Sunday, April 21, 2013

Big Update: Past, Present, and Future

I would first like to start the post by saying that on April 8th we went to the vet with Trini and unfortunately we came home without her.  Even typing this is very hard for me.  She would have been 19 in July/August.  She's been with me longer than my youngest brother.  Life has seen us through many changes, many different locations, many different relationships, and our personalities have grown and shifted.  She wasn't the easiest cat to love, but I loved her with my whole heart and it broke my heart and I sobbed whenever I had to clean her in her last few days.  All I ever want is to be the best guardian and life-steward I could possibly be to the creatures in my care.  I am a profoundly in love with my pets, even when they make little messes or misbehave.  I know, with confidence, they love me right back.  I've tried my very best to move on and pretend as if everything has been fine, but it has been on my mind constantly.  I consider myself a very lucky person that I've only encountered death a few brief times in my life and it naturally brings up questions and concerns.  J has been a huge support for me in those moments of weakness when I felt I was failing or when I was frustrated with the situation.  I called my parents frequently to give them updates because even though they don't particularly like cats, Trini was a big part of their lives too.  All that mattered to me in those last few days was that I was doing everything I could.  I won't lie, it was very exhausting.  When we took her in, someone in the waiting room said something about how she looked "icky" and any other day I might have walked up to that privileged woman to give her a piece of my mind regarding my life companion but in that moment I could have cared less about others.  It was about me and Trini.  It was hard.  I cried a lot and in front of everyone.  Thinking about it right now makes me teary, so I will wrap this bit up.  All I know is that when I came home, J and I sat on the couch for a long time with the rest of our girls.  Tashi, our 10 year old cat, gave me a lot of attention and I gave her a lot of care, too.  She seemed to understand.  In a very un-Tashi like event, she sat on my chest, maintained eye contact for a long time and then just licked my face a couple of times.  She's mourning in her own way.  Every day is a little better for her.  Every day is a little better for me.  As long as I have my loves, I'll be okay.  Thanks to everyone for thinking about us.  We appreciate it.

Love you, Trini.


In what was probably good timing, I left to visit my friend E in Galveston, Texas two days after we said goodbye to Trini.  E helped us move down to Miami and set up our apartment back in August 2010.  She really eased my transition from having my wedding to moving two days later.  J had to start school the day after we arrived in Miami and I was unemployed in a jumbled apartment in a brand new city.  She had moved to Galveston with her boyfriend from Madison and I was excited to be her first visitor.  I flew in on a Wednesday and had until Sunday to hang out and explore some of Houston and Galveston.  Here is my trip in some pictures. 

On Wednesday we took it easy.  Houston to Galveston is a bit of a hike and traffic is -dare I say it- worse than Miami.  The drivers aren't as bad as Miami drivers, but there are just more people on the road, so there are bound to be loads of accidents.  We went grocery shopping and made tacos for dinner and planned two crafts we wanted to tackle.  On Thursday we headed back into Houston.  First we stopped at a mall because I had my Sephora VIB coupon for me and a friend (15% off -what a deal!) and then we went to the National Museum of Funeral History and the Cullen Sculpture Garden.  I thought the museum would be a fun, unique Houston attraction and I wasn't disappointed.  It was in a residential area and it was virtually empty, but for $10 it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.  It was also massive at 30,500 square feed.  That is a lot of history. 

E and I decided to do a quiz.  If you got 90% right you got 20% off an item at the gift shop.  I thought I could bring something funny home for J.  Well, let me tell you- that answer sheet was locked up so tight!  E and I diligently answered the quiz and the cashier pulled the money out of the till, set it right in front of me so that she could "grade" us, and then she proceeded to take HALF points off for things like, "Name an animal represented as a fantasy casket"  I wrote, "Chicken/Rooster."  The answer was "MOTHER HEN."  She offered to call management to see if I could get a full point but we politely told her that it wasn't necessary and laughed our butts off all the way to the car.  It was especially funny because there was a book on Abraham Lincoln's assassination as a part of an exhibit that was labeled as "top secret" but we felt that the answer key to the silly quiz was more guarded.  Still, we learned some really interesting things.  I'll enlighten you with just a smattering of what I learned!

This is a glass casket.  They stopped making these because when they were lowered into the ground the lids would often crack.  It was one of my favorite caskets there because it was so unique and oddly pretty.  Glad it's not see-through, though.

This is a casket for three.  It was a sad story of a couple who lost their young child to an illness.  They commissioned this casket because they were planning a murder-suicide and they wanted to be buried with their child.  They had a change of heart and they moved cities, but they were still charged for this expensive piece.  I've never seen anything like it.

The museum had an exhibit on celebrities and I wasn't that interested in it, but I was really intrigued to learn about Mr. Meinhardt Frank Raabe.  He was a little person and a Wisconsin native.  He was cast as the Coroner in the movie The Wizard of Oz.  E and I couldn't remember a Coroner, but sure enough, he's in it, he sings a couple of lines about how the first witch is really, truly dead.  He graduated from UW-Madison (Go Badgers!) with an M.B.A. and he came up with the idea for the Weinermobile, something near and dear to any Wisconsin-ites heart.

Unlike the first glass casket, this glass casket really creeped met out.

The museum had a couple of international exhibits.  They had a full-sized replica of King Tut's sarcophagus.  This mummy cracked me up, though.  Mostly because, wouldn't it look like a person while it was being embalmed, not like a movie mummy?  I had E take my picture by it, but I looked no better than the mummy, so I deleted it.

They had a lot of stuff on the first embalming techniques.  The "Father of American Embalming" is Dr. Thomas Holmes.  Interestingly enough, I saw a table just like this on Oddities, a show I watch that is on the Science Channel.

I call this picture, "Look out, Abuelita!"  Death is knocking on Abuela's door.  What a creepy exhibit.  This is part of their Dia de los Muertos Exhibit.  It had a little girl in it too, but honestly, she gave me more heebie jeebies than Skeletor over there.

E and I took a ton more photos, but these are just a few.  They had a lot, a lot of hearses and carriages and caskets.  They had an exhibit on presidential funerals, military funerals, Victorian funerals, and oddly enough, an exhibit on "Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes."  That last one was a huge exhibit.  As neither E nor I were raised as Catholics we didn't understand a lot of the customs or the pomp and circumstance but it was interesting to walk through, nonetheless.  And I got to see the actual Popemobile used by Pope John Paul the II.  It was a 1982 Range Rover, in case you were wondering. 

After that we headed to the Houston Museum District to stop and enjoy the Cullen Sculpture Garden.  It was free.  A lot of the sculptures of people were nekky.  A lot of the sculptures were really modern.  I mistook a jaintor's cart for a sculpture at one point.  I can't take me anywhere.  Then we went to lunch at a really cute place called Barnaby's Cafe.  It is a dog-themed restaurant with ethical food (I think if we had ate more in Houston, there would have been more restaurants like this to choose from).  And then we headed back to Galveston to try to beat traffic and we stayed up past our bed-times chatting and crafting.

One of the many sculptures.  I liked this one because it had a lot of optical illusions (water, reflections, glass).

See? Nekky.  I liked this one, too.  He's missing his ten gallon hat, though.

The rest of the trip was pretty relaxed.  We stayed close to Galveston.  E showed me the numerous antique and thrift shops and The Strand (it was odd, a bit like a shopping street in Universal Studios).  Galveston has an interesting composition.  It reminds me a little of the Keys.  We did a little shopping at Hobby Lobby and Goodwill and the mall.  It is nice to go shopping with a fellow female once in awhile.  J and I are very purposeful shoppers and we have a nice shopping groove, but it is fun to take your time once in awhile and window-shop for the hell of it.  E drove me, yes, drove me to the beach.  It was so weird to see cars and trucks driving along the water.  We went to a couple of neat restaurants (The Spot, Jimmy's on the Pier, Farley Girls). 
It was interesting to note how different the ocean is on the east coast, the west coast, and the Gulf coast.  I found black sea shells for J.  I guess the water is brackish.  I like the color of the Miami ocean but the look and feel of the Oregon coast.  In some places you can see the oil rigs.

An entire serving of raw oysters all for me because no one else likes them?  Oh what a shame.  Who am I kidding, I wasn't going to share with anyone anyhow! :)  How I eat these disgusting things, I will never know, but I love them.  From The Spot.

Okay, so my excuses for this meal at Farley Girls was 1) it's Texas and food there is ostentatious and 2) it was technically National Grilled Cheese Day.  I'll have you know I ate with a knife and fork, barely touched the fries, didn't finish the burger, and the grilled cheese was my favorite bit.  I felt actually pretty bad after eating this meal.  (My tummy wasn't exactly thrilled with my either, J and I eat relatively clean back in Miami.)  But, you go to Texas and eat no meat.  You can't.  Even their salads are chicken salad, tuna salad, bacon and blue cheese salad.  No wonder people are unhealthy there.  I'm no skinny minny, but it was really eye opening to see all of the food, the size of the portions, and the types of food.  Off the bucket list...

Shrimp po'boy from Jimmy's on the Pier.  I liked the tots.  I couldn't finish everything you see here because we also had an appetizer of tots.  J informs me that this is not a real po'boy.  I'll have to try a NOLA one.
It was really nice to see E and visit with a friend.  If you'd like to read her account of events, please check out her blog at:


Now, to address the future.  As you all know, J and I have been taking steps toward moving out of Miami and continuing the adventure of our lives.  I've worked hard at my position as a secretary, but I've always wanted something more for myself.  I really have a passion for learning and I've wanted to go back to school for quite sometime.  (In the future I hope to have Ph.D. after my name!)  I have been attending information sessions and writing away for informational packets for the last two and a half years.  (I've even started a career binder that was thoroughly labeled and color coded.)  There are many things I think that I could be successful at and many things I like to do, but I spent a long time considering what would bring my passion and talent together.  I applied to two schools and J applied to three schools for Ph.D. programs in his field.  We got into all of the schools we applied to and it came down to a long discussion about where to live and how to pay for it.  That discussion was answered when I was offered a position as a Graduate Assistant that would cover a large portion of my tuition in addition to providing me with a stipend.  So... here is the big news... (it's already dropped via Facebook and family, so it's probably not news to most of you, but I haven't said anything yet on the blog...)

J and I will be moving to Seattle, Washington.  As I mentioned, he'll be continuing his studies in Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies and working towards his Ph.D.  I'll be working towards my Master's Degree in Library and Information Sciences.  I'm combining my love of reading, organization (see example of career binder above), information, and learning into a career that is expanding beyond the traditional stereotype of a librarian.  I'll be working with technology, assisting professors with their websites and I'll be taking most of my classes online, but I'll be taking some on campus and I'll be working on campus.  While I am in school, I hope to get some writing done, unlike now, when I come home exhausted from my 9-5 and volunteering.  There are opportunities for me to work with world-class faculty and to study abroad.  UW-Seattle is the ranked the third highest in Library and Information Sciences in the country and I couldn't be more thrilled.  I was very, very bummed to turn down and opportunity to return to UW-Madison, but we feel like this is the best move for the both of us.  We'll be leaving Miami at the end of June (spending a month in Wisconsin before we head out west in August), there is an end in sight for this Midwesterner!  Now we'll just become Pacific-Northwesterners.  Very busy, very tired, very hard working Pacific-Northwesterners. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Swimming with the manatees

This is Joe filling in for B to write about a fun trip that we recently went on with two friends from my office. Florida is known for a number of tourist traps: Disney, Universal Everglades, South Beach and more, but one lesser known attraction is at Crystal River Preserve on the Gulf coast: swimming with the manatees! We've been in Florida for over 2 years, but we had yet to see one of the famous "sea cows" before we took a weekend trip to Gainesville and got up close and personal with these fascinating animals.

The dogs came with us on this trip, so our first stop was Dogwood Park just outside of Gainesville. This is no ordinary dog park, it costs a few dollars to get in but the dogs had about 13 acres of space to run free. Lily and Ruby had fun chasing a tennis ball across a big open field:

It turns out that Gainesville isn't very interesting outside of the University of Florida. The campus is very nice, but the rest of the city had lots of traffic. However, one highlight was trying some Korean food at Garlic & Ginger. We sampled all sorts of traditional Korean food, I really enjoyed my Korean BBQ:

Finally on Saturday morning it was time for the main event. We went with "Manatee Fun" tours, which is basically a private boat operated by "Captain" Broderick. It was nice to be alone on the tour and have some privacy. The tour left at 8 AM so it was a chilly 48 degrees when we headed out. However, Crystal River is a favored Manatee gathering place because of the natural hot springs, which keep the water temperature warm, even in February. The preserve is a very popular tourist destination and there are a number of ways to see the manatees including a nature trail on shore, paddleboarding, kayaking, and of course snorkeling! We opted for the up close and personal experience (that's Becca waving to the camera):

The fenced area to the left is the safe zone where the manatees can go if they don't want to interact with people. There were around 20-30 manatees in the general area. They are very gentle creatures and were happy to come right up to us. We had an old fashioned disposable camera so I quick snapped a picture when a little one came up to say hi to me:

I also took a picture of Becca when she was swimming by:

After about an hour, it started to get too crowded, so Captain Broderick moved us to a more isolated location. He was an interesting character, he told us a poem that he wrote to a long lost love among other odd anecdotes. We were...entertained. The private cove turned out to be really cool because we had a private swim with a mother and baby manatee. Swimming with the manatees was a unique and really cool experience for a reasonable price, we would definitely recommend it! We still need to go snorkeling on the coral reef in the Keys before we leave Miami.

On Sunday we make one last stop before heading home: Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. The gardens are an attractive destination because they are dog friendly so the girls could come along. I managed to get Lily to sit still long enough to take a photo:

I also took one of Becca with Ruby:

We really enjoyed our weekend getaway. One advantage to living in Florida is that you can take a road trip in February and enjoy summer-like weather. The dogs also had a great time and were asleep the whole drive home. We'll check out a coral reef sometime this May.