t tell him where we were going, just that we had an appointment at 1:30. My secret scheme was almost blown at lunch when he said “I want to go see the new Lego movie.” I played it off by asking him if the movie was even out yet. Clever me. He had no clue about our destination until we stepped up to the ticket window. Apparently, he thought I had found him a therapist (I don’t even…), or maybe we had an appointment for a massage. Yes, that sounds like me.

We went full works. Popcorn, sodas so big we’d be peeing Pepsi for a week, enough candy to guarantee illness. It was a perfect set up.

Long story short, I knew I would hate it. I was wrong. I left the theater thinking that Lego Group deserves every penny they make on this film. It was delightful. The cast is star-studded. George Takei, anyone? There’s action, there are celebrities bringing back beloved roles (no spoilers here, folks), there’s earworm that I am still singing.

There’s plot, there’s silliness, and best of all, the Padawan and I both loved it, but neither of us felt compelled to go out and purchase any of the affiliated items. The sets they’ve come out with to go with the movie tend to be a mish-mash of bricks with limited use, and even some pink Duplo style blocks. They’re in keeping with the plot of the movie, but they all look like something a kid could make themselves. We will collect some of the mini figures, but we do that anyway.

I recommend the movie for ages 7 and up. There’s (surprisingly) nothing inappropriate that I could see (and you’d better believe I was looking). There are no snarky kids, no graphic anything,although a few characters are mistreated, and an important plot point is the main character’s friendlessness. The one thing that would make me hesitant to show it to Squish is the plethora of “butt” jokes. I don’t like that word. But that was the only thing. The only thing.

The reason I don’t recommend the movie for younger children is because it is plot-driven, not so much action-driven. There is action, to be sure, but without understanding some intricacies of plot and dialog, there are not enough explosions and car chases to keep many younger children engaged. I know. The theater was full of them, and they got kind of wiggly. My suggestion for those whose little ones are dying to see it is to wait for the DVD. Then buy it. And watch it until your ears fall off. Because they will. Everything is awesome.

The Padawan hasn't had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don't you?

The Padawan hasn’t had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don’t you?

The Art of Working From Home

This past year has been a productive one for me. I’ve produced three completed first draft novels for grown-ups (sorry, I can’t say “adult novel” without thinking 50 Shades of Completely Inappropriate) and three first drafts of children’s books. Working at home does present challenges, and I wanted to share my formula for success.

I am currently working on a couple of short stories, one with a deadline that looms closer every day. I work well under pressure. Here’s how the magic happens.

7am – Send the Padawan off to school

8am – Take Girl-child and Squish to their respective schools.

8:30 – Drop by Chic-fil-a for a biscuit and some wi-fi.

10:30 - Two large sodas and 47 emails later, it’s time to go to the bathroom home.

10:45 – Sit down at writing station, swearing loudly and on Twitter that I will not get up again until I have written 1000 words.

11:30 - Count stinkbugs on the windowsill. Forty-seven. Oh, did I mention I checked ALL the windowsills? For inspiration.

12:00 – Time for lunch. Word count > my age. Barely. Count it as a win.

12:30 – Let’s hammer out some words!

12:31 – Discover amazing Youtube video of cat that can say “NO!” Oh, my gosh! It’s a cat! And it can say “NO!”

1:45: Time to get some words written! Look at my own cat fast asleep on my Harry Potter blanket (don’t hate!). So cute! Have to blow some raspberries on her fuzzy little tummy.

5:15 – The doctor says the stitches can come out in two weeks and shouldn’t leave a scar. Time to pick up kids.

6:00- It’s dinner time. These ungrateful kids! I just fed them LAST night. Why do they need to eat every day? I could be writing right now. I should have stuck to snakes. Mammals are high maintenance. I wanted to get 3000 words in, and I’ve only written 100. I will never do this!

6:30 - Back at my writing station. It’s happening now!

6:35 – I’m stuck on a plot point. Distract myself by playing a game. How many Game of Thrones characters start with the letter “B?”

7:00- Give up and read a couple of chapters in Game of Thrones. Wow. The answer to my question seems to be “all of them.”

8:00- Husband wants what he wants every night. Downton Abbey. Fine. Whatever.

9:30 – My eyes are getting heavy, but I’m going to do this. I am. I’m a writer, by gum! A writer! And a writer writes!

9:45 – Bored. Resort to feeding cat stinkbugs.

10:00- Write a blog post on how to work from home.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

Attitude of Gratitude

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Life gets completely crazy busy, and I lose sight of what’s good in my world. I’ve been teaching middle school literature classes for the last couple of weeks. I love what I’m doing, but I’m so tired at night that I’m unconscious by 9pm. I’m treading water. Tears have been shed, most of them mine. But it will be okay. Today, I will be grateful.

Our pipes froze and burst, soaking a lot of stuff in our garage. But it was all good. The repair was in the most accessible place possible and took only 20 minutes for the plumber to fix, and the bill was very affordable. The really good part is that this incident alerted us to potential problems that we should be able to prevent going forward. And the boxes of ruined things I carted to the curb were things we really didn’t need anyway.

Squish has no ability to sleep in. I’m tired, my husband is tired. On weekends, we’d like nothing more than to just sleep until we can’t sleep any more. Currently, Squish’s feet hit the ground at 6am, school or no school. There is no rest for the weary. But the kid is a total morning person, and he really is a delight. He’s at his most entertaining before the sun comes up.

I can wake up to this face. Couldn't you?

I can wake up to this face. Couldn’t you?

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I am too tired to write. But it’s times like this I know how much my husband loves and supports me. When my half-day at school turned into a full day, he took off work a little early to bring me lunch. And the next morning, he got up with Squish so I could sleep. After I took a shower, I came back to my room and found he had set up my writing station, complete with my cup of coffee. And he sent me out of the house to write today. Forget Valentine’s day. My whole life is Valentine’s Day right now.

I am frustrated at having no time to write. Which means I still enjoy it and need writing in my life. It would be sad if I didn’t care. I have so many opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’ve been invited to contribute to a site in my own city, which is exciting and may open some new doors, and I’m trying my hand at short stories for the first time since this one. Go ahead and click over, if not for my story then for the Severus Snape gif that makes me a little teary-eyed. Snape loves me, he really loves me. I’m going to have this new story whipped into shape by February 15.

I’m ready for winter to be over. I hate driving in the snow. My road is off-the-beaten path and is oft neglected by snowplow and salt truck. When school was dismissed early a couple of weeks ago due to unexpected snow, we almost didn’t make it home. Our neighborhood is hilly any way I go. I chose the most likely path, and it was the wrong one. I couldn’t get up the hill, and when I tried to back up, I lost control of my van on a narrow road with deep drop-offs on either side. I prayed harder than I’ve prayed in a long time. When I finally let up on the steering wheel, the skid righted itself and I eased in to a driveway so I could turn around. I felt God telling me “You’re holding on too tight.” And He was right. My whole life of late has consisted of fighting to control things that just aren’t meant for me. I’m letting go of the things I’m not the boss of. The Serenity Prayer is my mantra. And I feel free.

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

What are you grateful for this day?

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