Happy Hatch-day, Louie!

Twelve years ago on Valentine’s Day, a little green parrot with a blue head and bright eyes emerged from his shell into the great, wide world. Three months later, an unsuspecting woman (me) wandered into a bird shop and walked out with him. The decibel level in my house has never been the same.

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Posing with his favorite statue, the Bird Girl

Louie is my blue crown conure and the most photogenic member of our family. He’s also the loudest, even compared with the bedlam that ensues when Lacy and Tanner, our dogs, announce the arrival of the UPS man, who probably thinks we’re crazy.

Polly wanna cracker!

Louie actually does like crackers, but they’re not his favorite food. Obviously he loves seeds (especially sunflower seeds and quinoa), and he’ll do anything for a sip of your orange juice. He also enjoys hard candies like peppermint sticks and spicy cinnamon bits, which make his foot sticky. In fact, Louie eats just about everything I eat, with the exception of chocolate and avocado, two things that are highly toxic to birds. (So if you take your parrot to a Mexican restaurant, don’t share your guacamole with him.)

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Hmm…how do I get a cookie?

I learned right away that Louie believes he should be invited to every meal. On his very first day as my bird, we had lunch together – well, that’s how it turned out, anyway. I was eating lentil soup at the breakfast bar when he marched over to my bowl, stepped  on the rim, and dunked his beak into it! He’s been my daily lunch date ever since.

It’s fun to watch him eat, especially long, stick-shaped foods like green beans or fries. He’ll grasp it in his foot like a little sword, alternating between nibbling on one end and waving it around to tantalize the poor dogs, who can be found eagerly hanging around under his perch, waiting for him to drop it. Birds are very messy eaters.

 

Tanner and Lacy
Tanner and Lacy, waiting for tidbits. They have no shame.

Disturbing information

Some of Louie’s tastes are a bit gruesome. Here he is with Lacy and Mia, lining up for a bite of hardboiled egg.

Lacy Mia Louie egg
Who says dogs, cats and birds can’t coexist?

Even more unsettling is his outright cannibalism.

Kevin and Louie
Sharing a chicken salad sandwich with Kevin

Almost fearless

This bright, inquisitive creature is absolutely fearless at unexpected times – he once charged down the hall to bite Mia the cat on her toe. Mia, it should be reported, was so surprised by the assault that she dashed under the bed. I guess having that can opener for a mouth instills a lot of bravery in Louie! But he also has his phobias. It frightens him terribly if I’m wearing a hat or gloves, and he flips out when he sees the stepladder. He often becomes upset if he finds something unfamiliar in his cage, so I have to introduce new items gradually.

However, there was a recent incident when I had to make a sudden, unauthorized change to his cage decor. I was cleaning it one afternoon and realized I’d run out of newspaper to line the bottom, so I substituted some colorful gift tissue, which was the only thing I had. Here’s what happened:

 

Louie’s toy box

Louie doesn’t like standard bird toys. No birdie swings and mirrors for him! I’ve read that parrots’ intelligence and emotional needs are similar to those of a three-year-old child; I can verify this is a good assessment. And that’s not all he has in common with toddlers. Louie chooses the same kind of toys. His favorites?

  1. Bottle caps: It’s a game for him to throw bottle caps from the top of his cage for us to toss them back. Sometimes Tanner finds them for us.
  2. Ropes: We discovered this purely by accident. Chewing is a natural behavior for birds, and Louie is a one-bird demolition crew! My brother-in-law built him a little wooden perch on a stand, which is his favorite place to hang out, but he literally destroys the ground he’s standing on when he chomps through all the wood! So my husband Ret started wrapping the base support with cotton rope as a barrier. Now Louie plays with the silky, fraying ends of his rope, preening the strands like it’s his girlfriend’s hair.
  3. Boxes: Louie loves boxes. Besides chewing them up, he likes to walk inside them and laugh, just to hear his echo. Sometimes he simply hangs out in his little box “house,” or plays peek-a-boo with me by hiding inside the box and popping out again. He’s a nut.
Louie's house
Louie is proud of his shabby chic decor

And anything can be a perch.

 

Kiss your parrot today

I love this little character. He’s seriously high maintenance, but he’s also full of personality. Parrots tend to bond with one person, and for Louie, it’s me – he’ll perch on my shoulder, whisper in my ear and preen my hair to show his affection. His sweet nothings are mostly parrot gibberish, but to me, he’s saying, “I love you,” something I haven’t been able to teach him to say in my language. (Otherwise, he has a pretty good vocabulary for a small parrot.)

Louie has been patiently waiting for me to wrap this up and play with him, so I’ll sign off for now. Kiss your parrot today, or if you don’t have a parrot, kiss someone else who talks too much, and say, “I love you.” IMG_0930

And if you’d like to read more about Louie, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I Know After 50-Something Years of Life

“The more I know, the less I understand.

All the things I thought I knew, I’m learning again.”

Don Henley, J. D. Souther

These are lines from former Eagle Don Henley’s The Heart of the Matter, my favorite of his songs. Its words of lost love, betrayal and forgiveness resonate with me on so many levels, but these particular lyrics really speak to me. The older I get, the more I realize: I really don’t know life at all (Joni Mitchell).

Still, I’ve learned a thing or two since I entered the world in the comparatively innocent early 60s. Here are a few of them:

Some dogs will eat your homework.

Silence really is golden.

People are capable of acts of stunning beauty and shocking cruelty.

Good fathers are one of God’s most special gifts. Thank you for mine, God.

There’s never enough loose change in the sofa cushions to buy anything.

Novels are best devoured when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Sleeping, for example.

Broken cookies still contain calories. Sorry, Grandma.

Just because the traffic light is green, it doesn’t mean you can go.

More than anyone else, your children are experts at pushing your buttons.

The washing machine will only eat your favorite sweater, never that ratty t-shirt. Ditto the dishwasher. If something is going to break in there, it’ll be your nice glassware, not those jelly jars you’ve been drinking from since 1974.

Looking at my children’s sleeping faces will always squeeze my heart. Even when they’re almost 30 and napping on the sofa.

Everything happens in threes. Except when they happen in fours. Or not at all – which is exactly the frequency of most of the things I worry about.

 

Interview with a Monkey Mind

My mind has a mind of its own.

It’s good to know I’m not alone in this. Apparently it’s been a common struggle throughout the ages, so we can’t even blame cell phones and video games for our gnat-sized attention spans. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text on the art and science of yoga, we learn yoga’s true purpose, and no, it’s not to fit in Lulumon pants. In Book 1, Sutra 2, the sage Patanjali tells us that the purpose of yoga is to still the waves of the mind: Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.

Chimp 3 (1)

This tendency of the mind to run from one thing to the next is often described as the monkey mind. If you suddenly conjured up a mental image of a frolicking chimpanzee jumping on your bed, screaming happily while throwing your good china against the wall, you get the idea.

My mind can be like that. Through years of practicing and teaching yoga and meditation, I’ve made a little progress on the path, but I’ll confess that some days are much better than others.

I had a talk with my monkey mind last weekend when it interrupted me with a stream of nonsense the minute I sat down to meditate. Here’s how it went:

Me (establishing a comfortable, cross-legged position on my cushion): OMMM…

I felt good. The candles on my altar were flickering softly.

Monkey Mind: Hey, it’s cold in here!

Me (sitting a little taller and drawing my shawl more snugly around me): Focus on the breath, sweetheart. Inhale deeply. Exhale completely.

It is always best to treat the mind gently and lovingly, rather than trying to force it to bend to your will. I managed a few slow, deep breaths to settle myself and began to feel more in control. Then I let my breath return to normal and tried to focus my mind on it.

Monkey Mind: My nose itches.

Me: Shhh. Back to the breath. (Inhale, exhale, repeat.)

Monkey Mind: I said, my nose itches!Bunny (1)

Without my permission, my nose started to twitch like a rabbit’s. I will not scratch my nose, I told myself, and then, thankfully, the itch disappeared. I returned my attention to my breath for about 30 seconds.

Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral Yoga® (my yoga), outlines three steps in dealing with distracting thoughts during meditation:

  1. Treat the thought like an uninvited guest and just ignore it. Maybe it’ll go away.
  2. Watch the thought in a detached manner and let it pass. Sometimes, like a naughty child when a parent enters the room, a wild thought will settle down when it realizes it’s been caught.
  3. Negotiate with the thought. Offer it an appointment with you later, after you finish your practice.

I tried diligently to employ these steps.

Monkey Mind: What’s that noise?

Me (to myself): Ignore the monkey. Maybe it’ll go away. (Step One)

Monkey Mind: What’s that noise? Is it outside? Can we look out the window?

Me: I’m ignoring you.

Monkey Mind: I think someone’s at the door.

I caught myself just before I opened my eyes toward the window and managed to return to witnessing the breath for about 15 seconds this time.

Monkey Mind: My foot is falling asleep. We need to get up.

Me: Not yet.

Step Two involves witnessing the thought without becoming attached to it. So I spent a moment listening to my mind whine about my foot in a detached way, much like you would watch raindrops slide down your windowpane. Eventually the whining stopped and things were quiet for few minutes.

Monkey Mind: Hey, you left those shirts in the washing machine.

At this point, I wondered if I was wasting my time. Maybe I should just get up, I thought. I have a lot to do…

Me (to myself): No, we are not getting up. We are staying right here and we are going to finish our practice.

Monkey Mind: I am SO uncomfortable! Please, please, uncross my legs! Do you think we can order a pizza? What do you want to do today? I really like butterflies. Did you call your sister? I want to go to the movies! Can we? Huh? Huh?

Me: All right! I give up! Why can’t you let me be still for five minutes?

For a moment, Monkey Mind seemed surprised by the outburst. Then:

Monkey Mind: It’s my job to generate thoughts. If I stopped, you might fire me!

Me: It’s your job to do as I ask you, not to turn my head into a three-ring circus. How do you expect us to accomplish anything if we can’t cooperate with each other?

Monkey Mind: I’m only trying to help. I have lots of good ideas.

Me: You do have good ideas sometimes. But I haven’t heard a single one from you today. You know that this is important to me. It takes focus and concentration to meditate. I can’t focus if you won’t. Don’t you want to get stronger and more peaceful?

Monkey Mind: So you don’t want to go to the movies?

Me: I’ll make a deal with you. Let me finish my practice in peace, and then we’ll go to the movies. We might even order a pizza! (Step Three: negotiate)

Monkey Mind: I want spinach and mushroom!

Me: Okay, spinach and mushroom. Now let’s get back to work.

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