Saving the World One Mail-Order Lordship at a Time

Yes, it’s a lot of fun to run around and insist that people call me Lady Sarah, but it’s also a clever way to conserve the countryside.

That’s because I can’t call myself a Lady without actually owning a piece of land in Scotland.

Highland Titles sells souvenir Lordships, Ladyships, and Lairdships of Glencoe, each associated with a small dedicated plot set aside in the Highland Titles Nature Reserve. Mine’s near Kiel Hill.

And the land that came with my title is mine, mine, all mine. 

Nobody may do anything to it or on it without my express permission. And when I die, that property passes to my heirs. That means my 100 square feet of Scottish wilderness will remain untouched indefinitely.

Except by me, if I want. I can visit my parcel of prairie, set up a tent to camp, or hug my trees in the room-sized plot anytime I wish. As part of the nature preserve, it can’t be paved or built up. No fishing, hunting, or chopping down trees, either.

Scotland boasts some of the most amazing and varied landscapes on the planet. From staggeringly steep cliffs to marshy bogs to dense ancient forests, it’s home to a huge variety of plants and animals.

Watch the trail cams to see animals playing in the reserve. Badgers, red squirrels, roe deer, pine martens, golden eagles, and even wildcats have been spotted in the area.

No doubt they appreciate the space to roam.

Honestly, this is a win-win. I get to demand everyone call me by my rightful title and I do my part in keeping the wild wild. 

And you can lower that skeptical eyebrow when it comes to my ladyship.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually have a claim to peerage. I’m not a noblewoman. True, I have papers proving my landownership, but I’m more of a landlady than a land Lady. 

It’s clearly an honorary title as thanks for purchasing a souvenir piece of land. Not legal admission into the House of Lords, so calm down. 

The title is all in good fun and increases tourism in a positive way.

That’s because Highland Titles Lords, Ladies, and Lairds live all around the world. The nature preserve has seen upwards of 6,000 nature-loving tourists a year, many of whom surely wouldn’t have visited if they didn’t have a claim to it.

The preserve is staffed by volunteers so the maximum amount of profits go toward conservation. They make active efforts to set up the preserves, plant trees, promote rewilding, and stoke curiosity in Scotland’s wildlife. They’ve even set up a hedgehog rescue center!

So if you’re looking for a way to support conservation while poking fun at your snooty friends and family, Highland Titles should be on the top of your gift list.

I was given my ladyship as a tongue-in-cheek gift years ago, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize the true value of my Highland Title.

This article is in no way sponsored. I actually do have a mail-order ladyship and think it’s cute and clever. Whatever gets people to pitch in and fund conservation, know what I mean?

Those Ubiquitous Peruvian Alpaca Hats Interweave Culture with Nature in the Most Beautiful Way

You’ve seen them before. They’re super colorful cone-shaped hats with big earflaps, long ties, and are adorned with intricate geometric knitted designs. They’re a favorite among indigenous Peruvians, tourists, and snowboarders alike.

A must-have souvenir for almost every Machu Picchu tourist, chullos are much more than a fashion accessory. This cold-weather garment evokes the majesty, culture, and natural vibrancy of the Andes Mountains.

Andean culture has brought us some amazing things, not least of which is the chullo. These hats are traditionally handspun, handknitted, and worked on narrow gauge needles for firm fabric, maximum warmth, and space for intricate designs. The earflaps provide full coverage from the elements.

Sure, you can purchase solid-colored machine knit hats made out of synthetic fibers. But you’ll be sorely disappointed on all counts. The patterns are culturally significant, the local artisans who make them are skilled in their crafts, and the real alpaca, llama, or vicuña fibers are as luxurious as they are practical. These eye-catching hats are definitely worth wearing in the Andes.

First and foremost, chullos are comfy. Alpacas have super soft wool that is perfect for insulating against the frigid mountain winds. Because of the structure of alpaca fibers, there are lots of teeny tiny natural air pockets that will keep your head warm. And because it’s so insulating, you can use thinner spun yarn than you could with sheep’s wool or other fibers. This makes alpaca chullos perfect for tucking in your pocket.

Alpacas and llamas are domesticated but native to the Andes, so their wool is truly local. Vicuñas, their wild cousins, are still thriving in the mountains. This national animal of Peru produces eye-wateringly expensive ultra-fine luxury fiber. The price tag is largely due to the fact that most of these animals still live in the wild. Sustainable humane vicuña wool harvesting supports both the local community and species conservation efforts. So if you have the budget, vicuña chullos are a great way to support Peru as a whole.

Whichever natural fiber you choose, forget the plain hats and look for a regionally significant style.

The geometric patterns, exuberant colors, and design of each chullo are unique to the region and the makers. This mark of heritage represents thousands of years of cultural significance. In fact, the acts of spinning wool, weaving, knitting, and producing textiles is as essential to the fabric of South American culture as the Andes themselves. Traditionally, the vibrant colors are made from local plants, insects, minerals, etc. and each color has specific associations. Green represents lush forests, yellow for riches, red for warfare, and so on.

Most chullo designs feature repeated geometric motifs, but many modern styles include images. Jaguars, plants, birds, and of course, the animals who generously gave their wool for the hat. (It doesn’t harm them any more than a haircut, by the way.)

It can be very cold and windy in the higher peaks of the Andes, and tightly-knitted alpaca earflap hats are just the ticket to keep you from catching a chill.

This distinctly mountain-friendly style gained popularity from communities living in the Andes. For the longest time, chullos were nothing more than a functional piece of outerwear. What was once a humble stackable hat has become the most instantly recognizable garment of South America. Tourism has kept this traditional style vibrant and expanding.

It wasn’t always considered fashionable in Peru, but the chullo has taken hold as one of the most popular, iconic garments of the region. Customized to the local climate, knitted from the wool of animals who live there, and covered in unique motifs indicative of local history, chullos are quintessentially Peruvian.

If Lisa Frank was tasked with designing a bird, it’d be the ocellated turkey

Most wild turkeys look something like this…

Photo by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash

Or this…

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

But then there’s this fella.

National Audubon Society

Meet the ocellated turkey — wannabe peacock and birdwatchers’ darling.

And one of the most flamboyant birds I’ve ever seen.

There are six types of wild turkeys: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Gould’s, and our prismatic friend. Most turkeys can be found in Canada and the USA, but the ocellated version lives exclusively on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their small region includes only a small part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. 

And yes, if you visit Yucatan ruins like Tikal, you might get a glimpse of these seussical birds. They’re quite comfortable living and nesting near Mayan ruins.

Ocellated Turkeys at Tikal, Guatemala by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Though I’m pretty confident you could identify an ocellated turkey without a description, this bird stands out in more ways than one. This species is small as far as turkeys go, topping out at 12 pounds for males and 7 pounds for females. They have neon-blue heads decorated with garish hot orange warts, but no dangling ‘beards.’ Both sexes are blindingly colorful with females only marginally duller and greener. As a bonus, these turkeys’ voices are slightly less obnoxious than that of their blander cousins.

Ocellated turkeys spend most of their time walking rather than flying and enjoy a buffet of bugs, seeds, and leaves in their rainforest homes. The ‘ocellated’ part of the name refers to eyespots on their peacock-like tail feathers. Considering the brightness of the rest of this bird, you’d be forgiven for missing that detail.

Tim Proffitt-White / Flickr

These vibrant animals are Near Threatened and declining, thanks to overhunting and habitat reduction. But all is not yet lost — the ocellated turkey fanclub is growing, drawing ecotourists and conservationists to the region.

With continued conservation efforts and increased awareness of these eye-popping birds, more and more tourists can hope to spy an ocellated turkey. For some, ocellated turkeys are on the menu, but it’s my humble opinion that they’re better enjoyed visually. Maintaining their habitats and encouraging sustainable tourism to landmarks like Tikal will help get this glorious bird back on track. 

In the meantime, check out this desperate dance our rainbow friend does for a bunch of females who couldn’t care less. At least his fashion sense is on point.


How to say more with less

Over-writing kills your scene. Here’s how to keep it tight.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When you first bring your reader onto a scene, it’s tempting to give them the full picture. Floor to ceiling, head to toe — you want to show every tiny detail. You’re dying to give your reader a glimpse into your world so they can see it exactly how you see it.

But that’s just it. They only need a glimpse.

If your scene descriptions look like this…

I laid out four of my best bone china plates — remembering to turn the intricate blue iris pattern slightly to the left — in front of four dark oak lattice-back chairs, each with a white upholstered cushion. The six-foot mahogany dining table was finally picture-perfect when I set out my grandmother’s red satin runner with gold tassels on either end.

…I have news for you. That’s way too much!

The reader is lost in the details and can’t actually envision the scene anymore. They’ve been handed so much information, their imagination has stopped. And when the imagination has stopped, so has the story.

But you can still be descriptive. In fact, by saying less about the scene, you paint a much more interesting picture. There’s an easy trick to it, too:

Two visuals, one other sense.

That’s it!

Here’s how it works.

Choose two of the most pertinent (or most interesting) physical objects or visuals in your scene. You can use adjectives to describe them, but not too many. Now, pick another sense: taste, touch, smell, or sound. This rounds out the scene by grounding it in reality.

Here’s the dining table scene using the two visuals, one other sense trick.

I laid out my grandmother’s red table runner between four china plates. The scent of roast turkey filled the air.

This is a much more immersive experience. The reader now knows that it’s almost time for dinner, there will be four people eating, and turkey’s on the menu. It’s probably a fancy meal, too, because when else would you put out an heirloom runner and china plates? Your mind probably filled in side dishes, potential dinner guests, and even the preparation that it took to make the turkey.

It’s all there in the scene, too. I just took it away so you can imagine it yourself.

When you describe a new scene or a character, all you need to do is give the sense of the moment.

Two visuals, one other sense.

Here’s another example to prove that it works in fantasy, too. I’ll even do it backwards so you can see how your imagination gets bogged down with too much detail.

The clang of the knight’s bootfalls echoed in the high-ceilinged stone hall. Moonlight glinted on his sword as he slowly drew it from its sheath.

The two visuals here are the glinting sword and the high-ceilinged hall. We hear the bootfalls clanging, which makes the scene more dynamic. We know it’s late at night, his boots are probably made of metal, and there’s not much else in the hall because of the echoes. He’s drawing his sword, but we don’t know why. The reader has a lot of questions at this point, so they’ll want to read on.

Let’s try this scene with more detail.

At a quarter past midnight, Sir Lancelot entered the great hall where he and the other knights had dined on turkey legs earlier that day. Now, the great hall was empty, echoing, and moonlight streamed in through the arrowslits and pooled on the gray stone floor. He scanned the high-ceilinged room and slowly drew his jewel-encrusted sword from the leather scabbard at his side.

Yes, this scene gives a lot more backstory and some of the imagery is richer. Now you know the knight in question is Lancelot, he ate turkey with some other knights (off bone china plates, perhaps?) and the sword has jewels on it. You can see the hall a little better, too.

This is all great information, but you probably already mentioned it in your story. And if you haven’t, you have the whole rest of your story to flesh out the scene. We still don’t know why he’s drawing his sword, but I guess that’s what the next paragraph is for, isn’t it? We’ll get to it.

One more.

The burglar’s heart pounded in his chest while Mona Lisa’s tight smile peeked out from under his elbow.

Whoa! That’s a ton of information! You know there’s someone stealing the most famous painting in the world and because he can feel his heart pounding, you know he’s very nervous about it. You’re probably envisioning the Louvre, likely late at night. And given Mona Lisa’s smile, you might even get a sense of what the painting itself thinks about being stolen.

I could’ve put all that in the scene, but info dumps release tension. And nobody likes a tensionless heist.

Now let’s hear from you. How would you use the sense of taste to round out a scene? And feel free to use these prompts as the openings to your story! I’d love to see the stories continued in the comments below.

Previously published on Medium.

Short Story: What’s in a Name?

A comedy of errors

Photo by Isaiah Schultz on Unsplash

“So, ah, there’s something you should know before we go through with this,” said Clyde as he knelt in the soggy grass.

“Oh god, anything, Clyde! I love you so much!” Jessica cried, mascara streaking down her cheeks. “I can’t wait to be Mrs. Packer!”

“Yeah see that’s the thing,” he began tentatively. “My name isn’t Clyde Packer.”

Jessica’s bloodshot eyes widened and the grin fixed on her face. Her voice quavered. “What?”

Her mind brimmed with horrible scenarios. Had he truly been lying to her this whole time? Was Clyde on the run? Living under an assumed name? Wait, was he in witness protection? He shouldn’t tell her if he was. She blanched with the sudden terror that maybe she had been calling him by the wrong name this whole time and he never corrected her.

“It’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

“Did you say ‘Pack-m’n’?”

“Nope. Pac-Man. I go by Clyde Packer, but it’s Clyde Pac-Man.”

Jessica stared at Clyde, unblinking.

Clyde shifted awkwardly, still balanced on one knee in the grass. Boisterous birds chirped overhead and his brand new fiance wasn’t saying anything. “Like the game? You know, little yellow guy? Likes to eat dots?” He clapped his thumb against his fingers, imitating the pie-shaped character’s eating habits.

“I know the game,” Jessica breathed. “Well, I see why you go by Packer!” So this meant Clyde wasn’t a fugitive from the law… she didn’t think.

“Yeah. But. My legal name is Pac-Man and, so, yours will be too.” Clyde eyed the diamond ring on Jessica’s finger as though it might explode.

“So I’ll be… Ms. Pac-Man?” Her head felt light.

“Well, Mrs. Pac-Man, technically, but yeah,” Clyde admitted. Jessica plunked down in the grass next to her still-kneeling fiance. He rocked back on his heels and squatted in the grass. He wanted to be ready for a quick escape after dropping his bombshell.

“That’s kind of funny, but it could be worse. I’m sure I’ve heard worse names,” Jessica placated her fiance and rubbed his back. She considered a mutual acquaintance named Ronald McDonald. He managed. She knew someone who said he knew someone named Chris P. Bacon. And what was it that Elon Musk named his baby? Surely being Ms. Pac-Man wouldn’t be so terrible. She kissed his hair and something dawned on her. Jessica stopped and pulled back.

“Wait. Clyde…

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m named after one of the ghosts.”

Jessica flattened her lips and tried to stop smiling. “So, which one is that?”

“…It’s the orange one.”

Jessica lost it. Laughter ripped through her and Clyde sat down hard, dropping his head in his hands. He clutched the ring box against his temple.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Okay so why don’t you change your name if it bothers you?” She swallowed her giggles.

“Can’t. Dad changed our last name after he beat the game before I was born. I told you about that, right? That he was the first person to get 3 million-something points?”

“Yeah but you never mentioned anything about naming you after a video game. I didn’t know he was, like, a superfan.”

“He wasn’t. He isn’t. I guess Namco — that’s the game maker — contacted Dad and offered up a contract. A big annual stipend if he changed his name. Sort of like a living breathing advertisement for the game, you know?”

“But ‘Frederick’ isn’t one of the ghosts…”

“No, I know. He negotiated the contract so that he only had to change his last name. But payouts would be doubled if he had any children named after the characters. So I’m Clyde. I’d’ve been Pinky if I was a girl.”

“Can’t you change it now?” Jessica repeated. “You’re an adult.”

“Sure, but if I break the contract, he forfeits the second half of the stipend. Not just future payments, but all the money he made from naming me Clyde Pac-Man. And it’s… not a small sum. Owing that kind of money would ruin him.”

Jessica wasn’t laughing anymore. She considered Frederick and Merideth Packer’s impressive home. She had never known Mr. Packer (Mr. Pac-Man, she reminded herself) or his wife to work for a living, but assumed they were old enough to retire. Jessica had not considered the possibility that they’d retired young. Now that she thought about it, there were quite a few old arcade games in their finished basement. She remembered seeing several editions of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man in the collection, too. There were even some of the newer versions on nicer consoles. She envisioned the plaque on the wall stating that he had achieved the highest possible score in the game back in the 90s. She knew Mr. Packer was the first one to do it and was vaguely impressed by this feat, but, since Jessica was never much of a gamer, she didn’t give it much thought. Clyde’s admission cast a whole new light on the basement.

“And I know it’s kind of sexist,” Clyde winced, “But the contract says you’ll have to take my last name. If you do, we get payments, too.” He looked up hopefully.

Jessica wobbled her head on her shoulders. “Okay, I could just do like you do and say my name is Packer. I’d use the legal version only when I had to. Nobody would know! I mean, all this time I never knew your legal name, so it can’t be that bad.” She considered the potential awkwardness of their upcoming trip to the courthouse. Filling out their marriage certificate with Namco branding would definitely raise eyebrows. She would certainly endure quizzical looks at the DMV when she updated her license with her new married name. She just hoped she would never get carded.

“Fine, but…”

Jessica flinched. What now?

“If we have kids someday…” Clyde tread carefully.

Jessica blushed scarlet. This was a conversation that she wasn’t fully prepared to discuss. One thing at a time, she thought. She and Clyde had only discussed children in the broadest, most hypothetical terms. The day of their engagement was surely not the most appropriate time to discuss having children.

“No, seriously. There are rules. If we have children, a girl has to be named Pinky and a boy has to be Clyde. Or Namco. That’s the unisex option.” Clyde let out a long, slow breath. “This contract… it’s pretty solid. Namco lawyers are no joke.”

Jessica had run out of words.

Clyde swallowed hard. “I just want you to have all the facts upfront. I understand if you can’t — ”

“Afternoon, lovebirds!” chirped a jogger as he dashed past. The couple’s jeans were getting soaked from sitting on the dewy grass in the park. Jessica dropped her eyes to admire the sparkling new ring on her left hand where a halo-set diamond graced a delicate eternity band. The little channel of diamond dots winked up at her. Clyde waved politely at the jogger without looking up.

“Well,” said Jessica, “we will just have to have fruit salad at our wedding reception.”

Also available to read on Medium and Reedsy

Why generalists make the best content writers

You are an expert in your field, or close to it. You know your business inside and out. What makes your business stand out, your edge over the competition, the nitty-gritty specs for your product — you’ve got it all down cold.

Your customers, on the other hand…

And now you need to produce content to get those customers to understand why you’re the best of the best.

Your first instinct is probably to just flat out tell them you’re the best. Direct, but ineffective.

Then you think again and decide, no, let’s show them with all the technical specifications and minutiae differentiating you from your competitors. Way too effective.

Think a third time!

Your customers don’t care about all that. I mean, they do, but they don’t actually know that. They don’t care about the granular details of your business. They want just enough information to push your product ahead of your competitors, and not a speck more.

A good content writer will be able to walk that line. And the truth is that a generalist — or at least a non-specialist in your field — can do it more easily than an expert.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Hire a generalist because…

They won’t give too much information

Last week, I went mattress shopping.

All I know about mattresses is that I have a queen and it needs to be replaced. After that, all I care about is how comfortable it is and whether or not I can afford it.

The salesperson at the mattress store (let’s call him Matt) spoke at length about the chemical composition of the latex topper, the exact force of the springs, the source of the organic bamboo quilt, and the geographical distance between the spring manufacturer and the assembly facility.

Those things are really important… to the mattress company. Not me. I’m just a sleepy person who needs a bed.

Matt clearly knew what he was talking about and I had a lot of respect for his industry expertise, but it was an unhelpful waste of time. You definitely don’t want your site to be an unhelpful waste of time.

If your writer doesn’t even know the nitty-gritty, they can’t get bogged down by it.

They know the right questions to ask

If I’m going to drop a grand on a mattress, I don’t want to be blinded with teeny tiny details. Don’t use excess details to confuse me into parting with my money — tell me what I want to know and nothing more.

Did I ask about spring coil density? Did I somehow imply that I cared whether the topper was organic bamboo and that this would be my deciding factor? Noooope.

I just wanted to know if it was going to be comfortable, stay comfortable, and whether or not I’d wake up with a backache.

Matt was so busy telling me about the gauge of steel used that he forgot to use that information to actually answer that question. I went home and googled what I needed to know and guess what? His direct competitor had my answer. Yikes, right?

It did involve the coils, but I wasn’t asking about steel gauge, I was asking about what makes a mattress good quality. He was so close, but misinterpreted the question I was asking. Matt lost my interest when he went off on a tangent.

A generalist content writer is curious in the same way your customers are.

They also speak to computers

Don’t forget about SEO! Lord knows content writers can’t…

Generalist content writers’ greatest asset is SEO. Instead of deep industry knowledge, they rely on their ability to speak to search engines to make your content pop and rise to the top. They know that with the right phrasing and correct keywords, a solid article can put your product page in front of more eyeballs.

The trick to this?

It’s the last 2 bullet points.

But don’t hire a generalist if…

Your clients are also experts

If you’re a mattress spring salesperson, you don’t want a generalist telling mattress factories that springs are part of mattresses. They know that. These are the people who actually care about spring force. They care about the steel gauge and the diameter of the coils.

If you’re not telling your customers what they want to know, they’re going to bounce.

And if you‘re confident that your customers are as knowledgeable as you are, lean in. Impart your expert wisdom. We’re right back to where we started — answer the right questions and give the correct level of detail.

Accuracy means life or death

Latex toppers are, I guess, part of mattresses. If your chemical company relies on perfect precision or else the whole factory is going to explode, then, um, make sure whoever you’re educating about chemistry doesn’t misinform.

Don’t be vague or else you’ll explode!

Okay, so it’s probably not as dramatic as all that — perhaps you’re writing a user’s manual for some specialized spring-making equipment. For this, you need an expert. Someone who really knows the tiny details and spares none of them.

Sometimes you need perfect accuracy more than you need enjoyable content. So it goes.

So get out there and sell those mattresses!

The tl;dr is this: don’t get fancy.

Know your audience. Speak to them. Ask the right questions and give pertinent answers. Give just enough information to give you an edge and no more.

Sounds easy, but sometimes when you know too much, you forget what people are really asking.

So leave the legwork up to that generalist and go take a nap. You know which mattress will give you the best snooze.

Previously published on Medium

Top 5 Most Beautiful Pet Finches

previously published on Medium

Finches are lovely pets, inside and out.

They’re mild-mannered, stay small, eat a steady diet of seeds, and tend to be lower-maintenance as far as birds go. Give them plenty of space to hop around and socialize, and a handful of finches will reward you with a light, chirpy song.

Best of all, domestic finches are available in a rainbow of colors, from drab gray to a technicolor explosion. Not that you’d pick a pet based solely on looks, but it sure doesn’t hurt that these bouncy little birds are among the most striking pets on the market.

Here are five of the prettiest finches you can add to your aviary.

5. Zebra Finch

Look how cute these preppy little guys are!

Go to any pet store and it’s hard to miss the requisite flock of zebra finches popping around the cage, honking like they’ve swallowed tiny trumpets. They’re easy to find, inexpensive, and hardy. Even better, zebra finches stand out among ginches because they actually enjoy playing with humans, which makes them perfect for families and beginners.

I do, however, question their fashion choice of blending spots with stripes and wearing brown and black together.

4. Owl Finch

If you want a bird that makes even other bird owners go, “Wow, what kind of bird is that?” then you’re looking for an owl finch. Also known as the double-barred finch, clown finch, and Bicheno’s finch, these distinguished birds are best identified by their barn owl-like face and bold black band. Okay, so he’s not all that colorful, but he does make an impact. And the females look almost as bold!

Owl finches are less common birds can be pricy, but they do make decent pets and don’t mind having cage mates. They’re chatty, but not as boisterous as other finches. There’s a lot to love here.

3. Parrotfinch

There are many kinds of parrotfinches: blue-faced, red-headed, short-tailed, red-throated… and several other ‘adjective-body-part’ varieties. If you like the aesthetic of parrots but don’t want a pet who eats the woodwork, consider a showstopper like the parrotfinch.

Make sure they have plenty of space, though: parrotfinches belong in the wild or else in a humongous aviary. They don’t always do well as pets and are exorbitantly expensive, but they sure are head-turners. This bird is only for the experienced aviculturalist.

2. Strawberry Finch

Do you like strawberries? Would you like to see one in a cage? The male strawberry finch is named because, well, that’s exactly what he looks exactly like.

What’s cool about strawberry finches is that they actually change color! Males wear bright red, black, and white-spotted duing the mating season and drab plumage otherwise. Females are pretty cute, too, with their brown bodies, yellow bellies, and Maybelline-red beaks. Keep their cages large and full of greenery to prevent permanent color loss.

They have a lovely singing voice, too: not too loud, not too annoying. Just a sweet twittering song.

1. Gouldian Finch

yowza!

C’mon, you knew this was number one. Even the female is a riot of color. Green! Red! Purple! Yellow! Black! They look like a shaken-up jigsaw puzzle.

Gouldian finches are almost too pretty. You’ll want to pick it up and play with it, but they absolutely hate that. Gouldian finches are cage-only birds who are exceptionally fragile, quiet, and tricky to breed. They’re fussy but omg so gorgeous. Definitely not for beginners, but ideal for a large aviary with other finches.

Only seek out these handsome devils if you know for sure that they’re coming from a reputable breeder or are in a rehoming situation. Gouldian finches are near-threatened and facing endangerment in their native habitat, thanks to the booming pet industry.

Actually, that goes for all pet birds. Aviculture has only increased in popularity, and this has done no favors for the wild bird population, so do your homework and be a responsible pet owner.

Do skunks stink as pets?

previously published on Medium

Everyone knows a friend of a friend of a friend who has a pet skunk.

But I have a confession. I’ve always kind of wanted to be that friend with a skunk.

Can you blame me? They look so soft and cuddly. And I mean, just look at this adorable face!

those nails tho

But the only skunks I’ve ever encountered have been huddled under my front porch, lumbering across the lawn, or eternally resting on the side of the road. I’ve never had the chance to pet that luscious black and white fur.

I wonder what it’d be like to cut out those degrees of separation and actually pet a skunk. Thankfully, real life skunk owners do exist and they’ve shared their thoughts on the topic.

Do they stink?

Alright, let’s just get this one out of the way. We’re all wondering it. It’s the first thing anyone asks when the topic of pet skunks comes up. Heck, it’s the first thing anyone mentions when the topic of skunks in general comes up. Their smell is so iconic, it’s synonymous with their name.

Do pet skunks deserve that level of infamy?

Short answer

No. Well, maybe.

Long answer

Did you know that skunks don’t always smell? They spray their odor from a scent gland near their tail (I’m putting it mildly here) and otherwise smell no stronger than any other pet. If you can tolerate ferrets, you’ll have no problem with skunks.

Pet skunks that were born and bred in captivity (as all legally obtained pet skunks are) often have their stink glands removed in a process called descenting. Like declawing a cat, this is a controversial procedure since it takes away the animal’s entire self-defense system. But like declawing a cat, if it’s an indoor-only animal that might otherwise be surrendered after using its defense mechanism, it’s something to consider.

But…

The legality of owning a skunk is surprisingly snarly and one state actually prohibits the practice of descenting on the grounds of unnecessary mutilation akin to debarking a dog. So if you live in Wisconsin, your skunk’s gonna stink.

Another but…

Skunks only spray when they feel threatened. If skunkie was raised right, has no predators, and has gentle and loving human companions, it’ll probably keep its stink to itself for the vast majority of its life. But if your animal is sick, injured, or startled, you’ll need to get out the tomato juice.

Anyway, it’s just smell. It’s not like the odor can kill or even injure you.

So do pet skunks smell? No. Well, maybe.

Are pet skunks nice?

They’re as sweet as they look! They’re cuddly, curious, and very playful. Also sneaky — if you’ve lost your favorite teddy bear or guest towel, check the skunk cage. They like to line their “den” with soft squishiness.

If you start with a baby skunk, the best way to bond is to keep it tucked into your shirt or sweatshirt pocket. I can’t even. There’s nothing cuter.

Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

They enjoy tug of war, roughhousing, and puzzles. Got a mysterious stain? Have a particularly interesting hiding place? Your skunk will find it!

This only applies to domesticated skunks, of course. The ones that live under my porch will never make good pets.

And like all pets — especially exotics — YMMV. You absolutely cannot predict your pet’s temperament. I had a hedgehog once and everyone on the internet swore up and down it would be a lovable, snuggly little pincushion, but he wasn’t. All he wanted to do was ignore me, run in his wheel, and eat hamburger meat.

Are they smart?

As a matter of fact, they are!

Skunks are scavengers, as you may have noticed when late-night wildlife gets into your garbage. They’re curious little critters, always looking for novelty and/or bugs. Skunk-proof your house or make a special playpen full of toys, blankets, and treat puzzles like those made for dogs.

They don’t make much sound, either, so that’s a plus if you know what it’s like to live with a yappy dog.

They can learn basic tricks and yes! They can be litterbox trained!

What do they eat?

Skunk food! Who knew, right?

If not skunk chow, feed your stinky pet human-grade fresh food like vegetables, cooked chicken, nuts, grains, and crickets. The Skunk Haven website has a full meal plan worked out and honestly? It looks more nutritionally complete than mine.

Skunks love bugs. If you have a spider problem in your home, get a skunk and boom. No more spiders.

How hard is it to care for a pet skunk?

Skunks can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds, live up to 10 years, and grow to 35 inches in length. They’re like large cats that way.

Not many vets want to work with skunks, but it’s important that you find one who will. Aside from distemper shots and flea/tick treatment, you’ll want to get your skunk neutered or spayed (hah! almost wrote sprayed) because they can get pretty riled up when the female is in heat, resulting in more than just more skunks. I’m talking about scratches, bites, and property damage. They get rowdy.

Keep your skunk in the biggest dog kennel you can find. They’ll need some room to move around in there since they’re crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight. You’re probably not.

They do not like being in their cages and will need toys, things to dig, and plenty of stuff to play with. Ideally, you’d devote a corner of your garden to your little stinker’s digging habits. Those nails are no joke, and if they don’t have the opportunity to use them for foraging, well…

Can pet skunks live outside?

Nope. Without their stinkiness, they have no way to defend themselves from predators, making them a juicy morsel for your local coyote population.

But what if it still has its stink glands?

It still shouldn’t be kept outside. Pet skunks are accustomed to people and will gladly approach a smiling human face… and that might not go over well. Imagine Pepe le Pew going in for cuddles from your local cat lady. Or worse, your varmint-hating neighbor with a 12-gauge. Not going to end well.

Also, they can really move if they want! It’s no problem for skunks to wander for miles at a time and no, they don’t have a good sense of direction. Your descented and domesticated skunk is a goner if it gets lost.

What about rabies?

Ah yes. Rabies.

Wild skunks are vectors and you really don’t want to get bitten. Unfortunately, there are no approved vaccines for pet skunks, so if your pet bites a human or another animal, it will be euthanized on suspicion of rabies. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so it is absolutely vital that your skunk is not aggressive and has been properly socialized. Eliminate all chances of skunk bites and you’ll be fine.

Is it even legal to own a pet skunk?

Depends on where you live. In the United States, only 17 states permit pet skunks and only two provinces in Canada. And it absolutely must come from a licensed breeder, pet store, etc. There are permits and legalities all over the place.

Bottom line. Should I get a skunk?

Skunks are basically cats but stinkier, pickier, and higher maintenance, somehow. But they’re cuddly, curious and just a lot of fun to own — if your expectations remain low. Not to mention the phrase “I have a pet skunk” is an incredible icebreaker.

So should you get a pet skunk? Probably not. Just see if you can track down that friend of a friend of a friend who has one and get your stinky fix that way.

Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Beatlemania at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas

The Beatles only visited Arkansas once, and even then it was just a layover. But that was enough for Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, to dive into the deep end of Beatlemania and devote the town’s entire identity to Liverpool love.

If you consider yourself a fan of the Fab Four, Walnut Ridge needs to be at the top of your travel wishlist. The tiny town hosts a massive award-winning Beatles-themed festival at their Beatles-themed park next to their Beatles-themed museum, located (where else?) on Abbey Road.

beatlesbeatlesbeatlesbeatles

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Hidden Gems Alternative Travel Guide: Arizona’s Love Affair with Plants

After the year we’ve all had, choosing a vacation destination can feel like an impossible task. Should you visit a desert, a rainforest, marsh, savanna, or an ocean climate? There’s so much we haven’t seen!

Why not visit all of the above? All at once?

Head to Tuscon to experience Biosphere 2, then head north for the Rainbow Forest. Whether your prefer your plants tightly contained or ancient, Arizona has something to inspire every imagination.

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