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I’m Not Complaining, Just A Few Suggestions

I hope everyone had a great holiday season.  Janet, Jessie and I had 3 Christmas celebrations apiece, so we had a very happy holiday season!  If the past few days are any indication, 2012 will be another good year for us.  Here’s hoping that good cheer extends to the rest of the country. I’m pretty sure it won’t, not for everyone, but I can hope.

Book Update: My editor (Thanks, Cheryl!) gave my rough draft back yesterday and I started working on the third draft this morning.  It’s starting to look like an actual book now.  A book people might actually read.  We’ll see.  I love the suggestions she gently made for the story line.  The new ideas make the book bigger and better.  I could be biased, though.

I don’t like to complain…okay, that’s a lie…but something has been bugging me for a while and I just have to write a word or two on the subject.  Why are we such bad drivers?  Why do you insist on being in front of just one more person (me) when there isn’t anyone behind me?  Why did you buy a car that doesn’t come with turn signals?  Did you have to pull out in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes, and then turn left 100 yards down the road?  That’s rude.

I learned to drive in Seattle, a gentle town to learn to drive…during the 80s.  I moved, in the early 90s to Tulsa, then to Texas, on to North Carolina and back to Texas, etc.  The southerners residing in those states scared me, just a little, on the road.  They were nothing like the gentle Seattleites of my youth.  The very people who would slow down and let you get in front of them.  All you had to do was use your turn signal.  Good times.

After living in Austin the past decade, I was looking forward to those same gentle drivers, the kind souls who had all the time in the world to get to their destinations.  People who knew the rules of the road, waved at you with all their fingers, and always had a smile on their face.  I’m thinking those people have all moved, died, or are in jail.  Either that or California drivers have taken over the whole west coast.

Depending on which survey you read, and I’ve read a few the last couple of days, the vast majority of drivers (let’s say 70%) think they are above average in their driving skills.  Those same people, who think they are great drivers, believe the vast majority of other drivers (again, let’s say 70%) are terrible.  It appears some of us are kidding ourselves about our great driving skills.  I’m not a mathmagician, but those percentages look kinda funny.

Since I’m trying to complain less this year (one of 50 resolutions and one of the few Janet actually supports 100%), I decided to make some helpful suggestions instead.  If I made the rules, you should be happy I don’t, I would make everyone take the written and driving test every 10 years until you are 60.  Then every 5 years.  I can’t seem to make anyone at the DMV believe I am the Queen, so I’m going to try and explain the rules of the road here, just in case you forgot along your journey.

The Yield sign.  This is a hard one for us Americans.  Yield is not Latin for ‘hey, you got here first, go for it!’  Yield means STOP, unless there’s no one coming.  It gives you the legal right to make a California stop, which is where you roll through the stop sign without coming to a complete stop.  Yes, that’s illegal, Californians.  You are yielding the right of way to someone else, the person who will run into you if you don’t stop.  This is tied closely with:

The Traffic Circle.  Or, as a friend in high school called them, The Flaming Circles of Death.  These scare me.  A lot.  When approaching a circle, slow down and look to your left, left I say.  If no one is coming you can proceed.  But if there are cars in the circle, please wait ‘til they pass, slamming on ones brakes is never a fun thing to do.  I might spill my coffee.

Stop Signs.  I’m not sure when it became okay for people who have a stop sign to pull out in front of cars who don’t have a stop sign but it is highly annoying.  Stop doing that.  But, if you insist on pulling out in front of me, drive like you have a purpose.  When did it become okay to inconvenience another person so you yourself don’t have to be inconvenienced?  Oh, and if you are turning right on a red light?  That’s a stop sign, not a yield (see “The Yield Sign” above).

Turn Signals.  While living in Texas, I learned turn signals on new cars are optional.  At least that is what I assume.  YOUR turn signals are for ME.  MY turn signals are for YOU.  I know where I am going, and you know where you are going, but I have no earthly idea why you are stopped in the middle of the road.  Did you break down?  Did you pass out?  Oh, you’re turning left?  Now if only they would come up with a system where you could let me know you are turning left (or changing lanes) with only a flick of the wrist.

Lights.  My lights are on all the time.  Wasteful?  Maybe.  But I want to be seen when it’s overcast, or gray, or rainy.  When is that?  All the time!  I live in the Pacific Northwest.  Turn your lights on if it’s not sunny out…which is all the time out here.  In North Carolina, they had to pass a law which said, ‘if you are using your windshield wipers you must have your lights on,’ because people didn’t use their headlights and were run off the road because no one knew they were there.  Which leads me to:

Blind Spots.  They are named ‘blind spots’ because you can’t see those spots from your rearview mirrors.  Please turn your head and check before you come on over.  I might be camped in your blind spot just waiting for you to put a fresh dent in my little car.  Which brings me to a very important part of the driving experience:

Freeways.  Where do I start?  Keep in mind: the whole point of a freeway is to go with the flow.  Let’s talk about on-ramps and off-ramps.  On-ramps are for accelerating and off-ramps are for decelerating.  You are not supposed to accelerate or decelerate on the actual freeway, that’s what the ramps are for.  If you are trying to merge onto a freeway, which has a speed limit of 60, going 35 miles an hour it will be very difficult. You’ve encountered this problem, yes? If you are near your exit and you slow down to 40 to hit the off-ramp, you are disrupting the flow of the freeway.  The left lane of a freeway, which has 3 lanes, is for passing ONLY.  I’m not sure who told you it was okay to get on the freeway, merge all the way to your left (without using your turn signals, of course), and drive in the far left lane; they were wrong.  The far left lane is for passing only.  If you are not passing someone, move over.  I don’t care what the speed limit is: move over for the law breakers.  It’s all about the flow.

I feel better, thanks.  I’m pretty sure I’m one of the good drivers, the rest of you people are pretty bad.  I didn’t even touch on texting and phone use, which is bad unless I’m doing it.  I think our biggest problem is the sense of urgency most people drive with now.  And the feeling that my personal life is more important than yours, which is the reason I’m going around all you people and cutting in just before the on-ramp I need.  Because I have important matters to attend to…like the episode of Bones I desperately need to stream right now.

 

jenn

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What’s Worse?

What’s Worse? 

So, I was watching a little blurb in an email today, about Michele Bachmann, and it got me to thinking about something I think is terribly wrong in the world.  Let’s see if you feel the same way.  What’s worse?  Believing in something generally thought of as wrong or just saying you believe to gain political (or whatever) footing?  I consider them both bad, but the latter really disturbs me.

I am naïve to a fault:  I don’t understand why people do bad things for money, don’t understand it at all; I don’t get why a woman has to cover herself up because men can’t control themselves; and I really don’t understand why you would stand behind a position you don’t believe in just to get something you want, especially if it’s one group of people putting down another.

I watched a video of Michele Bachmann that was initially very funny.  She’s at a book signing (if she can do it!) when an 8-year-old kid shyly approaches her and wants to say something.  MB can’t hear him and leans over the card table to hear him.  He says something the microphone doesn’t catch, but MB stand straight up, looks utterly shocked, and waves bye-bye to him.  Google ‘Michele Bachmann vs. the 8-year-old’ if you want to see it.

What the little boy said was, ‘my Mom is gay and she doesn’t need to be fixed.’  I had to laugh at the look on MB’s face.  She was not expecting that sentiment from the young boy.  I thought about that look for a while.  Why would that statement surprise her like it did?  Because it came from a child?  Because it’s easier to tell an adult ‘you are going to hell’?  Should it be that hard to tell a child why you believe in something?  Or is it because she doesn’t really believe homosexuals are evil?  Come on, she married one.

MB got me thinking about a 60 minutes episode I saw, many years ago, about George Wallace.  His story is the first I had heard about (in my short, sheltered life) where someone sold their soul for a little power.  I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it today.

George Wallace was the Governor of Alabama when America finally tried to right the tremendous wrong of ‘separate but equal’.  He refused to let blacks join whites at schools across Alabama.  Here is one of his many ugly thoughts back in the day:

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

While Governor of Alabama, GW took his hate tour on the road, campaigning for President of the United States.  Wouldn’t that have been fun? While campaigning, GW was shot 5 times by a man who wanted to be famous.  The price some will pay for fame.  This ended his presidential hopes and pretty much his political career.

The 60 minutes episode pulled into the present (at the time) and talked with the black man who now took care of GW.  I can’t remember his name, but he was asked how he could take care of a man who so clearly hated people of his color.  His reply went something like this:

Oh, George doesn’t really feel that way.  He just said those things to get elected.  This was Alabama in the 60s.  He never really felt that way against people of color.  He’s really not a bad man.

I couldn’t believe what he said.  I’d never heard anything like it before.  Why would anyone say something they don’t believe in just to get a position of power?  Isn’t that like stealing something that isn’t yours?  My Mom taught me stealing was wrong.  You shouldn’t take that which isn’t yours, she told me many, many times.

Which brings me back to Michele Bachmann.  If you believe in something you won’t talk about with an 8-year-old, is it something you should believe in?  And if you don’t really believe in it, just parroting things you hear (like from your husband – I’m surprised you can hear him, from that far back in the closet) or things you think your base wants to hear, are you being true to yourself?

I can respect you if your opinion differs from mine, many opinions do go against my beliefs.  But believe them, don’t just say them.  I believe in the golden rule; I believe we choose the life we live; I believe being true to ourselves will make the world a better place; I believe ignorance is a dangerous thing; I believe those who deceive for power are especially dangerous and should be watched very, very closely.

jenn

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Lesser Known Holidays To Celebrate On A Budget

So, Janet and I are attempting a budget next year.  I know…why on earth would we do that?  If we stick to our self imposed frugality, Janet could conceivably, possibly, perhaps think about retiring in about 10 years.  I don’t just mean ‘get off the road’, I mean stay-at-home-and-bug-jenn-all-day retire.

Janet and I picked an arbitrary number and are taking time this month and next to keep track of every dime and see if said number is feasible.  I’ve realized something the past couple of weeks: we spend a lot of money.  Bunches.  Yikes, this is going to be difficult.  I’ve been racking my little brain trying to figure out where we can cut back.  Since traveling seems to be an addiction for both of us, I decided to cut back on gifts.

What happened to my carefree youth?  Where I woke up Christmas morning, not having spent a dime on anyone, and received a bunch of cool toys?  Oh yeah, I had to grow up.  Christmas has gotten way too expensive, since I have no talent for crafts.  Maybe if I celebrate (small celebrations mind you) different holidays throughout the year, Jessie and Janet won’t notice if we skip Christmas next year.

I googled ‘weird holidays 2012’ and found www.holidayinsights.com.  I had no idea there were so many…um, interesting holidays out there.  Some are too serious a topic for me; some I don’t want to explain to Jessie; some I don’t want to explain to Janet; and some I just don’t have the energy to do.  Really, how can I be honest the entire day?  I found about 2 per month I think my little family can celebrate:

Jan 3 Humiliation Day – I figure chances are pretty good I’ll do something humiliating on this day.  I’ll probably even spread this one out over the whole year.

Jan 18 Thesaurus Day – This lone commemoration might be a merriment, if one brings forward the expenditure of energy.

Feb 22 Be Humble Day – I’m just not sure I can do this one…and I know Jessie can’t!  But we can try.  We are trying, aren’t we Janet?

Feb 26 National Pistachio Day – I love pistachios, I can celebrate this one.  I hope this holiday is close to ‘have-a-hammer-handy’ day. I can’t get the stupid things open sometimes.

Mar 10 Middle Name Pride Day – Wear it with pride, even if your middle name is Estelle or Adele.  Mine is Lynne with an E and I liked it so much, I gave it to Jessie.  My baby sister’s is Marina (she’ll tell you her name is Kristina Marie, but I like mine better).

Mar 30 I Am In Control Day – Just once, one day out of the year, I would like to be in control.  Of everything.

Apr 1 International Fun at Work Day – I’m pretty sure this has something to do with April Fool’s Day.  We’ll celebrate this day with…

Apr 3 Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day – Exactly.  Pizza, popcorn and movies, come on over!

May 11 Eat What You Want Day – When did that stop being every day?

May 20 Be A Millionaire Day – Oh please, dear Lottery God, let me be a millionaire!  I’ve tried poor and I don’t like it much.  I have enough character now.

Jun 1 National Doughnut Day – I will definitely spend the day eating doughnuts.  Good way to start the summer bikini season.

Jun 18 National Splurge Day – Janet and I will try and splurge just on this day.  I’m thinking we should call AMEX and give them a heads up.

Jul 3 Stay Out Of The Sun Day – I had to laugh at this one until I realized it must be for people in Arizona and Texas.  300 overcast days a year, good chance we won’t get any sun today.  For us in the Pacific Northwest it’s ‘Get Out Your Happy Light’ Day.

Jul 16 Nothing is picked for this day!  What should we do today?  Wow, skies the limit.  How about:  Why’d I Marry You? Day (Tell her why she married you because, seriously, she might have forgotten at this point).  Barf Out a Confession Day (run up to a love one, yell out a dark hidden secret, and run away. Ah, good times.)

Aug 10 Lazy Day – I am all over this day.  It was hard choosing between this one and ‘National Goof Off Day’ in March.  I’ll probably do both, to be honest.

Aug 30 Frankenstein Day – this one might be fun.  You could have monster parties, dress up time, movies, electricity…you name it!

Sep 2 National Beheading Day – I’m pretty sure this is illegal, but I could be wrong.  I just thought it was weird.

Sep 23 Dog in Politics Day – I’m sure our 4 legged friends could do just as well, in Congress, as the current group of animals.  I’m for it.  Send in a couple of cats, too.

Oct 2 Name Your Car Day – I love this one.  My Mom always named her cars Betsy.  I haven’t done my car yet, but we named our GPS unit Mavis.

Oct 3 Virus Appreciation Day – As a science geek, this one amuses me.  I’m not sure appreciation is the right word, but you gotta love the little bugs.

Nov 2 Look For Circles Day – Oh, I like this one.  Jessie and I could have a ball!  <–Circle!

Nov 17 Take a Hike Day – I take this in the literal sense, not the ‘get out of my face’ sense.  I like to wander around in the woods.  I even like it when I get lost out there.  For the first day or so.

Dec 4 Wear Brown Shoes Day – This is a little oddballish day.  I don’t believe I own brown shoes.  Luckily, I have Splurge Day earlier in the year.

Dec 16 National Chocolate Covered Anything Day – Hey, Janet has her own day!

See, who needs to spend all that money at Christmas time?  Most of these holidays require just a little bit of thought (Janet), craftiness (Jessie), and laziness (Me).  Retirement, here we come!

jenn

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The Holiday Season Starting Too Early? Change the Bill of Rights.

Holiday Shopping Season Starting Too Early?  Fix the Bill of Rights.

So, I was in Arby’s the other day when I noticed they were playing Christmas music already.  This was on November 9th.  Wait a minute!  We hadn’t even made it to Veteran’s Day yet, let alone Thanksgiving.  I find this a little annoying.  Then I started noticing ads on TV with a Holiday theme.  Even the airport is decorated with Christmas decorations already.  Something must be done.

Veteran’s Day is a holiday to reflect on the sacrifices made by a few for the benefit of the whole.  It is a day to personally thank the men and women of the armed forces who have made the world what it is today.  This should not be overlooked for the monstrosity also known as the Holiday Shopping Season.

This is my opinion, I can’t speak for anyone else, but Thanksgiving, to me, is a time for family and for thanking your lucky stars for the good things in your life, whatever those may be.  It’s a quiet time centered on family, food, and football.  For some of us it is a time for sweating with an oldie at the local Turkey Trot 5k.  For others it is a time for giving back to the community.  It’s a holiday that is constantly being overlooked, shunned and disrespected by the big retailers.  Why?  It’s not a big moneymaker.

We’ve gotten away from our original intents about what the holiday season means.  Christmas and Chanukah have become more about gifts and spending money than about family, food, and football.  What can we do about this problem?  At first I thought we could just create more legislation.  I quickly realized that is the last thing we need, I have a hard enough time keeping up.  Maybe we should just insert a few sentences or phrases, in the Bill of Rights, to address this problem.

The Bill of Rights are the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  They were amended because the founding fathers decided there weren’t enough protections for the general population and they tried to make amends for a too strong government.  I thought this would be a perfect place for inserting some restrictions on the Holiday Shopping Season, before ‘they’ start encroaching on the July 4th celebrations.

I propose the day after Thanksgiving for the official opening of the Holiday Shopping Season.  No Christmas music, or festivals, or decorations, or anything related to Christmas, can be displayed before Black Friday.  I will allow the Thanksgiving paper to have ads for Black Friday sales as I really enjoy the extra Sunday paper on Thursday.

Here are the first 10 amendments to the constitution. I’ve just added a couple of provisions here and there:

First Amendment – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech (unless it has to do with speech about Christmas before Thanksgiving), or of the press (except for instances of holiday ads before Thanksgiving); or the right of the people peaceably to assemble (except if you are assembling in front of Big Box Store for the best deals on Black Friday, especially if that Black Friday sale now starts on Thanksgiving Day! WalMart, you should be ashamed!  Sleep in and get to the store at a reasonable hour like the rest of us), and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (clarification – I will petition the government if you insist on annoying us with Christmas music before it is time.  Beware – I have a lot of grievances.).

Second Amendment – A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a (Christmas music) free State (before Thanksgiving), the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (The militia will be needed to enforce strict Thanksgiving rules – see First Amendment.)

Third Amendment – No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner (come on home, my military friends, and enjoy a Thanksgiving with your family – Thank You for your service – enjoy it Christmas free at home), nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law (new law – no Holiday decorations before Thanksgiving).

Fourth Amendment – The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects (none of which involves pre-Thanksgiving Holiday Shopping craziness – then you have no rights), against unreasonable searches and seizures (unless you have a giant inflatable Santa in your front yard in early November), shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched (all big box stores – including their hidey-holes under the stairs – will be searched for decorations daily in October and November), and the persons or things to be seized.

Fifth Amendment – No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger (public danger being exposure to two solid months of Holiday decorations and music); nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself (you cannot plead the fifth in a trial against human nature aka The Thanksgiving Day Trial.  Did you or did you not play Mariah Carey’s Christmas album on November 9th Arbys?), nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Sixth Amendment – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury (good luck finding people not annoyed by the Holiday Season by the time Christmas finally comes around if you start celebrating in October) of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Seventh Amendment – In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. (At a quick glance – I have no idea what is going on here – we’ll skip this one)

Eighth Amendment – Excessive bail shall not be required (unless it is a pre-Thanksgiving offense, then bail will be ginormously excessive), nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted (oh, it will be cruel and unusual if we catch you with mistletoe before Thanksgiving).

Ninth Amendment – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights (like the Holiday Season shall only last 4 weeks), shall not be construed to deny or disparage others (unless said people were annoying in their too early celebrations, then deny and disparage to your heart’s content) retained by the (like-minded) people.

Tenth Amendment – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the (designated) people (appointed by Jenn, an avid, lets-wait-until-after Thanksgiving to put the tree up and play Christmas music, person.).

If nothing else, I haven’t read through these amendments in a very long time.  Actually, I can’t remember back that far.  It’s nice to brush up on our individual rights – you never know when you might need one.

Happy Thanksgiving, don’t eat too much at once, spread it out over the entire weekend.

jenn

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What My Dogs Have Taught Me

So, a while back, I started writing this blog post for Janet in the hopes I could convince her how badly I wanted a dog. The original title: ‘My Arguments for a Dog’.  About halfway, I realized it wasn’t about that at all.  My blog had turned into what my two dogs, Sam and Haley, had taught me in their short lives: how to stop being so selfish, what unconditional love looked like, and how to be a better parent.

Not to knock my ex-husband, but relationships with humans invariably contain some uncertainty and directionally different growth. Sam and Haley also taught me dogs were my animal of choice, not cats and certainly not birds. The dogs taught me just how thin the line was between love and anger like nobody else…until I had Jessie.

I’d wanted a dog during my childhood, but we couldn’t afford one, so I endured a dog free upbringing. When John (my ex) shot down my request for a dog shortly after our marriage, I was devastated.  How could he not want a little puppy? I did not give up, pestering him until we reached a compromise: we would adopt a dog eventually, but I had to start small. If I could keep a little creature alive, not do too much damage to it, I could adopt a cat and then a dog.

For the next Christmas, John bought me a gorgeous, ornately carved wooden birdcage.  I ran down to the nearest pet store and explained to the helpful young man what I needed. “I want a big, beautiful bird, maybe a Macaw or Cockatoo, for my big, beautiful birdcage.” I said with a smile. I was so ready to be a pet owner.

“First off, you realize those birds can live up to 50 years, right? Second, since your cage is wooden, you can’t put one of those birds in there, they’ll chew right through it. Your best bet is a finch or a parakeet.” The mean man said.  What? I haven’t done anything for 50 years!  That sounds like a very long time.

So, John and I became the proud owners of 2 Java Rice Finches. Just a heads up: these birds hate people. They hated my very existence. They would squawk at me when I walked by their home, attack me when I put my hand in to feed them, and yell nonstop when I cleaned up their mess. I quickly realized what a mistake adopting the birds had been but I couldn’t take them back: I was in this for the long haul.

One died about a year after we got them, not sure why, but I worried it would hurt my chances for a dog so I argued, ‘Hey, one outta two ain’t bad!’ Yeah, John didn’t find that funny either. I felt sorry for the finch left behind so I decided it needed a companion.  I tried to convince John it needed a little friend…a little dog friend.  Let’s just skip the cat, shall we? I must admit, I used the ‘a dog would protect me when you’re gone’ card since John works midnights. Hey! That worked.

Haley was the cutest puppy in the world.  Hyperbole aside, Haley was an adorable little dog: black with tan markings and 3.5 pounds when we got her at 6 weeks old.  She was all cuteness wrapped up in a furry, sharp toothed little package. She spent the first couple of days sleeping on our chests, the sounds of our heartbeats giving her comfort.  I fell hard for Haley. She was my first little baby girl, my pride and joy, my neurotic little bundle of kisses. I loved her so much I figured, what the heck, I should get another one.  I feel great owning one dog, I’ll feel twice as good with two.  That’s how I feel when I drink too, unfortunately.

So we adopted Samuel Adams (John named this one), Sam to friends. Sam was everything Haley was not: male, big, loud, happy, not the brightest of the bulbs, but a sweet and friendly dog. They fought, like siblings do, and clamored for my attention, carving a place in my heart still there today. I loved them through their illnesses (dogs are more expensive than I realized), their destructive behavior (Sam, quit running through the screen door!), and their perfectly timed, just as I was falling asleep, barking.

We became a family, the four of us, and traveled everywhere together.  We camped, hiked and huddled together for warmth. We started basing all our life decisions around the dogs: ‘We can’t live here – no backyard for the dogs.’ ‘Can the dogs fit in the back of this vehicle? Yes? We’ll buy it!’ When we found out I was pregnant with Jessie, our whole world changed.  But not as much as it would have, had we not adopted Sam and Haley first. Because of them, I was better prepared for the huge shift in our lifestyle Jessie brought with her.

The dogs paved the way for me to become a parent. Without them, I would be the worst parent around, not just somewhere in the middle, wallowing in the mud. I loved them and knew, without a hint of doubt, they loved me too. They taught me it was normal to feel that much anger at something you loved completely.  Very important concept when you have kids. Even when I chased the dogs in the backyard, yelling and screaming at them, those rotten dogs with fear in their eyes, they knew I loved them.  The just wouldn’t let me catch them.

Dogs don’t have hidden agendas.  They just want to be loved.  They made me realize I deserved to be loved unconditionally, too. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having Sam and Haley in my life. They made me more loving and forgiving, more gentle and caring. Yelling, screaming, and chasing aside.

Oh, the last little finch? I did a bad thing, but my heart was in the right place. I definitely had an Oh S*!t moment, though. I felt bad for the little bird. I wanted her to fly with her cousins on the other side of the window. Yes, in my infinite wisdom (in my 20s) I decided to let her go.  Fly!  Be free little bird.  So, we let her go.

She flew 10 feet and landed on our back patio. She stood there and watched Haley walk up to her.  Haley killed her.  Oh S*!t, I didn’t see that coming. Apparently, the bird didn’t either. For years I felt like a murderer and yet Haley didn’t see what the problem was. She had no idea why I was chasing her around the backyard, as I yelled and screamed. She had no idea at all, my rotten little baby girl.

So, the animal I adopted to show the world I could take care of another living thing, the bird, was eaten by the animal I truly wanted, the animal I was able to adopt because of the bird. There has got to be a scary/moral/funny/weird lesson in that story, right?

jenn

 

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My Favorite Bacterial Pathogen

So, the title might sound a little strange: what weird and twisted person has a favorite bacterium?  Me, your friendly microbiologist!  The recent news stories regarding the fatal listeriosis outbreak linked to cantaloupe got me to thinking of my favorite class in school: Bacterial Pathogens. Bacteria that cause disease are called pathogenic bacteria, just so you know.  What a fun class.  No, really, it was very interesting and, if
you don’t think about things too much, like I don’t, it’s not too scary.  After reflecting on the dozen or so bugs (that’s what microbiologists call bacteria, which I find amusing) we studied in class, I determined Listeria monocytogenes was not my favorite bug, but it is pretty interesting.

Listeria monocytogenes (Listy) is the bug which causes listeriosis, one of the nastiest pathogens known with roughly 20 – 30% of infections resulting in death. In my opinion, those are not good odds.  Listy, this little discussed bug, causes more deaths than Salmonella and Clostridium, two of the more common food borne pathogens.  Listy is responsible for about 2500 illnesses a year and 500 deaths in the United States alone.  One of Listy’s sneakiest attributes is the fact it can keep replicating in temperatures close to freezing, so the trick of putting things in the fridge to slow down growth doesn’t
work.  Listy just keeps replicating to keep warm.  Once Listy has taken over, you are blessed with: Influenza like symptoms of persistent fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Sounds like alcohol poisoning.  Ah, good times.

Not to knock Listy, but after reading about the conditions at the farm behind the cantaloupe outbreak, I thought of three things: 1. Why did it have to be a fruit I liked, huh?  2. Have I ever heard of cantaloupe being a concern for Listy? I knew about hot dogs and unpasteurized milk and cheese, which reminds me, note to all: unpasteurized
anything = bad, trust your friendly microbiologist.  Don’t believe those people, they are trying to sell you a product.  3.  I wonder how my microbiology teacher from Texas
State University is doing.  Then, I thought about my favorite bugs: Listeria monocytogenes is a scary little bug, but Pseudomonas aeruginosa is much more
intriguing and common.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Soody) is a bug found in soil, water, on the skin and on most manmade environments.  Basically, Soody is found everywhere you are going to be.  It especially likes to hang out at hospitals, skulking around medical equipment, a favorite being the catheter.  Yikes, my legs just slammed shut!  Soody is an opportunistic pathogen, which means it waits around until you start feeling bad, and then it jumps on you.  Soody usually infects the pulmonary tract, urinary tract, burns, and wounds, basically anywhere there is an opening.  Soody is the number one leading cause of hospital acquired infections, one of the many reasons I won’t visit you in the hospital without full doomsday gear.

I read somewhere Soody infects close to 700 million people a year, but I must have
misread the number because that is a whole bunch of people.  It is very common and seems to be everywhere, I feel stuff crawling on me now, but Soody isn’t my favorite bug.  Listeria monocytogenes is a scary little bug, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is more intriguing and common, but Streptococcus pyogenes is my favorite bug so far.

Streptococcus pyogenes (Gene – no relation to my brother-in-law, although they share some of the same qualities) is a clever little, constantly evolving bug that has wreaked havoc for as long as time.  I first read about Gene in school when we discussed the problems of disease in the Civil War (again, I’m talking about the bug here, not my BIL, I’m pretty sure Gene the man was not involved in the Civil War).  Gene, along with gangrene and Staphylococcus aureus, caused more death than actual warfare.  Gene is also one of the scary ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria.  Who doesn’t like a good zombie story?
Gene, when introduced to a wound, kills tissue by interfering with the normal blood flow, breaking down tissue causing quick dispersal of the bug to connecting tissue.  If not treated immediately, Gene will spread everywhere, leading to death, usually caused by
shock.

The really amazing thing about Gene is it has different strains of itself that release
different toxins which cause different diseases.  So one type of Gene found in the throat can cause Strep throat and another Scarlet Fever.  A skin Gene can cause Impetigo (a highly contagious skin infection) and another, through a wound, the horror book inspired skin eater.  I have had Strep throat many times in my life and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was my second introduction to Gene.  My first was through my Grandmother.

For the record, I’m probably drawn to Gene more, not because it’s impressive, but
because it allowed my maternal Grandmother (Granny) to scare the bejeezus out of me as a young child.  Granny had Scarlet Fever when she was 30 and lost all her teeth as a result.  I did not realize, at the age of 3 or 4, that some people had fake teeth, having just gotten all of mine.  When my brother and I would annoy Granny, she stuck her teeth out at us, causing me unknown number of night terrors and, to this day, an uncomfortable feeling around people who do not have all of their teeth.  I grew out of reacting to this form of terror from Granny in my teens and she stopped doing it, but I
think the real reason she stopped was because ‘they’ developed better glue and
it was too much work to pry them loose.  She is that mean.  So really, in a
roundabout weird kinda way, Gene is my favorite bug because it has impacted my life
the most, impacted my life through a mean, toothless, wrinkly, blue haired old
lady who lives in Everett, Washington.  I hope she doesn’t read anymore.

I don’t mean to joke at anyone’s expensive…if you’ve had any of the above diseases, or lost someone to a disease, I am truly sorry for your loss.  I just can’t help my admiration for such a worthy opponent.  An unseen, deadly force hiding everywhere, waiting for us to stumble, just a little, and open up the door of opportunity for them to slither through.  On that note, it’s dinner time!  Seriously, don’t think about it too much, clear your mind like I do…oh, look…squirrel!

jenn

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