Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Strange bug

Can anyone identify this Central Texas bug? It was in my kitchen earlier this year.

[update]: I found out that this is a glow worm beetle. However, I like what Lizzy said better. Here is the character to which she likened the bug:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oblivious Husband

You may remember that a few years ago I managed to throw up at the dinner table at TGIFridays when Richie and I were eating with Pastor Dave and Kathy. I got choked and it triggered my gag reflex and suddenly I had emptied my whole dinner onto my shirt. Somehow, neither Richie, who was sitting right next to me, nor Pastor Dave, who was sitting across from him, even noticed. And it was a fairly drawn out process. Richie finally happened to look at me and see me, teary eyed, clasping a dinner napkin to my chest, and he asked if I was OK. Long story short, it sucked.

Well, I was reminded of that incident this morning. Due to some minor health issues, I have been on a couple medications this week. One is an antibiotic that must be taken with food. I had just eaten an egg, sausage, and cheese burrito so I could take the antibiotic. I walked into the kitchen and immediately got hiccups. My hiccups normally last a long time, but these faded just as suddenly as they had come. Then I felt kind of woozy. Well, I went ahead and took my antibiotic -- a gigantic pill whose awkward entry triggered my gag reflex. I managed to get it down without gagging further, but now as I stood trying to recover from the whole swallowing ordeal, I realized I was really feeling nauseated.

I began praying that I not throw up for two reasons: 1) I had just taken my pill and didn't want to waste it and 2) I had just eaten an egg burrito. See, I find eggs pretty gross in general, and the only way I can eat them is if they are mixed in with good things like cheese, meat, salsa, whatever the case may be. But the idea of puking back out my eggs might ruin them for me in any form.

Well, I puked anyway. Right there on the kitchen floor. I ended up on my hands and knees and every single bit of that egg burrito was right in front of me with more coming. And the only thing I could see was egg. Just egg, egg, egg. I was traumatized. So of course I kept puking and puking...

What you don't know is that Richie was literally 15 feet away from me, on the living room couch watching TV and surfing on his laptop. Our house is an open floor plan -- our kitchen looks full into the living room. And as I lay on the floor retching and watching my already shaky relationship with eggs go out the window, I fully expected Richie to come running to my aid.

Nope. He had no clue. He remained on the couch surfing the net, completely oblivious to the drama unfolding behind him. By now the dogs were closing in and you know what they were about to do... Between gags and coughs I would yell at them to get back. But Richie didn't notice this either.

I thought I would never be done, but at last it was over. Saying nothing, I rose from the floor and went for the paper towels to begin cleaning up. I heard Richie chuckle over something he was watching on Youtube. I said nothing. I just didn't know what to say. "Honey, you just missed me throwing up...again." ??

After I got the floor clean and everything disposed of, I finally broke the news to him. I think I just said, "Richie, I just threw up...right there...in the kitchen floor." He seemed mildly surprised, saying that he had thought those gagging noises were somehow related to my hiccups. So he actually had heard it this time, he just didn't interpret correctly.

It was over as quickly as it happened and I made toast. This time the pill stayed down.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Angel Time by Anne Rice

Angel Time: The Songs of the SeraphimAngel Time is a unique story of redemption. Toby O’Dare, a cold-blooded killer, is solicited by an angel of Heaven to put his skills to holy use. After we are introduced to Toby’s present life from his first-person perspective, his tragic past is explained from the perspective of his guardian angel Malchiah. Malchiah’s affinity for Toby challenges the human assumption that angels are merely unfeeling operatives performing their duty. Once it is revealed how Toby has turned from a brilliant and compassionate young boy to an assassin, the narrative takes up where it left off – just after Malchiah has startled Toby with his presence and an extension of God‘s mercy.

The depth of Toby’s characterization drew me to him immediately. The struggle with his past, present, and potential identity made his every action and decision a moment of suspense.

In this odd but pleasing mix of the paranormal and the historical, we are also acquainted with 13th Century England where oppressive laws and virulent lies threaten the Jews’ existence. Mrs. Rice clearly possesses an important understanding and appreciation of the Jews and their remarkable contributions to the very societies that have persecuted them. As with her other novels, her careful scholarship ensures historical accuracy even while she weaves an arresting plot with realistic and engaging characters.

This novel is, most importantly, a spiritual one. I was moved by its illustration of God’s grace and the supernatural activity of His kingdom. I eagerly await the next novel in the Toby O'Dare series!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time Warp Text Message?

My mobile phone is set up to send me text notifications whenever I get a message or wall post on facebook. Yesterday evening I kept receiving text messages on an amusing status update I had posted. Every few minutes the notification would sound and I would check the message. At one point, I was talking to my husband and I happened to look down and see that I had received a message from my friend Lizzie. I thought it was odd that I hadn't, as with the other messages, heard the notification sound. The message just appeared as if I had clicked it on to read it. Anyway, I had been particularly interested in what Lizzie would have to say, so when I saw that it began "LOL...", I went onto FB to view the rest of the message. Oddly, there was no such message on FB. I could only assume she had deleted it to reword it or whatever.

So I went to my gmail because I knew that it would have sent the full original message. (For those that may not understand how this works, once somebody has posted a message on FB, I immediately receive an email on gmail and a text message on my phone. Even though the messenger may remove their message, the email and text message will still be there; the sender of the message has no control over the notifications I receive.) There was no message on gmail either.

By now I was getting really confused, so I went back to my text messages to view the message again. There WAS no message in my text messages. It was like it had never existed.

Frustrated, I told my husband what was going on, complaining that I couldn't see any evidence of Lizzie's message that had begun "LOL." About three minutes into our speculating on what could have happened, I heard the notification of a new message. I looked down to see Lizzie's message, yet again. It began "LOL, oh dear..." and this time when I went to FB and gmail, the message was there. Not only that, but it showed that it had been posted that very minute...not three minutes before, when I had actually seen it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No need to be a Shane

For a few months back in my 20s, I worked as a secretary for a small town attorney. There was one client named Shane whom I always had a blast with; the only trouble was, I couldn't quite tell if he was male or female.

One night on the phone with my friend Kerry, who lived on the other side of the United States. I was telling her about this client and she said that in the mail room where she worked there was a customer whose gender she couldn't place. But that's not the weird part: the weird part is that we discovered both our gender-bending clients were named "Shane".

Not sure what to make of that, but it happened and it was intriguing.

Coincidence of little signifiance -- but cool nonetheless

This coincidence doesn't seem overly important, but it was so bizarre I wanted to add it to my stories. Richie and I played a game of Scrabble one night in which our scores were tied and we had only one letter each left to play. Neither of us could play that letter, so the game was left as a tie. Naturally, we looked to see which lone letter the other had after the game, and we both had the letter 'V'.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weird Weekend

I hate to rip off the name of a yearly event held by the CFZ, but this has truly been a weird and wonderful weekend for me, sort of a carry-over of the return of Barnabas.

It started yesterday when I woke up so happy in God. I just felt His love and thanked Him for it and for everything He has done. Ever since an amazing thing He did for me a couple weeks ago (that I haven't blogged about yet), I have been riding a kind of residual blessing. Things have seemed so right and so designed. Our agenda for the day was to attend our monthly MUFON meeting, then have dinner with a couple later that evening. This particular couple were the first witnesses to a UFO that we were assigned to since becoming field investigators. We interviewed them last winter and have been friends ever since.

At the end of the MUFON meeting, a few of us were discussing strange coincidence stories. We left on that note, and Richie and I went shopping before meeting up with our friends. Our friends had another couple friend joining us, and they were taking us to an out-of-the-way Japanese Steakhouse, since Austin City Limits made downtown too congested.

There were six total in our party as we waited for our table. As we stood in line, suddenly the door opened and in walked the most recent UFO witness that we have interviewed. This guy lives in Dripping Springs and we haven't seen him since the interview. In fact, I really never expected to see him again unless he attended a MUFON meeting, which he never has. I just stared a moment; it seemed so surreal. I then greeted him and pointed him out to Richie. We introduced him to our friends, our first interviewees, whom we had actually told him about at the time of our interview. Everyone was truly floored: of all the pieces to have fallen into place for us to meet up at that time and place. We had never been to that restaurant, our couple friend had never been, and our most recent witness rarely goes there. It's not like Austin -- the capital of Texas -- is a small town anyway, not to mention that only 2 of the 5 of us in question lived there.

So after good food and good wine and a good time had by all, we drove home. I called our MUFON state section director and told him about running into one witness while eating out with the other ones. He was fascinated and reminded me that George Noory doesn't believe in coincidences; he believes, as I do, there is a design to them.

It was either on our way to or away from the restaurant that I was missing my rats for some reason. I always do, but it was pronounced this evening. I imagined Horace was perched on my shoulder as he always used to be and I tilted my head, trying to remember how it felt to feel his furry little form against my cheek. And that detail will mean something in a moment...

Richie and I attended Dad's church this morning before hopping over to our Episcopal church for the annual Blessing of the Animals (as the Feast of St. Francis is this week). Once we got into the sanctuary, Regan -- who, along with her husband, rents our old house from us -- walked up to me. She and I have never hung out, but her family attends our church and she has always seemed quiet but very nice.

"I saw a rat in the house last night," she began. At first I thought she was telling me (her landlady, after all) that the house had a rat problem. But then she shook her head, "But I knew it wasn't..." she trailed off. I started to suspect what she was telling me, but could hardly believe my ears. As she went on to explain, I knew it was true: she had seen a ghost of a rat in the house -- the ghost of one of my rats.

Regan always knew I had rats, but I am not sure she ever even saw them, and I know she couldn't tell you who was who or what any one of them even looked like. She explained that the rat was walking down the hall, then suddenly, it wasn't there. (It hadn't run off -- it just wasn't there.) She knew she had seen something, but she couldn't figure out what. Then she remembered my rats and realized she had just seen one of them. I asked her to describe it, and she said he had white on his face. Using my phone I got into the Internet and scrolled through my rat pics. I assumed she had seen John-Titor, who was always roaming the halls, but when she saw George's picture, she gasped and said, "That was it!"

It made perfect sense, then, why she hadn't been able to immediately place George as a rat. George is a Dumbo Rex (low ears, curly hair) that doesn't look like a typical rat. "I couldn't tell what he was at first," she said, "He was just so cute!"

I was so comforted at the knowledge that George was whom she had seen. His death had been a particularly painful ordeal, as he had come down with congestive heart failure after only 1 yr. of age and had never recovered, despite my exhaustive efforts to nurse him. He had died in my arms (as all but one of my rats had) while the snow was pouring down outside. I remember how horribly depressed I had felt, watching the snow -- which I normally love -- blanket the ground, everything so gray and drab, and George wasting away in my arms.

And now he had made an appearance around the Feast of St. Francis, the day before the Blessing of the Animals. Richie later asked me what I think it means, George's appearance, and all I can figure is that God was assuring me George lives. I believe that everything (not just humans) with God's breath of life, continues or will be revived one day, and only God knows what that assurance brought me. The unique spirit of each animal, the worth of Creation, and the power of redemption leave no room for debate in my mind.

Incidentally, George's full name was George Noory. I had named him after my favorite radio talk show host, who doesn't believe in mere coincidences.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Orb-weaver spins prey

This is the orb-weaver on my back porch. Its nest is connected to one of the porch lights, so it gets more insects than it can handle.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Barnabas is back!!

I have no idea what happened: all I know is that one (and only one) giant toad hung around our house every day for a couple months and then suddenly we found a giant toad dead in the driveway. We were crushed, thinking we had killed Barnabas. We looked for him hopefully every day afterward but no toad could be found. I prayed God would either bring him back (I believe in miracles, even those that seem insignificant in the scheme of things) or replace him. But there was no sign of a large toad after we had found that one dead, whom I assumed was Barnabas. Things felt very empty.

Then tonight my husband, who had been working outside, popped his head in and said "Guess who's out here?" I hardly believed it, thinking it was the smaller toad that we had see occasionally and he wasn't remembering Barnabas's size correctly. But in faith I went outside to have a look, and there sat a giant toad in our drive. Immediately I went for the camera and took several pics. I have compared them to my original pics of Barnabas and it is definitely the same toad. (The pics I am speaking of are pics of the markings on his back, which I don't show here because his face is much cuter!)

In the middle of my photo shoot, I squatted down in front of Barnabas and had a little talk with him about staying out of the driveway. After I had talked a bit, he suddenly turned his head and looked at me, then took a hop toward me. I jumped back; I guess I'm not used to aggressive toads. Then a bug came along and he ate it.

Anyway, Barnabas is back and whether or not he was never dead or he has been resurrected is irrelevant to me. I prayed he'd come back and he has. I'm just so glad he is alive!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goodbye Barnabas

I am so sad tonight. Probably very few people would understand, but my husband I have grown very attached to a large toad that has hung around our house for a few months now. He has probably lived here longer than that, but in the past few weeks he grew more and more familiar with us and could be found on the back porch every morning and night. (The first time I spotted him I thought he was stuck inside a sprinkler head valve hole and I forced him -gently - out. He then ended up "stuck" in a smaller place, and after I got him out of that place, I realized he had never been stuck to begin with and I had only succeeded in inconveniencing him when he was trying to find a cool place to rest for the day!)

Most recently, Richie and I got used to looking out for Barnabas (of course I named him) to keep the dogs from lunging at him when we took them out. The other night Salem scared him onto my screened in porch and I left the door open all night so he could find his way back out easily. I can't even remember Barnabas not being around; he has become part of the family, an outdoor pet. In fact, last week I had just introduced him to the CFZ blog.

All this time, I have been worried that Barnabas might end up getting hit by one of our vehicles since he does hang out around the driveway, and I have tried to keep an eye out for him when I get in the truck. Well, this evening on my way to the gym, as I was pulling out the driveway, I saw that is exactly what had happened: Barnabas lay dead in the driveway. Even though I'd worried about this very thing, I just really wasn't prepared to see it. I guess it sounds ridiculous that I've been upset all evening. I still can't believe Barnabas isn't sitting in his cute warty fatness out on the porch, his throat pumping, acting cool while we pass by with the lunging dogs. After all this time, he knew he was safe around here. And then we kill him with our stupid vehicles.

I never thought about the possibility of growing attached to a wild toad, but I did and now I feel a big emptiness. Three times I've gone outside to look for Barnabas on the porch tonight. I keep hoping that some other giant toad happened by, not Barnabas who owned the porch and felt safe here.

Goodbye, big, sweet, Barnabas. We miss you terribly.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kids Say the Darndest Things

This is a far cry from the innocence of Bill Cosby's show, but it keeps us entertained at the high school level. These are just a couple stories from the past week:

First of all, one of my friends teaches a class with some pretty thuggish sophomores. At the beginning of this class, a student from her previous class burst in saying that she had left her purse in the room. The purse was soon located, but was missing its wallet. Knowing one of students in the present class had taken it, my friend told the class that someone had better cough up the money or they would sit there till the cows came home, ignoring even the lunch bell. Everyone put on the pressure until one boy finally produced the wallet -- along with its $200.00. Awhile after the incident, some of the other less-than-ethical students asked this boy why he had given up the wallet. Wide-eyed, he replied, "Because I didn't know what she meant by the cows coming home!" I don't know if he's afraid of cows or what, but it worked.

Second story: Today after lunch one student in my 3rd hour came barreling down the hall and plowed into another student standing in the doorway. Appalled, I said, "You need to say excuse me!" He turned immediately to the other student and said enthusiastically, "Good job!" Confused, I asked, "Why did you say 'good job'?" "Because he didn't cry this time!" he replied happily.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Post-it Note Pilferage

My high school students on the whole place value on things that matter little to me: tennis shoes, video games, skateboards, etc. But there is one thing that for the past three years we end up nearly fighting over: sticky notes.

I occasionally give an assignment in which the students work in groups to place answers on sticky notes and put them on the board. (If they are finding the three types of irony in a story, I will have the board divided by the three types of irony and they will post the sticky note in the appropriate column.) I always buy very colorful sticky notes to make the exercise appealing. The first year that I did the exercise, I noticed that I wasn't getting back as many unused sticky notes as I thought I should. It turned out that the students were stashing away the unused sticky notes and I had to demand their return.

Well, I didn't really do the sticky note thing much last year, and by this year I guess I had forgotten about the hoarding issue. Last week I did my first sticky note exercise of the year, then moved on to something else. Later in class, one boy went to sign out for the bathroom. As he raised his arm to write, some bright pink sticky notes hit the floor.

"Where did those come from?" I asked.

"I dropped them," he said. I am guessing they had been stuffed in his pants waist or something.

"I need them back," I said. "Those are mine." Realizing this might be a class wide problem, I said to the whole class, "I need the unused sticky notes back. They are mine -- I bought them with my money."

There was a pause…then one student shuffled to my desk and laid down a stack of sticky notes. Another student followed suit, then another. The procession grew as stacks of sticky notes were dropped into my desk, creating a colorful assembly. It was like the accusers of the adulteress who dropped the stones and walked away -- all were guilty.

Normally, I am infuriated by low ethics, or assumptions of entitlement. But these were kids and the items, in their minds, were just little slips of paper -- irresistible ones apparently. (And at least they were being honest now.) I looked up at my aid and we both started laughing. I think I am going to try to find a way to invest in some sticky notes in bulk for the kids at Christmas.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Dance Nazi

I was not allowed to dance growing up. By the time my parents relaxed their belief in this doctrine, I had already grown into an adult who felt she had no ability to dance; so whenever the situation presented itself, I always shied away.

My first realization that I had at least a limited ability to dance came in my Jazzercise classes. Later, I took some line dancing classes and was told I was a natural. Eventually I took up Belly Dancing via an instructional video. The Belly Dancing prepared me for Zumba, a Latin dance workout at the gym where I met the challenges of more complicated foot and hip work. I do most of Zumba with confidence now, always as attentive to style and flair as I am technical precision. I was thrilled when a recent observer at Zumba told me I was the best she saw in the class. While Zumba may not be all that difficult, I’ve still come a long way and have figured my shy days are over.

However, my newfound confidence failed to prepare me for what I would face at a church benefit last night. Since my husband is out of town, I asked my cousin to go along, telling him there would be, among other things, wine tasting and line dancing. When the dance instructor brought us out to the floor, I expected line dancing instruction. Instead, she paired us off by gender and started teaching us basic ballroom dancing. When I realized I was going to learn this kind of dancing in front of a room full of people (most of them watching instead of dancing), I almost panicked. I always eventually get a new dance move down, but rarely while someone is watching. Oh well, at least I would be dancing with my cousin whom I don’t mind making a fool of myself in front of.

But that wasn’t the case either. My first partner was my priest. So putting the obvious irony aside with regards to my upbringing, the situation was made more complicated (in my mind) by the fact that he is already an expert ballroom dancer. I have never in my life danced with a partner. I went into a physical state resembling rigor mortis. Nobody but God knew the trepidation I felt, but I was flashing back to my fencing days when I would get hammered by the superior opponent with a roomful of other fencers watching.

But, as with fencing, I stuck it out and tried to learn. I made it through the Texas Two-step, but my nervousness prevented me from going beyond the most basic move. I realized how much more comfortable I am doing semi-striptease moves at Zumba. Go figure. Next came the East Coast Swing. I was dancing with my cousin by this time, and had relaxed somewhat, when suddenly some old lady I don’t even know came out of the dining area to speak into my ear. “Honey, don’t lift your feet so high. Just shift your weight from foot to foot and you won’t stand out so much.”

I mean, seriously, had somebody hired her? Was this blatant preying on my insecurity divine retribution for disregarding the doctrine of my youth? I thanked her and did exactly as she had said. I continued to dance, but every cell in my body was screaming at me to just sit down. After all, apparently I was “standing out.” I remembered the fencing strip, and I told myself I would get through this too and I would LIKE it.

However, at another point another woman whose face I can’t even place right now physically grabbed me out of the blue and got right in my face, saying: “If you would stop watching other people’s feet…” and proceeded to lecture me on my technique. By now I was aghast. Had I stepped into a parallel world where doctrine was to dance and dance correctly if you wished to enter the kingdom?

After the instruction was over, I went to hide against the wall and have a drink. When finished with my drink, I put the bottle in the trashcan. Right then, the first old lady, the one apparently hired by God to keep an eye on me, walked over to the trashcan, removed my bottle, looked directly at me as she lowered the bottle into a recycle box, and said, “The bottles go in here.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. A few minute later, the dance instructor and one of the men in the church were doing some fancy swing dancing, and everybody was watching. I was filming it on my phone, and just as it ended, this same old lady made her way over to me. “Honey, did you watch their feet while they were dancing?”

“No,” I said, my tone implying I had neither wished to watch their feet nor did I now wish to hear about their feet.

“Well,” she said, “They were not lifting them very high – they were just shifting their weight from side to side.”

“Yes,” I said, not bothering to hide my growing irritation, “I quit doing that when you told me to the first time.”

“Because when people do that,” she went on, “All it does is bounce their boobies.”

“Oh, is that what I was doing?” I asked wryly.

“No,” she said, then finished her commentary on the important of footwork and walked away.

“Thank you!” I called after her, assured by her obvious lack of perception that my sarcasm went undetected.

Matt was already doubled in laughter, his head having been turned away from her.

I won’t even go into the jokes we shared the rest of the evening, most of them about bouncing boobies, which Matt said should be the name of the dance studio she really ought to open one day, with all her knowledge.

I think the greatest feat I accomplished last night was just sticking with it and trying to have fun, despite the busy bodies that harassed me. I am certain they meant well, but I suspect that the first person to declare dancing a sin must have had an experience similar to mine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eating pastries and being visited by the devil

Two weird dreams last night:

In the first, I was trying to find the house of a lady with whom I had some MUFON business to discuss. When I got there, she was having another meeting in which there was no place for MUFON issues. I took a seat with her other guests and had some pastries. Normally, I don't get to eat in my dreams because I wake up right when I am about to take a bite. But this time I was able to eat several pastries and they were delicious. The last one had a hint of cream cheese. I had just started chewing my first bite of it when my cell phone woke me up in real life. It was only after 6:00 am and, seeing who it was and knowing it would not have been an emergency, I let it go to voicemail. Then I lay awake in irritation at being unable to finish that cream cheese pastry. I have never been able to go back to sleep and continue a dream. I did go back to sleep for a couple more hours, which led to my next dream:

A college-age looking boy came to my house and was talking casually to me. After a few minutes, I noticed that his shirt was changing colors and his hair was different. I told him he was the devil and he admitted it. So I banished him in Jesus' name and he disappeared. But he returned a couple hours later when I was out somewhere with some people. This time he followed me around chatting humorously, and after awhile I had to remind myself he was evil, because he was proving to be enjoyable company. That's all I can remember of that dream. (Would rather it not be interpreted...)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A weirder kind of Deja Vu

Recently I was typing an email to somebody about a really unpleasant situation I had run into last week. As I explained how I had been verbally attacked by a woman I barely know, I had a moment of deja vu in which I suddenly remembered that my friend Becka had experienced that same thing about a year go and had told me about it. In fact, I remembered her telling me that she had had to take the same steps I was taking to defend herself from this person's venom. She had emailed, just as I was... I could remember her enthusiasm as she told me, and when I tried to remember the specifics of her situation, I happened to look up at the TV and something seemed familiar about what it was showing, and then the feeling faded. Suddenly, it was as if none of that memory of Becka had happened. I tried to recapture the memory, but it was simply nonexistent. Nothing like that had happened to Becka, not that she had ever told me anyway. The entire "memory" had been a deja vu.

I was mystified. Deja vu normally makes present events seem like they have already taken place for you, not for somebody else.

Fast Food and the Breakdown in Communication

I just went through DQ for my favorite treat -- a Brownie Batter Blizzard. The girl came over the speaker and asked for my order.

I said, "I would like a Brownie Batter Blizzard, please."
She said something that I couldn't quite hear, but I figured she was asking what size, since I had forgotten to say.

"I would like a small one, please." I said.

"So, that's one medium and one small Brownie Batter Blizzard?" she asked.

"No, I'm sorry," I said, realizing that she had probably asked if I had wanted anything else. "I just want ONE, SMALL, Brownie Batter Blizzard."

She gave me my total and told me to pull to the second window. When I got to the second window, she said, "So that's one Medium Brownie Batter blizzard?"

I looked at her a second, then repeated in the exact same way I had just said it 15 seconds ago, "No, I would like one small Brownie Batter Blizzard."

She looked a tad distressed, and that's when I saw that the girl behind her was already filling a medium cup up with ice cream. I gave up. "I'll just take a medium, that's fine." I said. Apparently it was important to them that I eat a medium blizzard today. I really shouldn't let them down.

Then the girl at the window indicated to the girl filling up my blizzard, "She says you used to be her English teacher." I took a second look at my former student and greeted her.

Then the girl said, "She can't speak good English," to which I laughed good naturedly, and she shut the window overcome with giggles at having teased her friend. (I refrained from telling her that perhaps the problem was
she couldn't understand English.)

All was pleasant as I completed my transaction, and my blizzard was delicious. However, while I realize that we did have a miscommunication at first, I nevertheless feel that we are running out of options when it comes to communication these days. It used to be that we relied on the spoken word, but that seems to be failing us. Dairy Queen isn't the first -- nor will it be the last -- place to get my very simple order wrong. Whataburger just about grinds to a halt when I ask for a plain dry cheeseburger with jalapenos. They can't resist just dabbing a little mustard on it. They just can't fathom that I mean what I say. Or perhaps they aren't listening, or maybe they disagree with my choice of food and they have a better idea.

One of these days, we are just going to have to bring hand puppets along and act out a skit for the benefit of the fast food staff. One puppet will ask for a small blizzard, then the other puppet will try to prepare a
medium blizzard. Then the first puppet will pull out three different blizzard cup sizes and sing a song about small, medium, and large, until the other puppet understands and even sings the chorus himself. Once the staff can sing along, I will know they understand, and I'll get what I ordered.

That's what we are going to have to do eventually to get good service.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

As always, I must pay homage to a terrible day – two actually – even though they were somebody else’s terrible days.

Yesterday began a two-day nightmare for my cousin Matthew. He tried to board a plane to Israel only to discover that his passport, which was due to expire in less than six months, was not acceptable. The group he was flying with left without him. But let me back up about 6 hours…

Yesterday morning, Matthew was in his apartment on his phone, probably talking to his girlfriend and anticipating his drive to the airport. Suddenly, his front door opened and in walked a stranger, key in hand. They both stared at each other in shock. Turns out the property management company for Matt’s apartment had advertised that his side of the duplex was for rent and given the key to a hopeful client. After awkward explanations were exchanged, Matt drove to the property management place and administered a well-deserved lecture.

It was several hours later that Matt would find himself returning home with his luggage, his friends en route to Tel-Aviv. I had just returned home from taking my dad to the airport for the very flight Matt had just missed when I got a call from my brother Bryan. Bryan, who had been Matt’s ride home from the airport, was driving a borrowed truck. He had been unaware that this truck’s gas meter was broken, until it ran out of gas miles from their destination. Bryan and Matt were now sitting on the side of the road in 106 degree weather. Fortunately, they were only 25 minutes from me.

I rescued them with a gas can, and returned home. Meanwhile, it was determined that Matt would apply for an emergency passport in Houston today and hopefully catch a flight this evening. Getting very used to feeling useful, I offered to drive him. (He had done the same for us on our recent trip to the UK.)

We left my house at 4:30 this morning and arrived at the passport office sometime after 9:00. When it was Matt’s turn at the passport office window, he could barely get his request in before the lady proceeded to lecture him in the rudest manner I have ever witnessed from somebody in a professional setting. She literally rolled her eyes in disgust every time he tried to explain himself. “How long have you known about this trip, sir?...Six months! You had six months…!” And on she went until Matthew was stunned silent and I was ready to go through the window and throttle her, security guards be damned. Matthew is easily the most prepared person – next to my husband – that I know. Had he known that a passport due to expire in four months is considered already expired, had he not used the logic that comes so easily to him which told him that the expiration date is exactly that – an expiration date, he would have had his passport renewed. This lady knew nothing, yet she talked down to him in the most demeaning way. (Think Madea from “Madea’s Family Reunion” without the humor.) The only thing stopping me from telling her off was the fact that Matt was at her mercy.

When she walked away for a moment, I said to Matthew, who had turned very red, “Pray. Just pray. She is out of line.” Then I proceeded to do the same, but when I did, my anger increased until I had to stop and apologize to God for the turn my prayers had started to take.

The lady returned to inform Matt that had he been issued new tickets from Delta, she could have given him a passport today. But he hadn’t. Matt staggered. Delta had told him the very opposite – that he could not get new tickets until he got a new passport. In the end, she told him the soonest he could have his passport was tomorrow at 2:30. This Israel trip is to be 10 days only. Matt had now lost two of them. We were also going to have to find lodging.

We returned to the car where Matt made several calls, meeting with frustration at every turn: Delta said they needed to hear from Matt’s travel agency, but when he called the travel agency he only got the voicemail. He finally managed to reach his travel agent (who is currently in Jerusalem with the group) only to end up having to yell over the singing of a choir halfway through the conversation. It was so loud I could hear it. By now, he was literally shaking. Meanwhile, I sat next to him brainstorming ways to coerce Delta, who had failed to issue him tickets, into paying for our lodging, and to get the lady at the passport office fired. We both sat consumed with our plans until he finally reached Delta.

By the end of Matt’s incredibly long phone ordeal, he had learned that all Wednesday flights were booked and he would have to take a Thursday flight. Now he was missing three days of the trip, but he seemed calmer, because, frankly, I think he had run out of energy to care. I temporarily abandoned my plans for revenge and we went to find a place to eat.

We agreed it was essential that beer be part of our meal, so I searched for breweries in my GPS system. That started the next nightmare, as my GPS system led us in a maze only to end up at a closed brewery. I entered another brewery, and this time we were led through even more of a maze across the city. (We had driven in a similar fashion to find a Starbucks earlier in the morning, and never had found it.)

I finally said: “Watch us end up back at the passport office with the brewery right behind us.”

Matt replied: “That lady from the office will be standing there tapping her foot, saying ‘Not today. Just keep on drivin’.”

We both collapsed into laughter, and I felt my anger fading. By making this lady a caricature, Matt had extinguished my anger in a way prayer couldn’t. God can use anything, including humor, to set our hearts right again. We finally found an open brewery, but it took about as long to find a place to park.

We enjoyed a delicious meal and an I.P.A. beer. Matt talked to his girlfriend for a bit while I read my book, and we left feeling refreshed. We could now head home, as Matt had decided it would be more expensive to find lodging. The plan was (and still is): he will return tomorrow for his passport, and Thursday I will drive him to Austin for his flight.

Now we were in the parking garage, but could not find our car. We ended up looking on every floor (of which there were only four, fortunately) and found it at last. Surely, this was the last hurdle.

Of course it wasn’t. At some point, we realized we were almost out of gas; in fact, the needle had passed the last notch and was almost on the ‘E’ itself. I search for gas stations in my GPS and it showed that one was very close, just a straight shot down the road. However, when we turned the car to exit the parking lot we had pulled into temporarily, the GPS got confused and told us to take a turn. I should have said something – I noticed that the map still showed just a straight shot – but after a U-turn and a long drive to the next exit, we ended up literally feet from where we had been. It was like the fates were nothing but cruel. But at least we had made it. And I had to use the bathroom after the beer and then the Starbucks we had finally found.

I walked into the bathroom and thought there must be some mistake – we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the backside of hell. I have never seen such a horrific looking bathroom in my life. Even had it been clean it was an eyesore, with rust and mold and cracks and holes, the walls and floor protruding in places as if possessed. Somebody had attempted to flush the toilet at some point and not succeeded…and that’s all I will say about that. I made a concerted effort not to touch, look at or even think about anything in that bathroom, lest I become contaminated.

Once I made my escape, I hurried to the car and dug for my Purell. After slathering on, I rubbed some on the door handle and even on the things I had pulled from my purse to find the Purell. Just as I replaced it, Matthew got in the car. “That was the worst bathroom I’ve ever seen –“ I began.

“So was mine – I need the Purell!” He threw his hand out, looking straight ahead as if recovering from fresh trauma.

We briefly rued the bathroom’s condition, but there was little more to say, and we lapsed into wordless horror until we recovered.

Eventually, we were chatting and laughing again, but then Matt got on the phone with his girlfriend, allowing my mind to drift, and I ended up missing an exit. I got off the next exit and came to a fork in the road, during which time Matt, still on the phone, said, “Circle! Circle!”

“Circle” meant nothing to me, as I wasn’t sure which road made a circle. “Left” or “right” would have sufficed. I went left, and that’s when Matt got off the phone and made me get out of the driver’s seat.

But we made it, safely, and in the end that’s what counts. Matt goes back to Houston tomorrow, and flies out Thursday, so keep him in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Loch Ness Tour

So after years of imagining what it would be like to touch the murky waters of the great, long-necked Nessie, I finally made it to Loch Ness. This came close to the end of my UK tour in which I had already enjoyed the things I was most excited about and considered the rest of the trip more an indulgence of my husband Richie’s search for his Scottish roots. However, as we made our way across the dock into the boat, I reminded myself this had been a life-long dream. Perhaps I would have been more excited had I expected to see something, be it a mystical monster or an overgrown eel. But not only had I resigned myself to seeing nothing because sightings are so rare, I was now questioning whether or not there really is something to see.

Be that as it may, I stood on the deck and concentrated on the waters – not muddy and brown, like I had imagined after hearing of their murkiness for years, but a dark, lovely teal – soaking in every sight, smell, and sound to imprint them on my mind. As the boat began moving across the water, I suddenly thought how much like Galilee the lake looked, with similar surrounding hills. This realization further dampened my attempt at a mystical state of mind. It made Loch Ness just another lake, even less so when I considered that the presence of Christ on Galilee was a historical certainty – and Nessie just a possibility.

The boat took us only a very short distance before we started hearing something about castle ruins that we would be visiting. Oh - I looked to the right - there was a castle here? Of course. Surely I’d seen the pictures before. They had to present some other attraction, some…actual reason for being here. They made a big deal out of this castle called Urquhart, something about Jacobites and Robert the Bruce we had been hearing about all through Scotland. I began to feel extremely ignorant. Was I about to visit a historically significant sight of which I knew nothing? Had I really come all this way only to look for Nessie? Worse yet, did the tour guides know that many of us had come for just that? How they probably had a laugh every day, after presenting “mysterious” sonar readings on pictures they had taken with their cell phones – just as our guide had. I was glad I hadn’t been impressed. Again, the feeling that the Loch Ness phenomenon is based more on hype than anything substantial began nagging at me.

It suddenly seemed very important that I become acquainted with the Jacobites and Robert the Bruce (even though I’d looked him up twice this week and still wasn’t entirely sure). I couldn’t have come all this way for nothing.

But until we docked, I studied the waters closely, determined not to miss anything if, after thirty-five years of a few mostly explainable events, I was suddenly rewarded with something extraordinary. The waters were constantly waving, creating small, foamy white caps on the surface. Once in awhile a long, uniform wave would create a dark line, but nothing I could possibly have mistaken for a creature. No head, no neck, no silhouette, nothing. Urquhart Castle, which now seemed a large, gloomy symbol of my present academic deficiency, was drawing ominously near. Through the loud speaker, a voice had been presenting all kinds of information on the castle’s history, but I couldn’t hear well over the engine and the wind, and I don’t listen very well when there is no speaker in sight (OK - except to George Noory).

At last we docked and made our way up the many steps to the castle, parting with my mom who opted out of the castle tour to have coffee at the visitor’s center. The first part of the castle I chose to enter contained a prison. I ascended the stairs to a niche and peered through the bars of a cell where I was startled by a dummy prisoner. This reminded me of a Ghost Hunters episode in which Grant was stunned by the appearance of a ghostly face when he peered into a similar area. I reflected fondly on this very exciting episode a moment then retreated to the visitor’s center. I had finally resigned myself to the fact that the next half hour would not be adequate time for an education that would foster appreciation of this castle. I bought some souvenirs for friends before rejoining our tour group.

We were bused to Loch Ness museum, where we were herded from room to room to watch a video on the history of Nessie. The video began with the story of St. Columbia who ordered the beast to stop killing people and the beast complied. None of the proceeding stories offered the same delicious mixture of religious and crypto content to hold as much of my interest Moreover, too many pictures or sightings had proved to be hoaxes, seagulls, logs, deer, seals, or ducks. I found the theory of the sturgeon interesting, but very little was said on that.

In one room, we could not tell from which wall the video would be shown. When a picture finally appeared on one end of the room, we hustled to the other end. Then suddenly the video began behind us, and we hurried to the opposite end again. I think we all felt a little like herded cattle, and were exhausted.

I enjoyed the last couple video presentations because we were able to sit down, and my back hurt. When the final video was finished, we waited in momentary, awkward silence and then exited. By now we had only five minutes to inspect the gift shop before we needed to be on the bus. (“4:25!” our guide emphasized repeatedly.) But I couldn’t find the checkout counter. It seemed there were many pseudo-checkout counters – elevated floors with a counter that, once approached, would have no clerk and no register. After wandering stupidly around for several minutes, I finally asked somebody and was directed to a rather hidden stairway leading to a floor I would have never noticed. I felt like I had advanced to the new level of a video game.

Almost to the counter, I suddenly realized I had been shopping for everybody but me, and I still had no souvenir for myself. Spotting some pewter key chains, I snatched one that bore Nessie on one side and Urquhart castle on the other – a fitting memento for my experience. I was a little resentful that I didn’t have more time to carefully consider my purchase, but it was almost “4:25!”.

Our guide was late. We stood confused, in the heat on the parking lot for several minutes until the bus finally pulled up, full of new tourists. Our guide hadn’t told us he would be picking up a new group, and this revelation made curious his permission for us to leave on the bus any items which we hadn’t wished to carry. Slightly stressed, I made my way to my old seat to find two new occupants in it. Fortunately, the small shopping bag I had stuffed into the pocket of the preceding seat was still there.

“This is mine,” I said, as I snatched the bag up. My words were meant to be merely an explanation, but the occupant’s wide, apologetic eyes told me I had likely sounded three years old. I made my way with Richie and Mom to the very back of the bus, during which time a lady from the new group snapped at Richie to hurry up because she was hot. I was sorry I hadn’t heard the exchange, because I would have gladly helped her into the lake to cool off.

Once crammed in the back seats, peering at the heads of the new group I now resented, we were on our way. The guide, who had specifically been using mine, Richie’s, and my mom Barbara’s name since the beginning of the tour, was talking again. Of course, I wasn’t listening too closely, but suddenly I heard him say: “On the way to Urquhart Castle, Barbara from Indiana asked me, ‘Will there be anybody playing bagpipes at the castle?’ I told her no, because…”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because I was now staring agape at my mom. Had she truly asked such an asinine question?

She was just finishing applying her lipstick, and hastily whispered, “I didn’t ask that.”

“Did you ask him anything at all?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

We both sat back a moment to consider the guide’s ridiculous fabrication, and suddenly we were laughing. It was exactly the kind of laughter that would possess me as a child in church, complete with silent convulsing, tears and the hopeless inability to stop. Richie was annoyed, as he couldn’t concentrate on what the guide was saying with us falling apart right next to him. The idea of my mom – or anyone – asking such an air-headed question was too much. We attempted to stop laughing several times, but would lose it again, and continued this way until it was time to exit the bus. We never knew why the guide had chosen to make my mom look like an idiot, but it was the best entertainment of the day. If it wasn’t enough that we had harbored secret hopes of seeing Nessie, now we had a false reputation as stupid Americans who expected to hear live bagpipes being played at castle ruins.

Only my husband Richie, who is a far better listener than I, learned some things of educational value on our Loch Ness tour. He toured the entire castle and took pictures, reading all the plaques, and he listened intently to the guide – at least up until my mom and I disrupted things. In my defense, I have come away with a 700+ page biography on Mary, Queen of Scots. It might not help me with the Jacobites at Urquhart Castle, but at least I’ll be better able to appreciate Edinburgh Castle more the next time around. And the only way I would visit Loch Ness for the lake again is if I could descend it in a submarine and explore the life that does inhabit it. For now, I’ll just settle for the web cam view.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saw a Scottish Rat Yesterday

While walking up to Edinburgh Castle yesterday, I saw a little rat eating by the side of the road. I was delighted. I haven't seen a rat, specifically a wild one, forever. I watched it hold its food between its hands and munch with the concentration only a rat can. It seemed oblivious to us. I took the opportuniy to study its features to make sure it WAS a rat and I'm satisfied it was. (Rats and mice don't look alike to me anyway, but I was puzzled at its small size. It was the size of a domesticated teenage rat. Then again, my little boys were always chunkers even for adult rats.) I was just examining its long back feet when it must have finished its meal and suddenly shot away. I only caught glimpses of it afterward as it darted speedily through the tall weeds up the hill with another rat trailing it. It made my day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The customer isn't always right in Scotland

After many wonderful and meaningful experiences in my visit to the U.K., I have chosen to blog about something insignificant and irritating. I don't know why I do that. It's just more fun, I guess.

This is my first night in Scotland. Richie and Mom and I were hungry and found an Italian place to eat since the pubs weren't serving food anymore. The restaurant was advertised as having 2 famous Italian chefs, but I didn't recognize their names. We ordered pizza. When the server brought our pizza, he asked if there was anything else we needed. In a moment of rare selflessness, I remembered that Richie likes parmesan cheese on his pizza. (I myself only sprinkle crushed red peppers, if anything.) So I said, "Parmesan cheese." The server stared at me like I had sprouted gills, and Richie looked embarrassed and said quietly, "They don't do that." It was obvious I had committed some horrendous faux pas -- probably like asking for A1 on a gourmet steak or something.

Anyone that knows me will understand how I was feeling right then. I absolutely despise being made to feel like a fool. I was only trying to help my husband. But the server, after his gaze of disgust, returned with the cheese.

"This --" he began, sternly, pointing to my pizza, "Has melted cheese on it!" My humiliation was now turning to anger. "This is dry cheese!" he said, pointing to the parmesan. Then he launched into a lecture, completely ignoring my attempts to defend myself. My attempts consisted of pointing repeatedly at Richie and insisting it was for him and that I -- and here I would point to myself and shake my head -- did not put parmesan cheese on my pizza. He never heard me. He finished his lecture, set the cheese in front of me, then said, "But go ahead!" And walked off.

I was furious now. I wanted to empty the bowl of parmesan cheese over his head. My mom made me feel better by reminding me that I was a the customer and who was paying, me or him? I felt better. And deciding I did not like the man made me feel better too, somehow.

About 10 minutes later, Richie decided he was angry too, so he put a bunch of the parmesan cheese on his pizza. We could only hope the server noticed and was chagrined.

And that's the story of how I got yelled at by an Italian my first night in Scotland.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


These are pics of a couple storms from 2005. The first pic is of a tornado front that was passing directly overhead the neighborhood we lived at the time.

The last couple show a severe thunder storm that created a thick, vivid line across the length of the sky over town. It was the weirdest cloud formation I've ever seen, and the pictures don't do it justice. As the storm approached, the clouds split right at the line so that it looked like there were clouds on the bottom, clouds on top, and rain inbetween.

Disarming Cuteness

A couple months ago, I had to administer a test to a group of freshmen, most of whom were not my own students. Initially, I was dreading it. Earlier in the year, I had had this same group of kids for another standardized test and they had proven rowdy and rude. This second time, however, I saw a different side to them.

It started the afternoon when we were discussing what movie we should watch during the lag time that the other grade levels were taking their tests. Somebody mentioned The Aristocats, and within minutes, a very macho football player was hopping from one foot to another singing, "do mi so do do so mi do..." and a female student joined him. They walked around, oblivious to any attention, happily singing this tune. Anyone that sees this as perfectly natural behavior for freshmen hasn't observed high school freshmen in awhile, particularly these. Not only do many of them look much older, they are far too cool to be singing cutsey little songs. And I later learned that this particular football player, who looks like a junior at least, is more known for being cocky than for singing Disney tunes.

Mystified by their uncharacteristics childlikeness, I paid close attention to The Aristocats, and when the song came on I totally got it.

Since then, I have found myself singing the song, stopping short of hopping from one foot to another; there is something addictive about it. Kudos to the animators and musicians of this movie for breaking the tough exterior of a high school football player.

Incidentally, this sort of set the tone for the week, and I had such a great week with these kids that I didn't want to see them leave. Next time I have a bad class, I think I'll break out The Aristocats.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lucky last day of work

Today was the last workday of the school year. After work, Jamie, Karina and I headed to Applebees for a celebratory drink and I was telling them a couple cool things that had happened today in which two grading dilemmas worked themselves out in amazing ways. Jamie was remarking on how my life just seemed to work out in such ways, and I should really play the lottery. This suggestion was reinforced when the total for my bill came to 7.77. The girls insisted I go buy a lottery ticket immediately.

I never play the lottery and I had no idea how to go about it and asked Jamie to go with me. We burst into the store, giddy as two girls who are officially out of school (even though we are teachers) and who have high expectations of winning the lottery. I remarked that I had just missed a call from my dad, to which Jamie replied, "Don't tell him you are gambling." Little did she know how accurate she was -- my father is staunchly opposed to playing the lottery, or even playing games at the fair because he considers it gambling. (I just consider it a donation to the tax base.) "Oh, yeah," I agreed with Jamie, hitting the button to play dad's voicemail. Because my phone, for some ungodly reason, defaults voicemails to speaker phone, dad's voice suddenly blared out into the store, "Hey, sweetheart!" I hastily clicked off the speaker, and looked just in time to see a man chuckling with laughter. He had apparently been listening to us from the moment we walked in.

Anyway, Jamie helped me pick the ticket and told me I had to pick the numbers to keep the good "mojo." We have all three planned for years now that when one of us wins, we will retire the other two. Karina wants to open a bakery, Jamie wants to open a bar, and I want to be a writer, but I wouldn't mind owning a bookstore. One of our other colleagues recently speculated on how much money we could make by running a brothel which a good many students we know would willingly staff. With our four businesses combined, we could call it "Bakery, Books, Boobs and Beer." But one-stop shops tend to lack a specific ambience. And I would rather stay at home and write anyway.

So I told Jamie what a bad influence she was on me, bought my ticket, and returned to my truck to find the front driver window was down and won't come back up. I thought about this all the way home as the wind whipped my hair and roared annoyingly in my ears. Today was supposed to be about GOOD mojo. So why did my window break right when I bought a ticket? I brushed aside my misgivings and played the song Perfect Day by Hoku.

I probably won't win the lottery tomorrow, but today it was fun pretending I will. Either way, I have to get my window fixed. But if you think about it, it broke on my last day of work, so I have plenty of time to get it fixed. That's pretty lucky.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Island of Paradise

The Island of Paradise - chupacabra, UFO crash retrievals, and accelerated evolution on the island of Puerto Rico
Island of Paradise is a story of a cryptozoological investigation built into an odd but cohesive web of history, politics, and biographical reminiscences.

Jon Downes and Nick Redfern travel to Puerto Rico to make a documentary investigating claims of livestock killed by the legendary Chupacabra. Jon's admitted ulterior motive is, however, to find a snail specimen that he had encountered in a cave on his first trip to the island several years before. Between interviews of people with bizarre stories of alleged Chupacabra mischief, Jon doggedly explores the natural world around him, and does succeed in finding his snails. He also surmises that two aquatic anomalies, which he discovered on his previous trip, are living evidence of rapid evolution due to toxins from a long-ago UFO crash -- which he is convinced is not alien in origin. It isn't until Jon returns home to England that he reaches a conclusion regarding the alleged Chupacabra. Despite the largely paranormal reputation of the Chupacabra, Jon's theory is scientifically sound.

What could be a bland topic for the less scientifically minded is spiced with a lay-friendly narration of intriguing Puerto Rican natives, hearty drink, lots o' food, and poignant flashbacks to a childhood that explain the naturalist Jon is today.
The dark conspiracy theories involving the U.S. military, accompanied by Jon's controversial political persuasions, are tempered by disarming revelations which allow us glimpses into his own human imperfections. All in all, he has a startling ability to disappear into a labyrinth of narrative strands and emerge with each loose end neatly tied. All in all, a delightful read.

Readers of Nick Redfern will also enjoy post-chapter commentary by Nick himself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Power of Literature

As a youth, I not only read the literature I was assigned in my English classes, I was often deeply moved by it. I remember being riveted to Where the Red Fern Grows in 6th grade, moved to write poetry about Pip and Estella during Great Expectations in 9th grade, and secretly crying over Hester Prynne and Rev. Dimmesdale at the end of The Scarlet Letter in 11th grade. (OK, I was kind of a nerd, but only in my English classes; I was quite the slacker in most other classes -- until college.)

But of all our assigned readings, it was the novel Of Mice and Men that impacted me into my adulthood. Being an animal lover, I was terribly upset when Candy's dog was shot. And when Candy later said to George that he should have shot his dog himself, I remember trying to understand why he said that. I am not sure why the meaning evaded me; After all, I was, in my humble opinion, reasonably intelligent, but I knew I wasn't fully getting it somehow. Perhaps it was because it had never occurred to my young mind that sometimes one had to perform unpleasant tasks out of kindness. After all, I lived a lifestyle in which other people performed unpleasant tasks: if an animal needed put down, you took it to the vet. And I had never had to make a hard decision along those lines.

Instead of asking my teacher or anyone else for an explanation, I contemplated Candy's statement for a long time. I honestly can't remember if I reached a better understanding once we reached the end of the book and the situation was parallelled when George shot Lennie (I hope I did), but as I grew older, I remember the meaning of the phrase becoming clearer and clearer to me. Of course I understood that it was better to die by the hand of a kind friend than an uncaring stranger, but besides that, I decided that as a pet owner (which is as close as I'll ever come to being a parent), I had a responsibility to be with my pet until the very end. Candy's words imprinted their truth on my heart and mind long before I would experience that truth myself.

But I finally did have to experience it when my first rat Horace came down with cancer. Horace was not only my first rat, but the first pet I would feel extremely close to, as anyone familiar with pet rats can understand. He sought my company so eagerly every day (despite having three cagemates) that whenever I happened to move within a couple feet of my bed -- on which I had a playground set up daily for roaming time -- Horace would leap through the air onto my back and scramble on up to my shoulder, where he would have peferred to ride all day if he could. I would answer the door to delivery men etc. with Horace perched happily atop my shoulder. We were as attached as any pet and owner could be. The day I realized I had done all I could do and was going to have to put him down, my convictions, thanks to Steinbeck, had long been set that I would see it through to the end.

I had been warned by my vet tech. that the vet usually didn't allow the owner present when putting down a rodent. They would sedate the animal first (through a mask), then plunge a needle into its heart to stop it. Sometimes blood would shoot high into the air and this would traumatize the owner. I walked into the vet prepared to put up a fight. I didn't care of I got splattered with blood -- Horace would have me by his side to the last. The vet, however, after a year of watching me withstand other graphic procedures (draining abcesses, cleaning them myself, giving shots, etc.) knew I was not fainthearted. So I was allowed into the back room, and I fixed my eyes on my darling little Horace. I watched everything, I watched the needle go in and I watched the last little beat of his heart. I could not allow myself to do any less for him, short of doing the procedure myself.

I was heartbroken. I am not a morbid person. In fact, I have such an aversion to emotional pain that I no longer have rats. Five years of loving and losing these most amazing creatures took its toll one my animal-loving heart. But I was able to withstand the death of my Horace because of the conviction that one line of literature had placed in my impressionable mind so many years ago.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Miraculous Healing

A friend of mine named Melodie (formerly "Aunt Melodie" when married to my uncle) was diagnosed with cancer many years ago. After much (and by much I would estimate hundreds of people) prayer, she was healed. I can't remember if she went into remission after treatments or if it was more miraculous, but her cancer left, by the grace of God. A minister in our (at that time) network of churches prayed specifically for God to let her live to raise her children. Now, most people would find it odd that he didn't just pray for complete healing and a normal life span, but he didn't feel that God wanted him to. I guess he felt God had other plans, plans to take her early or something, I don't know. Anyway, that was about 18 years ago. Last year (just as Melodie's youngest became a senior in high school), Melodie was diagnosed with stage four cancer -- the worst kind. She was to undergo chemo until they could get her to a point where she could have a bone marrow transplant. The doctors didn't expect her to have more than five years after the transplant.

Again, tons of prayer has been going up for her. I took the request to my fellow OSL members and told them about that one minister's prayer. I told it ruefully, not meaning that he was a bad person for not praying differently, but just that it was unfortunate that so specific a request was coming to pass. One of the ladies prayed against the "curse" that had been placed on Melodie. I felt uncomfortable hearing her call it that. After all, she never knew this particular minister or his walk with God or his good heart. He had sincerely prayed as he had felt led. But I kept quiet and agreed in prayer with her, knowing she too was praying sincerely for Melodie'a healing.

Today I received an email that after the first round of chemo, Melodie's stage four cancer is gone. Completely gone. The doctor's are stunned.

I just can't add any more words to this. I'm so happy for Melodie. I know it was the power of the combined prayers for her. I know there is no formula for praying a miracle. I don't understand why some people are healed and others aren't, or any of those big questions we can't answer, but I'm so excited for her. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. Ps. 40:5

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I have a new idol

Her name is Robyn Rhudy and she knows everything about almost everything that I have a passion for -- animals, with emphasis on fish, with a special love for the Plecostomus. I stumbled across her page when searching for info. on Plecos and found that she is very much to fish what Nat Baldwin is to rats. And to top it all off, she is (like Nat) a hell of a writer - at least in the 'how to' genre. For somebody that is trying to convey what would otherwise be dry information, she weaves in subtle humor in short, simple sentences of superfluous but amusing tidbits. (ie. After arranging her live rock, she says, "There is some coralline algae and some green fuzzy algae too. A long brown worm (looked like a freshwater blackworm) came out and flailed around, and then I think it died.") I'm referring to the content on her web site, but she also has a book on fish pond care I intend to order.

She is several things I wish I were, including a scientist, an expert in fish care, and an entertaining writer. I don't think I am capable of becoming the first (I can always pretend, just like I pretend I am a cop by wearing an NYPD shirt around the house), I hope to someday become the second, and I strive daily to be the third. We are both sci-fi fans, though. (We could totally be best friends.)

So here is her web site, for anyone else interested in the care of fish and some other animals. She has great pics of her tanks as well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Green Spider

I found this spider on my back porch and cannot figure out what it is. Does anyone know?

Friday, May 15, 2009

A snake that plays dead

These are pictures of a snake that explored my backyard for a good while this afternoon. As you can see, the Mocking Bird wasn't too happy. When the bird tried to frighten the snake off, the snake flattened his head and neck. I did some research, and concluded that this is a Western Hognose snake. Hognose snakes eat mostly toads and frogs, but will eat some birds and other small mammals. This snake is easily identifiable by its upturned snout, stout body, and ability to flatten its neck and head, much like a cobra. It is non-venomous, however, and if its flattening and hissing doesn't frighten you away,it will roll over and play dead. If you try to turn it upright, it will roll back over and attempt to fool you again -- ridiculous and endearing, if you ask me. Here is a video of one playing dead.

Pardon the quality of the pics with the bird -- I took them in a hurry through the screen.

[update: I have been informed by Jon Downes, director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, that this snake isn't entirely harmless. Here is what he says: "Members of this genus have enlarged maxillary teeth and possess a slightly toxic saliva. In a few cases involving bites from this species, the symptoms reported have ranged from none at all to mild tingling, swelling and numbness. Nevertheless, they are generally considered to be harmless."]

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Richie and I went to interview another witness to a UFO sighting today. He wanted us to meet him at a Vietnamese restaurant. Our witness, whom I will call Mr. G, was eating when we arrived, but we just wanted drinks for now. I ordered water and coffee.

"Iced coffee or hot?" The server asked. Iced coffee? I thought. Gross. Wasn't it obvious I was a sophisticated coffee drinker who didn't need to mask the flavor by turning it into a milk shake, for heaven's sake?

"Hot." I said politely.

We made some small talk with Mr. G, discussing music and other interests, before getting down to business. In the meantime, the server returned with my coffee. She set before me a tall glass with what appeared to be an inch of cream at the bottom. There was also a spoon and a straw, and on the very top of the class perched an espresso-sized silver pot with a spout. Very dark coffee was slowly dripping from the bottom of the pot into my glass, mixing with the cream at the bottom. I watched it for a moment in uncertainty, then tentatively lifted the lid of the pot and peered in. It was still half full of coffee.

Mr. G, who was watching me, began laughing. I looked up self-consciously. "I'm not sure what to do." I said. I replaced the lid, assuming I should wait for the coffee to finish dripping into my glass.

However, it was taking a very long time, and even had I let it completely empty into my glass, it would have been only the most miniscule amount of coffee. I became increasingly confused when I noticed that the server had also placed a tall, lidded, plastic travel mug next to the glass of cream. I picked it up. It was hot. What was in here, I wondered. Maybe the server hadn't left it after all; maybe it had been left by a customer. I inspected the edge for signs of lipstick, then, with difficulty, tried to pry the lid off. Mr. G. began laughing again. At last the lid gave, and I discovered the travel mug contained hot water.

Now I looked from the mug of hot water to the glass of cream with coffee slowly dripping from the silver pot. I was bewildered and couldn't wait any longer. I signaled the server. "What do I do?" I asked, pointing to the glass and mug.

She regarded the glass with a slight smile. "You mix the coffee with the cream, and then you put ice in it. It's better with ice."

Better with ice? What was with this woman and iced coffee? Fine, I gave up and agreed to the ice, which she brought with delight. That still didn't answer the question of what to do with the mug of water, but I wasn't going to ask yet a second question in this ridiculously complicated ordeal. I let the coffee drip a little longer, then removed the siliver pot, and set it on top of the mug of water so it would drip the remaining coffee into there without making a mess. Then I mixed the coffee in my glass into the cream at the bottom, and found the cream was extremly thick, like sweetened condensed milk. It made a luscious looking rich brown color, and I sipped some through the straw. Oh wow. It was sweet, but it was delicious. I had Richie taste some. Mr. G. was watching all this go down, I have no doubt, with almost as much interest as he had watched the UFO last week.

Before pouring the ice in, I realized I would need water to fill the glass up, and that is when the tall travel mug made sense. So I removed the dripping silver pot from the travel mug long enough to pour in some water (which now contained some coffee), then I added ice. It made a wonderful, sweet cool drink.

And that was my first experience with Vietnamese iced coffee. Apparently, Mr. G. goes there all the time and likes the coffee. I can't imagine why he didn't offer to help me out...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

House Guests

These two birds have chosen the rafter of our porch to sleep on every night. I don't know what kind of birds they are, or why they don't have a nest somewhere, but it is the most wonderful feeling to contribute to the shelter of this precious couple.

[update] I'm pretty sure these birds are Cave Swallows.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sphinx Moth

A little bit ago I spotted this intriguing little creature that I mistook at first for a humming bird. It flew like a humming bird, but upon closer examination, it appeared to be an insect. I did an online search and found it is a sphinx moth. I have never seen one before, to my recollection. My pics aren't that great, but when I went out to get more, the moth was gone. The most interesting thing I read about it is that its metamorphosis from a caterpillar occurs underground and it must dig its way to to the surface!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

First Ghost Hunt

Richie and I got a group together last night to investigate a famously haunted bridge about 30 miles away. It's called the Maxdale Bridge -- on a small road now closed to traffic -- and just beyond it is an allegedly haunted cemetery.

We took five friends -- Christopher and Carrie, Chris and Jessica, and my cousin Matthew. We also took a thermos of coffee, a video camera, and a voice recorder to pick up any EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomenon -- basically ghost voices below audible hearing). Chris, who is a fire-fighter tried to borrow a thermal imaging camera from the fire dept. but they just laughed at him.

We arrived just as the sun was setting, and apparently angered the resident of the only house in the area, because he started shooting off his shotgun randomly. We have heard that the people in the area are tired of ghost seekers coming to the bridge, particularly those juvenile delinquents who like to deface the headstones of those residents' ancestors. Of course, we would never do such a thing. We wouldn't even enter the cemetery because it is posted that nobody is allowed after sunset and will be fined 500 dollars. We discussed sending one person in at a time so that if anyone got caught we could split the fine among us, but we never followed through.

The shot-gun guy finally gave up and went inside. We wondered if he welcomed everyone like that. Two other cars were there when we arrived, and two more would come and go. Apparently, we had chosen a popular night to investigate, as it was a full moon.

Just as the sun set, and right before we were going to actually start our walk across the bridge with our voice recorder and cameras, a cop showed up and told us to leave. Fortunately, the father of Chris and Carrie (brother and sister) is a cop too, and Chris casually mentioned his dad's name to this cop. After that, the cop gave us permission to at least walk across the bridge, then he left as we began doing so -- which we took as permission to stay.

We made several walks across the bridge as we held out the voice recorder. Carrie, easily the life of any party, was brimming with excitement. If we were not going to see anything, she still just wanted to let out a blood curdling scream once, she said, because it would just be funny. I hoped she would not.

On one of these fairly uneventful walks across the bridge, I did feel something hit my leg that was too heavy to be a bug, but so tiny it could have been the tip of a pencil. I never did know what the source was, so it remains unexplained. Christopher tripped over a non-existent something or other that he felt right at his ankle. There was nothing there that it could have been. So that remains unexplained as well. At one point, I saw Carrie stop to peer at something on the bridge, and I walked up to see what she was looking at. Just as I started to bend down and look with her, she stood up and saw me right in front of her. When she had bent over, I had been a ways off, and as she hadn't heard me approach, she shrieked and went into an amusing dance of jitters. Other than that, no excitement.

However, on one of our last walks - this one with just Carrie, her brother Chris, his wife Jessica, and myself - Chris and Carrie suddenly stopped and pointed out some white thing in the distance. They were seeing something far out in the river bank right where the river bend began. According to them, this thing was "pacing" back and forth next to a large pale rock. I could see the large pale rock, but not the white thing moving near it. We stood there for a long time, and both of them would say, almost in unison, "There it is again!" They would ask if Jessica and I saw it. They would identify its exact position: "It's moving toward the rock! Ok, now it's moving away! Do you see it?" Alas, we didn't see it. I tried so hard to see it that my eyes would blur over until I couldn't see anything. Chris and Carrie would re-position us somewhere alongside the bridge and then point to try to get us to see it. I couldn't. I was so disappointed. I took comfort only in the fact that Jessica couldn't see it either. This thing moved so obviously, then would disappear, and their descriptions of it only frustrated us more.

Then Carrie took the opportunity to let out the meaningless, bloodcurdling scream that she had been suppressing all evening, and I immediately took off running across the bridge. I realized almost instantly her scream had been a joke, but loud noises always make me run. I ran until my fear subsided, then I turned back around. Carrie was almost rolling with laughter. Jessica and I were not amused.

Finally, we called the rest of the party over, and they all saw the white thing as well. They didn't see it with the frequency Chris and Carrie did, but they saw it a couple times. And then, to my dismay, Jessica saw it too, at least once. "I still don't see it, and I have nobody left who hasn't seen it." I said sadly. Nobody saw the thing as clearly as Chris and Carrie, but everyone (but me) saw something at some point, and they always agreed on where it was at the moment and in which direction it was moving. At one point, Richie took out a powerful flashlight that reached just far enough to slightly illuminate the playground of the white thing, and then Carrie said, "There it is! Where the light is!" And I STILL couldn't see it. They finally gave up and we moved on. My only comfort is that I am not susceptible to hallucinations based on suggestion.

Before we left, we decided to shine our headlights on the bridge for 10 seconds, then turn them out. The legend goes that if you do this, you will see the apparition of a man that hung himself. I personally didn't want to see such a sorrowful apparition. I would rather see a happy cowboy riding leisurely on a horse across the bridge, or fishing down by the river. But anyway, we tried the headlight trick several times, to no avail. As the group stood watching the tree and commenting on how they saw nothing, I sarcastically said, "Well, I see it!" This drew much laughter, which was the most I could hope for, on this very uneventful investigation.

After that, we drove to the cemetery where we stood respectfully by the fence and saw nothing there also. On my way up the incline to the cemetery fence, I almost fell in a ditch. Chris did fall in. We made sure to laugh hard about everything, by that point; otherwise, it would have been a complete nonevent. A few minutes later, we saw the approach of two cars, which sent some of us into a panic, even though we weren't technically doing anything wrong. Chris took off running to hide somewhere, and I hurried after him, planning to hide as well. But there was nowhere to hide, and we ended up running in aimless zigzags until we finally just stopped.

The only other amusing thing was that we came up with a name for our paranormal investigation group. Modeled after "The Atlantic Paranormal Society, better known as TAPS, Richie said we were the Texas Paranormal Society, which we realized is TPS. To pronounce that properly, you cannot use your vocal chords, and it sounds ridiculous. So we enjoyed using it as often as we could throughout the evening. While this was amusing enough to us, it is made less amusing by the fact that there really is a TPS, as well as a CTPS (Central Texas Paranormal Society) and a few others, which isn't surprising, but... well, it was fun last night.

After our investigation, we decided to go to the soccer field in Harker Heights, allegedly haunted by a Camanche Indian. But we didn't know where the field was, so we went home.

We still have some video to watch and a couple hours of voice recorder to listen to. Carrie said there will probably be an EVP saying, "Naomi can't see meeee." But that won't matter because I probably won't be able to hear it.