Goals For The New Year

I decided not to make resolutions this year, mostly because it’s too hard to spell. I made goals instead. It’s a tip I picked up from a co-worker. She is so wise!  A resolution can die a sad death within seconds of the clock striking midnight on January 1. A goal is a year-long kind of thing. I like the idea of something I can’t screw up the first day.  Win! I have all these grandiose grand schemes, and mama needs to get these bad boys off the ground.

In 2016 my goal is to:

  • Hatch more of these:
  • Take up a new creative hobby. I’m thinking of knitting or crochet. Anyone want to teach me?
  • Drink more water. 20 ounces when I first wake up.
  • Pee more. Also counts as a hobby, so double win!
  • Eat better quality food. No more eating chocolate that I found on the floor. Unless it has been there for under five seconds because there’s no sense in being wasteful.
  • Be more organized. No more storing shopping lists in the sock drawer.
  • Bring home fewer of these:

    resolutions, writing, new years, cats

    But… so cute…

  • And fewer of these:

    Hillary and Humperdink. My new Nelson's Milksnakes. They are tiny and perfect and so sassy!

    Hillary and Humperdink. My new Nelson’s Milk snakes. They are tiny and perfect and so sassy!

  • Quit referring to husband as “Grouchy kill-joy who doesn’t want me to have lots of cool pets or be happy”
  • Spend less money on frivolous things. Everyone knows that Funko figures are a necessity. I’ll cut out some of the extravagances like heat. My kids are so spoiled on warmth. We have five cats. They can use those as personal warming devices.

    Surprise birthday Funko figures! I live in a world where Newt Scamander and Picket exist!

    Surprise birthday Funko figures! I live in a world where Newt Scamander and Picket exist!

  • Eat less fast food. One  fewer Sonic burger is less.  I’m perfectly happy to cross one off on a technicality.
  • Read more. With all that water I’m drinking, I’ll be spending more time staring at the walls in public restrooms.
  • Write more. See above. Also counts as creative new hobby if I use a sharpie and sign my name to my work. I’ll be the Banksy of public toilets.
  • Make my mark on the world. Again, sharpie.
  • Take the boys on another vacation. And remember this time to apply the sunscreen at effective intervals.

    humor, writing, zoo

    They’re not sunburned. They’re doing an impersonation of flamingos. And look at that balance!

  • Learn a new skill. Maybe peeing standing up? Or finally learning to program the VCR.
  • Find constructive ways to deal with my anxiety. Hitting bricks with a frying pan sounds kind of awesome.
  • Take Christmas tree down before Easter. Eh, who am I kidding?

Did you make any goals or resolutions this year? Or break any? I’m not here to judge.

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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.

Fun Friday: Walking Among Giants

Every day I have the privilege of working with people who know so much more than I ever will about our shared field. It is inspiring, sometimes frustrating, always humbling. Speaking of humble, do not EVER tell the guys I said they were brilliant and awesome because they would never let me forget it. Kthnx.

Today, I introduce you to another giant. In my new job,  am working with species that are new to me, including this one. I bet she’s new to most of you, as well. Meet our female Plated Leaf Chameleon, Brookesia stumpffi. Click to enlarge.

I call her Gigantor.

I call her Gigantor.

This species is endemic to northwestern Madagascar and is typically found on the forest floor. Here’s another photo. This one’s my favorite. Click to enlarge.

Brookesia stumpfii and an American quarter, which outweighs her by 2 grams. I should call her Big Mama.

Brookesia stumpfii and an American quarter, which outweighs her by  about 2 grams. I should call her Big Mama.

She’s a big girl, right?  And if we’re lucky, she’s carrying eggs. They lay 2-3 at a time, which are quite large given her diminutive size.

I love my job. Always something new.

What’s new in your world?

 

.

The Secret Keeper.

I know something you don’t know. I think. Maybe. Unless you’re my boss, and then you already know. But that only accounts for one of you. The rest of you are in the dark. I’ve got a secret. A cool one. And I can’t tell you. Maybe tomorrow, or next week. Soon. Very soon. It’s killing me. I want to blab. Since I can’t yet, I’ll share some pictures instead.

Many of our animals at the zoo are maintained in breeding colonies. Most of them produce eggs in their season. We have a big incubator to house all the eggs. There’s a reason, though, that we don’t count our tortoises before they hatch. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they don’t hatch at all. Sometimes embryos don’t ever complete their development, or they never actually develop at all. Sometimes they weren’t fertile to begin with. Things go wrong, and it’s just a part of the job.

And sometimes we get surprises. We were surprised this week. There was this egg, see. And candling… Remember candling?

Candling a snapping turtle egg. Note that it is vascularized. The shadow on the right is the developing embryo.

Candling a snapping turtle egg. Note that it is vascularized. The shadow on the right is the developing embryo.

When the light was shined through the egg, there was a lot of empty space. It appeared that the embryo just didn’t make it. There’s a reason we hang on to eggs for months beyond their expected hatching date. I took a quick peek in the incubator the other day and saw this:

See  the little nose peeping out?

See the little nose peeping out?

It’s a pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)! So cute and flat! The next morning, I checked his progress, and he was still hiding out in that egg, probably absorbing his yolk before he made his way into the world. Later in the afternoon, I noticed he was on his way out!

These images are best viewed as a slideshow. Click on the first one to enlarge, and then click the right arrow that appears to see them in order.

So you want to see something crazy? Of course you do!

And does he still look like a pillbug? You tell me:

Nope! All resemblance to pill bugs was your imagination!

Nope! All resemblance to pill bugs was your imagination!

 

In case you didn’t get to read all the captions, this is the first tortoise I have ever seen emerge from its egg entirely. I’ve caught dozens in various stages of hatching, but never like this. Amazing. I love my job!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Open With Caution

Cuteness ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

At the Zoo, March means the beginning of hatching season. Two weeks ago, I took pictures of this.

Look who's here! This is a Pyxis arachnoides brygooi from Madagascar.

Look who’s here! This is a Pyxis arachnoides brygooi from Madagascar.

 

I took this photo the same day. Most of these eggs are from three subspecies of spider tortoise.

Look at all those eggs!

Look at all those eggs!

Despite all being from spider tortoises, there is quite a difference in the size of the eggs. Sometimes the really, really little ones don’t hatch. Not always.

I call him Tater Tot. Because he's roughly the size of, well...

I call him Tater Tot. Because he’s roughly the size of, well…

He’s easily the tiniest brygooi I have ever seen. And he’s a feisty thing. When he was done with his photo session, he just walked away. Hiding in a shell is for weenies, right?

Small enough to fit in my pocket, but I won't.

Small enough to fit in my pocket, but I won’t.

 

How tiny is he? I’ll show you.

Gratuitous bellybutton shot! The tortoise on the left is the same subspecies and hatched only a day or so before.

Gratuitous bellybutton shot! The tortoise on the left is the same subspecies and hatched only a day or so before.

 

I’ll try to get some more shots for you today. Happy tortoise day!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Not Just Me, Then?

It’s cold here. On miserable, frozen mornings, all I want to do is bury myself under the covers and not budge until Spring. Looks like I’m not alone.

This particular subspecies of Malagasy dwarf tortoise is ready for a long winter’s nap. I feel bad having to dig them out every week to soak them. They’ve been ready for bed for two months. And it’s not just the old guys.

These are the only kids I’ve ever seen who are just begging to take a nap.

Making Things Right

Sometimes bad things happen. This summer, I have been able to watch as an unfortunate circumstance was made right.

Turtles and tortoises are pretty much hard-wired to do what they were made to do – find food, find shelter, mate, lay their eggs, hibernate, repeat. Being so instinctive has helped them to survive for a very long time, but sometimes those instincts work against them. They don’t adapt quickly to changes in their environment, such as roads intersecting their nesting routes.***

This summer, a female common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, was struck by a car and killed while crossing a road. A quick-thinking observer picked up the turtle and took it to the local vet school. The turtle turned out to be a gravid (egg-carrying) female. Her eggs were promptly removed and were brought to the zoo for incubation.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Incubating reptile eggs is a trickier business than hatching other critters. When the eggs are retrieved from a nest, they must remain in the exact position in which they were found. If they are turned, the embryos can separate from the egg and drown. They need to come with a giant “This end up!” sticker.

I don’t have a lot of experience with turtle eggs. I’m a tortoise gal, myself. When I looked at these eggs, I didn’t have a whole lot of hope. So many of the eggs were dented, and those bright white spots are calcifications. Weird. But It have learned enough to know that we will always err on the side of caution. The eggs were carefully placed in vermiculite and set up for incubation.

The eggs were also candled. Candling is when a light is shined through the egg to check for any development.

snapper_eggs_2

As expected, no development was noted. It would be very unlikely to see growth in recently-laid eggs, anyway, so the eggs were incubated with crossed fingers.

A few weeks later, the eggs were candled again.

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo!

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo.

Holy cow! Several of the eggs showed signs of development.

Yesterday, I got an email telling me there was someone waiting to meet you all.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that's a quarter for size comparison.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that’s a quarter for size comparison. The turtle is covered with vermiculite. Once it has its first bath, seeing features will  be much easier.

Click to enlarge any of them you’d like to see more closely.

Looking at the tray of eggs, I would guess there are at least five others that will hatch. How soon? Hopefully really soon. Once the babies have emerged, they will stay at the zoo only a week or two before they are released back into the wild. They know all that they need to know to survive. That’s where the hard-wiring has the advantage.

I hope to post updates and pictures of any subsequent hatchings.. Fingers crossed that a few more make it. About 70% of nests in the wild are lost to predation, so this little guy is ahead of the game, despite its precarious entry into the world.

***Turtles sometimes cross roads to get to and from breeding grounds. If you ever find a turtle walking across a road and want to help it, put it across the road in the direction it was facing. If you put it back where it came from, it will only turn around and head back to where its homing device is telling it to go. Also, don’t stop in the middle of a busy, busy road. You’ll both get squashed.

Bad Hair Day, Meet Bad Belly Button Day

There’s a new arrival at the zoo. I wanted to blog about it sooner, but I couldn’t. I’ll explain in just a bit. You remember Short Stack, the pancake tortoise that hatched in February?

Baby Pancake Tortoise

Baby Pancake Tortoise

The zoo has two pairs of pancake tortoises. Both laid eggs this winter that were intact and able to be incubated. This species is apparently a little tricky to incubate, and there can be as much as 40 days’ variation in hatch-times, unlike mammal gestation which can often be narrowed down to a two day window. A couple of weeks ago, Short Stack was joined by our second pancake hatching.

Each morning, keepers check the eggs in the incubator for signs if hatching, also known as pipping. The assistant curator knows how much I love this species, so he sent me an email to let me know the little critter was making its way into the world. I missed his email. Because I was already at the zoo. I got pictures. Crazy pictures.

Remember this turtle from last year?

The curve of the carapace (top shell) is incredible, but check out the wrinkles in the plastron (bottom shell)! I love how it has its little nose pulled in. Its face reminds me of Homer Simpson. And those bumpy things on either side are its legs.

See how its shell is folded over like a little burrito?

And how after a few days it looked like this?

It's a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

It’s a Spiny Hill turtle. It took it a couple of days to flatten out.

I thought all flat shelled tortoises and turtles developed in the egg the same way, with the sides folded down. Not Pancake tortoises! They actually develop rolled front to back. Look at how the baby flattens out over a few days’ time.

The reason it has taken so long to blog about this guy is because I don’t write about them until they have been accessioned (added) into the collection. And they can’t be accessioned without complete measurements of their shell. It’s hard to measure something that has been folded up like origami. It normally takes a couple of days for a tortoise to unfold completely. It took this guy about a week before it was flat enough to measure!

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

Day 5. Still a little wrinkled.

And here he is about two weeks after hatching, looking all ironed out. Finally.

.

I call him Squashy.

*** Nancy over at Not Quite Old asked why tortoises have a belly button at all. It was such a good question that I thought I’d answer it for those who are new to reptiles. Animals that develop in an egg are fed during their incubation by their yolk. They are attached to that yolk by an umbilical cord. After they emerge from the egg, the umbilicus closes. Sometimes that process takes a few days, sometimes traces can be seen a year later, but at that point it is nothing more than a mark on the shell.

It’s About Time!

I’ve officially been taking care of tortoises in the Herpetology department at my zoo for two years now. Over that time, I have to admit I’ve found some favorites.

Ploughshare tortoise. One of the rarest animals in the entire world. There are fewer than 400 left in the wild.

Ploughshare tortoise. One of the rarest animals in the entire world. There are fewer than 400 left in the wild. Their carapaces are etched to discourage theft. It does not hurt the tortoise.

 

 

Here's the fun. There are TWO of them in here! See them?

Bog turtles. This is one of my zoo’s special long-term projects. Actually, any tortoise breeding program is a long-term project, since it can take 10-25 years for them to get to breeding size.

 

The curve of the carapace (top shell) is incredible, but check out the wrinkles in the plastron (bottom shell)! I love how it has its little nose pulled in. Its face reminds me of Homer Simpson. And those bumpy things on either side are its legs.

Spiny Hill turtle hatchling. The hatchlings are always my favorites. I love how squished up it is. After hatching,  this turtle unfolded into its flatter and more proper proportions.

 

For 2 years, my favorite adult tortoises have been the pancake tortoises, Malacochersus tornieri.

Please excuse the weird green color. Without a flash, my camera likes to break down the light from the ultraviolet lamps into greens. Pretty, right

Please excuse the weird green color. Without a flash, my camera likes to break down the light from the ultraviolet lamps into greens. Pretty, right? Click to enlarge and really get a look at that face!

 

They are unbelievably cool. Instead of being rock-hard like other tortoise shells, the shell of the pancake tortoise is rather spongy.In the wilds of eastern Africa, they defend themselves by wedging tightly into narrow crevices in rock.  Their conservation status in the wild is listed as Vulnerable, which means that their numbers are okay at the moment, but sudden loss of habitat will leave them in serious jeopardy. Without the rocky terrain, they cannot survive.

For two years, I have been wishing and hoping for babies from our two pairs to no avail. The females haven’t been the most maternal and have scrambled the eggs before they could be retrieved. So frustrating! Until now.

Last week was the best week ever. Within 24 hours, I finished my novel, hit a major blog milestone, and got to meet someone new and precious. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Short Stack.

Hatching is serious business. And kind of messy. We have two pairs of adults - a pretty pair, and a less attractive pair. Can you guess the parents of this one by looking at the egg?

Hatching is serious business. And kind of messy. We have two pairs of adults – a pretty pair, and a less attractive pair. Can you guess the parents of this one by looking at the egg? Click to enlarge

 

This species is interesting when it comes to hatching, too. The incubation range is anywhere from 99 days to about 237 days. That’s a huge range. Other species tend to be a little more predictable. This guy (gal?) hatched at the lower end of the range, which is what caught me by surprise. Personally, I wasn’t expecting Short Stack to make an appearance until April. I do love surprises!

See that tiny crumb on the end of its nose? That's called an egg tooth, and it's what a baby reptile uses to shred the egg from the inside when it's time to hatch.

See that tiny white crumb on the end of its nose? That’s called an egg tooth, and it’s what a baby reptile uses to shred the egg from the inside when it’s time to hatch. Let me know if you don’t see it. I’ll show it to you in the next post.

 

Here’s some more exciting news. There’s another egg in the incubator, this one from the other pair. It has been candled and seems to be developing well.

 

So that’s my week. What exciting things are going on in your world?

The Rest is History

Twelve years ago, I went into a small reptile store that I had found in the Yellow Pages. I told the salesclerk that I wanted an iguana. He spent the next thirty minutes explaining to me exactly why I probably did not want an iguana (they get enormous, can become very aggressive without daily handling, they need specialized lighting) and showing me many alternatives that would be a much better fit for my lifestyle and expectations. And he was right. I had imagined a gigantic, dog-tame lizard wandering around my house like a dinosaur on the prowl without ever considering what the animal actually needed.

I listened to his advice. He recommended a leopard gecko. They didn’t have any at the moment, but that was okay. I could find the right caging, get everything set up, and wait for the day I could take home my lizard. I waited. And waited. It was the wrong season for baby leopard geckos. I already knew it would be worth waiting for. I could trust that this shop would not  sell me something I was not ready for.

 I spent my wait studying books and learning what to look for in a leopard gecko. Some of us search a whole lifetime without success, but I am happy to say that I found the lizard of my dreams.

The prettiest little gecko ever

And in a few months, he turned into this:

I loved this lizard!

 

After about 8 months, every bit of black had disappeared, leaving him a solid orange. He was my pride and joy. And he needed some friends. Girl friends. All purchased at the same wonderful shop. The employees knew me on sight and were always happy to show me their newest arrivals. They helped me find an incubator so that I could start raising the little critters on my own and gave me solid advice about incubating and working with neonates.

When the Padawan was 2 days old, my first baby geckos hatched. It made an impression on all of us. When my daughter was asked about the exciting new arrival in our house, she talked about the geckos.

 

Some of my first hatchlings. Aren’t they tiny?

 

Over the years, I expanded to new and exciting animals. I got my first bearded dragon, a couple of corn snakes, a ball python or two, all of them purchased from my favorite little shop, and most of them bred by the owner.

He had a big sale every year that was like a small reptile show, exhibiting and selling species and color varieties that were hard to come by, giving away free hot dogs and t-shirts. He even brought in the local reptile vet to answer questions for customers and encourage them to get proper vet care when necessary. The prize for the top salesperson was bragging rights. A note was affixed to a tacky blue ceramic baby bootie bank for the next whole year. Legend had it that anyone who won The Blue Shoe three years straight would get a trip to Hawaii. I did that, the note reading “Heather’s shoe forever and ever.”

Yesterday, I worked my last shift at that store. After 23 years of business, the doors are closed for good. Lots of people came in to say goodbye and express their sadness at the store’s leaving. Lots of them admitted that they typically shopped at the big box stores. One customer actually said “I always shop at (insert name of big box store here), but I figured everyone else would shop here because the quality and prices are so much better.” I didn’t know how to respond to that.

I also didn’t know what to say to the customers who used to come in and spend forty-five minutes or more asking questions and getting detailed information about an animal’s requirements only to drive down the street to big box store to purchase the supplies; the big box store whose poorly trained employees don’t always know the proper care of the animals they were selling.

“I always come here for my crickets, though.” they said loyally.

Cricket purchases don’t keep the lights on, friends. If we want to have small business in our community, we need to shop there. If we expect to be able to call on someone knowledgeable to help us when we have a problem, we need to support them financially. Sometimes it means driving a little bit out of our way, sometimes it means having to pay a little more. Is it worth all of that to have a specialty store available to us? I think so.

So thanks for everything, Mike. And I’m still waiting on that trip to Hawaii.