Home for Wayward Birds: A Memoir


Once upon a time, my husband and I ran a boarding house for wayward birds.  It started with my son who was desperate for any kind of pet.  My allergies to dogs, cats and fur, made this impossible. Although I loved my son, I wasn’t prepared to go around with hives, a cough and a runny nose for the duration of his childhood.

When he was about 12, my pet-starved son, came home with a little finch in a bird-cage. “Alicia’s father can’t keep this bird. He’s going to have to stick a knife through its neck and kill it.” My son, who rarely cried, was sobbing. What could I do? I gave in. It was a pretty little bird. What harm was it going to do?  (I didn’t personally know Alicia’s father, but I doubted that he was capable of sticking a knife in the bird’s throat.)

We put the little cage in our family room,  and Pearl (later renamed Tweety) became our first guest at our birdie boarding house.

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niaga...

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The finch looked happy enough to me, but my husband thought she could use a boyfriend. So, he went out and bought another bird, (named Sylvester) to keep Tweety company. My son was quite happy with this whole arrangement.  It wasn’t a dog, but at least we cared enough about him to get him another living creature. My two daughters weren’t as thrilled as the rest of us about the birds. They were a little messy with their seeds. They could be noisy at times.

My husband would sometimes let the finches out of their cages, and they would fly around the house. We did this when the kids were at camp. Maybe we missed them. I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but I did think a cage might be a sad place to live. I’m all for freedom. (I didn’t even like keeping my toddlers in playpens).

The finches liked to sit on top of the family room vertical blinds and look down at us. I also noticed that they chirped when we played music.  The birds were pretty happy by themselves for a while. Although we didn’t have much of a relationship, they kept us company. It didn’t cost much to feed them.

The Parakeets Arrive

Parakeets and their young!

Parakeets and their young!

When my son entered middle school, he brought home a parakeet for the weekend. It seemed a lot more interesting than the finches. It was bigger and prettier.  I heard parakeets could talk, so I thought that might be fun.  (Little did I know that this creature, (Clark)  would never utter one word to me for the duration of his long life.)

Summer came, and the bird suddenly became homeless.  Nobody  in the class wanted it, except for my son. So, we adopted the parakeet. My husband became busy making it a large inventive cage that he cleverly built into our family room.  He made the bird  some really unique perches out of wood.  The parakeet  was quite happy hopping from perch to perch in the nice big spacious cage. He longingly looked at the finches, but they weren’t the least bit interested in him.

We thought the parakeet was a male. So, we got it another male to keep it company. Pretty soon we figured out that we had purchased Lois to go along with Clark.  We could tell this because of Clark’s behavior toward Lois. He ruffled her feathers.

Just for fun, we got them a wooden nesting box. Lois went in there to lay eggs. These birds were quite fertile and before we knew it, other little birds came into the cage.  It was interesting watching these birds build nests, sit on the eggs and watch the little birds hatch. The parents dutifully fed their young.  We supplied some materials to make the nests, and they all did a fine job. The father sometimes sat on the eggs, so the mother could get some seeds . It was a beautiful thing to watch, an equal partnership.

It was exciting to wait for the little birds to hatch. The little birds looked like worms when they were born. It was fun to watch them develop. Once in a while, we’d hold one. Life, on any level, is fun and exciting to watch.

It was funny how the baby birds held their mouths wide open while awaiting their food. The mother ate it first, then gave it to the baby birds.  Pretty soon, the baby bird’s feathers were as pretty as their parents. It was pretty funny to watch them learn to sit on the perches. It took a little doing. (kind of like a human learning to walk.)

After the little birds were big enough and could sit on those perches by themselves, the mother didn’t want another thing to do with them.  As a matter of fact, the parents forgot it was their baby. I thought that was a good lesson for human beings. When the kids grow up, stop coddling them. They are on their own!

We didn’t want the finches to feel left out, so we got them a nesting box too. We had a couple of extra finches come into our birdie boarding house.  Their nests were just as intricate and fancy. The tiny finches were adorable.

The birds believed in a definite routine. They ate in order, and went to sleep on the perches in order.  The best part was listening to them react to music. They all tweeted away. (The real kind of tweeting.)   It was sweet and nice.

My daughters were embarrassed about the whole thing. They just thought it was a little abnormal. I sometimes complained too. It got a little too much. There were a lot of birds (10-12) and they seemed to take over part of the family room. They made quite a racket when they talked to each other. Most of the time they just sat there, and looked at us.

I used to put my Kathy Smith workout on my DVD player on my TV,  and they’d sit and politely watch. They seemed to enjoy the whole thing. They tweeted to  Beethoven and Mozart music. The birds in our birdie boarding house had excellent taste in music.

Once they were grown-up, the birds didn’t fly on our shoulders, or want to be held. They definitely stuck to their own kind. Birds of a feather really do stick together. We tried putting the finches and parakeets together once or twice, but that wasn’t going to work. The parakeets wanted to kill the finches.

The birds lasted for around 10 or 11 years. Eventually, one bird after another would get inactive, and then pass away.  (We’d find them on the bottom of the cage). My husband would  say a prayer for each bird before he’d bury them in the backyard. They deserved a little dignity. After all, they’d been a member of our birdie boarding house.  I’d attend each funeral. One day we agreed to put the nesting box away.

When the last bird, a finch,  died my husband and I were both sad. By then, the kids had all left home.  We were finally alone. It was like we’d never had kids or a flock of birds living in our family room. He took down the cage, and the family room was no longer a bird sanctuary.

Sometimes I think we should just get one little bird to keep us company. Maybe we’d finally get one to talk, or fly onto our shoulders.  But, for some reason, it’s just like the kids. When they flew the coop, we just got used to the silence.

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A baby boomer recalls her biking experiences: both good and bad!


My husband and I riding bikes on vacation!

My husband and I riding bikes on vacation!

My first bike was blue , and I remember my dad teaching me to ride it. I have a vague memory of him running with me and pushing the back of the bike. I was about six. Suddenly, I turned my head to look at him and I realized I was riding it all by myself. The first taste of real freedom. I can still see him standing there with a satisfied smile on his face. Then he said, “see, I knew you could do it!”

I had a disaster with a bike when I was 10.  My mother told me, “don’t leave the house today because we’re going to Cedar Point.” (An amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio). I didn’t listen. As soon as she left for work, I rode  an old clunky leftover bike to the neighborhood pool. On the way home, I decided to carry all my friend’s swimming bags on my handlebars.

Disaster struck. The swimming bags, filled with towels, flip-flops and floats,  were too heavy. I stood up on the bike,  fell off the bike and onto the sidewalk. I spent the evening getting a  plaster of paris cast on my broken ankle.  My mother was more than a little annoyed with me.   She did slightly warm up when the doctor was putting that clunky soon-to-be- smelly awful thing on my leg. She wasn’t the only one who was upset with me. My two older sisters were not happy.  My father was the only one who displayed any sympathy toward me.

I hadn’t learned my lesson

No disasters —at least on a bike—until I was 19.  My roommate and I decided to go for a ride on the graveled alley by our apartment. I decided to stand up, and guess what? That’s right. I fell over again. This time I landed right on my chin. It smarted when I hit the gravel. Ouch!

Being the trusting naive girls that we were, my friend and I hitchhiked to the University’s hospital ER.  First we ran in the apartment to grab a towel. My chin and lower face was profusely bleeding and it frightened me.

Strangely enough, the  two clean-cut looking guys who offered us a ride also provided us with mixed drinks. They had a little set up with a decanter and some fancy drink glasses. I held a towel to my chin with one hand,  and drank the welcome drink with my other. By that time, I was  really worried about what I’d done to my face.

When I got to the hospital, they took me right away. I inadvertently caught my reflection in the doctor’s glasses while he was sewing me up. I watched as the dimple in my chin disappeared.  It saddened me because I was the only one of the children in my family to inherit my dad’s dimple  and I was quite fond of it. Fortunately the rest of my face was unharmed.

I still ride a bike

After all those problems, I still ride a bike. I’ve finally learned to be careful.  I bought a brand new one several years ago, and named it “Freedom.” I’ve experienced a lot of joy riding her around town.  I’m really glad riding bikes is now acceptable for mature adults. At one time this wasn’t a cool thing to do. (That tells you how old I really am).  It’s fun and great exercise.

My daughter wins a bike

Naturally, all parents want their kids to ride a bike on their own. It’s a proud moment, but it’s the beginning of the end. You suddenly realize that one day they will be leaving you.

I proudly remember when my determined little daughter won a bike in a contest. She had to ride a certain amount of miles in the local park to get a new bike. I was quite surprised when someone rang the doorbell and awarded her a shiny red brand new bike. It didn’t surprise her at all.

The Harmony Project

Now, another one of my links with bikes is the Harmony project, a philanthropic organization. One of the things we do is raise money and give bikes to foster kids.  I’m sure they will get a lot joy from their bikes. I just wish I could see all their faces when they get their bikes on Christmas morning.  You can still contribute to this worthwhile project. So far, we’ve bought them 150 brand new bikes.

I want to thank all the people who contributed yesterday to our one day event on 12/12/12/ . It’s an example of what people can really do when they want to change things!

If you want to know more about us, check out our page at http://www.harmonyproject.com/bikes

If you have a story about your bike, or want to tell me about your first one, please comment!

Thanksgiving: A Time to Treasure your Family


I have some happy memories of Thanksgiving when I was a little girl. My immediate family would gather round the table. This included my grandparents, my parents and my two sisters.  I was the youngest!  I felt very happy and loved in my family, and enjoyed those celebrations.

Although both my parents had big extended families,we never shared Thanksgiving with them. It was a pretty simple holiday. My mother insisted on being  alone in the kitchen preparing the meal. We knew to stay out of her way.  If we went near her or her preparations, she would get really upset. She wanted everything to be perfect.

It wasn’t a totally traditional American menu because it always included chopped liver, and Matzah Ball Soup. We had the other things: stuffing, turkey, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans with mushroom soup,  cranberry sauce, a salad, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

My mother never changed the menu.  It was the same every year. Later, my sister added her cherry jello mold (with sour cream) which I later added to my own celebration. Unfortunately, I never wrote down my mother’s recipe for matzah balls, chopped liver, or stuffing. I’ve made all those things, but it never tasted like my mom’s.

One day my oldest sister offered to take over the Thanksgiving celebration. (By this time, one of my sister’s and her husband had moved out-of-town.) My mother was happy to relinquish her role as hostess.

Now, our celebration included my two nieces, my brother-in-law,  and their dog, Gus, who gleefully ate all the scraps. (By this time, my grandparents were long gone.)

Eventually, my family scattered, and Thanksgiving together came to an end.

I did get everyone together for Thanksgiving in 1979, but it never happened again.

Siblings: TOS

Siblings: TOS (Photo credit: rbarenblat)

Nothing lasts forever, even families. The best thing to do every year is be thankful for what you do have, and savor every moment together.

Happy Early Thanksgiving!

I’d welcome comments about your childhood Thanksgiving celebrations! What’s your happiest memory?

Go See “Liberal Arts” the Movie: Filmed at “Kenyon College”: Starring Bexley native, Josh Radnor


English: A profile shot of actor Josh Radnor a...

English: A profile shot of actor Josh Radnor at “An evening with the cast of How I Met Your Mother”, January 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the movie, “Liberal Arts,” Jessie Fisher ( Josh Radnor) plays a 35-year old college admissions counselor who is facing middle age. He is living in New York city, and life doesn’t seem to be going his way.

We learn that Jessie is a sensitive type who savor books, poetry, and classical music.  He goes back to attend the retirement party of his college professor Professor Peter Hoburg (Richard Jenkins).  He is attracted to Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who is fresh-faced   sophomore,  who lives in a dormitory. Jessie is longing for the campus life anyway, and is attracted to her.

They have an old fashioned romance. It starts out with her giving him a CD of classical music. They correspond via the US mail. How sweet is that?

The movie is about accepting life, and the aging process. You can’t go backwards, you have to move forward.

The retiring professor, (Hoburg)  tells Jessie, “we always feel like we’re 19 although we may look different on the outside.”  (Being a baby boomer that particular line resounded)

Nat (Zac Effron) plays a new age type who is past the college age, but at least is enjoying himself.  Jessie  and Zac befriend each other. Their scenes provide a little comedic relief. Effron does a great job.

There is a troubled college student (John Magaro)Jessie befriends who is just plain unhappy with everything, and bi-polar. Maybe he represents a lot of people who just don’t try to look at what they do have, or easily fit in to society.

Professor Judith Fairfield( Allison Janney) is Jessie’s former romantic literature professor.  Janney plays her to the hilt. Her performance is one of the best in the movie. She is also aging, and maybe not adjusting in the best way.

Without giving too much away, I would suggest you see this movie if you like too think  and reflect about life. Also, see it, if you value good writing, directing and acting. Radnor did all three. Don’t go see it, if you’re the type of person who likes action, blood and guts.

Maybe it is a little too wordy in places, but

Allison Janney at The Heart Truth Fashion Show...

Allison Janney at The Heart Truth Fashion Show 2008 (cropped) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People of all ages should be able to  relate to this movie.  I found it Intelligent, charming,  and sweet.

Remembering my grandma and grandpa : Their Special Gift to me


 

I’ve been thinking about my grandparents lately.  We have just celebrated the first of the Jewish holidays and my grandparents centered their lives around the Jewish calendar.

My grandmother’s father was a lumber salesman somewhere in Poland.  All I know about him is that he gave her a pair of shiny blue opal earrings when she was a little girl. I remember seeing those earrings every time I saw my grandma. They are still in the family.

Unfortunately, when Grandma’s father was off selling lumber, her step-mother was abusing her, so she decided to go to America where her sister was already living. Like many Jewish immigrant women of the time, she was a seamstress.

Grandpa’s story was different. There was a famous pogrom in Kishinev, Bessarabia— a part of the Russian Empire — in 1905. Periodically, the locals would blame the Jews for something they didn’t do, and go on a murdering rampage. My grandpa hid in a hayloft so he wouldn’t get conscripted in the Tsar’s army. Fortunately, they didn’t find him. His father wasn’t so lucky. He hid too, but was killed by a pitchfork.

My grandfather knew it was time to go to Cleveland, Ohio, where relatives could take him in. He didn’t waste any time leaving Kishinev. Somehow he got to Belgium, and took the ship, called  “The Hamburg.” I still have a record of that boat trip.

My grandparents met through friends, and got married when they were still young.  They had five children in quick succession.

Although my grandparents immigrated in their teens, their English wasn’t always easy to understand. My mother often spoke to them in Yiddish, their native tongue. I always found their speech bewildering because I couldn’t really understand it. They both referred to our car as “the machine.”

My grandpa worked as a painter, and was a proud member of the Painter’s Union.      Grandma and Grandpa never owned their own home or car. They did the best they could raising their family.  They were proud that all their children became solid members of society.

We used to visit them every Sunday. Grandma used to always offer fruit carefully arranged on a plate. “Have an apple, orange or banana” she’d suggest.

I remember putting my arms around her soft ample waist, and giving her a kiss.

Gifts from my Grandparents

It liked it when Grandma reached into her black purse to get out a package of Dentyne gum.  I liked to watch her carefully unwrap a single piece from the red and white wrapper before placing it in my little outstretched hand.  I knew this was her way of telling me she loved me,

Grandpa was a proud man who stood up very straight. He was only about 5”3” tall, but his  children treated him like he was a towering figure. They carefully listened to whatever Grandpa had to say.  He loved to sing, and I can still hear his voice when I think about him.

He was more outgoing that my grandmother. He did an old Russian dance at one wedding —he crouched down in a sitting position  and kicked his legs—signaling a playful side I’d never seen before.  I remember my aunts and uncles excitedly gathering to watch “pa” dance with his older brother.

As a young man in Kishinev, my grandpa  learned how to draw special stencils for walls of churches and buildings. He worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression. He painted in gold leaf inside the downtown theaters in Cleveland, painting vines and leaves freehand on the walls surrounding the stage.

I learned to expect a special drawing every time we’d visit. It always featured one character with a long flowery vine like body.  Every picture was a little different.  Even though I was young, I knew Grandpa was sharing his greatest talent with me.

I was around 16 when both my grandparents passed away. First my grandma, then six months later my grandpa. I was surprised to see my mother cry at my grandparents’ funerals. She rarely shed tears in front of me.

The Best Gift

Now, I wish I could go back in time, and tell my grandparents I loved them and  respected them.

Coming to the United States was the biggest gift my grandparents could’ve given me.  It took courage to start a brand new life.

Sometimes at family dinners, my grandfather would state his importance,  “if it wasn’t for me, none of you would be here now.” We’d all laugh, but the man knew what he was talking about.

I didn’t say it then, but I’m saying it now.

“Thank you Grandma and Grandpa,

English: WPA poster 1935 USA, color photo

English: WPA poster 1935 USA, color photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Feeling my age: I related to AARP Magazine


200

200 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been getting AARP magazine free of charge since I’ve been 50. I’m now 62. I finally opened it up and started reading it.

I found it interesting. I could relate to every single article. Now, that is frightening. However,  I don’t think I’m ready for the 24 hour alarm thing that you wear around your neck in case you fall over and can’t get up.

I think people would still say I died young if I dropped over tomorrow. So, there is still some quality life left to live.

Does that mean I’m officially a senior citizen? I guess I’ve been one for a while, but just didn’t want to admit it to myself.

In this society, it is not cool to be older. And that’s too bad.  At least I’m not alone. There’s a lot of baby boomers, so why haven’t we managed to make it a popular thing? Maybe, because none of us wants to admit they’re old.

When did I first realize people looked at me differently?

I’m trying to remember the first time I had an inkling I wasn’t a 20, 30, or 40 something. I think it was when I was substitute teaching. The kids started asking me how old I was, and when I told them they looked shocked. Some comments included “when are you going to retire?”

I noticed the teachers in the teacher’s lounge looked like they were  my kid’s ages.  (That’s because they were.)

Maybe it was when the parking attendant called me “ma’am” for the first time. When I chastised him, he said, “ma’am my mother taught me to be polite to my elders.

Maybe it was when my kids started asking me to get my hearing checked. The times they started giving me unsolicited advice. (I don’t mind, they’re pretty wise for their ages).

I knew I was in trouble when I was in line for a job, and one of the other people applying offered me a seat. She said something like, “I’m so sorry, I should’ve offered this to you 10 minutes ago.  That was at least 10 or 15 years ago. Time gets blurry, the older you get.

When I was 40, I appeared on a call- in radio show for an hour.  The DJ made me an hour-long guest because he thought I was funny to be bemoaning the fact that I was turning 40.  Now I completely get it.

So, now what?
I’m thinking I should go on an adventure trip while I can still walk fast.  I heard the senior hostel trips are fun.

Maybe it’s time to admit, I’m older, and I’m lucky I haven’t bitten the dust. I’m in pretty good health, so I better start living it up. I actually feel as good as I ever did. (Maybe the secret is going to the gym, swimming aerobics, and walking! )

But, I still can’t walk into a senior citizens center. Not yet.

Any advice for having a rip-roaring time after 60? Any good adventure trips?

Are you going to San Francisco? Scott Mckenzie dies. He sang the “Flower Children’s” Anthem


Scott McKenzie very recently passed away. He was ill. At least he didn’t die from a drug overdose. He had such a lovely clear voice. It awakened some of us living  during “the summer of love.”

This was the anthem song of  the 60’s. It made us all want to leave our safe lives and venture out to San Francisco to become “hippies”.

The dream eventually  turned into a nightmare. We were to discover that drugs didn’t really bring peace, love and happiness.  When I was recently in San Francisco, there were a few pathetic people hanging around Haight/ Ashbury . Some people got caught up in the drug scene and never left.

One of the writers of the song, John Phillips, of “The Mama and Papa’s got caught up in the drug lifestyle. His autobiography, Papa John, talked about the endless drugs, and his decadent lifestyle. He wrote the book while he was still using drugs.

Mckenzie traveled around in one of the later “Mama and Papa tours.” That tour included MacKenzie Philips who accused Papa John of some unspeakable acts in her autobiography, High on Arrival. It also included Elaine McFarlane from Spanky and Our Gang.

But, for some of us hearing this song, brings back that idealistic hopeful feeling. It seemed like life was really going to change for the better. Sometimes, I think we unleashed  a Pandora’s Box of drug use.

But maybe you caught up in the 60’s and escaped without wounds. I’d love to hear your story. If you got caught up in the drug scene, I’d love to hear about that too.