Sunday, December 21, 2014

Elephant Sanctuary or Bust

Allow me to present clever Christmas Carols about sending Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo Elephants to a Sanctuary, arranged by Ken and the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants folks.

How did we get here, you ask?

Back in early 2010, my do-gooder husband happened upon a display at the Ballard Farmer's Market detailing The Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants work about getting the three animals to a sanctuary. I would have never guessed in a million years that he would have taken up this cause. But in my old age, I am more often surprised than proven right when it comes to Ken.

By July of 2010, Ken produced an animated video succinctly detailing the exact plight of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and putting things in perspective.

Despite being Riveting, heartbreaking and obvious about what to do next, it seemed like the arguments of the elephant activists fell on deaf zoo board ears.

I must admit though, (and I can't believe I felt this way) the zoo was a great place to take young kids: amenities everywhere, it's fenced and enclosed, everyone loves to see animals and you get exercise walking around outside. I even had fond memories of going to the zoo myself as a child and I wanted my kids to have that too. But despite whatever nostalgic ideal I had in my mind, that was a selfish way to look at it and conveniently disregarded the animals themselves. I soon realized this.

Come 2012, rumors and rumblings surfaced that an unflattering article detailing the plight of the elephants would surface. And so it did. The Seattle Times published a damning expose' called Glamour Beasts about the Zoo's treatment of elephants and the quest to produce a newborn baby elephant. It's a gut-wrenching read and will make you feel simultaneously angry and guilty for ever patronizing a zoo. General opinion began to shift. In response, the Zoo incredulously dug in it's heels and started saying it was going to expand the elephant program by bringing in more elephants.

Then six months later, Blackfish, the documentary about the terrible conditions for orca whales at sea parks, ignited a fervor against keeping highly intelligent animals in captivity. And it hasn't let up.

This past July, Ken and I went to South Africa and we were very fortunate have a number of connective and awe-inspiring sightings of wild elephants on a 2200-acre game reserve.

The experience was nothing short of magical. So I couldn't help but have strong emotions about the two disparate elephant experiences: the zoo vs. game reserve--especially given the sudden, preventable and captivity-induced death of Woodland Park Zoo's lone African elephant, Watoto, this past August.

 So then the Zoo reversed themselves signaling the end of the elephant program.

The latest reporting this week from KUOW confirms that while the Zoo will close it's elephant program (Yay!), it plans to send the elephants to another zoo--not a sanctuary (No!). And these are last ditch efforts now to get the City of Seattle involved, to get the zoo board members to change their mind, to make them see that life in a zoo is not a life for an elephant you claim to care about.

Because an elephant in a zoo is not a full elephant, it's missing what comes from walking hundreds of miles, eating branches and fruit off trees, living amongst blood relatives and having an elephant's life. Saying that Chai and Bamboo have other work to do as species ambassadors is crap.  The Zoo Board must think we are nitwits who cannot like an animal without seeing it for our own eyes.  To which I'd like to say, can you explain the borderline obsession people have with DINOSAURS? You know, animals that have never been alive during our time.

I'd also like to point out that I fell in love with Great White Sharks at age 7 after watching Jaws and continuing to watch shark documentaries and read books about these animals well into adulthood. In wasn't until my late 20's that I *finally* stumbled upon one being rehabilitated at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and yet, I still loved and appreciated these animals all that time without having seen one face to face.

Ultimately this is a really long way of asking people to email to the City Council to ask them for help pressuring the zoo to send these two elephants to a sanctuary. Thank you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Interstellar, a parent's perspective

It's hard to miss the abundant cascade of varying opinion and commentary on Interstellar, the ambitious, 3-hour, and somewhat-science-accurate flick by Christopher Nolan. One of my favorite commentary pieces so far was this gem on by David Christopher Bell, where he uses terms like "dream journal" and "frogshits" to further explain how people love to critique Nolan movies.  I think this is mainly because Nolan's treatment and assumptions of space, worm holes, black holes, quantum physics and the Future boldly challenges the viewer to keep up with the story or at least, act like they do.

So Ken and I being the dutiful nerds we are, went and saw Interstellar in IMAX a few weeks ago since it was shot on that format--but for what important reason, I know not. Personally, I think you could see it in a normal theater and not miss much, even saving a few dollars to boot.  But what it did get us was Matthew McConaughey's 6-story-tall crying dad face.

And that is what I want to talk about.

Most of the discussion around this film is about the science and accuracy of the film OR the Nolan-esque qualities of the film OR the strange choices Nolan made in making the film.  What I haven't been able to find (hardly) is a parental perspective on this clearly parentally-themed film.


Survival of the species=ultimate parental responsibility

Here is a single dad (McConaughey, known as 'Cooper') who leaves behind his home planet and children in the hopes that he can save the entire human race. It's a bet on the future--a better future--which is something that parents inadvertently do. (BTW, the 'parents' I refer to are the ones who stick around and do the heavy lifting work of raising kids) Any way, 'hopeful' is what it is to be a parent because cynicism has no place.  Being cynical, it is a scary, hypocritical path to wander down once you've brought a defenseless, innocent mini-me into the world so you'd better find a way forward.

Being a parent is also taking responsibility for the propagation of the species which Cooper's character embraces whole-heartedly.  As he goes forth looking for a new home for the human race, he is figuratively and literally providing for 'his family.'  He and his crew are also shouldering the decision-making about what does or does not constitute a suitable environment--just as parents do.

What's interesting is that there are great efforts taken to make sure everyone else on the crew does not have ties maritally or parentally. But Cooper's fatherly instinct and connection to his child is what ultimately saves the entire mission and the human species.  People who have connections were initially looked upon as a liability or disadvantaged but the opposite is proven true.  Also when Anne Hathaway's character tries to make a decision based on love instead of science, she's rebuked but is later shown that following that path would have lead a habitable world and mission success.

I cried ugly when dying, old lady Murphy (Cooper's daughter) and Cooper exchange some final words as she's laying on her deathbed.  She says that no parent should see their child die, and well, that's true--it's not the natural order of things and so she pretty much tells him to leave. Yet the movie has been milking the tension of 'are father and daughter ever going to see each other again?' So when they finally do, after so much has happened, after being absent from so much of each other's lives but then only exchange maybe 5 minutes of dialogue--it's just, just so frustrating and heart-wrenching.  Uggh!

Now I can suspend disbelief like the best of them. But one thing I just could not get simpatico about was the logic of sending all those eggs into space--with one female astronaut.  Seriously though, who was expected to bear and raise all of the new human race? Not to mention, how much radiation is everyone and all the eggs on the ship being exposed during the journey?  (I suppose this is just stuff that comes to me because of being so focused on fertility to achieve both our pregnancies.) But Plan B didn't make a lot of sense unless you had an army of surrogates or the helper robots TARS, KIPP and CASE were equipped with some mechanical uteruses.  I'm just saying.
(UPDATE: I've been informed that there was a one-line throwaway explanation that there were 10 artificial wombs on board the ship.  So at the end of the movie that leaves Anne Hathaway being Decamom, single mother to 10 babies on an alien planet. Let the logistics of that rattle around in your mind for a minute.)

In closing, once you become a parent you have skin in the game. The game being the success of the human race and specifically facilitating a sustainable and fulfilling life for your own offspring.  So I think that's why the movie struck such a nerve with me. Interstellar may shoot for distant worlds but it really hinges on what it means to be a parent in this one.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Showdown in Toddler Thunderdome

There are few places more freaky than a play area in a mall.  You know, those child corrals with shiny plastic foam cars and slides ringed with benches so parents can look at their smart phones and not watch their kids for awhile. (It's also ground zero for Germageddon 2012--where around Halloween of that year, Kristina and I took the older girls and our newborns there, and afterwards we ALL came down with the most horrific colds.)  Yeah, that place.

But after today I have renamed it Toddler Thunderdome.

Kristina and I met there this morning to let the #2s get some physical activity and for us to hang out and chat.  The first 45 minutes was uneventful as a number of other kids of similar age showed up and, beyond the occasional minor jostling, everyone was doing what they wanted and having fun. All of a sudden, right in front of where Kristina and I were sitting, a boy (let's call him Mr. Furious) grabbed and shoved another little boy (both appeared to be 3 yrs old) because Mr. Furious got cut in front of to climb on the plastic caterpillar. There was real menace in this kid--he was pissed.  Luckily our #2s were on the far side, away from this action so we turned away from the scene of crying children and intervening mothers to resume our conversation.

Some 15 minutes later, our kids had wandered back to our side of the play area and were either hopping in and out of the plastic car or climbing up the plastic caterpillar along with a handful of other kids.  I then saw Calvin start to prance (faster than walking but not quite a run) between the two plastic structures but he had too much momentum to stop and ran smack dab into Mr. Furious, who was merely bumped back a little. Suddenly Mr. Furious grabbed Calvin's shirt with both hands and body slammed him backwards to the ground so he's flat on this back. It was so forceful that Cal's back hit the carpet first then his head. Before I could get to my feet, Mr. Furious went all Shark Week on Calvin and bites him on the abdomen.  Calvin started wailing as Kristina & I rushed to comfort him.

By then, Mr. Furious' mother had snatched him away from the area and confined him to the bench.  She came into my eye-line with a look of mortified concern and embarrassment.  My Mama Bear instincts of retribution were stayed by her look of genuine remorse.  The mother apologized to me repeatedly and I felt the automatic phrase of 'It's okay' cue up in the back of my throat but I simply nodded through pursed lips.  Because it didn't really feel okay.

But I realize even good kids have the potential to lose their shit sometimes.  Maybe Mr. Furious had a low blood sugar moment or his parents were getting a divorce.  In any case, I didn't necessarily want to rake her over the coals since I've learned by now that the tables can turn in a heartbeat.  Anyone could suddenly be that mom with the acting-out kid that catches everyone by surprise.  But I didn't want to let her off that easy either.  That was a significant hit and bite so I also wanted her to internalize the feeling so that in the future she remembered to pack a snack or kept closer tabs on him or just didn't bring him to confined areas with other kids.

What I essentially said to Calvin but also directed at the mother was that "sometimes we have hard days but we're tough." Calvin was fine after a few minutes and the bite hadn't broken the skin.  The mom might have brought her son over for some sort of apology but I'm not sure . Either way, she promptly scooped up Mr. Furious and got the hell out of there.  As she should have.

Calvin shook it off like a champ but continued to talk about it in the car during the ride home.  I explained how sometimes people get so angry that it causes them to do things like that.  But we don't bite or hit to solve our problems--we use words. It's both fascinating and frightening to watch the microcosm of what the playground and even the larger world will be like for Calvin.  As a boy, physicality is much more prevalent than it ever has been with Sidney. This is the way of nature but hopefully 'better natures' prevail.  Hopefully.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Born Defroster

You know that feeling when someone just gets you?

That's how I felt when I read Virginia Heffernan's recent NY Times piece, "What If You Just Hate Making Dinner?" No one has captured my aversion to cooking so well.
A vague neural itch sets in around 5 p.m. when I recognize that something must happen, and soon, involving plates and macronutrients. I do not move. Dinner preparation is all mental around these parts: I figure out who’s had enough protein or carbs for the day, who can bear eating the other’s favorite food, or whether I must figure out two meals.
But possibly the best part of that article was discovering the existence of a lost tribe, known as the "born defrosters." My people.
In 1982, Jessica Lange as Julie, the glamorous single working mother in “Tootsie,” became my ego-ideal when she sexily told Dustin Hoffman’s character that she was a “born defroster.” Lord, how I loved that expression. 
For the record, I have always loathed meal prep and still lament the time I have to spend doing it. But being a homemaker and stay-at-home-parent thrusts me into the role of head chef. It's a tiresome and thankless job to feed two kids with highly discerning palettes and mutually exclusive food preferences. Add to that their still-picky mother (I'm hard-pressed to think of more than ten vegetables I'll eat) and their father, who would default to a PB&J for any reason. 

It's interesting to note that when we were first married, Ken did 90% of the cooking since we both worked and I had even less cooking skill than I do now. Back then, he would make a notable dish like Curry Halibut Cheeks--fancy stuff.  But the cooking he does now fits into one four categories: 

  • grilling 
  • grape or fig jam 
  • super hard, rarely-made recipes for events (like vegetarian lasagna from scratch or brined turkey for Thanksgiving)
  • breakfast (with emphasis on fried eggs)

I think my own aversion to cooking all started back in my adolescence when I perceived that knowledge of cooking was a gateway to being trapped in the kitchen.  Besides, I had no reason to learn to cook because growing-up all the men in my life (dad, brother & assorted boyfriends) were good at it.  My mom also loved to cook.  She still revels in all the details and process of it.  Often she likes to regale me with foodie speak and tidbits she's gleaned from her Julia Child's cookbook or a snipped recipe from the newspaper.  At which point, my mind clouds over as it attempts to shield me from a knowledge most unwanted.  If I don't know how, I can't be held responsible. 

Against my will though, I have actually learned some things, like how to make flawless hard-boiled eggs and to use thermometers to avoid overcooking things.  But recently (errantly) I tried to step up my game with a recipe/delivery service called ACME farm + kitchen out of Bellingham, WA. Once a week they deliver a box with local, organic raw ingredients for 3-5 meals depending on the box size.  Normally this would activate my educated, liberal, urban, Seattlite pleasure centers (the same ones that fire up at farmers' markets) but the draw back of this service is that you 'get what you get and you don't get upset.' The meals are a surprise. Do you know what picky eaters hate most? Surprising, unfamiliar foods. 

So last week's box had ingredients and instructions for Banh Mi Vietnamese Pork Sandwiches with pickled carrots.  It was a very hands-on meal with chopping vegetables, pickling of the carrots, shaping/frying/baking/chilling of the meatballs, etc.  After all that work (non-stop for an hour) I served it to just Ken and myself, since both children went screaming from the room when I offered them some.  Ken, who is usually game for anything, surprisingly didn't like it. I was astounded and disheartened.  I don't often spend that much time on stuff I KNOW will be good so I was super frustrated by this development.  I ended up eating much of the left overs for the next 2 days because someone was going to benefit from all that effort.  But for us, it's not worth doing a food service like this (as lovely as it is) for a family of picky eaters and chef who hates cooking.  I know, it's sad.

But if you want to know my saving grace, two words: prepared meals.  I bet you thought I was going to say 'mac & cheese'.  Well we do that sometimes too.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Star Wars Battle Droid Brushes Up on Some Reading

In a weird burst of inspiration, Ken decided to do this today during our lazy Sunday morning home with the kids. He made that little book and meticulously posed the Star Wars Battle Droid by the best window for natural lighting in our house. 

I have allowed the kids to play with my Star Wars action figures for a good part of the year now.  I was sort of saving them (for what I don't know) but now that they regularly play with Obi Wan aka "Obi Toby", Qui-Gon Jinn, Padme, Mace Windu, Darth Maul and this guy, well, it can't help but inspire some parental silliness.

A good number of North Seattle school families have something against vaccines

The moment I became a parent, I bore the weighty and unrelenting yoke to make life and death decisions for the two little people I helped create.  Like every parent, I want the very best for my children and I want to protect them from what is in my power to do so. But I grow so weary of this "debate" about vaccinating. I have to mindfully suppress the feelings of rage that bubble up when data like this gets published--are you serious that we might attend one of the top 5 Kindergartens in Seattle with the highest opt-out rate for vaccinations? WHAT?  (Now, these numbers are from 2012-2013 so I am hoping in the two years since that data was current that things have improved.) But it shocks me--shocks me--that intelligent, educated people still question the value and importance of immunizations.

I'll admit at some point when I was pregnant with Sidney, I considered an alternative vaccination schedule because I got spooked by some things I read on the Internet and some stuff a few fringe moms had said. But I quickly came to my senses and remembered that I believe in science. So the moment Sid came out, we got that kid on the standard vaccination schedule and haven't looked back.  (I didn't even hesitate with Calvin.) Because when it comes to protecting my kids from deadly diseases, immunization is the best way to do this.  Of course it SUCKS as a new, sleep-deprived mom--nerves frayed and protective as hell--to walk into that well-check appointment to get 4 shots and they need your help to hold the baby down.  After the first stick, your little precious looks up at you with surprise, terror and betrayal, or just screams like this one in the KUOW article.

Flickr Photo/Dan Hatton (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
And for a moment, your confidence waivers, protective instincts jolt through your nervous system and it takes a willful, focused effort not to attack the nurse for hurting your baby. But 10 minutes later, everyone is calm, bandaids are in place, outfit back on, car seat buckles strapped and you're outta there. Congratulations, you made it though AND your baby is one step closer to a solid immunity to some of the most deadly and debilitating diseases on the planet.

But the success/disaster of the effectiveness of vaccines is that in our lifetime, most of us have never seen significant outbreaks of these strange diseases. So it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of confidence, as some parents have, and take for granted that this safe medical innovation can prevent unspeakable anguish. These parents send their under-vaccinated kids inevitably into the same playgrounds, daycares, classes and elementary school as my kids.  So then a "personal decision" for that family becomes very personal to me, indeed.  It'd be one thing if we all lived out in the country with acres between us and homeschooling was the norm, but we don't. I think it should simply be: under-vaccinated kids don't belong in public schools.  They just don't.  Not only does it put the fellow students at risk but also their younger, not-yet-able-to-be-fully vaccinated siblings, any immuno-compromised teachers/staff, and pregnant teachers/staff/parents.

Obviously there is a very small population of kids who can't have vaccines on schedule for medical reasons and I am sympathetic to that. It might be the only good reason to object to vaccines but that's an even bigger incentive to make sure all the kids who can have vaccines, get them.  It just smacks of selfishness by burdening the rest of the group.  You wouldn't send a kid to school without the necessary pencils, notebooks and supplies.  So why would you send him/her to school without all their immunities onboard?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Frozen Frenzy

I know we're late to the party on this but we officially have been "Frozen"-over here. Sidney has joined the legion of young girls who LOVE the Elsa and Anna. We have not helped to quell this either by giving her an Elsa dress and making her an Elsa castle for her birthday.  I think Ken and I were waiting to see if things would fade and that would be a big "nope".

But honestly I see why Disney was a little surprised by the popularity and success of Frozen.  It's just not their strongest work. For instance, despite finding Mandy Moore grating in real life, I find her delightful as Rapunzel. I also think "Tangled" has a much more cohesive, emotionally satisfying and relatable story.  And don't get me started about that lantern release scene--I tear up every time. But Frozen, yeah, Anna seems to be the only character with a little depth, the only one who is slightly relatable. Though I find it hard to believe she has no anger or resentment from being cut off from her sister and cooped up from the world.  That doesn't quite seem believable to me.

1. Nordic Story?
My assumption from the dress designs, multitude of white people, trading post guy, mention of "fjords" and general coldness lead me to assume this story is based on Nordic tradition. Though I feel a little unsure about this (see troll people).

2. How the parents dealt with Elsa
You discover your eldest born has magical powers that become uncontrollable when she's scared or angry and the best you can do is lock her in her room for the rest of her childhood?  Good plan Mom and Dad. That DEFINITELY won't be a problem later.  And if the trolls know so much, why doesn't she go and live with them for awhile--maybe they can teach her something, considering they are "love experts." Dangerous, magical powers and no guidance, that should end well.

3. Parents in general
In true Disney fashion, the creators of Frozen dispatched with the parents when the girls were teenagers in an accident at sea. Parents in Disney movies are like red shirts in Star Trek, destined to die unless they're Scottish and then they can stay.

4. The songs
Everyone went crazy over the signature song "Let It Go."  Truly Idina Menzel sang the s**t out of it.  But I find myself drawn more to the layered duet of "Love is an Open Door" and the cleverness of "In Summer" more.  As a musical palette, the songs are all over the place. "First Time in Forever" and "Fixer Upper"--meh.

5. The troll/rock people
As long as we're talking about the troll people, they are the one element in this story that confuses me every time I see them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Need one undeniable reason to keep elephants out of zoos? Find the babies.

In light of the untimely death of Watoto, the Woodland Park Zoo African Elephant, if you want one undeniable reason why they don’t belong in zoos, just look to nature.  

Last month during a visit to a South African wildlife reserve, my husband and I encountered an entire herd of elephants (roughly 25-30 animals). Immediately, my thoughts went to Watoto, Bamboo & Chai on the other side of the world. As this herd of animals walked within 3 feet of our jeep, I felt a majesty and presence that I have never felt before. Looking in their eyes they were neither afraid nor aggressive, they were just on their way to a watering hole.  And within the herd we saw no less than 5 babies.  Five.  I recalled that Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo had unsuccessfully tried to artificially inseminate Chai (the Asian female elephant) over 100 times. The juxtaposition of these facts delighted me and angered me like the churning of storm clouds. 

Update 8/26 PM: I just read that a male elephant was born over the weekend at the game reserve we visited. Congrats!

Covering over 22,000 acres, you couldn’t even see the far end of the reserve and in between there were lush valleys, vast savannah, dense forest and a river running through the whole thing.  Miles of lone dirt roads crossed the reserve like an intricate system of veins used by the jeeps, elephants and other large wildlife.

On the reserve, when you looked into the eyes of these animals, there was “someone home.”  There was a liveliness, a completeness.  But when looking into the eyes of animals in a zoo, especially the elephants, big cats and primates--you’ve seen it--they are typically lethargic, sleepy or sometimes displaying odd behaviors (rocking, pacing).  Ridiculously small enclosures push them up toward the front so that hordes of ‘zooligans’ can bang on the plexiglass and have a moment with these animals who are shells of what they could be.  When I see this, I’m overcome with sadness because the truth is, these animals now exist for entertainment. But maybe the more appropriate way to think of these animals is that they are 'tributes' or sacrifices for their species. Since people use the reasoning that you have to see an animal to have a sensitivity to it, these captive representatives are ‘taking one for the team.’  They’ll forgo a natural life so that the human masses might have compassion for the rest of them.  

Once returning back to the US, we immediately traveled with the kids to San Diego for a wedding celebration, taking place at the San Diego Zoo. We easily saw through the artificial constructs designed to make visitors think that the enclosures are much like their real habitats. Even pre-recorded ambient animals sounds, piped through outdoor speakers, were stealthily hidden throughout the zoo.  When my husband, our kids and I warily approached the elephant enclosure, I braced myself for what we might see.  Granted, this elephant enclosure was larger than Woodland Park’s and had more “interactive elements” for the animals but one of its resident pachyderms stood swaying on a concrete slab, a tell-tale sign of an unhappy and/or sick animal. I felt a lump in my throat then, as I do now, recalling the stunned and unseeing look in that elephant’s eyes. 

I think of Watoto dying young and never really knowing what it is to roam. I think of the African herd prospering and their 5 vivacious new babies. I think of Woodland Park’s antiquated stance on elephant captivity for the sake of nothing but revenue and prestige. And I think of the indisputable truth that we all know in our heart of hearts: that elephants don’t belong in a zoo.

(All photos taken by Kali Sakai at Kariega Game Reserve, South Africa.)

For more information about the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, check out this video.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

About that Trip to South Africa...

During Discovery's Shark Week 2001, I watched a program called Air Jaws.  The show documented the South African Great White Sharks that launch themselves out of the water to hunt seals.  Up until that point in my life of avidly watching shark documentaries and being a decent shark aficionado, I had never heard of (let alone seen) such behavior. So as the first few sharks leaped out of the water on screen, I stood up in my empty living room, pointed at the TV and screamed, "I am so going there someday!"

~13 years pass~

Our journey to South Africa this past July involved a lot of planning, multitudes of logistics and heaps of grandparent karma as we would be leaving the children behind. As a result, we observed wild animals in native habitats during a boundary-pushing, comfort zone smashing, epic adventure. 

Here are 10 Highlights from the Other Side of the World...

1. Meeting Chris and Monique Fallows
One of the men who studied and tracked these amazing South African sharks was none other than Chris Fallows, featured extensively in Air Jaws and the sequels. He and his wife, Monique, are the co-purveyors of APEX Shark Expeditions.  It was like meeting shark celebrities.

2. Cage Diving with Great White Sharks
I'd describe South Africa as complex, picturesque and politically fascinating place but honestly seeing the Great White Sharks were the MAIN reason we went there. Well, that, and wanting to do something completely wild and crazy to celebrate my 40th. (Mission accomplished!) We went out on the boat at total of 4 times: having 3 cage dives and 1 predation trip.  The weather wasn't very warm (it's their winter) but the sharks were magnificent.  This video is the culmination of all those trips. 
[Be sure to watch this video in 1080p HD, available in the settings drop down.]

3. Throttling One's Fear of Foreign Places
When diving with Great White Sharks seems like the least dangerous aspect of your trip, you really have to wonder. You know that thing when you read a bunch of travel books and the State Department advisory webpage and they basically say you're a big dummy to go travel around in this country? The reasons: "a very high level of crime," "one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world" and "several US citizens have been robbed at gun point" while "car jackings and thefts from cars are serious problems." Yes, that's not anxiety-making at all. But a number of close friends had just traveled to the Cape Town area with no experiences like that. Obviously we had to keep our guard up and be vigilant but nothing bad happened. Also APEX made all of our travel arrangements through reputable businesses and we always had cars with drivers--never taxies or public transport. The two places we stayed in (Simon's Town and Kariega Game Reserve) were very safe and secure. However on our first full day in country in Simon's Town, we heard machine gun fire. For 30 minutes, we were freaking out in our room and I began to mentally beat myself up for getting us into this mess. Finally we just called our B&B host and emailed the APEX office manager about it...

4. Land Animal Experience: Penguins that Sound like Jackasses
Seeing (and hearing) is believing. These guys are specific to South Africa and make donkey sounds! There is an elevated wooden walkway to view them from so that you don't disturb their nests or general ambling around. It was pretty spectacular how many there were and how freely they came and went. But don't even think of snatching one of these as a trip souvenir. They are biters and will seriously hurt you--at least that was what the sign said.

5. Baboon on a Hot Tin Roof
These animals are fine to humans as long as you don’t have food.  But the most dangerous place is between a Baboon and some food. We heard some horrific stories of what baboons will do to people (bite mostly) if you have something they want. The baboons have human minders who alert travelers to their presence and are in charge of trying to keeping them off the roads so they don’t get hit.  One of these guys encouraged people to get out of our car and take pics of the baboons, especially because one had hopped up on the roof of our van.  

6. Land Animal Experience: Eagle Encounter & Bird Rehab Center
Eagle Encounters--a sanctuary and rehabilitation facility for birds of prey--was on-property of one of the wineries we visited and they let you get very close to the birds.  You can even put on a glove and have some owls fly to your hand.  Or you can pet some little owls.  They have gigantic eagles and falcons.  All of these birds were rescued from dire situations or have been injured.  One can tell the people there really love and care about the animals.  Their reintroduction into the wild rate is 65%.  One of the folks there, a 15-year-old volunteer named Cameron, showed us around and told us that he hoped to be a wildlife vet and work at one of the big game reserves one day.  He knew everything about the birds and clearly loved each one of them. It was so impressive to see someone that young know their passion and to take initiative to ramp up in such a way.  He also showed us a boa constrictor, lizards and owl chicks. But partway through visiting Eagle Encounters, the wind and the rain came down in epic proportions and all the birds had to be taken inside.

Young Cameron and an owl buddy
A boa named Charlie

7. King of the Reserve
Kariega Game Reserve is a gigantic 9000 hectares (roughly 22,240 acres).  Our guide Louis picked us up in the open air modified Land Cruiser that would be our jeep for the duration.  I love this vehicle.  It’s amazing in the Bush and rides like a dream. When we came across the lion, he was seemingly looking for the rest of his family. But, being that close to a predator in an open-air jeep, well it certainly gives you pause and elicits a ton of respect.

He eventually found his family and we spotted them together a few days later.
A funny thing: I don't have a picture of this but I remember one day we saw a house cat out on the reserve because the manager of the reserve lives onsite. It struck me as the weirdest sight because the cat looked totally out of place with Bless Buck, Wildebeest and Impala all wandering around behind it. But I bet that cat felt super-stoked given the crowd he got to run with.

8. Stealthy Sipper: Rogue Giraffe
The biggest surprise of the trip is when we caught this curious guy taking a drink out of our little pool on our patio. Animals are not allowed in the chalet area where people stay. There is a fence surround and a large gate leading to the lodge & chalets but it stays open during the day for the jeeps. Despite that, this guy wandered inside and from of all the chalets he could have chosen, we were the lucky ones. That water is much too cold for us to swim in so they don't put chemicals in it during the winter. So I'm sure the water was better tasting then the water hole.

"This is what I think of you..."

9. Elephants, Elephants, Elephants
Ken and I couldn't get over all the baby elephants.  There were at least 5 wee ones and 5-7 youngsters of varying age & size.  The herd consisted of probably 25-30 animals and one day we came across almost all of them on their way to a watering hole.  If I had ever doubted before, you can see when looking at these elephants that they are calm, happy and living as elephants should.  We sat stunned as the huge matriarch marched by, within a few feet of the jeep.  To see such large animals at close distance and to feel them go about their business unthreatened and unstressed just made my life.  We circled back to the watering hole where almost all of the elephants had gathered and just let it all sink in. 

This is a 3-minute video of the safari adventure with a sampling of the animals we observed. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing these animals in a natural habitat and being themselves.

10. Uninterrupted time with this guy
We left the kids in Portland with my family and by virtue of the preparation I did, the kind of people my folks are and how adaptable the kids were, we had no worries after settling in that everyone was doing great at home. That allowed Ken and me to relax and focus on our vacation. But despite having no children with us, we still had to get up early and be on a schedule (sad trombone). Since the animals wouldn't wait for us to leisurely rise at 9 am, we got up by 6:30AM almost everyday. Nevertheless, Ken and I got to spend 2 whole weeks hanging out with each other and just being a couple again. And as a bonus, we didn't once have to choose a restaurant based on if they served mac & cheese.

'MVPs' of our Trip:
  • QuickPod Stick Camera Mount for the GoPro Video Camera--some of the best shots in and out of the water came from having this mount 
  • Columbia Hiking Pants--I almost didn't bring wind blocking pants. Wow, that would have been a mistake. On the water and in the jeep, I needed this feature big time. I think I wore these pants almost every day I was in Africa.
  • Bonine (motion sick med)--the one day we didn't take our medicine it was BAD. But when we did, happy happy joy joy with hearts and flowers no nausea (plus a few yawns--just take 1/2 a pill the night before & 1/2 the morning you go out)
  • Columbia Fleece Jacket--Did I mention it was their winter? We layered up constantly and I was so glad I had a fleece with me. Wore this everyday.
  • International Outlet Adapters (one for each of us) We were either charging our smartphones or tapping on our computers. Going to the other side of the planet necessitated accessibility.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

So What's This Thing About Sharks?

You may have noticed from the blog header and blog posts that I have a deep and abiding love of sharks. As an adult, I've come to see them as an important part of the marine ecosystem, an APEX predator that has diminished in numbers due to superstition, fear and human ignorance. The sleek efficient form of the shark stayed virtually the same for a hundred million years with over 400 species of sharks now swimming around on our humble planet. 

But how they piqued my interest was much less heady and for that we're going to have to go back--way back.  It all started (for better or worse) when I watched Jaws on TV at the age of 7. 

While it temporarily traumatized me and made me nervous to swim in a pool or even sit on a toilet without looking down the whole time, I couldn't get over this mysterious animal. I think sometimes when you fear something so much, it flips over and you start to embrace it because fear is fascinating.

I was so enthralled that I asked for Jaws on my 8th birthday cake (and for several years thereafter).

Cake from 1982
When I was 21, it only seemed fitting to have my one and only tattoo be a symbol of the thing I found most intriguing and continually relevant...

In 2007, I saw my first Great White Shark with my own eyes when Ken and I wandered into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  We were in the Bay Area for work at the time and didn't even know they had a juvenile male in the aquarium.  I was beyond excited! A fisherman had snagged him in his net and in the process the young shark had been injured.  The aquarium took him in for rehabilitation (and then released him a year later). My initial post about the experience is HERE.  Transfixed, I just watched him swim around the tank and hoped that one day I would see his bigger kin with my own eyes as well.

But after we had kids, the dream of actually seeing sharks in the wild seemed nearly impossible. Even though sharky things kept popping up....

2010 Shark photo-bomb at Maui Aquarium
Halloween, Sidney 2010
Halloween, Calvin 2013
Best store entrance EVER, Sharky's in Ocean Shores, WA
My 40th Birthday Cake,
courtesy of the Wallers & Morfey's Cakes
It's become a fun thing where friends will forward or share anything sharkworthy (stories/pictures) with me. But I still couldn't help but want something more.  This got my wheels turning last summer which lead to big plans...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Living the dream

Sharkies!  More to come but an early look at some of our footage from South Africa.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Power of Merchandising

Is it weird that my kids know "Tauntaun," "R2D2," "Obi-Wan Kenobi," "Darth Vader," "Bantha," "Yoda" and "Tie Fighter" are all Star Wars things but have never seen the movie and don't know anything about the story upon which they are based? Since Monsters Inc still freaks Sidney out, we've got a long way to go before we do a Star Wars screening...

But the power of merchandising is alive and well!


As heard from the backset:

Part 1
Sidney: "Calvin, give me back my doll! (Whining) He's the closest thing to Prince Phillip that I haaaave!
Me: "Sid, he's not a doll, he's an action figure and he's actually mine. I lent you and Calvin my action figures to play with but their not 'yours'."
Sidney: "You should give them to us to keep."
Me: "Not if you're going to fight over them."
Sidney: "What's this action figure's name?"
Me: "Obi-Wan Kenobi"

Part 2
Sidney: "Calvin, say Obi-Wan Kenobi"
Calvin: "Ototo kebi!"
Sidney: "NO! Say Obi-Wan....
Calvin: "Obi-Wan..."
Sidney: "Kenobi"
Calvin: (A bunch of gibberish)
Sidney: "NO!"
Me: "Hey, what if you guys just call him Ben?
Calvin: "O-key Toby!"
Sidney: "Alright, let's just call him Toby."
Me: (Hysterical laughter)

"O-key Toby"

Monday, June 09, 2014

Some words about the Seattle Pacific University Shooting

I remember a few years ago when my brother-in-law (whom I don't align with politically but still respect) was arguing against financial regulation or universal healthcare or something; I even think the term "bootstrapping" came up. He grumbled about the direction the country was taking. I allowed his well-articulated but unconvincing arguments to wash over me. My blood pressure began to rise because he just didn't get my perspective.

Of course, I agreed that no one wants to be taken advantage of, no one wants their taxes wasted, no one wants their rights compromised. But after several minutes of hearing how everyone in this country should be completely self-made and how the new administration was ruining everything--I had finally heard enough. "You know what," I said, "As a parent, I can't afford to be so cynical about the state of things. I have to believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. Because if I don't, then what the hell have I done bringing a child into this world?"


Flash forward to last Thursday and the shooting at Seattle Pacific University. As if sensing my deepest fears, Anna Minard of The Stranger wrote a phenomenal response to the incident that made me seriously pause.  She said:
"This is your country. This is the world we have built. And we should start really coming to terms with that." 
She described a defeated acceptance of a world in which mass shootings are expected and prepared for with the inevitability of a natural disaster--except that they are anything but natural. The 'leave-everyone-to-their-own-devices-and-everything-will-be-fine' and the "infallibility" of the 2nd Amendment sickens me whenever there's a shooting like this. No one in power has done a damn thing about guns after all the other incidents of carnage. So maybe it's what we deserve for letting the NRA hijack our political system.  And I was reminded of my spirited debate with my brother-in-law but it was my turn to play the cynic.

This gun problem we have in America--it defines us now. It's a standout feature of our culture. And yes, mental illness is to blame as the instigating factor for the SPU shooting. Absolutely, yes.  But the guns. The access to guns. This Mother Jones piece on 10 Myths about Guns, so simple to understand, made me furious with knowledge: for instance, states with higher gun ownership have higher numbers of gun deaths per capita--not surprising. And the adage that "good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns"? Well, the number of armed civilians that have stopped a mass shooting is a big fat zero.

Otto Miller Hall on the Seattle Pacific University campus is where I used to attend monthly children's writing meetings and where I met my dear friend Sarah for the first time. It was also where I've mingled while eating appetizers, workshopped new children's story ideas and laughed with other struggling writers.  But now the carpet has bloodstains...

After this and the long spate of shooting incidents, a rarely-accessed, indignant part of me just wanted to gather up my family, play the isolationist/protectionist card and leave the country. But then I took a breath and "bootstrapped" my attitude.  Because there are people in the world like fellow ParentMap writer, Rory Graves, who have experienced intense personal anguish due to guns but turned it into positive, productive action. So as a parent and someone with a voice, there is absolutely no room for me to have a pity party or accept that things can't be made better.  No room at all.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Brutal Brutality

Game of Thrones should be one of the cult shows I watch.  It has all the makings of a favorite and with the wave of popularity it's enjoyed, I'll admit I've felt a bit left out of the cool geek crowd. I do love fantasy worlds like Lord of the Rings. The early descriptions of Game of Thrones noted a sword-swinging, intrigue/adventure tale with dragons and British actors talking to each other while riding horses--it sounded so promising!  Okay sure, there was also vengeance, sadism, nudity and sex to spice it up but everyone could use a little more of that I suppose.

Well we didn't have HBO and the premiere of this show coincided with the birth of my firstborn. But I started hearing from Facebook friends, blogs, podcasts and articles in popular culture about some of the details of this show. Incest? Gory torture and death? Beyond gratuitous nudity and sex scenes? Rape? Blame the postpartum hormones or my upgraded respect for the value of a life--but my tolerance for all that crazy sh*t was about as strong as my tolerance for alcohol (decreasing over time and not that high to begin with).

Over the next few years, Game of Thrones (the show) came into it's own with some of the most brutal and explicit visual storytelling.  People couldn't stop talking about it. In a state of perpetual hesitation, I wanted to be a part of a cultural phenomenon, but I just couldn't do it. Yet I felt its power. I mean, I didn't even follow the show and I felt the waves of devastation after the Red Wedding. The night that episode aired, my Facebook feed flooded with aggrieved despondency.  So when I found out more details about the Red Wedding and what happened to some specific characters--especially having just given birth to my second child--I was all, "NOPE." Right then, like a Vegas dealer at the end of her shift, I clapped my hands together and said, "I'm out." I just can't bring myself to keep horrific images like that in my head no matter how great the story.  Seriously, I even had to stop watching Breaking Bad when <spoiler alert> Jane shoots up heroin, begins to choke to death on her own vomit and Walter just stands there, watching her die.  It was something about that scene, probably having to do with being a mom and Jane being someone's little girl.  Anyway that was too brutal.  And Game of Thrones, from all that I heard and what little I'd seen, was too.

Well last Sunday on Game of Thrones, unless you were under a rock somewhere, the news of a rape of a major character tore through the Internet. Yet that particular rape was not in the book so it took on a strange tenor.  There was so much chatter about this scene that I felt inclined to find the clip, read multiple editorials and write my own post on a show I don't even watch. It's because I have noticed, as have others (check out this amazing piece by Matthew Wallace), that TV and movie writers tend to use rape to just sensationalize and escalate stories.  Even my much beloved Downton Abbey had a terribly handled rape plot line this year and it sparked a reaction.

Like it or not, the majority of the writers and directors for TV shows like this are men. It doesn't mean they can't address and explore something as prevalent, damaging and regressive to women as rape but, too often it's used as an ingredient to spice up an existing story. It's also something that if done improperly on a show can make it seem sort of "exciting."  When you look at the Game of Thrones scene from last Sunday, it's shot in a manner that could make it seem less terrifying and more, dare I say, voyeuristic.  The ladies of The Mary Sue also had an in-depth discussion about this too.  They make some great points about not needing to use rape just to communicate how dysfunctional a relationship is or increase shock value of a show. Which leads me to wonder if this show (and others like it) are reflecting a trend that brutality is a necessary component for praiseworthy and cutting-edge entertainment. And in doing so, does that desensitize or perpetuate the acceptance of brutality (in this case, rape) in real life as a status-quo?  This above all else worries me most...