Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lessons of the Hummingbird

I've been dedicating posts to good friends lately and today is no different. Before we get to our honored animal, I want to tell you a little about Mallory and myself: I met Mallory as the girlfriend of a high school friend. She and I got along well, but weren't especially close. Then I had my accident... All my friends rallied around me, but they kept wondering when I would go back to the old Cassie. I didn't know how to explain the "old me" died that day. I never had to explain that to Mallory - she just plain got it - and from that day on we became best friends. We share secrets to life most of the world has yet to realize. Mainly that life is hard and doesn't owe you anything. That doesn't mean you give up, it means you fight harder for what you want. Bad things happen to good people every day and it isn't a punishment; it's just life. We both struggle with fitting in in a conventional world because we're both far from conventional. I'm a nature loving, science nerd who also loves the Chargers despite their dismal record. (Antonio Gates, if you read this blog, hit me up.) She is a writer first and foremost (check out her blog Mal Adjusted here), a 3rd degree black belt, and most easily described as the ultimate firecracker. Mallory also loves hummingbirds, she and I both being believers in spirit animals and animals as signs as to what life may bring us.

So before I go into the hard science of hummingbirds, first I want to explore the spiritual significance and symbolism of them. In the Andes of South America, the hummingbird is a symbol of resurrection. It seems to die on cold nights, but comes back to life again at sunrise. Hummingbirds are seen as messengers that open the heart. The fluttering wings of the hummingbird also move in the pattern of an infinity symbol - further solidifying their symbolism of eternity and cyclicality. Hummingbirds remind us to re-examine how we spend our energy. They are superiorly efficient creatures and they serve as a reminder to be more like them.

Now to explain some of the cool qualities hummingbirds have with science. Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards. They do so by rotating their wings in a circular pattern instead of up and down. This is also why the hummingbird must beat its wings so quickly and are seemingly tireless. For other birds the down stroke requires very little energy where the upstroke requires great effort. The Hummingbird doesn't get a break, spending huge amounts of energy anytime it is flying. This translate to Mallory and my life , perfectly. We are both firm believers of doing things in life our way instead of the conventional or often easy way. To compensate for these huge energy expenditures the hummingbird consumes more calories than any other bird. If you have seen Mallory and I eat dinner you can see how this is also very fitting for us, we can put down food like no other. If the hummingbird sleeps too long it can literally starve to death. The Hummingbird also has the largest heart compared to its body size of any bird. If you know Mallory you know this is the best comparison of all. This girl loves like no other. Hope you all enjoyed learning about my best friend and another amazing creature.

That's all for now,

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Prepare for a Cute Attack

Again, I must apologize for the extended time between blog posts. I haven't abandoned my love for animals and science. I have been busy working far too much, saving plants, and riding horses somewhere in the middle of it all. For my blog posts I often ask people for suggestions on what animals to write on, well my good friend Armon voted that everyone needs to know more about the adorable Red Panda. To see just how adorable click on the link below for a cute overload: take me to adorable baby red pandas...

Red Pandas are not related to Giant Pandas, sorry I know it is truly devastating, but I don't think one genus could survive that much cuteness... Instead they are more closely related to raccoons, skunks, and weasels. They are the only living species of the genus Ailurus. Classification of the Red Panda has been a heated issue, initially they were assigned to the raccoon family, then to bears, finally scientists decided (or were brainwashed by the Red Pandas flicking their fluffy tails) to give Red Pandas their very own family classification. Their nearest relative was Parailurus who lived 3-4 million years ago and died out in the last Ice Age, thus proving Red Pandas are either tougher or luckier than first believed.

 Red Pandas are arboreal mammals, meaning they live their life in trees. Their claws are semi retractable, those combined with a special false thumb allows them to descend trees headfirst. They claw with their front legs and rotate their ankles to grasp either side of the tree, making even the most skilled pole dancers jealous. They are omnivores and mainly eat bamboo, but also enjoy eating eggs, birds, and insects (don't let your guard down)... They live in the eastern Himalayas of China.

When threatened Red Pandas will try to flee up a tree or rock, however when trapped they will stand up on their hind legs to look bigger (or more adorable) and use their small but fierce front claws to hopefully deter their enemy (or have cute jazz hands). Red Pandas are solitary creatures except for mating season when like humans all morals are compromised for the perpetuation of the species.

I promise I will try and get back to more regular posts at least once a month in the future. Love you all,
Jazz Hands

Monday, April 8, 2013

Honey Badger is Kicking Ass and Taking Names

Often I ask for my friends animals to write about. This week I asked one of my best friends Elena and she picked one of the toughest critters alive, the Honey Badger. How is a seemingly cute weasel-like animal tough as nails? In case you haven't seen one of the funniest video's I have ever seen, please watch below first (note this video contains lots of adult language)

Elena and I have been friends for over 15 years. I truly believe she is one of my soul mates on this earth. Right now we're both going through a very rough patch in life. At the moment we're both channeling our inner Honey Badgers. I believe we choose all aspects of our life, but it may not always be in the conscious part of our brain. If we choose everything that happens to us in life, then why do we have so many bad things happen? I see it as our greater subconscious being can see where we want to be, but also knows that our conscious reptilian brain will never go there willingly. Humans brains are wired to keep a routine and not take risks. We have lessons to learn, and often they're not lessons we would experience willingly. So our subconscious brain will create a scenario that is less than desirable to our conscious brain. I've spoken about my accident in the past and often get asked if I could have a re-do would I take it? Not a chance. I took many things away from me that day, but four stick out in my brain. 1. I know what true friendship is. I had several friends put their lives on the line to save mine. 2. I know how strong I am. Not much scares me now days. 3. I don't sweat the small stuff often (and it is true, everything is small stuff).
Four amazing gifts that I would never have gotten if I didn't go through some serious torture. So how does this all tie back to the Honey Badger? Well, when you're going through those moments in life where your subconscious is teaching you a hell of a lesson, you get to channel your inner Honey Badger. 
  • Up against events in life that seem impossible? Honey Badgers weigh about 30 lbs and have taken down foes far superior in size and strength. They routinely hunt cobras and small crocodiles. A honey badger will even take away gazelles from lion packs.
  • Need tougher skin? Honey Badgers routinely ransack African bee hives (these are the crazy killer bees everyone warns you about). Their skin is very thick and can resist the stings. Their skin is also what allows them to repel snake bites.
  • Can't figure something out in life? Honey Badgers are one of the few animals that can use tools. A honey badger was filmed rolling a log to a cave in order to reach its prey.
So if life has you down,channel your inner Honey Badger and start kicking ass and taking names.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Plants 101

When people learn one I'm a botanist (i.e. super plant person) the next line out of their mouth is I can't grow plants or I kill plants. There's a reason that people think they have a perpetual black thumb, no one ever set you up for success. If in life no one ever taught you the correct way, would you expect to succeed? Of course not. Yet the majority of people seem to think growing any plant requires a mystical green thumb that you can only be born with, otherwise you are doomed to be the grim reaper of plants. I promise there is hope for anybody!

a variety of succulents

Of the plant killer group, people follow two thought processes on what it actually takes to grow plants. Route 1 is it only takes any random dirt and some water, then they're dumbfounded when their plant dies.  Route 2 believes that plants are impossibly complex and don't even attempt to grow them. Both groups are going about this the wrong way. To start I suggest everyone who has never grown a plant practice on something very hard to kill, succulents! The beauty of most succulents is they take very little maintenance and can tolerate lots of abuse. You can literally forget to water your succulent for weeks and it will be just fine, promise.
Succulents on my deck
 To start from the basics, make your own soil. Almost all of the commercial potting mixes are laced with hormones and additives which will initially make your plant grow quickly. The downside is after awhile your plant will be sitting in mush and have a poorly developed root system. I mix my very own soil and it tends to be slightly cheaper if you buy in bulk. First get a bag of peat moss and a bag of perlite. For succulents mix them 60% perlite, 40% peat moss. Take your succulent out of the original pot it came in and put in a new pot double what your plant came in. Make sure you pack it in firmly and fill soil to the top. There you have it! By having a custom soil mix you ensure your plant will hold the ideal amount of water. Succulents are drought tolerant and do best with minimal watering. So if you don't water it for a week, no problem, if you accidentally water it too much, your custom soil mix ensures the water will drain out the bottom. Keep your succulent outside in a nice sunny spot. They can handle extreme heat and minimally freezing temperatures.

Mixing your own soil for each plant is your safety net. Perlite adds drainage to a plant, peat holds moisture in. If you venture outside the world of succulents you just figure out where your plant originally came from and how much water it prefers, then adjust your peat moss to perlite ratio accordingly. If I'm unsure what amount of water a plant would like I tend to start it in a 50/50 ratio of peat moss to perlite. It the plant looks bogged down or soggy I will replant with more perlite, if it constantly looks thirsty, add more peat moss.

Some general plant tips:
  • Watch out for plants getting root bound. This is when the roots start coming out of the bottom of your pot, this means your plant is ready for a larger pot and new soil.
  • Keep an eye out for sun burnt leaves, your plant will tell you if it is getting too much sun.
  • If your plant turns pale and albino, that's a sign it needs more sun.
  • Use a basic fertilizer once a month for indoor plants, they use up the nutrients in their soil quicker than outdoor plants. Be careful not to apply fertilizer on the stems of plants.
  • Plants like fresh soil, if your soil looks crusty means the nutrition has been depleted. I accidentally dwarfed several plants by denying them fresh soil for over a year. After changing out their soil, poof! They doubled in size.
  • Plants enjoy a hair cut, if they start looking tired trim them up, it will stimulate roots to grow, and get rid of any dead limbs.
  • Google! Look up your plant and see where it likes to live, how much water it desires, how others grow them. If your plant looks sickly, google its symptoms. There is a huge very supportive plant community out there.
  • Plants will die, its a part of life just like everything else. I will guarantee every plant expert has had plants die on them.

Remember plants are resilient organisms and want to thrive. I have faith in you all. You can ask me any plant questions if you get stuck.
Good luck,

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why I Ride

The Early Years

I had a post all ready to go about first time plant growers, but last night while riding my horses I had another post fighting in me to be written. I was walking around the ranch on my red horse Finally and just had a truly appreciative moment. Here I was alone in utter peace. There was a haze that had settled around the ranch, barely lite with sporadic lamp posts, and yet when looking straight up the sky was clear with sparkling stars that you just don't see the same in the city. It got me thinking about why I have horses. (please note at any time in this post feel free to add dog or cat or any other animal that gives you these feelings) People are shocked when they learn my horses cost me more than my rent, car, food, all other extra bills combined. Yet, each month I write their feed and board check without a second thought. I have eaten Top Ramen and Mac N Cheese for a month straight, while my horse ate every vet recommended supplement. My shoes have holes in them, yet my horse has a brand new shiny pair on right now. One horse even killed me. A horse I didn't know, had a break with reality and pinned me between a truck and kicked my face in. But that same day, my own horse stood between that horse and took kicks meant for me, then refused to leave my body. If I had to choose between reliving that day again or a life without horses, I'd happily die all over. My horses are priceless.

My two grey ponies, Phoenix and Max

Animals and especially horses are a persons mirror. They can sense whatever is on your mind and spit it right back at you good or bad. To me that's a gift. So many of us walk around this world with a facade on, thinking we have the world fooled. But that horse will sense it in a second. By being my mirror, my horses call attention emotions that I've been stuffing (I'm a girl we're fabulous at stuffing emotions), by becoming aware I've been neurotic I can begin to process and resolve it. My horse is the worlds best and most affordable therapist. I remember being a 10 year old girl and going up to my grey pony Phoenix and pouring my heart out. She walked up to me and just put her nose on my tear streaked cheek and sat there. I threw my arms around her and sobbed. That pony saved me from so much strife. Even now days when times get tough I go to my horse. My friend committed suicide recently and I had no idea how to process it, so I hopped on Finally bareback with just a halter and bared my soul again. He just cruised me around the ranch while I cried over a life too short. After I got off a hour later, nothing had changed in reality but I felt like I could at least deal.


My horses have taught me pride and humility all in one. I took Manny my thoroughbred from abused and nothing but skin and bones to the picture of health and fitness. We were a team that would jump anything. During one jumper show the organizers set up a jump that was meant to be terrify and almost un-jumpable. A standard picnic table complete with benches, decorated to the max. The table itself was narrow yet impossibly wide, and the table cloth was loosely attached so it flapped. No horse would go within 10 feet of the thing, but I took my beast of a thoroughbred, galloped up to it and soared right over. People stood there shaking their heads in disbelief. How could one pair have so little fear and trust in each other? On the other hand, I can remember riding a tiny pony named Squirt for one of my students who had just gotten bucked off for the second time. I was going to show this pony who was boss... I cantered a few laps around when the little guy stuck his nose to the ground and bucked, I flipped head over heels landing in a giant heap still holding the reins. I wouldn't let go and the little brat tried to take off and drag my fat ass, didn't work out so well for him. I go back on and managed to get him going decent. The little kid and her parents asked if I was hurt, I replied, "only my pride is broken". It's that instance where you realize the smallest pony can humble any rider.

Manhattan (the once starved horse)

My horses teach me how to be a better human being. I have had to re cooperate horses starved and beaten an inch from life. This horse has no reason to trust me. All its life humans have only hurt it, yet its spirit still wants love. It will allow me to show it not all humans are bad. It makes me think somewhere out there is that person for my heart, yes it has been trampled, beaten, starved, but somewhere out there is someone who will gently nurse it back to health, but I have to trust them to do it. Horses have taught me how to love without fear, because they love me unconditionally. They have never let me down.

Hug your animal extra today and tell them how much you appreciate them,


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do Flashy Monogamists Exist?

Taking from last weeks post I'm going to mix in a little more of my real life along with your animal facts. Lately I have gone on a quest to bring out a little more of my inner femininity. Growing up I was always more of a tomboy, I loved sports (still do), had an easy time hanging with the boys, I still dislike drama filled girls, all this lead to me suppressing my inner girl. Anyone who knows me realize how laughable this ultimately is. I'm blessed with a natural Scarlett Johansen, Kim Kardashian body. I'm pretty sure my skeleton has some hips on it and lets just say I definitely won't be needing implants anytime soon. No matter how much I have tried to discourage my inner girl, every time I stared in the mirror I would get a constant reminder of looking as feminine as one can be. Instead of fighting it, I have decided to embrace it and discovered I love being a girl. It is really nice to have a drink bought for you, dress up in high heels, do crazy things with my hair, being a girl is basically free license to experiment with whatever look I want. Being a scientist means experimentation and new discoveries is pretty much my drug of choice.

My aptitude towards tomboy tendencies isn't very uncommon in the animal kingdom. The males of most species are typically the bright and colorful ones. They need bright and colorful plumage to attract the opposite sex during mating season. The females need dull muted coloring to blend in with their environment, staying hidden to protect their young. Take peacocks for example, the males have giant feathers in a rainbow of colors, where their peahen counter parts are left with muddy brown minuscule feathers. There are some examples of colorful female animals, but they appear in polyandrous species (where the female mates with multiple males) seen in: parrots, hummingbirds, angelfish and butterfly fish. Often in these cases the males are plainer in coloring and left with doing the child rearing. It makes morphological sense for the females to be brightly colored so they can attract multiple mates.

Monogamy in the animal kingdom is actually quite rare, this excuse has been a favorite of playboys like Hugh Hefner as a reason to have a plethora of girlfriends. When I picture my ideal reality I'm not with multiple partners but one special one. But are there are monogamous brightly colored female animals? Is it even remotely in my DNA to be monogamous? The answer came in one of my favorite animals,  the mimic poison frog, R. imitator. The current belief of monogamy started by Devra Kleiman is that it evolved as a life history strategy when biparental care becomes critical to offspring survival. In this situation, both parents may experience higher reproductive success by investing in their mutual offspring instead of seeking extra pair reproductive opportunities [DOI: 10.1086/409721]. The female will lay her eggs in water, then the male will transport them to trophic level plants with pools of water in them away from hungry predators. The female will then lay non-fertile eggs in the small pools to feed the growing tadpoles. Other poison dart frog species are not monogamous and their offspring have lower survival rates.

Rainbow Bright for Halloween
 So channel your inner mimic poison frog, be colorful, flashy, and different, all the while searching for that perfect partner to raise your tadpoles with.

Happy hunting,

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hearts of an Earthworm

Got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince
 I know I haven't written awhile yet again, lots of changes going on in my life. Again I've been struggling with inspiration, unfortunately I received inspiration in a difficult way this month. My heart has experienced some big challenges. A good friend choose to take her own life. That alone was a lot, especially because she was very close with of one of my best friends, and watching her struggle with continuing on with her own life without our friend just plain hurts. I have had my own experience with death, and it doesn't bother me as much as others.  I've seen the other side and I know my friend is completely at peace learning lessons on the other side and sharing her experiences from her time on earth. That said, it doesn't take away the pain and hurt from the people she left on earth.

I've also been struggling with finding a relationship that was a good fit for myself and in the process got my heart ssquished yet again. Finding dates has never been the issue. I'm outgoing I like to chat with all sorts of people, I like to think I'm cute, I have curves that are kicking like J-Lo and Beyonce. My problem is that transition from friendship and casual dating to monogamous relationship. Recently I've spent two months with a guy and so many things clicked. The main issue was general consideration, as in not flaking on me or just realizing hey maybe Cass would like to join my friends and I out. I talked it out with him and he told me something was missing, I was smart, funny, beautiful, but something he couldn't explain wasn't there. In that sentence my little heart broke. I said I respected that and you don't want to force things, I wished him well, I did the adult thing.

what my inner Earthworm looks like
 I've had my heart broken before. I can only say I've ever followed my heart 100% once. I was 22 and in the midst of my first love, God I thought he was amazing and just so in shock he loved me back as much as I loved him. We took trips together, rode our horses, loved each others friends, it seemed so fairytale. We moved in after a few months, but I realized that in my head over heels love phase I ignored some giant red flags. It became a daily struggle, my heart and my brain battling on what to do... Eventually my brain won out, I moved out and experienced my first giant heartbreak. So here I find myself with a much smaller heartbreak, it didn't shatter my heart like my first love, but it definitely feels as though someone kicked me in the chest (and you all know I know what a swift kick feels like). So I ask myself what do I do? Keep on trying and look for love again, even better I'm going to channel my inner earthworm.

You knew eventually I would get around to the animal facts. But I'm sure you're asking, what in the world do Earthworms have to do with heartache? Well Earthworms happen to have five hearts, and what better time than a break-up to swap out that broken heart for a brand new one! Earthworms have five pairs of simple hearts that pump blood throughout the body. They have no lungs. That feeling you get post break-up where you cant breath? No problem! Instead the blood flowing close to the worm's surface absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide directly through the moist skin (called the cuticle). The uncontrollable crying you do, again no problem! Instead of a nose, ears, and eyes, Earthworms have a nervous system throughout their bodies that controls actions in response to environmental stimuli, such as vibrations, heat, cold, moisture, light, and the presence of other worms. When you can't get your brain to shut off and stop thinking about your ex? Earthworms have no brain!

In my eyes, kinda what this blog is about, the Earthworm is the perfect break-up animal to channel. Once your broken heart has recovered allow it to join up with your others and you can let your inner Earthworm lie dormant for awhile. It does get better everyone, and life does go on. I like to remind myself that there are lessons learned from every event in life, the heartbreaks really do just plain suck. Without the rain we would never truly appreciate the sun... Now onto my next goal find a guy I like half as much as my horse! Side note if you are available gentlemen who reads this blog and have several qualities as my adorable horse, hit me up!