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.

 

 

 

My 2016 Wishes

Just to clarify, 2016 is a year, not a quantity. It’s not that long a post, cross my heart.

2015 was a good year. A fine year. It was okay. I’m sure it did its best. 2016, though, wow. It sits on the horizon like a shiny new boyfriend, dangling its baubles of possibility. It hasn’t yet left its underwear on the floor, eaten my stash of MoonPies, or stolen my car. There’s still that tiny chance that it will be perfect, The One. Heck, it’s so special it’s even got an extra day. I plan to spend that bonus day like found money, friends. It’s already burning a hole in my pocket.

I made some wishes to start the New Year out right. In a new relationship, it’s important to say exactly what you want, you know. So here goes.

  1. I want my new computer to pack itself up and send itself back for repairs. I’m not asking for the moon, here. I’m not requesting a self-healing laptop or anything. That would be greedy, and maybe a little unrealistic. I just want it to throw itself in the box and print out its own packing labels and such. And I don’t want it to use my reindeer duct tape to seal itself up, either. I know I said I was okay with the the thing being broken, but depression is sneaky like that. One minute I’m pretty okay with adulting; the next minute, the thought of having to hook up the printer, get out the packing tape, and insert flange A into slot B is overwhelming.
If the elves can't fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

If the elves can’t fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

  1. I want my Vibram Five Fingers to last forever. I received a pair as a gift a couple of days ago, and they already make me sad because I know that in six months or a year, all the tread will be gone, and I’ll have to throw them away or risk slipping and falling to my death. Then I’ll be Five-fingerless. They make my feet look like flippers, but they are heaven. They feel like magic, so maybe they ARE magic. Maybe some little flipper-footed elves will make me new pairs in the dead of night?
  2.  I want this to be the year that I can read more books by the expedient of shoving a computer chip in my skull. I used to study in college by rubbing my notes on my head and then sleeping with them under my pillow, but I think that only works if the volume in question is under ten pages. My to-be-read list is a giant backlog of things too good to skip. I just have to find the built-in card reader that I’m sure my head came with. Lesson learned: it isn’t in my nose.
  3. This year, I want to figure out a direction for my blog. Probably north. North is good. Except for the polar bears. But south means piranhas. See, this is why I’ve never found direction. There’s no way to win.
  4. I want this to be the year that Americans get their collective thumbs out of their collective card-readers and vote on issues, not along party lines. Forrest Gump said it best when he stated “That’s all I got to say about that.”
  5. I wish for zero One Direction trends on Twitter in 2016. I don’t see this happening. I think I’m wasting a wish here.
  6. I will learn to Nae Nae in 2016. My kids say “No No.”
  7. In 2016, I will focus on my art.
    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

     

  8. In 2016, I will write the correct year on all my cheques by April at the latest. This is an almost mystical wish because I still write 2008.
  9. This will be the year I get my Christmas shopping done before Winter Solstice. Ah, who am I kidding? A little pressure is a good thing.
  10. In 2016, I will not be bound by conventions that dictate lists should be ten items long. I have a year to work on it.

 

What are your wishes for 2016? If you did a New Years Post, link it in the comments. I’d love to read it!

50 Happy Things: Because Gratitude is Contagious

There’s a whole lot of grateful going on out there on the interwebs. I just happened to catch the wave of it when Dawn over at Tales FromThe Motherland started a whole gratitude blog party. The gist is simple. Write down as many things I am grateful for as I can in 10 minutes. I had to start this a couple of times. First time around, I came up with “sticks,” and “trees.” Because apparently there was too much pressure, or I am a squirrel. So I tried it again. None of it is in any particular order

Stuff I’m grateful for:

My computer. It takes me places.

My husband. We were meant for each other. At a recent Christmas party white elephant exchange, a gift was opened, our eyes locked, and we both knew without speaking that we had to have it. When it was my turn, I took it for our own. We high-fived. It is beautiful.

It's a redneck plunger. It's beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

It’s a redneck plunger. It’s beautiful. It goes perfectly with our Leg Lamp.

The Girl-child. She is home for the holidays, and without getting all maudlin, I’ll just say that I forget how helpful and funny she is. It’s good to be a family of five again.

The Padawan. He’s a funny one, and he always makes me laugh.

Squish. He made me late for work. Because he needed to put on a fresh roll of toilet paper.  I have passed on the sacred knowledge.

NaNoWriMo. I made some real strides this year. I needed the prod back into writing, and it has taken my students to places they never thought they’d go.

Gas range. Which I guess officially makes me a boring grown-up. I’m okay with that. It cuts cooking time in half sometimes.

Tech savvocity  I never used to think of myself as tech savvy, but I  am now. I can hate on Windows 10, not because I am afraid of new things, but because it has actually given up functionality.

New things that hatch. Images are borrowed mostly from previous posts, which is why the captions are weird, but I’m almost out of room for photo storage here. Click to enlarge.

My job. I love going to work every day. Who wouldn’t?

My camera. I take thousands of photos every year. I love to catalog stuff.

The blogosphere. Referring specifically to the wonderful people that have come into my life because of blogging, in person sometimes.

Pesky cats. I don’t have words for the weird little fuzzy things that share my space. Pixel is such a kids’ cat. She hears a crash and is off to see how she can help stir things up further. Loki is her spirit-deity.

Maturity My new computer has something wrong with the display, and I had some things stolen from the mailbox at Christmas. But it’s just one of those things, a series of inconveniences, not tragedies like they might have been two years ago. 

Grocery shopping  Don’t get me wrong. I hate grocery shopping because it’s a chore, but it is also a privilege not everyone has.

Holidays. Family fun time is the best time.

Humor. I like to laugh. I NEED to laugh. I discovered The Bloggess this year. I approve. She even retweeted some of my tweets in her awkward fest a few weeks ago.

Good books. There is nothing better than losing myself in a good book. What’s the best book you read in 2015? My e-reader is hungry.

Writing. If I don’t like the world I am living in, I can write myself a new one. I need to do that more.

My friends. They keep me grounded AND encouraged.

Music Trite, but true. Sometimes somebody else sings the songs of my heart. This year I discovered Poets of the Fall.

Free books  My used bookstore has a free bin out front. I find all kinds of treasures in it, like a hardcover Lord of the Rings. Also? Kobo store has some free gems now and again.

E-readers.  I got a new one for Christmas – shiny, back-lit, glorious. I love tree books, but e-readers mean that when my sad hands get all crampy and useless, I can still read.

Getting rid of crap. After Christmas, I try to get rid of at least as much stuff as I brought into the house. I aim for more this year.

My faith. It pulls me through hard times.

My blood family. They’re weird and funny and nutty and wonderful.

My church family. See above. Family is family.

Iwako Erasers. If anyone wants to send me a bag of fifty, I’ll give them a good home.

Harry Potter. This book series has brought much joy into my life and some incredible people. It is made of magic.

SPP. The best little online game that you’ve probably never heard of. I met wonderful people there, some of whom are sisters from other mothers IRL.Also, the first time I had to come to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever.

This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

SPP. This is also the place where I learned that people will complain about ANYTHING. It was a giant education in a little, fun game.

My school. I can be in the worst mood ever, but the moment I walk in, I feel the love and joy. My school feeds my soul.

Toys. I like fun. I am naturally attracted to toys.

Lego sets This morning, Squish spent several hours putting together his Mystery Machine Lego set. So I got to sleep in and then READ.

My Chemex. I’m not a hipster, but I do appreciate good coffee. I can’t go back to auto-drip now that I’ve used a Chemex.

Old dogs that can learn new tricks, like how to use a Chemex.

Storage containers As a kid, I dreamed about what Santa would bring me for Christmas. As an adult, I dream about putting it all in clear plastic boxes.

When my kids read my blog and laugh.

Being a recommended humor blog. I think that ship has sailed, but I was on WordPress’s nice list for a nice, long stint.

Good movies

The ability to like what I like without caring what anyone else thinks. This ability was a long time in coming, but better late than never.

Used bookstores.

Wool socks If it ever bothers to get cold again. It’s just after Christmas, and it’s over 70 degrees.

Family photos, especially the ones that hold family secrets. We have a hundred years’ worth of photos, and they are priceless. 

Blogs. My lunch hour is spent reading blogs. Some of my faves are The Middlest Sister, The Kitchens Garden, and 2 Brown Dawgs. I read dozens. There are more, I’m just running out of room here!

Good customer service. The champs this year – Lego Store, Chuck E. Cheese, JCPenney, Mostafa at Hewlett-Packard, and Shutterfly.

New editing tools on WordPress. And also the ability to write in the old admin format. The new one is too minimalist for these eyes to read. So thanks for looking out for us old-timers, WordPress.

Punctuation. I know it doesn’t seem like it from looking at my list, but WordPress wouldn’t play nice with punctuation and formatting today.

There are forty-something on here, I think. The numbered bullets went all nutty when I added images, so I removed them. Too much to do tonight to spend longer than twenty minutes wrestling with the formatting. Want to join us? I hope you do!

Instructions, copied and pasted from Dawn’s blog:

If you’d like to join in, here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes; timing this is critical. Once you start the timer, start your list (the timer doesn’t matter for filling in the instructions, intro, etc). The goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at the very bottom of this post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2015. After that date, no blogs can be added.

 

Pretend this is a blue frog and click here to join the party.

The Gifts of NaNoWriMo: Part II (The BEST Part)

I know. I posted twice in a week. How’s that for erratic and unpredictable behavior? I’m not sure I know myself anymore. But last time I left with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t leave you hanging. Nah, truthfully, I couldn’t wait to share.

Lots of people know that I am a zookeeper. Not as many know that in my second job, I am a computer teacher. I teach grades K-8, and I love it. I want my students to be prepared for the tech-driven world they live in, so we do all kinds of things. Tomorrow we’re jumping in on the Hour of Code event. We also look at digital citizenship and current tech events. This year we took our second foray into National Novel Writing Month. We go through the affiliated Young Writers Program because YWP allows the kids to set their own word goal. My class only meets once per week, so 50,000 words is way more than I would ever expect of them.

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.

The kids love writing as much as I do. We do lots of prep work with writing prompts, and most of them had their ideas in place before November began, but there are a few who are dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, and more power to them. Every kid in grades 2-8 participates. Their word goals are their own, based on their typing speed (that’s how I justify doing NaNo in computer class. They are learning Google docs and typing) and how many words they typically write following a word prompt. I give prizes for everyone who meets their word goal. Can I tell you a secret? EVERYBODY meets their goal. All of them. They also get an additional prize if the group as a whole writes more than I do in the class period. They always win. We have so much fun.

This year, I had six finishers. Six students who met the big word goal that I set for any student who wanted to get published. That meant a LOT of writing outside of class. They want to be writers, and they did what they had to do to make it happen. You can follow all of those adventures on the school’s Facebook page if you like. If you like a picture, you can even “like” that picture. It helps our algorithms. Those are some happy kids. But there’s more to NaNo than finishing. Finishing is incredible, don’t get me wrong. It’s great, but all of the wonder if it is not tied up in a mandatory word goal. Let me share some of the magic.

A child whose goal last year was to write 20 words per class period had to have the word goal changed this year. How many words? 200. This student set the goal for ten times higher than last year.  And blew past it every, single week. And not only that, this child who has avoided reading because large blocks of text are hard to decipher spent hours a week reading to parents, teachers, anyone who would listen. In the car on the way home, after dinner, whenever. Why? Because who doesn’t want to share something they wrote themselves? And now this child reads other things, too. Because a writer has to read, you know.

Another child who often every, single thing they write, be it spelling test, math assignment, or creative writing, because of fear of making a mistake? The first two weeks, the backspace button and delete keys were covered. Once this student figured out that there was no judgement,  I received pages of written work. It’s easy to write when you don’t have to wonder if you are good enough.

A student who despised writing assignments now loves writing SO much that it’s a bargaining chip that parents can use. “Want computer time to work on your blog? Do your homework without arguing.”

We’re seeing changes in so many students. Class journals used to be a chore for some of the kids. After NaNoing, they BEG their teacher for just a little more time to write. “Just a few more sentences, please? PLEASE?!” Because they love expressing themselves. They are excited to write. They cannot wait to sit down and create worlds of their own. And they’re good at it. Because they are writing for themselves, the kids have freedom to show who they are and what they love, and that always makes for a good story.

So this Spring Break, I’ll be spending my work time editing and formatting and getting some incredible students ready for publication. If anyone is interested in purchasing student writing, I’ll be happy to share the links. One of last year’s winners is still in awe of the $25 they made through NaNo novel sales. It’s heady stuff when you can publish your first book before high school.

So this is why I NaNo. Why do you NaNo?

The Gifts of NaNoWriMo, Part I

It hurt a little when I fell off the face of the earth, I’m not gonna lie. I face-planted somewhere around Jupiter. Or was it Venus?  All I know is it was cold, and I got rocks in my teeth. Come to think of it, it might have been the playground.

It happens every November without fail. I get sucked into National Novel Writing Month, and the rest of my life gets to go hang for a little while. I’m not apologizing, mostly because I’ve been around the blogging block long enough to realize I’m the only one who suffers if I don’t blog. But also because this November was made of magic. Magic. I can’t apologize for magic.

I sign up for NaNo every year. My first year, I stumbled upon it the day before, and I jumped in with both feet. I love it. I get caught up in the madness, the late nights, the caffeine-addled reckless abandon that helps me pound out a delightfully awful first draft. This year, I met some milestones.

NaNo is a program that offers several opportunities a year to produce a novel in a month. In November, the *official* month, the goal is 50,000 words. I hit that goal in 8 days, a personal best. I ended the month at 106K, another personal best for a work of straight fiction. I didn’t find “The End” for another few days after NaNo ended, but I found it last night. I typed those words in giant, bold letters, 30 point type.  A third personal best. Usually I’m hiking the Cliffs of Insanity in February in a desperate hunt for the elusive “The End,” but I nailed it down before Squish’s birthday.

I would say "Winner, winner, chicken dinner," but I keep getting mixed up and trying to say "Neener-neener, chicken wiener," and that embarrasses my children.

I would say “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” but I keep getting mixed up and trying to say “Neener-neener, chicken wiener,” and that embarrasses my children.

This November was a gift, wrapped up in scratch-and-sniff Strawberry Shortcake paper and tied up with a bow. Here are some of my favorite things about it.

  • I learned that I can push my limits. I learned that I have the ability to dig deep when I really need to, when I decide to. November is busy, and I knew I had to get the majority of my 100K goal written before the week of Thanksgiving. Sometimes that meant getting out 5,000 words between Squish’s bed time and mine. And I did it. I could sit down at 9pm, ready to give up and just crash, and end up with my five big ones before 11. Because I decided I wanted to do something big rather than watch another episode of Frasier.
  • I learned that rewrites won’t kill me. And maybe they’re something to look forward to. I started a story I loved, but the idea shifted within about the first ten thousand words and became something even more fascinating. And complex. Turns out, I couldn’t finish THAT draft in 30 days. I wrote 50K on that piece, and then I switched over to a project I’ve had cooking for a year to finish the 100K. But the idea I left behind isn’t abandoned. It’s stewing. Because all of a sudden, I see what I need to do to make that first story line great, and I can’t wait to do it!
  • I learned that I suck at titles. No, wait. I already knew that.
  • The super coolest part about NaNo? When I was a kid, I had a best friend. We were inseparable. Every, single weekend, she was at my house, or I was at her house. What did we do? We wrote. On her frankensteined home computer that her dad build (in the 80s! Anyone remember C-prompts?), on pads of paper, any time, anywhere. We wrote together. This year? She’s in grad school. Where I live. And we got together for some write-ins. Once, we even ended up at her dad’s, the house where she grew up, and the site of about a million sleepovers. I was ready to bake cookies and make suicides out of Coca Cola and lemon juice (no, it didn’t taste good then, either) and stay up late to watch Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live. She has published a lot of stuff. Maybe you’ve heard of her, or maybe you’re just now hearing of your new favorite author. She’s nagging me about query letters. She’s pushing me on to my next big adventure: publishing.

These are all great things, of course. But I’m holding out on you. There’s no way a single blog post can contain all of this November’s allotment of awesome. I have more things to share, and one of them is even better than winning NaNo. Way better. Immeasurably better.

Until next time.

 

Did you participate in NaNoWrimo this year? How did it go?

 

She’s Back With Another Book!

Last year I reviewed a book from a rockin’ debut author. When I was offered an opportunity to read her next book for review, I jumped at the chance. I devoured the book in a weekend. That was months ago. But did I actually review it? Erm, does it count if the words are up in my head? No? Fine. It’s time to shake those words out here.

I'm a sucker for black and white images.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading Rattle by Olivia R. Burton. The author herself shared a copy with me in exchange for an honest review. Here’s the honest part. I learned it was a romance novel, and I almost didn’t read it. My great-auntie devoured romance novels, bodice-rippers with some scantily clad lady in the grips of some half-naked Fabian wannabee swooning on the cover. I was a kid who would read anything, so I sneaked a peek one day to see if it interested me. It did not. In the worst way, it did not. I ever after associated romance with insipid women who preferred their men big on biceps and short on brain. So I almost gave Rattle a hard pass. I am so glad I did not.

I’ll try to share the basic premise to the story without giving too much away. I hate spoilers, you know. Finn is your average, everyday necromancer who has limited control over his power. He’s not exactly what one might call a mental giant, and he allows himself to be exploited by Angelina, who uses his sex appeal to manipulate money from clients. Following the unexpected death of a client, Finn decides to take the money and run. The chase is on, and Angelina sends her hired goons to hunt Finn down, and he flees, straight into the arms of Veruca. He wonders if he has gone from frying pan to fire when he learns that Veruca is a Reaper in the pay of the Prince of Hell.

Rattle ain’t your great-auntie’s romance novel, let me tell you. Burton manages to turn what I have always thought of as a traditional romance dynamic on its ear. The protagonist, Veruca, is beautiful and sexy of course, but she’s also smart and strong and knows what she wants. Finn is kind of a goober. Instead of being the dominant one in the relationship, Veruca essentially keeps him as a pet.

Not only does the dynamic play out in a more satisfying way, the book is well-written. Burton doesn’t mess around when it comes to world-building. She writes with a deft hand, crafting the setting, the people, the magic, the limitations of all three. And she does it without the dreaded info-dump. Burton is a master of show-not-tell, unveiling details and backstory naturally. When she shows her readers what it looks like to take a soul, I believe her. Because she said so. Her world feels real to me because undoubtedly it feels real to her, and she’s so, so good at sharing what’s in her head.

The book isn’t just a paranormal romance, either. It’s a thrilling ride all the way around as Finn and Veruca dodge the bad guys. It’s about 90% action, 10% huggy-kissy, so don’t let the romance bit scare you away.

The book isn’t perfect. The action at the end becomes a bit muddy, and I get lost from time to time, and the huggy-kissy is rather naughty. But I can skim the blushy bits if I have to.

All in all, I give Rattle a solid four stars. It’s a fun ride all around and a quick read, and I recommend it.

 

What have you read lately?

This Might Be the Strangest Thing I’ve Ever Seen

I see weird things. When you work in a zoo or have kids, weird becomes a way of life.

Chameleons who have outgrown the tiny branches scrunches down like baby Huey so it’ll fit? Nah, that’s normal.

Go play in the big yard, kid. You're not a toddler anymore!

Go play in the big yard, kid. You’re not a toddler anymore!

Memorial auto decals?

A generic decal with an oddly specific lifespan. 2003 was a bad year for 16 year-old hog enthusiasts.

A generic decal with an oddly specific lifespan. 2003 was a bad year for 16 year-old hog enthusiasts. I do not like. Source

Yes, weird. I haven’t changed my mind. But not the weirdest. I just saw something that took the taco when it comes to the inexplicable.

I was walking in a park I’ve visited a dozen times or more, and tonight for the first time, I noticed this. Click to enlarge. It’s still a terrible picture, but you can see it better.

A head. On a wooden post. Just a head.

A head. On a wooden post. Just a head.

Need a closeup? Brace yourself.

I'm frightened

Hold me, Mommy!  I’m SCARED!

I walked around this… I don’t know what to call it. Statue? Obelisk? Travesty? I’ll go with that one… and I walked around it some more. I thought I was tired, or maybe someone had slipped some drugs in my Fiber One snack cake. (Shut up. They’re tasty, and who doesn’t like to poop?) But no. It’s a head mounted on a post.

A nice plaque rests right in front identifying the disembodied head as that of a former mayor. Questions. I have questions.

  • Was it sculpted out of play-doh by a class of preschoolers? The stump neck has too many thumb prints for my comfort.
  • Could they not afford a whole statue? Did they, perhaps, buy it on time? Will the torso arrive this Christmas?
  • Is this statue a warning to the surrounding counties as to what happens when you cut the library budget?
  • Did the former mayor step down, or was he cut down in a battle with a goblin?
  • Was his successor Vlad the Impaler?

 

I know bronze work is expensive, but maybe save some money and plant a nice tulip garden instead? Just a suggestion.

What weird things have you seen this week?

For Alice On Her Birthday

Today I’m going to tell you a story. Because Alice asked me to, and it’s her birthday. Happy birthday, Alice! You don’t know her? Oh, you should! She’s funny and so, so smart. I love her posts. Sometimes her posts make me laugh, sometimes they make me cry. Sometimes it’s both. Read her. You just might love her.

I’ve gone back and forth about which story to tell. Fiction? Not fiction? Embellished not-fiction? I want to come up with a good one. For the last week, my internal dialog has gone something like this:

There was the time that… no, that’s no good.

How about… nope. Funny only to me.

I’ve got it! Yes! Um, are you kidding me? You can’t admit to that in a public setting.

So here you go.

Sharon slid the box across the counter. It didn’t look like much. About eighteen inches square, it had been white at one time, but trotting the globe had acquired a layer of grime. One corner was dinged, and the shipping label had begun to peel, but the packing tape held fast. That bit was all that mattered to Sharon.

“Here,” she said with a furtive glance at the ceiling. “Better hurry. Dad’ll be down in a minute.”

Thad’s eyes glowed. He pulled the box to himself and began to dig at the packing tape with his thumbnail.

“Don’t open it here!” Sharon hissed, terror in her eyes. She flung an arm toward the door. “GO!” she cried. “And don’t tell Dad!”

Thad dropped a pile of cash on the counter without bothering to count it and gathered his precious box gently, mindful of its delicate cargo. Balancing the box on his arm, he was gone with the jingling of the shop door.

Sharon watched him go, not daring to breathe until she heard him climb the stone steps to street level and saw his feet pass by the basement window. She turned to the new girl.

“I can’t believe I did that,” she whispered hoarsely. “Dad will kill me if he finds out.”

The new girl said nothing. She simply wondered. Then she turned back to sorting the shipment of live fish that had just been delivered to the little basement shop.

“Okay,” Sharon said, collecting herself. “Let’s see what we have here.” She lifted a gallon-sized bag teeming with tiny, colorful fish. “Guppies,” she announced. “We’ll put those in one of the 20-longs in the back.”

The new girl did as she was told. She collected the bag of fish from Sharon. It was surprisingly heavy, but she did not drop it. She upended it gently, pouring fish and water carefully into a waiting bucket. She shook out the corners of the bag to dislodge any remaining fish and then discarded it and dropped an air hose into the bucket.

Shipment days were the best days, every available surface in the tiny shop stacked with cardboard boxes and Styrofoam coolers. She liked sorting it all out, seeing order come from the chaos, but mostly, she liked the new fish. Shipments from Florida were the best. Not only did they require a trip to the airport to collect, but they contained the greatest surprises.

In the mid-1980s, few fish species beyond basic livebearers and a few cichlids were regularly bred in captivity. It was easier, and usually cheaper, to import animals freshly caught from the wilds of Africa and the Amazon. Sometimes, swimming right alongside the common side-sucking plecostamus they had ordered, she would find something weird.

When one of these tiny mysteries appeared, she snagged it, put it in a catch box and ran for the books. Sometimes even after studying Axelrod and Practical Fishkeeping, she came up short. It was her first introduction to the enormity of the world and its diversity. She could barely comprehend she was holding a creature that Herbert Axelrod, that demigod of fish keeping, had never even seen. On those occasions, she put down her money and carted her new treasure home. Sometimes it died. More often, she kept i a few months until she grew bored with it and returned it for something newer and more exciting.

So  many weird and interesting things came into the shop unexpectedly that it never occurred to her to ask Sharon to special-order things for her. It did, however, occur to Thad.

“You can order it! It’s right here on their inventory list,” he’d said, thumping his index finger on the paper for emphasis. Sharon looked at him doubtfully.

“I don’t know,” she answered, frowning. “Dad wouldn’t like it. He said no. He told me, and he told you, and he’d fire us both if he knew.”

“He doesn’t have to know.” The new girl hated his wheedling tone, hated how many girls caved to it, hated that  Sharon, who was an adult and supposed to know better, was no exception.

“Alright,” she said. “But you have to pay for it, dead or alive, and Dad can’t know. Dad hates snakes.”

Harry, her father was the owner and namesake of the little aquarium shop. He had started it with just a few aquariums in his basement twenty years previously. The business had grown over the years until he was forced to either quit his full time job or hand over the reins to Sharon, his youngest daughter. He still lived upstairs, but she managed the place on her own. He would likely never see the invoice.

Sharon placed the order against her better judgement. When the shipment arrived, she called Thad immediately, and the transaction went down with neither hitch nor Harry’s knowledge. She thought she was out of the woods, but then the snake, a Haitian Vine Boa, escaped into Thad’s apartment and was gone for good, likely cooked in the heating vents, and he was back on her doorstep begging her to order another. And then another. Today’s shipment was his third.

The new girl worked the following day by herself. Sundays were usually slow and sleepy, and this day was no exception.

She stood at the sink scraping the hard water line from an aquarium with salt and a razor blade. She looked up when she heard the jingle of the door and was surprised to see Thad. He never came around on his days off. It was one of the many things she disapproved of when it came to Thad. She had a list.

She was even more surprised to see him holding a pillowcase, or more correctly, holding something inside a pillowcase. She frowned.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“My new snake,” he said proudly.

“Why is it here?” she asked haughtily, pretending disapproval to mask her terror. She had never seen a living snake up close, and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to now.

He laughed, seeing right through her and making her hate him more. “Is Harry home?”

“No,” she said, stuffing down her fear and turning back to attack the hard water line with new zeal.

“Good,” Thad said gleefully. She looked up to find him reaching into the bag.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice an odd point somewhere between a his and a squeal.

“Hang on,” he said, furrowing his brows in concentration. “Relax. It’s a ball python. When they get scared, they roll up in a ball.”

She didn’t answer, her blade squeaking on the aquarium glass like fingernails on a chalkboard.

She didn’t look up until she heard him say “Oh, no.” The snake, a wild-caught, thin specimen about three feet long,  had clearly not read the manuals on typical ball python behavior. It showed no inclination whatsoever to roll into a ball but a rather strong desire to bite Thad somewhere in the vicinity of his face. He managed to pin the snake’s head, pressing the animal’s mouth closed with the balls of this thumbs while the snake twined its back end all the way up his arm.

The new girl took a step back, away from crazed snake and handler. She looked over her shoulder to plan the best escape route should Thad drop the snake at the same time the snake dropped him. A thump from above stopped them both in their tracks. Harry was home.

Thad said a word the new girl had only read on bathroom walls. “Help me!” he squeaked, gesturing as if he thought she might actually step forward and assist him in his snake-handling endeavors. His hand was turning purple.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head fiercely. He frowned at her. She frowned back. Another thump and the shuffling footsteps of a knee replacement from above. Harry was coming down to the shop.

Thad said another word unfamiliar to the new girl. She was pretty sure it was German, and totally certain it was bad. He did a little dance on the spot to loosen the coils constricting his arm. By some great miracle, he was able to shake the snake into the pillowcase and tie it off. Thump-thump. Harry descended slowly down the basement steps.

Thad thrust the bag at the new girl. “We have to hide it!”

“Washer?” she suggested?

“What if he’s doing laundry? Closet?”

“He might be getting fish food for upstairs!”

Thump-thump.

Out of time and optionsThad dropped the bag into the empty display aquarium at the front of the store beside the counter just as Harry rounded the corner and appeared behind the counter, scratching his grizzled head and looking at least as grumpy as the snake.

“Thad?” he said with a frown. Men, it seemed, were immune to Thad’s charm. “What are you doing here?”

“I, uh, I just came by,” Thad squeaked, standing in front of the aquarium to block Harry’s view from the contents.

Harry walked around the counter. Thad took a step back, pressing himself against the aquarium as Harry walked toward him. Thad shot a look at the new girl over Harry’s shoulder, a look of sheer hopelessness. It was all over. Harry was going to find the snake and learn that both Sharon and Thad had disobeyed his orders. Thad would lose his job on the spot.

With the look of a hunted man, Thad darted around the corner and out of Harry’s reach. He could fire Thad, but he’d have to catch him to hit him. And hit he might. Harry hated snakes.

Harry stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel to face the new girl, his back to the aquarium and his expression inscrutable. She thought she might soil herself. Did he think her complicit.

“I thought I made myself clear,” he said sternly. Her knees felt weak. Would he fire her, too? She gulped.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“You’re listening to television.”

“What?” she asked, genuinely puzzled.

“The radio,” he barked. “The radio! You’re listening to Judge Wapner. I told you and told you, the radio is for classical. It makes customers spend more money!”

The radio! She felt positively wobbly with relief. He hadn’t seen the snake bag in the aquarium. But she could. She watched in horrified fascination as, behind Harry, the snake bag came to life and slowly rose up the side of the aquarium. Thad had not tied the pillowcase down very far, giving the snake plenty of room to stretch out.

The new girl did not hear a word Harry said, so focused was she on the snake making its slow and careful way up the front of the empty aquarium, impeded only by its pillowcase. Harry, oblivious, continued to chastise her radio choices while the snake bag danced behind him.

The new girl didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It seemed impossible that he did not see the bag contorting and stretching itself… stretching itself to the top of the tank! Oh, dear God! It was going to climb out, pillowcase and all! The snake pushed up on the lid of the aquarium and it rose a fraction of an inch. She stood transfixed, terrified. The snake pressed the lid a little further. Its head, covered by the knot in the pillowcase, was an inch from Harry’s arm. One tiny poke, and Harry would undoubtedly suffer heart attack, aneurysm, or stroke, maybe all three at once. The new girl silently lamented skipping CPR class when she was a Campfire Girl.

The snake, hampered in its exploration, fell on its side with a hollow thud as loud as a gong. Harry didn’t hear it over the radio. He made a few more points, and she nodded her head in blind agreement, eyes fixed on the snake so determined to announce its presence. Finally, he walked over to the radio, changed the station, and heaved himself back upstairs.

As soon as Harry was out of sight, Thad snatched the snake out of the aquarium and beat a hasty retreat himself, leaving the new girl to fall into helpless, hysterical giggles on the counter. Harry never found out about his close encounter of the reptilian kind, but the new girl learned that she never, in fact, hated Thad. Or snakes, and in fact went on to work with reptiles herself 20 years later.

to alice

Happy birthday, Alice! Your present will be there later this week. And no, it’s not a snake in a bag.

 

Lost In Translation: College Edition

It’s done. Last week my husband and I packed the car, loaded up the Girl-child, and transported her to her new life at college.  Such stress does funny things to your hearing.

On the road:

What I said: “Why don’t I drive?”

What I probably meant: “Take some time to relax. I’ll get us through the worst of the traffic.”

What he heard: “You’re going to kill us all, you crazy rage-monster!”

 

At Target buying last-minute things:

What I said: “I think we should get her the blue pillow.

What I probably meant: “The teal will brighten the place up. “

What he heard: “The dog has better taste than you, and she’s color blind.

 

Touring campus:

What I said: “Do you want some coffee?”

What I probably meant: “I could use a pick-me-up. Does anyone else want one?”

What he heard: “You are a giant, Debbie-downer turd. Please drink some caffeine so you can stop being a turd. Stat.”

 

On the way home:

What I said: “The speed limit is 70 now!”

What I probably meant: “Yay! We’re finally out of the construction zone!”

What he heard: “You drive like my grandma.”

 

On the road:

What I said: “Put a Clif bar in your cakehole.”

What I probably meant: “Put a Clif bar in your cakehole. NOW! You’re driving me nuts!”

What he heard: Yeah, okay. He had to get one right.

 

At home:

What I said: “She’ll be okay. She’s ready for this.”

What he heard: “I never loved her like you do. I should have raised show rats.”

What I probably meant: “I miss her, too.”

Me and my girl.

Me and my Girl-child

 

Sweet Girl-child, don’t you even worry. You’re going to do great! And we’ll be okay, too.