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September 7, 2018

Frankie's First Hurricane

Made it through our first official Hurricane on the coast.  Well, we were visiting family in Oklahoma so technically we participated from afar. 

Frankie, on the other hand, made it through his first official Hurricane. 

From afar, guiding caretakers on how to secure the sulcata monster in a hurricane proved to be a challenge. 

Frankie, geckos and cat had a morning Care-Taker, a mid-take Checker, and a evening shift Care-Taker.  Everyone had specific tasks from petting cat, watering geckos, feeding box turtles, petting cat, and last but not least, taking care of the 17 year old, 115 pound sulcata tortoise once known as Frankie but currently going by the name of Monster, and petting cat.  

Of all the care instructions, Frankie's seemed simple:  Make sure he is in yard, keep water filled, and throw him a carrot every day.  Sounds very simple, right?

The day the Morning Care-Taker showed up for training she did the unthinkable:  she wore an orange shirt.  The minute she stepped out in yard Frankie pursued her like the Cookie Monster pursues cookies. 

Reviewing care instructions while she dodged Frankie at every step was challenging.  She absolutely got why one THROWS the carrot rather than attempting to hand feed Frankie the carrot. 

(Everyone wants to hand feed the sulcata tortoise.  He has no interest in eating human fingers but a finger between him and the carrot can result in one losing one's finger.)

All care takers were told:  THROW THE CARROT. 

The biggest challenge was making sure Frankie was in his shelter during the hurricane.  In his shelter is a sturdy wooden box that would keep him safe.  Get in the box, Frankie, just get in the box. 

Early on, Frankie was annoyed enough by the rain to go into his shelter.  As Mid-Hurricane approached the Care-Taker followed instructions and closed the main door and dropped the flap over Frankie's smaller door. 

Sometime after she left, Frankie decided it was too hot and muggy to stay inside and pushed through his door flap. 

When the next Care Taker returned later she found Frankie sitting outside in the rain just before dark and hours before the peak of the hurricane.  The situation became tense. 

Can one explain over the phone how to lift a 115 pound sulcata tortoise during a hurricane and get him back inside his shelter?  Ya' can't. Neither could I expect anyone to endanger themselves when they should be home securing their own families. 

Frankie had planted himself between the fence and the shed.  He would get rained on but he would not get flooded.  There were no dangerous trees that would fall on him.  He chose wisely although any choice to be outside in a hurricane I though was stupid. 

Greg and I changed plans.  We left Oklahoma six hours earlier than planned, eliminated an overnight hotel stop, and drove straight through. 

The Hurricane turned out to be on the lower end of bad. Thank goodness.

The Morning Care-Taker arrived to find Frankie still in the same spot.  He refused to move or un-tuck his head.  Any attempt to sooth or touch him resulted in an aggressive backward ram and hiss. 

It took a carrot to get him to pull his head from behind his legs.  (The orange shirt would be useful in this situation)

The Care Taker called us (we were now in Mississippi) to tell us he was alive but "very angry."  She also said the cat desperately needed us to get home.

We arrived late that evening.  First stop, after petting the cat, was backyard to check Frankie.  He was in his shelter, in his box but did not acknowledge me.  A poke to his front foot confirmed that he was very much alive. In the morning he was much the same:  un-moving and refusing to acknowledge me. 

Time for a Wellness Test.  A carrot dangling close to his nose and a teasing "wanna treat, Frankie?" drew his head out enough to see that he okay.  He consumed the carrot in less than 20 second confirming he was in good health.

Frankie emerged from his shelter a bit later and spent most of the morning camped out by the backdoor.  His plastic lawn chairs (secured during the storm) were returned to the porch and he moved them about until he was satisfied they were in their rightful place. 

All considering, we emerged from our first hurricane in good shape.  Frankie braved the storm. 

We did find something serious we overlooked.  Even if Frankie had decided he wanted back into his shelter later that night he could not have gotten inside.  The flap on his door allows for him to get out but does not reverse direction to let him back inside.  Something we have to fix. 

If we don't fix it Frankie Monster may just ram himself a new door. 

June 14, 2018

Summer Mayhem

June is officially happening. Frankie transitioned from Winter-Blues to Spring-Burst-Of-Joy-For-70ยบ-Weather! then tumbling quickly down to Summer-Can-It-Really-Be-That-Hot? miserable tortoise.

I'm miserable for other reasons.  I spent late winter through Spring sprucing up Frankie yard with new grass only to have the local wildlife dig up most of the newly laid sod and then watch spring rains...downpours...wash away all the newly sprouted grass seed.

Can't blame Frankie for lack of grass in his yard.  Sulcata Tortoises are great with grass (I said grass) in that the tortoise beak is designed to cut the grass without uprooting roots.

I mention grass is safe because anything...ANYTHING else growing in Frankie's yard is fair game for complete destruction.  Due to Frankie's vigilant attention there isn't a weed in the yard that lasts more than a day.

Mushroom? Mushrooms don't stand a chance.  Worried about potential toxins, I race Frankie to the yard in the morning to get those newly bloomed mushrooms before he does.  Doesn't matter.  He gets the ones I miss.  He's still alive.  Maybe I worry too much.

As for spring cleaning, I pressure washed the back porch and put up a new awning to shade the patio door.  Three old beaten-up plastic chairs were set out by the gate to be throw away.  Ten minutes later and Frankie pushed them all back on the porch.  Chairs are his toys.  We never sit in them anyway...too dangerous with Frankie around.

In consideration of Frankie's love of dandelions, his most favorite food even over carrots, I planted a yellow hibiscus the front a dandelion substitute.  A couple of weeks later I delighted to bring Frankie his first four very yellow hibiscus.

Frankie isn't usually aggressive but as natural sulcata behavior he has his moments.  I am keenly in-tune for situations that stir that side of him:  Never surprise a sulcata.  Don't startle a sleeping sulcata.  Don't take away the bucket. 

Showing a handful of yellow hibiscus flowers to a dandelion-starved sulcata was unwise.

When I knelt down to present Frankie his yellow treat I nearly was knocked over.

Frankie pulled his head back, hissing as the air expelled from his lungs and in a surprisingly agile manner leaped toward the handful of yellow in my outstretched hands.

I dropped the yellow hibiscus and rolled on the ground to avoid the 110 pound collision-bound Frankie.  Who knew at 58 years I was still capable of a precision forward roll.

So, good rule:  no yellow or orange shoes in the yard.

Have I ever mentioned that I collect Fiestaware?  Kitchen ware in bold colors:  red, blue, violet, green, yellow, tangerine and more.  Plates, bowls, candle sticks, pepper and salt shakers, coffee cups, and so on and so on.  My Fiestaware never gathers dust:  everything is used.  Just looking at all of the brightly colored dinnerware sitting in open shelves makes me happy.

So yesterday, I grabbed a yellow Fiesta bowl filled with cereal and headed to the backyard to visit the morning-basking Frankie.

So soon forgotten the orange and yellow rule.

Apparently, Frankie can I-Spy yellow from across the yard.

Walking toward Frankie who was way across the yard I see the signs of sulcata aggression:  Head up, eyes focused.....and movement like a speeding train with no breaks.

Balancing bowl full of cereal, I dodge to the left.  Frankie matches the turn.  I turn back toward the house and pick up my pace.

In movies, why does the hero being chased by zombies stupidly look over their shoulder to see if they are still being chased? (JUST KEEP RUNNING YOU IDIOT BECAUSE YES THEY ARE STILL CHASING YOU)

Oh, yes, why not check to see if they yellow-crazed 110 pound sulcata tortoise is still in pursuit?  HE IS!

And I turn back just in time to dodge three old plastic lawn chairs I should have thrown away but noooo, Frankie needs his toys.

Cereal is lost mostly on the ground and some on my shoes but hey, I need some hand function if I am going to open that back door.

I hear that red flags and bulls are a mostly a myth.  Stab a bull and piss him off and he is going to charge flag or not.  To be safe, just don't wave a red flag at a bull.

Yellow and orange are Frankie's red flag, not mythical.  Which is why I don't wear yellow or orange shoes...or pants..or nail polish.  Or carry yellow Fiestaware in Frankie's yard.

April 26, 2018


I am not paranoid.  Really, I am not.  I'm not all that interesting.  I don't attract attention.  I am quite ordinary.  No one is after me.

My secret is this:  the smallest person in the room wins.  Survival tactics from growing up in a family of five kids.  Who get's called to do the dishes?  First person mom spots.  Who gets scolded?  The loudest most obnoxious kid.  When mom reaches blindly into the car back seat and starts swatting, who gets hit?  The center kid.

My mastery of the subtle is sublime.  When Frankie is not with me, I go completely unnoticed.  When Frankie IS with me everyone is looking at the 110 pound tortoise.

Home security is about the same.  Don't be noticeable.  Don't put empty flat screen TV boxes by the curb.  Don't place your best silver on the front window shelf. Don't keep Frankie inside a chain link fence.

The front door is locked.  All gates closed and locked.  During the day the backdoor is unlocked so I can run in and out to see Frankie.

I spent the morning safe and relaxed on my computer in the front of the house editing some new Frankie pictures.  Really concentrating on cleaning them up, cropping, saving, etc.  Occasionally I hear rapidly running paws across the carpet....Newt, our cat, running wild, getting her exercise.  She knocked over some boxes earlier but no real damage.

After spending too much time working on the photos I think soon I need to go check on Frankie.  It's warm so he is outside basking and grazing.  He may want hay because Spring grass is slow growing.  He'll want his daily carrot.

I hear boxes in the hall get bumped.  Dumb cat.  It's cat nap time so what is she doing still running around?  Silence.  Okay, back to the pictures.

I hear the sound of paper being stepped on.  That's odd.  Doesn't sound like a cat walking on paper.

Finish the photo edit.  Save current file.  Turn around in my chair.

Have you ever tried screaming, your mouth wide open but what comes out is more like a gasping coughing.  Air that is supposed to go out is still getting sucked deep into your lungs.  What comes out sounds more like "WA..WA....aaaaaaahhhhhh.  Yeah, that scream that pretty much ends in a complete helpless choking fit.

I start waving my hands madly not because I am scared but that poor Frankie, in the house, in the dining room, five feet in front of me, acts like he is under attack. 

He frantically exhales making this WHHHHSSSSSSSSS noise, pulling back into his shell and wobbling like a spinning toy top. 

Frankie, having discovered the back door unsecured and not completely closed, has made his way through the living room, down the hall and all the way into the dining room. 

I am caught completely unawares by the Frankie burglar looking for carrots.

It took Frankie some time to trust me again.  Two carrots to be exact.