Monthly Archives: November 2016

A Pica Named Tiny

Catharina Lind is a Swedish journalist, a published author, and a fascinating person. We met through Ancestry.com because Catharina’s husband wanted to discover what happened to a relative who immigrated to the United States. It turns out that this relative married my father’s first cousin. My dad’s cousin’s husband (called Swede by everyone) is someone I knew as a child–and I played with his daughters.

Before I even knew Catharina was a writer, she wrote me a charming story about her favorite pica (magpie) in a conversational email (not a formal story). Magpies have always fascinated me, although we don’t have them in Arizona, so I was particularly tickled to read about Tiny. In fact, I wrote about my love of magpies on this blog 3 1/2 years ago. Catharina lived in the United States for awhile because of her husband’s job, but they are back living in Sweden–with a pica named Tiny.

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

We have between 20-23 hours of daylight during the summer–around the solstice it’s never really dark. Another thing that I miss from Dallas: warm, dark evenings with candlelight dinners.

I’m sitting by the kitchen windows, and my “little” Pica Pica almost crashed into the window right now. The snow is picking up and it’s rather windy. He is a magpie, similar to the Black-billed magpie. He is the toughest bird I have ever met.

He was born last year, a tiny, tiny little magpie with a damaged wing. Our house has two additional wings on each side, and there is a yard between the three houses. The fourth side has a very large hedge, so it’s secluded. He was such a little bird, so we named him Tiny. We fed him cat food, or more exactly the leftovers from our spoiled cat. According to a website that’s supposed to work for a Pica as they need protein and veggies.

Stefan had left some branches in a pile and Tiny moved in underneath them. Most of the days he walked around the yard, eating and poking around. When he got scared he either returned to his pile or sprinted into the hedges; he didn’t fly. We don’t know if he fell out from the nest or if it was a birth defect. His wing has a very strange angle and he can’t stretch it.

He wasn’t forgotten though–a few times per day his parents and siblings came by, spent some time with him on the ground, and then flew off. We weren’t sure that Tiny would survive the winter, but he did. He learned to fly a little, 10-15 feet at the most; but he flew. When the snow fell he sat on a lamp, curled up next to the wall.

Tiny is still living in our yard, but I think we gave him the wrong name. Imagine the largest magpie you can think of and add a big white belly. Then add an extra inch around the waist and you have a gigantic magpie with an obesity problem; that’s Tiny.

He’s getting better and better at flying, but he doesn’t fly much. He spends most of his days eating around the yard–hence the big belly. He and our cat have great respect for one another and they help each other by chasing away neighboring cats, especially the big, red nemesis next door.

Then in August something special happened: he got a girlfriend. Magpies mate for life, so I really hope this works out. We call her Tina and she is an adorable, little girl; though shy and scared of us. They are so cute together. They spend their days poking around the yard. Then she flies up into a tree, teasing him to follow her; but she is never out of reach.

His flying skills have improved tremendously since Tina came into the picture. They don’t fly far, nor high. She is a few feet above him, flying as slow as she possibly can. Sometimes she makes a loop so he can catch up. He, on the other hand, flaps his crooked wing as hard as he can and you can see how tough it is for him to keep up, but he doesn’t give up. A few times per day she needs to stretch her wings properly, so she flies high and he sits in his little tree looking at her. That bird has such a strength in him and he never gives up, regardless of the odds.

I really hope they have a nest next year.  It’s going to be interesting to see if their kids will live on the ground or fly like regular magpies.

Now this became much longer then intended, but that’s what happens when one’s favorite Pica almost crashes into a window. With flying difficulties comes bad aiming and a strange landing tecnique.

Upper left:  from last winter, with Tiny on his lamp post next to the house

Upper right: a little earlier this autumn

Lower left: Tina (on the left) with her love Tiny

Lower right: Tiny, taken just the other day

If you loved Tiny’s story, please check out Catharina’s blog! Who knew that this new relative-by-marriage was a blogger?!

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Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Stories Horses Have Told My Cousin

Although I have been working on and off for years on a family history and photograph project, I don’t bring it up too terribly often over here. I have collected antique and vintage family photos from many branches of my family–once I showed an interest to my grandparents years ago, the whole family has been directing heirlooms my way. It’s very time-consuming, and I’ve had to do a lot of genealogical research to put information in order.

Through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo, and Ancestry.com I’ve met (online mainly) soooo many people who have helped me. It’s astonishing. I now have friends in Europe, as well as the United States who are relatives, distant cousins, or related by “someone-somewhere’s” marriage. These are all such special people. And they all have fabulous stories.

I was introduced to my cousin Jeane by a genealogist friend who I met through The Family Kalamazoo. Her father and my father were first cousins, but they never met, to my knowledge. Her father was older than mine and the families had become more distant as years went on. I hope I can meet Jeane in person. She lives in the east, on a lovely horse farm (a post-retirement project), and loves–get this–animals and writing. She is also involved in animal rescue. 🙂

When Jeane was a girl she dreamed, as so many girls, of having her own horse. She imagined riding the horse and the bond they would have. But after she retired, and after years of dog rescue, she fell in love with a horse named Virgil that had been abused. Jeane had to board him as she had no place to keep him. Eventually, she and her husband got their own farm because of Virgil and other horses. Through him, Jeane began to learn how difficult the lives of horses can be. She also learned to place a high value on communication with horses.

Jeane has written a collection of short stories called Stories My Horses Have Told Me. The background of each horse that Jeane adopted is detailed in these stories. After adopting four rescues, Jeane tells us:

 

After five years of dreaming and searching, we arrived at our farm in the middle of June 2004 with four horses.  As each horse stepped off the trailer they were led to a stall and allowed to rest.  Each had hay and fresh water.  All were anticipating their first turn-out into their new fields.

Although the four horses all came from different families, they bonded immediately.  They were now a family.

What we didn’t realize is that our herd was not complete yet.  Star was waiting for us . . . .

We swore we would never buy a horse.  There are horses needing adoption or rescue and that was our focus – until Star.

Jeane has had a couple of wonderful horse whisperers helping her to communicate with her horses. One of them was able to communicate with Star.

Star talked about being cold.  She said she never wanted to be cold again.  We didn’t understand then that she was talking about her sale in January, being shaved, with no shelter or blanket in her new home.  That information came in a conversation with her previous owner.  I asked what time of year he bought her and under what circumstances.  Then I asked if she had been shaved.  When he said “yes,” I asked had he blanketed her.  “Lord no! She’s a horse.”

To sum up Star’s previous life:

What we know about Star’s previous life is that there had been seven owners in her short five years.  Her owners had not been kind, treating and riding her roughly. Her winter coat had been shaved off in January 2004 so she would present as sleek and shiny for a horse sale.  Her new owner didn’t have shelter and did not offer her a blanket to protect her from the sub-freezing temperatures, and she was cold.  She also endured being stabbed with a pitchfork, a broom handle broken over her head, and her halter used as a weapon to make her obey.  She had little patience, and no trust in humans.

There was more, much more, to Star then met the eye.  She was not a happy horse.  She was a loner, not wanting to interact with any of the herd.  Something about her made you feel so sad.  There was someone special she was searching for.

That someone special was not to be Jeane, but it’s a tribute to Jeane’s love for animals that she recognizes that every horse is different and with different needs. Star was determined to be a highly intelligent horse.

What an extraordinary horse.  But her trust in humans remained unchanged regardless of our efforts.  She would leave the barn as we entered, wanting as little contact as possible, but that didn’t happen the day a friend arrived for a visit.  Their eyes locked, Star walked up to her and life suddenly had purpose.  Michele is a professor at a university in Washington, DC.  Star sensed the intelligence – an equal.  The connection couldn’t be denied and Star soon went to live with Michele.

###

We don’t always have control over the destinies of our horses.  We always hope we are making the right decisions.  Often there are difficult choices, but if we learn to listen to them it will make their lives, and ours, better.  They are always talking – take the time to listen.

Michele is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  From England, she now calls the US home.  An accomplished equestrian, along with many other talents, she continues to ride and train in dressage.  Michele and Star make an incredible team!

Heroes for the animals come in so many styles. Jeane’s has been to make her home a refuge for all manner of needy animals (including cats :)!). Obviously, I’m thrilled to find this cousin of mine and hope we get to meet before too long.

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Have you visited Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art blog? She creates delicate drawings; many of the subjects are birds and flowers. Her most recent work is of “still lifes with Killiney Beach stones, succulents, and blue ceramics.” I’ve been a fan for several years now. The other day I picked up my mail only to discover a special gift from Paula, sent from Ireland: a packet of her beautiful note cards. I was so excited I even showed my cats!

 If you visit Paula’s art shop you will see that she has quite a variety of artwork available, including from Buddhist to Pagan to Christian and Jewish holidays.  She even has a lesbian bird couple.

Thanks so much, Paula!

I’m moving forward on the memoir–I’m up to page 130 of 162 (or SO) in streamlining the change in structure. It feels strange to be enmeshed in the story again . . . .

I went to the doctor this week to get my toenails cut (you can stop reading if this “grosses you out”). I had a toe injured a few years ago when my son was dating the wrong person (he’s now engaged to the right person), and I was so discombobulated and clumsy that I banged my toe really really hard and permanently disfigured the toenail.  You should have heard me yell, by the way. Anyway, with my primary lymphedema (which makes me very susceptible to infections), my antibiotic allergies, and my post-tumor foot reconstruction, I figure that I really need the medical help with the old toe nails. Well, they kicked me out of Mayo. I can no longer get my toenails clipped there. And why? They have no room for me. I am considered “moderate risk,” and they only want “high risk.” Notice my tag of #patientabadonment. Well, darn them.

At least they had pretty flowers–a bit on the going out side, but still cheerful. I can probably take them as a metaphor.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Art and Music, Blogging, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Writing

Lazybones Blog Post

After a difficult week, I offer some of the more positive views I experienced (outside of my post-election distress, complicated migraine, screwed-up-and-painful leg, and ridiculously hectic travel). Today my father has been gone exactly 18 months.

My peace pole (built and erected by my father) as seen through the palms as a sort of liminal space. Here it is in Korean and English. The other sides are Spanish and Hebrew. Dad chose the languages.

We were in California again this past week. The Virginia Dare winery crusher building in Rancho Cucamonga. The Virginia Dare wine company is close to 200 years old and is now owned by the Coppola family.

The gate of the medical office complex that is part of the Virginia Dare center now. The metal grape leaves are a nice touch. Sorry it is so crooked. I thought I had that problem solved, but apparently not.

A mug with my life’s motto (the mug itself belongs to someone else, but the wine is mine): I just want to drink wine & pet my cat. Or cats. Which I can’t do when I am in California.

The view of Phoenix when I drove back in from California.

And when I got to the house I discovered that Pear and Tiger had decided to share the window seat.

Memoir Writing: Structure

I am doing some writing–just enough to feel as if I am writing. Rewriting my memoir into chronological order is really not difficult. The material is almost completely written–and it seems to more effortlessly fall into place this way. I remember now when I first started putting the  story in a different order. I was in a workshop where the students insisted that because the main secret that is revealed in my book is not HUGE, as in not huge for the public and only huge for me and for my family, that I had to reveal just enough of it up front so that nobody would get the wrong idea. I think this started me on the wrong path that has gone on now for years. I hope my new revelation that they were wrong is correct, otherwise I don’t know how to tell the story. So I am following some hopefully wise advice from Lewis Carroll:

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, California, Cats and Other Animals, Food & Drink, Liminality, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing, Writing Talk

What Does Your Memory Smell?

I’m slowly putting my memoir in chronological order (from age eleven) and deciding which scenes to leave out and which to put back in (that I had already taken out). The story has to be told differently in the order it happened in, as opposed to a present day telling that dips back and forth. Stories connected in a more thematic way before, but now the reader has to be able to follow threads where they may stray farther afield for a while.

There was a scene I’d first written several years ago where my mother tried to persuade me to go to medical school. It has connections to two major threads, so I was thinking of putting it back in. I couldn’t find it anywhere and now wonder how much of my story I’ve inadvertently deleted or lost. But I did find some old writing exercises that were kind of fun.

Here is one from a class with Faith Adiele:

In trying to work on the muscle memory assignment I became very frustrated by all the memories which are not available to me.  I wanted to smell the dirt in Kalamazoo.  When we dug on the playground at McKinley school, which was next door to the celery fields, we pulled out spoonfuls of rich black muck.  Muck holds a lot of water in it, maybe because of the clay base to the soil.

When we planted petunias in the dirt behind the filling station, Grandpa told me that the muck was like Dutch soil and that we knew how to work with it, that it was in our blood.  When we moved to Portage, which is a suburb of Kalamazoo, the soil was brown.  Mom said it was sandy soil from all the lakes in Portage, but I’m not sure it wasn’t just plain brown dirt and that she thought it was sandy in comparison with what she grew up with on Burdick Street.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt, building forts and hiding treasures.  I’d like to put my hands into these soils now, squishing the muck between my fingers and spilling the Portage soil from my cupped hand.  I’d like to smell them and see what I can remember.

Instead, I’ve got the Arizona dirt now.  On dry days, it’s tough, light-colored and packed too tightly.  When it rains just a bit, like it did today, and I step outside, it smells like wet sand in the air.   Looking down I see that the dirt has packed even tighter, its matte finish more dense.  It takes me farther from home and my memories.

So I wasn’t able to do my muscle memory exercise, but if I could find a Be-Mo potato chip, I might be able to do it.  Or maybe those little wax pop bottles.

Reading this is like reading my own writing in some ways, but in others, it is like reading something by someone else. After all, I have changed in recent years–and so has my writing and my thoughts about my past. I wasn’t sure what a muscle memory assignment was meant to do, so I had to search for Faith’s assignment. I found it here:

Muscle Memory: Begin to collect sensory souvenirs that you can incorporate into your standard investigations. Avoid the visual, as we tend to over-rely on sight; instead, eat a childhood candy, listen to what was popular on the radio the month your brother left home, lay your cheek against the hammock you brought back from Guatemala. The sense of smell is particularly evocative; spend several minutes with your eyes closed experiencing a jar of your grandmother’s favorite spice or a bottle of your father’s cologne. Now freewrite whatever memories come to mind.

So the idea was to use sense memories as triggers for writing.  I desperately wanted to remember what Kalamazoo muck smells like and was unable to do so. If I recall, I asked someone–probably my father–to mail me some soil.

It’s funny that I was asking for a Be-Mo potato chip or those wax pop bottles of my childhood. I can remember very well what the chips smelled and tasted like and how it felt when the tiny amount of “pop” slid into my mouth from the wax bottle, then the taste and texture of chewing up the wax.

Using your muscle memory, what can you remember?

CAT OF THE WEEK

This is Maverick. I posted earlier about his brother Moe. They need to be adopted together.

Just as I finished this post, I was notified that the shelter is having a lowered fee week for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 6 months. That includes Moe and Maverick!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt