Best. Dress. Ever.

There’s a store in town I’ve been meaning to visit but I’ve never gotten around to it. They always have fun and funky clothes in their window. Today being a day off from work, I decided to make a point of going.

And I am so glad I did.

They had a dress with dinosaur skeletons all over it. With scientific labels. And it glows in the dark.

I felt an inner cartwheel when I found a size that looked like it would fit me.

I tried it on…

…and it was absolutely perfect.

Sometimes the Shopping Fairies sprinkle a little of their dust my way.

Needless to say I bought the dress. It fills my closet with awesome. I want to wear it every day.

Here is a close-up of the fabric:

And here is the dress:

Here’s the info for where I found it:

And when I got home, this perfect Black-eyed Susan was waiting for me in my garden:

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A mouse in our house!

It was about 4:30 a.m. I was sitting at the dining room table with my laptop, coffee by my side, working bleary-eyed toward a deadline that was fast approaching. The house was filled with a serene stillness, punctuated only by the gentle click-clacking of my fingertips on my keyboard.

I stopped typing to reflect. Then I heard the slight jingle of my dog’s tags as she raised her head from her slumber. She sensed something. “What is it, Spirit?” I asked. Then I heard it too:

Scritch-scritchy-scritch…

It was coming from within one of the dining room walls.

I know that sound. It means one thing: We have a mouse in our house!

Having mice in our house is an Event. It starts with my husband, and now our 5-year-old daughter, constructing a contraption like this:

Then we set out special traps that capture the mice but doesn’t hurt them in any way. Once we catch a mouse in one of these traps, we release them into the fancy contraption above (Mouse Mansion?), let them live in there for a while, and then we drive the mouse out to a wooded area away from our house, where we release the mouse into the wild.

In the past, if we caught the mouse in the winter, we would keep it in our Mouse Mansion until springtime, when we would release it. (One time we had over 20 mice living in Mouse Mansion over the winter!) If we caught the mouse in the spring, summer, or fall, we would release it right away, and skip the whole Mouse Mansion step. But our daughter was SO KEEN on catching a mouse that we thought we would keep it for a while this time once we caught it.

So after my 4:30 a.m. mouse detection, we set out some traps. A few days passed. Much to my daughter’s disappointment, they were empty each morning when we checked them.

Then my daughter happened to sleep in today. My husband went up to her room, knelt down by her bedside, and gently shook her shoulder. He whispered, “Sweetie? Sweetie, wake up.”

She opened her eyes groggily, still half asleep.

“Sweetie, we caught a mouse!”

She was out of bed like a shot.

The transfer from trap to Mouse Mansion went smoothly. My daughter helped place mouse treats at various points in the tunnels. The mouse stared bulgy-eyed back at us, like this:

Despite a few hiding spots that my daughter had constructed in the Mansion, the mouse remained out in clear view. It even started to travel along the tunnels:

“What shall we name it?” I asked.

We couldn’t decide. My suggestion of Pickle Juice didn’t go over very well.

Soon it was time for the kids to head off to summer day camp. Me having the day off, I promised to keep an eye on He-Who-Has-Not-Been-Named.

Now that the sets of peering eyes have left the house, the mouse is asleep. Hopefully the little guy isn’t too stressed. And is that the only mouse that was in our walls?

Scritch-scritchy-scritch…

Meeting an Old Friend in the Grocery Store

The other day I needed to buy some groceries and I found myself with a bit of time to spare. So instead of whizzing through the store, plucking up only the things I needed, I decided to drift down each aisle and actually look at what was on the shelves.

Soon I came across this:

I felt an inner cartwheel. Map-O-Spread! Oh, such an old friend of mine! One of many symbols of my childhood that opens the floodgates to happy memories.

“Would you like your toast cut into squares, strips, or triangles?” Dad would ask on a Saturday morning. I remember choosing strips quite often since it seemed to make the toast last longer.

Dad knew how to toast the bread perfectly so that it wasn’t too crunchy and wasn’t too raw. He would then spread a thin layer of the white, gooey Map-o-Spread evenly over the whole surface of the toast.

Mmmm…it tasted like maple icing. Creamy, sugary, maple goodness. For breakfast! We even got to eat it in front of the TV.

It was obviously not the healthiest food option first thing in the morning. But combine it with Saturday morning cartoons (that my brother and I got up to watch at some ungodly hour) and it spelled j-o-y.

Standing in the store, contemplating whether or not to purchase some Map-O-Spread-goodness, I made the mistake of reading the ingredients. I balked, but then was none too surprised: numerous combinations and permutations of…sugar.

Should I bring some home to give my own kids the Map-O-Spread experience? Or should I be a “good mom” and skip the sweets?

I was a “good mom.” At least on that day.

Hmmm…Today I think I need to go back to the grocery store. For carrots! Yeah, carrots…

 

My Weekend with Dinosaurs

I’ve always had a soft spot for dinosaurs. The whole idea that creatures that were so different from the animals we know today once populated Earth is truly fascinating to me. I even wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. (That changed about mid-way through high school when I realized that a lot of paleontologists’ time is spent “roughing it” in remote areas all over the globe. Not exactly my thing.)

I could spend most of the day looking at dinosaur exhibits in museums. I adore the books Jurassic Park and Lost World and their accompanying movies.

So when I saw the book below in the New Releases section of the bookstore, my heart did a leap!

A new book on dinosaurs! Written by a paleontologist! I made a pact with myself that I would buy it for myself as a reward once I finished a proposal I was working on.

And the proposal is complete! The book is now in my hot little hands! And I dove into it this weekend.

I LOVE IT. The writing is superb: conversational, just enough jargon without getting too technical, and the author tells a story that cleverly flips back and forth between imagining being in the time of the dinosaurs and his own experiences as a paleontologist.

I stole as many snippets of the day yesterday as I could with my nose between the pages. I plan on doing the same today. It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to take a sick day and spend the whole day reading!

It’s such a gift when scientific experts write books that are readable by the masses. Thank you, Steve Brusatte.

Bee Days

Spring is here in Canada (finally!), and the leaves, flowers, and little critters are coming out of hiding. Including…queen bumblebees! They are emerging from their underground safe haven, looking for a place to establish a nest, and feeding their bellies with nectar from early blooms.

The past few days of mine have (happily) been filled with bees. Bee sightings, bee art, and bee news.

  • My mom was visiting and helping with the yard-work when she told me, “I think you might have a bumblebee nest under your shed out back! I’ve seen a big, fat queen bumblebee going in and out of a tiny space between the shed and the grass.” So of course I scoped it out. Sure enough, I saw a big, buzzy queen zig-zagging low to the ground and she disappeared under the shed. Yippee!! I hope she likes her new home.
  • I went to my first art show on the weekend at Globe Studios. Lo and behold, there was a local artist who specializes in artwork featuring…bees! So of course I had to chat with her. Her work is stunning and she is absolutely lovely. Her card is below and you can see more of her artwork Here.
  • On the weekend I also received a parcel delivery notice in the mail. When I picked up the parcel I saw it was from a dear friend out in Victoria, British Columbia. It was a painting! Of a queen bumblebee! Isn’t it amazing?! And it came with a note filled with love and encouragement. I am truly blessed. You can see more of this talented artist’s work Here.

  • Two days in a row, at separate locations, a queen bumblebee hovered in mid-air in front of me, at face level. No kidding. As if she was studying me.
  • Yesterday I received an email from my agent. Someone in the publishing world is interested in my proposal for a nonfiction bumblebee book!! It is only a statement of interest, so I can’t get too excited. But it is positive feedback nonetheless and I’ll gladly take it.

Here’s to Bee Days! I hope there’s many more to come.

8 Elements for a Happy Mother’s Day

Today is a celebration of mothers everywhere. Here are eight happy ways my Mother’s Day has started off:

1. I slept in past 9:00 a.m.! When was the last time that happened??

2. When I opened the curtains I was flooded with bright sunshine and a joyful blue sky.

3. My son excitedly and immediately gave me a 3-D Mother’s Day card he made himself:

4. Then my daughter gave me a card she made:

5. When I walked into the dining room, a beautiful flower arrangement was waiting for me:

6. I filled my belly with my husband’s delicious French toast!

7. I received a special request from my daughter to go to a park today because she wants to play on the teeter-totter with me.

8. My daughter is currently skipping around the house, giggling, for no particular reason.

My heart feels light yet full-to-bursting. I wish this feeling to all mothers out there.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Art of Waiting

I look outside the library window and see a chipmunk, foraging in the rusty-brown mulch by the trees. It finds little morsels now and then, holding them with its small, dainty paws, chewing away, as people pass by on the sidewalk.

I wonder what it’s like for the chipmunk to wait for spring? What goes on in its little mind, if anything, as the winter days slide by?

Currently I have three pieces of writing that I set free into the publishing world. Two pieces have been out there for a few months, whereas the other was set free only a week ago. Waiting for responses is hard.

Strike that. Not hard. Excruciating.

I fully understand why writers need to wait. Editors are flooded with manuscripts and proposals and queries every day. The stacks of to-be-reviewed submissions on their desk and floor rival the height of the CN Tower. So it’s going to take a while for them to get to my specific work.

But understanding this doesn’t stop the nervous, jittery prickles from coursing through my limbs each day.

Is today the day? Is today the day I get an answer?

I’ll even settle for a rejection! Just TELL ME!!

So I try to distract myself.

DANA’S 11 DISTRACTION MECHANISMS (SO FAR):

  1. Write something else: a sequel to what I submitted; this blog.
  2. Take a walk. Especially with our big, black, friendly dog.
  3. Enjoy the flowering trees in our neighbourhood.
  4. Look at–really look at–my daughter’s chalk drawings on the front porch.
  5. Mentally rehearse my reaction when my agent (yes, I have an agent!!!) eventually gives me good news.
  6. Play Monopoly with my 7-year-old son. And marvel at his mathematical and financial prowess.
  7. Obsessively research a new topic and sign out every possible book on the subject from the library.
  8. Play “I Spy with My Little Eye” with my daughter. (Who knew a 5-year-old could be so tricky?)
  9. Go out for breakfast with a dear friend.
  10. Treat myself to a Nanaimo bar. Maybe two.
  11. Reflect on what (and who) I am grateful for.

3 THINGS DANA HAS REALIZED THROUGH THIS PROCESS:

  1. I am terrible at waiting.
  2. There is an art to waiting.
  3. The art of waiting is to live your life.

A big truck barrelled past the library and the chipmunk zipped off for cover. I am still here at the window, and the nervous, jittery prickles surface now and then.

As I wait for answers, life goes on. It doesn’t stop while I chase my dreams. I need to remember to live.

The look she gave me

This morning I dropped the kids off at school. Usually my husband does it but he had to go into the office early today. So after some intense Shoe Drama (“I left my indoor shoes in Daddy’s van! I won’t have indoor shoes at schooooooool!”) we piled into the car and off we went.

We had to park up the street a bit because of the yellow and black school buses that swarmed the main school parking lot. My daughter held my hand while my son walked ahead by a few paces. As we followed the sidewalk they explained to me the drop-off routine: kids on their own use the fenced-in path, but kids with parents don’t. And I leave my son with his friends but I take my daughter to her lined-up kindergarten class. Got it.

We spotted my son’s small group of friends. “Bye, Momma,” he said, as if it was an afterthought.

Before my daughter took off in a similar fashion, I quickly bent down and kissed the top of her head. “Bye, Momma,” she blurted as she let go of my hand. She ran over to her line-up partner: a smiling girl with curly, fire-red hair.

I watched my daughter stand in line next to the brick school wall, her back to me, wearing her happy, polka-dot spring jacket and Paw Patrol backpack. “Bye, Lexi,” I called.

She turned. She looked at me with a look I will never forget. A look that said she’s fine, Momma, now go!

A look that said I’m older now, can’t you see?

A look that said, I’m growing up, whether you like it or not.

I felt a lump in my throat. I turned to leave so that I wouldn’t embarrass my daughter with a drawn-out good-bye. But mostly I left because a swoop of emotions clutched at my heart.

I was in such a rush moments before…now all I want is for time to slow down.

(Oh, and the shoes? Daddy had put them in the car before he left. My daughter saw them on her seat as soon as she opened the car door. Crisis averted. Thanks, Daddy.)

A Study on…Alpacas!

I admit that I didn’t really start to appreciate alpacas until I was in a yarn store one day and came across skeins of alpaca wool. Baby alpaca wool, to be exact. So soft! So lovely! I could easily blow wads of cash on that stuff.

I splurged at least a couple of times on alpaca wool and ended up making two of my most favourite scarves:

Besides their amazing wool, I think alpacas are downright adorable. They just fill me with happy. Their gentle demeanour, their huge eyes… They’re like big Muppets.

But I also wonder what goes on in that brain of theirs.

Image courtesy of dreamlandalpacas.com

(Image courtesy of dreamlandalpacas.com)

Lo and behold, in the recent issue of the journal Animal Cognition, there is a published study on alpacas!

The research looked at the phenomenon of spatial perseveration errors: a fancy term for the tendency of an animal to stick to a learned route when another route is available. If an animal chooses a new, available route, this suggests that the animal has a degree of cognitive flexibility.

The authors gave alpacas the task of entering a fenced-in enclosure with a barrier across the middle. On either the left or right far side of the barrier was a gap. If the alpaca went through the gap, it encountered a jackpot in the form of a feeder filled with alfalfa. There were 51 alpacas who participated in this study, and some had to go through the gap one, two, three, or four times, before the gap was moved to the opposite end of the barrier. For the test, the authors watched to see if the alpacas headed toward where the original gap used to be, or whether the alpacas moved in the direction toward the new location of the gap.

It turns out the alpacas were able to solve the task: they moved toward the new gap significantly more often than chance. What is particularly interesting is that the alpacas performed better than horses, donkeys, mules, and even dogs, when they were all given a similar task.

Does this mean alpacas are smarter than dogs? Well, no. It means that alpacas showed a little more cognitive flexibility in a particular task. That is, they show some degree of adaptable problem solving ability. Which also means that there’s a lot more to alpacas than simply being animals that stand around looking cute while their wool is being harvested for human use.

I wonder what other surprises alpacas have hidden in that brain of theirs?

Reference

Abramson, J. Z., Soto, D. P., Zapata, S. B., & Lloreda, M. V. H. (2018). Spatial perseveration error by alpacas (Vicugna pacos) in an A-not-B detour task. Animal Cognition, 21(3), 433-439.

The Kindness of Strangers

I believe the world is full of kind people. Here are four of my own memories of particularly kind people I had never met before, but who helped me nonetheless.

1. The German Dog Walker. Years ago my brother and I travelled to a small town in Germany. We managed to figure out the train from the airport to the small town, but we struggled with directions to the inn where we would be staying. This was the age before smartphones, so all we had was a written address and a map. We saw a tall, middle-aged, lanky lady walking a tall, lanky Irish Wolfhound-looking dog. We asked her if she knew how to get to the inn. She hardly spoke any English (and there was hardly any English around in general), but she motioned for us to follow her. So, dragging our suitcases behind us after a very long day of travelling, we started walking. I remember that every so often the dog would turn around and look at us, perhaps to see if we were still there and/or to keep encouraging us to follow. Well, we walked and we walked…until we arrived at the inn! The lady and the dog had walked us all the way there. To this day I wonder how much they both had to veer off their walking route in order to help us out.

2. The Museum Ladies. I was so excited to see Gunther von Hagen’s “Body Worlds” exhibit, where actual human bodies are preserved using the process of plastination. I remember there was a section of the exhibit where just the capillaries remained of animals and various body parts: they looked like 3-D objects made out of intricate, bright red webs. There was a chicken–just its capillaries remaining–and as I studied it my vision began to shrink toward a point, with darkness around the edges. I started to feel a little woozy. Next thing I knew the right side of my face felt pressed up against something, and I could hear a female voice asking me over and over, “Can you talk? Can you talk?” I opened my eyes and realized I had passed out in the middle of the museum! Two middle-aged ladies were crouched beside me, coaxing me awake. They summoned a museum staff member. I ended up being completely fine, and I still wonder why I fainted. I’m not good with blood, so maybe seeing all those capillaries was somehow subconsciously overwhelming? In any event, I’m grateful to those ladies for making sure I was okay.

3. The Coffee Man. One day I was at a coffee shop and before I could place my order, an older gentleman stepped up beside me and said, “I’m not coming on to you or anything, but can I please buy your coffee? Someone did that for me recently and I’d like to…what do they call it? Pay it forward?” I said yes and told the man that he totally made my day. And I’ve since paid it forward, too.

4. The Restaurant Couple. My husband and I were at a Greek restaurant one evening on a date, and we were just finishing up our main course when our waitress said, “You don’t have to worry about your bill. Another couple has taken care of it.” We were shocked. Complete strangers volunteered to pay for our entire dinner?! The waitress said the couple wanted to remain anonymous but we looked around, trying to decipher which couple it might have been. We never found out.

Some months later my husband and I were on another dinner date when we noticed a group of three young people at a table nearby sharing a number of appetizers. My husband looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and asked me in a hushed voice, “Should we pay for their bill?” I didn’t hesitate, remembering that anonymous couple in the Greek restaurant. “Yes!” I whispered back. The more I snuck glances at them, the more I realized they looked like students, who would probably be extra appreciative. So my husband asked our waiter to put their order on our bill, but to please keep us anonymous. The reaction from that group of young folks when the waiter told them they didn’t have to pay their bill was priceless: their mouths gaped open and they kept voicing their surprise. They all left the restaurant with huge smiles on their faces. And my husband and I did, too.