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.

I’m About To Do the Thing I Am Not Ready To Do


I have years of experience hatching and raising a variety of creatures. There is this little one:

Baby Oustalet's Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

Baby Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

And then there’s this one:

Angolan python - my first successful snake breeding

Angolan python – my first successful snake breeding

We usually do one of two things. After hatching, the animals are either surplussed to other facilities , or they are reared to adulthood and become a part of the program. I’ve entered uncharted waters this time around. For the first time ever, I’m preparing for a release directly into the wild.

My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it’s incredibly exciting to know that I am potentially contributing to future generations. I’ve worked really hard, and it’s  time. On the other hand, I’m having a hard time letting go. It’s impossible to raise a hatchling and watch it grow from  glorified larva into something that can fend for itself without becoming too attached. To say I’m emotionally invested might just be the understatement of the year.

I knew what I was getting into when I signed on for the project. At least I thought I did. I read the books, talked to people who had done it themselves, read all the research. I knew my involvement would be time-limited. That’s the way it is supposed to be, the way it has always been. Keep them in captivity for too long and they don’t thrive the way they should. I knew that. I know that. But it’s hard.

The launch date is set, and as it looms ever closer, I worry. That’s just how I’m made. I worry, and I wonder. When facing release, there are so many questions.  Will the hatchling find a safe place to go? Find food? Will she live alone, or will she wander until it finds another of her kind? Has she learned all that is necessary to survive and thrive? These are the normal questions, and sometimes we never learn the answers.

The most important question remains, the only one that really matters. Will she ever find her way back home?

Girl-child and her grandma.

Girl-child and her grandma. My first hatchling. I miss her already.

I’ve never raised a human being to adult size before. Someone tell me what I’m supposed to do now. I am feeling a little lost.

No, I Didn’t Forget

Today we revisit an old story. I didn’t forget, you know. I’ve been completely slacking  building the suspense. Now I can share the secret.

Remember the Red-Footed Tortoise eggs?


Note the uniform color. This egg is an empty. Nothing but goo in here. We'll keep it until we are absolutely certain, but it's probably a dud.

Note the uniform color. This egg is an empty. Nothing but goo in here. We’ll keep it until we are absolutely certain, but it’s probably a dud.

These eggs were laid on Christmas eve. Lupita, the female, retained these eggs for a month longer than she should have. Much digging of test-nests and our addition of more substrate yielded nothing. When a female holds on to the eggs this long, her own health is at risk. On Christmas eve, the vets gave a dose of pitocin and some calcium to boost the efficacy of those egg-laying muscles. Within an hour, she had, in the words of the vet, pooped them out. Radiographs revealed she had managed to pass the lot, but the eggs were likely a write-off. We set them up in vermiculite and put them in the incubator anyway, just in case.

After a couple of months of incubation, candling (the egg version of an ultrasound) revealed this:

You're looking at a baby tortoise. An embryo. If I m not mistaken, its head is toward the left. I watched it move. It has months to go before it hatches, and I saw it wiggle. Mind = blown.

You’re looking at a baby tortoise. An embryo. If I m not mistaken, its head is toward the left. I watched it move. It has months to go before it hatches, and I saw it wiggle. Mind = blown.

Red-Footed Tortoises typically take 5 months to incubate, so it’s a lot of hurry up and wait. We check the incubator daily because we have SO many eggs from different species that the odds of finding a hatchling in one of the boxes on any given day is pretty good. That being said,  on May 1 I still wasn’t quite expecting to see this:

This? It's egg #3! That embryo up yonder is about to reveal itself!

This? It’s egg #3! That embryo up yonder is about to reveal itself!

I crack my hard boiled eggs the same way! The hatchling basically blew out of its eggshell like a four-legged Hulk. I have to admire the effort it made. All that work was done using the egg tooth on the end of its nose.

This clutch contained five eggs. Four of them hatched. I was pleased with the odds. The fifth egg had some dark speckles which often indicates death in the egg. In our department, though, we don’t throw eggs away until we know for certain there’s nothing living inside. So I continued to incubate. About a month later, that fifth, dark-speckled egg hatched! The offspring was significantly smaller than all of the others (about 25% smaller at hatching), but small doesn’t always mean it’s not viable. It is now two months old and is keeping up with its siblings just fine.

So ends my first endeavor with breeding non-Malagasy tortoises. It’s not rocket science by any means, but the more experience I gain in tortoise breeding, the better able I will be to help the global turtle and tortoise crisis in the future.


So have you been holding out on me, too? What juicy secrets have you been sitting on? Tell me!

My Million Excuses

I sit here frozen at the keyboard. All the words that have been rattling around in my head for the last two hours have disappeared, flitting away like figments of my imagination. Wait. They were figments of my imagination, and they’ve left me, the little traitors.

My ailment isn’t a new one, nor is it undiagnosed. I am suffering from the dreaded Rewrite Paralysis. A few weeks ago, I got the bill for Girl-child’s first year of college tuition, and I came to the conclusion that, if I want to continue my day job, I am going to have to sell a book. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll know that leaving the zoo isn’t an option. I love it too much. If you’re a new reader, click the “turtles and tortoises” tab at the top. Yeah, I’m with the zoo forever. So, it’s time to pee or get off the pot.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don't talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn't she beautiful? She's very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going "Longest Tongue competition over at Animal Couriers.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don’t talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn’t she beautiful? She’s very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going “Longest Tongue” competition over at Animal Couriers.

I have a metric crap-ton** of excuses for not rewriting this novel sooner. Let’s get them out here in the open.

  1. That novel was just for fun.
  2. No one will really be interested in this character.
  3. It’s too hard to sell a book with a niche hobby like showing dogs. No one will be able to relate to it.
  4. It’s a damaged book, too far off the mark for redemption.
  5. I don’t have time.
  6. My kids are still young too young.
  7. My other hand hurts.
  8. Is it lunch time yet?

But if I’m really honest, there’s only one reason I haven’t delved head-first into rewrites.

I. Am. Scared.

The what-ifs are, quite frankly, eating me alive. What if I dedicate my whole world to this book only to discover that no one really DOES care? What if I do just fine with short little blog posts, but I’m not good enough to write a novel? What if I fail?

My answer to that last what-if is simple. I might fail, but I won’t die from it. Unless a potential agent reads it and finds it so horrible that they ouleave their big city office, come to my house, and bludgeon me to death with the e-file. I am still scared, but I am fairly certain this scenario won’t actually play out. I’m unlisted.

So this summer, I am stretching out of my comfort zone by joining Teachers Write, a four-week online camp for educators. If you’re a teacher, I recommend you join. It’s free. We get valuable feedback and a supportive community.

In keeping with the busting out of my wheelhouse, I will share the character sketch I wrote yesterday n response to this assignment. I am uncomfortable with this work because I am conflicted about writing in dialect. But it feels inauthentic not to. It won’t be for everybody, and I need to stop thinking that it will be. Not everyone loved Harry Potter, you know. Also, what is a wheelhouse?

She used to be skinny. She’s not no more, not since she come over to live at Grammy Sparks’. She likes Grammy’s cookin’, especially the hamburgers, fried in a pan. She likes those a lot.

She has brown eyes and blonde hair, but not same kind of hair as Sleeping Beauty\’s got, unless Sleeping Beauty slept a real, real long time and her hair got all dusty and kind of grey.

She don\’t like school. She done been to Principal\’s office so many times that they don’t bother with the teachin’ no more. Teacher puts the sum sheet on her desk but don’t say nothin’ when she crumples it up and drops it on the floor. Most people think she’s stupid. She’s not stupid. She knows better is all. Ain’t no reason to learn two and two when her Mamma done gone to jail for doin’ math.

Her front tooth is gone. It shoulda growed back two year ago when it first come out, but it didn’t. She didn’t even get nothin’ from the tooth fairy for it, neither. But she don’t believe in the tooth fairy, anyways. Except maybe she wishes she did.

She likes Grammy Sparks’ house good enough. Except for that cat. She hates that cat. He don’t like her much, neither. He squinted up his one good eye and scratched her good and proper the first day they met. He’s a mean old cat. He prowls outside her room at night and yowls. The same sound. Ra’o, ra’o, ra’o, over and over again, like he forgot he already said it.

He’s always there, that cat, always bein’ mean. Sometimes he takes the food straight off her plate, just plops up in a chair and snakes out that stripey paw, and next thing you know, he’s got her french fry. No one knows where he come from, but she surewishes he’d go.

Auntie June says Grammy Sparks is good at dragging in strays.

Am I alone? Anyone else ever let fear stand in their way? How did you conquer it?


** Little known fact: the official system for measuring excuses is metric.

Challenge Accepted!

A few months ago, I found a blog out there in cyberspace. I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I started reading, and I just couldn’t stop. The woman can write, and about all manner of topics. Smart, funny, and did I mention smart? So anyway, imagine my surprise when I logged in last week and discovered she had tagged me in a post. Not just any post, but one containing a challenge. A photo challenge, no less.

You KNOW how much I love photographs!

You KNOW how much I love photographs! Click to enlarge. Because I said so.

So the first part of this challenge is to thank the person who tagged me in the first place. So, thank you, Alice. It was a huge honor to see my name on your blog.

The second part is to share one photograph and quote per day for three days. But I am nothing if not lazy, so I’ll give you three photos in one day. Click to enlarge because apparently you can’t read the text without enlarging the pics. I’m so sorry. I’ll learn photoshop for next time.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.

Okay, fine. Not technically a quote, but there are at least 50 shades of grey here. And they look so good on him.


And this:


And last, but definitely not least. My favorite.


So the last part of the challenge is to tag 3 other bloggers. I’d rather share with you three bloggers that you should be following. Besides Alice, of course.

Peas and Cougars. Web comic. Hilarious.

The Middlest Sister. She really gets childhood.

The Kitchen’s Garden. Sustainable farm, mind-blowing photography.

So there you have it. Do you have a favorite quote to share? Clearly I stink a quotes.

And Now For The Good Part: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons, Part 2

Where were we, now? Ah, yes. I left you with this.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That's its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That’s its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

After a ten month incubation, these Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) eggs began to hatch. A teaser image, I know. I have taken hundreds of shots of these little guys, and there were just too many to share in a single blog post. Please accept my apology. To be fair, I didn’t put you through anything I didn’t experience myself. It was several days after I saw the tongue before I saw the baby. Are you ready? Hang onto your hat.  Click any of the images to enlarge. There’s more detail when the pictures are full-sized.

The hatchlings rest in their egg for what feels like a long time.  Some of the eggs showed tears in the end for several days before their inhabitants finally emerged. All the juveniles seemed to end with one final step before hatching: sleeping.

Such hard work for a little guy!

Such hard work for a little guy!

I took many photographs of the babies asleep in their eggs. Hatching is hard work. Imagine getting caught in the rain and having to peel off your skinny jeans. That are a size too small. Without using your hands. It’s exhausting. In addition to resting, the hatchlings were also absorbing the remainder of their yolk.

Some of the babies took right off after a quick nap, while others slept in their egg for over 12 hours. Note the color change between the first set of images. The lighter color seems to indicate the hatchling is sleeping. When the baby is actively working to emerge, the color shifts to brown. The brown coloration is similar to the dark, dark grey they turn when they are stressed, possibly indicating that hatching is a stressful experience. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because sometimes the act of observing something changes what is being observed.

And then… Ta-da!

That's my thumb. Yeah, he's tiny. The little gold flecks are bits of vermiculite, the medium we prefer for incubating eggs.

That’s my thumb. Yeah, he’s tiny. The little gold flecks are bits of vermiculite, the medium we prefer for incubating eggs.



A couple of days after hatching. Note the white spots on the side.

A couple of days after hatching. Note the white spots on the side. The grey coloration appears to be their default setting. How tiny is this animal? It’s holding onto a bit of honeysuckle.

These animals are beautifully camouflaged. They are nearly indistinguishable from the branches.

These animals are beautifully camouflaged. They are nearly indistinguishable from the branches.

I can’t stop taking pictures. They sit across from my desk, so my lunch hour is usually spent snapping interesting poses. Can you blame me? Could you eat lunch or read a book when a little guy is doing this?

Small chameleon goes Full Yoda - "Take my picture, you will.."

Small chameleon goes Full Yoda – “Take my picture, you will..”

These chameleons are growing well. They are fed at least once a day on tiny crickets and fruit flies. I mist them a couple of times a day, as well. Because they are completely arboreal, they don’t recognize standing water as something to drink. They lap water droplets when it rains, so I make sure to “rain” on them often. Juveniles tend to dehydrate easily.

Most of these babies will eventually find their way to homes in other zoos. Once we get a little size on them and they can handle travel, they will go out and help create a healthy captive population, which will help take pressure off of wild populations. In the meantime, I’ll have my camera handy, and I do like to share.

Celi has hatched some things, too. Go pay her a visit!

Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons

Way back when (it does seem like an age ago), I wrote about candling reptile eggs.  Remember this picture?

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This egg is from an Oustalet’s Chameleon, the largest species of chameleon in the world. The egg is smaller than it looks. The light shining on it is 1/4in wide. These eggs are small, about the size of my pinkie fingernail.

Many species of lizards hatch in about 60 days. These eggs were laid way back in July 2014, and the first signs of development weren’t seen until six months later. We knew this lengthy incubation was normal for Oustalet’s Chameleons, but we didn’t know much else. So often, species that are considered to have adequate numbers in the wild are overlooked for captive breeding programs, sometimes until their numbers drop and it’s too late to turn things around. Those who do breed them are often private keepers, and they don’t always think to take the best notes.

This is our zoo’s first clutch of Oustalet’s Chameleons, and I’d like to share what I have learned, the good, the bad, and the things that will give you grey hairs.

There doesn’t seem to be much obvious courtship. The guy finds an agreeable lady and does his thing. A female who is not carrying eggs is bright green with white spots down her sides. Once breeding has completed and the female is gravid (carrying eggs), she turns greenish or tan with ribbons of red. This coloration is a visible cue to any passing males that she is officially off the market. Click photos to enlarge. Resolution and color is enhanced when the pics are larger. Weird.

The female carries the eggs for a couple of months, and then she deposits the clutch, which my consist of as many as 60 eggs, in a hole she has dug with her hind feet. They dig deep, too. A foot of substrate is ideal for her to work with. Though the eggs show no signs of development for many months, it’s easy to pick out the healthy, fertile ones. After a few weeks, the infertile eggs collapse and turn rather yellow, while the good ones stay nice and plump and turn white (known as “chalking up” in the trade).

The eggs may develop at different rates. We have no idea why. Our tray of eggs was incubated at room temperature (our Main Area ranges between 76-78 degrees), but some eggs began to show their first sign of development (see photo) well before others. Same temps, same box, same relative humidity, but a few eggs were quicker to begin developing.

Fast forward to late May. We began to find these:


The first sign the egg is about to hatch is sweating. What is inside is about to come outside.

A sweating egg means hatching is imminent. But even after ten months of incubation, nothing happens quickly. The egg  with the goo on it did produce a live hatchling, but not for an entire week. After two days, the egg began to collapse. A day after that, slits appeared in one end where the baby chameleon used its egg tooth to shred it’s way out.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That's its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That’s its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

And then we waited some more. The baby spent its remaining time within the egg resting and absorbing its yolk. Three days after the first slits appeared, we had our hatchling.

Stay tuned for Part II on Monday. I have so many images to share, I couldn’t fit them all into one post. Trust me when I say it’s worth the wait.

The DIY Tip That Home Depot Didn’t Tell You

A garden hose is one of the tools I use daily. I have a tip you may not have heard from Lowe’s or The Home Depot.

A hose will work better and have greater water pressure if there is not a 523lb giant tortoise standing on it.


He looks pleased with himself, doesn't he? It took 15 minutes of scratching his neck to get him to finally move. Every week, Al? Really?

He looks pleased with himself, doesn’t he? It took 15 minutes of scratching his neck to get him to finally move. Every week, Al? Really?

You heard it here first.


Love tortoise and turtles and want to aid in their conservation? Enjoy a glass of wine? Shop here! Each bottle sold raises money for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an organization committed to zero turtle and tortoise extinctions in the 21st century.

The Things I Didn’t Know

It’s my anniversary. It’s a big one, too. Twenty years ago, I stumbled, blinded by tears waltzed gracefully down the aisle and attached myself, for better or for worse, to the man I had been dating for three years. I thought I knew everything. There were so many things I didn’t know.

I didn’t know:

How difficult it would be to learn to share a bed with someone else. Is there ever a mattress big enough?

That the man I married is a cover-hog.

That neither of us is perfect. I’m not sure which came as a bigger shock – that I had flaws, or that he did.

That he knows swear words. Even if he never uses them.

How quickly a tiny, insignificant spark can spawn a devastating blaze. The War of the Roses has nothing on the Dishwasher War of ’99.  Seriously, premarital counseling should have a chapter in Dishwasher Loading. And don’t get me started on wet clothes in the hamper.

That doing the laundry can be an incredibly romantic gesture.

That I would learn how to speak an entirely different language. Washing dishes is Husband for “I love you.”

How fast I would switch from always saving the last chocolate cupcake for him to hiding treats in an empty tampon box.

What a minimalist he is. He’d be content to own only a pair of running shoes and a decent pillow.

That his biggest competition for my affection would be a hook-nosed professor from Hogwarts.

sj found this gif for me ages ago. It still makes me weep.

sj found this gif for me ages ago. It still makes me weep.

How he would have to compete for living space with my collection of snakes and lizards.

How tolerant he is of snakes and lizards. Even when said lizards keep him awake at night with their noisy breeding activities.

How big a hole would be left in our hearts when we lost the cat we adopted when we got married.

My old friend

My old friend

How healing it would be to watch him parent our children. I never knew what it meant to have a dad in the house. Now I do.

How balding and predominantly grey could be so deliciously sexy. Sorry kids. Forget Mommy said this.

The sheer number and size of the storms we would have to weather.

That if I had the power to change the past and skip over some of the rough patches, I wouldn’t do it. Each and every trial has taught us something – about ourselves, about each other,about our faith. Skipping the hard parts would be like jumping to multiplication problems before ever learning to count. Without the foundation, there’s nothing solid on which to build. If you’re going to construct an earthquake-proof residence, you must first learn what an earthquake can do.

How the quirks I found endearing back then would become irritating. And how those irritations become endearing once again. They’re part of who he is.

How quickly 20 years would pass.

Happy anniversary to my beloved. I’m pretty sure that according to Hallmark, the 20th is the chameleon anniversary. Twenty-fifth is silver, 40th is ruby. Yes, I’m certain that the 20th is Oustalet’s chameleon. There’s a perfect spot in the living room…

I'd do it all over again.

I’d do it all over again.

True Confessions: My Biggest Parenting Fail

I have no doubt that if you know me in real life, you’re scratching your head and saying “Yeah, are you sure this is your biggest parenting fail?” To which I say, “Go do the dishes.” Because if we know each other in real life and you’re reading my blog, I probably married you or gave birth to you, and I’m sure you have a list of the wrong turns I’ve made along the way.

I was a kid once, and as a former child I am a big fan of the various mythical creatures that populate most childhoods. I enjoy passing down those traditions to my own children. Not to toot my own horn, but I rock the Santa gig. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Mom #4. (Click the link, thank me later. That blog’s hilarious.) I don’t go nuts, but I am really good at choosing a cool gift for each of my kids. We do Easter baskets and all, but we don’t do the Easter bunny bit, mostly because the Girl-child was totally creeped out by the whole bunny idea by the time she was in preschool. I get a pass on that one. But one creature is my magical Achilles heel. I suck at tooth-fairying.

My tooth fairy with his little bag of teeth. He disappointed me.

I didn’t have the best example to follow. When I lost my first tooth, I put it under my pillow. The next morning, there was no money, only a note. It read “I’m sorry. I had too many teeth to carry, and I’ll come back for yours tonight. Love, Timothy.” The note rocked my world, and I wept as only a heartbroken child can weep. I don’t know which was more upsetting – that I had no quarter, or that my Tinkerbell tooth-fairy friend was a dude.

When Girl-child was little, I was all over the tooth-fairy gig. She was our first baby, and such rites of passage as cash from a fairy were like crack to me. For about two years. By the time she was seven, the shine had rubbed off that particular coin, and I had lost interest. More often than not, the kid woke up the morning after losing a tooth, shoved her hand under her pillow, then wandered into the kitchen to inform us that while she appreciated that the tooth-fairy had let her keep the tooth, she couldn’t find any money.

In my defense, some of the time we hadn’t forgotten; our wallets were just empty. Something told me a second grader would not be satisfied with a ticket stub for “Fellowship of the Rings” and a car wash coupon. It wasn’t my fault Tinkerbell doesn’t accept debit cards. The rest of the time, the blame was all on us, and we’d shoot each other a look of sheer panic, whispering “It was your turn this time!” Then one of us would secretly unearth a dollar from her piggy bank and insist she hadn’t looked for her money properly, and we’d help her find her pay out. Which she would promptly put in her piggy bank for next time. We’re awesome parents.

Um, what do you mean that dollar looks familiar? Don’t be silly. All money looks alike. It has the same red smiley face on the back? What a coincidence.

The Padawan began losing his teeth right about the time Girl-child stopped believing in the tooth fairy. I’d like to say I got better at tooth-fairying, but that would be lying. I got worse. How much worse? The Padawan doesn’t even bother with the pillow ritual anymore; he just leaves the teeth where we can find them. At the moment, we have two molars sitting on the coffee maker.

When we planned our kids, we did so with the intention that we not have two in college at the same time. It sounds good on paper until you look at the fine print. It means fifteen straight years of deciduous teeth. Fifteen straight years of crushing childhood dreams, one premolar at a time.What were we thinking?

I may be off the hook with Squish. He lost his first tooth on Friday, and he insists that the tooth-fairy does not exist. I’m torn; On the one hand, I want the kid to experience the same magic of childhood that I did. On the other hand, no tooth-fairy.

I don’t think I have to tell you which way I am leaning.  If it’s childhood magic I want, I can always read him Harry Potter.

Am I alone here? Do you have a least favorite magical being?