What I Learn From My Cat

You’ve met Pixel. She’s an adorable, evil genius. This is the cat that can open the oven to get to the pizza. Be afraid.

She looks ready, doesn't she?

She looks ready, doesn’t she?

This is Mousie. All felt and innocence, with maybe a touch of catnip.

This is Mousie. All felt and innocence, with maybe a touch of catnip.

Meet Mousie. Seven-year-old Squish picked Mousie as a toy for Pixel. I didn’t think the cat would touch it with a 10-foot pole, but what do I know? Clearly nothing, because Pixel has a slight obsession with this toy. The cat with the work ethic of a salted slug is all about playing fetch with the mouse.  Or is she?

One day I watched Pixel flip and flop while she played with her toy, and I noticed something really odd. Let’s see if you notice it, too.  Click the first image to create a slideshow and read the captions. They’re the crux of this whole thing.

I couldn’t figure out what she was doing at first. She pawed and scratched at the glass like she was trying to tell me that Timmy fell down the well again. But Lassie she ain’t. You and I BOTH know she would leave Timmy in that well in a skinny minute if saving the kid  meant a long run up the hill to fetch Pa. I watched a little longer, and finally it dawned on me that what she was after was Mousie’s reflection in the back of the china cabinet.

Pixel spent a solid 10 minutes trying to get that imaginary mouse, to the point of kicking the real Mousie out of her way so she could put her best effort into getting to the one in the mirror. The one that isn’t real. The one that she will never be able to have, like Narcissus withering away longing for that beauty he can never possess.

I’ve said for a long time that this cat is almost human, and this incident kind of proves it. How often have we chased after imaginary greatness, ignoring the treasure we already possess?

This story has a happy ending. We discussed Pixel’s work ethic. 10 minutes of effort was all she had in her. She didn’t wither and die. She eventually forgot about reflection Mousie and went off to do what she does best – sleep.

So what imaginary mice are hiding in your mirror? And how do you let them go?

 

 

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: How a Snake Eats a Rat

What? You thought I was kidding? I’m not. Here’s a cute image so people don’t stroke out from seeing a snake in their inbox. If you don’t love snakes, don’t click past the picture of the dog wearing glasses. Consider yourself warned!

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It's a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It’s a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

I got to feed a Green Tree Python yesterday (Morelia viridis, also affectionately known as a Chondro). They’re just so elegant, I took a few pictures. My Twitter friends convinced me to share them.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Three Things Thursday: What Made Me Smile

I don’t blog hop. I have bad knees, so hopping is usually contraindicated. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t have bad knees, but it’s what I have to tell my husband to get out of running. I’ll hike all day long, but ask me to run, and I’ll drop to the floor clutching my knee like I’ve been hit with a tranquilizer dart. So far it has worked for me. Please do not tell my husband.

Anyway, I don’t normally hop with blogs. But today, I need to. I discovered Nerd In the Brain through Alice. I had to follow, because TOILET CANDY! Seriously, someone send me some. I needs it. And where there’s toilet candy, there is also some gratitude. I am grateful, but I know I’m not nearly grateful ENOUGH. Know what I mean? So today I work on that and share three things that made me smile.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

A tear comes to my eye. He is just the mostest.

I ordered some of this, and it shipped. It shipped yesterday. I am so happy I could weep. My husband loves coffee as much as I do. He got a Chemex a couple of years ago, and we’ve only used a drip coffee maker a couple of times since. It’s not hipster, it’s just good coffee. Husband is okay with me ordering Severus Snape coffee, but he draws the line at my life-sized cut out in the bedroom. No, I don’t understand him, either. Husbands are just weird, I guess

That's my thumb it's sitting on!

That’s my thumb it’s sitting on!

Hatchlings. So many hatchlings! You may remember this fabulous little guy. And it appears that he is indeed a male. Apparently, it’s a bigger deal than I realized, his hatching for me. I am receiving congrats from other zoos. That’s kind of cool. Who am I kidding? It’s totes amazeballs (the only time I have ever in my life used that phrase, I can promise you. And not only has he hatched, I’ve got some other new babies, too! I hatched two more Neon Day Geckos (Phelsuma klemmeri) and a Pancake Tortoise (Malachochersus tornieri)! Want to see a tortoise belly button? Of course, you do!

https://twitter.com/zooknoxville/status/717448098893664256 That’s MY GUY! Or girl. Probably girl.

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

Phelsuma klemmeri, a critically endangered lizard from Madagascar. This new hatchling is about 1.5 inches long. So tiny!

And my third thing? I don’t know. Is it that after two months of illness, I’m finally starting to feel better? Is it that I printed a spiral bound copy of one of my manuscript and have begun rewrites and edits? Is it that the Padawan has been accepted into the Youth Volunteer program at my zoo? Is it that I have so many photos for the family album that it is headed toward a whopping 100 pages? Is it that I am making new connections with people in my life and am spending a wee bit less time hiding under a rock? Is it that I have a road trip coming up? Or that we have new animals coming into our department and some will be mine to care for? Or that someone made my family a chocolate coca-cola cake? I can’t decide which makes me smile bigger, so I’m throwing all of them out there.

And how about you? What three things made you smile this week? Come and join the blog hop by clicking here and adding your post to the hop. Then visit some of the other people there. Community is a good thing.

 

 

 

The One With All The Medical Drama

Let me preface this post by admitting that I am a terrible patient. I am stubborn, opinionated, and, well, impatient. So maybe my appointment was doomed before it started.

I’ve got this weird liver disorder. It’s rare, it’s frustrating, and very few doctors have heard of it. I have a flare-up every year or so, and my doctor decided it’s probably time to seek the input of a specialist. Except there’s that bit about it being a rare disorder that no one has ever heard of. But I trust my doctor, and if she no longer feels comfortable managing this thing by herself, I have to go with it. So she made an appointment with a hematologist. Actually, she sent out a request to a bunch of doctors in a variety of specialties because there’s not an organ system this thing doesn’t affect. But the hematologist was the only one who would agree to see me. I went.

By the time I parked the car, I was already in a bad mood. It yanks my chain that they require a huge co-pay to see a specialist in the first place,  then they they bilk me out of my coffee money by charging for parking. And let’s just go ahead and throw out that the individual who designed the parking garage is an idiot who be cursed to spend all eternity in a HumV circling and finding only spots marked “Compact cars.” Why would there be two exits with no signs indicating they didn’t end up at the same place? I took the exit closest to me and learned too late that all roads do NOT lead to Rome, or even to the Cancer Center. This exit led only to the ER. The only way to get to the Cancer Center from my sidewalk was to crawl through the shrubs. So I did. I can’t say that doing so improved my mood a whole lot.

Pretty much sums it up.

Pretty much sums it up.

My paperwork had detailed directions, including the building number. Unfortunately, the dude or dudette who designed the garage may have had a hand in the rest of the architecture. None of the buildings in the entire compound were marked with letters. I had to ask the parking lot attendant for help. She gave me a look probably reserved for morons who crawl through the bushes and gestured to the orthopedic center. I should have guessed.

When I found the suite, I checked in. The nice lady behind the counter handed me a pager. “Now,” she said, proceeding to give me a list of instructions far too complicated for 8:30 in the morning. “When this goes off, go over there to the lab. They’ll call you back. When they’re done, go down that way, first door on the left- not the hall on the left, the door, the  shake your right foot three times, jump up and touch the ceiling, steal a silver hair from the head of a mage by the light of a virgin moon, fold your copay three times and chant ‘Burning money is fun,’  and then take a seat on the north-facing wall beside the of doom.'”

I blinked. “I do what?” I hadn’t had my coffee yet. She went through her instructions again. I smiled and nodded.

She sighed.  “When you’re done with labs, come back here. A nurse can show you what to do.”

The pager went off. I went to the lab. They pushed up my sleeve, and a vampire in purple scrubs took seven vials of blood. Then she cheerfully pointed me down the hall from whence I had come. I found the desk of the nice lady, but she saw me coming and was conveniently turned away from me. I managed to find where I was supposed to be by shuffling a pack of Tarot cards, spitting three times, and following a line of sick people.

When I was finally called back, I was taken to a room. And left there. I brought an e-reader and a back-up book, so at least I had something to read besides the battered copies of “Web M.D” (spoiler alert- all their articles are titled “You probably have cancer. See a doctor.”), so I didn’t suffer too much. Finally, a nurse practitioner came in and told me they weren’t quite sure what to do with me because I had been scheduled to see a doctor who…wait for it… wasn’t actually working that day. She did take my history and looked briefly over the paperwork I had brought.

“Do you drink?” she asked.

“Um, no. I can’t because of this thing I have that you just said you are familiar with.”

“Not at all?”

“No. Even when I take communion, I have to go for the non-alcoholic blood of Jesus.”

She gave me the stink eye. “Do you smoke?”

“No,” I answered.

Her eyes narrowed further. “You have never smoked ever?” she asked. Because I look like a smoker? Did she smell something on me? I swear, it was just bad gas.

“No, never,” I said, crossing my heart and hoping to die.

“It says here your energy level is down.”

“Yes.”

“Are you active for more than fifty percent of the day?”

“Um, I get up at 6:00am, and I’m going to bed at 7:30pm, so…I guess so?”

She shrugged and moved on. “Street drugs?”

“No.” Though I was never closer than at that moment.

She paused significantly. Made a note. Left.

The doctor came in at last. We chatted. He was kind, he was funny, he likes reptiles. All things we look for in a good hematologist. But he wants to go back to diagnostics. On a disorder we’ve known about for 12 years. A disorder for which my mother has the genetic marker and which has a 50% rate of inheritance. One I have all the triggers for, one I have been treated for successfully in the past. But the level of toxin in my blood was not high enough 12 years ago for 100% proof. Forget that the toxins wouldn’t have been present at all if I didn’t have the disorder.

There was no mention of attempting to alleviate my current symptoms – the lack of energy, excessive sleeping, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate or focus, neuropathy that leads to screaming pain in my hands, the leg that has gone numb. Because we’re not ready for that yet.

We’re going back to the drawing board. And I understand. The treatment for this thing is dextrose and iron, so they have to make sure I’m not drug-seeking. It’s their bounden duty to see expensive repeat irrefutable evidence before they shoot me up with sugar water. It’s also their duty to make sure I don’t have extra money lying around. Because then I might do street drugs. So they’re doing me a favor by running unnecessary tests.

I go back in six weeks, after they have run tests on all my bodily fluids and done a reading of my past lives. I can hardly wait. I’ll keep you posted.

 

What’s your worst medical story? I want to know!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Tiny Hatchling

Oh, my gosh! Last week was the best week! I had an egg. Well, not me, exactly. One of my Mossy Leaf Tail Geckos (Uroplatus sikorae) at the zoo where I work laid an egg in December, right around my birthday (thanks, little buddy!). This species is from a cooler part of Madagascar, in the rain forest, and putting the egg into our standard incubators at 84 degrees would cook it. 74 degrees is the highest temperature, but finding a spot that stays 74 degrees is tricky. I found a ledge in a building that stayed 76 this winter. The building is made of stone, so the ledge stayed somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-74. Unfortunately, with inexact temps, hatch dates are hard to predict. 90 days is typical. 90 days came and went. I was beginning to give up. And then I got an email from my boss on my day off (of COURSE it was my day off). I almost skipped out on Good Friday activities with my family to go and visit my new hatchling. I didn’t. I did take my camera the next day, though. You’re welcome.

Can you see him? Or her?

Can you see him? Or her?

Could you see it? There’s a reason they’re called mossy leaf tails.

How about now? SO TINY!

How about now? SO TINY!

They have a little fringe around their faces so they blend in perfectly. How tiny is it? This tiny:

17mm total length. Impressive.

17mm total length. Impressive.

But how does 17mm translate into real life? How small is this critter?

That's my thumb it's sitting on!

That’s my thumb it’s sitting on!

This hatching is the first of this species for me. It’s not endangered yet, but is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture. It isn’t unheard of for a species with stable numbers to be suddenly found to be endangered a couple of years later.

One last shot for posterity.

My forefinger. Check out that expression! the eyes look white, but that's because the pupils are contracted. At night, they dilate, and those eyes are solid black!

My forefinger. Check out that expression! the eyes look white, but that’s because the pupils are contracted. At night, they dilate, and those eyes are solid black!

This will be the only time I handle this baby for a long time. Their skin is very thin, and they are easily stressed, but they need to be weighed and measured for our record keeping. How much does he weigh? 1 gram. It would take three of him to equal the weight of a penny.

What exciting things happened for you this week?

 

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: It’s Tortoise Hatching Season!

I should clarify. It’s the beginning of hatching season. Breeding starts around June for most of our Malagasy dwarf tortoise species. The eggs are laid, they move to the incubator for a month, then they move to a chiller for another month or two, depending on the species.

Funny story. So, a couple of weeks ago, I looked in the incubator and saw this:

Northern Spider Tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides brygooi). Notice that the egg was actually laid at the end of July.

Northern Spider Tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides brygooi). Notice that the egg was actually laid at the end of July.

The first hatchling of the year! It was terribly exciting, but Spider Tortoises are notorious for hanging out in the egg for a day or so before emerging, and I was off. I emailed my boss to see how things were going, and he said the hatchling had almost emerged. Yay! The next day, I rushed in, and look! Ta-DA! (you can click on any image to enlarge)

I snapped a few more closeups, and then I took one of the whole box of eggs. Do you see what I see?

Uh, could it be THE WRONG EGG?

Uh, could it be THE WRONG EGG?

I looked again. Indeed, the tiny tortoise hanging out like it was no thing was a different species. My lovely little Northern Spider Tortoise had missed “First Hatchling” status, but more than that, I was worried that something had gone wrong and perhaps I had lost it. The Boss (he really hates when I call him that) recommended spraying the egg heavily. That indicates to the hatchling that it is the rainy season. So I did. And two hours later…

The actual first hatchling was a Common Spider Tortoise (don’t let the word “common” fool you; they’re critically endangered). These two have since been joined by two more Northern Spider Tortoises, and there are two more trays ready to hit the incubator next week. We’re hoping for a great year.

On Stillness

So I last wrote about my church’s study titled “Unhurried,” and specifically Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Being still and letting someone else be in charge are almost antithetical to my being, but I committed to try. And so of course the next day there was an ice-fest that resulted in yours truly being over two hours late for work.

Guess who doesn’t handle work delays with grace? If you guessed me, you’re RIGHT! I paced. I checked the roads about every ten minutes in the hopes that a warm front had melted all the ice. In the end, I had to wait for a salt truck. I don’t like not being able to go to work, but there was nothing I could do about it. Not one little thing.

This was me. For two hours.

This was me. For two hours.

When I had a desk job,  a snow day wasn’t a big deal. It was a rare project that couldn’t be put off a day or two. But zoos are different. The work has to be done. Animals need to be cleaned and fed, and if I can’t do it, it means… asking for help. I… might have a problem with that, too. I’ll work on that some other time. So today I was late. And I had to let it go.  I had to let go of not being able to drive on the roads, but also I had to let go of the worry about what my co-workers thought about me not being there. That kills me. My neighborhood is curvy, hilly, and gets more snow than the homes a half-mile away. Would people think I was slacking? And I had to accept that I couldn’t control that. And I feel like I need to go lie down after typing that sentence. I could not control it. Not my ship. Not my ship.

What do you MEAN I'm not in charge?

What do you MEAN I’m not in charge?

I let go of some other things, too. Today was good practice. When I was in a place that made me want to weep with frustration (which happened more often that I want to admit. I’m still raw from Sunday, ya’ll!), I dusted off the Serenity Prayer, reminding myself that some things don’t change. The siphon hose that refuses cooperate did the same thing last week and the week before. Why am I disappointed that it isn’t suddenly and magically different? And the siphon for the giant aquatic exhibit is going to inexplicably lose suction as I’m working.  (Siphons. I see a pattern here. Was the theme that sometimes things suck? Or things that are supposed to suck, but don’t actually suck, really suck?) So I let the water pour all over the floor rather than expecting the tube would stay in the drain. And I climbed down from the giant exhibit six times to restart the siphon. And I didn’t die from it. I didn’t exactly accept it, either. I whined and moaned a little, but I thought about it. And thinking is good. I can’t change how I see things without being constantly conscious of it.

Thank you to everyone who read, liked, and commented on yesterday’s post. Each one is a treasure. I was afraid I would be rather alone with my thoughts on this Lenten journey. Not everyone is interested in longreads on religion, so I appreciate everyone who took the time to spend any time here at all. It’s good not to be alone. And tomorrow? You get baby tortoises. See? Good trade, right?

 

The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.

The One Where I Nearly Cheat

I am a good person. Generally. I try to be, anyway. But I am not perfect. Sometimes I fall short.

I love my husband. We’ve been married for twenty years. That’s more than half my life. Wait. Is it? How old am I? Hang on while I do the math. Carry the two, divide by the ratio of the moon’s circumference to its diameter… Okay, no. Not half my life, but close enough. Long time. Long enough that I am shocked at how close I came to betraying him.

It was so frighteningly easy to justify, too.

  • I’m home alone.
  • He’s out of town.
  • He will never know.
  • I’m bored.
  • I’m tempted.
  • He will never know.
  • I just really want to.
  • I never specifically said that I wouldn’t.
  • He’s probably done it himself.
  • He will never know.***

I wrestled these demons for an entire day, and I am proud to say I emerged victorious and true. I didn’t do it. I didn’t.  I resisted the temptation. I did not see Star Wars: The Force Awakens without him. But I might have eaten his Junior Mints while he was gone. Keep that between us, would you?

Shingleback skink (Tiliqua rugosa). One of the only reptiles known to mate for life. Voted as reptile least likely to see a Star Wars Movie without their mate. We could learn so much from them. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Shingleback skink (Tiliqua rugosa). One of the only reptiles known to mate for life. Voted as reptile least likely to see a Star Wars Movie without their mate. We could learn so much from them. Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

 

*** He would totally know. The man can sense The Force from twenty paces. He’s like Yoda.