Tag Archives: reptiles

Almost a Published Author: A Reflection of My Journey Writing My First Book

Today my book title is being registered with the Library of Congress. As I edited the final 254-page draft this week with a sprained wrist, it was (painfully) evident just how damn hard I worked to make this dream come true.

Last month, my editor asked me to write a preface for the book. This was an opportunity to fit into 500 words what writing these pages meant to me. It was a chance for me to tell my story in first person.

I sent the intro to one hand-picked person to look over, someone who knows me about as well as I know myself, someone who I knew would give me honest feedback. He read it between his busy schedule and told me it was nearly perfect. But that was the problem. He couldn’t hear my voice.

He said one of his favorite things about me is how I am open about my vulnerabilities and imperfections. He knew how much I struggled to turn this dream into a reality. I erased and re-wrote nearly three-quarters of my original words, this time sharing snippets of my heart and my hardships. Before I even sent it to him, I knew what he would say.

Because he was exactly right. It needed to be imperfect to be perfect.

I wrote this book during two of the most challenging years of my life. Many of my struggles many of you know; a few of my struggles only a few of you will ever fully know. Right now, I am dealing with a past that cuts very deep, facing things that no one should ever have to experience. But this is my imperfectly perfect life, and these are things that happened to me. It’s not my past that shapes who I am; it’s how I choose to handle it. Part of that is therapy, self compassion, and maintaining strong and meaningful friendships. Another part is choosing to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward to follow my dreams even when I feel my feet being pulled in the opposite direction.

Sometimes I stumble, sometimes I scrape my knees or reach for a helping hand. Somehow I get back up again.

In a few weeks, you’ll be able to hold in your hands the dreams of my 7-year-old and nearly-29-year-old selves. My biggest hope isn’t that you learn everything there is to know about turtles. What I really hope is that this book, one of my many dreams, inspires you to always, always follow your heart—even when the odds are stacked against you.

With deepest gratitude, respect and sincerity,


Exciting Book News!

In case you missed the original announcement:


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In case you missed the most recent announcement:


1. Kids (lots of pictures)

2. Adult (lots of text)

3. E-book

Since second grade, I have wanted to be a writer and work with animals. It is possible to have many dreams and follow them all with hard work and perseverance–like a turtle!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next announcement in about a month when the books are released!

As always, thanks for supporting my dreams. Now, go follow yours!

Andrew Rossi: Fossils, Dinosaurs and Funny Bones

Andrew Rossi had his fair share of plastic dinosaurs growing up. Like many kids, he dreamt of fossil digs and seeing T-rex in the flesh from a safe and secure distance. While Andrew went on to follow those childhood dreams, he also discovered many other passions along the way.

The beauty of writing is that it can be done anywhere at any time.  -Andrew Rossi

It was comedy that brought Andrew and I together. We met in college at Ohio Wesleyan University. Similar to David Reitan, the other “funny guy” I interviewed, Andrew and I were members of OWU’s Babbling Bishops Improv Comedy Troupe. While we were not in the troupe at the same time, we have had our fair share of moments improvising together on-stage. One thing about the Babbling Bishops: any and all of us are family for life.

I live each day knowing the greatest accomplishments of my life are still ahead of me. -Andrew Rossi

A Euclid, OH native and 2013 Geology and Theatre graduate of OWU, Andrew now lives in the beautiful mountain west boonies. He works at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, where he is actively combining his acting prowess and scientific knowledge. When Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” came out, the cinematic crew wanted to have an exclusive interview with a geology professional. With Andrew’s theatre background, he was the perfect candidate.

The real world is chaotic; try as you might, you’ll never be able to anticipate everything, or even most things. -Andrew Rossi

In the DVD extra of “The Good Dinosaur,” you can catch Andrew’s impressive, educational and, as always, entertaining video talking about all things dinosaur.

I’ll light my candle from the flame, and spread it as far as I can. -Andrew Rossi

After watching the video, I learned from Andrew that it was all on the spot improv due to a glitch. As an actor, I know all too well about the mishaps that go on behind the scenes.


Those setbacks often create the most memorable on-screen moments. And Andrew pulled it off like a champ! But really, I’m not surprised. He is David Attenborough reincarnated.

I like being spontaneous, and at times I’d rather see a group or institution share more glory than myself. -Andrew Rossi

I think one of the reasons Andrew and I have reconnected of late is because we have a lot of similarities. We are both chasing our dreams and merging our passions–which also happen to be the same: science, acting and writing! Plus, the man makes me laugh and inspires me on the daily.

The world needs scientists; it needs experts to learn more about their fields and increase our understanding of our dynamic world. -Andrew Rossi

We can all learn a thing or two from this brilliant and hilarious man. Check out the interview below for some insight (and chuckles) into the life of Andrew Rossi.

S: What is your most rewarding accomplishment?

A: Only one? No singular accomplishment comes to mind. I live each day knowing the greatest accomplishments of my life are still ahead of me. There are certainly big ones that immediately pop up–the Pixar interview, graduating college, having the job I’ve always dreamed of.  But there are smaller ones that give me just as much pride, like being best man at my friend’s wedding, a friend I’ve known since I was twelve years old. I feel it’s the small, intimate moments that make the greatest impacts on our lives. Too profound to start?


S: You work with fossils which is like, woah, super cool. A lot of kids dream of doing that. Have you been on a path towards working with fossils since childhood or what sparked your interest?

A: Yes and no. I’ve been into dinosaurs since before I can remember; it was my second or third word as a toddler. And I eagerly read or watched everything dinosaur-related I could get my hands on as I was growing up. I suppose it has been a fairly linear path, but one with a lot of diversions and more than a few doubts. I don’t know what caused the spark, but that spark lit a fire that’s only gotten stronger as time has gone by.  

S: You are an alumnus of the Babbling Bishops, Ohio Wesleyan University’s improv comedy troupe. How did college improv prepare you for “the real world?”

A: The real world is chaotic; try as you might, you’ll never be able to anticipate everything, or even most things. Or some of the things. I’ve always lived in the moment, to my benefit and detriment. Thanks to improv, I am a lot more comfortable with chaos.

A lot of people tend to buckle under pressure, especially when they’ve developed a plan to get them through it. But that goes against every doctrine of improv. You have to let go and trust that you’ll get by. It’s not easy, and there’s always the latent desire to plan. But to no avail! Once you accept the fact that nothing is controllable and you let your mind roam freely and spontaneously, you become better. And you get funnier!

But improv isn’t a personal pedestal either; it’s all about the group dynamic. Good improv troupes work well as a single entity, rather than a collection of personalities. You can bring your personal quirks and talents to the troupe, by all means! But personal showboating makes everyone look bad. You rise and fall based on the strengths of everyone around you, and how they–and you–support everyone else. Again, not an easy lesson to learn, but one of the most important things to learn, regardless of where you go.

I like being spontaneous, and at times I’d rather see a group or institution share more glory than myself. I learned these things with the Babblers; easily one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. And it was so damn fun too! So, three things I learned, actually: spontaneity, selflessness, and just having a good time with incredible people.

S: Your interview for “The Good Dinosaur” combines your degrees in theatre and science. And, cool beans, it features you and only you! How did this opportunity come about? What was your reaction when you found out about it?

A: Well, so much for the selflessness . . .

The Good Dinosaur was a dinosaur movie (GASP!) based on the landscapes of Wyoming. The State of Wyoming wanted to capitalize on the movie as part of their new ad campaign: That’s WY! So when they wanted to talk about dinosaurs in Wyoming, there was really only one place to go. (That would be the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, where I work.) That’s when they reached out to my boss for an interview. She was out of town on those dates, but by this point she knew I was not only capable of being a “personality” in front of a camera, but that I would professionally represent our museum. My initial reaction wasn’t one of immense pride or joy, but not nervousness either. I was definitely excited to be a minor DVD extra celebrity, but I immediately planned to use the interview as a platform to show the world how great the WDC is and what kind of opportunities we offer for kids and adults to partake in the world of paleontology.


S: What was it like working with the Pixar crew?

A: Quick and painless. They arrived with a convoy of vans and trucks, full of camera equipment and an army of technicians. This is where the improv training REALLY comes into its own. A few pages of questions sent a week before the filming failed to reach me, so the entire interview was unrehearsed and unplanned. I had only a few seconds to process each question and provide a detailed, informative, and–yes–entertaining answer. And, thanks to my background in theatre and improv and their editing skills, it sounds pretty well-rehearsed and coherent. They were thrilled and relieved to work with someone with a background in theatre, as it made all of our jobs easier.

All in all, I had a great time doing it and they had a great time filming it . . . although I wish I had said “impressions” instead of “suppressions” . . . I totally did. Go watch the interview again, when I’m talking about the dinosaur trackway. Suppressions in the mud? The footprints aren’t suppressing anything!

S: Do you think you’ll seek out more film/stage gigs or will you kind of just check them out if something good comes along?

A: Hmm, that’s tricky. I would definitely like to try my hand at professional acting someday, since I know I’ll regret not trying while I’m still young. There’s a lot of uncertainty in my future, which I know is true for most people our age. A lot of opportunities have presented themselves, in a bunch of different areas–all I have to decide is where to go, and it isn’t easy. The reassuring fact is that I know I’ll succeed, wherever I choose to go. It’s not so much a confidence in my talents as it is knowing that I’ll give it my all. In the meantime, I get my theatrical kicks by writing . . .  not dancing, despite the use of the word “kicks.” (I’m as graceful as a hippopotamus on roller blades.)


I discovered playwriting in college, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of plays performed as an undergraduate. The beauty of writing is that it can be done anywhere at any time, so it gives me a more ludicrously creative output to channel my theatricality.

UPDATE: Andrew can be seen online hosting Fossil Fridays live at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew will be Lumiere in Cody Community Theatre’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” I can’t think of a role more fitting!

S: It seems like your heart is in more than once place, science and theatre. I think a lot of people can relate to that, but perhaps feel like society forces us to choose one career path and nurture it for the rest of our lives. Do you have an opinion on that? Do you think it’s important to remain well-rounded or would you rather become an expert in one field?

A: Yes.

Okay, serious time.

I don’t know if I’ll ever become a full-fledged paleontologist (aka get a Ph.D.). To tell the truth, I’ve always had difficulty with “hard science.” Writing papers, doing research . . . it’s all very tedious, and I struggle. It was heartbreaking to finally realize this about myself, as it was my aspiration since I was a child.

But I know science, and I know paleontology! I also know theatre. Then came the epiphany: I can teach, I can interpret, and I can inspire! Now, it’s what I do on a daily basis. I know dinosaurs, but I can also communicate dinosaurs, in ways that simultaneously entertain and educate. It seems trivial, but being able to speak with crowds is a skill a lot of scientists either fear or deliberately avoid.


The world needs scientists; it needs experts to learn more about their fields and increase our understanding of our dynamic world. But our world also needs to engage in and share science, and somebody has to light the sparks of future scientists. And with the current climate of our world (pun somewhat intended), we need communication more than ever before. I will probably write peer-reviewed papers and give technical talks in the future–no doubt–but I don’t think I’ll discover the next new species of dinosaur – but I’ll tell its story, and the story of the scientists who found it. And I’ll do whatever I can to make the world understand “this matters.”

And now I have the opportunity of a lifetime to make that happen. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is planning a major expansion in the next few years. Tripling our exhibit space, re-imaging our programs and mission, trying to create a world-class museum that encourages hands-on learning and unforgettable experiences.

Because of my background, my passion, and my imagination, I am one of the visionaries of this project: I get to build the dinosaur museum I’ve always dreamed about. This comes hand in hand with becoming the public face of our new vision; when the world wants to know more about the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, they come to me. And that’s when the work really begins. This might be my biggest mark in the world. It’s daunting. I can’t wait to show the world what we’re planning.

I’m not aspiring to be the torchbearer; I’ll light my candle from the flame, and spread it as far as I can.

Now reread this entire statement in Neil Degrasse Tyson’s voice. It’s that much more epic.

S: What do you do in your free time?

A: Free time?

That’s all I got.

Thank you, Andrew, for your insight, comedy and honesty. And for reminding us all that science is vital to the betterment of this world’s future.

All photos via Andrew Rossi, aka Sir David Attenborough (reincarnated).

Former Muse To Write A Children’s Book About Turtles!

I have some exciting news to share… thanks to BYOM for sharing in my excitement! 🙂

Be Your Own Muse

We’ve got fantastic news: Muse Stacey Venzel, world traveler and zoologist, was recently commissioned to write a children’s book about turtles!

With her gorgeous writing style and passion for wildlife and conservation, it’s clear that Stacey is a perfect choice for this project. We can’t wait to see the result!

Another thing that we love about this wonderful news: it’s more proof that doing what you love, with gratitude and hustle, will take you to fantastic places. Last year, Stacey decided to take a radical sabbatical to travel and work around the world, write, and explore her individuality.

“I learned to love me for me,” she writes. “I accomplished unwritten…

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Museo Viviente: A Reptile, Amphibian & Insect Museum in Puebla, Mexico

Staff and attendees at the vet conference pictured in the atrium of Museo Viviente. Pictured L to R: Ra Gala, Maria Elena Barragan Paladines, Orlando Reina, Douglas Mader, Edgar Reina, Juan Carlos Gomez, conference attendee Isabel, Stacey Venzel.

((Please note: Spanish translations are in italics. Sidenote: It is not easy typing Spanish on an English keyboard! // Una cuenta: Traducciones al inglés no están en cursiva. Nota al margen: No es fácil escribir español en un teclado inglés!))

Back in June 2014, I had the pleasure and honor to assist renowned herpetologist Dr. Douglas Mader at the Congreso de Medicina Veterinaria de Reptiles y Anfibios, an annual, international veterinary conference on reptiles and amphibians. The symposium, sponsored by Museo Viviente with the assistance of various other Latin American wildlife institutions, takes place in Puebla, Mexico, a town famous for its food and pottery and nestled between two active volcanoes. But more on Puebla another day.

Wrangling a Gaboon viper at Museo Viviente. Native to Africa, this viper has the largest fangs and can produce more venom than any other snake. And while it looks fat, that’s actually all muscle. Watch out! (Mom and Dad, I was careful…)

Today’s post is an interview with brothers Edgar and Orlando Reina, two of the founders of Museo Viviente (literally: Living Museum). These two might not look alike but they certainly share a common love of scaly and creepy crawly creatures! All of the conference board members went out of their way to welcome us two foreigners and give us a glimpse of what the reptile museum and the city of Puebla have to offer.

En junio de 2014, tuve el placer y el honor de ayudar renombrado herpetólogo M.V.Z. Douglas Mader en el Congreso de Medicina Veterinaria de Reptiles y Anfibios. El simposio, patrocinado por el Museo Viviente con la ayuda de otras instituciones de la fauna de América Latina, se lleva a cabo en Puebla, México, una ciudad famosa por su comida y la cerámica y situado entre dos volcanes activos. Pero más en Puebla otro día.

La escritura de hoy es una entrevista con los hermanos Edgar y Orlando Reina, dos de los fundadores del Museo Viviente. Estos no parecen iguales pero sin duda compartir un amor común de escamosa y criaturas espeluznantes! Todos los miembros del congreso hicieron todo lo posible para dar la bienvenida a dos extranjeros y nos dan una idea de lo que ofrecen el museo de reptiles y la ciudad de Puebla.

How was Museo Viviente started? // ¿Cómo se inició Museo Viviente?

It is the brainchild of the Veterinary Association of Reptiles and Amphibians who decided to set Museo Viviente in the city of Puebla in 2011 based on the need to inform the public about the existence and importance of the reptiles, amphibians and insects of Mexico and other parts of the world in order to generate a deeper appreciation of these fantastic animals.

Es una idea original de la Asociación Veterinaria de Reptiles y Anfibios A.C. que decide establecer el Museo Viviente en la ciudad de Puebla en el año 2011 por la necesidad de dar a conocer a la población sobre la existencia y la importancia de los reptiles, anfibios e insectos de México y otras partes del Mundo con la finalidad de generar una apreciación diferente sobre estos fantásticos animales.

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Dr. Doug Mader and I taking a break from fielding questions after one of his lectures.

What is the mission of Museo Viviente? // ¿Cuál es la misión del Museo Viviente?

Our mission is wildlife conservation through education, training and live specimen exhibits.

Nuestra Misión es la conservación de la fauna por medio de la educación, capacitación y exhibición de ejemplares vivos.

Describe a typical work day. // Describe un día típico en Museo Viviente.

Museo Viviente is open from Monday to Sunday from 9am to 8pm where guided tours are offered to visitors of all ages lasting 50 minutes. We show them more than 60 species divided between 7 rooms and  fitting into 1 of 3 categories: snakes, nocturnal animals and insects. The tour guides explain information on each animal such as food, habitat, characteristics, fun facts and, in some cases, their type of poison.

We also welcome school groups of all educational levels and even specialized tours for students of Veterinary Medicine and Biology. They are shown clinical management techniques, how to maintain animals in captivity and how to practice medicine in reptiles. We offer education courses and Continuing Education (CE) in the area of ​​herpetofauna in our auditorium.

The Museum consists of the General Director Edgar Reina, DVM, Managing Director Orlando Reina, C.W.R, Luis Munguia, DVM and technical staff. A member of the technical staff, Juan Carlos Gomez, C.W.R., is responsible for directing and training area managers to keep the exhibition, vivarium and quarantine area in optimum conditions.  Daily activities also include individual animal assessments (SOAPs in the veterinary world), cage cleaning and sample collection. The treatment of sick animals is also performed by the Technical Manager and team of technicians supervised by a veterinarian. We also have a ​​clinic where we see patients from other public collections as well as reptile, amphibian and insect pets from the public. We have an educational department led by Lorena Garcia, C.W.R.  The department is responsible for conducting educational programs for school groups, offering specialized and general visits and doing different activities to show an educational element that is both fun and informative.

Museo Viviente Puebla abre sus puertas de lunes a domingo de 9 a.m. a 8 p.m. donde se dan recorridos guiados a los visitantes de todas las edades con una duración aproximada a los 50 minutos donde se muestran más 60 especies en 7 salas divididas en 3 áreas: Serpentario, nocturnario e insectario. Se les explican los datos más relevantes sobre cada animal tales como alimentación, hábitos, características particulares, datos curiosos y en su caso el tipo de veneno.

También recibimos grupos escolares de todos los niveles educativos e incluso recorridos especializados a estudiantes de Medicina Veterinaria y Biología donde se les muestran técnicas de manejo clínico, mantenimiento en cautiverio y medicina en reptiles. Se realizan cursos de educación y capacitación continua a interesados en el área de la herpetofauna en el auditorio de nuestras instalaciones.

El Museo está formado por el Director General M.V.Z. Edgar Reina, Director Administrativo L.A.F.S. Orlando Reina, Director Operativo M.V.Z. Luis Munguía y un área técnica. El área técnica cuenta con un responsable L.A.F.S. Juan Carlos Gómez que se encarga de dirigir y capacitar a encargados de áreas para mantener en óptimas condiciones el área de exhibición, bioterio y cuarentena. Dentro de las actividades diarias esta la revisión del individuo, limpieza del bebedero, recolección de excretas y limpieza de sustratos. La aplicación de tratamientos de animales enfermos de exhibición también son aplicados por el Técnico Responsable y equipo de técnicos, supervisados por el Médico Veterinario. Se tiene el área de Clínica donde atendemos pacientes de otras colecciones y del público que tiene reptiles, anfibios e insectos. Contamos con un departamento Educativo responsable L.A.F.S Lorena García encargada de hacer los programas educativos para la atención de grupos escolares, visitas especiales y visitantes en general, realizando diferentes actividades para mostrar un elemento educativo que sea al mismo tiempo un elemento de diversión y logrando el objetivo principal en los visitantes.

Touring around Puebla with Orlando and Maria Elena!

Does Museo Viviente breed any animals? // ¿Se reproduce animales en Museo Viviente?

Yes, we have bred some specimens of Crotalus ravus (Mexican pitviper/pygmy snake), Crotalus atrox (Western diamondback rattlesnake) and Lampropeltis triangulum (milk snake).

Si hemos logrado reproducir. Algunos ejemplares de Crotalus ravus, Crotalus atrox y Lampropeltis triagulum.

Have you ever assisted or performed research through Museo Viviente? // ¿Has asistido o realizado investigaciones a través de Museo Viviente?

We have participated in local and regional reptile conservation programs as well as in research development theses for veterinary students.  We collaborate and advise various universities in training and research development in the field of herpetology.

Hemos participado en programas de conservación de reptiles a nivel local y regional, así como el desarrollo de tesis de investigación para obtener títulos de Médicos Veterinarios. Colaboramos y asesoramos a diferentes Universidades para la capacitación y desarrollo de investigaciones en el área de herpetología.

I HATE tarantulas. This was Fear Factor 101. I did it, and I’m glad I did it, but Jesus, I can’t believe I did this… in case that’s not written on my face.

Where or who does Museo Viviente get the animals from? // ¿De dónde o quien son los animales de Museo Viviente?

We have animals from around the world including Africa, Asia, the Americas and particularly Mexico.  Among those from Asia are the Monocle Cobra (Naja kaouthia) and reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus); from Africa the Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica), spitting cobra (Naja nigricolis) and Angonoka tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata); from South America the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), cook Boa (Corallus hortalanus) and Emerald Boa (Corallus caninus);  from Mexico the diamond rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), Arrow snake (Oxibelis fulgidus), Boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) and Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). In our collection of amphibians, we have dart frogs from South America, the red-eyed frog from Mexico, the African bullfrog and tarantulas from around the world. We also have scorpions, whip spiders and more.

Contamos con animales de varias partes del mundo incluyendo África, Asia, América y en particular de México; entre los que destacan de Asia son la Cobra de Monóculo (Naja kaouthia) y Piton reticulado (Malayopython reticulatus); de África Víbora de Gabón (Bitis gabonica), Cobra Escupidora (Naja nigricolis), Tortuga de espolones (Centrochelys sulcata); de Sudamérica la Anaconda verde (Eunectes murinus), Boa cook (Corallus hortalanus), Boa esmeralda (Corallus caninus); de México la Cascabel diamantada (Crotalus atrox), Serpiente flecha (Oxibelis fulgidus), Boa constrictora (Boa constrictor), Iguana verde (Iguana iguana). En nuestra colección de anfibios contamos con ranas dardo de Sudamérica, rana de ojos rojos de México y la rana toro de África, así como tarántulas de diferentes partes del mundo, escorpiones, arañas látigo entre otros.

What reptile do you think is most unique to Museo Viviente? // ¿Cuál es el reptil crees que es más singular de Museo Viviente?

We have several unique animals. Ruperto is our Burmese python measuring 4.5 meters. Mordelón the crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) is also unique because he is a native Mexican species and is featured in our logo. Our Mexican red-eyed frog (Agalychnis callidryas)  is also fascinating for our visitors.

Tenemos varios animales singulares. Ruperto es nuestro Pitón birmano de 4.5 metros.

También de unicidad es Mordelón el cocodrilo (Crocodylus moreletii) ya que es una especie mexicana de gran importancia icono y es del logotipo de Museo Viviente Puebla. También la rana de ojos rojos (Agalychnis callidryas) de México es un animal carismático para los visitantes.

What separates Museo Viviente from similar facilities in Mexico? // ¿Cómo se separa a Museo Viviente de lugares similares en México?

We are different from other animal facilities because we specialize in reptiles and were formed by herpetology experts with a career spanning more than 10 years.  We offer the complete package, teaching about reptiles but also managing to offer an element of fun.

Somos un lugar diferente de los demás porque estamos especializado en la herpetofauna y formado por especialistas en el área con una trayectoria de más de 10 años. Ofrecemos servicios integrales en el que mostramos un elemento 100% educativo y al mismo tiempo es un elemento de diversión.

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El Congreso de Medicina Veterinaria de Reptiles y Anfibios in Puebla, Mexico, June 2014.

Thank you Edgar, Orlando and all the staff at Museo Viviente and the conference for your insight—and enjoyable company on our Puebla adventure! // Gracias a Edgar, Orlando y todo el personal de Museo Viviente y el congreso por su visión de inteligencia—y acompañamiento agradable en nuestra aventura de Puebla!