The Best Question I Have Ever Been Asked

Zookeepers get asked a lot of questions. It’s part of the job, and honestly one of my favorite things.
Yesterday morning I was bent over unclogging a tube in the bog turtle rearing exhibit. I heard a family approach the fence, and the mom began reading the graphics aloud to her young son.

“Looking into this exhibit,  you may be looking into the future of bog turtle conservation…”

The little boy looked at me through the peeking window and said “Are you real?”

I assured him that I was. His eyes got huge as he took the words on the graphics to heart.

“Are you from the future?”

If Santa can break the space/time continuum, why couldn’t a zookeeper? We are made of magic and cat hair.
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!

It’s National Zookeeper Appreciation Week. Have you hugged a keeper yet?

Things I Would Rather Do Than Re-Watch “Secret Life of Pets”

I took Squish to see “The Secret Life of Pets” because I apparently I didn’t learn anything from the whole “Finding Dory” fiasco.

Ravenclaw says save your money. Watch a kitten with a laser pointer instead. She's a harsh critic.

Ravenclaw says save your money. Watch a kitten with a laser pointer instead. She’s a harsh critic.

Things I would rather do than re-watch “The Secret Life of Pets”

  • Scratch my poison ivy (actually, this one is kind of cheating because scratching poison ivy is awesome. At least for the first week).
  • Take a bubble bath with a cat.
  • Read Game of Thrones.
  • Pick my nose.
  • Pick a stranger’s nose.
  • Play Roulette blindfolded with five cups of lemonade and a cup of cat pee.
  • Watch full coverage of the Republican National Convention without a bathroom break. While drinking cat pee.
  • Redecorate my house in Early Hairball.
  • Write an entire blog post with Alpha-Bits cereal.
  • Watch colonoscopy videos in 4-D.
  • Live out the recurring nightmare of walking down the hallway of my high school naked.
  • Misuse punctuation.
  • Listen to “Achy Breaky Heart” scratched out by fingernails on a chalkboard.
  • Kiss a monkey.
  • Give up eating fresh cherries for the rest of my life.
  • Give up eating MoonPies for the rest of my life. Yeah, it was that bad.

 What is the worst movie you have seen this year?

It’s hard to be brave

Kids are weird. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is kind of missing the whole magic of childhood.

Anyway, I’ve lost my share of sleep dealing with odd things.

Padawan_001

The Padawan looking innocent. I assure you, he is not.

This one? He used to get me out of bed to complain that his stuffed shark, Hammer, was singing to him. Don’t suggest that he let Hammer sing him to sleep either. “You don’t understand,” the Padawan would lament, night after night. “He’s singing jazz!” Touché, little man.

And this one?

The Girl-child, back in the day. But not ALL the way back in the day because those photos are on old fashioned negatives.

The Girl-child, back in the day. But not ALL the way back in the day because those photos are on old fashioned negatives.

She used to scream that Sharp Tooth was coming to get her. Sharp Tooth? The T-Rex from that adorable fright-fest, “The Land Before Time?”

So here’s a new one on me.

“There’s a werewolf!”

“Uh, we talked about this before. There’s no such thing as werewolves.”

“I saw one.”

“It’s not a werewolf.”

“WEREWOLF!”

“Where?”

“There!”

“I don’t see it!”

“There! Just now! It moved!”

“I see it. It’s not a werewolf.”

“No, THAT OVER THERE! WEREWOLF!”

“Not.”

“IS!”

“Baby, for the last time, it’s not a werewolf. I know it’s not a werewolf. That’s the dog.”

NOT a werewolf. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

NOT a werewolf. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

“You sure?”

“I’m really, really sure, Ravenclaw.”

I don't think she believes me.

I don’t think she believes me.

 

The One Where I Make a Big Announcement

First let me say that I was as surprised by the ending to this story as you are. It was not exactly expected, but I’m also not sad at how things have turned out.

I called my husband from work a few Saturdays ago to tell him that Spider-Man*** and Captain America were coming to the zoo to sign autographs. Every, single pretend play event like this is a reminder that my boy is growing up. And I grieve.

“He may not be interested,” I said over the phone. My heart said “Please, God, let him want to come.”

“And he might not want to wear a costume,” I added, in the second phone conversation. “Please, God,” my heart cried. “Let him want to wear a costume. Just one more time.”

“And you might want to get here early,” I said, on the third call this time. “Because it gets really busy, and it’s hot, and the heroes might want to take breaks.” And I may never again have a little superhero who dresses up and comes out, ready to fight crime and drink a cherry Slushie.

My heart is hungry for those one more times. One more time to play dress up and pretend. One more time to belly laugh over Snoopy and his silliness. One more time to crawl into my lap and call me “Mommy.” One more time to ask for help tying a boot. One more time to look with wide-eyed innocence at a world too big and too scary.

And I couldn’t take the pain of the one more time. Because what if it never showed up.

On that sunny Saturday, it did. Dressed in his Captain America best, with the cardboard shield his brother and sister had made for him, he trip-trapped up the sidewalk, ready to conquer the world and have his picture taken. He greeted me coolly, and I could see it in his eyes. That one last time is fast approaching, and one time soon will be the last time for both of us because he is the last, the youngest. Why does it feel so unfair?

Here I stand on the precipice of The End,  when it seems like the The Beginnings were only about 10 seconds ago.

I made baby Squish Harry Potter. And I'm not sorry.

I made baby Squish into Harry Potter. And I’m not sorry.

 

Don't ask. I don't know. He looks like he's having fun, though, doesn't he?

Don’t ask. I don’t know. He looks like he’s having fun, though, doesn’t he?

That shield in an heirloom. And it has seen some action.

That shield in an heirloom. And it has seen some action.

Somehow, this kid went from Baby Harry Potter to playing guitar naked to Captain America with the heirloom shield in about a minute. Kids grow up. I know that. I’ve always known that. But he was my last one, and I wasn’t ready.

I thought I was done. I thought the yearnings for a little one would cease by my age. I’ve said for years that I’m done. No more. I’m ready to not have babies. And I was wrong. My husband didn’t feel quite the same as I, but we talked. And negotiated. And talked some more. And he was reluctant but willing.

So I have an announcement to make. We waited a while before telling everyone, and we haven’t even told all of our family and friends yet, but I have some big news.

We got a kitten.

My kitten summed up in one photo. "Hey! You busy? I'm not in your way, am I?"

Ravenclaw summed up in one photo. “Hey! You busy? I’m not in your way, am I?”

Wait. What did you think I was going to say?

***I just learned how to spell Spider-Man correctly so that Spell-check doesn’t yell. Be happy for me! Or very sad. It has only taken me 44 years.

The Confession That Will Make People Hate Me

It’s been a while since I made a confession here. People like confessions. That might be why my most popular post ever was this one. So here it is.

I am not a cat person. What is that I hear? It is the sound of thousands of people running screaming to the “unfollow”button. It might be my neighbor actually screaming. She has a problem.. But there you have it. I’m not a cat person. I am a dog person. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and are bred with an actual purpose in life. Golden Retrievers hunt, Rottweilers drove cattle to market, Schnauzers were ratters. Cats all look relatively the same, and they have the work ethic of a salted slug. Cats are fine, but I am not a cat person. Because reasons.

Cats are self-absorbed.

They never let you forget that they are number one in their book.

She sleeps hugging herself. No one loves Pixel like Pixel.

She sleeps hugging herself. No one loves Pixel like Pixel.

Cats are entitled.

They take what they want, even if it’s yours. Food, furniture, the good spot on the bed. It’s all theirs.

Cats are lazy.

They will rub your nose in it every chance they get that you have to earn a living, and they do not.

Cats are destructive.

They will tear your heart into tiny pieces when it’s time for them to leave you.

It's been over two years, and not a day goes by that I don't miss you, Piper. I love you, old lady.

It’s been over two years, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss you, Piper. I love you, old lady.

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?

 

 

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!

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.