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Boston, Bedbugs and Ballyhoo – Another guest post about transplanting

These days it’s hard for me to figure out which end is up – even from all those moving boxes that actually say on them “this end up.” 

I want to focus inward and unpack and make this new house truly my home. 

I want to focus outward and see how I can make this suburban, manicured and perfectly landscaped property a little less perfect. A little more me. Outward more still and make some new friends and maybe even land a new job. 

Then there is the business of keeping my son entertained and occupied in the weeks he leaves before camp. 

It’s a good thing I can count on some great guest bloggers who have transplant stories of their own. 

The first in the lineup is Maya Rodgers who blogs at Pets and Pests. Originally from New England and with roots in the Boston area (a place we considered moving before we chose Detroit), Maya is excited to experience more of Raleigh, N.C., and would like to return more often to visit old friends in both Atlanta and Boston. She spends her days helping people exterminate bed bugs, palmetto bugs, and other crawly creatures for Terminix . I for one hope to never need her services, but if I do, I hope she has some connections in Michigan! 

Here is Maya’s tale: 

Part of the reason exploring new places is so wonderful is because it acts as a distorted mirror. It reflects you in a different light than you’re used to, and it teaches you important and silly things about yourself.

After college, I lived in Boston for a few years. New England had always been home, and Boston still hasn’t quite stopped being home for me. Like anywhere, it has its positive and negative aspects. I loved being able to walk almost anywhere, and if I couldn’t walk, I could take the T, or a combination T-and-bus route. I whined and complained about the public transportation when “switching problems at Park” led to long delays, but I loved it just the same.


Boston T sign courtesy of Paul Downey

I also loved splurging on expensive ice cream once in a blue moon at Toscanini’s in Central Square, and riding shotgun in a friend’s car for a late-night trip to Richie’s Slush (the best Italian ice ever – I highly recommend the lemon).

I haven’t lived in too many other places, but there seems to be something very special about the seasons in New England. Flowering trees in the gorgeous springtime, absolutely frigid temperatures in winter, and too hot in the summer, but fall was always my favorite season. The weather cools off, the mosquitoes start to go away, the air feels fresh and clean, and, of course, the leaves start to change color. One of my favorite places, the Boston Common, is wonderful in any season.

commonsBoston Common courtesy of Timothy Vollmer

The best part of any place, though, is the people. The friends who help you chip winter’s ice off the sidewalk, and the ones who wander around the North End with you, looking for some interesting-looking new restaurant.

I think that’s what’s hardest about moving. Not just gathering up your stuff, but leaving your loved ones behind while you go someplace you know almost nothing about and try to put down new roots.

After Boston, I moved to Atlanta for work. The biggest change I noticed initially was the pace of life. There were certain big-city aspects that went at light speed. For example, despite crazy Boston drivers, I’d never been tailgated quite as aggressively as when driving in Atlanta. The Perimeter (the road that circles most of Atlanta) has a posted speed limit of 55mph, but it’s five or six lanes wide each way, and even if you’re going 70, you’re the slowest person on the road. Out of their cars though, people move more slowly and demonstrate more politeness. People were sociable in stores, starting up friendly conversations at seemingly odd times.

I’ve always been much more of a walker than a driver, and although there are sidewalks on many of the roads, there are rarely pedestrians on them. The most people I ever saw outside was when the power went out in my neighborhood. Suddenly there were couples, families, and individuals like me, wandering around, enjoying what had become (after a quick pass-through storm) a beautiful evening. Perhaps something about the Atlanta heat means that people spend much more time in their cars no matter what the weather, but enjoying a walk after work, or strolling to the bookstore or coffee shop on the weekends, became an almost eerie experience, with everyone else racing by in their cars.

The bugs were another large shock. Palmetto bugs are much bigger than any roach I’d ever seen up north, and while they weren’t in my Atlanta home (that I knew of), they’d come out in Atlanta’s long summer, wandering around now and again on the pavement near my home. Needless to say, I kept my place meticulously clean in an effort to ward them off.

Moving from Boston to Atlanta changed me in a lot of ways. I became a more aggressive driver, for one, which partly meant that I stopped caring when someone tailgated me. I walked less, but took up jogging – even ran the Peachtree Road Race! I found a favorite bookstore (Peerless Book Store in Johns Creek), and browsed its shifting stock whenever I could. I also discovered air conditioning (which I’d never really had when living up north), and learned that I loved painting when I signed up for weekend painting classes. My speech patterns even changed a little bit. At first, I’d say “y’all” somewhat ironically. I’m not sure it sounds natural now, but it is more convenient than most other alternatives.

Perhaps most importantly, I stayed in touch with my friends in the Northeast – even became closer with some of them – and made quite a few Southern friends, both in and out of work. Having a dog makes for an instant socialization opportunity, especially if you visit the dog park at regular times.

garybrownMy dog Mindy, during a not-so-recent beach trip

I’ve recently transplanted once again to Raleigh (this time with a family in tow). So far, we’re all just figuring out where our favorite restaurants are (to date, the Irregardless Café is far and away my favorite), and discovering new things about ourselves.

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Training the Trainer – Guiding Eyes for the Blind

I think I have wanted a dog as long as I can remember. I wanted one as a child but my parents said no because it would be too much of a burden to care for a dog and kennel a dog when we traveled. I couldn’t get a dog when I lived on my own during my single apartment dwelling life, but I would borrow my landlord’s dog to get my doggie fix. Then, I vowed I would get a dog once I had a house. Then, we had kids, and that put having a dog way low down on our priority list.

But now….

My kids are getting bigger. The desire for dog ownership has transcended into the next generation. My children ask us for a dog  almost on a daily basis. The answer is usually “no” and sometimes “maybe someday.”

One day, my youngest son bounded off the schoolbus and said: “Guess What?!”

I replied with great interest: “What!!”

My son’s reply: “Can we get a dog?” Poor thing, he was only answered by my sigh of refusal.

But now….

My oldest son Nathan will become a Bar Mitzvah in November. In addition to the studying and the party planning comes the obligatory fulfillment of a mitzvah project, one thing to do to make this world a better place. Nathan’s proposed mitzvah project: to raise a Guiding Eyes dog for the Blind.

Now —  now we’re onto something.

I know. I know if we do decide to train a guiding eye dog, it will not be the way you train an ordinary mutt.   It will need to be more than obedient. It will not even be our pet forever. But truly, what a mitzvah it will be to train one of these beautiful creatures that may one day be a companion for the blind.

“These dogs are not your typical dog pets,” I explain to Nathan, not to discourage him but to make him understand these are not dogs put on Earth for our amusement or enjoyment. They have a job. And it would be our job not to just love and cuddle it but to train it for its intended job.

 And he knows.  For the last two weeks, puppyless though we are, my son and I have tagged along to GEB puppy kindergarten classes to see how the training is done. As I watch the volunteer trainers patiently and lovingly working with their dogs, I am not only humbled at the dedication these volunteers show to their temporary canine companions, but the fact that they have taken Nathan under their wing to train him how to train a guiding eye dog. If we do one day adopt a dog, I will be in their debt.

The Monroe County region of GEB has approximately 25 puppy raisers.  Each year along the Eastern seaboard, Guiding Eyes pairs and trains 170 teams of dogs with blind handlers who receive these dogs at no expense. Puppy trainers are at the heart of this process that in the end enables the blind to live more independent lives.

Being a volunteer puppy raiser is no small commitment. There is a rigorous application process. A regional coordinator visits a potential volunteer to make sure their home is suitable for puppies, and then visits every three months to check the progress of training.

Nathan and I went to two classes: the first was in the community room of a church in Henrietta. The second, on the University of Rochester campus during the carillon bells concert held every Monday evening in the summer.

We’ve learned  few things so far:

  • Guiding eye dogs cannot be distracted: by other dogs, by blowing leaves. They must have their attention at all times on their master. And puppies, like children, are easily distracted. Nathan spent one solid hour working with a puppy named Ben to keep his focus.
  • Once a dog regains its focus on the master, praise it like crazy. Puppies, like children, love positive praise.
  • Nathan learned the difference of luring a dog – using a treat to get them into a position like “down” or “sit” and rewarding it – giving the dog the treat only after it has performed the command with no handling.
  • The dogs must restrain their urges to play with other dogs and people.
  • The potential puppy trainer – and the potential puppy trainer’s mother – must restrain with all their might their urges to squeal “PUPPIEEEEEEEESSS!!!!” and play and joust with every yellow lab in the class.

Classes are held in parks, busses, shopping malls, and even classrooms. The goal is to get these puppies accustomed to as many different situations as possible.

It takes immense dedication, love and patience to train a guide dog.  The process begins at birth and they receive constant human contact from volunteers at the Guiding Eyes Canine Development Center in Patterson, NY.  At nine weeks of age, the best pups already know the commands for “sit,” “stay,” and “down.”  Over the next year, the dogs learn commands such as “come close” – necessary for riding a bus or eating in a restaurant, “load up” – get in the car, and “get busy.”

Yes– if well-trained, these dogs will even do their business on command.

If this blog post has tugged at your puppy-loving heartstrings and you would like to learn more about volunteering, contact

What you can learn from a Lizard Named Sue

seemingly fragile, anoles make quite resilient pets

This is the story of a lizard named Sue. Her given, formal name is Susan.

Why Susan? Susan the anole started her life as a 4th grade class biology project. My son’s science partner Sarah declared that this animal must have a name that started and ended with the names of her caretakers: Sarah and Nathan. Hence, the moniker Susan was bequeathed to this tiny, sometimes green, sometimes brown reptile.

Anoles are very delicate creatures. Adapting an anole is free, but the stuff that the anole needs to live is not. It needs a large glass tank and proper humidity and temperature levels that are maintained with a heat lamp and daily squirts of a water mister.  Within the tank, it needs a water dish and natural or artificial plants to hide within.

Then there is the strict diet anoles follow: Crickets. Live ones. Though the anole requires no walking or training, the anole owner must frequent the local pet store and bring these creaking creatures home in a plastic bag. 

The crickets are kept in a separate container, and must also be fed lettuce, potato peelings or other vegetable scraps. In other words, the anole owner has a little ecosystem going on.

Anoles, unlike fuzzy and loving puppies, are not fuzzy or loving. But unlike puppies, you can leave an anole by itself for a night or two if you give it a supply of crickets and put its light on a timer. 

One early spring weekend, my family decided to take an overnight road trip to Cleveland. Nathan threw some crickets in Susan’s tank and bid her farewell.

Unlike leaving a dog or a puppy, who become sad and traumatized when they are separated from their master for any length of time,  I don’t think Susan really noticed we would be gone.

We returned from a short but great trip to the city where the phrase Rock ‘n Roll was coined. At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum, we enjoyed looking at all the rock memorabilia and learning which musician inspired which musician in the attraction’s vast interactive database. In the special exhibit on Bruce Springsteen, viewing the original notebook where the Boss scribbled the lyrics to Thunder Road was almost a spiritual experience. 

We cheered on the Cleveland Indians and ate some great food in the Flats Arts district. We couldn’t wait to come home and tell Sue all about it.

Only, when we climbed the stairs to Nathan’s bedroom and peered inside Susan’s tank, either she had hidden herself extraordinarily well, or she had fled.

Now, if you scroll back up a bit, you will notice that my son had fed Susan some crickets. But, alas, he did not completely close up the screen on top of her tank.

Our lizard named Sue was gone. So tiny and capable of crawling into any crevice of the house, including our ventilation and/or plumbing system, all hope seemed lost.

Nathan went to bed devistated.

“Suzie, Sooooozzie!” he cried in his bed. He cried himself to sleep.

As I tried to sleep that night, I was simultaneously touched that a boy could care so much for a tiny creature and creeped out that it could be anywhere in the house and we would probably smell it before we found it.

Two weeks passed.

It was a quiet afternoon before the kids got home from school when I decided to do some deep cleaning in the boys’ bedroom. I had moved the large bookcase from the wall and was dusting behind it when, from the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small, plastic toy lizard had appeared.

Only this plastic lizard darted across the floor before my eyes.

Susan! She was alive. I was elated and completely spooked all at once. I threw a small toy bucket over the found creature and waited for my brave daughter to come home and pick it up and place it in it’s tank.

Back in her cage, we looked at Susan, and she looked a bit humiliated and, well – pissed off. Her vacation and her adventure were over.  She remains in her tank, now with a more securely fastened screened top, to this day.

Susan had lived on her own wits. She survived with no heat lamp or daily spritzes of water. And we guessed that she lived on the spiders and occasional ants that enter our house in the springtime.

So, what can we learn from a lizard named Sue?

  • when all hope is lost, miracles can still happen
  • Creatures, if left to their own devices, are very resourceful and resillient
  • Nature, if left alone, can survive, even in the wilds of a boy’s bedroom
  • anoles don’t read the manuals they come with and can live on pretty much any creature that creeps and crawls
  • you really don’t need all that many creature comforts to get by
  • Never miss out on an opportunity to break out of what ever cages that might hold you
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