Mischief and Hives

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My husband and I are sitting on the couch, watching Food Network Star. Meanwhile, I’ve taken our rat, Oreo, out of his cage. I try to keep him on a little blue pillow on my lap, but he’ll have none of it. He climbs up to my shoulder, his little claws digging into my skin, and he licks my face. It makes me squeal with delight.

If left to their own devices, our rats would gladly hitch a ride on our shoulders all day. They love to be near us and are more affectionate than most give them credit to be. Unlike mice or guinea pigs, rats are social animals. They want you to be a part of their mischief (literally and figuratively, since that’s what you call a group of rats).

After a little bit of playtime, I hand him off to my husband. I watch as he walks back to the cage, a rat tail drooping over his shoulder, and when he holds his arm out straight, Oreo happily scampers down to the door. I take several deep breaths — I’m starting to feel winded. There’s a sensation on my skin where Oreo was rubbing, and I can still feel where his claws were.

When Josh sits down, I stretch my neck up. “Did he get me?” I run my hand across my skin, feeling where it has started to rise.

My husband – love of my life, partner of 4 years, friend of more than 10 – makes a horrible face and recoils. “Oh God.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Oh God, Katie. It’s ghoulish.”

I head upstairs and into the bathroom. Sure enough, my neck looks like it’s just watched the first ten minutes of Up. Puffy, red, swollen. I take an allergy pill, go downstairs, and we keep watching TV.

The things that we love are never awesome all the time – I think that’s why so many people set themselves up for failure when they get this image in their head of the perfect life, the flawless version of themselves. Even if you could do exactly what you want all the time, you could still have things happen that are outside of your control.

Writing is like that too. Sometimes, you love it — the words blossom before you, you hit the zone, you’re in love with the keyboard. But sometimes? You get a rash. There’s this itch – to do anything else – and you can’t scratch it.

But I love rats. And I love writing. Neither are perfect and sometimes I need medication, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.

5 Best Things from 2014

It’s still January. I’m allowed to do this. 2014 was a hell of a year, right? Here are the most awesome things that came out of it.

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1. Izmee the Hippo: after 5 years of waiting for someone to give me a hippo, I took matters into my own hands. Since then, Izmee has become a constant companion in my adventures. She’s there at new restaurants, she gets to check out the digs at hotels, and she reminds me not to be so serious.

2. Rats: in December, we welcomed into our home three fuzzy brothers who have grown into delightful additions to our family. Chip, Moby and Oreo are like tiny puppies: they lick our faces, they want to interact with us, and they are constantly playful. I’m 100% converted to the way of the rat.

3. The Jane Hotel (NYC): this one is very specific. When I booked my room at the Jane, I was mostly intrigued because it came off as an affordable, private hostel. Now, though, as I reflect on it, the Jane was one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been. It captures the Manhattan feel of old movies, with its boat cabin rooms and distant view of the Statue of Liberty. I can’t imagine going back to New York and not staying there.

4. Food: 2014’s food was amazing. No kidding. My husband and I did a lot in 2014 to expand our culinary horizons. I baked bread from scratch for the first time. Instead of going out for Valentine’s Day, we had a 5-course dinner at home, including duck confit (pictured here). Looking at cooking as a creative endeavor has changed the way I look at food everyday.

5. Travel: I can’t express how pleased I am with how much traveling I managed to do in 2014. I chose pictures from only a few of my outings, including DC for the annual cherry blossoms, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Virginia Beach (local to where I grew up but my first time at a beachfront hotel). I also visited New York City twice – once by train! – Columbus, Cleveland, Baltimore, and several cities around Pittsburgh during my summer staycation. And I am ready for more!

What were your favorite parts of 2014? I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Holidays! (5 Things Happening Right Now Because Geez)

Hi, guys. Did Thanksgiving zip by you, too? Because it did for me. All of a sudden I looked up and it was Monday. Now, I’m out of leftovers and losing my mind. Also, doing these things:

1. Christmas. Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. I love this time of the year. Everything about it makes me a warm buttery ball of happy. I am working on gifts and donations and foodieness and decorations and, and, and, and!! So much Christmas, so little time.

2. Rats. I am adopting three rats. I’ve settled on the names Moby, Oreo (shut up, Brett*) and Chu. They are adorable and I am so very excited to have them joining my family. And I found this short essay which explains why you need rat people in your life, too.

3. I’m going to a talk about positivity tonight with one of my best friends. It’s all about creating a more vibrant life and feeling powerful and alive. I’m looking forward to going.

4. Tomorrow starts a special holiday series of How to Have a Day Job. It’s not too late to join the fun and figure out how to:

  • Enjoy the holidays without getting burned out.
  • Juggle festivities with responsibilities.
  • Take stock of what is important about this festive time of the year without losing sight of it behind a massive pile of work.

So click here and sign up already!

5. Christmas! Did I mention that already?! It’s enough to count for two!

*Brett is a dear friend of mine who has been around through a few pets, one of the first being a guinea pig named Cheeto. He does not approve of these food-based names. And to that I say ‘nyah.’

On Getting Bit (And Still Sticking Your Hand Back In)

It’s tough going from owning guinea pigs to owning mice.

Guinea pigs are sort of like big, furry bricks. You can pick them up, place them in your lap, pet them and then return them to their habitat. That’s the big draw to those big-lipped bundles: you can handle them with relative ease. Wanna cuddle and watch TV? Cool. Snuggle in bed? No problem.

Not so with mice. Even domesticated mice are running on 110% fleeing energy, operating under the fair assumption that anything and everything is trying to end their short lives. When I first got my two mice last year, I thought that I could at least enjoy their presence in the tank they shared. One day, I reached my hand down with a few pieces of food. Virginia – the more sociable of two at the time – was cool with that. Milk-and-cream-colored Sylvia, however?

“She freakin’ bit me,” I told my husband, showing him the red pinch mark on my hand.

“Yeah…what did you expect?”

I didn’t want to admit it, but I expected some White Fang shit. I expected some initial wildness that would melt to warm love between me and my tiny furry friends. But after a few more times, I got tired of the itty bitty bites, so I left them alone to their happy, mousey lives.

Fast-forward about fifteen months. After a brief bout with a dime-sized tumor, Virginia passed away. I struggled with the idea of getting Sylvia a friend (“You’re going to end up the crazy cat lady of mice if you get into this cycle,” I was warned) but she was mostly pleased with having the tank to herself. However, I didn’t want her to get depressed or bored, so I decided I would try once again to make our friendship work so she could stay stimulated.

Everything I read explained that to win the trust of a mouse, you have to make sure they have a strong sense of security. How do you do that? By slowly getting them used to you. How do you do that? Sticking your damn hand in the tank again.

“This isn’t going to work if you keep taking your hand away,” my husband explained as I pulled my doughy digits out of Sylvia’s line of bite. I hated the thought of the little bugger getting her teeth on me. Again.

I read a topic in a book on rats about using soft foods to keep the rat engaged as they become accustomed to your presence. I decided to give this a try. Why not? Turns out Sylvia loves peanut butter, and she quickly got to liking it being given to her on a spoon.

It took a lot of courage to get to the next step: putting peanut butter on the tip of a finger. Every voice in me was like, “This is not going to end well. You know that, right?”

But as that little mouse came up and happily started licking my finger without so much as a pinch, I can report that no bad happened.

How often do we pass up opportunities because we’re afraid of getting hurt again? It’s easy to just say, “I’ll find a better way to occupy my time.” The things that really matter, though – the things in life that bring real joy – may require taking a risk and defying everything that tells you it’s safer to stay back.

I’m glad I tried again. Wouldn’t you?