Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why you shouldn't be mad when an animal dies in a zoo

I had to wait a few weeks to write this post. I was afraid it would come out wrong if I wrote it any sooner.

We've lost a couple of high-profile ("charismatic," in industry terms) animals at my work this year. Both losses were very sudden. When I worked at an aquarium, we lost a high-profile animal very suddenly there, too. So I'm no stranger to the backlash losing these animals comes with. But it's still frustrating to deal with the misguided anger out there.

The problem is, people do get mad when an animal they love dies in a zoo. People feel like it was their animal. How dare we let something happen to their animal! They would never let anything bad happen to them! 

What they fail to remember is that we feel exactly the same way.

Those tears falling down your face? They were falling down ours, too, an hour ago. But we still have the other animals to take care of today, so we put on a brave face and go do our job. The sadness you feel inside? It's pouring out of every muscle we have into our work. It's all we can do to deal with it, because we don't want to risk letting it distract us and skip a feeding or mess up somewhere else.

As for not letting anything happen to them, well-- trust me. No one who works in a zoo, taking care of animals, EVER wants anything bad to happen to them. EVER. We wouldn't be here if we did. Zoos are guaranteed to be full of people who are passionate about what they do. People who love those animals just as much as you do, and, dare I say, more. We get to work with them every day. They know our faces, our voices, our quirks, just like we know theirs. When they leave us, they leave a hole shaped just like them that won't ever quite be filled with another.

If we could have avoided what happened, we would have. But we work with wild animals. We do the best we can, but none of us can predict the future, and while we always try to learn from tragedy, it's not always something we could have prevented, or even stopped from happening. 

So when you come to a zoo shortly after an animal dies, and you ask an employee what happened, don't be angry. Respect them when they tell you the same short answer that you've heard from everyone else-- it's nothing personal. We don't know you. We don't want to talk about it at length four, forty, or four hundred times today. Sometimes, that short answer really is all the information we have. Sometimes, we just can't say anymore or we risk cracking the shell we've put over our own sadness.

If you read this, and learn from it, thank you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Zombieism is a very serious disease (With DRAWINGS!)

So, the other day at work, I was walking back up to the office after a long day. The walk back is up a pretty steep switchback hill that already saps the soul out of me on a daily basis. Little did I know, today would be the day that things would get...

... a little bit worse.

I'm walking along, just trying to get up to the office, so I can put my stuff away and head home, when all of a sudden, something very-much-six-legged landed on my forehead. I felt the tiniest of pinches, almost indiscernible from the little buggy feet on my face.

Not shown: Me doing anything rage-inducing

Shown: Completely uncalled-for insect attack

Naturally, I had a mini-meltdown right there on the pathway. It was mostly internal, and over very quickly, but involved a lot of flailing at my face and trying to see if the insect that had ruthlessly tried to kill me was coming back for a second pass. I was the giant in ENDER'S GAME, and I feared that the little gnat of a warrior was going to figure out how to win.

Luckily, I made it back to our office unmolested, thanks to my superior ninja skills (not shown). It wasn't without a cost, though. Without having seen the insect responsible, I was pretty petrified.

See, I have a secret, guys.

I... I might be allergic to bees.

*cue loud gasp*

Okay, here's the thing. The last couple of times I have been stung, my reactions have been getting progressively worse. Last time, my whole arm swelled. I am pretty paranoid about being stung again (let's be honest: I'm pretty paranoid about every freaky way you can die), and you have to understand how unfair it was to be stung where I couldn't even see the bug responsible and figure out if I needed to be walking up the hill or, like, running.

So I get to the top, and I haven't, you know, keeled over dead. Yet. I go into the bathroom to see if I have an emergency or just a bad day, or both. And this is what awaits me:

Looking back, it really wasn't THIS bad

I did the walk of shame to my boss' office, where she promptly told me to go to the medic. Those words were like balm to my ravaged, panicky ears. A medic. Someone who could SAVE me, should my throat suddenly close up, and my brain explode. Despite the heat of the day, I made another walk back down the hill, knowing full well I would have to come back up it.

The medic was nice, but very dismissive. He obviously didn't understand that I could die AT ANY SECOND. But that was probably a good thing. He just told me to keep an eye on it and see my own doctor if I started "seeing the signs of an allergic reaction."

And then he asked me if I knew what those were. Of course I knew.

... didn't I?

"You want to watch for shortness of breath, swelling of the face, redness of the skin..."

Not shown: The clothes I was actually wearing at the time, I swear

And with that he sent me back up to the office. This trip, I wore my Don't-Mess-With-Me-Bug face, and it seemed to work. I made it back, trying to push the signs the medic had told me out of my head, and trying to ignore the occasional sharp pain from my forehead and the slight itchiness that had started there. I finished my stuff and clocked out, and got in my car, ready to make the 40-minute drive home.

Forty minutes is kind of a long drive. And when you're on the road for that long, you have a tendency to think. Within five minutes, it was like a record of the medic's voice playing over and over in my head. And let me tell you, folks, the symptoms of a mild panic attack? Kinda sorta similar to the signs of an allergic reaction.

By the time I got home, I was a quivering, nervous ball. WH managed to calm me down, as did the fact that I managed to reach my house without suddenly blowing up like Violet Beauregarde and dying on the freeway. I was safe. I had made it through another crisis alive, with only a slightly itchy bump to show for it.

That should have been good enough for a while, right? I mean, one unprovoked insect attack is enough excitement and paperwork for a girl for a week, right?

Well, the universe had other plans.

Today, I scraped my leg pretty hard on a metal bar at the bottom of a gate. You know, the unyielding kind that go into a hole in the concrete to hold the gate in place? Yeah, one of those. Right now, I'm sitting on the couch with an ace bandage wrapped around an ice pack, wrapped around my leg, trying NOT to go on one of those medical websites and see if there are any horrible ways you can die from bruising.

Any true hypochondriac knows exactly what this is like

It's not easy, let me tell you. I haven't had a bruise so bad it made my whole lower leg stiff in, I think, ever. I'm pretty convinced, though, that if I go onto that website and let myself do this, this will be the result:

Zombieism is a serious disease, folks. If I've got it, I don't want to know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pretending to be an artist

Last week, my work had an Employee Art Fair. I saw the flier shortly after I got hired in March, and for some idiotic reason thought it sounded like a good idea to sign up.

Here's why it was idiotic: I'm not an artist. Yes, I'm a writer, and I happen to think I'm okay at that craft. And I can build things, as evidenced by my love of dioramas and Cindy Pon's SILVER PHOENIX books. But when it comes to drawing and painting and sculpting? Forget it.

So it was rather stupid of me to sign up for an ART fair. But I did anyway, because of the whole building/ hands-on thing, and I thought that the idea I had might even work out in my favor. My idea? Decorate bird eggs. Not chicken eggs. Duck, goose, and one ostrich egg.

So I signed up, and then started gathering supplies and ideas, and promptly waited until about one week before the art fair to actually start doing anything. Yeah. Told you I was a moron.

Anyway, since several people have asked, here are some pictures of the eggs I made. You can click on any of these pictures to make them larger.

Here is my table. It was HUGE.

And here are my eggs!

This egg is one of my favorites. The Twilight Egg-- it actually is lit from beneath with a portable, battery powered LED.

The Dragon Eggs: (Note: these came out COMPLETELY differently from what I'd planned, but then WH had the brilliant idea to call them Dragon Eggs. The man is a marketing genius! Or, well, an idea genius. Would have been a marketing genius if I'd actually sold any).

The Gnomish Dragon Egg

The Volcano Dragon Egg

The Blue Dragon Egg

The Red Dragon Egg

I made several rhinestone eggs. I wish I could take complete credit for these, but they were mostly just really awesome stickers that I cut and stuck to the eggs. Some of the gems I glued on by hand, but certainly not enough to feel comfortable taking full credit. Still, I love the way they came out.

This one refused to photograph. But it was the only one I sold!

The Fire and Ice Eggs

The back of the "Ice" egg

The back of the "Fire" egg

I only painted a couple eggs, because, as I said, I am not very good with painting. Here they are!

The Butterfly Garden egg

The "It's a Hoot" egg

This one is wrapped with acacia leaves, because at the zoo I work at, acacia is one of the browse plants we use for pretty much all of our herbivores. It's a good, well-rounded source of nutrition, plus it's tasty (at least to the herbivores). And everyone who works there has a certain fondness for this plant. So I thought an egg wrapped in acacia would appeal to a large amount of people. It did, just not enough for anyone to buy it, unfortunately.

And my magnum opus egg. This one is a real ostrich egg, cut in half. The top fits back on the base and is filled with cotton clouds and a golden sun.

So yeah. Was it fun? Absolutely. Was it what I thought it was going to be (an event where I sold all my eggs in the first ten minutes and made back every penny I spent on supplies, and then some)? No. But I guess one of the first lessons you learn when you create anything is that you need to have some patience, right?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Okay. I'll be honest. I don't love giraffes as much as I love cheetahs. But they are still pretty cool. Here are some weird things you never wanted to know about giraffes:

  • Generally speaking, for every foot a giraffe is tall, its tongue will be one inch long. So an eighteen-foot-tall giraffe will have an eighteen-inch-long tongue.
  • Giraffes have black/ purple tongues. It's freaky. The theory is that it serves as sun protection, since they spend so much of their day eating!
  • Giraffe spit is extra sticky. It helps coat the thorns of their favorite food, the thorny acacia, which is a very cool looking green-barked tree, that's covered in 2-3" long thorns.
  • Giraffes have seven neck bones, just like humans. But theirs are all ten inches long, hence the six-foot-neck!
  • When a giraffe baby is born, Mama Giraffe doesn't lay down. She gives birth-- standing up! Baby has a six-foot fall ahead of him, which shocks him into taking a breath.
Who here likes giraffes? *raises hand*

Monday, May 23, 2011


I love cheetahs. Here's why:

  • They totally purr. And it is ADORABLE. And LOUD. And ADORABLE.
  • They are the smallest of the big cats, and as such are actually rather skittish. They lack the confidence that lions and tigers have and are therefore relatively trainable. Many facilities that keep cheetahs allow for direct contact, which they will not do with other big cats. This means I get to see cheetahs walking around on leashes all the time. How freaking cool is that?
  • They can run up to 70 MPH! That's as fast as a car on the freeway. I know that seems obvious, but it still blows my mind to think about driving down the freeway and having a CAT keep up with me. Every time I bump it up to 75, I think, "Ha! Got away from THAT cheetah!" (Of course, they can only keep this speed up for about a minute. Sprinter, not marathoner. Still impressive. Can YOU run 70 MPH? I didn't think so).
  • At full speed, one stride can be up to 22 FEET long!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why cheetahs are awesome. What more do you need?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


So... yeah.

Rather than trying to explain, I will just say... hi!

I think most of you follow me on the Archives anyway. So it's not like I've disappeared. I just haven't been HERE. Sorry about that.

The good news? I've got a new, exciting job, and a new, exciting MS that I'm excited to talk about. And there's no shortage of stuff to share from those! So yay for things to blog about!

The well that had runneth dry now runneth over.

And I will start runneth-ing over very soon!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Home Improvement!

Despite having one of THOSE days (the kind where I officially don't feel well and spend most of the day on the couch, sipping at liquids), I am ridiculously excited to share a couple changes we recently made around the house.

About two months ago, I got the brilliant idea to freshen up our bathrooms. As a real estate agent, I know that outdated baths and kitchens are often the first reason for undervalued home sales. And while I don't know for sure that the work we're doing will still be good-looking or in mode by the time we do decide to sell our home, at least it's prettier to look at and live in in the meantime.

Not to mention, hey, I like it.

My idea started out simple enough: paint the upper half of the walls and add wainscoting and chair rail molding to the lower half.

This was easily something WH and I could accomplish ourselves, and I have to admit to being super-psyched to start. I went and picked out paint colors. I bought the wainscoting and painted it. I picked out the molding.

And then logic started to set in. For instance: adding wainscoting meant taking out the toilet and vanity. That was messing with plumbing, which was not something either of us were comfortable doing on our own just yet. But some research online showed that it really wouldn't be that scary, so it was worth it to try.

Once we conquered the plumbing, I got another brilliant idea. Since we already had the toilet and vanity out, why not re-do the floors? When I suggested this, I didn't actually think WH would agree to it. But he did. And so somehow I wound up tiling my first-ever floor. Luckily it was a small one to start with!

The whole experience took way, way longer than we thought-- and we have only finished the smaller of the two baths. But at least it's done (except for one or two minor details) and ready to go!

So, without further ado, I present to you:

The Before:

The After:

(Click to embiggen)

If one of our wedding photos wasn't at the top of that picture I'm not sure I'd believe this bathroom is actually in our house!

A better picture of the floor that I tiled. (Can you tell I'm excited that I did this? I love working with my hands and discovering new skills, even things as mundane as tiling a floor. And I only screwed up a little!)

The awesome part is that the toilet and the vanity are both the old ones. We just got a new faucet, seat, and handle, and they cleaned up pretty spiffy! Our hall bath still has the glorious 80's/90's vanity from several owners ago, so we'll be replacing that one... but we won't start that bath for a couple weeks at least.

WH did such an amazing job with everything. There were several weekends where he practically did nothing but work on the bathroom, cutting the wainscoting and molding and measuring and re-cutting and filling holes in the drywall and fixing the toilet and etc. So thank you, to my amazing and awesome and wonderful husband for indulging my crazy project, which started out with him ideally just "helping" and wound up with him doing most of the work!

One more thing while I've got you here-- can't resist showing off our new dining room set!

As if you needed more evidence of his craftiness, WH built the banquette benches in the back by modifying cupboards from Ikea. Here's a slightly better view with bonus cat picture:

So yay home improvement! You have no idea how long I've been dying to show you guys these pictures. Can't wait to share the hall bath once we get that one done!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Elegance of Post-Modernism Storytelling; or, HOLY CRAP I'M ACTUALLY LEARNING THIS SEMESTER

Last night, WH and I sat down, turned off our mutual internets and watched INCEPTION. This was a big deal for us. Normally, no matter WHAT we're watching, we're both clicking away, him in a game and me on Twitter. But we had both heard so much about INCEPTION, and we were in a snuggly mood thanks to the rainy weather, so we decided to devote our full attention to a movie for once. And I'm so glad we did.

In my English class this semester, we just started learning about Post-Modernism, and I have to admit that at first I wasn't interested in learning about it. In case you're not familiar, the Modernist movement was what most of us are familiar with when we think of story-telling: neat tales that wrap up in tidy little packages, and follow a steady plot line. Post-Modernism is sort of the opposite; where Modernism is neat and tidy, Post-Modernism is chaos.

But the more my professor explained the differences between the two, the more I began to feel like donning a beret and some suspenders, and maybe even sipping an espresso with my pinkie up.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm a HUGE fan of Modernist story-telling. I love me some neat plot-lines and happy-ever-afters. But there's something so . . . appealing about Post-Modernism, too. Something raw. Something animal, that invites us think for ourselves. Normally, I don't like it when the neat lines aren't drawn for me. I don't like having to work out if something did or did not happen within the context of a story that I did not write. But my appreciation has been piqued by our in-class viewing of THE THIN BLUE LINE, a documentary that was filmed by accident and literally saved a man's life, and ever since then I've been finding Post-Modernist tidbits everywhere.

Perhaps this is just like the week I discovered that people in Britain pronounce "aluminum" differently, and therefore started hearing people with British accents saying "al-you-min-ee-um" all the time. Or perhaps it's just my mind expanding with learning. The world may never know. But my appreciation remains. And I find it fascinating that I discovered I've actually been a fan all along: Christopher Nolan, who wrote and directed INCEPTION, also directed THE PRESTIGE, which is one of my absolute all-time favorite movies (of all time), as well as MEMENTO.

There goes my neat and tidy story. But real life isn't neat and tidy, and I think that's what I appreciate about it so much.

I've come to realize that I wholeheartedly love this method of storytelling because the story winds up being so powerful. So what if there's too much detail? Who cares if the plot is hard to follow at times? The overall emotional connection you have with the story is there, and it grabs you.

It grabs me.

Someday, whether linear or chaotic, I hope to write a novel as brilliantly, darkly twisted and beautiful as those movies. One that brings readers to their emotional knees and stays with them long after they close the cover on the last page.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snapshots #1-- The Call Center

*Warning* Writing ahoy!

The call center I worked in during the spring of 2007 was a sparsely-populated cube farm devoted entirely to the wasteland of making sales. I only worked there for four months, but it seemed like an eternity.

My boss was a super-charismatic guy, dressed to the nines every day and with a twisted sense of humor. When he'd hired me, he told me that I was really young and didn't have the right experience, but he'd decided I was going to be his "experiment".

When I got to my first day of work, it turned out that not only was I the youngest, I was the only girl.

Still, the men I worked with were nice. I trained with five others, and we sat in an office easily built for fifty, making calls over and over. The bosses would regularly listen in on the phone lines, and as the youngest-- and only girl-- I got a bit more attention than the others. "Don't laugh so much." "Stop being so nice." "Don't let them hold you on the line for so long."

The very first call I made, the lady who answered the phone yelled at me for interrupting her dinner, called me a bitch, and hung up on me. I cried.

It was hard for me to twist my mind around "making sales". I'd never been the type of person to be pushy, or demanding, or rude, and I especially detested see-through sales tactics, which were all we were taught, along with a script we weren't allowed to deviate from. It also didn't help that we were peddling mortgages-- and I'd auspiciously started the job right when the first big banks started falling like dominoes. It was an uphill, losing battle, and I hated it. I went home everyday feeling stressed and slimy. At least I wasn't working on commission-- I'd found one of the rare salaried sales jobs.

And then there was one family in Tennessee. They sounded so relieved when I called. The man who answered the phone couldn't give me his info fast enough. And I felt like I was truly doing something more noble than sales when I called to give him a pre-approval, and he choked up and told me I was going to save his house.

Three days later, I had to call him back and tell him I had lied. Our underwriter had been unable to get approval after all.

That, more than anything, broke me. More than the rude people. More than the not-entirely-unexpected announcement that due to our inability to actually make any sales, we were now working on commission only. More than the lonely old men who kept me on the phone for hours at a time, completely not intending to buy anything, just to have someone to talk to. More than the creepy guy who told me I had a great phone voice and he might have an opportunity for me if I would give him a call when I wasn't working. (Part of me still wonders what that opportunity was, exactly, but the other part is pretty sure I don't want to know).

No, hearing that man from Tennessee choke up with tears of joy and then break down a week later, and feeling completely powerless to help him, is what made me hate that job. I stuck it out for a few more weeks before deciding that some things just aren't worth the doing.

My bosses and everyone I worked with were really, really nice, but the people in the office weren't important compared to the people out in the world, the ones whose throats I was supposed to be jamming mortgages down.

I think we all learn harsh lessons in our youth. This was one of mine.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now THAT's customer service-- or why you really should consider joining Twitter

For those of you who don't know me via Twitter, WH and I are currently working on remodeling our bathrooms. It appeals to me because a.) new bathrooms, woo hoo! and b.) it's like a crafting project, but on a much larger scale. It appeals to WH because a.) new bathrooms, woo hoo! and b.) he gets to use all sorts of tools and be manly and rip things out of walls and such.

Somehow, he gets all the destructive fun and I wound up being the painter and tiler (yeah, the last one is kind of a mystery to me, too, maybe because I said I'd helped my dad do a floor once?)

So last week, I was on one of many, MANY trips-- that day-- to a local home improvement center, and when I actually needed help in the lumber department, it was like everyone wearing an apron disappeared. And I mean that in an "am I on TV?" kind of way. I watched two guys watch me approach, take OFF their aprons and walk in the other direction. I watched another guy turn the corner away from me before I could say anything. I saw two more people at the end of aisles in front of me but they all managed to disappear before I could get their attention.

Then I got frustrated and just wandered up and down the aisles of the lumber department for ten minutes, encumbered by the giant cart of wood paneling I had to take everywhere with me, walking through a wasteland of customer service. Apparently everyone who'd disappeared was fleeing lumber. Part of me started to wonder if I should leave, too. If maybe a t-rex was about to come start pulling things down from the top shelves to do a re-stock or something. I like t-rexes, especially gainfully employed ones, but they're not exactly careful, ya know? And they're kind of loud. All stomp-y and yell-y.

So in my frustration, I did what any sensible person would do and whipped out my phone to tweet.

"[Home Improvement Center] employees must have a sixth sense. They're literally everywhere until you actually need them. #poof #gone #HELP"

And then, only a few minutes later, I randomly got an email that "[Home Improvement Center] is now following you on Twitter."

At first I laughed. By this time I was knee-deep in having just given up and gone to a register to ask for help, which somehow still managed to involve me wheeling that darn cart all over the front of the store to various counters for various reasons, but at last the problem was solved. It wasn't until later that night, at home, that I saw that I had a new mention from someone at Home Improvement Center, apologizing for the problem and asking if I managed to find everything I needed.

That, right there, floored me. That a nationwide chain has people monitoring their keywords on freaking TWITTER and asking people in real-time if they can help them is stunning to me. In a good way. It completely replaced all the frustration I'd built up in the store, even though I seriously doubted the guy would have been able to help me if I told him I was looking for such and such at a particular store. The fact that someone cared enough to notice I had a problem and then actually talk to me about it helped way more than I ever thought it could.

Now, I've been in customer service for a long time, myself. I know that this is one of the first rules of customer service: even if you can't solve their problem, acknowledging that they have one is just as important. So it's not like this was a new trick or anything. What's mind-blowing is that a chain of this size must have literally thousands of mentions on Twitter in any given day, and yet they still have people read through them all and offer help where needed. That's devotion to that rule, right there. And it means that where that experience may have shaped me in a way to avoid that store in the future (even though it really wasn't anyone's fault, just bad timing and a bad mood on my part), it actually made me like them better. Willingness to shop there= up.

I will say, every experience I've had there since then has been beyond positive. And believe me, I'm practically living at that store right now, what with all the "oops forgot we need that" going on around here.

I have to say, even though I spend way too much time on there, and way too much time off of there trying to think of clever things to say in less than 140 characters, I still don't really fully get Twitter. But this experience made me think more about it in other terms. It really is a useful tool for connecting, even between two things as big as a nationwide chain store and as small as a single customer. I already knew it was great for networking between individuals (and cyber-stalking my favorite writers and agents), but between entities was something I hadn't really considered yet.

No matter what, my experience that day would have been far different if I hadn't tweeted my frustrations. I would have gone home, probably without buying what I'd come there for, complained about the whole thing to WH and then avoided going there again for as long as I could (which wouldn't have been long, but yeah). Instead, I was impressed by their devotion to customer service and have continued to be with the positive experiences since then.

So yeah. Join Twitter, because it's really pretty cool. And you never know who might start following you!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Writer's Beginning Guide to Horses: Let's Talk Feet

This is another big one. I'm thinking a lot about feet right now because I can't find anyone to take care of my horse's and she is now way overdue. That will all make sense by the end of this post.

To start off on the most basic level, the foot of the horse is called a hoof. It's a keratinous structure, like fingernails and hair, surrounding a bone. There is a membrane inside that acts like a sponge, pumping blood through the hoof. At the bottom of the hoof is a V-shaped piece of soft tissue (soft only in that it's not bone or hoof) called the frog. The frog is made of what feels like hard calloused skin, but can still be easily cut or damaged.

There are channels that lie on either side of the frog and these must be cleaned out with a hoof pick regularly to ensure that no rocks or other debris is stuck in there. A rock stuck in the hoof can cause sole bruising, which can be very painful and make the horse lame. If the frog is cut too deep, it will bleed and the horse will limp. The horse also must be cared for to ensure that there is no chance of infection.

For your reference, here is a picture of the sole of a horse's foot:

The horse pictured above is unshod, meaning, it has no horseshoes on.

Horseshoes are used for horses who travel long distances on trail or on concrete or asphalt, to give the horse extra grip and prevent their hoof from wearing down too quickly. They are used for corrective shoeing, which means that they help correct hoof shape or angle or one of the many other myriad things that can make a horse go lame. The most common type of horseshoe rims the edge of the hoof with the exception of the frog, and is nailed into the hoof wall, so while the hammering can cause some discomfort, it's not painful for the horse to be shod. There are other special types used for corrective shoeing, but I won't go into those here.

I will also say that horseshoeing is a highly contested area of horse ownership. This is my knowledge, and I'm trying to make it as general as possible, but it is quite possible you will hear other opinions. This area tends to fall more under what you believe than anything else, though I personally am of the school of trying whatever you need to until something works.

The hoof is the most important part of the horse. In the wild, horses run or walk about constantly. Their hooves grow and are worn down by the consistent movement and rough terrain. Domestic horses don't necessarily move that much and must have their feet trimmed every six to eight weeks by a professional, called a farrier or a shoer. Most farriers are also blacksmiths-- they have portable forges and will shape and heat shoes on site for the particular horse they're working on.

But if one foot is hurt, injured, or tender, the horse will be crippled. Most horses weigh upwards of 1,000 lbs. Imagine that much force even on four feet, and carrying that much weight on an injured leg equals some serious pain. Since horses are herding, prey animals, if they cannot run away from a predator, they are as good as dead.

You might think this isn't true in domestication, but horses were built to stand-- they only lie down briefly to rest or sun, or for longer periods of time if something is wrong (a horse lying down is often the first sign of illness, injury, or impending birth). Their rib cage isn't built to support long periods of time lying down, and can have compromising effects on their digestion and respiration. So a lame horse, even a domesticated one, is in serious trouble. Especially if they go lame far from home.

Lameness from the hoof can be caused by any number of factors: the above mentioned rock in the sole, diet, bad hoof care, and so on. There are also any number of other reasons a horse might go lame unrelated to the hoof: stretching or injuring a tendon or muscle, etc.

A lame horse should generally not be moved more than necessary if it has a hoof injury. And they definitely should not be ridden, or asked to do work of any kind. These can greatly aggravate an injury and turn it from something minor to something major rather quickly. Not to mention, it's just mean.

So there you have it. Hopefully you understand now why I'm upset that I can't get a farrier to do my horse's feet! If you have any particular questions or want something cleared up, leave it in the comments!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Etymology Day: Apartment

WHOA it's been a long time since I did one of these. But you know what? I'm doing one today. And it's a doozy. Are you ready for this?

According to www.etymonline.com, the origin of the word apartment is as follows:

"1640s, "private rooms for the use of one person within a house," from Fr.
appartement (16c.), from It. appartimento, lit. "a separated place," from appartere "to separate," from a "to" (see ad-) + parte "side, place," from L. partem (see part). Sense of "set of private rooms in a building entirely of these" (the U.S. equivalent of British flat) is first attested 1874."

So now when someone pulls that old joke about "Why do they call them apartments when they're all stuck together?" you can answer with your new smarts. "Actually, the word apartment dates back to . . . "

You're welcome.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Broken apart and stitched back together-- or, the writing of a novel

Such a large part of writing is lonely. I know loneliness all too well right now. Four hours of my day (at least during the week) is full of the companionship of new marriage, and that's often the best, most peaceful four hours I have. But then he has to go to bed, and I'm still not tired, and then I'm alone again. As much as I wish they did, the cats don't really count for company. No matter how much I talk to them it's always a one-way conversation.

I find myself more and more often following him to bed anyway, unable to sleep but unwilling to stay up by myself any longer, content to let the characters roll around in my head and talk amongst themselves until they at last let me go and I can drift away.

Such a large part of writing is lonely. And the definition of crazy, I might add: people in my head, talking to me at all hours of the day. People no one else can hear, or see, or even imagine, at least not until I set my fingers to the keyboard and tap out their lives. I must be mad.

A mad and vengeful god. I torment those people to within an inch of their lives and sometimes beyond, and I bring them back for more, and I yank them and twist them and shatter them until I feel that they've had enough, all for the sake of my own imagination, and another, even more mythical creature: the Reader.

And then I lament. I type "The End" and I go back over the whole thing and writhe in agony that no, no, that whole bit is just WRONG and I fix it and I wish I were a better writer and I obsess over several uses of the same word, even while the characters STILL won't let me sleep at a decent hour.

When I finally both can bear it and can't take it any longer, I let other people into my sad, sick little world, and I wait. And those people-- the real people-- they become that mythical creature: the Reader. And they read what I've written while I practice wearing grooves in hardwood floors and eating large quantities of sugar.

And that is when writing isn't lonely anymore. Suddenly, my world is populated with other minds. Other minds who know my characters. Other minds who grapple with their desires and their fears. Other minds who get. it.

That is why I write.