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Accidental Nightmare Fuel

21 Jul

Today I’m going to talk about movies that traumatized me as a child. And I don’t mean horror movies either. My folks were pretty strict about what we were allowed to watch, so this isn’t going to be about a little kid that watches The Thing.  But thanks for the inspiration, Caulle!

No, this is a post about movies that were intended to be funny/appropriate for childhood viewing but wound up becoming accidental nightmare fuel for me (warning: that is a TV Tropes link. I cannot be responsible for your lost productivity if you fall into the TV Tropes wormhole.)

1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

An 80s classic, everyone I grew up with saw this movie. I couldn’t wait to see it. It was supposed to be cute and funny and inspiring.

It scared the crap out of me. I have since discovered that people seem to either love this movie or despise it. I remain in the ‘despise’ camp though I will admit some of the scenes are cute or funny or touching.

So what was so scary? How about mysterious grown-ups with authority marching in wearing big puffy de-humanizing suits and throwing Elliot and E.T. into a quarantine tent? I was taught to respect people with authority. So here was this kid, who did nothing wrong, and suddenly a swarm of government dudes appear at his house and basically kidnap him and his alien friend and throw them into a scary hospital tent.

Ho-leeeee shit.

And then? Whatever they do in there KILLS the alien. He DIES. Meanwhile the kid and the alien are hooked up to tubes and wires and medical equipment, there are a bunch of doctors standing around in faceshields doing CPR. Poor E.T. goes all white and chalky and looks even creepier. This is a children’s movie? Are you kidding me?

I can’t find the “lots of scary dudes are kidnapping us” scene on YouTube, but here’s the one where E.T. is dying and Elliot is losing his ever-loving mind:

2. Young Frankenstein

This one was an accident. I wasn’t supposed to be watching Young Frankenstein as a tiny tot. My parents put us to bed, turned out all the lights in the house, and put on a movie they enjoyed. I was around four or five years old. Occasionally I would wake up in the middle of the night and seek out my parents. I was a very quiet child, I frequently startled my parents by seemingly appearing from the ether and just hovering nearby, waiting for them to notice me. I didn’t want to bother them, you see. So sometimes I’d wake up and creep downstairs, but if they were watching tv I didn’t want to interrupt them so I’d just sit on the little staircase that led down to the living room and hope one of them would get up and find me on the way to the kitchen.  I could see the tv from the steps too, so I’d watch in silence.

And so I have a very vivid memory of sitting on those steps in the dark, watching the flickering tv. I didn’t know what they were watching. It was in black and white. And then, this happened:

Igor didn’t scare me. The lightning didn’t scare me. It was the smashed brain. I was so freaked out that I got up and went right back to bed and lay there, terrified, in the dark. Years and years later my folks decided we were old enough to watch Young Frankenstein and I had an “Aha!” moment.

“Why didn’t you tell us? Why didn’t you come down the steps?” my mom asked, horrified. I still don’t know the answer to that question.

3. The Princess Bride

This one is all the fault of the Ray boys down the street. In my family there were three girls, in that family were three boys of almost the exact same ages. We’d go down the block and play together often. Occasionally we’d go there after school if my mom had an appointment. Which is how I wound up watching The Princess Bride before I was quite ready. I think I was seven or eight?

Danny insisted it was a funny movie. I wasn’t convinced. I tried to ignore it and read or do my homework or something, but their tv was the focal point of the room.

There were two parts of the movie that terrified me and actually gave me nightmares. Although I enjoy the movie for its many merits as an adult, I still think both of these scenes are creepy.

Fire Swamp! Let’s see, we’ve got giant gouts of flame that burst out of the ground randomly. We’ve got huge, creepy Rodents of Unusual Size (I don’t believe they exist). And then, the cherry on top? Quicksand. Which very nearly kills our dynamic duo, as evidenced by them desperately gasping for breath when Wesley pulls them out. TOTALLY FUN MOVIE FOR KIDS, AMIRITE?

You saw this one coming, right? Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick. A machine that sucks the life out of you, that attaches to your head and your nipples (?!) A machine that is so painful it makes a strong pirate-man writhe and arch off the table and then weep like a baby. And that’s on the lowest setting. I had actual nightmares about this thing for years. Between this and the E.T. hospital scene I had a weird fascination with medical equipment and death and being injured.

I watched The Princess Bride last week and the machine still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

So those are my inadvertently traumatizing movie clips from childhood. What are yours? What seemingly innocuous show or movie became nightmare fuel for you?


Friendship Gardens

10 Jun

Harsh Truth

I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot lately. In the past year several of my local friends have moved on. Moved on to new cities, new opportunities, new jobs. In each case it was for a good reason, a hopeful reason. I’m having a hard time with the loss of each of them. I found this image and it seemed to encapsulate the entire experience. I dislike change in general, but losing friends is a particularly deep wound for me.

On top of that, the post “Regrets of the Dying” went viral last week. In it, a palliative (end of life care) nurse discusses the 5 most common themes the dying mentioned when discussing regrets.  The fourth one she lists?

“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Friends are a tricky thing for me.  My common pattern is to have exactly two close friends at any given time. When one leaves a new one rotates into their place. This doesn’t take into account the awesome long-distance friendships* that I have simultaneously. The reason is entirely about accessibility and familiarity. My close friends know all my pet peeves about work, they know that I just got a haircut, that my allergies have been bothering me since Tuesday etc. I share a lot on Facebook and Twitter, but not all those little things.

I think that part of the reason I only ever have two close friends at a time is that it takes me a long time to build up a trust reservoir with someone. I have never been one to trust easily. I play my cards close to my chest. Anything that really matters to me, the big stuff, the deep stuff: I keep it all to myself. As I get to know someone better, I’ll dole out little snippets. If they react appropriately I’m more likely to share more in the future. Friendships are like gardens. You plant a little piece of yourself. If the other person nourishes it, it grows. If they continue to spend time on it, it grows larger and more encompassing.  It takes me at least a year to trust someone to the point where I would feel comfortable telling them anything. (Well, almost anything.) And in the last few years I’ve slowly started to cultivate new friendships. They get to the point where they are just starting to bloom and then-

-the gardener has to leave. The garden withers and dries up. Maybe a tiny patch of it is kept alive through email and Facebook posts, but it is just a fraction of what it once was. A glimpse of what it could have been.

I have been going through this same pattern for decades. I haven’t had anyone violate that trust in a long time. No one has come along recently and stomped on the flowers and salted the earth. And yet that is always my fear. I let my fear get in the way of developing that bond faster. I take things slow. Ration out my pieces of myself carefully: don’t dump a whole handful in there at once!

Inevitably friends have to leave. For some reason or another, people leave. Then I find myself with a handful of good memories and a pile of regrets. Why didn’t we hang out more? Why did I skip going to lunch with them? Why didn’t I ever invite them over for a silly movie night? I thought they’d be here forever!

This pattern isn’t working for me. I need to step outside my comfort zone and open up more. Come out of my introverted shell a little more. Even though staying home and watching tv is easier and sometimes it’s what I really want? Down the road I never say to myself: Gee, I wish I hadn’t spent all that time with my friends. I should have been watching tv!”

I’m making a pledge to myself to start really tending those friendship gardens. More of my time and energy. Instead of spending my evenings dicking around on Tumblr and Twitter I should be making plans to hang out with people. Not every night, but at least a few times a month. Even I can handle that. On top of that, it’s time to start sharing more of the Real Me that I keep hidden.

I expend a lot of energy trying to be “normal”. To not cry or panic or overreact to things that bother me. It takes a lot of mental energy to keep a smile on my face, or even a neutral look on my face, when things are bothering me. I keep these masks on even around my friends, people I’m supposed to trust and confide in.

We saw X-Men: First Class this weekend. Skip to 0:39-055, the scene with Mystique and Magneto. Yes, it’s relevant. Oh fine, I quote it underneath.

“If you’re using half your concentration to look normal, then you’re only half-paying attention to whatever else you’re doing.”

This scene hit me really hard. I spend a lot of time being frustrated that I have no energy, frustrated that my motivation is gone, when I’m expending a good chunk of it on keeping up appearances. Again, I could write an entire post about Being Yourself (which was regret #1 on that list from before) but that is not for today.

I don’t want to have these same regrets on my deathbed. I have plenty of time to make these big changes that I want to make in myself. But I have to make a commitment to them and then work at it.

Do you make a conscious effort to maintain your friendships? Or do you have a green thumb for friendship gardens? Is it easy for you to bare your soul to a new friend? Or does it feel like pulling teeth?

*Those are an entirely different thing, at least in my mind, so I’ll just put a pin in that for now and maybe write a post about it later. Friends in this bucket include: friends from high school, college and grad school that are now far away, friends that I ‘met’ on the internet and later met in person, my awesome WoW community, my Twitter friends, the other Divas etc.

Adopting Shelter Animals: Myth Busting

1 Jun

Previously on Divas, we established that I’m passionate about animal rescue. Today I’m going to talk about why shelters and rescues have some of the policies they do. I’m using ‘shelter ‘ as a catch-all term for any place that has adoptable companion animals: the pound, the Humane Society, the local SPCA, or a private rescue group.

Please keep in mind that every shelter is different. My SPCA may be more or less strict than yours. The local county or city pound is probably less strict. Breed specific rescues and no-kill-shelters are typically the most strict. It is VERY hard to generalize about this, but I am going to try. (Also, the plural of anecdotes is not data. )

Why are they so picky? My house is better than the shelter!

Here are some stories that I personally saw written on surrender paperwork or overheard at my shelter. I’ve been volunteering there for about 4 years, for a few hours a month. The staff have so many stories this entire entry could be horror stories. These people are the assholes that ruin it for everyone.

1. She doesn’t match my new couch. This was the most selfish, bullshit surrender excuse I have ever heard. The pet was a longhair female calico cat.  Very sweet cat, no behavior issues. Nine years old. The former owner got a new white couch. Orange and black cat hair was getting on it. She surrendered her companion of nine years for a couch.

2. This cat attacked my daughter’s feet. I knew this cat before she was adopted. I wasn’t there for the adoption but I was in the lobby when he returned her. The cat was absolutely sweet and approved for homes with children. Did the cat go batshit crazy? No. Attack without warning? No. His daughter was in bed, with her feet under the sheet. The cat saw them move and pounced on them. You know, like cats do when they are playing! “Did it draw blood?” the staff asked him, concerned. “No. No blood, didn’t break the skin. But I can’t have a vicious animal around my daughter.”

3. She doesn’t get along with my new puppy. Yep. Perfectly nice shepherd-mix. Eight years old vs cute adorable new puppy. Don’t bother introducing them to each other first or expending any effort on training or anything. Just dump the ‘used’ model at the shelter and enjoy your puppy. Adopting an animal is just like leasing a car! Who knew?

4And on the potential adopter side: “Do ya’ll have any mean dogs? I wanna get one that will fight.” No, I’m not kidding. Some people are this stupid and will be this flat-out honest about the terrible things they plan to do with an animal. Sending a dog home with this guy? Definitely worse than leaving him at the shelter. At the shelter the dog might be a little bored, a little stir-crazy. But he’s not going to be forced to fight with another dog, incurring injuries or beatings.

Why so much paperwork for an ‘unwanted’ animal? Why do you ask so many questions?

If we just wanted to get rid of them, there would be no paperwork. We would just dump them into a box with a sign that said: “Free Animals!”

What we do want is to re-home the animals. The common phrase is ‘forever home’. We want people who are responsible, have the means to take care of an animal, and understand animals. No animal deserves to go home with an abusive owner, or bounce from ignorant owner to ignorant owner.

1) We ask if you’ve ever given up/surrendered an animal because this tends to become a habit.

Now, rehoming with a good friend/family member is not the same as surrendering at the shelter which is not the same as dumping an animal on the street. However, there are plenty of people out there who have never surrendered or re-homed a pet, regardless of any behavior issues the animal may have had or personal/life issues that the owner had. That said, a history of surrendering isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but you’d better be able to explain yourself in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a total dickbag.

2) We want to know  the size of your your residence and yard/ animal habitat

People adopt large dogs into tiny apartments and don’t walk them or exercise them in any way. They adopt rabbits and jam them into cages so small they can barely turn around. They have eight cats and one littler box.  Now, you may be committed to jogging daily with your new Labrador even though you live in tiny studio apartment. Many people are not this committed when push comes to shove. My rabbit rescue absolutely will not adopt a rabbit to you if you plan to house it outdoors, even if you’ve successfully housed rabbits there before.  This is one of those ‘bad apples spoil it for everyone’ things. Some shelters will not budge on space/habitat requirements. Some will bend a little if you seem committed and otherwise a good fit for the animal. If you have concerns about the size of your living space, ask about this first!

3) We want every family member present, if possible, to meet the animal. That may mean waiting until the next day for everyone to be present.

If you bring this animal home and your wife or son cannot stand it, who are you going to give up? Your wife? Or the dog? What if the dog loves your entire family except your oldest son, whom it growls at? Some of these issues can be resolved with training, but it may tarnish the “Yay! New pet!” vibe. The rabbit rescue recently adopted to a middle-aged woman who was a prior rabbit owner and seemed responsible and caring. The rabbit was returned the next day because her husband wasn’t on board with the idea of a new pet.

4) We prefer animals to live indoors, with the family. Even cats and rabbits.

Strictly indoor cats live longer than cats that are indoor/outdoor or outdoor only. Dogs are much happier living in the home as a family member. Dogs left outside can get lonely and bark incessantly. Then they get returned because the neighbor is complaining. Doggy-doors are an acceptable solution, provided you have a secure yard that the dog can’t escape from. Dogs typically don’t wander as far as indoor/outdoor cats do. Rabbits are prone to several illnesses that are transmitted by mites and mosquitoes. In addition, they are very sensitive to heat as well as temperature fluctuations.

Being indoors with the family means more time spent with their humans. This typically means a more relaxed and content pet.

Why won’t you adopt to families with small children?
I don’t mean that we won’t adopt to families with children. What I mean is that many shelter animals are rated as appropriate for ages 8+, 10+, 12+. This is the biggest complaint at the shelter where I volunteer. Very few animals, especially dogs, are rated as “all ages”. Conversely, kittens are nearly always rated for “all ages”. There are a few reasons.

1) The animal is too shy or too nervous.

Kids will want to play with their new pet. They are excited! Pets are cute and fuzzy and funny to watch. An animal that is shy or nervous, or an animal who is startled by loud noises etc. is going to be miserable in a house with young (under 10) children. They will hide,  cower, growl or snap, possibly even bite or scratch. Then they wind up back at the shelter again.

2) The animal is too active, jumpy, or rambunctious while playing.

This is more common with dogs than cats. The jumpy 75-pound yellow lab WILL knock over your three-year old. This is not out of malice, but out of having a high level of energy and not enough training. This is most common in younger dogs. Jumping can be corrected but it takes time. Baseline energy level is harder to alter or redirect. Your kids will want to play with their new pet. The new pet will run into them, knock them over in exhuberence, accidentally chomp some fingers instead of the ball your child is holding. If your child gets hurt, you aren’t getting rid of the child, you’re going to get rid of the dog.

3) The animal is too possessive.

Again, more dogs than cats. Some dogs are very food and toy possessive and will growl or snap at anyone coming near ‘their’ stuff. This can sometimes be corrected. Small children love to play with dog food, dog toys etc. With a food or toy-possessive dog this is a chomp waiting to happen.
4) Not a good breed/type for children

Rabbits and birds are typically not a good match for small children (under eight years). Why? They are delicate animals that don’t ‘play’ in the manner that kids want pets to play. Birds have very delicate bones and need a very specific diet. They don’t do well with rough-handling and random snacks shoved into their cages.

Rabbits are also delicate, to a degree. Many of them dislike being held and they can break their spines by struggling too hard against a tight grip. Rabbits also have nasty claws and aren’t afraid to “bunny kick” with their back feet when they want ‘down’. I have many more scratches on my person from my two years of handling rabbits than I do from years of living with cats! The rabbit rescue typically suggests children be eight or older to own a rabbit.

The SPCA on the other hand will wiggle a little bit on recommended ages if we meet the kids and the interactions with a specific animal are good. This can go the other way as well. I supervised a visit of a relatively shy kitten and a mom with a preschool-aged daughter. The daughter was shrieking and screaming and darting around the room. The kitten was absolutely terrified and cowered in a corner the whole time. I suggested looking for a braver and more outgoing kitten, but mom really wanted “an orange one”* and this was the only orange kitten at the time. They left, but I saw them back a few hours later.

Have you adopted a pet from a shelter or a rescue? Was your experience a good one?

Also if you have any questions regarding policies like these, let me know!

*Choosing an animal based on looks alone is one of the worst ways to pick a companion animal! Also, many black dogs and black cats are overlooked in shelters. We call it BBD: Big Black Dog syndrome Most people want an animal that is a little bit different, that is unique in some way.

Winning at Life

29 May

For various reasons, I recently hopped back on the therapy roller coaster for a few sessions. While I had doubts going in about the potential of such a short course, my therapist managed to hit the roots of some of my thornier issues by the second session.

The heart of many of my problems? I am driven to Win at Life. I have to be Superwoman: most awesome at everything, ever. The rational side of my brain knows this is impossible and tries to curb those feelings. But it only succeeds in making me feel like I must be Very Good at Everything instead of The Best.

I know I’m not the only one with a belief-system like this, with a mental scorecard that is full of big fat FAIL. The prevalence of the “ALL THE THINGS!” meme is a testament to it.

Winning at Life mentality manifests in a number of ways. Thankfully my therapist had some suggestions on how to start circumventing it. I’m sharing them with all of you in the hopes that it will help a least a few of you.

1. “There are not enough hours in the day!”

I prioritize my tasks at work and at home but go to bed feeling like I achieved nothing all day. I mentally tally up all the work that remains and carry it around with me wherever I go. Having this pile of pending tasks is incredibly distracting. I’m rarely “in the present” when I’m working on a task. I am constantly aiming for the finish line, so that I can move on to the next thing.

Suggestion: Make a list of everything that you do, as you do it. Get a separate small notebook just for this task. How you split things up into separate entries is up to you.

This was so simple that I mentally rolled my eyes at it. The next day though, a Saturday, I tried it. I broke something into a separate item if it was something I had to:

a) get up and do, thus interrupting what I was currently doing

b) it was a complete chunk that could technically be delegated as a complete task.

So sorting laundry was one task. Putting a load of clothes into the washing machine was another. Loading the dishwasher was a single task. Feeding the dogs. Taking a shower.

Results: Thirty-eight things, folks. Thirty-eight. On a Saturday. A typical Saturday! Not even a frantic “gotta get shit done” type of day. I did ten things before 10 AM. It was a major eye-opener.

I did the same thing at work on Monday. I start work at 7 AM. In two hours, I had completed fourteen different tasks. And yet, the one big thing I wanted to do? I hadn’t even started yet! But now I could see why the Big Things weren’t getting done: I was mired in small stuff that didn’t even “count” on my mental scorecard.

The most interesting thing however was how I processed this knowledge, this realization that I was actually Doing a Lot of Stuff. It made me want to do more stuff. By giving myself credit for every little thing, I felt validated. Prior to this there was no acknowledgement for 80% of these tasks. I’d do six loads of laundry on the weekend. On Sunday night the last load would still be sitting, clean and dry, in the laundry basket. Not put away. So I’d beat myself up for “not finishing all the laundry.” Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick. I just took 90% of the credit and hard work and threw it out the window.

No wonder I felt stressed and unmotivated all the time!

2. The things I do aren’t “Enough”, so I don’t deserve a break

No matter how many things I got done in a day, it was never Enough. Even on the day of 38 Things I was still looking around my house and seeing more Things that needed to be done.

Here’s an example. In April my parents came to visit. Shortly after that, I found myself feeling ill. It started Thursday night and by Friday afternoon I told my husband, “I’m getting sick for real.” Saturday morning my throat was on fire. I could barely eat. I sounded like a cartoon character.

I drove myself to the grocery store and bought my own cold medicine.

Dear self: WTF were you thinking?!

That weekend I still got all the laundry done, did the grocery shopping, and took the dogs to the park. I should have been in bed that weekend. (I had strep throat plus a viral infection and possibly allergies on top of it). I wound up being out of work for 3 days. I have to wonder if I would have recovered faster if I had allowed myself to take a break?

Suggestion: Tell yourself that you are doing Enough. Every day. Multiple times a day. Especially at the end of the day. Look at your list of things. Then tell yourself “X amount of Things was enough.”

The other step is to take a day “off”. Obviously there are still a few Things to be done, but your list should be about half of a typical one. During that day, counter all your negative thoughts about being lazy. Tomorrow is another day. You are still doing Enough even on your day off! You are taking care of yourself instead of everything and everyone else. Then at the end of the day, tell yourself you did Enough.

Results: I haven’t fully tried this one yet. It is going to be very challenging for me. Some folks have no trouble taking a deserved day off. My husband is one of these people. I get myself so wound-up about my To-Do list though that I think getting some of them done will make me feel better. It helps a little, but not enough.

The strange thing is that I understand this about other people but I hold myself to an impossible standard. I don’t judge other people for only doing 5 or 10 things in a day. I look at them and see all the challenges they face and think, “they are doing as much as they can.” I don’t give myself that break. I don’t let myself be human, fallible.

This could easily turn into a monster post, so we’ll wrap up there.
Do you know someone in your life that feels this way? Encourage them. Support them. Stop them and tell them: “You are amazing. You deserve a day off tomorrow.”

Are you yourself prone to this? Do you try to make yourself into Superman or Superwoman? How do you counter it?

Feels Like Home

14 May

haemonic’s post yesterday about Flunk Day has me thinking about my own alma mater (the first one). Has me a little bit nostalgic.

I spent my entire life up til age twenty-two living in Upstate New York. The ‘burbs around Rochester, to be specific. And while I have grown to love northern California for it’s particular charms, there are a few things that I miss from New York.

1. Proper Seasons

Seasons. You know: winter, spring, summer, fall? Here in the central valley I joke that we have two seasons: wet and dry. Fall seems to just melt into cold rain and then suddenly spring flowers are blooming in February. My first year out here I saw a daffodil blooming on Valentine’s Day and stopped in my tracks. Daffodils are for April! And while I honestly don’t miss dealing with snow (shoveling it, wearing a parka and a scarf and gloves, brushing off the car) I do miss seeing snow. In my head snow= winter. Christmas needs snow! The handful of years I’ve stayed in California for Christmas it throws off my whole seasonal clock: “It can’t be March, we haven’t had Christmas yet.” I also miss proper fall colors. The leaves do change out here, but later, around November. And then they typically all fall off in a big whoosh in one day after a cold snap. Here the fall colors are in November, instead of September when it is proper!

The trade off is that I’m regularly out and about in the sunshine on weekends in March when my family is still socked-in with snow. So you know, not entirely a bad thing, different climate.

2. Proper Deli

Delicious noms

Now THIS is what I'm talking about

This one was baffling to me when I first moved out here. On the east coast, especially the Northeast with NYC and Philly, people are serious about their delis. Our neighborhood grocery store had a deli counter that is easily three times the size of any I’ve seen here in a grocery. (You see that photo up there? That is a proper deli counter. It extends beyond the woman in green.) The discrepancy was even more obvious to me because I spent time in college working behind one of those counters. We had eight kinds of ham, nine kinds of turkey, three varieties of roast beef. We had olive loaf and head cheese and liverwurst. Five varieties of Swiss cheese. If someone new came up and said simply “give me a half pound of ham” we’d have to ask them three or four questions and probably give samples to determine what they liked. Out here, there are typically two varieties of ham, four kinds of turkey including the “fancy” flavored ones, and two types of Swiss. Plus, everything costs more because it’s California. Disappointing!

3. Proper Bagels

Bagels are a big deal in the Northeast. Families will buy a dozen every week. Everyone I knew had bagels on the weekend, had bagels in the breadbox or the freezer. Toast pales in comparison to a bagel. A real bagel that is. Here’s the deal with proper bagels: you have to boil them first. Boil, then bake. That’s what gives them that characteristic “snap” on the outside surface. It is also what makes them harder to chew. Classic bagel flavors are all savory: garlic, onion, pumpernickel, sesame etc. I have no problem with the sweet ones like blueberry, cranberry and whatnot, provided that they are actually bagels.

Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that many Americans have no clue what a bagel is supposed to be like. And so they cut out the boiling step and just bake the darn things. I like to call these abominations “round bread”. Panera is definitely guilty of this. I think most of the pre-packaged bagels like Thomas’ are the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, the things that Panera sells as “bagels” are delicious. But they are not really bagels.

I think that Noah’s Bagels makes them properly out here but I haven’t had any in a while. Now that I’m doing the low-carb lifestyle thing it’s mostly a moot point, but it would be nice to have the real thing for a treat once in a while.

delicious noms

Mmmm, carb-y goodness

4. Thunderstorms

This may seem like an odd thing to add, but there is something magical about a thunderstorm to me. Watching the lightning streak down in perfect bolts, counting for the thunder. There have been exactly two thunderstorms in the seven years I’ve lived here. I know that it is exactly two because I immediately dropped what I was doing and went and watched both of them at the window. The first one also made me cry because it made me homesick. We had thunderstorms every summer back home. Usually on a hot August evening. It rains year round back home, you see, unlike here where May arrives and it stops raining until November. I miss thunderstorms. I remember being a kid with all of us sitting around the window, holding our breath, waiting for the next spectacular bolt to arc and split the sky. We’d shut off all the lights, the fans would be running to air out the muggy summer air (no central air in those days), all four kids quiet for once. Free entertainment. Mother Nature puts on a good show.

5. Songbirds

Now, don’t get me wrong, we have songbirds out here. They just aren’t the same ones I grew up with. The most obvious absence is the Northern Cardinal with his brilliant red feathers and distinctive chirp. We’d often see matched pairs at my parents’ feeders, the brilliant male and the dun-colored female. Even the female has red accents though, and they make a handsome pair in the trees. I also miss Blue Jays even though they are actually quite obnoxious at the feeder. I love the little crests on their heads and how they’ll crack whole peanuts with glee. Blue Jays have an obnoxious squawk instead of a chirp, but it was a sound I was familiar with.

Out here we have the Scrub Jay instead. While they are quite pretty as well, and they also squawk, the squawking is totally obnoxious to me. It is like nails on a chalkboard. Before I knew what they were called, I derisively referred to them as “Squawky Birds”. And they were everywhere, making a racket.

Other noticeable differences: fewer spring Robins. The goldfinches are a different species (Lawrence’s vs American) and there are no purple finches.

All of it combines to make being outdoors a different experience. We do have chickadees and sparrows, but the difference is more obvious now when I do return home and hear all those bird songs again.

What are your “home things” that you miss?

What about you? Have you moved away from “home”? What do you miss most? Is it a place? A food? The weather? Have you moved a lot and gathered little favorites from several places? Share your story in the comments!

The Rescuer

29 Apr

If you follow me on Twitter it comes as no surprise that I love animals. I frequently mention my two dogs (see below), walking shelter dogs, and helping out at the rabbit rescue. When my parents came to visit recently, my dad expressed some surprise at how involved I’ve become with animal rescue. I started thinking about how I got started and why it has become such an important part of my life. I have a LOT to say about animal rescue at this point, but today I want to talk about why I believe in it so strongly.

"Mom, why did you bring him home?"

Agnes the Patient and Thor the Crazypants

I grew up with a variety of pets, but cats were the constant presence in the house. Before my parents had children they had two cats. We always had at least two feline entities in the house. As I grew older my sister acquired gerbils, I had two hamsters, eventually we even added a dog to the mix. The rodents were boring. The cats and the dog were much more entertaining, and there are few things as relaxing as sitting on the couch with a cat in your lap.

I moved to California for graduate school in 2003 and didn’t have time or money for pets. Fast-forward four years to 2007. I’m done with school, met my husband, and we live in a condo. He’s allergic to cats. We don’t have enough room for a dog. He’s traveling for work, gone for weeks at a time. I need something to do. I fall back on volunteer work, something I’ve enjoyed since college but haven’t had time for. I discover that the Placer SPCA is on my way home from work and stays open until 7 PM twice during the work week. I start volunteering with them in the cat rooms, visiting with the kitties, changing litter boxes, refilling water, but mostly just petting and playing with kitties. Eventually I switched over to the dog walking side of the operation, hoping it would give me motivation to walk around and be more active.

The primary reason I started volunteering was because I missed having pets in my home. As the years passed, it became more and more of a conviction. One of my major reasons for continuing to work on this cause: I believe humans are responsible for the care of domesticated animals. Humans brought dogs and cats and rabbits and parrots etc. out of the wild and into our homes. We breed them to have certain sizes, shapes, characteristics. These animals cannot survive in the wild anymore. They depend on us for food, for medical care, for affection. It is obvious to me at this point that as long as humans are around, there will be homeless pets. For every responsible pet owner there is at least one irresponsible pet owner. Sometimes even the responsible ones fall on hard times: illness, death, economic hardship.

I do not believe that animals are disposable. The numbers right now are heart-breaking. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized every year (link) That’s equivalent to the entire (human) population of Los Angeles (3.7 million). Every year. Closer to home, the Sacramento City shelter has euthanized over 300 dogs just in the month of March this year. That shelter doesn’t have the luxury of holding on to animals until they can be adopted like the SPCA does. When they run out of space, the animals that have been there the longest wind up on the kill list.

Someone left Jenny in a parking lot. She has a great home now.

In light of the millions of pets that are euthanized every year, some people ask, “why bother?” They actually covered this in our SPCA orientation when we all looked a little shell-shocked toward the end of the presentation. The volunteer coordinator shared the story of The Boy and the Starfish. Now that story is a little too smushy cheeseball for me, but it really does get the point across. Here’s the TL;DR: millions of starfish on a beach, a boy is throwing them back in the water one by one. A man asks “why bother, there are millions of them? You can’t make a difference.” The boy looks at the one in his hand and replies, “It makes a difference to this one.”

Even if we’re only saving a fraction of the homeless pets every year it’s better than nothing. We’re saving lives. At this point I’ve directly rehomed two animals so far (including our dog Agnes):

Agnes rolling in the grass

Seriously? How could you resist this face?

I’ve been less directly involved in probably two hundred rehomings. By that I mean I met the animal, played with it, walked it, and would remember it by name if you asked. Any of them could have wound up at a high-kill shelter, could have been hit by a car, died of starvation or an infection on the street. Instead they have loving homes now.

If you want to get involved in your area you can:
1. Donate your time as a volunteer. Many rescues work with VolunteerMatch. Most shelters and rescues have a website or at least an email address.
2. Donate your money to a local organization. Each local Humane Society and SPCA is typically an independent organization. Most of them get no funding from the HSUS or ASPCA. I did not know this when I started volunteering. If you want your efforts or money staying local then I recommend looking up your closest groups and donating to them directly. Most groups have at least one fundraiser event every year.
3. Donate to an umbrella organization. Of course HSUS and ASPCA are also involved in rescue efforts, but they tend to be bigger-picture things like busting dog-fighting rings, funding SNAP (Spay and Neuter Assistance Programs), and working on legislation.
4. Donate stuff! Our shelter always needs cat toys, dog toys, towels, blankets, sheets, newspaper, hot dogs, dog food, cat food, cat litter etc. Call or email your local shelter and find out what they need.