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