Last Saturday I got to cash in my prize. Sweetie even came out from MN for the tour! I also brought Andrew, JD, Laurie and their kids, Lorna, Stef and Doug. We had to get to the zoo early, but Marie, the elephant manager and our host, met us and brought us up to the Mezzanine.
Marie answered many of our questions. The kids wanted to ask about the elephant poo – how much do they poo in a day? Turns out, each time they poo, it weighs as much as a 7-year-old boy!
Next up for a bath was Ambika – Marie had to leave us, as she was in charge of bathing Ambika. So, Becky came up to answer our questions and supervise us.
After her bath, Ambika went to the “sandbox” stall, and started flinging sand on her still-wet back. Turns out this is good for their skin, because as the sand dries and falls off, it helps to exfoliate their skin.
We stayed in the barn for an hour and a half! It sure didn’t seem like it. After the tour, we walked around much of the rest of the zoo. We even checked out the elephants again – we just hadn’t gotten enough! Oh, and the keepers were out in the yard, and recognized our group…I’m sure that was a good thing, and not because we were terribly annoying
The rest of my pictures from the tour are here: Elephant Barn Tour on Flickr.
Longtime readers may recall that last year I entered the inaugural Gin-GRR-bread Habitat Contest at the National Zoo. My entry turned out better than I had ever expected, and I was fairly certain I was going to win. Well, that is, until it broke when I was transporting it to the zoo.
So, when the National Zoo announced this year’s Gin-GRR-bread contest, I was very excited – I was going to redeem myself this time! The theme this time was “Winter Wonderland on the Farm”, because the Zoo’s children’s farm was saved from closure this year by a generous donation from State Farm. I debated between doing a literal interpretation of the theme or thinking a bit outside the box – which one would the judges embrace?
The contest had a few requirements:
So, how did I do this year?
Hmmm…does this mean I’ll have to be even better next year? Dear Lord, I hope not! I was already a crazy gingerbread-woman for a couple weeks in November…I’m not sure Andrew could take more.
I’ve never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. Not because I’m not thankful for things, but, I think, because a friend of mine died the Monday before Thanksgiving when I was in high school…his wake was Thanksgiving evening, funeral on Black Friday. My Dad, though, he loved Thanksgiving. It might have been his favorite holiday – at least a close second to Christmas. He loved getting whole family together.
This year has been a year of loss and stress. Most of it has not appeared on my blog yet, because it’s just been too painful. I’ve wanted to write about it, but whenever I start to think about all of it, I feel like it will overtake me.
In January I lost my Grandmother. Honestly, I didn’t grieve for her; it was her time, and she had wanted to die for years. But the loss hit me because I knew how much she meant to my Dad. In March I lost my Dad. I can’t even begin to express how much that hurt, and still hurts today. In April, just six weeks later, we lost one of our cats. After Dad, it was just too much, too much to deal with. Shortly after that, my job changed completely, and not in a good way. Things calmed down over the summer (except for not being happy with my job), but then I bought my Mom a condo because Dad had left her in a shit position for money (i.e. he left nothing, not even enough to pay for a funeral). So stressful to take on a new 30-year mortgage, and to know that I can’t just leave my job when I want to – I’m not responsible for my Mom’s housing. October…ah October. In one week, my Grandmother (my other one) was in the emergency room and taken to another hospital for possible emergency surgery (she’s fine, and didn’t end up needing the surgery); my uncle had a stroke; I turned 40; I found out the one person who makes me feel calm about my job is leaving; and another of my cats died.
It seems that it would be hard to be thankful for much this year. I know it seems trite, but I am thankful for my family and friends, for being gainfully employed (and being able to afford to buy my Mom her condo), for the best husband around (I never would have made it through this year without his support). More than all of this, though I’m thankful for two things:
- I’m more thankful than anyone can know that I decided to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving last year. This picture captures Dad last year on Thanksgiving Day, full of pure joy, surrounded by his family and futzing with his camera – two favorite things. And I was there with them, adding to his joy. Seeing his joy. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have seen him until his Mother’s funeral. Instead I got to see him at his happiest.
- I’m thankful that we got another year with both of my boys – Duncan and Ares. Duncan started getting sick in Fall 2009, and we found out that Ares had cancer in January 2010. I remember taking down our Christmas tree, crying while putting away the ornaments we have for each of the cats thinking that I wouldn’t get another Christmas with them. But we were able to treat both of them – Duncan with steroids and lots of small meals, Ares with chemotherapy. We struggled the whole year with Duncan, but he started to gain weight, and we constantly watched for him to tell us when and if he was ready to give up the fight. Ares went into remission in the summer of 2010, and we were optimistic that he would be with us for a long time. So, while I hoped that we would have them longer, I am thankful that we had an extra year with each of them.
If I could bottle the smell of fresh sawdust, I would. Then I would pull it out everyday and take a small whiff. Especially when I needed a reminder:
- that I am loved
- that I have always been loved, since before I was born
- that I am connected to a wonderful network of people, friend and family
- that there are people who love their job.every.single.day they go to work
- that I should be really proud of all of my accomplishments – big and small
- that my family is special, spectacular, and a source of pride by itself
Why sawdust? Because that’s Dad. He was a carpenter. I’d smell sweet sawdust when he gave me a tour of his latest job. I didn’t necessarily appreciate the job site, but his joy and pride were evident. There would be sawdust on his lunch pail and water jug at the end of the day. When I’d borrow his truck as a teenager, sawdust was my constant companion.*
I’ve always loved the smell of sawdust, but I don’t think I understood why. Now I cherish fleeting whiffs of sawdust as a comforting reminder of Dad.
* Occasionally we’d have to take his truck to a dressy affair (especially if Mom and I wanted a separate vehicle to escape before Dad wanted to leave), so we’d have to take extra care to check the seats before getting in with our good clothes.
While I’m not the biggest astronaut and “human spaceflight” nut, I have always wanted to see a shuttle launch…or a rocket launch…okay, I wanted to see something big with fire behind it rise up into the sky. Given that the shuttle program was coming to an end, I began to realize that I needed to get on the ball and hustle down to Florida for a launch. A small number of NASA employees are elligible to get tickets to see the launch from the NASA causeway – you know the place with the giant countdown clock that you see on TV? Since these last several launches were so well-attended, a lottery was instituted for these car passes to the causeway. I started putting my name in last fall, but never got picked. So, I did what members of the non-NASA public had to do, I gathered up my family and dragged them down to Florida, and staked out a claim on public land for the launch.
Because this has been such a crappy and hectic year, I wasn’t able to drag everyone (or even just my husband) down for launches earlier in the year. So, we were stuck going to the last launch…when a million people were expected to descend on the Space Coast. No problem. We could deal with it, if only for a day.
To make this a real event, I also invited my Mom and my aunt, Maggie. Mom flew out to DC ahead of time to enjoy July 4th in DC, then the three of us (Mom, Andrew, and me) piled into the car early Thursday morning and drove the 15 hours to Cocoa Beach. We met up with my aunt in Cocoa Beach – she had flown in earlier on Thursday and checked into our hotel. None of us was optomistic that we would see the launch – Friday’s forecast for launch was just 30%, as was Saturday; Sunday’s was a bit higher at 60%. We had to leave on Monday, so if the shuttle didn’t launch over the weekend, we wouldn’t see it. No matter – we would make an adventure out of it either way.
Friday morning we set the alarms for 3:00 AM with a goal of leaving for Titusville and Space View Park by 4:00 AM. As we drove, I checked the weather and launch forecast again – it still didn’t look good for the 11:26 AM launch time; 30% for “go” was predicted. We forged ahead anyway. Along the way, we passed cars and trailers parked along the road, and if we squinted we could see the bright spotlights lighting up the launch pad. We wondered if we should also stop…but our plan was Space View park, and we were sticking to it.
Traffic wasn’t actually bad until we were very close to Space View park – we circled around a bit, and finally found a pay parking lot charging just $15 (which, frankly, we didn’t care about – we just wanted to park the car and find a place to park ourselves). We had packed to be there all day – blankets, chairs, book bags and backpacks, a cooler with drinks and picnic fixings, picnic basket, bag of snacks – so we grabbed everything except the chairs, and trudged out to the park. It took a couple tries to figure out where exactly we should way, but eventually we staked our claim, laid out the blankets, and got ready to wait.
And wait. And check the status updates. And wait.
Each check of the shuttle status seemed to end with a version of the phrase, “the chance of launch remains at 30%”. So we were making plans for Saturday – deciding what we would do differently, where we might try to wait, and how early we might want to try to show up.
And as we waited, more and more people showed up. People were everywhere. Everywhere – including one dumbass and his (near-adult) boys on top of the Gemini program monument. Thankfully a few cops finally came through and made them get off of the monument.
Clouds threatened rain. We were “misted” on. Blue sky peeked in and out. We had no clue what the weather was going to do; if it would permit the launch today.
And waited. (Chocolate and potato chips might have been consumed before 10 AM.) And the crew continued to ready the shuttle, and the countdown and planned countdown-holds, continued. Each update, still with the caveat that launch was only a 30% probability.
Then word came down – they were exiting the final planned hold, with 9 minutes on the clock. Launch would happen! The weather cooperated, if barely, to permit the launch. We all waited, watching our clocks, listening to the flight control team on several radios. More people pushed into the park. I took Trevor and my camera and nudged my way up closer to the water – around the bush that threatened our view. We thought we were in the final 30-second countdown…the crowd counted (without a nearby radio). No launch. What happened? Then word came that there was a 30-second hold. The countdown started again (once a nearby onlooker pulled up the radio channel with the control room chatter). We counted along.
I held my camera over the heads of the crowd, aimed as best I could, and held down the shutter (in “sports, continuous” mode). It took a little bit for me to see the orange glow rising. The crowd was clapping, and we watched the glow rise with a cloudy-tail behind it. Unfortunately the clouds were low in the sky, so we soon lost view of the shuttle.
A few people started leaving, but the guys behind me kept saying, “wait for it, people, you don’t want to leave yet.” So I waited. And it seemed to take a while….and then I knew what they were talking about.
The sound. Or the feel. It’s hard to say. Certainly the sound of the rocket hit us, but it was more of a feeling. A rumbling deep in the gut that spread out to every part from my toes to my head. And it kept going for what seemed minutes, though probably less. And that is probably the memory I will carry from this experience – the rumble of a rocket thrusting a fragile vessile of human life into space.
Sunday evenings were my night to talk with Mom and Dad. Previously it was Fridays, and I think Mondays were a night for a while. But ever since I moved away, there has always been a night that we have set aside to talk. In general, though, we didn’t talk much between our weekly phone calls, but when we did, it was an evening call, since they knew I wasn’t home all day.
A day-time phone call between our weekly “appointments” generally meant something was wrong – someone was in the hospital, someone had an accident, a pet died, or some other bad thing.
One weekday I came home to my apartment and checked my messages, I heard this one from my Dad, “Hi Barb….I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.” His voice was crackly with emotion. I went into a bit of a panic. The way he was talking, the timing of the call, the words he said made me wonder what could be wrong. However irrational it may have seemed, I wondered if he was thinking about killing himself, given the emotion in his voice, and he was calling everyone before he did.
I called him immediately, on his cell phone since I knew he wouldn’t be home from work yet. All the while thinking the worst.
Dad barely picked up before I asked him, “What’s going on, Dad??”
He, as always, was casual, “Oh, you mean with the message I left you?”
I was exasperated, “Yes, what’s going on, are you okay??”
I think Dad finally heard in my voice how worried I was. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
“So, what was that all about?”
“What, I’m not allowed to tell my daughter how much I love her?”
“Well, yes, but maybe not mid-week in the middle of the day! I was worried you were thinking about doing something stupid.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry. No, I was just thinking about how Mark just found out that Devon was pregnant again. Remember she had been told she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant, but here she is with her second child. And what a pleasant surprise for them. Then I started remembering what a pleasant surprise you were for your Mom and me. I just needed to call you and tell you how much I love you.”
He’d been driving to work and imagining his life without the pleasant little surprise that was me. He and Mom hadn’t had trouble getting pregnant like my cousin; instead, I’m the poster girl for failed birth control. Heh. But he wanted me to know how much he loved having me as a little surprise.*
Yeah. He was that kind of guy. And I miss him.
*Though I always imagine that their first thought on finding out Mom was pregnant was “oh crap…I thought we were done with this.
It might just be me, but I’ve always felt that I have a bit of a spark. It could be that my spark is a love of life, or maybe a love of other people (as long as they aren’t behind the wheel of a car). Maybe it’s the humor I tend to find in life. The spark manifests itself differently in different contexts, but in general, it means that I always have a smile for friends and strangers alike. I also am usually ready to give people a laugh when its appropriate (and occasionally when it’s not). While I’m not the most social person, I’d like to think that when I do interact with others that I pass along a little bit of my spark.
I feel like my spark is being snuffed out. I no longer want to even look at other people – friend or stranger. Honestly, I could go through a few days without talking or looking at anyone else. I don’t feel like getting out of the house. I don’t want to go to the movies. I don’t want to scrapbook. I don’t want to sew. I don’t want to do a puzzle. I don’t want to play video games. I want to sleep. I want to cry. I want to just shut the world out.
I know that this is just depression from everything that has gone on in the past couple months. I’m hoping that the spark will come back in time. But I’m starting to see how “those people” become “those people”, because if I just gave in, I’d become one, too.