Rabbits are awesome as pets.

(So humans should learn to be awesome owners.)

pet house rabbits

Henry and Harper, working it.

I didn’t originally want a rabbit. But Stephanie was adamant. We were going to get the little gray guy her friend was giving away, and we’d figure out the rest later. It wasn’t until we picked him up that we learned the dwarf rabbit’s name: Frodo. Which absolutely had to change. I was reading Walden, and Henry popped into my head right away. And it stuck.

We learned a lot about caring for rabbits, and some of what we’ve learned over the past five years made its way into my recent rabbit article for Angie’s List. When I was young, I used to chase rabbits across my parents’ yard. I used to devise traps, hoping to score a bunny as a pet. But I’m glad now that I was unsuccessful, because caring for rabbits is serious work.

Bunnies live for about 10 years, and their health, proper diet, and sufficient playtime are all important. Understanding how seriousness of G.I. problems is crucial. We’ve had to visit emergency vets a few times for Henry, who has a sensitive stomach despite the fact he eats like a pig.

Figuring out how to balance all of these responsibilities became more of a challenge when, six months after we got Henry, we brought home Harper. She was tiny then, but as you can see, she now dwarfs Henry.

pet bunnies

Here’s baby Harper and her with Henry (for scale).

Henry and Harper modeled for my article. It was a daunting photoshoot over the course of ten minutes. Of course, this isn’t their first rodeo. Both of them acted in Animaux à Paris, a foreign language film, highly acclaimed by my French 317 class. And Henry performed in the short film Jamie Snodgrass: Class-C Mulberry Scout.

It’s been a wild ride with the bunnies, but I’m glad Stephanie ignored my pessimism about adopting Hen. As one vet told me:

Rabbits can be very social. And the rabbit patients I have share a very strong human-animal bond.

Read the Angie’s List article here.

Minneopa bison

minneola state park bison

A few weeks ago, I went with my wife and some friends to Minneola State Park to go snowshoeing. Unfortunately, all of the snowshoes had been reserved days earlier by people who know how things work here in Mankato.

So we drove through the bison range instead. We didn’t see anything, except a boulder that looked deceptively like a sleeping buffalo from far off, until the very end of the loop. Gathered in the path was the entire herd.

I snapped a few pictures—here they are.

bison at Minneopa state park

A Very Figy Christmas


Many of you are wondering: What’s the Figys’s first married Christmas like?

And if you’re not, you feel too awkward about walking out now. It’s like you showed up to the wrong class on syllabus day, but already claimed a great seat and asked a question about the midterm—so, why not take Anthro 245? So then, what does mine and Stephanie’s first married Christmas look like?

First off, Stephanie decorated the place. Last year, we didn’t decorate, and found the holiday rather dreary. So this year, she situated a wooden, cartoon-looking moose with a glittery scarf and neatly wrapped gift next to my Kurt Vonnegut doll. We got out four stockings, two for us and two for the rabbits Henry and Harper. Sorry, cats. The stockings continue to sit on the kitchen counter. We got a tree, a little one about three feet tall, and wrapped around a single string of lights.

Our ornaments are mainly crafts from Stephanie’s job working YMCA before and after school care. Herman, cat No. 1, likes this one in particular. It’s a homemade Grinch-stuck-in-chimney ornament—an orange pill bottle rimmed with cotton ball snow, green poof for a butt and two green pipe cleaner legs poking out. Herm would bite the piece of yarn it hangs from, drag it around, then drop it on the bedroom floor each night. An early Christmas present for us.

We opened our stockings early. Half of the chocolate is gone. Devoured. The rest stands no chance. Since we’ll start the six-hundred-and-some-mile trek to Indianapolis to see our families early Christmas morning, we opened our presents, too. As soon as the wrapping paper started to rip, Pumpkin, cat No. 2, got lost in the excitement. She tore off toward the bedroom, paws slipping on the slick floor, almost sliding into the doorframe.

What does our first married Christmas sound like? Not Bing Crosby. We haven’t listened to a lick of Christmas music at home. Instead, my wife has been walking around our small apartment singing Shaggy’s 2000 radio hit “Angel.” Stephanie sings it right to me. And despite referring to me as “girl” over and over, it’s sweet when she croons to me—her “darling angel”—the lyric: “closer than my peeps you are to me.” Then, diving into the verse without skipping a beast, she imitates, quite accurately, the reggae rapper’s flow on thought provoking lines like:

Life is one big party when you’re still young…

But who’s gonna have your back when it’s all done?

We’ve only heard real Christmas music in stores and at Mankato’s Festival of Lights in Sibley Park, where we feed pigs and sheep and goats pellets from candy vending machines in warmer months. No barnyard animals during December—there are reindeer instead! I asked Stephanie, “Can we take them home?” We’re still in negotiations.

The giant light display, synced to popular Christmas tunes, also has Santa’s house, a small skating rink for true Minnesotans—AKA people who actually own ice skates—and a row of Christmas trees decorated by area organizations. We like the fire department’s tree, which is half burned, telling a cautionary tale about the dangers of faulty lighting. We’ve been three times: once by ourselves, once with friends Tyler and Erin, and again with friend and fellow G.A. Irving.

We’ll probably go again. Because it’s festive. Because it’s fun. Because, not gonna lie, I love the reindeer. Because that’s what traditions are about—repeating experiences over and over, establishing a normal.

Tradition helps. Normal helps. When you live in a new place, hundreds of miles from the people and places you really, truly know, from the experiences that are yours, having something to call yours helps. Creating and claiming new experiences as yours—something as simple as eating tacos on Christmas Eve or opening presents early—helps.

Mine and Stephanie’s first married Christmas is about making traditions, since we don’t know in a few years what we’ll be doing, or where on earth we’ll live. Who knows? Maybe Australia or some similarly exotic place, like Canada. Traditions remind us, even when everything changes, that we have each other. No matter where we go, we’ll have everything we need.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Salma’s point of view

Minnesota State University student

MSU Mankato student Salma Abdelhamid first saw snow her freshman year. (Photo by James Figy)

My graduate assistantship with the President’s Commission on Diversity requires me to write one Voices of Diversity article each semester. I have to find someone with an interesting story to tell, then tell it. It’s great. Writing feature articles is one of my favorite things. It’s mostly the reason why I became interested in journalism in the first place.

I sat down with Salma Abdelhamid, an international student from Egypt, outside Jazzman’s café in the busy Centennial Student Union. Over the half hour or so that we talked, she really impressed me by how devoted she is to exploring other people’s points of view. For example:

Hopefully, I’ll learn more about how the world works, how can I leave an impact on people, how can I cause people to think for themselves, how can I get people not to be brainwashed by whatever it is—the media or other people or political sectors—and just get people to think from very different angles. When I came here, throughout my entire life, I saw the world from my point of view, from the Egyptian’s point of view. When I came here, I wanted to see the world from America’s point of view.

I also learned some cool facts about Egypt, such as the dish koshari and how close the pyramids are to Cairo.

You can read the full article here.

My Found Polaroid

I had a flash fiction piece published by this interesting project called Found Polaroids.

Photo via Found Polaroids.

Photo via Found Polaroids.

The website’s founder has been collecting polaroids from all over, and as the site says: “The result is this: Found Polaroids, a collection of over 6000 images.” More than one hundred photos already live on the site, but that’s just the start. “Each image has its own story and context, all of which are as of yet unknown to us,” the About page says. It sets writers up for a sort of lowbrow ekphrasis.

I looked at this image (Polaroid #88), and I wondered who was taking the photo and why there were more photos on the wall and why the woman pictured looked so freaking stressed. And the trappings of a story popped into my head.

Here’s the start:

Robbie begged me to go for a ride in his new, old Corvette. “A ’62 Stingray. Cherry red. 8-Track,” he said, like specificity would sweeten the deal.

“I’m drowning in paperwork,” I said. “Which my consultant couldn’t look over.”

Robbie snatched the Polaroid from my desk, then sat in its place. His suit seemed too shiny, teeth too white, hair too slick, half truths too promising. If Robbie knew half as much as he swore when I first called, he’d be the Dean of Harvard Business.

“My consultant was out all morning buying an old beater.”

He didn’t apologize. “If not today, when?”

Read the rest here.

five year veggieversary

veggie burger

Veggie burger with sprouts at Monon Food Company.

Stephanie and I started an experiment five years ago today. We decided to eat a vegetarian diet for the month of October. We’d both tried it a few times before. But this time we did it for a reason. We did it to remember our friend, Stephanie’s best friend, Amanda.

Amanda, a longtime vegetarian, was a bright, bold personality, whom Stephanie met in high school. After she was killed while riding her bike in a tragic hit and run, we wanted to do something to remember her. Celebrating her birth month, October, by not eating meat, which was important to her, seemed the right thing.

Near the end of the month, vegetarianism took root, became our own thing. It forced me to try new foods, to think about what I was eating and how it filled my nutritional needs. I’ve eaten more foods since becoming a vegetarian than I did before.

Since that first month, I’ve gone through various stages of proselytizing a plant-based diet. To everyone’s relief, I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my mouth shut. I believe in the good that a vegetarian diet creates, but I realize in some ways it’s just that. A belief system.

So I won’t try to sway anyone today, on my five year veggieversary. Instead, I’ll leave you with a fun fact. The term vegetarian doesn’t derive from vegetable, according to early (Western) movement leaders. Henry Salt wrote in his 1906 book The Logic of Vegetarianism:

Looking at the word etymologically, “vegetarian” cannot mean “an eater of vegetables.” It is derived from vegetus, “vigorous,” and means, strictly interpreted, “one who aims at vigour.”

Mankato, Minnesota: The good, the bad, and the “different.”

Mankato Minnesota

People back home always ask me, “How’s Minnesota?” It’s great, I tell them. The weather is nice (for now) and warm (also, for now) and the sky is clear (you get the picture). My classes are great, and I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky. Some days while my wife works, I sit and read or work on a story. Later, we walk around Mankato and meet up with new friends.

Here are some things I’ve found in the just over a month we’ve lived here.

The good

Mankato is small, but not too small in my opinion. Some love it here; others say it’s the worst of both worlds. Still, you can walk mostly anywhere in downtown without breaking a sweat. There are tons of bike trails—few of which are useful for commuting. But I’d rather crack open a book on the bus to MSU anyway.

Minnesota State University Mankato

Centennial Student Union (left) and the fountain between CSU and the library where I like to read.

I love my school. (Which is good, considering it and not a general love of prairies is why we moved here.) I can get from one building to any other building through a maze of bridges and tunnels—the Hogwarts model. But because it requires a quarter of the energy to walk outside from building to building, this won’t be helpful until the -40 windchill days arrive.

Even in the dead of winter, I’d visit Mom & Pop’s ice cream shoppe, where the “double” is seven scoops. (I counted.) Mankato Brewery is also a great place with great beer. And Friesen’s Family Bakery has a chocolate cake so rich it’d embarrass Donald Trump.

The bad

Want to be a vegetarian in Mankato? Hope you like black bean burgers! Don’t get me wrong, the Indian restaurant and one of the Mexican restaurants offer some great alternatives. But I sometimes shed a tear pining over Indy’s Thai restaurants and Broad Ripple Brew Pub, which really embraces vegetarian pub fare.

Also, the concept of a donut shop is extinct in Mankato. Even the previously mentioned bakery doesn’t make them, making me shed a circular tear.

And while I’m talking about spheres and tears, permit me to say a few words about pizza. It’s a shame to live in a town where Little Caesar’s ranks in the Top 5. The best local place we’ve tried charges $20 for a 12-inch pie. At the place everyone recommends (not naming names), the crust reminded me of damp cardboard, slathered with straight tomato paste. Friends who agree with us (though many do not) decided they’ll just make pizza at home. But a professor told us he cried the first time he tried it, it was so good. Later, Stephanie said, “I cried, too.” We’ll be visiting Jockamo’s on our first trip home.

The “different”

Being different is a good thing, right? Not quite in Minnesota. The phrase “That’s different” is a vehicle to comment on something without actually stating one’s opinion. Naturally, I had no problem picking it up.

“‘That’s different’ is still used out here where I live,” said Howard Mohr, author of How to Talk Minnesotan, in a 2013 interview. “That phrase is still valuable as a non-committal remark when you have an opinion but do not want to be so impolite as to express it.”

Minneopa State Park

Minneopa State Park!

But I’m happy with the differences. Having a new place, a new state, to explore is exciting. And the differences in food, driving, length of goodbyes, accents, and sayings—Oofta!—just come with the territory.

A wedding song

figy wedding song

Sarah and Michelle sing the song as I play and Stephanie enjoys her serenade, June 6, 2015.

“When are you going to write a song about me?” Stephanie asked me this question often when we first started dating. And rightly so. I’d written songs about girls before—and songs about books and songs about songs—so it made sense I would write one about the woman I’d one day marry.

But I stopped writing songs all together. It didn’t have anything to do with Stephanie, though it might’ve had something to do with the effect she had on my life. I went to college, realized getting my act together wasn’t lame. She made me better from Day 1.

Still, the songs stopped. I couldn’t perform. “I’m sorry,” I felt like saying. “Don’t know why it’s not working. I’ve never had this problem before.”

Eventually, she stopped asking and, on occasion, would say: “One day you’ll write a song about me.” Which is both a request and imperative.

Writing a new song for our wedding was my idea. Pulling through this once became important. I needed a simple, straightforward song that captured how I feel about Stephanie, our life together, and our journey ahead—to Mankato and beyond! The result, I believe, does that.

The phrase “small ball of twine” popped up when I stopped thinking too hard about it and just wrote. Fun fact: Minnesota is home to the world’s largest ball of twine. I didn’t know this when I wrote the song—but I digress.

My older sisters Michelle and Sarah, who are also married, sang the song at the wedding. Most guests didn’t know it was written for the bride. Some said they thought they’d heard it before on the radio. Anyone who found out said I had to record it. The echoing cell phone video on Facebook didn’t cut it. Making a better recording has been on my To-Do before Minnesota list since practically the day after the wedding.

So, ahem, without further ado…

And for those who asked for the words…

Small Ball of Twine

Pens and a little cash,
Some crumpled paperbacks,
Tales of wanderlust,
You can have them because
I can’t imagine my life
Without you by my side,
Just unravelling life
Like a small ball of twine.

This I have to bring:
My strengths and all my needs,
My wins and losing streaks.
I’m yours, if you’ll have me.
And this I promise too:
We’ll always make it through,
I’ll always fight for you.
It’s true—you know I do.

Good days and hospital stays—
I’ll be there always.
In sunny or gray,
I’ll stay.

This I have to bring:
My strengths and all my needs,
My wins and losing streaks.
I’m yours, if you’ll have me.
And this I promise too:
We’ll always make it through,
I’ll always fight for you.
It’s true—you know I do.

What do I have to offer?
A million and one gifts would never be enough.
What do I have to offer?
It’s not much, but this I promise, Love…

This I have to bring:
My strengths and all my needs,
My wins and losing streaks.
I’m yours, if you’ll have me.
And this I promise too:
We’ll always make it through,
I’ll always fight for you.
It’s true—you know I do.

‘Cause I can’t imagine my life
Without you by my side,
Just unravelling life
Like a small ball of twine.

wedding song