Pacemaker

 

“I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work,” George’s daughter Melissa texted me.

Pickle ball has changed my life. After back surgery for a herniated disk, my husband was worried I’d not be able to play tennis again and he found this new sport for me. Pickle ball is played in a gym on a badminton size court with a whiffle ball and a paddle and it’s a game of mixed doubles. Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages all play together. It is a fast, aggressive game combining tennis with badminton and some people say Ping-Pong. I don’t see the Ping-Pong part of it. It’s an incredible work out but also an amazingly fun and addictive sport. I now play between 5 and 6 days a week for between 2 to 3 hours. It’s like my job, that and speaking about Gorillas and Chimps at the Dallas zoo 2 days a week. Lucky me. My recovery from the surgery was so excellent, I could easily play tennis, but I have no desire! My new love is Pickle ball.

I have met so many people and I have many very close friends in Texas as a result of Pickle ball. I am in awe at the support and camaraderie this PB community provides.

Not long ago, several of our Dallas police officers were shot and killed in a race relation issue. The next day at Pickle ball, one of the players called us all together and asked that we bow our heads in a minute of silence for the men who died. You could have heard a pin drop in that gym. It was powerful.

A couple months later right before we began play, a woman asked us to gather as she had a sad announcement. One of our dear Pickle ball friends Sarah, we were told, just lost her 48-year old daughter a day or two before. Again, we gathered, bowed our heads in silence and surely a lot of prayer for one of our own. Then the coach, Dave, went to get a bereavement card, which we all signed and he sent it. Sarah is not back yet but our community is there for her when she is.

Recently, one of our wonderful friends, George found out his heart rate was way too low. George is very athletic and otherwise a very healthy 72 year old, but his doctor was insistent on a pacemaker. He was going back and forth, stressing out about the decision because he felt so good and was playing Pickle ball several days a week aggressively. He was finally convinced it was what he needed to do.

George had the surgery to install the pacemaker on a Monday morning. Most everyone in our Pickle ball community knew. Shockingly, on Tuesday afternoon George sauntered in to the gym. He didn’t have his paddle with him and he didn’t intend on playing but he felt great and wanted to see us. Here is what I texted his daughter later, of whom I am very fond even though I don’t know her well.

Hi Melissa!  I wish you could have seen the scene when your father walked into the gym today.  The only word I can think of, and I don’t think I have ever used this word before, is “Fellowship”.  Several women jumped up to embrace him.  Our coach then went over to give him a hug and handshake and brought him a cushioned chair so he wouldn’t have to sit on the hard bleachers.  Then as games ended, men began walking up putting their hands on his shoulder or shaking his hand asking about his procedure and how he was doing.  He was the prince of the ball and everyone was quietly rejoicing in how well things went and how fabulous he looked.  Then a much older man than George took the padded seat and your father, of course, didn’t say a word and sat on the hard bleachers. He’s a special man and I know losing his wife was devastating as it was for you losing your mother.  But as a family, you have each other, and now know you can take comfort in that your father is a beloved member of a huge Fellowship of Pickle ball people.  Love, Andie

Here is Melissa’s response:

I tried to get through your text without crying but it didn’t work. What a wonderful thing to read. Thank you. Thank you again and the Fellowship of PB’s for caring about him so much. I’m so glad you’ve all gotten to know the awesome man I’m lucky to call “Dad”.

I’m kinda starting to like Texas….


Human Silverbacks

“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room!” he said.

A normal gorilla troop in the wild consists of a silverback male, several females (called a Harem, sorry gals) and all of their offspring. The silverback calls the shots. He dictates when to feed, when to nest, when to move on, etc. He also breaks up bickering between his females and patrols his territory for his family’s safety. It’s a stressful job and silverbacks are notorious for heart disease. But he is, without a doubt, the boss.

I know our DNA is 98.5 percent the same as gorillas. But we are human and I have noticed in racquet sports if women and men are playing together, certain men revert to gorilla behavior.

I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I work as a Gorilla and Chimp Ambassador at the Dallas zoo speaking to zoo guests about their behaviors and personalities. We are desperately trying to save these animals from extinction.  I know each individual chimp and gorilla intimately and I love every one of them with my heart and soul.

Eight months ago I switched from years of tennis to a game called pickle ball. It originally was for slightly older to very old people but young people are swooping in because it is so much fun (addicting actually) and such great exercise. It is very fast, can be played very aggressively and it’s a mix of women and men of all ages.

The behavior that concerns me in pickle ball is certain men thinking they are in charge like a Silverback!  They force unsolicited advice onto women, try to dominate how the rotation works, try to monopolize courts for themselves and other men, and sometimes even try cruel tactics to get the weaker women off the courts by slamming them with balls on an overhead smash, often 0n very old women. Let me be clear, most of the men do not fall into this category, many I would describe as officers and gentlemen, but something like 15% act like they can call the shots.

Breaking News: I am an assertive person.

Assertiveness is my nature and the school I attended of very hard knocks ( In addition to getting my degree in biz mgt at a U, so as to not sell myself short) has reinforced it. I try very hard to be self-aware enough to not let it slip over into obnoxiousness. But I am definitely not going to be a door-mat to anyone. I am also a very good pickle ball player. I have told many, many men in the last eight months that I do not want or need their coaching. I have had male partners tell me where to stand, when to come to the net, how to serve, etc. all of which I completely ignore. I withhold eye contact with those guys and freeze ‘em out. I pretend I’m playing alone. They can go to hell. The game will be over soon and I’ll have a different partner who is not so insecure or whatever the problem with this one is.

When summer arrives our pickle ball venues become inundated with children at summer day camps and the availability of gym time is at a premium. Translation: there are not as many places and times to play so the ones where we can get very, very crowded. This is when we have to figure out systems for rotations for use of pickle ball courts.

Recently three men and I were having a discussion about how that rotation should work. Seems everyone has a different opinion. I play at so many different venues (and most people don’t) so I’ve learned several different ways to do the rotation and I participated in the conversation wholeheartedly. The younger men are used to strong women in these kinds of situations, of course, but apparently the older ones are not.

After that dialogue we came to an agreement on some rotation systems to experiment with. Half an hour later I was sitting on the bleachers next to a 78 year old man who had been part of the rotation discussion.

“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room,” he said.

“Yes there are,” I agreed, “maybe because this is a competitive sport.”

He leaned into me. “There are a lot of FEMALE alpha personalities in here,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “and I know I’m one of them if that is what you are trying to say .”

“Well,” he said, “some men don’t like to argue with women.”

I’m positive my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. To me this implied there are “people” and there are “women”.  I was flabbergasted.

I turned my head slowly and looked him in the eyes.

“That is too damn bad,” I said quietly.

He has treated me like a queen every time I’ve see him since that day.

 

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Beautiful Stunted Growth

“Let them die.” the animal activist groups said about 17 elephants who were slowly starving to death in Swaziland, Africa because of drought and lack of food. “That is the natural thing to do,” they said.

I am so glad the Dallas zoo and two other zoos here in the South (This isn’t the South! Texan’s would exclaim, this is Texas!!) did not agree and had what it took to cut through red tape (It’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them in captivity unless it is an extreme circumstance which this was) and bring these magnificent elephants to new homes where they could get the sustenance they need to survive and thrive.

Our five Swaziland elephants are small because they have been malnourished their entire lives. Jenny, a Dallas zoo elephant resident for years weighs 10,000 pounds. In contrast, the only male elephant we got from Africa weighs a mere 3,600 pounds. His name is Tendaji and when he arrived at our zoo he stayed awake for 48 hours eating and drinking.  Our four females from Swaziland are also seriously underweight.

Now we are in the midst of the complicated process of “introducing” our new elephants to the ones we’ve had for years. In the animal world you don’t just throw a bunch of new animals together. With high intelligence and intricate social systems, it can take months to slowly let each elephant get to know one another and track how the personalities mesh or don’t. It’s a huge job for the elephant keepers.

One night, not long after the new elephants arrived in Dallas, our elephant keepers noticed some recognizable sounds from one of the females. They had no idea. Then, like a kiss from the universe or thanks from the planet, beautiful Mlilo, surprisingly gave birth to a boy calf. He’s underweight at 150 pounds from his mother’s malnutrition but she is producing all the milk he needs because she is so well fed at the zoo. This makes the introductions that much more complex and the keepers are busy baby proofing the barns and the habitat (we haven’t had a baby elephant for something like 40 years) but what an amazing blessing! Here they are:

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Where Am I?

Have you heard about Texas weather? When we told people we were moving here they said, “Well, clearly you aren’t moving for the weather, so why are you moving?!” It’s 8:30 pm, I have a sinus infection, Steve is on a plane hoping to get into Dallas/Fort Worth tonight from a biz trip. It is thundering, lightening and what I cannot reconcile is that it’s 92 degrees and HAILING! How is that even possible? How can it hail when it’s 92 degrees! Could it be 32 degrees High in the sky when it’s 92 down here?? (Notice I unconsciously capitalized high as if something supernatural is going on.)

I can hear the hail smashing against the the skylight in my kitchen. This is also tornado weather, something brand new to me. Tornados are a “warm weather event” I’ve been taught. Lovely. So I stay awake with my sinus infection, two dogs freaking out about thunder, my husband on a plane circling around, still trying to get my arms around what the hell is Texas….


Zoos Now-a-days

Let’s talk about zoos. In the old days many zoos were a nightmare for the animals. It causes me so much pain when I read or think about it that I can barely stand it.

All accredited zoos in the US are now conservation zoos overseen by AZA. (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Zoos no longer prioritize human entertainment over animal comfort but instead understanding, care and conservation of the species. We do not use operant conditioning (a fancy word for training) to entertain humans. We use it to train animals like chimps, gorillas, elephants and others to do body part presentations through mesh fencing for the sole purpose of being able to administer medical care without constantly anesthetizing the animals. When a keeper asks a chimp to open his mouth, show the bottom of his foot or put his ear up to the mesh, it is entertaining to the humans. But, that is not why they are taught to do it. Obviously, most zoos are for profit and humans pay for tickets and want to see animals so we make it as comfortable as possible for the animals to be in areas where the humans can see them, but the highly intelligent animals all live in habitats where they can distance themselves from humans if they choose to.

The adjunct priority in accredited zoos is the proliferation and prolongation of the endangered species in the wild (of which there are so, so many).  All breeding within the captive population of endangered animals is overseen and controlled by a very stringent organization called Species Survival Plan. They track DNA of every single captive individual within the endangered population and give permission, which they call “recommendations” for who can breed with whom. All zoos world-wide are in cahoots on this. It all has to do with genetics, bio-diversity and personalities of who will do well in captive habitats. Most zoo animals do great in captive environments because they were born in one. It is now illegal to take animals from the wild and put them in captivity and most who were have died off now. Keeping the captive population bio-diverse (ie, you don’t want cousins mating with cousins, etc.) is critical so that if the species goes extinct in the wild, our grandchildren can still see these animals and in some cases, zoos may have a chance to breed enough to get them back into the wild.  (Unlikely so please recycle and do what you can for conservation!)

Because of the strict AZA rules, animals in zoos today have it made. They have beautiful habitats, no predators, they are fed exactly what they need, they get treats, they have keepers who adore them, the get “enrichment activities” which is fun for them and makes use of their innate abilities and tendencies. Our chimps, for example have a beautiful, lush habitat with tons of space, no predators, all the food they need, indoor bedrooms with toys and fun things to do for nighttime and any medical care they might need. They love, play, yell, fight, make up and groom each other just like they would in the wild.

Social animals are insured they will not be alone as it is now illegal in an accredited zoo to have only one of a social animal. So if a zoo is down to one elephant, one gorilla, one chimp, etc. it either has to bring more in or send the one to another zoo so it can be with it’s own kind for companionship. Solitary animals (animals who are normally solitary in the wild, like every big cat except for lions) are kept solitary which is what they want and need.

Bottom line: Zoos now are really about the best interest of the animals.  When decisions are being made the first question always is, what is best for the animals?

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The buddies laughing and playing.


They Are Wild!

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Shauna in His Pool
A keeper at a Florida zoo who was the senior “big cat” keeper and was known as the “cat whisperer” was mauled and killed by her favorite tiger a day or two ago.  This happens way too often.  She was in the friggin’ cage with him.  Wrong!
There are zoos that are “protected contact” and then zoos that are not.  Protected contact means that you only interact with a potentially “killer” animal through some kind of protection.  For example, at the Dallas zoo, the keepers are very intimate with the gorillas and chimps but always through heavy mesh fencing.  Because of that, there is no way the keepers could be harmed by the animals.  The Dallas zoo also adheres to protected contact with lions, tigers, mountain lions, etc.  We are a protected contact zoo.
Gorillas are not “killers,” they are very gentle by nature, but because of their size and strength they could crush a keeper with an affectionate hug.  Chimps on the other hand can be very aggressive and as cute as they can be, especially the babies, they are very dangerous. I am a huge believer in protected contact because our keepers at the Dallas zoo don’t get killed and never have and keepers at non-protected contact zoos have.
I get it.  I know what happens.  Keepers in non-protective become somehow immune to the fact that the animals they love and the animals they believe love them are wild animals.  They begin to believe that their bond with the animals is something very special and different.  They think the animals love them.  And they might be right!  But they are WILD!  They turn on a dime.
I think keepers who love their  animals might lose sight of this.  These animals hear or see something out of the corner of their eye and they attack whatever is in front of them.  I’ve seen chimps do this.  Thats what happened in the recent killing of the keeper.  Everything was fine until she turned her head and the tiger heard or saw something that was upsetting and attacked the first thing she saw, and someone she probably otherwise loved.
All I can say is “Siegfried and Roy.”

Pearls of Wisdom

This is my first post from long ago writings by me.   It made me chuckle when I re-visited these writings from roughly 1983 when I was in my mid 20’s that I had the audacity to call them Pearls of Wisdom.

It was hard for me to record these exactly as they were written 30 some odd years ago, I so wanted to update and edit.  But, for authenticity, I didn’t.  Here, from a 20 something year old are some guidelines for life….

–Being attached to outcomes distorts your perception of what’s happening.  You tend to ignore your intuition or gut feelings because you are absorbed with wishful thinking.  You can have a preference in the outcome but you must be able to clearly see what is happening in the present time to be able to create an action plan to get to where you want to be.

–If you wait to see what is expected of you before you perform, the level of expected performance is set by something or someone outside yourself and vey well may be lower than your own.  If you go for it and don’t put limits on yourself, no one else will either.

–The more you use your brain the better it works and the more creative it becomes,  it is resonating at a higher level and “tunes in” to higher creativity.

–You can’t be happy in a relationship until your happy with yourself.  Two halve’s don’t make a whole; it makes for a fragmented relationship with unrealistic exceptions resulting in resent.  If you are hoping for self confidence as a result of a relationship, your process will be mirrored for you and you will attract into your orbit someone who is hoping to get self confidence from you.  Self confidence is not given and recieved.  It’s way more personal than that.  (Seems a little dramatic now but when I wrote this I capitalized this next part which I will do here in honor of that young girl.)

SELF CONFIDENCE IS CREATED WITHIN YOURSELF BY A PROCESS OF TRYING/STUMBLING/FALLING/MAKING CORRECTIONS/TRYING AGAIN/AND FINALLY SUCCEEDING IN ENDEAVORS LARGE AND SMALL AND ASSERTING  WHO YOU ARE AND COMING TO BAT FOR YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDRIES ALONG THEY WAY.

–I have never seen anything healthy come as a result of an outburst of anger.  It usually only causes pain, fear and confusion.   For the person who is supposedly expressing themselves, it leads to feelings of being out of control and wounded self esteem.

–The older you get, you more you look like who you are.  So people who like themselves have an easier time aging.

–Creativity lies where there are no facades.

–We are not going to enjoy the “more” we get later if we’re not enjoying  what we have now.  Happiness comes from within, not from stuff.

— Work HARD!!

 

 

 

 


Let Them Die

Seventeen elephants who would have starved to death in Swaziland, Africa have been rescued and sent to three zoos. Five for Dallas, six for Sedgwick County zoo in Kansas and six for Omaha zoo.  Unless it’s an extreme circumstance, which this was, it’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them into captivity.  This has taken the three zoos 2 years to pull off and they’ve had fights and lawsuits with animal activist organizations because they wanted it to stay “natural”. (Translation: let them die…..no kidding.)  All zoo employees and volunteers have been prepped and coached for the likely event of demonstrations or even riots.  So far nothing, which is surprising.  Our elephants arrived Friday night after a long and arduous journey then ate heartily and drank lots of water (horrible drought in Africa) and slept well.  They are in quarantine for at least a month but the five are together.  Our existing elephants were stomping their feet and trumpeting because they could smell or sense new elephants.  The “introductions” of our four elephants with the five new ones will take months with lots of careful observation and consideration from their keepers.  Animal personalities and hierarchies matter a LOT, and you can’t force anything.

At the volunteer meeting on Saturday, our CEO, who’d had five hours of sleep in the previous five days because of some “big grey things” spoke and presented a slide show.  He said he was very nervous about the transport of these gigantic animals and wanted to stay in touch with staff accompanying the elephants on their journey.  He was tripping over his words and getting choked up.  He was so relieved that the elephants had successfully been transported and arrived safely at our zoo.  Our CEO said one male ate all his food, drank all his water and was asleep before some of the females even had the nerve to leave the crates they had been in on the plane.

The photographs he shared on a slide show were unnerving.  We have an elephant named Jenny and she is 10,000 pounds.  That’s five tons, am I right?  Imagine 17 elephants being loaded into (very comfortable and elephant friendly) crates, lifted with a crane and somehow moved into a 747 aircraft.  Imagine being the pilot of that plane taking off with that kind of weight.  Let’s be conservative here in this calculation.  Let’s say each elephant weighed a mere 6,000 pounds….that would be 102,000 pounds!  I can’t, for the life of me figure out how a plane takes off at all, much less with that kind of weight!

I’m thrilled to say the Dallas zoo now has 9 gorgeous African Elephants!

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Our Four Girls Who Will Soon be Nine!


Anti-Social

“It’s a lot easier being older,” my husband said the other day.

“Why?” I asked him.

“It’s easier making decisions. I put more value on my time and what I spent it on so that expedites my decision-making. I don’t spend time with people I don’t want to spend time with or do things I don’t want to do.

I had to laugh. Indeed, he and I are not the most social people. He said that humans are hard wired to be in tribes and groups and that we somehow missed that wiring. We have an inner circle of people we like spending time with, even in Dallas now, but we generally have no interest in meeting new people. Steve works long hours and we also love to spend time alone together.

Shortly before Christmas we were standing on our driveway at our new house in a gated community and a neighbor whom we had not met walked by and said, “Oh, hi! Are you the new neighbors?”

“Yes we are,” I said.

“Oh great! Then we’ll see you at the annual Christmas party up the street!” she exclaimed.

“Well,” I hesitated, “I’m not going to say we are anti-social….”

I heard Steve chuckle behind me. He loves that I’m the more vocal of the two of us and handle these types of things.

“…..but we just aren’t the type of people who like to meet new people,” I finished.

Her demeanor changed slightly and then she blurted “Oh, I totally get that! There is hardly enough time to see the people we already know!”

“Exactly!” I said, “Nice talking to you and have a great evening!”

After that exchange, I didn’t want to say nice to meet you.


Amazing

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Look at this Polar Bear Sculpture.  It is gigantic and it is completely made out of LEGO’S!!  The entire Lego Animal Sculpture exhibit is coming to the Dallas zoo this month.  So exciting.  If you are in Dallas, check it out.  If not, it is a traveling exhibit so check periodically with your city’s zoo!