Happy Thanksgiving

In celebration of family stories and memories made around the table, I’m sharing an essay from “The Perfectly Trained Parrot” narrated by the amazing Xe Sands.

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Santa Feathers

Ho. Ho. Ho!

Ho. Ho. Ho!

In the days before Christmas, the box in the room,
jingled with sleigh bells and blasted holiday tunes.

Through the dark hours and all through the night,
colors shone through the window in bright blinking lights.

And inside his cage, his head bobbing with sleep
the parrot dreamed of parties and presents and colorful treats.

In the morning he woke with a song on his mind
and burst into “Jingle Bells” dancing in time.

He whistled and bounced and greeted the dawn
while the dog wagged his tail and the other birds yawned.

Then the red-headed girl glared and said with a sneer,
“Hush up grey bird, there’s no Christmas ‘round here.”

“The gifts are expensive, the trees make a mess,
The food makes you fat and you’re being pest.

There’s nothing to celebrate, I’ll make this clear,
Christmas is just one more day in a regular year.”

The parrot grew quiet, so she wasn’t a fan,
But he wanted a holiday and began hatching a plan.

And when the red-headed girl went off for the day,
the grey parrot pondered Saint Nick and his sleigh.

This house with no chimney was locked up so tight,
Could there be Christmas without Santa’s flight?

But then who the heck needs reindeer if you have wings?
Santa has nothing on feathery things

So snarky Saint Feathers his claws in a ball,
Shook his red tail and let the dust fall,

Up from his feathers and on to the floor,
the white powder coated from carpet to door.

He fluffed and he puffed and he shook off his down
Until the house was a snow globe, flakes flitting around.

Feather Tree

Feather Tree

His work just begun, Saint Feathers opened his cage
And climbed out and down to begin the next stage.

On a mission to the ficus at the corner of the room,
He climbed high in the branches and started to prune.

Snipping and snapping and shaping the leaves
It was as good as a spruce and the cuttings a wreath.

He gathered stray plumes, he placed them like so
And the tree was soon trimmed in a feathered rainbow.

Then off to the table he found the remote
Pressing the buttons until it played loud festive notes.

Next one by one, he released all his pals
And out of their cages the parrots partied down.

They scattered toys and goodies all around the tree
and thanks to Santa Feathers it was Christmas indeed.

And when the red-headed girl came home to the mess and the noise…
She had a HUGE glass of rum eggnog and gave in to the joy.
Merry Christmas from all of us at Heckled by Parrots.

 

A Friend of Ty is a Friend of Mine

There’s one in every crowd, the trouble-maker, the errant sibling, the beloved nonconformist.

I have one in my house too and it’s not Ty. The stalwart grey is our commentator, the snickering intellect mocking us from the corner. You get the impression that he tolerates the lot of us.

And then there’s Loki.

First, let me say, be careful what you name your animals. Names can be self-fulfilling prophesies. If you name your bird after the Norse god of mischief, you should have a pretty good idea what you’re in for. And you should be prepared. I guess the Gods would say, be careful what you ask for, you might just get it…

Loki, my Senegal parrot is the goddess of all trouble in my house. She always has been and somehow has survived her endless instigations. I have no doubt she would be the first to go toe-to-toe with a falcon and win. And although this isn’t something I would risk—because believe me, she’s down for it, I have seen many amazing instances of her trouble-making prowess.

In her early years, some 15 years ago, she chewed through live cords, shorting out rooms, sparking electrical currents and remained standing—quizzical and smacking her beak. She has herded cats, backed down aggressive hawks through thin glass and basically been the reason for my palm-to-forehead red mark for many many years. And I love her for this.

Loki vs. The Coffemaker

Loki vs. The Coffemaker

Don’t get me wrong. Loki is the tiny green source of most frustration in my house, but she is also the grain in the oyster that has become the pearl.

 She makes me laugh. When she fights with the coffee pot as if it is her windmill, the beast of her imagination.

She makes me proud. When she tries so hard to learn a new trick but all she can do is spin with the joy of engagement.

She makes me rebellious. This bird that has never spoken a word or imitated another species of bird… and yet makes it very clear that she is the smartest bird in the house.

She makes me stretch and smile and happy to tuck her beneath my chin even though she just misbehaved and just let her be the most impossible creature I’ve ever met.

In fact, if I’m honest, I want to be Loki, that personality that we love because that individual is brave enough to be exactly who they are.

 

All the same, trust me. Don’t name your bird Loki.

Muse Fail

The Eye of the Ty

The Eye of the Ty

I sat on the couch, computer in my lap, staring at Ty all night last night.

I stared.

Ty glared.

And eventually I gave up and went to bed. No words of wisdom, revelation or levity this week. Another week. Hopefully next week.

In the meantime– I thought maybe you might get some enjoyment out of a few really different things from me out on the Interwebs…

If you read LIFT and want a little back story on the falconry journey, this very short piece of nonfiction is fun.

American Falconry

If you have never read any of my fiction, this is probably not the best place to start, but it too is fun. Africa, Katherine Hepburn, crazy old ladies and immortal animalrati….

Skins

Here to wishing Ty will do something clever… soon.

Lift and Let it Go

RndLogo_RKO_1Tuesdays with Ty is on hiatus this week.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around Sunday’s post and the outpouring of support over on Operation Delta Duck. I woke up in that morning and found myself writing a post about the journey of getting LIFT, my memoir published and the amazingly dismal results of all my efforts. Mostly, I was just trying to exorcise the demons of failure because they have me in such a choke hold that I haven’t touched the novel I’m working on in weeks. I never imagined there would be so many people who would read the post and send virtual hugs .

I know a lot of you Ty lovers are members of my 411 Flock. Know that I adore you all.

And though my brain is too fried to craft a parrot post today, please enjoy this reading of an excerpt from LIFT. It’s the prologue, the very beginning of the book, and though not an easy beginning (buckle up bird lovers) it’s an honest one.
XO r


Trouble with the player? Download it here.

Learning to Fly (Again)

Monty in Flight by Chris Britton on Flickr

Ty, my African grey parrot, has taken to going on walkabouts. In the “new” house with its open floor plan and circular paths we all seem to get the urge to wander. The thing is though; if I had wings I wouldn’t climb from my perch and waddle to my destination.

I let Ty learn to fly before he learned to do without. I brought him home at 6 weeks old, barely sprouting a red tail. I watched him feather up, slim down and take to the wing. It happened in no time at all, from penguin waddle to finessing the air. Ty was a competent even nimble flier before I clipped his feathers.

Clipping a bird’s wings is a personal decision and often a good one to make. When Ty was clipped, however, he took spills, hard ones that flayed the thin skin on his breastbone and bruised the wrists of his wings. And as soon as I discovered what a disaster he was without a full-length of primary feathers, I let him grow them back out. And when his feathers grew back out, he flew again, but I was super cautious. I discouraged flying and arranged play areas so that there was no place to fly to. Over the years Ty just stopped flying altogether.

I’m sure it’s “just like riding a bicycle. You never forget.” Which, by the way is a ridiculous metaphor if you’re clumsy. Have you ever climbed on a bicycle after a fifteen year hiatus? It’s terrifying. Sure you will remember how to balance, brake and turn, but what you immediately remember is what it felt like to fall. You remember skinned knees, road rash and maybe even broken bones. Perhaps you even remember what it felt like when your friends laughed as you wiped out. You can never go back to not knowing how hard it was to learn to the first time. The possibility of the physical and emotional pain is huge.

So watching Ty waddle risk-free across the floor instead of flying has made me a little sad. It’s odd, but he also makes me think about writing. I haven’t touched my novel in three weeks. Half way through the manuscript and I’ve been thinking that maybe I should just set the book writing aside for a while. There seems to be so little point to writing books anyway. What is the harm in stopping for a while, maybe a long while? You can always come back to it later.

Then yesterday, Ty flew from his cage to the couch where he could look out the window. He looked both exhilarated and terrified. Flying in a confined space is like writing and so many other things worth doing. It will never be easy. There is just too much to navigate.

But learning to fly again is even harder.

So don’t quit a passion, even if it’s hard and scary. And if you’re starting again, good for you! Now keep going. Nothing really worth doing is easy, but you get better at it.

With some coaching, I’m sure I can get Ty flying again and maybe his efforts will remind me to stay on the wing as well.

Download audio version here.

Listen here:

Making a Meal Of It

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

A friend looking to take me out to eat asked me to list my least favorite cuisine. Food I don’t like? Seriously? My brain came to a grinding halt. Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, wild game… I couldn’t think of anything to offer except that I was suddenly very hungry.

It wasn’t always like this. I used to hate eating. I grew up in a house where food was overcooked, tasteless, repetitive and refusal to eat with gusto was an inexcusable offense. I didn’t know the world offered a whole array of seafood, sauces or that vegetable were available in anything but a can. Eating was a chore and shoveling down the food anyway was the way you showed people you loved them.

Living with Ty. my African grey parrot changed that.

I was told that animals had a learning window, a short period of time when they would try anything and maybe even learn to keep trying anything for the rest of their lives. I wanted Ty to eat well and live long. So I introduced my parrots to everything healthy and edible I could find and of course, I ate it too. I learned to steam fresh broccoli and asparagus. I discovered that baked sweet potatoes were delicious and that there were dozens of varieties of apples and pears all slightly different in texture and sweetness. The parrots learned to investigate everything resembling food in their cage. I had no idea the world was full of so many tastes and how much fun experimenting with food could be. Ty ate or at least tried everything.

While I’m grateful I discovered that exploring the world was tasty, I know the flavors weren’t as important to Ty. According to Graham et al in Luescher’s “Manual of Parrot Behavior,” parrots aren’t well endowed in the taste bud department. Compared to mammals their sense of taste is pretty poor, depending on 300-400 taste buds compared our 9,000. Luckily for parrots however, they at least have more than the measly 200-250 taste buds a chicken sports. (Which means parrots don’t taste like chicken at all. Hardy har har.)

Although parrots savor their food more than chicken and pigeons, tempting their palate was not really why I fell in love with feeding the birds.  That was just a bonus. The best thing, the most important thing about meal time in my house is watching everyone play with their food. Eating is never a chore to a parrot; it’s out and out fun. Food is for scooping, flinging, mixing, mashing and sharing. While I wouldn’t trade my 9000 taste buds for anything, what I am most grateful for in my culinary evolution is the discovery that experimenting with your food is even better than eating it. I credit Ty for helping me develop a healthy relationship with my meals.

It’s a mostly healthy relationship, anyway. It took me a while to answer my friend, but I finally remembered that I don’t get along with watermelon or garbanzo beans. It’s a texture thing.

Catch up on Tuesday with Ty here.
Download audio here.
Listen here:

Willing

Save the Remote

Save the Remote

Every day I wake up and start the day with something I don’t want to do… get out of bed. It’s not a tremendous challenge, but I like the warmth and the dreams and the quiet noises of parrots waking.  It’s nice beneath the covers and I want to stay, but I get up. We all get up. It’s what we do.

This is just the start. Our whole day is full of willing ourselves to do things we don’t quite want to do. Or maybe yours isn’t, but mine is. Eat oatmeal. Skip the bacon. Get in and out of the shower despite the chill. Fight traffic to drive to work. Salad for lunch, not the Mexican restaurant across the street. Make the hard phone calls. Walk past the dish of candy. Avoid surfing the Internet. Go to the gym. Write a thousand words of your novel. Finish your blog post. Answer the emails you don’t have answers for. Turn off the TV. Stop at one glass of wine. Leave the refrigerator door shut after nine. Put the book down and go to bed.

Life is an annoying Nike slogan.. Just do it. Except, do we really need to do it all? When I look to my parrots for answers, I think that maybe Ty, my African grey parrot would rather pluck his feathers than will himself to do all the things that I try to do. In fact, I would never ask Ty to live up to the discipline I ask of myself (and fail to achieve). I do believe that I can train an animal to do anything. I just wholeheartedly believe that sometimes it is not worth the effort.

I would rather keep the potted plant away from the cage than teach Ty not to demolish it. I would rather turn the television remotes upside down than teach him not to chew off the buttons. I would rather avoid putting all the birds on one playstand than teach them to get along. Ty is brilliant, but there is only so much willpower to expend. I like to save the effort for the important (and fun) things. Why can’t I cut myself the same slack?

In a scientific study, students were asked to fast for three hours and then placed in front of a plate of cookies and chocolates as well as a plate of carrots. One group was instructed to eat the sweets, another to only consume the carrots. Then both were asked to solve a complicated set of problems, several without answers. Guess who did better?

We only have so much willpower and if we use it avoiding the chocolate, there are no reserves for pushing ourselves to solve the important problems.

I know that Ty doesn’t fuss over this. He doesn’t care that he’s not supposed to eat the ficus or gnaw on the remote. He isn’t going agonize over getting along with others. Everything Ty does is surely a careful calculation of stimulus…good or bad, pointless or worthy. And I wonder why like Ty I don’t just let myself have what I want sometimes. Parrots know they aren’t superheroes and they also don’t subscribe to the insanity of constant denial. Indulging yourself doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, maybe it makes you more balanced –like a parrot.

So have another glass of wine. At least you finished your blog post.

Catch up on Tuesdays with Ty here.

Download the audio version here.

Listen here:

Vulcan Grey

vulcan

I dreamt that Ty and I were talking about the mysteries of life. Or at least I was talking about them. Ty was mostly replying to my ponderings with some statement equating to “Fascinating.”

I have always thought that birds held the secret to life. Now finally, after all of these years I had the opportunity to ask and I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Ty was all frustrating logic and I had so many questions…

~Do parrots ever sit in the middle of a flock and feel lonely?
~Do you ever wonder where the sky ends?
~Do parrots ever ponder if there is a point to all of this?
~Do you worry what it means that you’re getting old?
~When a front moves through, does it pull at the air in your bones the way the moon worries the water in my blood –and make you crazy?
~Do you feel like there is too much information to ever fit neatly inside you head?
~Are you certain that the number of almonds in your morning bowl forecasts the rest of your day?
~Do you wish you were bigger, that your feathers were a different color?

I didn’t get any answers in my dreams. What could Ty say? Parrots must mainly consider the things that necessitate survival. Will that eat me? Would that get me food? Should I replicate what I just did to get the same results? Did I make a mistake that must never be repeated? I bet they don’t consider their blood or the skyline.

When a good portion of the world wants to eat you or your offspring, how is there room to think of much else? Pondering existence is the luxury and the curse of those who have conquered the wilderness. Perhaps we are no smarter than other animals, but in our conquering we have found replacements for the missing stress. We engineer stress through problems that cannot be solved. We ask questions and refuse to concede to the answers. The answer to all of the questions I asked Ty was singular. “No.”

~My feathers are just fine.
~Who cares how many almonds were in my bowl once they’re eaten?
~Every wingbeat is more important than the skyline will ever be.

In my dream Ty may as well have said, “Your question is illogical, Jim.” And I could have replied, “Spock. You just. Don’t. Under. Stand.”

Kirk needed Spock. We all need Spock. Ty is a good Spock substitute. All of our parrots are. Follow the lead of your second in command.

There’s food in your bowl. There is no rain on your head. Nothing is coming to eat you. Smile. And stop asking so many pointless questions.

Listen to this post here:

Download the audio here.

Catch up on Tuesdays with Ty here.

Earning my Wings

Ethereal by Renee Silverman via Flickr (CCL)

Ethereal by Renee Silverman via Flickr (CCL)

Dear Ty,

Some days I’m not a very good parrot person.

I know there are afternoons when I come home and throw myself on the couch, nary a word to parrots and curl into a ball. I know there are mornings when I sling bowls and food like it’s a chore instead of our breakfast time together. I know that sometimes I cover my ears and groan at perfectly reasonable parrot joy. I snap at the dog, throw small tantrums and disregard cages that need to be cleaned. There are times when I ignore good behavior and only pay attention to the bad.

Some days I’m just not a very good parrot person.

I know I’m supposed to be an excellent parrot person. I tell other people how to manage their avian interactions and build great relationships. I try to teach people to be someone a bird like you can love. I’m not sure what right I have. After all, I don’t always do any of this correctly. I’m not a parrot and so I’m not perfect, but I hope you try to adore me even though I’m human.

We humans make our lives far too complex even though our wilderness is much less dangerous than yours. We’ve forgotten how simple it is to be wild. We can’t help it. Our egos get bruised, our hearts get broken, we think too much of ourselves and don’t believe in ourselves enough. That’s where the tears and the anger come from. It’s no excuse, but it’s why we need you, quite frankly.

Your black and white world is a balm to us. Almonds are good. Strawberries are bad. The gift of a peanut is just a gift. Nothing more. Your human partner’s bad mood isn’t personal, just an inconvenience and you have no expectations of our future. You live for the joy and adventure of one moment pieced next to another until it resolves into the image of a lifetime. And even then, you don’t look back wondering about the whole picture. You focus on our good behavior and try to reward it so that it repeats. If at all possible, you ignore us when we are being annoying. You don’t agonize about anything and know that only real danger is worth the worry. And you are right about all these things. I’m just not as good at them as you are, but I’m trying, so don’t give up on me.

We humans are such lousy pets, unpredictable and hard to teach good behavior to even when you reinforce us. We are inconsistent, whimsical, dramatic and often aggressive. You have a tough job. I know some days I’m not a very good parrot person, but your efforts aren’t wasted. Just think of how poorly behaved I would be without these 15 years of training.

I may never be perfect, but I’m yours and a better person because of it. And although you didn’t really have a choice, thank you for being my parrot. I want to deserve your company. I am determined to earn my wings.

XO

Rebecca

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