I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.
Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.
The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.
The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!
Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!
Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.
Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!
There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!
I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.
They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.
Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.
My new blogging strategy does include continuing with book reports. They are among the least-read posts, but the people who do read them seem to enjoy them, and I like having a record of what I read over the past few years. So, let’s go!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
My friend Johanna recommended the book Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family to me, saying it reminded her of me and my dogs. Once I started reading it, I could see how she came to that conclusion!
Piglet is an example of what could have happened with Carlton if he hadn’t lucked out and had spots on his ears and near his eyes. That’s a double dapple or double merle or one of those genetic issues that can happen when two dogs with the dapple or merle gene breed and get homozygous.
So, little Piglet ended up very pink and both blind and deaf. The fact that he has ended up being a social media star and an ambassador for both animals and people with disabilities is an amazing testimony to the creativity and determination of the veterinarian who adopted him, Melissa Shapiro.
Along with her family (especially Warren, her wonderful husband) and their six other dogs (and some birds), Piglet had a lot of supporters and helpers when he was little. I found it fascinating to read about how he figured out his world with his nose, including remembering people by their breath!
Shapiro’s pets did remind my friend of our pets, but the difference is that Shapiro has a lot more discipline and organizational skills than I do, so her dogs have a lot more skills and control than ours. But, the love is the same! I enjoyed getting to meet all the other pets in the household as well as Shapiro’s children, who thrived in the supportive yet disciplined environment in which they grew up. I had to smile huge smiles as I saw how each of them became their own person and braved the world with the confidence their parents helped them develop. Good job, Shapiros.
It’s hard not to like this book. It also makes you want to run out and contribute to Piglet’s nonprofit that supports educating people about the many accomplishments both humans and animals can have when they don’t allow disabilities to limit them. The Piglet Mindset is a great thing to have! Many readers will find themselves looking at disabilities differently after reading Piglet, and that makes is a truly wonderful book to have.
Check out Piglet’s Facebook page and his nonprofit and follow the extreme cuteness and pluck of this little dog. He has a lot of life left in him and a lot of work he can still do!
Hello from the road to South Carolina. I love road trips. You can sure think a lot. You can also knit a lot. I’ve actually arrived at the end of the pattern I’m making, but because I’m using different yarn and needles, I’m going to repeat the lace pattern.
I have plenty of yarn left. I enjoy knitting without disturbances. It lets me think of new techniques to try, modifications to make, and things I want to try next. I was wondering if I could crochet a border off live knitting stitches (not bound off). I think I’ve seen socks done that way, with crocheted cuffs.
I could knit for my job, if I’d taken that choice when it came to me. I love the science of designing patterns, love teaching it (so much, oh so much), like to go to conferences, and all that. And I do technical writing, which helps a lot. I’d have to have figured out a niche and done a lot of marketing, like so many of my knitting friends did so well. Knitting blogs got a lot of folks started, and I loved doing that, too.
That dream ended as abruptly as my work in La Leche League did. I didn’t have the self confidence and hadn’t healed enough to figure out a way to get through the hard part and start again, which I now can do. I no longer just disappear when I’m unfairly treated and no longer believe what other people say. Woo!
What Else Did I Want to Do?
But, who knows, I have a lot of years left! There’s another alternate route I could have taken, like the road less traveled. Yes, it’s exactly like two roads diverging in a woods, because I didn’t choose the one leading into a forest.
In college, I concentrated hard on classes leading to an interdisciplinary degree in linguistics. I loved studying all the different areas, and was strongly tempted by neurolinguistics. Brains fascinated me. (Still do; notice what I read about now.)
But, I had to get those darned prerequisites out of the way. I did most of them in the wonderful honors program, but I got burned by an awful teacher in Biology who gave exams that were ten essay questions where if you missed any part of the answer, the whole thing was wrong. That ended up ruining my boyfriend and his best friend’s GPAs. I was like, “You ain’t messing with my summa cum laude, asshole,” and got the only A in the class. I gave him one scathing evaluation.
That preamble was intended to explain why I took my second biology class as a normal class, with a grad student TA instead of a mean full professor. The class mostly covered genetics and biochemistry. I ate it up like ice cream. Figuring out chromosomes and proteins and all that was like figuring out puzzles. It was so fun.
I stayed after and asked the teacher questions. This guy was studying bees for his doctoral research, so I asked a lot about insect genetics. All I now remember is that he always wore incredibly wrinkled shirts, apparently because his girlfriend didn’t have an iron. There was much good-natured kidding, and he rewarded us with wearing an ironed shirt to the final exam.
Because I answered all the extra credit questions right, I didn’t need to pass the final, but I did it for fun. Then came the fateful question. The TA took me aside and begged me to switch majors. Biology needed me! I said I’d think about it. With my love of trees and springs and swamps, I imagined becoming a wildlife biologist and working with a State agency.
But, by that time I was already accepted to grad school in linguistics with a full fellowship. I had to take that path. Plus I was following my boyfriend. Hint to young people: your vocational choice should be determined by your brain, not hormones. I’ve been stuck working with language a lot longer than I had my boyfriend (a great human, don’t get me wrong).
The Good Part
But, all was not lost. I came to the Hermits’ Rest and got to hang out with Sara, the genetics PhD. And I met Dorothy, who’s not only a blog/podcast sponsor, but also got me into the Texas Master Naturalist program! I now get to do biology every day if I want to, I get to study the natural world, and if I can’t BE a wildlife biologist, at least I get to hang out with them! And I do work with a State agency.
It took me a while, but I did get to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. It just took patience.
So, have you attained your goals? Does your vocation match your avocation?
As always, things are changing in my life. One of the changes anticipated for this year is that Anita and I will need to move out of the Bobcat Lair house in Austin. That’s sad, because we really love the setting, the house, and most of all, the neighbors. But, the cost of just paying the City of Austin property taxes is more than the mortgage to our old house, and now that we are getting closer to me retiring from paid employment, we’ll need the money from that house as part of our income stream. Things are winding down, and it’s time for investments to pay off.
Yes, that’s all logical and good. Anita has her own little house in Cameron that we hope to get renovated as soon as her contractor is available and her tenant, who’s already month to month, knowing Anita is going to need to live in the house herself, finds another place to live. This is all quite reasonable, right?
But, when Anita started talking to me yesterday about how much she’s packed up already (she does all her moves all by herself, because she would rather invest her time than her money), and that she gave her tenant notice that she needs to be out, I found myself going back into one of my old, unproductive ways of reacting. I am not good with moving, AT ALL, and the thought of having to leave my beloved sanctuary sent me into a panic. It just seemed like a HUGE amount of work, change, and uproar was impending, and I kind of shut down.
Anita (bless her) kept talking me through it, and I began to realize that I can do things in stages, that I actually don’t have all THAT much furniture in the Bobcat Lair, and that I even have a place to store things like my books and such. And all the boxes I still haven’t unpacked (though there aren’t all that many now!!).
Plus, I plan to rent an apartment near my work, so I can easily figure out what things go where, move them, then get the rest moved to Cameron (except for what’s needed to stage the house). I’m just trying to breathe as I think of more things that need to be done, like electrical work to fix outlets that stopped working…but it’s not too much.
I just have to face it; I’m who I am, and I’m going to have trouble with changing things when it comes to my home, because having my own place grounds me. I’m still a fine person!
I’m Not Alone
Speaking of my issues, which I am, I had an odd experience last night watching the PBS show on Ernest Hemingway. Now, he’s not someone I ever would have thought I had anything in common with, other than being fond of short sentences (he was way better at actually writing them, though). As I learned how he grew up, the experiences he had with his family, and how he coped later, I was really surprised to see how we have a LOT in common when it comes to our inner demons and how we deal with them.
One part of the show, in particular, hit me hard. He was talking about how happy he was when he had both his wife and another woman he was also in love with. He said it made him inexplicably content, even if he knew it was hurtful. And then he talked about how, in his relationships, he always made sure to have another love interest all lined up before he left someone. Ouch. Those were my destructive patterns in my younger days.
I’m really glad I didn’t live such a public life as Hemingway did, because reading all the criticism of my life, like he had to, would have been really uncomfortable. I’m glad I just got to judge myself harshly without too much help from others (except former partners).
I don’t think Hemingway was able to get much control over his demons, much like his father, who committed suicide when he couldn’t get a handle on his mental struggles. He knew perfectly well what his problems were, which is clear from his books, but knowing what his challenges were didn’t mean he could fix them, any more than I can help my issues with moving.
I’m glad I had help, good reading, and inner work that has gotten me out of destructive patterns, at least with romantic and friendship relationships. I’ll be interested in watching the rest of this series and getting more insight into this fascinating writer and historical figure.
What a good thing that we happened to watch this interesting Ken Burns documentary right after I was beating myself up for repeating patterns from my youth (I know perfectly well that I hate to move house because leaving my beloved home as a teenager was so hard on me). It gives me perspective to cut myself some slack and bear in mind that some of our personality “features” are deeply ingrained, just like those unconscious biases.
We can only do the best we can and keep making an effort to improve. Thank goodness I’m a lifelong learner and never plan to stop enjoying the challenges of living up to my best intentions. Let’s all keep open to ways to learn more about ourselves and others, and be patient with ourselves.
That’s my lecture for today. Take what works for you and leave the rest!
A Note from a Friend
After reading my blog (with all the typos I just fixed), my friend Kelli Martin Brew responded to echo my thoughts. I really got a lot from what she said, so I’m happy she allowed me to share her thoughts with you:
I love this. The longer I live, the more it seems clear that a lot of who we are and what we do is hardwired. But how I have wanted to believe that knowing something was the same as changing it! At this stage in life, I think we can use this hard-won knowledge to be more merciful – and to be honest about our own struggles and behavior. I grew up with a huge mandate to “be a good example.” At this point in life, I have contented myself with being just an honest “example” of… something. Whether it is deemed “good” or not will be decided sometime in the future, if at all.
Kelli, Facebook, April 6, 2121
I really treasure connections that allow us to share our inner thoughts, struggles, and learnings. I plan to be an example, too!
Since it’s looking like it will still be a while before the relatives are back and I can get some new pullets (I need help rearranging the coop), I decided to try the old egg experiment again. You see, for the past few days when I go outside to feed my little flock of 6 (five hens and Bruce, the rooster), I see this:
Yes, I see five chickens. Someone is missing. That would be Star, the beautiful and large gray Czech Blue Sapphire hen. Coincidentally, she is now the only one laying in the actual hen boxes, since she chased Buttercup and Henley away. I still don’t know where Bertie Lee is laying, but everyone else has been laying away since it warmed up.
Yes, Star has gone broody on us. I guess it’s her turn. I decided to go ahead and let her set on some eggs, if she’s so fired up about it. I took a couple eggs from the other hens and stuck them under her, so I’m guessing she has 3-4 under her (including one dud). I wrote down on the calendar when 21 days would be up, and we will see if she continues to brood away and produces some chicks.
I know she’s eating, because she gets out for a while when it’s warm outside. That’s probably when it’s easiest to maintain warmth. She’s definitely in there all night, and not taking up space in the garage (yay). So, I guess we have another waiting game on our hands, and this time no one is gonna shew the broody hen off the nest. We can spare a few eggs, and who knows, maybe some of them will hatch into hens that lay green eggs (thanks to their baby daddy, Bruce, who’s an Easter Egger).
I’m looking forward to hearing from you all! Send me some comments. Blog listeners can even send voice messages (unless that turns out to be a big mistake).
Are you often told that you’re too sensitive? Do you get told to “just ignore” bullies and passive-aggressive people? Do you have trouble accepting criticism unless it’s kindly presented? Do you have a LONG list of books, movies, and television shows you can’t watch, because they upset you? If so, you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP), just like me.
Many HSPs already know all about this, having read The Highly Sensitive Person book (and its many friends). I wrote about it a bit last year when sensitivity was causing me some issues, in a post called You’re TOO Sensitive. So yeah, I’ve heard that before.
But, if you are among the majority of humans who don’t have the HSP trait, you may not realize this is a normal way for people to be. It’s also not necessarily a negative trait! There are many wonderful things about being highly sensitive.
Not a Sensitive Person? Read This!
Before you tell a friend or family member to get over it or change the way they experience the world and people around them, consider this information, and maybe you’ll be able to accept people like us just the way we are:
Around 15-20% of people are Highly Sensitive Persons. That’s a LOT of people, not just a few kooks.
People are born with the HSP trait; they can’t make it go away.
HSPs tend to have good imaginations and creativity. That’s handy!
They are often empathetic and can understand what’s going on with others. They can help people in groups get along better.
Not all HSPs are introverts. 30% are extroverts! (Reluctantly, I think that’s me.)
HSPs make GREAT leaders. They tend to prefer the “servant leadership” model rather than the hierarchically focused kind, and all kinds of people respond well to quiet leadership.
See, there’s a lot of good in people like me. We spend all our lives developing ways to cope with our more “tough” friends and colleagues, trying to moderate our strong reactions to violence and personal digs, being social as much as we can, etc. Maybe those of us who are not HSPs can “just ignore” the things about us that bug them! Hmm. What an idea.
Or, maybe we can all learn to accept our differences. Kindness never hurts, and bullying is never right. We also have to be able to accept criticism in order to grow and become better people. If we hurt someone’s feelings, we can apologize. And if we are easily hurt, we can explain that we understand it’s often not intentional. Meet in the middle? Why not!
Don’t worry, I like you all just the way you are. Variety is what makes us humans interesting, to me. Let me know if you found the information here to be useful!
Here are some signs you might be an HSP, from Elaine Aron’s really helpful HSP website:
Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?
We all want to know that, I guess. I did join Ancestry.com a long time ago to see where my ancestors came from and learn more. I wrote about some of my findings in 2018, and it was pretty interesting to some people other than me:
Ancestry did an update of their science, so my estimate changed. It actually makes a lot more sense now. Here’s the link to it. The main thing that changed is I’m a lot more Scots and English than I was before, and a lot less Irish. This makes sense, knowing my extra British Isles heritage on my dad’s side. There’s a lot of the Germany/Switzerland region, which is the part of my mom’s side you don’t hear much about from them. And I’m about a quarter Swedish, which they have down to the exact town my grandfather’s family lived in for centuries.
So, I’m a white person with all the rights and privileges granted thereto. Too bad I’m a woman, or I’d be running things, right? (Working hard to change all that!)
There were a few more details on ancestors that I enjoyed. The best one is that my second great-grandfather, William Greenberry Lafayette Butt, fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. Hey, at least I had one ancestor on the side that won (all these folks on my dad’s side settled in northeastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina). I’d assumed most were on the other side, or hiding somewhere.
That’s really all I had, just wanted to share that I’m happy to hail from Scotland way in the past. Anything north of Hadrian’s Wall makes me Celtic and happy.
Oh, okay, it’s about the fact that a significant number of humans do not picture scenes in their minds when thinking. It’s called mind blindness, or aphantasia. I have to admit that, in all my endless reading about how brains work, I had never realized that this is as common as it is. Apparently it affects 2% of the population!
When someone posted a link to the article and said they were mind blind, I was really surprised. I’d never have guessed. Later, people said they found out their spouses were that way and they’d never known. I got suspicious, and asked my own spouse, whose perceptions have sometimes baffled me. Yep, he has it at least to some extent, and definitely has the related issue of being face blind (THAT explains why he found me attractive!). Well, huh. I knew he was color blind (try picking out paint with that guy), but I hadn’t known this!
The article goes on to say some people become upset when they find out other people have movies going on in their heads. I don’t know; I think if I was born a certain way, it would feel normal, like being short, or prone to being gassy.
I also wonder if there’s research to show that people who are mind blind prefer to read nonfiction over fiction, as an anecdote in the article suggested. I guess it’s nice that if these folks read a book and see a movie, they aren’t bothered that the characters don’t look how they pictured them!
This also makes me wonder if some other traits correlate to mind blindness. Some of my friends have suggested their attention-deficit traits and/or social skills issues associated with the autism spectrum may go along with this. However, many people I know don’t report this. I want more research! (Here’s an article with more research, but not on my questions.)
The Other Side
Why was I not surprised to learn that there’s another way of perceiving things called hyperphantasia, or super-visualizers. These folks have very detailed mental images and can describe what they see easily. They are folks who have been termed to have “very vivid imaginations.” According to the researcher in the article, people usually fall somewhere in between aphantasia and hyperphantasia. That makes sense, knowing how mental traits tend to work out.
I haven’t written a book report in a while. Why? I am reading two long books at the same time, which means neither one of them is finished. But, yippee-dippee, I small but significant little book has appeared, and I got so excited about it, that I got it the day it was published: Sunnyside Plaza, by Scott Simon.
Stereotypical hippy liberals like me will recognize the name Scott Simon, because he is the host of Weekend Edition on NPR. He also has one of the best Twitter feeds that I read. He is smart, funny, and insightful. He’s also a good writer, and Sunnyside Plaza is his first book in the Young Adult genre.
Now, don’t turn away because it’s YA Fiction. Some of my favorite writers focus on that genre. All it means, in this case, is that the book isn’t very long. It does not mean that the subject matter and its implications aren’t also appropriate for us non-young adults.
Simon based the book on people he met as a teen when he had a summer job in a halfway house for intellectually disabled adults, only it wasn’t called that back then, of course. Part of what makes him such an empathetic adult came, no doubt, from his experiences with these folks.
So, yes, it’s a book about people who live in a group home and have varying degrees of cognitive impairments. It’s told through the eyes of Sal, who you just have to love, a lot, by the time the book is over. During the course of solving a mystery at Sunnyside Plaza, Sal and her friends learn just how capable they are, and the people around them come to see them as individuals with charm, wit, and strengths.
It never hurts to be reminded that people who are different are still whole human beings with much in common with the rest of us. But I saw something that is sticking with me after I finished the book: it doesn’t take owning a lot of things, being accomplished, or even being able to talk to live a whole and happy life. The joys of living in the moment are perhaps more available to people who don’t have to go off to work, think about bills, or all those things. Love, friendship, fun, and yes, even sad things, are all available to experience when there isn’t so much clutter to get in the way.
The people living in Sunnyside Plaza like it being just the way they are. The people they meet who get to know them also come to feel the same. That’s an important lesson I’m glad I’ve learned, that everybody has their own wisdom.
I strongly recommend this book for you, any teens you know, and any mean people who poke fun at others, not that they’ll read it. But maybe it will teach all of us to be a bit kinder.
While I have to read the book club selection next (Furious Hours, about Harper Lee), I am wanting to jump right into another book I just got, which I think builds on the lessons of Sunnyside Plaza: Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell. This book dives deep into why it’s so hard to really talk to people from different parts of society from ourselves, but why it’s so worth it.
However, I have to finish my giant scientific book, Behave, first. It’s hard to read about brain chemistry when you are about to fall asleep, but it’s interesting!
I couldn’t remember the breed of chicken our new brown one, Ginger, was. I knew if I just saw it, I’d remember, but it wasn’t listed on the Bird and Bee Farm website.
Chicken-loving friends to the rescue! Cheryl pointed out on Facebook that she is an ISA Red. I got her so that I’d have at least one high producer, and they are fine looking gals. Here’s what Cheryl posted:
Such pretty ladies! I think Ginger might be an ISA Brown. Great egg production, but not as long-lived as many other breeds.
I wondered what ISA is and why they are short lived. I looked it up! Tractor Supply said:
ISA Browns are one of the top sellers in the industry because of the number of eggs they lay and their calm demeanor. Their eggs have excellent shell quality and texture. This especially sweet, docile, gentle bird, is extremely easy to work with and are great birds for new chicken owners or young families. ISA Browns produce almost an egg every day and do well either in confinement or free ranged. Hens begin to lay around 4-5 months of age with adequate daylight hours. When they are hatched, the pullets are red and the cockerels are white for this color sex-able sex-link.
ISA stands for Institut de Sélection Animale, the company which developed the crossbreed in 1978 for egg production as a battery hen. They are very popular in large egg production places. Glad Ginger is a free bird!
As always, the high egg yield is detrimental to the long-term health of the hen. The ISA is one of several breeds developed for high egg yield at the expense of longevity and natural reproduction.