Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Year Into Another

I was reviewing the resolutions I made for this year, and they reminded me of that old saying: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans."

2009 turned out to be a year of personal loss. I lost both of my writing mentors; Jim in June and Jack Myers in November. The best avian vet in this region of the US left for Iowa in August (and I'm still upset about it). And, of course, I lost my most beloved Sugar Franklin, which I'm pretty sure I'll never get over.

Yet, like any year or period of time it was not all bad or all the same. My three remaining parrots are healthy and spoiled. I got my bathroom remodeled and lived through the experience. My mother is in relatively good health and remains active. I still have a job. My first collection of poetry was finally published in October. I did a lot of decluttering around the house throughout the year and realized that I had a lot more room than I thought and it's so much easier to find things. I made some new friends I hope are around for a long time. I regained some faith in our government during Obama's first year. I learned to let a lot of crap go at work by just not caring anymore (though I did have a melt down a couple of weeks ago, which seems to have set a lot of stuff in motion that should have been addressed a year ago, so maybe that was probably a good thing. Maybe).

With less than three hours left in 2009, what do I resolve for 2010? To keep my house and life clear of stuff I don't need. To continue to love and care for my three parrots. Save at least a little money. Write more. Spend more time with people who love me.

I think I've made God laugh enough this year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Charli's Foraging Box

This Charli's favorite foraging toy . . . well, at least for today. It's a small bird-safe cardboard box that has a tiny piece of chewable wood inside that prevents the lid from opening all the way. It opens just enough for me to put treats in and that she can see they're inside. The rest is up to her. As you can see, she does her best. I just love her face when she finally chews it up enough to get to the almonds and Power Treats.

Sometimes, as in this video, cardboard boxes need to be relocated.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I was up late last night, which was okay because I figured I could sleep late Saturday morning. Except, of course, that I forgot that Nicholas does not believe any creature should sleep once the first molecule of sunlight appears.

So, in response to continual chirping and calling and demands to get the cage covers off, I drug myself out of bed and took off the cage covers. Congratulated everyone on being all nice and awake. I watched the Bobbsey Twins scamper around their cage, then Flash decided it would be a good time to masturbate. Which he did, while Nicholas tried to preen him. Flash likes to hold onto one of Nicholas's toys, a long rubbery bright pink spiraly thing, when he masturbates -- only it frequently slips out of his foot so he has to stop, grab the toy, readjust himself, and start over.

This proves that no life is without its complications.

Then I opened the blinds to see 2 finches and 2 female Cardinals at the bird feeder, and a never-before-seen-by-me bird at the suet cake. It had vivid sharp stripes of black and white, the tip of its head had a splash of red, and its breast was gray.

(Sidebar: If you aren't already a member of Cornell's Project Feeder Watch, do give it some thought. People all over the US note the birds at their feeders on specific days, which provides lots of data on migration patterns, numbers of birds, and other scientific stuff. Costs $15 a year and is fun to do. It runs from mid-November to April, but you only have to pick out a two-week period that's convenient for you. Here's the link. And no, they don't fuss at you if you forget.)

Back to my post -- The bird feeder swings in the air, and as I watched, several more birds flew down to feast. Except this was not acceptable to the birds already there, so there ensued a no-nonsense air battle whereupon everyone flew away.

I guess the birds could see my reflection in the window because they wouldn't stay around long enough for me to get group pictures or do a mini movie. This picture was taken through the screen and glass, and you can't see it but the feeder hangs from a tree branch.

Sugar Franklin always loved watching this view -- there are always seeds on the ground for the ground feeders and I use safflower seed in the feeder because the bigger birds (crows, starlings) aren't interested in safflower seeds. To the left of the neighbor's house and the feeder you can see part of the neighbor's back yard and out over into the street. She always had something interesting to keep track of when her slave wasn't home to provide scritches and treats.

I am most assuredly getting better. It's still strange to speak of her in the past tense, but I can speak of her now without bursting into tears and that's a sure sign of improvement.

Well, it's Saturday and I have a long, long list of things to get done today. God knows my parrots won't help with any of it . . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

ashes to ashes

It's been almost three weeks since Sugar Franklin died. I finally cleared out the cart her cage sat on, cleaned her cage, and put them both out in the little storage building. The suddenly cleared space seems enormous now and I'm still getting used to it. There doesn't seem to be anything I can put in that place -- not the play stand, not a chair, nothing seems to fit.

When I come home I still catch myself looking for her. The other birds are sometimes glad to see me, sometimes not. But Sugar Franklin always ran back and forth, back and forth, in excitement to see me and hoping I'd bring her out first.

I'm also slowly remembering to only get out two food dishes instead of three. I've noticed that it seems to take a lot less time to feed my three remaining birds and that there is more time to pay them individual attention. I hadn't been aware of how much time and attention I'd given her.

Nicholas seemed to miss her the most at first. For several days he kept giving me alarm calls; when I would check on him he would turn his head and lean his little body toward her empty cage. They all seem now accustomed to her absence.

My plan, when receiving Sugar Franklin's ashes, was to put some into a pendant I could wear whenever I missed her too much. The rest I would bury under the tree where the bird feeder stands. I bought a wind flower ornament ( with bright colors that spin in the wind to mark her grave, but later I decided it might startle the wild birds.

When I hired two guys to do some end-of-summer yard work, I had one of them dig a small deep hole for her grave. Later I looked at the pile of dirt and simply couldn't bear to think of her ashes in that cold, wet dark place.

Then I considered just holding the ashes in my palm and letting the wind take them. After all, she was a bird, a creature of the wind. But Sugar Franklin didn't fly all that much, and I was always so afraid I might forget she was on my shoulder and go outside and lose her.

What it came down to, I finally realized, was that she belongs here at home with me. So I ordered a small container for the rest of her ashes, which I will put away someplace safe out of the sight of visitors.

Only ashes, I know, but as someone told me last week, everyone's grief is their own, and I won't apologize for whatever form of insanity her loss has brought me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Little Yellow Bird

June 11, 1998
September 29, 2009

Thank you for all of the joy, and for making these past eleven years the very best of my life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sugar Franklin on Sunday

This morning I sat and watched Sugar Franklin run back and forth, back and forth, in her cage at approximately 70 miles an hour, wanting out. I took her out and she's now on my shoulder, helpfully chirping directly into my ear. She occasionally stretches out, first one wing and then the other. Her weight on my shoulder feels normal and solid. Sometimes she faces forward to chirp at the other birds, then she'll turn around and chirp at the couch.

It has been so long since she's been this happy and active and vocal -- you'd never know how sick she's been. I am so grateful to the vets, the techs, my friends, and the Great Parrot Spirit that she's still here to poop on my shoulder and chirp in my ear.

I think I'll go get the big bag of Nutriberries. She's earned one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good Bird! (I hope)

I'm so proud of Charli. I would have posted this when it happened, but I've been too busy with other stuff.

Our routine in the morning is for me to uncover the birds. Charli demands a little scritch to start her day (unless she'd rather bite me), so I unlock the cage, scritch her little head, lock the cage, and go on about my business.

One day a week or so ago I got home from work and said hello to all the birds. I went to Charli's cage and saw that the door was open! She was in her Hide 'n Sleep, looking at me casually, as if I always leave her cage door open.

Evidently I'd forgotten to close and lock it that morning. I examined her closely to be sure she was all right, then I went through the house to see what damage she might have done while I was gone.

Nothing was damaged or out of place. It was as though she didn't leave her cage all day.

I'm a lot more careful in the mornings now. Just in case.

Poor Little Sugar

In this picture she looks like she's been in a fight.

The real story is that she had a tiny nick in the air sac behind the vein while having blood drawn at the vet's. This air sac circulates through the head and usually heals/closes very quickly, but not in this case.

She has blood in her beak and her nares, but she's okay! This should clear up in about a week. She's eating like a pig, drinking healthy amounts of water, producing perfect poops, and bossing me around -- just like always.

I'd taken her in to check on her uric acids; first time since that awful few weeks back in June. Unfortunately, her levels this time were 21; normal is 10. This means we have to go back to meds for some indeterminate time. We're not starting this week in order to give her time to clear up the blood issue.

I sure do dread giving meds, but I'm glad she's doing as well as she is.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009


Parrot Musings recently discovered that one of their parrots loved cucumbers, so I decided to try some with Charli.

I took her into the kitchen and I could barely keep her away while I peeled the cucumber. She loves peppers and corn and green beans (raw or cooked) and peas and various other vegetables, plus almost every fruit I've offered, but we'd never tried cucumbers.

As you can tell by the picture, Charli thinks cucumbers are just wonderful. So I foresee lots more cucumbers in the house.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Flash Taking a Walk

Flash was walking around the living room -- he was so cute trotting around. But by the time I got the camera he'd gone back under the cage and wasn't much interested in coming back out.

I just love how well he minds me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


The music was to begin at 3:30, then the memorial service from 4 to 5, then the reception complete with numerous bottles and jugs of wine and food.

I didn't want to go, but I owed it to him.

I arrived at 3:05. Because the skies threatened rain everything had been moved indoors of the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning. It's a big stone building that once served as our city's only library, financed by Carnegie back when Carnegie financed libraries across the nation.

The main room was full of chairs, as was the center room. There were a few people there, but I saw Mary Ann right off. We hugged for a long time and just looked into each others eyes -- hers blue, growing faded. So many tears behind her; I hoped there were fewer ahead of her. We chatted for just a moment, then someone else came up to us so I let her go.

The first two rows had papers marked "reserved" on them, and I considered sitting in one of them. Who would stop me? Who was to say who the seats were for. But, of course, I didn't. The people sitting in the chairs and milling around all seemed to have an air of privilege about them -- they were personal friends of Jim, they were in his class, they were the singled-out students invited out to dinner, they alone knew how special he was . . . It brought back all that anger and angst I used to feel for all the people around here who seemed to hold themselves above me, back before I learned it was usually me holding myself lower than others. Today, they could all be as special as they wanted. I had nothing whatsoever to prove to any one any more, even myself.

I wandered into the Writers Resource Room to peruse the selection of literary magazines. A young woman and man followed me in, holding a huge bundle, which turned out to be movie-poster-sized photographs -- one of him as a child, a few more of him as an adult, and some he had taken. The couple began putting the photographs on boards to hang them upstairs where the reception would be.

After awhile I went back out into the main room and saw all the seats filled, and people were lined up to the doors, waiting to sign the guest book. I walked beside the rows of chairs, seeing who I could see, if there was anyone there I knew, anyone from all those endless classes. A woman motioned to me; I knew her face but absolutely could not remember her name or place her as a writer or student. I shook my head, embarrassed, because it was clear she knew me well.

"It's K," she said.

Shameful amazement ran through me. Of course! She said she and her husband were friends of Jim's and Mary Ann's. But how could I have not recognized her? We chatted a few minutes, and I remarked how calm she looked; she said she'd just gotten a massage. She was sitting beside S, who was in my first poetry class when I taught those few classes at Carnegie. She saw my Vermont tee-shirt and talked about how she'd spent a month one summer in Stowe, Vermont, doing nothing but writing poetry.

I saw C (publisher) at the guest book and went to him. I told him that B had offered some of her art work for the cover of my book. I hugged him and told him he had no idea what it meant to me to be getting the book published. "Well, it's good work," he said. We parted and I saw two women smiling at me -- but again I had no clue who they were. I suspected they were L and A, but I couldn't be sure. If it was them, it had been over 20 years ago. I smiled back but I didn't want to get in a conversation with them. Or anyone else.
I stood in the middle room for a moment, looking at the line of people that now stretched to the outside. I don't like crowds. Recordings were being played: some 50s French song, the Stones' Wild Horses. I realized I was the only person in shorts -- what had I been thinking?

It occurred to me then that the event was becoming, for me, an exercise in who knew who, a sort of old-home-week event. Jim deserved better of me. I didn't want to stay and cry all afternoon, which I knew I would if I stayed. Wouldn't I honor him better by going home and writing? Hadn't I'd already seen the most important person there -- Mary Ann? Maybe these were just rationalizations I was giving myself, but they made perfect sense to me.

So I made my way outside, past the line that now was halfway down the park. Cool wind, with the promise of rain, filled the car as I drove home.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sugar Franklin Update

Back to the vet's this morning for hydration, meds, and gavage. It waa also time to do bloodwork to see if her uric acid levels were bad. I thought she was so much worse that all day I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable euthanasia.

I went back to pick her up this afternoon, and the vet said all her bloodwork came back normal.


I can cut out the morning meds and assume all is well. She said to watch Sugar's weight and, of course, call if I think there's a problem.

It's a miracle. There's no other way to explain this past month.

My baby is going to make it, and I don't care if that is false hope or not. She's going to make it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

James Baker Hall

We all knew this was coming, but when Charlie casually mentioned he'd heard hospice had been called it was still too much for me to hear.

I called his wife and left a short message but they both already know how much I love them. There's nothing left to say.

What I will remember is his laugh and the clear way he always pronounced my name, each syllable crisp, his long discourses on poetry and literature and ego and ego-lessness. If you're not risking anything, he would tell us in those late afternoons, don't bother to write. He wanted us to come to the page naked and honest, perhaps for the first time in our lives. If you're not risking anything . . .

Too easy, I guess, to say that he made it safe for me to finally risk in my work. During our first conference he said he took me seriously as a writer -- the first person who ever had.

Over the years I took everything he had to give me, greedy for more without much idea of ever being able to pay back. My first and probably only book of poems is dedicated to him, but it probably won't be published in time for him to see it.

That night so long ago at Tolly Ho's, Carole and Tina and Jim and I sitting around, on our fourth or fifth pitcher, talking about rock 'n roll, and Jim turning to me to ask, "You've been awfully quiet. What do you think?"

And I said, "I was just thinking that I love you." I saw the tears in his eyes and flustered I went on, "I don't mean, you know, . . . " I got up to go to the jukebox to play some Fleetwood Mac song to cover up our embarrassment.

Safe journey, my friend. Safe journey.

April 1935 - June 25, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Charli (and mini-update)

When all the birdies are out I naturally leave their cage doors open so they can go back when they want. I have decided that eating another parrot's food is the highest honor a parrot can give to another, because that's what all the birds in my house do. Eat each other's food, especially if it's the exact same food in their cage.
A few weeks ago the birds were out, and Charli made one of her little treks to Sugar's cage (Sugar was sitting on my shoulder, out of Charli's way). Charli casually ate her fill of Sugar's pellets, then settled in to look out the window for awhile. About five minutes later I glanced over at Charli and see that she is at Sugar's water bottle, having a drink. As I watched, Charli then proceeded to stick her head against the little ball in the water bottle spout. She kept rubbing her head against it, releasing water on the top of her head. She twisted herself this way and that, doing her version of the rain dance, for about three minutes.

Now the water bottle doesn't release a big stream of water, just a little bit, so when Charli was finished she had a patch about a half inch by an eighth inch of head feathers thoroughly soaked. And that was all. Finally satisfied she calmly sauntered back to her cage to preen, having completed her toilet for the evening.

I think I would give anything to know what goes on in a parrot's head.

Today Sugar Franklin solicited scritches from me! She has allowed me to scritch her two or three times since she got sick, but she hasn't jumped on my chest and bent her head and solicited scritches in over a month!

I figure it's for one of four reasons: she truly feels better and is getting back to her "normal" self, she is going to die tonight and is giving me a poignant goodbye gift, she thinks if I scritch her I won't be able to give her meds, or I will quit practicing piano if my fingers are busy scritching.

Right now she is on the back of the couch, napping -- with her head turned backward and firmly tucked in her feathers.

Happy, happy, happy! (but I stiil practiced piano and I still made her take her meds.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sugar Update

The night I made my last post Sugar was quiet and spent the night in the corner of her cage nearest me, no chirping, no fussing. Whatever was going on was not related to a hard molt. I slept very badly on the couch beside her cage.

I was at the vet's the next morning the moment the door opened. By four o'clock the verdict was in: renal failure, be prepared for the worst. I don't want to talk about how devastated I was or how I wandered around the house, completely lost.

The plan was to gavage and hydrate her and for me to bring her home Monday -- if she lived that long. But she did, and she did so well that the vet encouraged me to take her home on Sunday.

I took her in for bloodwork on Tuesday; tests came back astronomically better but still very bad. The vet said Sugar was proving her wrong on all counts, and she had her fingers crossed for us. While we were there they hydrated and gavaged her again.

Because her kidneys aren't working well the uric acid is building up, leading to gout. Her left foot is painful and she doesn't bend it. She is still perching but it's hard for her to climb. The vet explained there's not much to be done about the pain that wouldn't shut down the kidneys. And when things get so bad from pain I'll have to have her euthanized. I think I'd cut my own life short rather than have her suffer unnecessarily for one second.

At home I have to give her three meds in the mornings and four meds in the evening. She hates this. I hate this. She is only eating between 5 and 9 grams of millet a day, and drinking such a small amount of water it's heartbreaking but she's got to have fluids to help her kidneys. I've been giving her watery formula via syringe while I do the meds, mixed with some Pedialyte. It's torture for both of us but I'll do whatever I have to. I'm afraid I'm not getting enough fluids into her.

I don't think she's doing well at home at all, and I'm afraid all the meds I give her are dribbling down the side of her beak since I only have two hands to hold her and the syringe and try to pry her beak open. Yet tonight she did the eagle and earlier today was grinding her beak in her sleep.

At any rate, I'm taking her back to the vet tomorrow morning for hydration, gavage, and meds -- let them be the bad guys for awhile. I told the vet if she thinks Sugar needs to stay the night or even through Sunday I'd do it.

The vets and entire hospital have been wonderful to us. My friends have been so wonderful and supportive to me I'll never be able to thank them enough. Sugar Franklin is my baby -- she changed my entire life for the better. I grateful for each extra day she's with me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Sugar Franklin

I opened Sugar's cage when I got home today, but she stayed on her perch. I left the door open in case she changed her mind while I went around doing after-work stuff.

Later I picked her up and was astonished at how light she felt. She hadn't felt that light last night. I weighed her -- 94 grams. Her normal weight flucuates between 98 and 101. She's been having a very hard intense molt this week, so I'm hoping that's all this is.

I gave her a big spray of millet, which she pounced on like she was starving. For just a few minutes. Then it was back to her perch -- only she seemed to move weakly and not as certainly as she usually moves.

Now she's sitting on my shoulder, her little eyes closed, both feet firmly planted on my gown.

If she hasn't perked up by tomorrow, it's back to the vet.

This little 11-year-old bunch of yellow feathers is breaking my heart.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Charli and Her Book

Here is Charli, my African brown-headed parrot, chewing up my copy of Will Shortz' Little Black Book of Suduko. Don't worry -- I'd already worked all the puzzles, and she doesn't ingest any of the paper. Sometimes she gets so involved in chewing that her little feet actually come up off the surface.

This is her favorite toy (after me, of course).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Little Flash and Nicholas showcased tonight!

Let's see -- Sugar Franklin acted ever so slightly distressed on Saturday; tail bobbing just a tiny bit, sleeping a lot. She'd laid an egg on Tuesday, so I knew there was another one on the way despite my very best lectures to her. The vet's office closes at noon on Saturday so I rushed her in, whereupon she perked up enough to make a liar out of me. She was about 5 grams heavier than usual, and the vet felt the mass without a shell. That one only cost me $55, but I'm made of money, you know.

She laid a perfect egg on Sunday morning, whereupon she's been her usual feisty aggravating self.

Work has been quiet this week; my supervisor is on vacation. Thank you, God.

The weather is typical for us this time of year. Seventy degrees one day, snow the next. It rained most of last weekend and was warm this week, but they're warning us of snow for the weekend,

I've been having all kinds of epiphanies (I don't think that's spelled right) related to my piano lessons. My self-talk is not good, and I'm way too hard on myself and get frustrated because I can't "do it right," which leads to more negative self-talk, which leads to more frustration and the growth of nine extra fingers, none of which will strike the right key.

O is going to Europe for three weeks, and she gave me three weeks' worth of homework. Mostly scales, which I hate, but these are supposed to help me learn to play with hands in one position and then lift my hands to move to another position. This sounds so easy I imagine my two readers are lifting their eyebrows, but believe me it is incredibly difficult to move and get your fingers all arranged in a completely different position within the space of a quarter note. Even though she always insists I go as slow as I need to, but still.

Last week's lesson included a song in which I was to play stacco (short, clipped notes) with my left hand while playing legato (smooth and connected) with my right. At the same time. I simply could not and still can't do it. O and I had a really bad lesson this week because of it, but we worked it out.

I bought a metronome a couple of weeks ago. I'd never seen one other than on TV before. It's a little electronic, digital thing that will beep from 40 beats a minute to over 200 beats a minute. I tend to stay around 64 to 68. It will do all manner of other things but I have no clue what they are or what good they'd do me. Anyway, it sort of made me feel like a real musician. Or at least a reasonable facsimile of one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm taking tonight off from piano practice, laundry, writing, cooking, and anything else I'm supposed to do.

I took some pictures of my beloved Sugar Franklin, and I'm going to try to upload a little video. This may be the video that ends with me tilting the camera up to the ceiling, but I don't know yet how to deal with the software to fix that.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday Blues

Been raining all day. Spring rain but still rain.

I'm seeing someone at the credit union Monday about refinancing my house. He said on the phone he didn't think rates would go down much more so I guess I may as well do it and get it over with. I seriously doubt I'll ever get this house paid for.

I applied for an online instructor position with a local community college, and got hired on the condition I went through the Blackboard training. I kept having technical problems -- their system wouldn't accept my password -- so the woman who "hired" me said since I was having problems I should take more time to learn more technical stuff as well as Blackboard. Their system won't let me in and she says it's my problem.

OK. Suddenly the system is now working so I finish my online Blackboard training and take the certification test, and miss one question over the limit. Then I disappear from the system. I ask what happened and now get told they couldn't let me teach now even if I had passed the test because I have no online experience teaching (this is not quite true, but they decide to ignore that) nor enough training. I asked how exactly I'm supposed to get this experience and this extra training, and she tells me "You're an intelligent woman, you know what to do."

Yep. I am an intelligent woman and I know when I'm getting jerked around. So I've wasted a ton of time and the cost of having transcripts mailed to them -- for nothing.

But there are other community and business colleges that offer online classes, so I'll apply to them, too.

Meanwhile, things are quiet at work. For awhile anyway. Tomorrow is my mid-year review, and I dare my supervisor to say one damn word to me about that awful situation with that awful woman. My supervisor told me months ago it wouldn't be reflected on my evaluation, but my supervisor is not exactly what you'd call trustworthy about that kind of stuff. We'll see.

The administration has sent around a survey to measure employee satisfaction. What a joke -- we've done this several times before and nothing changes. They get up there and announce how happy we all are then everything goes back to what passes for normal. This time they're offering door prizes. And still the response rate is dismally low. The survey gave us three small lines to include our suggestions or comments -- I added three single-spaced pages, which probably hit the trash right off.

Hmmm, writing all this it's suddenly obvious I'm pretty angry, which I didn't realize. Good idea to get out in print.

On the birdie front, Sugar Franklin laid an egg yesterday, despite my very exact instructions not to.

I gave all the birds a soaking bath today, partly to avoid practicing piano. But I finally did sit down at the keyboard and try to do this impossible thing O wants me to do. But I can't seem to make my fingers work right.

sigh . . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Neighbors' Mysteries Revealed!

Busy, busy, busy, which is not really an excuse (except that it is) for not making an entry sooner.

Had a really good piano lesson tonight with O. I actually managed to do a decent job of a murderously difficult (for me) piece.

I made up my mind about what I would be willing to pay to have a water line installed so I could have ice and cold water from my new frig. When I got a quote from my plumber it was exactly what I was willing to pay (no, I hadn't given my plumber a hint). Now I can say it's worth two or three times what I paid to have it hooked up; I love it.

I finally bought a digital camera! It takes great pictures and videos, though I'm finding the videos hard to upload because they're so big. But I plan to do more when I get a chance. I really enjoy taking pictures of my babies with the 12X optical zoom.

Now -- about the neighbors! Continuing line of different cars and trucks coming and going. One day I noticed that one of my fence planks was nearly rotted and broken, and the neighbors had put their trash containers in front of it to help keep their dog in. So the next time I saw the man I told him I would get a new plank and replace the broken one. He said he'd be glad to nail it up if I'd lend him a hammer and some nails.

So last Saturday I went beside his house with the plank (I was going to do it myself), and called nicely to the dog tied up in the backyard. When he started barking the young black woman came out and warned me off until she got the dog inside. The man came out and offered to nail up the plank. I ain't no fool about work -- so I let him.

Turns out his name is Milton and he's got 8 children. When I asked him if he ever found out what was causing it he burst out laughing. I asked where he worked, and he said he was on disability. Turns out he'd been shot something like 9 or 10 times during a home invasion crime wave we'd had a year or so ago. "I drove into my garage and there they were," he said. "I gave 'em my wallet, thinking that's all they wanted." It was then I realized all the scars on his body (he was wearing a sleeveless tee-shirt) were healed-over bullet holes. He said he'd been in the hospital for 11 months. That's why he has two dogs now (I thought he only had one); to warn him if there are any prowlers. There is no garage with his house next door.

He has a son in Florida who was due to visit the next day (and a car with Florida plates did arrive the next day). There were two cute little boys hanging out in the yard, who turned out be his sons and evidently were visiting that weekend. Plus there's a baby (or two?). I didn't ask how many mothers were involved in this extended family.

He kept calling me "ma'am," which I encouraged him not to do, but he said it was a habit. I like polite people.

Neighbors' Mysteries Revealed!

Busy, busy, busy, which is not really an excuse (except that it is) for not making an entry sooner.

Had a really good piano lesson tonight with O. I actually managed to do a decent job of a murderously difficult (for me) piece.

I made up my mind about what I would be willing to pay to have a water line installed so I could have ice and cold water from my new frig. When I got a quote from my plumber it was exactly what I was willing to pay (no, I hadn't given my plumber a hint). Now I can say it's worth two or three times what I paid to have it hooked up; I love it.

I finally bought a digital camera! It takes great pictures and videos, though I'm finding the videos hard to upload because they're so big. But I plan to do more when I get a chance. I really enjoy taking pictures of my babies with the 12X optical zoom.

Now -- about the neighbors! Continuing line of different cars and trucks coming and going. One day I noticed that one of my fence planks was nearly rotted and broken, and the neighbors had put their trash containers in front of it to help keep their dog in. So the next time I saw the man I told him I would get a new plank and replace the broken one. He said he'd be glad to nail it up if I'd lend him a hammer and some nails.

So last Saturday I went beside his house with the plank (I was going to do it myself), and called nicely to the dog tied up in the backyard. When he started barking the young black woman came out and warned me off until she got the dog inside. The man came out and offered to nail up the plank. I ain't no fool about work -- so I let him.

Turns out his name is Milton and he's got 8 children. When I asked him if he ever found out what was causing it he burst out laughing. I asked where he worked, and he said he was on disability. Turns out he'd been shot something like 9 or 10 times during a home invasion crime wave we'd had a year or so ago. "I drove into my garage and there they were," he said. "I gave 'em my wallet, thinking that's all they wanted." It was then I realized all the scars on his body (he was wearing a sleeveless tee-shirt) were healed-over bullet holes. He said he'd been in the hospital for 11 months. That's why he has two dogs now (I thought he only had one); to warn him if there are any prowlers. There is no garage with his house next door.

He has a son in Florida who was due to visit the next day (and a car with Florida plates did arrive the next day). There were two cute little boys hanging out in the yard, who turned out be his sons and evidently were visiting that weekend. Plus there's a baby (or two?). I didn't ask how many mothers were involved in this extended family.

He kept calling me "ma'am," which I encouraged him not to do, but he said it was a habit. I like polite people.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Parrots Teach Man to Speak Again

Brian Wilson, from Damascus, Maryland, suffered life-threatening injuries in the accidnet (sic) 14 years ago. He also lost his ability to speak.

But he now claims that the chatter of pet parrots confounded the bleak outlook of doctors, who were convinced that he would spend the rest of his life in bed at a nursing home.

"Two birds taught me to talk again," he said. "I had such a bad head injury I was never supposed to talk any more than a two-year-old."

But two of the birds that he had had as pets since he was a child "just kept talking to me and talking to me".

"Then all of a sudden, a word popped out, then two, then more."

To show his gratitude to the birds who helped him on the path to rehabilitation, Mr Wilson has devoted his life to feathered pets whose owners are no longer able or want to keep them.

He now shares his home with about 80 brightly plumed exotic birds, from snow-white cockatoos to scarlet or blue and green macaws to African grey parrots.

He has set up a foundation called the Wilson Parrot Foundation, which also offers the services of the birds to entertain at birthday parties and corporate events.

"You wonder why I rescue birds? They helped me to talk again, so now I take care of them," he said.

from 2/27/09

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Well, the last update saw us with a statewide emergency situation of an ice storm. Then it snowed about four inches. Then, in a day or so, it turned 60 degrees for a couple of days. Typical weather around here.

It was 50 degrees here this afternoon, and by 7 we were having a mini-blizzard so thick I could barely see to drive home from the movies with a friend.

Let's see -- last week my 14.5 year old refrigerator died, which I did not appreciate. I'm used to appliances lasting and lasting and lasting. But, as my cousin reminded me, appliances today are loaded with features and mostly made in China. So I bit the bullet and bought a new one. My old refrigerator was very wide and the door wouldn't open completely all the way without hitting the stove (I have a pitifully small kitchen), but I just put seldom-used stuff on that side.

So I bought a side-by-side with ice/water dispenser, even though I don't need or really want them. The only models they had without the dispenser was $1,400 -- no, it doesn't make sense to me either. I don't have a water line set up for the dispenser, so I've called my plumber to see how much that would cost. He hasn't called me back, which makes me think it'll cost way more than I can afford. Lucky me, my income tax refund will pay for the frig.

It took a week for the frig to be delivered, and I threw out everything -- most of it old anyway. And today went grocery shopping. It ain't easy living without a frig for a week, and I had to refill my cooler every day.

Everything else is about the same. I've been really busy with (y'all send your pictures in now, ya hear?), and the chorus and just general life stuff.

Every evening I wonder why I want to learn how to play piano when I hate to practice so much, but O keeps after me and I'm very slowly progressing. I don't really mind practicing when I'm actually sitting at the keyboard, but it's so hard to make myself go do it. And my fingers keep getting confused about where they're supposed to be. O laughs and says it's my brain that controls my fingers, not the other way around. But I'm not convinced.

The chorus' winter concert was about a month ago, and we all wore evening gowns or long pants. I bought a teal sparkly gown with a deep neckine, and every move I made it threatened to release my breasts. But the bosoms stayed where they belonged and I enjoyed wearing something long and formal, so it all worked out (so to speak). I kidded my singing mates that I was the resident slut -- somebody has to do it, you know.

I've discovered and am really enjoying keeping up with my friends all over the country -- some of whom I actually know in person.

The publishing house that's publishing my poetry book contacted me -- it should be out in June, but he's concerned about the title. I had one title then changed it. He said the new one matches a zillion titles already in, and would I consider changing it again. So tonight I decided to title the book with the title of the penultimate poem in the book.

The birds are wonderfully spoiled and demanding, just as they should be. I just posted about a little game I've started with Charli.

I think that's about it! More news as it happens . . .

Charli Toes

I've started a little routine with my brown-headed parrot Charli. When it's time for bed, I cover up three sides of her cage. She likes to hang upside in the dark corner of the cage and watch the procedure.

One night, who knows why, I gently touched one of her toes while she was hanging upside down and said, "One Charli toe!." Then I touched the next toe and said, "Two Charli toe!", and so on. When I got to "Eight Charli toe!" I said it in an excited voice and patted all of her toes clinging to the bars of the cage. Then I told her it was sleepy time (code words) and pulled down the fourth cover of her cage.

She doesn't like her feet touched, but she tolerated this well. So I did this the next night, and she seemed to like it. Or at least tolerate it -- as you would the ravings of a lunatic -- no harm, just wait till it's over.

Now, of course, it's a nightly ritual. When I forget and start to pull down the last cover, she'll chirp and look at me, upside down. So I have to go play Charli Toes with her. It's very sweet. A friend of mine saw me do it one night and she just laughed. She has parrots, so she understands how insane they make us.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Second Thought

This morning I awoke to the trees being coated with an inch of ice, branches bowed down to the ground. Some of the branches were touching my house and there was an occasional whoosh and crack as more limbs broke off.

We got two more inches of snow on top of the inch of ice. And, of course, the power went back out at quarter past noon. I waited until about 3, then packed up the birds and went to C's house. The utilities company said power was out for over 500,000 in the state and they expected it would take two weeks before power would be completely restored.

Around two (and the main reason I left) the young woman from next door came over to ask again if I was all right because they were leaving again. She handed me a piece of paper with two numbers on it -- "my grandma's number" and "my number." No names, which wouldn't do me any good anyway, since I don't know my neighbors' names.

I aged about 30 more years after this encounter, just as I did last night. But C's husband explained to me that the city was urging everyone to check on their neighbors if they were elderly or if they lived alone. So I'm going to assume they were nicely checking up on me because I live alone rather than thinking I'm old, old, old.

Very kind of them and I suppose I need to ask their names. sigh . . .

It was tricky getting out of my subdivision but once I got onto the main roads I was okay. The temperatures were around 30 and the main roads were wet and blocked with the occasional fallen limb. But the temperature is dropping to the 20s and the wet roads are frozen.

About the only way I'll know if the power is back on my house is to drive over there, and I'm not too eager to do that on frozen streets. So C and I and three of her daughters and her green-check conure are watching Youtube. And giggling. Her umbrella cockatoo is trying to sleep under his covers beside the kitchen table where we're all gathered. My babies are in their little travel cages in the basement with their covers over them. Soon I'll be down there with them to sleep on the couch.

sigh . . .

I've got my voice back and I fully intend to make dress rehearsal tomorrow night. But the logistics are going to drive me crazy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ice Storm, Neighbors, Darkness . . .

I've been home since Monday afternoon with some version of sinusitis, laying on the couch taking antibiotics and decongestants and occasionally cruising the internet until it's time for another nap.

We had an ice storm here last night -- about an inch of ice over everything and maybe half an inch of snow. Everything looks lovely -- from inside. The local TV people kept telling us this afternoon that tonight would be seriously worse than last night and to not go outside if possible. I took them at their word. Many areas of the city were without power.

Because I work in a hospital I'm expected to be at work no matter the weather or conditions (though they do draw the line at risking your life to get to the office). Even though all I do is shuffle papers, I'm still expected to be there. So I felt a little guilty that I was home sick while all this awful weather was happening, and knowing how my co-workers were scraping ice off their cars and braving the icy roads. Plus you're never allowed to take sick leave during a weather or other emergency unless you have "proof" of illness. But I have the receipt from the doctor's office and my little cache of drugs as proof to anyone.

I was laying on the couch, not watching the TV that was on, when the power went out. I had already put the birds to bed, i.e., put the covers over their cages. I had my laptop in my lap so I used its light to make my way to the hall closet where I had put my big flashlight. Except that it wasn't there. I help my laptop at different angles to search but finally gave up. I found one of those cheap round battery-operated lights you're supposed to be able to stick on your walls, but they never worked long for me. But this one worked. And I did manage to find my Black & Decker SnakeLight, which I love.

Back to the couch I went, when I heard something crunching through hard snow across my front yard. Then someone began banging on my door. I took my little round disc light, opened the front door, and shone the light at the person there. It was a young black woman, her face nearly hidden in her faux fur hood. Was I okay, she asked.

I noticed the big truck next door was running and could see its tail lights lit. I assured her I was fine and then I asked if she was from next door. She smiled and said yes.

"Y'all leaving," I asked.

"Yeah, we're going to grandma's!"

"Have a good time," I said, as she crunched her way back to the truck. I could almost smell the popcorn and hot cocoa.

Our subdivision is completely dead without light, and many people leave when there's a power outage. So it was nice of the neighbors to ask about me. But it also made me feel approximately 2,319 years old. You know, the old lady in the neighborhood that parents make their children "check on."

Back to the couch, as befits an "old" person. I propped the light on my belly and read my way through my latest issue of The Sun (a magazine I highly recommend). Time passed.

An hour. Ninety minutes. The occasional snap and crash of a limb breaking under the weight of ice. Sirens. The sound of tires far off spinning on ice.

I had a blanket on the couch (again, like an "old" person would have) and I tried to map out what I would do if the temperature dropped into the 20s or teens. My entire house is electric. It was feeling a bit chilly but more like walking into a really cool room after being out in the hot sun.

Two hours.

My car is covered with ice and mired in hard crunchy snow. If things got bad I'd have to take my birds somewhere. How long would it take me to clean off and warm up the car? Should I call my vet's office or home now to reserve a space? Should I just wait it out? The temperature had hovered around 30 all day and my house is pretty well insulated, so I decided to wait it out.

Several years ago we had a horrible ice storm. Power out in my area for seven days; some other areas ten days. And it was very, very cold. I managed to get my birds to a pet store that was accepting animals and still had power -- my vet's office was overflowing by the time I realized the power wasn't coming back on. For two nights I slept at the hospital -- the first night on the floor of my office because I couldn't find a security guard to let me onto the floor where some beds were open; the second night in a room overlooking the emergency entrance. It was a bad storm and a bad experience for most of the state, and we all learned a lot from it.

Would I have to do the same thing tonight? Plus I was sick and being out in the ice wouldn't help matters at all. I had made my doctor swear that the antibiotics and decongestants would work in time so that I could sing at dress rehearsal Thursday night and the concert Saturday night -- this was no time to risk getting sicker if it could be avoided.

Two and a half hours. I finished The Sun and dug around the shelf under the coffee table for another magazine to read. I asked the birds if they were all right, but of course they refused to answer.

A flicker of light, darkness, then full power returned. And stayed. It's been back on for about 30 minutes now, and the heat pump is on in full force. It got to 61 degrees in the house so the birds were in no danger, and everything in the refrigerator is just about as cold as it was three hours ago, so that's fine, too.

It's still very pretty outside though -- all that ice coating all those limbs, shining in the street lights.

I'm going to bed, and I'll be leaving a little light on. Just in case.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Another woman missing tonight, according to the evening news. She was last seen two days ago,arguing with her boyfriend.

It seems to me there have been a lot of missing and murdered women making the news around here for several months now. One had dementia and was found frozen to death. One owns a farm and was last seen with a handy man who'd been recently fired. A woman and her children shot and then left in a burning house.

Six months ago it was horribly abused and neglected children making the news; many of the children died a day or so after being rescued. And of course neighbors come out of the woodwork and claim they knew the abuse was going on, and that they had repeatedly reported it, but no action was ever taken or social services would investigate and determine all was well. What the hell are our social services doing?

My mother lives in a small town, and she told me one afternoon about two little girls who lived with their parents in a trailer a few blocks away from my mom. The little girls were not allowed to wear panties. A local church, knowing how poor the family was, gave the girls several new dresses, which the parents immediately took back to the store and got the money for. Presumably to buy drugs -- according to the grape vine.

I called state social services and said I suspected the girls were being sexually abused, that not allowing a girl to wear panties is not what you'd call healthy and normal. And you know what I was told? That no investigation could happen because it might be a religious belief to not wear underwear. The incident of returning the dresses was explained as the parents' right and since I had not seen any drug use or purchase the agency had nothing to go on.

From what I understand, the father was arrested for drug abuse a few months later. This was about a year ago, and my mother has no idea what happened to the wife and girls. Or the father.

My mom's been in the hospital about fifty miles away since Thursday morning with suspected pneumonia that turned out to not be pneumonia but is probably bronchitis and/or a severe sinus infection. She's on heavy duty antibiotics, steroids, and some kind of breathing treatments, which she hates. She's always been nervous and talks a lot, but the steroids have her talking non-stop. I've called her several times a day and she just talks and talks and talks; I doubt she's heard a word I've said. Today I drove down there and stayed with her a couple of hours today and I don't think she was quiet for a total of five minutes. She's pretty much lost her voice to congestion today, so it was doubly hard to listen to her talk, talk, talk, with her voice gone. I kind of felt sorry for the nurses and aides who happened to stop in -- it's hard to get away when she gets started. She had some true crime program on the TV, which she wasn't watching, and she got four phone calls while I was there. She's not allowed any sugar because of the steroids so she's frantic for a coke or candy bar, which no one will give her. I brought her a bag of sugar-free chocolate-covered mints but I don't think she liked them. Poor thing. The doctor says she'll be fine, but they don't plan to let her go home until Monday or Tuesday.

I've been thrilled with Obama until he made an ass of himself yesterday during a cabinet meeting. Bragging that he'd won the election and implying everyone has to do what he says. That's not very bipartisan and I was very disappointed. I hope he doesn't turn into an ego-maniacal monster.

Charli took a hunk out of my thumb tonight. I was putting her back in her cage and I guess she didn't want to go. She'd been out for about an hour, diligently chewing up a book (one that she's allowed to chew up), and then discovering a five-dollar bill and a one-dollar bill on the table. She left chew marks in both of them, and we fought over who was going to keep the bills. I had remembered to put up my change since Charli enjoys picking up coins and dropping them on the floor (they make such a nice sound, you understand), so we didn't have to fight over loose change.

It was 57 degrees yesterday, dropped to 27 last night, and got all the way back up to 32 today. Probably snow tonight. Tomorrow the chorus is scheduled to sing the national anthem for the opening of a women's basketball game. I got my nerve up and volunteered to sing in a small group at our winter concert. I do not have a solo-type of voice, but I really like this song and the director relegated it to a small group.

Well, I guess I've complained enough. It's depressing to keep hearing about missing or murdered women and abused children, so maybe Saturday Night Live will not be a repeat tonight and I can go to bed with a grin on my face instead of a furrowed brow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nice cold Sunday afternoon. Just a touch of snow.

Yesterday I had breakfast with the woman who was my best friend back in junior high (no, we didn't have middle school back in the Dark Ages). She showed me pictures of her six grandchildren and caught me up on forty years of her history. Then I caught her up on forty years of my history. She and I work for the same university medical center, but that place is so huge we would have never met.

When we were hanging out together, we'd go up into her room on the top floor, which had a window that looked out onto a busy city street. We'd open that window and sing Beatle songs as loud as we could to all the people passing by. And we'd serenade adults when we were walking on the sidewalks.

I talked to her a lot about the all-women's chorus I'm in yesterday and tried to convince her she'll have as much fun as we used to have. But I don't think she'll even consider it.

I went to our ten year high school reunion, and remember looking for her but not finding her. Then I never heard from a reunion committee again. Turns out she has never heard of any reunion at all -- until last week she just happened to get an e-mail from an old friend who mentioned our 40th reunion. I tell you what, they really need to do some marketing work! We agreed to go and give 'em hell.

Then I bit the bullet and went to several big box stores to buy a flat screen TV. My old television was over 20 years ago -- so old that even the new converter box would need an accessory to work. It was 19 inch so I didn't want to go smaller than that, and I didn't want to pay more than $200.

Ha! I ended up getting a 19 inch with DVD player at Best Buy. It was marked $329 and after I begged and asked and threatened, he brought down the price to $299.

I spent several hours last night setting everything up. I already have a combo DVD/VCR so that took some figuring out. At the store I kept thinking I had two separate components -- a DVD player and a VCR. When I got home and realized it was a combo I realized I didn't need the DVD player on the TV and should probably take it back and get a bigger screen. But the store is in Mall Hell South, and I don't feel like dismantling it, packing it, driving out there, and then starting all over. The TV still needed my old antenna since reception is very bad in my neighborhood. No, I don't have cable and have no plans to ever get cable. Then I settled in and watched some TV. The screen really is 19 inches (you measure diagonally), but it's wider than my old TV and not as tall. But the picture is very nice and I'm glad I don't have to worry about all that conversion stuff next month.

The Evil Person at work is still causing problems. So I'm going to Employee Relations this week to start the process. It'll be on file in case I have to file a grievance (or sue). Of course, I don't pretend that Employee Relations will actually say or do anything to help me -- they work for the university, not the employees. But it'll be on record.

I was off about 10 days between Christmas and New Year's -- and I was so happy and rested. And productive -- I got a ton of little stuff done so I don't have to worry about it anymore. Now I get to worry about tons of new little stuff. I could get so much done if only I didn't have to work.

That reminds me -- I need to check my lottery tickets!

Unfortunately, I only practiced piano once while I was off, and only practiced songs for the upcoming concert once. My piano teacher, O, reassigned all three pieces again until I get it right.

Flash's follow-up visit showed the place on his foot is smaller and about ready to scab over and fall off. We still don't know what caused it. The vet said the enzyme levels that indicate tissue damage were very, very high. So I agreed to have them tested again -- just to be sure (plus I'm sure the clinic needs the money!). It came back perfectly.

Sugar has perched herself on my left shoulder, the better to poop down the front of my shirt and stand closer to my ear when she decides it needs to be bitten. Charli is in some kind of trance on my right, chewing up my Little Black Book of Sudoku (I've already done all the puzzles except for the dreadfully hard ones, so its okay for her to chew on it).

Now I'm going to go get some lunch. I've been waiting until the church crowds thin out a little, but I'm hungry and am not going to wait any longer.