Six Degrees of Separation

I’ve heard it said somewhere that everyone in the world is connected by six degrees of separation. I don’t know how true it is for every single person, but I’ve definitely experienced it today.

Flashback to our time on the island of St. Kitts, sometime at the end of last summer. A student at Ross posted on Facebook that his relative was in search of people to help collect sea glass for a TAPS (at that time I did not know what that was) event. I didn’t have much else to do and I had lots of sea glass already, so I attended his informational session. He explained the purpose of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which for those who don’t know, was created to help family members of servicemen and women who have died, regardless of the circumstances of the death or the relationship to the deceased. So anyone dealing with this loss can use the program’s services and attend the seminars and workshops.

Anyway, the 2014 national seminar theme was based on sea glass and the idea that something sharp and jagged can be made smooth and beautiful again over time – that crashing against the waves and trials of life can serve a beautiful purpose. So I went with a few groups of other Ross students and VIPs and we filled several gallon-sized bags with sea glass in many colors and sent them back to the United States with the young man. I never thought of it again.

Today, however, I received an article written by one of our English instructors here at UTM for the faculty newsletter – which I coordinate. This woman is one of my favorite teachers from undergrad. In her article, she told of how she and another English professor attended the 2015 TAPS grief seminar over the Memorial Day weekend and presented workshops on how to deal with grief using journaling and other artistic methods. It also happens that this instructor’s daughter plays a key role in the coordination of the events and the management of the program.

I asked this instructor if she had also attended the 2014 event and told the story of the sea glass.

This is what she sent back, courtesy of her daughter.

TAPS seaglass project

It reads “Depths of our Grief with Sea Glass.”

This is what they did with our sea glass. The leadership team, which includes my instructor’s daughter, painted the image and attached the sea glass pieces with museum putty. You can see the green, white and dark and light blue pieces attached within the waves. At the end of the seminar, each military relative in attendance was able to remove a piece to take with them to remind them of the beautiful things they can accomplish after their grief.

That sea glass came from the beaches of St. Kitts and Nevis. It was collected by Ross Veterinary Students. And I helped.

Six degrees of separation.

I open at the close…

It’s 3 a.m. The Mister and I said goodbye to our island family several hours ago and have been trying to wind down and get some sleep since just after 11. Obviously that’s not working so well.

I’ve spent a few hours in that state where you are calm enough to rest but not quite enough to actually sleep, so I don’t feel too terrible right now, although I’m hoping the action of coming upstairs and writing this post will help push me that last little bit into dreamsville. I’m not sure if the Mister is still awake or not – I have a feeling he is – but we’re coping in our separate ways.

This is my last post from the island, which is actually very fitting, since I sat at my mother’s kitchen table at 2 a.m. (Central Time) the night before we originally came here and wrote out my nervousness in a journal much less public than this one.

I know that in a reflection such as this I’m expected to say things like “it was a life-changing experience” and “it was for the best that we came,” but if I’m being honest with myself and with you, I don’t know how true that is. I sort of feel like we’re returning to the States with roughly the same amount of physical, mental and financial material that we left it with, which makes me wonder if we couldn’t just rip out these pages in our history books and piece pre-St. Kitts and post-St. Kitts together like a jigsaw puzzle without any gaps in-between.

The Mister got his chance to try veterinary school, and that is good, but he worked so hard for so long only to get pushed aside in the end by an administration that poses as one “for the good of the students” but is really just about the money.

I don’t know that I am any better about dealing with different kinds of people and cultures, but I was at least forced to give it a shot, and I suppose that is good as well. If nothing else I now have a much greater appreciation for southern hospitality, courtesy and common sense.

There have definitely been both good days and bad days along the way, but I think they ultimately balance each other out into a fairly neutral overall experience. We will of course never forget or be able to replace the friends we’ve made here and the people we will be leaving behind, but I have faith that tonight will not be the last times we see them, Lord willing. They, at least, are the tokens we will cherish most from this chapter of our lives.

I do intend to continue adding to this blog as time goes on, but the main content will obviously have to change as our lives evolve around it. Hopefully there will be updates about jobs, houses and the antics of children in the future, but we’ll just have to see how the world turns.

One thing I can be completely certain about, however, is that after tomorrow I will not be getting on any airplane of my own free will for a very, very long time.

So here’s to change, to starting over and to second chances. Here’s to bumps in the road, broken transmissions and busted radiators. Here’s to the hundreds of slain mosquitoes flushed down our drains, and here’s to a thousand blazing sunrises over a sparkling ocean. Here’s to pelicans, stilt birds and mongooses. Here’s to lying by a pool, watching shooting stars light up a Caribbean sky, listening to the chatter of your best and closest.

Here’s to endings.

And new beginnings.

Here’s to life. Go make it happen.

A New Road to Walk

The night the Mister and I said goodbye to our families before we caught that first flight to the unknown world of St. Kitts, I cried so hard I could hardly speak, and then sat at my parents’ kitchen table from 2a.m. until flight time trying to figure out why I felt such an oppressive weight of doom.

I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were being sent from our loved ones and exiled into a world of shadowy darkness to chase a dream that – had the system been constructed fairly – the Mister could have followed at a stateside vet school. I know it’s no secret that I’ve not always been the biggest fan of this Kittitian world, but when faced with the immediate prospect of leaving it, I find there are many things I will be sad to leave behind.

I have so many more faithful readers on this humble blog than I ever thought I would gain, and I feel that, since you’ve journeyed with us on our island travels for so long, you deserve to know how they have ended.

Without going into the long details, which will only sound like I’m blaming the school (which I’m going to try not to do), I can explain that the Mister’s final exams last semester did not go as planned – due largely to outside circumstances – and he fell into a loophole in the system not directly addressed by the student handbook. We went through the process to appeal his scores, and found out yesterday that the committee went strictly by the closest handbook rule and decided to release him of his responsibilities as a student and send us home. Where some other students have won their appeals on the same subject, the Mister’s status as having already repeated a course meant he was gleaned from the flock as a matter of “principle.”

The man responsible for handing the Mister the committee’s final decision told him he had not slept well Tuesday night because of it and felt terrible to be delivering the envelope.

However, technicalities and finger-pointing set aside, the decision has been made and the Mister and I are getting our island affairs in order and plan to return stateside by the end of the month. Thankfully we’ve been blessed with families who won’t leave us out in the streets and friends who work in industries where the Mister can look for a job. I myself have applied for a public relations position back home and have a few other possibilities to look into once we get back.

This is not the end of the road for us, but merely the start of a new path. We know we will be ok in the end, even if the going is rough here for a while. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all, and we have learned so much from this experience that will shape us into better adults in the future.

Prayers and good thoughts are always appreciated, and if you know of anything in the middle Tennessee area that is hiring or might be looking for workers like us, please let us know.

–The Missus

Aaaannnnnd we’re back!

Hey readers, I know it’s been a long hiatus these past few weeks, but the Mister and I are safely back on the island and readjusting ourselves to loose brakes and stringy chicken as we speak. 🙂

The vacation was wonderful and definitely necessary for our sanity. We got to spend time with most of the family and saw a lot of good friends at a beautiful wedding the first weekend we were home. We went to the zoo and canoed down the mighty Duck River, roasted marshmallows over a backyard fire, replenished my yarn supply for this semester’s animals, and ate enough good food to kill a horse. I myself ate four cartons of blueberries over two weeks… but that’s a separate story altogether. (Hey, I really have a thing for blueberries, ok?)

Meera stayed with another student while we were gone and seems to have had a good time. She got along well with the other dogs in the apartment complex, had lots of yard space to play in, went on at least one hike and completely wore herself out to the extent that she’s been asleep since we brought her home earlier this morning. 

We had some complications with the way last semester ended so we have to sort out a few more things before the Mister can start classes for this round, but we should know the outcomes of those decisions by Wednesday. Whatever happens though, we know that life will go on one way or another, and we’ll figure out what path our family is meant to take and see what waits for us at the end of it. 

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers that God’s will will be done, and whatever that turns out to be we will be able to accept it and move forward. Thanks, and happy Saturday!

Here we are again

It’s finals week again in the Caribbean. You can tell because the grocery stores are out of Mountain Dew and when you walk around campus, the air is deathly silent except for the strange mutterings of students who have their hands buried in their hair and their eyes starting to bug out of their heads.

The Mister took his first final this afternoon and has his second tomorrow, so all good thoughts and prayers sent his way are appreciated. He has been studying hard for several days and I have faith that he can get the grades he needs to move on in the program. We won’t know until Friday though, and by that time we will likely be on our way back to the mainland.

One of my best friends is getting married this Saturday, so the Mister and I are making the trek back to the land of milk and honey for the two week break. We are super excited to see friends, family and a long list of restaurants. Especially the restaurants. 😉

There may not be posts for the next two Mondays since we’ll be running around trying to fit in all the family visits, scheduled appointments and other activities that need to be done before we return to the island of misfit toys. We wish we could fit in more people and places, but it’s hard to do everything in only 13 days, so if we don’t get a chance to see you this break hopefully we’ll be able to do it the next time we’re in the country.

We’re counting down the hours and crossing our fingers for good results on Friday. Love to all and, if you’re in the home area, we hope to see you soon.

And then there were four… five… six… wait, how many?

Well the semester is drawing to a close and the Mister and I have become the figurative guardians of at least three tiny baby geckos, recently hatched in various parts of our bedroom.

Baby gecko on the ceiling

Baby gecko on the ceiling

I was getting into the shower one night a month or so ago and noticed something moving around the shower head. My first thought, of course, was that it was a centipede, so I jumped out and grabbed a flashlight. Whatever it was was gone, but I could see something unusual in the gap where the faucet pipe comes out of the wall. Upon further inspection, it turned out to be half of a tiny eggshell! 

Since that night we have seen one baby gecko that hangs around the shower, one that hangs out in the closet and one that can often be found in the main area of the room. They are slightly different, but are all less than two inches in length and very cute to watch. Over the past weeks they have started to expand their territories, and it’s cool to watch them venture into new areas and react to their new surroundings.

The closet gecko, which we call Sam, likes to crawl out of the closet and peek out into the room from the safety of underneath the nearby dresser. The shower gecko – George – recently ventured onto the bathroom counter and then tried to hide against the back side of my makeup bag when the Mister came in to wash his hands. The third baby, who doesn’t have his own name, can often be seen crawling around the vicinity of the air conditioner.

Unnamed gecko baby near the air conditioner

Can you see him? He’s up above the air conditioner cord cover. (Closer pictures were too blurry.)

We like our tiny gecko family and do our best to be mindful of their positions and leave them alone. We have had to scare them away from things that could be dangerous to them, though, like the whirling ceiling fan or Meera’s kennel. (She ignores them for the most part, but she will lie on the bed and stare at them suspiciously if they are moving across the ceiling.)

We have plenty of mosquitoes to go around, and I would rather have geckos than centipedes any day. 

What do you think we should name the third baby? Feel free to submit your suggestions in the comments. 

The one with the feet

There’s a very bohemian, devil-may-care feeling to sitting on an upper story porch, lounging in a deck chair with your bare feet propped up on the balcony railing like a flower child with her legs hanging out the car window.

I don’t know why it is exactly, but this is my favorite happy place. Our upstairs porch is well shaded and gets a good breeze during the day, and I can watch the comings and goings on the golf course from the relative privacy of my chair. I like to bring my breakfast out here in the mornings before the Mister is awake and take time to enjoy the quiet before the golf course tractors really get going. (It helps that this is also undeniably the coolest place in the house.)

I feel like this is one of the only places where I appreciate living here. The island is beautiful — regardless of how I may feel about the rest of it — and I often forget to stop being irritated with the locals long enough to appreciate my surroundings. At what other time in our lives will we live on a tropical island? At what other point will I have enough free time to sit in the gentle breeze reading classic novels for hours at a time? Never. This will never happen again. And while there are days that I hate this place with so much passion it consumes me, I do have to sit back and acknowledge that this is a gift I will probably miss once I have a 9-5 job again and children to chase after.

We joke about how golfers and yard workers can often look up at our house and see Meera’s little gray face watching them through the railing, but the truth is that, more often than not, they can also see my feet hanging out into the sunshine. What a strange picture that probably is. I’m sure that’s probably how the pool cleaners know which house is ours from the back — they just look for the one with the feet.

porch with a view

S.A.F.E.ty comes at a price

We’ve all seen those ASPCA commercials — the ones with the depressing music and puppies in cages and celebrities telling you how to sponsor an animal for pennies a day. If you’re anything like me, you glance out at your happy dogs in the yard and change the channel before it gets too gut-wrenching. There are thousands of animals in the United States who are abused, mistreated and in need of loving homes, but at least someone gives them a voice. There are animal shelters, animal control centers and advocacy groups who work to eliminate animal abuse, and those who are responsible can face fines and criminal charges.

Not so in St. Kitts.

There are no shelters here, and dying animals rarely receive humane euthanasia unless they are picked up by veterinary students and taken to the campus clinic. Animals are property, not companions, and if an owner wants to leave a dog to slowly starve to death in his front yard he is free to do so without fear of legal repercussions. Animals suffer injuries and extents of neglect here that would never be allowed to go on in the United States. Every day dogs are seen tied to trees with heavy chains, wasting away, broken, defeated and barely able to rise from the ground when children gather to throw rocks and stones at the wormy skeleton. Every day. And no one speaks for them.

Kristen Decina, a New Jersey native, is trying to change that.

Decina, a student at Ross University of Veterinary Medicine, arrived on St. Kitts to begin her studies in April of 2012 and immediately recognized the incredible need for an emergency animal rescue agency in the area.

“The last dog rescue, P.A.W.S.*, was founded here in 2002. I felt that with the growing (vet) student population there was room and need for another rescue with a slightly different angle. PAWS was doing a great job, but one rescue could not do it all alone,” said Decina.

S.A.F.E. St. Kitts — “Saving Animals From Emergency” — was officially founded in the spring of 2013 and focuses on being an on-call rescue. There are an average of three to eight animals in the program at one time, with any number of other rescues in the homes of sponsored foster families. Decina and two other Ross students, who make up the SAFE executive staff, have successfully adopted out approximately 50 animals in the past year, with another 50 lives improved through foster families and local education on proper pet care.

“Our rescue provides 100% of the care the animals need, including general vaccines, deworming, treatment for emergent illnesses like heartworms and, in many cases, extensive surgeries,” said Decina. “We also go on rescue calls with other students and community members, and we provide food and supplies to rescuers who don’t have them. All of that adds up.”

It is amazing to see how much a scared, starving animal can improve after a warm bath, a soft blanket and a nutritious meal. During her interview, Decina cuddled the rescue’s newest addition — four-month-old puppy Quinn — who is a skittish skeleton. However, after only 48 hours in a loving home, Quinn was already wagging his tail, playing with his foster family and putting on weight.

Decina says her drive to continue such a daunting task is fueled by rescues like L.O.V.E. (“Left On Volcanoes End”) and Copper.

LOVE was found sealed into a 3’x2′ monkey cage in the jungle, deprived of human contact and affection. “I can’t imagine what being in the crate for so long did to her spirit. She looked absolutely defeated. Her teeth have wear marks from where she tried to chew herself out of her wire prison,” said Decina.

It is unknown how long LOVE had been in this tiny cage, and she was terrified of her rescuers.

LOVE was cut out of her tiny cage and taken in by a foster mother with experience handling unsocialized dogs. Now, after many months of patient care and attention, LOVE is beginning to trust again and greets her foster mother at the door at the end of each day. She is still looking for her forever family.

LOVE is such a couch hog!

Copper was found in port by cruise ship passengers, one leg irreparably mangled as he tried to pull himself through the crowds to a safer resting place. News of Copper’s condition reached Decina and the SAFE team and they were able to locate him in town, surrounded by a crowd of abusive onlookers who sneered at the poor dying animal, who was in so much pain he had given up the fight. The SAFE team transported him to the Ross Veterinary Hospital for evaluation, but they didn’t have any money left to pay for the amputation and other surgeries he would need. In a burst of inspiration, Decina emailed the cruise ship passengers who originally found the dog and begged for their help. Amazingly, all the passengers contacted immediately donated via PayPal to cover the hound dog’s expenses. Copper now lives with two veterinary students who adore him and spoil him rotten.

Copper is a beautiful older dog who doesn’t even know he only has three legs!

SAFE tries to offset its expenses through Ross campus fundraisers and private donations, however much of the costs are being absorbed by the students themselves.

Outsiders can help in a variety of ways, first and foremost by donating money to cover the costs of amputations, stomach repairs, broken bones and other extensive procedures needed by their rescues.

Their website, www.safest.kitts.org, is set up with a PayPal donation link. You can also donate via their GoFundMe account at http://www.gofundme.com/safestkittsrescue.

Those who would rather send supplies (via students returning to the island or USPS care packages), can send dog toys, Kongs, puppy milk replacer, collars, leashes, pee pads and treats — all of which are hard to find here on the island.

“I am blessed because the work I am doing now is what I feel I was put on this earth to do, and coming to St. Kitts and not making a difference in a place where there is so much room to help would have been my biggest regret,” said Decina.

To donate, please follow any of the links above. For more information, please leave a comment on this post or contact SAFE directly via email at Safe_st.kitts@yahoo.com. They are also on Facebook.

Remember, one U.S. dollar equals 2.7 eastern Caribbean dollars, so even if you don’t feel you can give very much, whatever you can give will be converted and applied toward the rehabilitation of an animal who deserves to find his or her forever home.

Decina responded to a call about puppies starving in a cane field last spring and brought home the tiny creatures that would turn into our strong, beloved Meera and her sister Kitt. Without SAFE, Meera would likely have died in that field, either killed by the land owner or wasting away slowly from starvation and exposure.

If you have pets you love, and who love you in return, please take a moment to consider making a donation to help veterinary students on St. Kitts rescue animals from emergency situations and better teach the island community how to care for their furry friends.

—-

*P.A.W.S. stands for “People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts” and was founded by a local in 2002. PAWS is maintained and staffed through the Ross veterinary student community and has plans, with help from influential local families, to build the island’s first animal shelter. However, there is a long way to go until this goal is accomplished. More information about their organization and fundraising efforts can be found at www.rosspaws.com.

I should have gone to Hogwarts

My mom sent me this image today, and while I’ve seen it before, it hasn’t ever been quite as true as this past week. I know that those who can knit or crochet (which are not the same thing, by the way) are in the minority, so I don’t expect my customers to know the difference or to know how crocheting works. However, I’ve been amazed at some of the things I’ve been asked to make over the past few days. Great horned owls (for which there seem to be no patterns online), centipedes (which I refuse to make because “if I build it, they will come”), and a variety of strangely exotic birds, to name a few.

Now, I don’t have a problem when potential customers bring me a picture of a particular animal and ask if I can make it. I’m flattered, actually, that they have so much assumed faith in my abilities. However, it does start to be a problem when said customer refuses to accept that something just isn’t going to work. Either a pattern doesn’t exist (I can freehand somewhat but I need at least a basic starting shape.), I don’t have the materials and they aren’t willing to wait (we live in a third-world country, people. I don’t exactly have a Hobby Lobby.), or the animal doesn’t look EXACTLY like the real thing.

That’s been an issue lately – people seeming to think their products are going to be exact replicas rather than toys. It’s a stuffed animal! Not a die-cast mold of your beloved pet. I try to find a basic body shape that fits the pet’s breed and then match the color scheme as close to a picture as I can. That’s the best I can do. If you have some exotic breed of parrot with multicolored iridescent wings, and the best I can do is a basic parrot, that’s the best I can do. I am not going to use hundreds of brain cells to make one stitch at a time in different colors just to mimic this species’ wings. No amount of money that a student is willing to pay could cover that kind of stress.

(And another thing, if you think the price I quoted you is too high, just say no thanks and walk away. Don’t stand by my table for 20 minutes and complain loudly about how you can’t BELIEVE I would make it so expensive. I charge in local EC prices, which means I’m actually only making a third of that in US dollars. I do this for my own entertainment and hardly make any profit at all. So if you want to complain about it [and be the only person, I might add, because nobody else seems to think I charge too much], that’s your own cheap problem.)

Sometimes color schemes just aren’t feasible with a customer’s deadline. For example, 7th semester students have to have their orders done before finals because they leave the island for good after that, and I work with them as much as I can to finish everything they order before they leave. Sometimes a 7th semester student wants something that is possible, but not with the supplies I currently have. I would have to get the special supplies when I go home in August, at which point the customer will have already moved away. Therefore, that order isn’t possible for that particular person. People refuse to accept this. One customer asked if her family could bring the special yarn when they come to help her move…. the week before she leaves. I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to happen. I have suitcases to pack too, you know.

I really should have gone to Hogwarts, because people seem to think I can just wave my little crochet stick around and POOF! life-like yarn animals appear. I’m not complaining, per say, because I enjoy making all sorts of animals and I’m glad to be making a little bit of money; I’m more just voicing my amazement at some of the orders and questions that have come in. For the most part, however, my customer-base has been very excited and supportive of my products and I’ve gotten lots of good reviews and referrals. This month I’ve done a donkey, a pomeranian, a blanket with a monkey head, a regular baby blanket, six baby sea turtles and a giraffe, and I still have another donkey and a red panda to work on this week. Business is keeping my busy, so I always have that to be thankful for.

What magic have you been asked to perform lately?

Meera’s Ten Commandments

Ten rules for living in Meera’s house (as declared by the head barker, me, Meera, the most high furball)

1. There will be no dancing, jumping, wiggling, jiggling, excited hand gestures or any other movements that might be misinterpreted as dancing. If such activity occurs, it will be broken up immediately with loud barking that lets everyone in the immediate area know of your transgression.

2. There will be no public displays of affection that are not directed at or do not include me. This includes hugging, kissing, snuggling and hand holding. If such an activity does not include me, I reserve the right to forcibly insert myself into said activity.

3. When swimming in the big water bowl, there should be no jumping, splashing, laughing or horseplay of any kind. If this occurs I will immediately take it as a sign that you are drowning and in need of life-saving assistance and I will leap in after you. Probably half-drowning you in the process anyway.

4. Dinner will be served promptly at whatever time I decide I am hungry.

5. Upon entering the backyard the first order of business is to patrol all five mongoose holes, from left to right, to ensure no breach of the perimeter is in progress. Then the yard and surrounding wall will be checked for birds. After the area is secure, bodily functions may be addressed, but only if there are no interesting branches in the grass to play with first.

6. A visitor’s danger-level is arbitrary, determined solely by me. Your friend with the funny white dog is acceptable, as is the funny white dog. The man who fixes the big water bowl, the man who takes away my poop from the can and the man who cuts the grass are undesirables and will be chased from the premises at every available opportunity. The next door neighbor is ok if she is in the yard, but if she is on her porch I will bark at her. The stranger who came to fix the neighbor’s water, however, is acceptable. He smelled good.

7. One set of scratchies demands another. Beginning the first set obviously means you don’t have anything better to do for the rest of the day and are therefore required to continue the scratchies until your arms fall off.

8. The first order of business when Mommy wakes up in the morning is to open the upstairs porch doors and look for golfers. The second order of business is to climb onto the big bed and stick my nose under Daddy’s arms until he wakes up.

9. The being known as Va-CUUM and I may never be in the same place at the same time. I understand that Mommy likes to have him around several times a week, and because I love Mommy I will allow this. However, I must be given enough notice of his arrival that I can go out onto the porch and watch him from a distance until he goes back into hibernation. Then, and only then, will I come back inside.

10. If Daddy is in the big bed when I go out to patrol the yard and is not in the big bed when I return, this is cause for considerable alarm and I will rush frantically throughout the house until I determine his exact whereabouts, even if he is standing in the strange water hose behind the curtain in the bathroom. Daddy is important and his activities must be monitored at all times for his safety. However, if Mommy and Daddy are in different places, I will go with Mommy. Unless Daddy has food, then that changes things.

Observation of these ten basic commandments will help ensure smooth daily living. Please find “Meera’s Rules for Peaceful Living” at your local library for the other 4,572 miscellaneous ordinances.

Thank you, and you may return to your regularly scheduled activities. (Unless you’re dancing, jumping, hugging, kissing, swimming…….)