Apparently I sent this thing out with no title at all. Good for me.

Winter is coming in the Western Hemisphere! You may need one of these. Or two. Or five.

Becoming Cliche

I will begin with an apology. Those of you who are disappointed at the lack of a real winter can blame me.  It’s my fault. I realized this evening that my daughter and I had not yet made this year’s rice socks. Winter has been holding back on us because Mother Nature knew we weren’t ready. Well, we’re ready now. So bring it. Bring. It.

If you’re doing a snow dance, also, you must make a rice sock, too. They’re just the thing to keep you toasty when the white stuff starts to fall. I apologize for the quality of the photos. My camera is misbehaving.

Here’s what you need:

White No-nutritional-value Rice  (about 1.5lb per sock)                                                                …

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Magic Shoes – With Sincere Apologies to Forrest Gump

I bought new running shoes. I had to. Running shoes are supposed to be replaced every 400 miles or so. I don’t run much, of course, but after two years of ownership, my last pair had seen a good 2000 miles. It was time, due to both condition and aroma. Sauconys don’t smell the best to start with, so after two years and that many miles, I’m frankly a little grateful that severe allergies have killed most of my sense of smell.

I almost didn’t buy them. I asked to see the latest model of what I was wearing, and sticker shock nearly took me out. I’m a cheapskate. I have shopped at thrift stores for more than ten years (if you were to ever see me in person, you’d be painfully aware of it), so the idea of paying full retail for anything is repugnant. Add to that the price increase. This model has gone up about 30% in the last two years, which seems pretty darned steep. ***

I looked the pricey kicks up and down and wondered if I could gracefully back out of the store and put up with what I had for a few more years. But my legs offered their two cents in the form of a well-timed muscle twinge. I don’t know if it’s my old, beat up shoes or my illness that flares up from time to time, but the last few weeks I’ve been unable to sleep due to leg pain. It might actually be worth coughing up the national debt of a small nation to be able to rest well, right? Cognitive dissonance says yes, friends.

I tried on the shoes to make sure I actually liked them. Saucony has surprised me before. Their Grid Omni III was just heaven. The four was unwearable. I tried the current model. It was okay, but if I’m going to plunk down a chunk of the money I’ve been saving for my camera, I am going to be sure I’m buying the right thing. Thirty minutes and eight pairs later, I walked out with the very first pair of shoes I tried on. Of. Course.

They are ugly. Where most brands are moving to a wider toe box (that’s the part of the shoe where the toes go, for those of you who don’t speak the lingo), these are strangely pointy,  but the sole itself is wide. I look like I’m wearing orthopedic elf shoes.

But they do the trick, and that’s what counts. I beat my old time by about two minutes this morning, though that may have had less to do with the shoes than with the bone-chilling temperature. More importantly, my legs hurt less, and that’s worth every penny.


*** Heather’s soapbox Let me just jump in and say that I might could have saved $10 online, but I didn’t. The shop I visited is locally owned. The folks who work there are so knowledgeable that they analyze a customer’s gait before recommending shoes. When my husband first shopped there many years ago, they told him he was actually wearing the wrong kind of shoe for his particular body mechanics. And they were right. You can’t get that kind of advice online. And if I visit a local shop and take more than five minutes of their time getting (good) advice, I sure as heck owe it to them to shop there.

An aquarium shop I used to work for recently went out of business after about 40 years because customers would come in and get lots of great advice on keeping their fish, and then they’d go right down the road to the big box pet supply place to buy what they needed. Or go on the world wide web and buy stuff in bulk. Now there’s no one in town to offer 40 years of experience.

Weekend Good News!

I am so, so proud of my zoo and my readers.This post left you with the good news that we had successfully raised enough money to buy furniture for the school in Madagascar. Thank you to everyone who donated and shared links. Together, we helped a village.

Knoxville Zoo Blog!

Michael Ogle, our assistant curator of herpetology here at Knoxville Zoo, is kind of a big deal in the world of tortoise conservation, although he is far too modest to ever admit it.  He’s been a key part of our success breeding some of the rarest tortoises in the world, often making us the first zoo to do so.  He is particularly knowledgeable when it comes to species found in the country of Madagascar, which led to the invitation from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to travel to southern Madagascar last month to work with some of his Malagasy counterparts to help locals care for confiscated tortoises.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors in the demise of the critically endangered spider and radiated tortoises is the illegal pet trade (these tortoises are highly sought after by collectors in Asia) and the fact that they…

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Am I a Cool Kid Now?

I’m typing this post on my brand new computer. Don’t get all excited and try to locate the GPS coordinates to my house in the hopes of stealing a valuable piece of machinery. It’s never safe to assume that “new” means “top-of-the-line-Mac-daddy.” Especially when it comes to me. I haven’t used a Mac since I was 14, and I’m not wealthy in the mood to relearn a system. It’s a  PC. And I feel like a filthy cheater.

For the first time since the old lap-top’s battery bit the dust two (or three?) years ago, I am not tied to a wall when I write.The cord for the old Dell has been replaced once already, and if the cord is breathed on wrong bumped by kid or dog, the computer dies an instant death. I should be delighted that I charged this bad boy yesterday, and it’s happily ticking along. But I’m not. It feels somewhat indecent to be sitting and typing away in Panera with my new toy while Old Faithful languishes at home.

Yes, I said Panera. Isn’t that what the cool kids do? Drag their machines to Panera for the magic cup of coffee that buys them six free hours of wi-fi and blog? Does this make me a hipster now? As you answer, please ignore the Gryffindor messenger bag I used to tote the thing in here. And the bag of bagels sitting on the table waiting for me to take them to the church brunch tomorrow. And the fact that it’s not a Mac.  I’m totally cool, right? Maybe it’s safer not to answer.

This new computer has lots of fancy features, a gajillion times the memory of the old one, plants vs zombies (which I definitely think I should try), and it even has a built in time-travel feature. It must, because it allows WordPress to save my drafts two full minutes before my computer’s clock says I’ve even written them. Time travel rocks. But what it doesn’t have is my enormous collection of photographs. So for awhile, the only pictures you see of me will look like this:

I know. Dead ringer. Adidas track suit and everything. Yes, I drew this myself. I even put five fingers on each hand. I was going to stop at four, but I go the extra mile for my readers.

I am sure that over time, I will fall totally in love with my new computer. But I will never learn to love Panera and the horrible, horrible jazz they play on their muzak. I think I have to leave now. Before I kill someone.

April Fool’s!

So it’s April Fool’s day, and I can’t just let such an occasion go by without posting something. To celebrate Liar’s day, I usually tell someone that I’m pregnant (shut up, SJ!), but I have just moved Squish out of my room after three years, and I’m in no mood to tempt fate. So instead of lying to you, I’ll post the solution to Thursday’s Where’s Waldo post.

Here’s the picture that contains, much to my surprise, not one turtle, but two!

Do you see them? Of course, you do! No?

A little zoom?

How about now?

I bet many of you can see one already. But do you see the second one? Are you ready?

The neck ring on the baby on the left makes it look like a reflection on the water. This is why it took ten years for the researchers to recapture a re-released baby. They are tiny, and their camouflage is excellent!

I know. The one on the left hardly looks like a turtle, but you’ll have to believe me. Here it is out of the water.

The neck ring seems like it would be a dead-giveaway but is instead brilliant camouflage.

Here’s the funny part. The turtle on the left was the one I was actually photographing. The face on the right was a surprise!

Happy April-fool’s-Heather’s-not-pregnant day!

Playing Favorites

I admit it. I know I’m not supposed to, but of all the little ones, I have a favorite. Don’t tell the others, please.

Astrochelys radiata, the radiated tortoise

I know that all the babies are adorable, but this one has a special place in my heart. The population of the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) has dropped by half in the last ten years. They have been wiped out of most of their range, so captive breeding programs are of critical importance. She’s the second one my zoo has hatched.

I call this one “she” because she was incubated as a female. Many reptiles have what is called temperature dependent sex determination. When the egg is first laid, the embryo within has no gender at all. The temperature at which it is incubated has an impact on whether they develop into boys or girls. Keepers can often produce the gender they need by altering the temperature at which they incubate the eggs. With this species of tortoise, higher temperatures usually yield more females. Lower temperatures tend to create males.

A perfectly proportioned tortoise in a tiny package

Here she is with her older sibling who was hatched in July. I have no idea whether the older one is male or female. Its egg incubated outdoors for a bit, so it was subject to unknown temperatures. Radiographs in a few years can tell if we’ve got a boy or a girl.

Pesky little sister

One thing I really enjoy about this baby is her personality. She is all go. I have no good recent pictures of her because she won’t sit still. From a biological standpoint, her curiosity isn’t a good thing because she might get eaten, but in captivity, it’s positively delightful.

I’ll be back on Monday full of my tales of adventure. And hopefully with some new pictures. Have a great weekend!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Tiger Mom

Call me Tiger Mom. I place strict demands on my children by forcing them to practice their skills for hours everyday. My kids aren’t gymnasts or dancers. Nor do they play musical instruments. Or baseball. And they don’t go to Karate class. Everyone else does those things, and you know how I feel about cliches, right?

But I am determined that my son will be world champion before his fifth birthday. I think we’ve got this baby in the bag! Not my actual baby, you know. The championship. In 2013, Squish will be headed to the World Planking Championships. Yes, there is such a thing. Google it.

Get those arms back! Two more hours! Next week, we're moving the stools apart two more feet!