Category Archives: Memoir

The Real Story of Tiny and Catharina

 

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

 

Remember Tiny the magpie? And the love of his life, Tina? And remember Catharina who patiently observed the pair and reported on their goings-on? Check out the story here if you missed that post.

After writing about Catharina and Tiny, I wondered what was going on with Tiny and Tina and would periodically email Catharina to find out.  You might have wondered yourself how they were faring.

Now you can read the whole story of Tiny and Tina and of Catharina, too, in Fly Wings, Fly High!.What you might not realize is that Catharina had a stroke (at quite a young age) and began her recovery around the time that young Tiny was trying to learn how to deal with his screwed-up wing.

MY REVIEW

Catherine Lind’s narrative about her recovery from a stroke is threaded with the story of a wild magpie Lind observes struggling to fly with a deformed wing. Tiny, as Lind names the bird that lives in her yard, works very hard at learning to fly. Lind is inspired as she watches Tiny for months as he keeps trying to fly–first a few feet, then from a little “jungle gym” Lind creates for him, and then to the apple tree to eat the fruit.

Lind finds that Tiny is ever hopeful and persistent. When he tries to land, he isn’t graceful and crashes over and over. Each time, he picks himself up and tries again. He is never downhearted, and he never gives up. But it’s not so easy for Lind who has always prided herself on her skill with words. They are her livelihood and her portal to the world. When the stroke knocks out half her vocabulary in both English and Swedish, she can only communicate by speaking a combination of both languages. Sometimes it seems as if she will never recover.

Watching Tiny’s determination and good spirits, Lind decides to follow his lead and work intensely on her skills by singing, hand exercises, and eventually, telling elaborate stories aloud about Tiny and his life. Reading Fly Wings, Fly High! taught me a great deal about what it is like to experience a stroke, and I was comforted and intrigued by the extraordinary tale of Tiny, whose influence on Lind’s life has been enormous. My life has been enriched by reading this charming story told by a very talented storyteller.

MORE INFO

Catharina’s book is short, like a novella—either a very short novel or a long short story. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle.

 

I so enjoyed the loving detail of the natural world and the animals found within. When I was a kid I loved books that paid attention to this world (Gene Stratton Porter and Louisa May Alcott both managed this accomplishment at times), but I’ve moved away from it as an adult. What a wonderful experience to inhabit that world again.

Additionally, learning about the effects of a stroke from the inside out was fascinating; I’ve never read anything quite like Catharina’s experience.

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Yesterday I washed sweet Perry’s bedding and a hairball fell onto the floor. It had WORMS coming out of it. Right after we began fostering him I took his poo to the vet and paid $ to have it tested at the lab. Must have been at a certain point in the life cycle where it doesn’t show up because this hairball is just jammed with worms. I am being so nice to you not to show it to you. Heh. My stomach is still heaving a little. But imagine how bad his tummy has hurt all this time!

I did work on the galleys for Kin Types. That was fun, but a little difficult with my cataracts. Sigh.

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Filed under Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Inspiration, Kin Types, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Reading, Writing, Writing Talk

How Do I Feel At “The End”?

Generally I am a fan of lyrical memoir and lyrical poetry. Give me metaphors and gorgeous descriptions. Give me something to admire in the way words bounce  off each other and give me a sense of the glorious art of language.

This is not Becky Galli’s memoir. Rethinking Possible, Rebecca Faye Smith Galli’s memoir, is told in a voice that is hers: direct, focused, prepared, smart, communicative, tough, and with a spark of humor.

Becky’s memoir is a must read. Becky’s memoir touched my heart, and I have a hard time writing about it. It’s not like writing about a beautiful artful book. It’s writing about someone’s heart and soul right out there on paper.

Becky’s memoir will be going to film. I wonder who will play Becky.

Becky is a competitive type-A personality, driven to be perfect and nearly reaching it. But God has other plans for her life than what she has envisioned or set up in her personal PowerPoint presentation (metaphor).

In literature, I have never seen a person’s life so beset by one tragedy after another, except in war literature. And yet Becky was prepared for this—prepared by the best. Her pastor father was a marvelous mentor to other pastors, a newspaper columnist, and a clear thinker. He shielded Becky throughout her  upbringing with the strength of his wonderful advice.

That’s why, when I turned the page and encountered a chapter entitled “Farewell to My Father,” I burst completely and utterly into tears. I’m sure the gardener thought I had lost it as he was watching TV nearby.

I could provide you the litany of losses in Becky’s life, but really, what is the point. Please, in this one case at least, take my word for it and read the book.

I travelled through the darkest days with Becky in this book and at the end I am not sad. Amazed, certainly. Gobsmacked, for sure. I am not sad because watching how Becky’s family was transformed has left me in awe of what family is and can be.

I can’t write about this book without tearing up, but I also can’t wait to see that movie when it eventually happens!

 

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Introducing Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, Author of Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience

Meet Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, the author of Rethinking Possible (She Writes Press, June 2017), a memoir that is Galli’s response to living in the wake of extraordinary losses.

Becky (I need to call her by the name I know her by) and I met a few years ago in writing workshops in the Stanford University online writing certificate program where we were cohorts in the creative nonfiction track. In class and in her column and blog, Becky inspires. Although I have read parts of Becky’s story, I am eager to read Rethinking Possible and to learn more about Becky’s unique life and her strength and determination.

Here is a brief bio from Rethinking Possible‘s press kit that sums up why Becky is perfectly positioned to write a story about extraordinary loss, grief, and resilience.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli was born into a family
that valued the power of having a plan. Her 1960s
southern upbringing was idyllic—even enviable. But
life does not always go according to plan, and when
her 17-year-old brother died in a waterskiing accident,
the slow unraveling of her perfect family began.
There was her son’s degenerative, undiagnosed
disease and subsequent death; her daughter’s autism
diagnosis; her separation; and then, nine days after
the divorce was final, the onset of the transverse
myelitis that would leave Galli paralyzed from the
waist down. Despite such devastating tragedy, Galli
maintained her belief in family, in faith, in loving
unconditionally, and in learning to not only accept,
but also embrace a life that had veered down a path
far different from the one she had envisioned.

Look at that sunny smile on Becky’s face. And those gold boots! Wowza!

I pre-ordered Becky’s book a couple of months ago, but Friday Amazon wrote and asked me if I still wanted it. UM, YES!!!! So I hope it will be arriving soon! In the meantime, I asked Becky some questions that had been on my mind while she’s been working on the book.

*Writing a memoir means that the writer has to put herself back into the events she is writing about. Many writers find this very challenging emotionally. As you wrote about so many losses that you have experienced, did you consciously protect yourself in some way during the writing process? How did you cope with reliving the losses?

You are so right. The pain was intense, often relived more than once through the edits. Two things helped me:

 Structure: When I wrote about deep loss in the early stages, I would block off two to three days on my calendar and binge write. I prepared healthy meals ahead (tuna salad, grilled chicken, and tons of boiled eggs), stocked up on my favorite not-so-healthy snacks (Lance cheese crackers, Reese’s® peanut butter cups, and peanut M&M’s), and made sure I had plenty of water, coffee, and green tea. I took breaks, often setting alarms to make sure I got out of the house to walk the dog, grab the mail, or sit on the deck for a change of scenery.

Support: My sister was my anchor. She knew my writing schedule and exactly what I was writing about each day. I would check in with her in the morning and then ask her to call me at the end of the day. She would often help me remember details or give me her point of view about the same scene. Counting on her call and hearing her voice helped me time-block the intensity. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know it is for a finite period of time.

***

*You and I met in the writing program at Stanford. We learned that memoir is both the retelling of the experience and the reflection upon that experience: “What does it mean to me? What did I learn from it? How did it shape who I am today?” So how does reflection figure into Rethinking Possible? What form does it take and how much a part of the book is it?

Reflection is key to the book; in fact, it is baked in its message of “rethinking possible.” Through the years, I’d found comfort and inspiration from many sources so I decided to begin each chapter with a quote, inviting reflection relevant to the chapter’s topic.

Then, the reader witnesses the transformation of “character Becky” through her own self-reflection. After each loss, she reacts, revolts, and is unwilling to accept the unwanted realities about herself or the circumstances that she is facing. She was raised to be a winner, a competitor. She did not like to lose. Through each challenge, the reader sees her stubbornness, her self-absorption, even her arrogant self-righteousness. They also see her pain, her bold questioning, and unvarnished self-doubts:

Why me?

Why my brother?

Why my child?

Why my divorce?

Have I become unlovable?

Yet, she does not give up.

Her stubbornness becomes a steadfast determination as she pursues the closely-knit family life she experienced before her brother’s death. Through this honest self-reflection she discovers how to rethink what’s possible, accepting not only the circumstance, but what she has learned about herself.

Without reflection, an assessment of “what is” based on “what was,” we limit our perspective, our capacity to grow, and our ability to fully engage in “rethinking” what is possible.

***

*Did you do any research for writing your book? Since it’s your own story you are telling, did it all come “from your head,” or was it necessary to read and look up information?

I relied heavily on my father’s book, Sit Down, God. . . I’m Angry for the details about my brother’s death. His vivid descriptions time-warped me back to the scene, but my memory had to kick in to recall my twenty-year-old mindset. After Matthew’s seizures, I began keeping a journal. It was the only way I could capture my spinning thoughts and put them to rest. Then in 1997, six months after my paralysis, a friend introduced me to the latest craze—the internet. Shortly after that, I reconnected with a high school friend through email who wanted an update on my life and my adjustments to paralysis. Our exchanges created an email journal that documented nearly twenty years of experiences and reflections and were the basis for my newspaper column career. Still, I googled for details like the make/model of car we loaded up and packed for vacation when I was six years old, song lyrics, and the exact kind of workout gear I sported in 1981.

***

*Through reading your thought-provoking columns and blog, I see you as a woman of strong Christian faith who was very influenced by her pastor father. Do you think your book speaks to others who have experienced losses who are not themselves religious or who come from other religious traditions?

Great question! I do! The philosophy that, “Life can be good, no matter what,” is based on a commitment to find the good in our circumstance. Again, that takes tremendous and sustained effort. For me, my faith is my fuel. My belief system sustains me, grounds me, and gives me a confidence that there will always be something to hope for. However, no matter what your belief system, we must first accept our circumstance before we can “rethink” what is possible in it. Resilient living depends on it.

***

*Do you have hopes or goals for what readers will take away from reading Rethinking Possible? 

I hope Rethinking Possible will offer encouragement and hope to those who have loved deeply and lost dearly. At its core, I think resilience translates into a foundation of hope. Yet hope is a tricky emotion. It can be wonderfully sustaining, but it can also be exhausting.

In my book, I talk about the benefit of pursuing parallel paths after loss, especially when the future is uncertain. Sometimes it’s helpful to pursue hope and reality at the same time. Often what we hope for just isn’t possible. The key to resilience, at least for me, is to temper hope with reality. In essence, resilience is a process of constantly rethinking what is possible after we have accepted a new reality.

I truly believe that life can be good, no matter what. However, “can” is the most important word. After significant losses, it often takes tremendous and sustained effort to find hope within a newly-defined reality. After reading Rethinking Possible, I’d love for the reader to feel like it’s worth the effort.

***

From what I have read of Becky’s writing, the reader will definitely feel that it’s worth the effort to read Rethinking Possible.

You can join Becky for her Thoughtful Thursdays where she shares what’s inspired her to stay positive that week.

She’s on social media as @chairwriter.

Rethinking Possible can be ordered on Kindle right now and the paperback will ship starting on June 9.

 

 

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A Medical-Nightmare Memoir, A Darkish Thriller with a Social Conscience, and A Brightly Lit Romance

I finished another memoir, this time one my mother recommended. Called Brain on Fire, it’s about a young journalist (Susannah Cahalan) who suddenly lost her mind. She suffered from symptoms which appeared to be mental illness, but were accompanied by seizures–her only actual provable “physical” symptom. After being wrongly treated by a neurologist who insisted she suffered from over-drinking (she was not a big drinker), she was admitted to the epilepsy ward at NYU.

Her first stay was a full month and during that time she lost her mental abilities and, although she slowly recovered after her rare condition was corrected diagnosed and treated, she lost her memories of that month.

Because of her job and her position at the New York Post, Cahalan was able to publish an article about her illness that spurred the medical world into diagnosing others with the conditions. She wondered how many people were locked away in psych wards when they, in fact, had anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis. How many people had unnecessarily died? In the few short years since her illness in 2009, the condition is diagnosed much more often–and lives have been saved because of her courage and her job and connections.

The book is important because of its spotlight on this particular rare illness, but also for how it shows that there is hope for other sufferers who have not received diagnoses or proper diagnoses. I went through a similar problem with original diagnosis for the tumor in my foot when the first specialist I went to, a “big name” doctor, ignored my concerns and misdiagnosed me in a way that could have led to me losing my ability to walk permanently. I suspect this happens more often than we know.

Another aspect of the book I found very intriguing was Susannah’s life stage. As a 24-year-old who had been living on her own, with an ambitious career job, she had just been moving into a “genuine” adulthood, but her illness made her dependent on her family and others. This is a difficult time of life to have this happen. Kid, adult, now kid again–or at least that was the way she felt.

Finally, she meditates on the loss of her memories at the end of the book, wondering if she will ever retrieve that lost month again. But she says about memory is true of anyone, and if she was a little older, she might realize that, too:

Maybe it’s [the memory of that month] not gone but is somewhere int he recesses of my mind, waiting for the proper cues to be called back up. So far that hasn’t happened, which just makes me wonder: What else have I lost along the way? And is it actually lost or just hidden?”

These are the questions of every memoirist.

###

I finally wrote a review of Carrie Rubin’s unique novel Eating Bull. If I had written it soon after finishing the book, my review could have been longer and more detailed.

I devoured (sorry for the pun) Carrie Rubin’s Eating Bull very quickly, although I savored it as I read. Then I didn’t write this review for many months. Perhaps because this book took me by surprise and just a tiny bit out of my comfort zone, writing about this book proved to be daunting. Eating Bull is a suspenseful thriller which showcases the dark world of the fast food industry and of fat shaming and bullying. It has a cast of characters I found very realistic–which means annoying and endearing at once. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a boy who deserves the sympathetic eye of Rubin’s narrator on his life and dilemmas. His mother frustrated me. She clearly loves him very much, but I wanted to step in and advise her on ways she could help improve her son’s life, but of course, I could not. Perhaps the most vivid character is Sue, the public health nurse, who teams up with Jeremy to fight fast food. Eating Bull is a very important book in the way it shines a spotlight on topics allowed to fester in our culture all the while the reader is obsessed with following the compelling story to a satisfying resolution.

What I realized about this novel, which Carrie says is in the “deep genre” (a genre I am not familiar with), is that the contrast of the real-life everyday problems of unhealthy eating (and an industry devoted to pushing it), fat-shaming, body image issues, and bullying with the excitement of a suspenseful thriller had to be digested carefully. It’s an amazing novel and should be put at the top of your reading list.

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To offset the seriousness of those two books and to relax into your comfort zone of a romance in a delightful small town, remember to pick up Jill Weatherholt’s Second Chance Romance. This is the same review I linked to a week or two ago.

A charming story of love and light, Jill Weatherholt’s first novel Second Chance Romance is published by the Love Inspired imprint of Harlequin. According to the website:

“You believe hearts can heal. Love Inspired stories show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives—always.”

I’m not used to reading in the genre of Christian fiction, and I was eager to try something new. If you think that everything is puppy dogs (there is a puppy, happily) and rainbows in Weatherholt’s book, you will be astonished. Melanie, a divorce lawyer from D.C., has lost her faith and hope in the face of horrific tragedy. A resident of Sweet Gum, handsome single dad Jackson has been touched by darkness in his life, too. But he’s been able to hold onto his faith.

Events transpire that first set Melanie and Jackson at odds and, later, try to prevent them from finding love together. The reader is left in suspense until the end as to how the problems will be resolved. And how faith and forgiveness and compassion can change their lives.

The characters are engaging, especially the characterization of Rebecca, Jackson’s little girl. Her personality rises right off the pages, and I feel as if she’s an actual child I know and can’t wait to see again. I’ll always remember her characteristic twirl.

Weatherholt’s book is one I want to pass on to several people because they will love moving to Sweet Gum, a town with a heart, for the duration.

Once you’re done reading Jill’s and Carrie’s books, please leave a review–even a couple of sentences will do–on Amazon (and Goodreads is you’re over there) for them! I know they will appreciate it. Don’t be like I was with Carrie’s review–waiting until I had just the right words to say. It’s more important to put up a review, even if it’s short, than to worry if you are writing it well enough. I wish I had realized that myself and not made Carrie wait all this time. :/

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A Matter of Taste

When I was in 3rd grade, my father built us a new house across town. At the time we lived in a small bungaranch (or it is ranchalow?) with a bomb shelter in the basement. In 2014 I wrote a post telling a bit about that bomb shelter.

But this post is about our next house, sort of. My parents pored over architectural plans and made changes so that the house would be exactly what they wanted. It was a very well-constructed white aluminum siding and pink brick ranch with a full basement. My bedroom had a built-in desk, vanity, and bookshelves. We had a wood-paneled family room with fire place, and the living room had a wall of glass looking out to the woods behind. The house was 1,787 square feet (thanks, Trulia), which seemed of castle-like dimensions to me, particularly since I had most of that big basement to play in.

My father had some help from subcontractors, but all the framing, the masonry, and extras like concrete walks and patio were done by my father. With me watching and fetching.

When the house was almost completed, my father said my mother could choose the finishing touch. She could select the color of the front door.

This is where I wish I could put a little cardboard swinging door over the answer so that you would have to guess first. Then you’d pull open the door (like on a page of a child’s cardbook book) and look in shock at the color.

I remembered this story because I read Joey’s red door post on Thursday.

But our door wasn’t red (which is always striking on white or gray houses). Our door was turquoise. Yup. Gulp.

Maybe you love blue for decorating (I generally don’t as I prefer warmer colors). Or even turquoise. Or think it’s teal.

But it’s not. Turquoise is turquoise, and I’m sorry but it is not an appropriate color for a door, even if the rest of the house is lovely.

Flash forward. I moved into my house in Phoenix with its gold-tan stucco walls and dark brown trim–both in a sort of mottled faux finish. The colors suit the landscape here. And they are “house colors.”

After we moved in, I noticed that the faux brown around my windows and doors had started to peel. I went up to the door and pulled at a paint shred that was just hanging. As I ripped it up, I saw the color underneath.

It was turquoise. I am NOT kidding. The whole dang house is trimmed in store-bought turquoise trim. It’s not painted, but permanently coated with turquoise. And it defies paint on the top of it, which is why it peels all the time.

###

When the gardener and I visited Michigan just before my father got sick, we went to see our old houses, schools, and haunts. This is a pic of the pretty house that no longer has a turquoise door. The only thing is, the house was more distinctive looking with the turquoise door. So maybe it’s all a matter of taste–not good or bad–but individual. Sadly, we only lived here for a year and a half because, even after all my father’s work on the house, we couldn’t afford to keep it.

house

I’ve been really busy preparing everything the publisher needs for my chapbook, as well as doing a little work on the memoir. Fingers crossed on how all this goes . . . .

I hope your Valentine’s Day is lovely even if you don’t have a special love. Find someone who would be warmed by a valentine–and deliver. Word of warning if you plan on a bouquet: if they have cats, try to stay away from lilies and carnations, which are toxic to cats. Roses and orchids are safe. And the fewer greens the better because nobody ever seems to know which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t.

Muah!!! xo ❤

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Family history, Lifestyle, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry Collection, Writing

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

A January Overview (Happy It’s Almost February)

So far 2017 has been extremely hectic, chaotic, distressing, you get the drift. My aunt passed away without too much suffering (thanks to hospice), and my mother went home. On Mom’s flight home, she was again required to spend the night in the layover city–this time because of weather in Kalamazoo. After that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to fly again–and my son’s wedding is this spring on the beach in California. But now she feels a little better and is going to look for a dress for the wedding this week (so, yay!).

Kitties are better, although today Pear is getting an ultrasound because something is wrong with her bladder–and we need to know what. The ultrasound has been an option for months, but I’ve put it off because of the cost. I spent so much (on my credit card) in January on veterinary care that the ultrasound no longer looks as expensive because it’s a “drop in the bucket.” Ugh. I think those of us who can and will pay for good veterinary care for our animals are subsidizing the salaries of veterinarians (and clinic costs). I just wish that money went to treat more animals, but I know that not all vets are good about pro bono work.

Speaking of cats, did you see this article? They needed a study to prove that cats are as smart as dogs? I thought that the decision was made a long time ago (cats are smarter ;)).

On another note, we’re still using Home Chef. Don’t turn up your nose at that idea. I don’t know a soul who really has the time or inclination to plan and deliver on 21 meals every single week–and to have 2-3 of them taken off the list makes the other meal planning more rewarding and less onerous.

Steelhead Trout Niçoise

Mojito Lime Chicken

The trout was fabulous–and there was enough salad left for lunch the next day. I also made Mojito Lime Chicken.

And I made Chicken with Basil-Pecorino Cream Sauce. I haven’t made a single Home Chef meal that wasn’t delicious. I served the gardener the basil chicken that looked like the recipe card.

I set his chicken on a tiny bit of the cream sauce because of his lactose intolerance. But for myself I didn’t hold back, and so my plate didn’t look as “well-plated” as his did. Or as the recipe card.

Oh man, was it ever good! Tonight we’ll have a non Home Chef meal of mushroom and cheese omelet. I am an expert omelet maker. I learned from watching  The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on TV decades ago. Anybody remember him? Great personality, good teaching skills, and an unfortunate (and terrifying) end to his public career (look him up!). By the way, I also learned about the “chef’s assistant” from Jeff–only he chose sherry and I choose chardonnay (or sake).

I have been revising the memoir because I want to send it to someone for a thorough read-through now that I have rethought and reorganized the structure.  I think I have reached the point that it’s ready. I don’t want to go too crazy with line-editing if it still needs a lot more “big” work.

Also, I have an offer from a publisher for my poetry/prose chapbook about family history. Stay tuned on that one.

Now that things are finally starting to settle down over here, it’s TAX SEASON for me and the business. Ick ick and ick.

Have a good one this week, friends!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Food & Drink, Memoir, Nonfiction, Publishing, Writing

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