Category Archives: Carpe Diem

QUESTIVAL! Think of the Stories

Questival challenges

Questival challenges


Sometimes, when your crazy friends invite you along, you just gotta go. Don’t ask too many questions. Just enjoy the process, make some memories, and think of the stories you’ll tell. #Questival


Snake Snuggles? Post fire love from the limbless.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Last week we shared some social media posts about this fabulous, local festival called Confabularryum! The event founder, Ben Smith, messaged me to thank me for sharing and he mentioned his desire to include Pet World in the event but his hesitance to reach out because of the tragic fire. Understandable. We actually have an interesting history with Ben and Callahan Creek, the marketing agency he works for. We had been following Ben on twitter but ended up going all the way to Orlando before meeting him in person, at a pet industry trade show, of all places. He gave presentations that really motivated pet business folks, especially those who can’t resist his British accent. Crazy we all live in Lawrence but had never met. Who knew our paths would cross again just down the street at South Middle School?! I told him I would like to run it past my staff just in case someone could bring over a critter or two.

In our employee group thread I asked if anyone was free Saturday and would be interested in sharing animals at Confabularryum. Most of our employees have been laid off since the fire and not all of them have replaced their PW jobs so I had no idea what response I’d get. Amazingly, not only did several of them offer to help, one in particular even offered to bring Goliath to the festival and then to our temporary location for a visit!

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath is our large, rescued Burmese python who instantly became famous on social media when rescued by fire fighters. Folks love to tell us the story of how they saw a firefighter cross himself before entering the building then emerge a few moments later with this 13 foot snake. The funny question was whether his crossing was because of the fire risk or the snake risk. Locals know and love Goliath from his travels to schools to teach kids about Rain Forest animals. He also helps us teach customers what not to buy when it comes to appropriate pets.

The visit was fun for everyone even though many of us got emotional, customers included. At the festival, many children and adults shared how Goliath was the first snake they had ever touched. That concept of touching a snake for the first time is one I had completely taken for granted. At Pet World, we have shared that moment with folks every day for the last 27 years. Literally. Every single day. Human-animal interaction is a critical part of our mission.

The Pet World Mission: Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

The Pet World Mission:
Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

Until the fire, I had forgotten how many people would never have that opportunity without PW. We joked about it with Ben, in fact, teasing him until he, too, touched his first snake. We even laughed as we took his picture. But after he walked away, I thought about how his unique, first experience is something we do every day. I observed all the other first timers and marveled at their faces. It’s always the same reaction. “It’s not cold and slimy!” Nope. Smooth and shiny, like a basketball. We’ve said that more times than we could possibly count. What interesting jobs we have.

We weren’t even old enough to legally drink when Tim announced he wanted to buy a pet store. I thought, oh no. I’m going to be poor the rest of my life. But it was his dream — and he was my dream — so I was all in. And when I think about all the smiling faces who have passed through those doors, I’m incredibly grateful Tim had such vision and I’ve been blessed to help him see it through.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Watching Goliath at the festival was fun and felt normal but seeing him at Pet World brought back a lot of memories and stirred up powerful emotions. I thought about when Luke Welton, our reptile manager at the time, assured me that rescuing Goliath was a good idea and me standing there with a kid on each hip, wondering what in the world we were going to do with that big ol’ snake (and wondering if he could actually eat my twins). I laughed about the day we convinced Kansas University basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden, to pose with Goliath. I remembered a fire fighter asking us how they could tell if Goliath was still alive, the best way to get him out of his enclosure, if he would bite as they rescued him, Tim asking if he could just go in himself, and then Tim lying, offering assurance that, no, Goliath wouldn’t bite. Several of us looked at each other and actually smiled, knowing that our scripted, trained response is always, “Any animal with a mouth can bite.” But who could blame him. They were wearing heavy gear, they’d be fine, right?

Man, those firefighters were awesome. I mean, seriously, firefighters are truly amazing people.

Also last Saturday I watched my employees, closely, and felt so much pride. Morgan, graduated from KU, supposed to have “launched” from PW a success story this summer, yet there he was, still around, helping with Goliath. Then Navid, who volunteered to transport Goliath to and from his visits, laid off from PW, yet there he was, helping again like he has done so many times this summer. Then Mariah, our reptile department manager, helping out on her day off, holding Goliath.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

I could still picture Mariah on that dreadful day, in her nice, clean sundress after completing that muddy 5K, just weeping as she held on to Goliath in the parking lot, gently bathing him, washing away the soot. For hours she cared for him that day and kept him safe and here she was again, caring for him, keeping him safe. At one point, I realized Goliath appeared to be snuggling Mariah. Never in my life would I believe a snake could exhibit emotions like that but I watched him curl up on Mariah’s lap and frequently look up at her then rest his head back against her. The longer I watched, the more I was convinced he felt genuinely at peace in her lap. It had been three months but I swear, I think he recognized her touch. Neither Mariah nor I are ones for anthropomorphism but we reached a point where we couldn’t even maintain eye contact without crying. What an ordeal this has been.

BabaDioum_QuoteThose close to me know I don’t believe in coincidences. The paths we cross, the lives we touch, and those who touch us — I don’t necessarily believe it’s all part of some master plan but I do believe there is higher meaning in every interaction if we just take time to look. I would give anything for this Godforsaken fire to never have happened but it did. And I must admit we have since encountered some beautiful situations and learned to truly appreciate every human-animal interaction we experience and the life lessons we are fortunate to teach.  What a truly amazing journey this has become.

Hope (and a Little Mascara)

2015-08-09 17.33.00Today I wore makeup for the first time since before the fire. Not a lot, but mascara and some powder foundation. That might not mean much to some people but for women like me it reveals everything you need to know about where I am in the grieving process and life in general.

Nearly three months have passed.

Three months.

Sometimes it feels more like three days; other times more like three years. The pain is often as fresh as three hours while the fog occasionally mimics the safe illusion of three lifetimes.

May was busy, as usual, with finals, proms, high school and college graduations, schedule changes, employee launches, and summer camp preparation.  Excitement about our Memorial Day trail run and five upcoming summer camps filled my days. The Kitten Pit proved a huge success with seven adoptions the very first weekend of the new program. Business was great, continuing its steady, record setting growth and our staffing was as good as it’s ever been. 27 years of hard work was paying off and many, many of us from the Lawrence area were enjoying Pet World’s success.

And then my phone rang. Two hours into the event, I was getting more PW5K tee shirts out of the back of our car when I heard Tim’s phone ring first, reverberating in the cup holder. I remember thinking, “Who would be calling right now?” It seemed like all the folks who call us had either just left or were at the tortoise farm with us and most were on the trails running or drinking post race PBRs. Service is terrible at the property, too, but I had parked in a high spot to avoid the mud, a spot that apparently has decent reception – not that I had any intention of using my phone. Nor did anyone else since many of them were tossed in my car for safekeeping. No sooner had Tim’s phone stopped ringing than my phone started, and then other phones started ringing. At that point I decided I better answer.

The rest, of course, is history.

They say everything comes in threes. Three hours to get the fire out and determine cause. Three more hours to deem the place a total loss. Three hours for fire to destroy someone’s entire life’s work in the worst possible way. Three weeks to open a temporary location. Three days to clean out the contents of the building. Three weeks to schedule the big investigative meeting with representatives from three parties only to decide they needed three more weeks to meet again and take three days to agree the initial cause was exactly what the local experts said three hours after the fire. Three weeks of delays for nothing. Three months I aged at least three times faster with not enough optimism to even throw on a little mascara. I’ve had plenty of threes. I’m done with threes.

So after cancelling and altering three different summer travel plans we decided to take our kids on a much needed family vacation to Cozumel, one of my favorite places on Earth.  We enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and every day made a conscious decision to embrace life (while we thanked God we had already paid for this all inclusive stay last spring).

"I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared."

“I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared.”

At one point I remember lounging by the pool, feeling hopeful, yet fearing that perhaps I was just going through the motions and not as okay as I wanted to believe. I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared. I snapped a photo and started giggling uncontrollably, knowing everyone around me assumed intoxication – which may or may not have been a contributing factor. If nothing else, at least I knew in that moment I was definitely not numb and perhaps the hope was real after all. I think I actually felt happy.

On the way home, Tim and I stayed an extra day in Dallas to meet with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department just one year ago. Fully rested, I popped right out of bed and grabbed that familiar, pink mascara tube. We toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, made plans, and revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Our temporary location has offered reprieve for many of us but it’s just not the same. Finally moving forward toward this next chapter, though… Hallelujah.  As for the rebuild, all I can say is that if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers.

Our employees are like our kids and laying them off ripped my heart out. My God, what they’ve been through. Customers miss seeing them and they are all still feeling lost. On the plane ride home, Tim slept while I imagined my employees’ faces as they help rebuild, knowing once again their jobs will be secure and meaningful. I pictured the smiles and hugs from our customer family and tried to inhale the inspiration that only children can provide. No matter how crazy things get, happy children always make our efforts worthwhile. Pet World kids give me hope for humanity. I accepted that rebuilding will be exhausting and we’ll have days we question everything and want to quit, but, we won’t quit. We can’t quit. And as I closed my eyes to imagine the joy and relief we’ll all feel when we reopen those doors for the first time I felt my mascara run down my cheeks, carried by tears – happy tears. For the past three months I hadn’t worried about ruining my makeup because I had been too heartbroken, too busy, too stressed, and too numb to even bother with makeup. But tonight’s streaked face served as proof that I was, in fact, feeling hopeful, and that I finally felt good enough to care at all.

Who knew enlightenment could be found in a pink tube?

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us
 — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments —
can see a possibility of hope.
                              ~Maya Angelou



Exhilarating Winter Trail Run


Exhilarating. Truly exhilarating. That’s the only way to accurately describe today’s experience. Trail running in the snow? Seriously. What kind of warriors really do this stuff? Not me. I hate exercise. I like being fit but I dislike getting and staying fit. Yet I am not kidding when I say my outdoor exercise experience today was actually fun – more than fun. It was exhilarating!

Almost two weeks ago we returned from our first cruise. A vacation at sea was never on my bucket list but my husband and kids really wanted to go and with Carpe Diem as one of my life mottos I could only stall for so long. Winter cabin fever had already set in so I caved pretty easily. The Caribbean was fabulous – Grand Cayman, Haiti, and Jamaica (my personal favorite). But the gluttony was endless. So much food and alcohol! By day three I understood why so many people get fat; it’s fun! Holy sheep caca the eating and drinking and drinking and eating! Unbelievable. I’m positive “Wall-E” was conceived on a cruise ship. From what I understand, I experienced the cruise ship standard: a weight gain of almost a pound a day. No kidding. They have stats on this stuff. Five pounds in six days. And that on top of an extra ten pounds already from a long winter of laziness. Lord only knows what’s happened with my exponentially increasing body fat. So, yeah, I’m trying to get back in shape. But a trail run in the snow is something for die hard fitness enthusiasts – not this chick.

Here’s the thing. I love all things outdoors, prefer to exercise outside, am self employed with a flexible schedule, own an 80 acre nature reserve with miles of running and hiking trails, and I live in NE Kansas. Our weather here is mild and Midwesterners know not to worry about bad weather because it never lasts long. So I have no excuse for letting myself get out of shape. But, as with most parts of the country, this particular winter has been a little rougher than most. We returned from the cruise on Sunday and I hit the trails on Monday, but, Tuesday brought yet another cold front, Wednesday brought eight inches of snow, and the average temperature has been zero ever since. Until today.

This morning the sun came out and by 2pm we were up to 40 degrees so I cleared my schedule, pulled on my smart wool socks, my best snow boots, squeezed into my ski pants and out I went, excited about the fresh air and sunshine on my face during a walk in the snow. I basically loathe running in general because I am a sprinter by nature. I get a thrill from the short burst of an uphill race on a deer trail in the woods. Obstacle course? I’m there. But the idea of a steady 10k on pavement makes me want to puke. Actually, I’m sure I would puke. Long distances not only bore me, I just can’t do them. My cardio will fail me long before I even feel a burn.

But trail running? That’s different. The soft, ever changing earth beneath my feet, the scenery, the tranquility – I actually like trail running. I’ve run in the mud, through creeks, over rocks, tall weeds, short grass, sticker bushes, and even on light, shallow snow before, enjoying the crisp air and the crunch. Today, however, was my first venture into deep snow. I’m only accustomed to maneuvering through deep snow on skis, not on foot. The trails were hidden three to ten inches deep surrounded by so much snow I sometimes veered off the paths without noticing. Running, by definition, was not possible today. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t exercise – quite the opposite.

I was prepared for a brisk walk while enjoying the scenery. Normally I walk with increasing speed to warm up then I stretch before taking off. Today I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t ten steps in when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, high stepping through the twinkling snow, overwhelmed with the urge to run and play. Vast, white, fluffy glitter surrounded me, untouched by humans, and in moments I reverted to my five year old self, completely thrilled to romp in the snow, smitten with the scene of sparkling snowflakes. It was like that moment when you realize you’re the first kid outside on a snow day and your entire yard has yet to be touched. At one point I wiped out and laughed myself silly making a snow angel. Even in perfect weather, never before have I maneuvered two miles of trails with a smile that never left my face.

With every step each foot disappeared. Lifting my feet back up through ankle deep snow taxed my muscles like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Although I tried, sprinting up my favorite hill was impossible but even the slow climb blew out my calves and quads. My heart rate shot up and my legs were on fire. Labored steps that should have frustrated me encouraged me instead. The exercise was intense yet delightful. Compared to normal, I covered half as much ground but had twice the workout! My favorite part was considering how silly I would have looked simultaneously giggling and grunting had anyone else seen me but not a soul was in sight. The only human footprints I encountered today were mine.  I was alone – just me, my Creator, and His creation – yet instead of isolation I felt completely connected to the entire world. I let myself fully absorb the experience, taking it all in, marveling at my mere existence in such a mystical, wonderful place, grateful for the wisdom that guided all the choices which led to that moment. Immersed in the scene I searched for adequate words to describe what I felt.

Exhilaration. That’s it. Nothing else captures it.

So here I sit, exhausted, aching muscles from my unconventional workout, and yet all I can think about is doing this all over again tomorrow. Not because I need to shed these holiday pounds – true as that may be – but because the experience itself was so incredible. I’m pushing fifty yet today I was five again. The sun, the sparkling snow, the sights and sounds, the silliness of it all, left me humbled and inspired. Left me…exhilarated. And come on now. Seriously. How often can a person use that word and really mean it?