Something that I learned from doing space cleaning with clients is that the root cause of most hoarding is grief and trauma. A lot of people were orderly their entire lives until one of their parents died, and that is usually the trigger. While that tends to be the major one, there are of course a million sadnesses that we mourn.
In all the home visits I ever did, I never once knew anyone to sort through or get rid of a single box of grief clutter. As far as I know it can’t be done.
This is because our culture does a very sparse job of acknowledging the dead. We don’t really have monuments or altars the way that a lot of other cultures have always done. Our funerary rites aren’t completing the work.
Right now I can personally identify with the idea of wearing black from head to foot, covering myself with a knee-length veil, and putting a dry dark wreath on my door so people know to stay the heck away from me with their pat phrases.
You Can Always Get Another One
Maybe You Can Clone Her
And the enduring winner, Did You Keep Her Wings?
Those of you who are mourning humans, I certainly hope nobody has said these things to you about your person, and if they have, send me a note and I will go throw rocks at their house for you.
Never forget, whatever is the worst thing you could possibly think for one person to say to another, someone will say it to you while you are grieving - and then someone else will invent a newly horrid way to express something yet worse and allow those words to pass their lips as well.
Grief makes us exquisitely sensitive, such that, even if someone somehow knew the “right” thing to say, it would only remind us of our loss. There’s no way through it without supreme irritability because our skins have just been flayed loose.
We don’t know what to do about death and loss and grief. Somewhere after the First World War, we lost the plot. The Victorians, now they knew how it was done.
I would humbly submit that keeping a catacomb of cardboard boxes would not be the most stately means of honoring our dearly departed.
Something that I try to express, while tiptoeing around grief, is that you probably know what your person would have wanted.
And it probably isn’t this.
I’ve written about this before, but if I died suddenly and my personal effects were distributed, I would be horrified if someone were to just keep a box of my random goods sitting in a closet or a storage unit. That is on my list of worst nightmares. I dedicated much of my adult working life to helping people learn to do space clearing, and thus a lingering crate of my own clutter would be like an anti-memorial. The exact opposite of everything I ever stood for.
I told my Nana once that I had every greeting card she had ever sent me. She looked appalled. “Why??” she wailed. “Throw that stuff away!”
What would your person say about those boxes?
What would be the memorial they would actually find touching?
This is actually a question worth asking of people who are still here, and certainly one worth asking of yourself.
My husband and I were sitting in a little park one afternoon in Spain, and I saw a plaque dedicating the park to the memory of a woman who had died nearly 150 years before. It was a really, really nice little park, with mature trees and plenty of benches. This is something to which I aspire. I’d like there to be a little park when I go, nothing too terribly morbid, but somewhere where young people would fall in love and families would push strollers and old-timers would sit and read.
That - not a stack of dusty old boxes, please!
We’ve been working on our grief cleaning for five days already, a little each day.
We had a bit of advance notice that the terrible day was coming, and we had already made a few decisions about where things would go.
Unfortunately, the work has been compounded a bit, because we didn’t really completely finish the job when our dog had to be put down last year. Now there are “perfectly good” items for both a dog and a parrot that really need to be heading out the door in one form or another.
Every single particle of them has memories wrapped around it.
It’s hard with a parrot because little downy feathers keep blowing out. I absolutely know that I will not be able to find them all, no matter how hard I try, and that at least a few more will swirl out of another dimension the next time we pack to move.
I know because I’ve been here before, exactly here. More than once. Turned inside out with the loss of a beloved pet and companion of many years. Undone by a floating feather.
Why we keep doing it to ourselves I don’t know. We must somehow forget what it is like to be gutted anew each time, at least enough to lose our hearts to yet another short-lived creature, and we set ourselves up for yet another heartbreak.
I wonder if Chewbacca felt this way about Han Solo.
We have to tease ourselves a bit because as real, heavy, and solid as our grief is, it only lasts forever if we let it. It only paralyzes us when we forget that our departed ones would never have wanted this for us.
I’m going to take the toys and perches and dishes and carriers and - oh lord - the sleeping cage. I’m going to somehow get them into a sad little mound in my dining room. Then I’m going to call around and find a bird sanctuary that can make use of them.
This work has already begun. It feels like my limbs are wading through quicksand as I do it, but I’m doing it. I can’t bear it, not in the least, but I am somehow bearing it, even as I definitely can’t.
How about you? Where are you keeping the grief clutter in your life? Are you going to do anything with it?
My little gray parrot Noelle has passed away, a little more than a month before her 23rd birthday. We were together for 13 years.
I am not coping well.
Lately it feels like it’s been raining bowling balls in my life. The last couple of months have been a relentless series of bad news, most of which I am not discussing in my blog out of respect for the privacy of others.
Our home feels so empty.
When we moved into this apartment, we were a family of four. It took a bit of finagling to fit in a birdcage and a dog crate, but we did it.
Since we moved in back in fall of 2019, our dog died, and our parrot died, and I got COVID-19 and almost died. Now the place feels haunted to me.
The joy has drained from my life.
There is no good way to grieve, especially if it’s for an animal. You can never get the proportion right no matter what you do. If people are suspicious of you, because you’re a murder suspect or a gold digger or whatever, then they’ll either think you are too cold or that you’re faking your tears.
The rest of us are overdoing it.
Grief is inconvenient. It reminds everybody of mortality, in general and in the specific. Guess what, you’re next. Or someone is. Nobody gets out of this game alive.
My experience of being in my forties so far is one mourning period after another. Literally the last six times I have logged into Facebook I have discovered that someone I knew has passed on, to the point that I’m afraid to even look any more. I am at the age where I almost always know someone in the hospital for one reason or another, a continuous stream of surgeries or health scares.
I wonder how people who are 60-plus are able to maintain their equanimity. Maybe you just start to get used to it.
My husband and I are alone for the first time since we met. Just us.
I don’t think he even realized how much he cared for Noelie until she had the stroke. It never occurs to most people that you can love a bird. Now her loss has brought up memories from having to put Spike down last year.
The biggest difference is that he was diagnosed with a genetic condition before he turned three. We had most of his life to adjust to the idea that his time would be relatively short. When we took him in for his final vet visit, it was because we knew it was high time and we wanted to spare him any further decline.
While all this was going on, I had it in my mind that Noelle might live to be eighty or a hundred years old. This is a part of parrot lore that I had never really questioned, and I would occasionally see news stories that supported the idea that they basically live forever. I thought she would pass through at least another generation.
Gradually I started to tweak that number to more like… 38. It seemed like I was hearing stories about gray parrots living into that age range. I didn’t like it but I still thought we had plenty of time.
I’m telling you this because some of you may be parrot fans and may have plans to take one home one day. You need to know.
It wasn’t until after she had her stroke that the vet told us: many grays only live into the 18- to 25-year age range.
The bird I thought was young, with plenty of time ahead of her, was actually pretty elderly.
I was not emotionally prepared at all when she had her stroke while I was out of town. It took me out at the knees.
By some miracle, she lived another three weeks, long enough for me to come home and say goodbye. We had a few sweet evenings of kisses and cuddles.
Then everything went sideways.
I won’t share too many details, other than to say that we weren’t able to get her help soon enough and she had to go nature’s way. Which she did not deserve.
If you’ve read this far and you have pets, this is what I charge you to do. Look up whether there are any 24-hour veterinary hospitals in your area. Ours happens to be 14 miles away, a half-hour drive at best. If you have never had dealings with that place, do your research now. Can you bust in the door with a blanket in your arms, or does your pet need to be enrolled as a patient first?
I charge you with another task, which is this. Kiss and cuddle your animals now, today, while you can.
Through some serendipity, the credit for which I can’t claim, the past year was one of the best of Noelle’s life. We were both home with her all day, every day. We started building what started out as a small, rudimentary fort and turned into a massive cardboard palace. She played her little heart out and she got tons of lap time.
She was such an extraordinary little person.
When I think about her, I am amazed at her grace and sensitivity, her dear affectionate nature and her ability to befriend people on sight. She recognized the face of everyone she ever met and she would remember people she hadn’t seen in years. Her world was full of love and music and kisses and radishes, everything she ever wanted.
I adored her from her tiny eyelashes to her scaly toes.
I can’t imagine what I’m going to do now that she’s gone. In many ways, she had become a part of my identity. She was not mine; I was hers. Her caretaker and chief admirer.
She is gone now. The world is a little darker and smaller.
About three weeks ago, my little parrot Noelle had a stroke. My husband and I were both out of town at the time and the boarding place had to rush her to the veterinary hospital. The vet told me she probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
I thought I’d never see her again.
Somehow, against all odds, she is still here and we are together again.
I got home late Saturday night. Noelie stayed up waiting for me.
The first difference I noticed is how quiet she is now. Before the stroke, she would have been whistling and chattering. Now, she barely even tries to vocalize at all. When she does, it’s hardly audible.
I got a hoarse sort of bark that showed she was trying, but something was interfering with her normal voice.
She wanted to come to me right away. She can still raise her foot in the air, waving, sometimes to say hello and usually to ask for something. Pick me up.
I sat on the couch and my husband carried her over to me with both hands.
She nestled in against my chest, something she really only does with me.
My husband said he had tried to do this with her, but she would panic because her balance was so poor now. She couldn’t lean forward.
The first time she ever did this with me, I had just come home from a trip. I had no idea what she was trying to do. She kept reaching toward my chest and I thought maybe she wanted a kiss or maybe she was trying to chew on my clothes. Finally she reached me and rested her breast against me, where she wanted to snuggle for half an hour. Welcome home.
That became a thing between us. I would pick her up and she would lean in and I would carry her around, scratching her head or stroking her back.
I fully expected that she would want to do this when I came home, because we hadn’t seen each other in a month. In the past twelve years, I don’t think we’ve ever been away from each other that long.
Yes, she had had a stroke. Yes, my husband had warned me that she couldn’t balance and that she would panic if she found herself leaning into that position.
In my heart I believed that she would be so excited to hear my voice and see me again, she would push and suddenly what was impossible would just be hard.
I was right.
She snuggled right in and I proceeded to give her the scalp massage of her dreams.
This is a tricky moment, the crossroads between fantasy and denial.
On the one hand, here was my girl, exactly in the way I had been visualizing for the past two and a half weeks, resting against my chest and getting her head scratched.
On the other hand, I had heard for myself that her voice is basically gone. I had seen how wobbly and frail she was as my husband carried her over to me. It also hadn’t escaped me that she was up nearly three hours past her bedtime and failing to demand room service.
Only one thing about her behavior was normal, and that was this moment of mommy/birdie time.
We took her in to bed, where my husband had modified her sleeping cage with towel-covered cardboard boxes. Now she can reach her food and sleep on her childhood swing without risk of a fall.
The next major difference I noticed was that we all slept in past nine the next morning.
Normal Noelie would wake me up with a single loud peep at 7:45 am, weekends and holidays. If I tried to sleep in, she would gradually increase the volume and frequency of her chatters until I gave up and got her out of bed. It’s my job to get her up and keep her quiet until my hubby gets up, and he returns the favor when I stumble off to take an afternoon nap.
For whatever reason, post-stroke Noelie sleeps late into the morning and stays up late. In the past, she would be scared to have a visible night sky behind her and would demand that someone get up and pull the drapes. Now she doesn’t seem to care.
I found out what everyone meant by her being “wobbly.” She can still climb, but after she gets to the top of her perch, she rocks and sways all over for about thirty seconds like she’s trying to do a hula hoop trick.
I watched as she tried to groom herself. She can lean to the left to preen under her wing, but she can’t quite reach her right side.
She can still stand on one foot, turn her head backward, and tuck her beak into her back when she wants to sleep, which is often. When she first came home from her second trip to the veterinary hospital, she slept for 24 hours.
A few things changed after I came home, compared to what I had been hearing from the boarding place, the vet, the vet techs, and my husband.
Her appetite improved.
The wobble got less noticeable.
Her reach has improved a little to the right-hand side.
She became able to lean forward for the chest snuggle.
She started to vocalize a tiny bit more, although her voice isn’t much of a much.
Then something terrible happened. She was sitting on her perch and I was clocking out for the day. Suddenly I heard a thud. I turned around and she was laying on her back with her feet in the air. Whatever happened, she had fallen about 15 inches. My heart stopped.
She rolled over on her own. It took her about two minutes to catch her breath and dust herself off. She got up and perched facing out the window, which is probably exactly what I would do if I had just taken a humiliating fall.
I feared the worst - a downward spiral after what appeared to be gradual daily improvement.
Then, two hours later, I saw what I thought was impossible. She was preening a single tail feather, turned to the side in a stretch she hasn’t been able to do in weeks.
It has been a rough ride over the past three weeks. There were a couple of occasions where we were trying to brace ourselves for the inevitable - euthanasia and a lifelong empty space in our hearts.
Now it appears that we made the right decision, standing by and watching and waiting. Little Noelle has been making steady, though slow, improvement. She seems happy. She has a good appetite, she can climb around a little and feed herself, she is ready to interact with us, and she is gradually rebuilding her ability to groom her own feathers.
What the vet has led us to expect is that in her experience, a solitary parrot like Noelie suffered a stroke and was able to make a recovery. It took a couple of months. We know it’s possible. She appears to be on her way, just with a raggedy tail.
Let’s all wish her well.
Keep it coming, keep it coming, it’s working!
We had a big breakthrough today. Little Noelle did her ‘food dance’ all on her own!
When she was 10, I taught her to turn in a circle to get a treat. There is a special hand signal to get her to do this. At some point, she jumped to abstract thinking and made the connection - wait, if you give me food when I do this dance, then if I do the dance, you have to compensate me. (Trigger: chocolate chip cookies, no part of which she was given).
My hubby was bringing her some blueberries, which she has not been eating for at least the past week. This is the saddest thing in the world, when your beloved pet refuses even a nibble of their favorite food.
Either she just had no appetite, or she couldn’t balance on one foot to hold the kinds of things that she eats with her toes. Both possible, both sad.
So he was bringing her the blueberries, and she turned around all on her own, and then she said, “Whew!”
It is hard to express what a big quantum leap this is in her behavior since the stroke.
Everything about the dance and the berries and the Whew sounds 100% normal.
Then she had some lettuce and some carrots.
It was a good day.
I’m still trying to get my head around it. She went from ‘not being able to groom herself properly’ to doing a little Rockette number - that fast?
Not sure about the grooming yet. I won’t believe she’s really better until I see her combing out her glorious little red tail with that little black beakie.
But I do believe that she is getting better, that healing is possible even after catastrophic illness, and that positive thinking helps.
How? Why? Who cares?? Just keep it coming, it’s working!
If she was healing anyway, even without anyone “sending her thoughts,” then surely it wouldn’t be wrong to keep up the harmless activity of sending those thoughts? (Always keeping in mind that we prioritized top-level mainstream veterinary care and that her vet is touching base every day).
Surely we are allowed to be glad when this bit of feathered sunshine is having an easier day?
With all the problems in the world, at least someone is...
I think of everyone at the veterinary hospital, and how much pain, misery, injury, illness, and death they must have seen in their careers. What a labor of love it is for them to put on their scrubs each day. What pure delight it must be when a cute li’l critter beats the odds. They sound genuinely glad when they call to check in and I say she was climbing around or vocalizing more.
Okay, so let’s talk about what all this means for people, rather than a simple morale boost.
What does it mean if a nine-inch-tall bird of mature years who weighs around 400 grams can survive a stroke and regain her balance and speaking ability?
What does it mean for us, since she’s not even a mammal and all that?
I’d say it means something. A stroke is a stroke, after all. Everyone in this story is a warm-blooded vertebrate. Apparently every creature that enters the veterinary clinic has a brain and a heart and the ability to form potentially lethal blood clots. That includes us as well as birds, cats, and dogs.
The main difference between Noelie and us, besides the fact that radishes are her favorite food, is that to the best of our knowledge, she is not capable of worrying about the future. She can’t psych herself out. She can’t delude herself about what the doctor told her, or forget what the nurse said.
In other words, she can’t overthink things.
All she can do is keep on waking up, nibbling on whatever someone else put in her food dish, and trying to scramble to her water bowl. Apparently she has had so much trouble with dizziness that sometimes when she drinks and tries to shake her head to dry her face, it throws her totally off balance.
She’s just in survival mode, not ‘search the web and scare herself reading articles late into the night’ mode.
All she can do is live, or not live.
We humans have choices. Unfortunately we abuse most of those choices. We start with confirmation bias, wanting to seek out information that matches what we’d most like to believe. We round that out with pessimism, believing that most of our problems are genetic or that nothing can be done or that we’ve Tried Everything (TM). Then we finish out with noncompliance, simply fading out on whatever dim intentions we may have had to make a couple changes.
Ask any nurse - people aren’t very good at following instructions.
It’s my practice to listen carefully when people start griping and groaning about their health complaints. If I happen to develop one of these issues myself, I’m going to find that information very useful. For instance, I vividly recall someone telling me about getting chiggers for the first time, and that was at least a decade ago. Note to self: do not get chiggers. I believe it’s possible to avoid certain health issues with a bit of foreknowledge.
Not that any of this will help my little parrot, who is not in charge of her own diet, unless she plans to cut back a bit on the shredded cardboard.
What it might help is anyone who learns about her stroke and her eventual recovery. I would hope her story would give a bit of hope to anyone who also had a stroke, or some other cardiac or neurological event. If this little bird can do it, then maybe I can too.
We could still use a return to her ability to turn around to the side and groom her tail, her ability to walk across her ladder bridge, and her ability to call out a cheery Good Morning!
Until then, we can pause to give thanks that this sweet, loving fluff ball is still here and still improving, a little more each day.
Noelie is home again, after her second separate weekend in the veterinary hospital. She’s eating on her own and she can sleep standing on one foot with her head tucked backward, which is more than I can do, so hey.
I didn’t know what was going to happen over this long holiday weekend. I feared the inevitable. Not too many parrots have been known to survive a stroke. I decided not to cancel my plans to go camping, so I could creep off to cry in the trees and meditate on all that circle of life business.
Time enough to find out the sad news after we came down off the mountain again. In the meantime, let me pretend that all this is uncertain. Schrodinger’s Parrot.
I set out alone to walk around the lake, a distance somewhere between seven and eight miles. This would be the farthest distance I have traveled on foot since I came down with COVID last year. Actually about double.
What I didn’t know, when I set out, was that there was not a clear path around the entire lake.
This is life. You make these big impressive plans and set out to accomplish them, often as a way to escape a situation or a grief or a trauma, and then realize that what you are doing isn’t what you thought it was going to be.
I walked over sand
I walked over rocks
I walked straight into a bog
My socks got wet
I didn’t know where I was
I couldn’t find the path
I wandered in the trees and realized the sun was going to set
I was in the home stretch, only a mile or so from camp, tired and dehydrated and feeling dumb as heck
When I turned around and decided to go back in the woods again
And I saw these rare flowers, trilliums, that supposedly take seven years to bloom
Oh, I should take a picture of these, I thought, and got out my phone
Only to see an incoming text message. Out here?
A video of my little parrot Noelle, standing at her dish and eating, which used to be the most ordinary thing in the world
But which now constituted PROOF OF LIFE
And I stood there in the Bog of Confusion and texted my husband and found out that she was home again.
A few minutes later I had found the trail - a messy and muddy trail, unimproved, large sections washed out in knee-deep pools of water, blocked by half a dozen fallen trees - and half an hour later I was back in camp
Where everyone thought I had been in my tent taking a nap the whole time.
I was not lost
I did not need a search party
I didn’t even get a mosquito bite, despite the bog
And I drank nearly two liters of water and ate two burgers
And told everybody about my sweet little birdie
And there was much rejoicing.
I thought to myself, if I can walk seven miles then maybe I can walk ten
Maybe I can run-walk soon
Only a year ago I could barely stand up long enough to fold a basket of laundry
And now I can carry a 30-pound pack down the stairs again.
I can pitch my tent, I can put my sleeping bag in the compression sack, I can survive a night when the temperature is 43F
I did it all
And if I can survive coronavirus, then maybe my baby bean can survive her stroke after all.
When I got back to town I talked to my husband and he shared about what he has learned from the vet. She has been checking in a lot.
We are now on the cutting edge of veterinary science
She only knows of one other parrot who has had the same symptoms as my girl
That bird was messed up for a few months
BUT IT RECOVERED
And she is not writing her off by any means!
Let’s remember her as an acrobat, chatty, musical, demanding little diva
And not as this sorry creature with dizzy spells who cannot preen her own tail.
Let us hope and pray together that she will recover, like this other bird supposedly has, that she will continue her upward trend and start to collect her personality back into herself.
Let us wish for her that she will have better balance and better strength and more appetite, that she will return to her cheerful little self
just like her mama did
And let’s also take a few moments to think about whatever the heck miracles might be.
I shared about Noelie’s story before going off grid for the weekend
Because my heart was heavy and I didn’t know how to do anything else
But also because I had this inkling that positive thoughts might work, and asking would be harmless.
I thought of all the many friends my little parrot has made, with her sweet nature and kisses and all the times she has posed for photos, the happiness she has distributed
I thought, if any of her many friends were to pause for a moment and think of her, let their hearts go out to her
Maybe there would be something to it?
It seems like probably there was!
I wanted everyone to know that whatever we have been doing together in this project, it seems to be working!
Now if you’re looking for a simple homework assignment, if you want to participate in this endeavor of willing my small bird back to health, this is the task:
Visualize her successfully grooming her lovely red tail and doing her bird yoga.
I will be home with her again soon - and my poor hubby as well, of course - and my visualization is holding her again. I know and trust that she will be there to greet me, that she has another week in her.
That she may be stronger and healthier in a week than she is today.
As may we all.
Suddenly the entire attic slid off her house. She was standing right there, watching it happen. She did what anyone would do - she leapt into the air and landed ten feet away.
Noelle has been dividing her time between chewing cardboard, as one does, and standing on one foot.
We haven’t rebuilt her fort since mid-October, and we hadn’t been paying much attention to its structural integrity. Let’s just say it wouldn’t have passed inspection. Code violations included holes in exterior walls, excavations of entire sections of floor, and an unpermitted tenant-installed skylight.
What a parrot beak is able to do with corrugated cardboard is to gradually excise the inner layer, leaving only a thin veneer that looks like a regular box on the outside. Sometimes all that is really left is a strap of packing tape.
The exterior lists slightly in sections, but otherwise appears sound, a sort of Potemkin village.
When the attic fell off, the fort was reduced to its original three stories, but was otherwise intact.
Noelle is no dummy. She has been known to gnaw off a basket handle in segments, leaving one intact coil so that it doesn’t break and she can continue to perch on it. She can untie knots. She undid the latch on her travel cage and let herself out. She figured out how to operate my sewing snips to try to file her beak. I’m pretty sure that if I let her, she could open a pop can.
Therefore, it was unsurprising when, returned to her bridge, she refused to go back into the fort.
This is the proper reaction when regarding a condemned building!
We were on the clock and not in any kind of position to start rebuilding a new fort, especially since we have been debating some modifications to the original blueprint. With hours left of our workday, we needed to entertain that busy little beak.
The only thing for it was to coax her back into the remains of the fort, like a group of truant teenagers exploring an abandoned mental hospital.
The fort in its various iterations has been a part of our flock since the early days of the shutdown. Just like the gameboard for Clue, it has named areas. There’s the erstwhile attic, the atrium, the kissing booth, and the watchtower where she goes to derp.
(Derping is when she stands around with her beak hooked over the edge of a box, making her look like some kind of buck-toothed lollygagger).
The area where I set my nervous bird was the porch, where she often sits, as if waiting to welcome guests to her Air Bird and Beak.
An anxious parrot is a comical creature. She twitches and jumps and flaps her wings and leans farther to the side than would seem physically possible. She cranes her neck around, adding nearly two inches to its visible length, and bobs her head up and down. Her eyes become round as saucers. You can almost hear the spooky soundtrack playing.
We returned to work.
Within minutes, once she realized that there was no need for an exorcism or silver bullets, she was back to business, scooting around the remaining rooms of the bird fort and continuing to shred everything within reach.
It’s been days, and Noelle is continuing on with her cardboard-rending hobby the way that only a saliva-free creature could do.
Bright as she is, she does not seem to have made the connection between her habit and the gradual destruction of her play area.
I identify with this a little bit?
But also, the great thing about her is that she operates in constant and perfect faith that all her needs will be satisfied, usually on demand.
There’s this little thing she does, where she’ll be walking back and forth on the back of the couch, and suddenly she will decide that she wants to descend to the cushions. One would think that a flighted avian unit could simply flap twice and land wherever she liked. Instead, she grabs some piping with her beak and lowers herself off the edge, scaly toes dangling in mid-air, in certain knowledge that someone will rush to her aid, offer her a hand, and carry her down.
She’s learned awfully quickly that she has to work harder to get our attention since the advent of the noise-canceling headphones. She also has to get her message across without a lot of guessing games. This is how we started to get such a clear “good morning” out of her when she informs us that it’s time to be escorted out to the porch.
“Good morning” has proven such a useful phrase for her that she’s been testing it out to see what else it can get her. Not so much a greeting as a “garçon, coffee.”
She has separate and distinct signals for getting fresh parrot kibble vs vegetable parings, turning on the space heater, or being invited into a video meeting.
There are differences between a parrot and other members of the household. She is smarter than a dog and more affectionate than a cat, yet filthier than an entire kindergarten of human children. (You might think your kids are messy, and maybe they also fling fruit on your windows, but do they gnaw chunks out of your baseboards or bite through your headphone cords?)
The great thing about this particular bird is that she lives in this abundant, shameless space. She doesn’t wait or sneak around to steal food the way a dog will. She just marches up and starts eating it. She doesn’t beg for things, she insists on them. Yet she also has her little rituals for saying thank you, like grooming your fingers when you bring her something like a bowl of fresh water. She kisses everyone and everything, from her toys and her swing to the wall itself.
Fortunately she kisses a lot of stuff before commencing to tear it to pieces, which sometimes gives us a chance to intervene.
This weekend we’ll most likely rebuild the bird fort, bigger and better than ever before. It’s hard not to just give her anything she asks for. At least one little soul in this shared experience we apes call “the pandemic” is living her best life, waited on beak and talon.
Hey, did you pack your go bag yet?
Someone close to me has been on an evacuation order, the fires are that close. Seven people on his work crew had their houses burn down.
I told him, yeah, my good friend had her house burn down last year.
Between us, we probably know almost as many people who have been affected by wildfires as we do people who have contracted COVID-19. (Which, by the way, has started touching my own personal family in a most offensive manner).
The first thing to think about with go bags is actually not your own stuff - it’s your pets and their stuff.
This is what I reminded my person, who claimed that his cat likes to ride in the car. True. Cool story, bro. Have you tested that theory when there are flames down the street?
Animals panic when things are on fire. This may save their lives, if they can outrun the flames in the right direction. It may also mean their certain doom, if there’s nowhere to go. It’s also unlikely you’ll be able to find them again.
BTW did you get your guys microchipped?
We have a parrot, and fire would be extremely bad news for her. Smoke inhalation would probably take her out before we could get her into her carrier. Nevertheless, I keep it directly under her sleeping cage, door facing out. All we would have to do is pull the Velcro so the door flaps down and stuff her inside. Right next to the carrier is her go bag, with styptic gel and a few other supplies.
Styptic gel, you haven’t heard of it? Neither had our vet. It stops bleeding if you smear it on a wound. It stings a little, but it’s got a topical analgesic in it so they calm down right away. Birds, dogs, cats, people, probably lizards, I dunno. Most useful veterinary first aid item I know of. I keep it in the outside pocket of the go bag for easy access.
First aid. That’s the thing that nobody really thinks about until something happens. Like this time I was running for the bus, and I tripped and flayed open my knee just as the bus was coming. I got on but I didn’t have so much as a napkin to stop the bleeding, and that was the end of my white capri pants. Now I take those large bandages and the gauze and the rolls of tape a lot more seriously.
Our smaller first aid kit is right on the top inside my go bag. It’s bright red, of course. No matter how many times I might pack and repack this bag, the first aid kit is staying on top.
What else goes in there that we always meant to pack, but never got around to it?
Somewhere, somehow, you want all the contact information for your insurance. (Medical, car, homeowner, whatever else you have). Also all your bank information and anyone you’d want to get in touch with if you have to evacuate.
Assume, of course, that you’ve lost your phone somewhere.
Strangely enough, I had a second conversation right after I talked to my person about evacuating his pets. This one was about restoring a device that hadn’t been backed up.
* this is your regularly scheduled random reminder that, oh yeah, you kept meaning to get around to that, too *
I explained that, considering what the device was used for, it was probably okay that it had never been backed up. But please talk to the free tech support person about getting that set up, so you won’t continue to run into this situation every few years?
Imagine the perfect combination of factors: your device was never backed up, you never packed your go bag or listed off your emergency contacts, and then you actually did have to evacuate. You’re sitting in an emergency Red Cross shelter trying to rack your brain and figure out how to get ahold of everyone. Anyone.
Facebook, probably, and someone would probably be kind enough to let you log in for a few minutes.
But then, with your life up in the air, how many hours do you really want to spend tracking down all your insurance and bank info? As well as lining up somewhere to stay?
And trying to track your poor missing animals?
Hopefully not while your kids cry down to their chins over them?
I have had to evacuate my apartment because of a fire. I’ve also had to evacuate my building at work after explaining to my customer why I had to hang up our call, which they did not believe. When it happens, it’s not like they write you several letters first. You’re either sound asleep or doing something important when BOOM BOOM BOOM. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a firefighter come and beat on your door.
I don’t mean to be scary, except that I totally do. Packing a go bag is somewhere way down the list from writing a will, becoming an organ donor, and putting your fire extinguisher somewhere accessible. (Um, you do have a fire extinguisher, right?) Try to make it vivid and visual in your mind that these things happen, and lately they happen all the time.
Practice. Practice grabbing your stuff and rounding up your small dependents and actually getting them out the door. It will immediately become obvious if there are any flaws in your plan.
I tried it with the dog, the parrot, and my backpack. It was nuts. I could barely walk 1 mph. Fortunately, nothing was on fire so they were both like “Walk? Right on!”
Suddenly all my great plans about packing a paperback book and some playing cards didn’t sound so great. Keep it light.
If you don’t actually have practice walking long distances with a heavy backpack, don’t put yourself in that position on the one day you really need that backpack. Either train for it or keep culling what you have in there. Keep putting it on and weighing it.
Having a solid evacuation plan is more valuable than a go bag. Even better is to have several plans. Think out what you would do if certain roads are blocked. Think out what you would do if you have to shelter in place for several days. Talk it out with your best friends, especially the fluffy kind.
Hopefully we never need any of this stuff. It sure is a lot easier to sleep soundly when we know that we have it zipped up and ready to go.
Once upon a time there was a little gray parrot named Noelle. She was a tiny bird with an enormous dream. One day, when she grew up, she wished that she could live in a cardboard box.
Then her wish came true!
First, she had one box.
Then, she had two boxes.
Then, she had three boxes.
Before she knew it, the little parrot named Noelle had so many boxes she could hardly count them all. She could climb out of one box and into another box and then climb out again.
Best of all, the little gray parrot was allowed to chew up as much cardboard as she wanted! She could rip it and tear it and shred it and kick it over her shoulder until it fell all over the floor like so many brown cornflakes.
What could possibly be better than living in a box and chewing on cardboard? Mm, mm, delicious!
After a while, Noelle would chew up her boxes so much that they would start to fall over. Then, the very next day, there would be brand-new boxes to munch.
What happened to the old boxes? They fell on the floor in hundreds of little pieces like so many brown cornflakes. That’s what happened to the old chewed-up boxes.
The little parrot named Noelle loved living in a cardboard box. She loved starting all over again with a fresh box whenever she chewed up the old one. There was just one problem.
Every time she went to her box house, she got stuck there. Her box house had no toys, because whenever she found a toy in her nice cardboard house, she picked it up and threw it off her porch. That was her choice. All cardboard, no toys.
But the cardboard house didn’t have any food or water, either. Worst of all, it didn’t have a bathroom.
Poor Noelle. Every time she really started to have fun tearing up her cardboard house, she would start to realize that she needed a break. Then she would have to wait for a cab ride to take her back to her perch.
Whistle, whistle! Whistle for the taxi cab!
Then, one magical day, a new box showed up. It was very skinny and very flat and very long. Where did this box come from? What was in it?
A ladder with every rung a different color!
This was very scary. Whenever there is a ladder, it’s best to stare at it for a while and make sure it doesn’t make any sudden moves.
The next day, the ladder wasn’t scary any more. It had learned to mind its manners.
All of a sudden something happened.
The ladder reached from the box house to the perch!
Now the little gray parrot saw that she could walk back and forth across the ladder bridge whenever she wanted to.
The first day she went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, just to try it out. She shuffled sideways, hanging onto the side of the ladder.
On the second day, she found out she could walk straight forward if she put one foot on the side and the other foot on the rainbow-colored rungs.
Then the little parrot decided that the ladder bridge was the best place to be. She sat in the middle. Sometimes she stood on one foot, because that’s the most comfortable thing to do when you want a nap. Don’t you stand on one foot when you’re tired and you want to sleep?
Another thing you can do on a bridge is eat a piece of lettuce, or maybe some cucumber. Be sure to hold onto it with your toes so you don’t drop it. Cardboard might be delicious, but it’s good to save room for some vegetables too sometimes.
At the end of the day, the little gray parrot named Noelle walked back and forth on the ladder bridge so many times, and ate so much cardboard, that she got very tired. It was almost nine o’clock, and that’s much too late. She went to bed, where she dreamed of eating lots and lots of cardboard the very next day.
I used to write book reviews on Fridays, but I haven’t seemed to be able to finish reading a book for a while. I hope that this children’s story was mildly entertaining and that someone might actually read it to a little kid.
Why not? Today I’m just going to talk about my sweet little bird and her cardboard box fort.
We might have figured it out sooner. For years now, whenever anything would come in a box, Noelle would take a keen interest in it. You can always tell when she really wants something because she turns her head sideways and stares at it with one eye. You can practically see the cartoon arrows pointing directly from her pupil to the object of her desire.
Every now and then, we’d get a big empty box and put her in it. She would scrabble around in there, chewing holes in it and scratching at it with her feet. She does this thing we call “starting the Harley” where she repeatedly kicks one leg backward. There’s a bit of force to it, which you’ll find if you ever put your hand back there while she’s digging.
One day, Noelie was making a bit of a racket while my hubby was trying to work. (I checked my photo album and, coincidentally, it was just a couple days before I realized I had COVID). He had the bright idea to give her a box to play in, except that we didn’t have any big boxes. The one he gave her was barely big enough for her to fit in, an A1 size.
She loved it!
She stood in this little box that only just fit her from beak to tail, and she peeked out over the flap quite cheerfully - for three hours.
Every now and then we would look over at her and crack up laughing. What are you even doing in there??
It didn’t take long to realize that she felt safe in the box. Her perch looks out the sliding glass window into the top of a palm tree where several bird families live. She likes the house finch family and the sparrow family and the hummingbirds and the pair of doves. She is not, however, a fan of the three crows that hang out there.
Birds, by the way, don’t really understand the concept of glass. Their eyes are different than ours and I don’t think they can really tell anything is there.
In the window, she feels exposed to predators - including the gulls and pelicans that she can see sometimes. In her little cardboard box on the top of the bookshelf, she felt cozy and safe. We kept the box and put her back in it the next day. And the next, and the next.
When she wants to go over there, she leans forward and stares intently. If we don’t notice her right away, she starts vocalizing and getting pretty insistent. Then when she needs a break, she does the reverse, staring at her perch and calling for a ride.
Entropy happened and a month later the little A1 box was starting to look pretty chewed up. We needed a replacement, but we didn’t have any more boxes in that size. I managed to scrounge one a little bigger, an A3, and that was when I had my idea.
“I’m going to make her a fort.”
I put the little box vertically in the bigger box, a L shape. I figured we’d lose the first day, because birds are notoriously freaked out by changes in their personal space, even like a new toy or a snack sometimes. But I hadn’t even finished setting it up before Cardbird was over there leaning forward and shifting her weight from foot to foot.
So she stood there in the “box fort” for several hours a day, with occasional breaks.
A week later I got hold of a third box in about the right size and put it over the top. Once again, she figured out that this was a value-add right away and wanted to check it out immediately. She had a roof.
That was when she started taking naps in there.
A week later, I figured out how to add a side compartment and give her a split-level. It took her, like, minutes to climb up into it and explore. She started going up there and peeking at us around the wall.
Two weeks later, I had another box and I built her a compartment on the opposite side. That was the arrangement that allowed her to get up onto the roof, an accomplishment she obviously found very satisfying indeed.
Cardboard doesn’t last forever, though. Also, my husband is an engineer.
What happened next was probably inevitable. A month later, when the existing structure had started to collapse because she gnaws from the base, my husband rebuilt the entire thing.
This was when the “box fort” became what it is now, which is basically a three-story Bauhaus modernist bird mansion with a porch and a ladder.
At this point, we realized that Noelle Noodle is probably the only parrot in the galaxy who has her own box fort. That should change, right?
The fort has transformed the experience of having a parrot at home with two busy office professionals who are on the phone all the time. She knows she is allowed to do whatever she wants in there, tearing and shredding and kicking bits of cardboard over her shoulder. She can climb between levels and compartments safely, with juuuuust enough challenge to make her feel like she’s really earned the fresh view. She naps out in there all the time.
Any bird family might be interested to learn that she’s made it four months completely streak-free. She considers the box fort her “nest” and she has kept it 100% immaculate from the start. She won’t even take toys in there - I’ve tried to offer her a couple and she pitches them out onto the floor.
Our groomer advised that if she started acting aggressive, we should take the fort away from her. She is a remarkably sweet bird and it hasn’t been a problem, but maybe partly because it’s at least a foot lower than her usual perch.
That’s the story of Noelie and her box fort. It began as a random, casual idea and gradually, over a period of three months, morphed into a real plan. This is an allegory for any creative spark, you get that, right? Also, it’s a bit of a manifesto. Even a kid can tape together some empty cardboard boxes and make something sturdy enough for a pet bird to climb on. Every household pet absolutely needs a private personal space to chillax - and they also all need at least 12 hours of sleep, something that is tougher for birds to get, which can make them a little crazy.
True for us all. We all need quiet time, personal space, some playtime, and a little imagination. Maybe some of us could use box forts of our own.
It literally just hit me, with one month to go. We’re not coming up on a new year, we’re coming up on a new decade!
A bit poleaxed by this.
How did this happen? Where did the time go? Am I going to be feeling this same way ten years from now, when I am... *gulp*... 54?
Here I had just been worrying whether I would finish all my resolutions for 2019, and suddenly I’m snapped into a whole next-level perspective.
I spent my twenties being broke, big-time broke, but I somehow managed to finish out that decade of my life with a college degree and a driver’s license. (And a divorce but who’s counting)
Then I spent most of my thirties with my husband. That was an extremely dramatic change from the previous decade of my life. In fact it is helping with this time-shock that I am feeling right now, to think of when he entered my life and the fantastic contrast between His Time and any Time Before. We often say, “I can barely remember what it was like before you came along,” (to our phones) and it feels very true.
Now let’s compare 2009 to 2019.
Um... what else?
2009 was the year I got married again. There probably won’t be as dramatic a change in my life again, unless we get a grandkid (?) or until we retire. That part of things feels solved. For someone who is single, I would say, don’t worry. I hope you always feel that being single is better than being with the wrong person, or being with someone for the wrong reasons. Marriage is either the best thing to ever happen to you, or the worst...
I continue to not own a home. I’ve never bought a house or owned property, and I wonder if I ever will. We’ve moved [counting] eight times since 2009! We’ve also traveled to nine countries together. That part is starting to feel pretty standard. For those who have lived in only one home in the past decade, take a moment to consider that in the context of someone who moves a lot.
Not only do we not own a home, we also don’t own a vehicle. I sold my car shortly after we started dating, and my husband’s pickup died somewhere past 200,000 miles. Then we had a compact car for a while, but it was recalled and we elected not to replace it. That’s something to consider in a ten-year context as well: your main form of transportation.
Ten years ago, I still had a student loan, we were paying for our wedding, and my husband was still paying both alimony and child support. Fast forward to today and we’re debt-free, living in a completely different financial world. (Saving half your income will do that). Ten years is an ideal block of time to consider your finances. Are you on track to be free of any financial burdens that you have today?
Or, realistically, are you going to continue to spend beyond your means, like most people, and find any thoughts of money and debt scary or depressing?
(There’s still time)
Ten years ago, we lived in a suburban house that was roughly 1800 square feet. We had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a yard, and a two-car garage with loft storage. We had two couches and two dining tables. Now we live in a 650-square-foot apartment. We’ve been sub-900-square-feet for the past five years, tiny house territory. We got rid of easily 80% of everything we owned, possibly more like 90%. While it seems weird to imagine having all that stuff again, and I strongly doubt we ever will, we will probably expand into a bit bigger home again within the next decade, more for the yard and a possible guest room than anything else. Also because tiny homes are harder to find!
Ten years ago, my husband was at the same job he’d held for the previous ten years and he thought he would be there at least until his kid finished high school. We had no inkling whatsoever of the direction his career would go only two years later. He’s been sent around the world and he’s working on his fourth patent. He went from a shared cubicle quad to a private office with a door. Me? I went from a basic secretarial role to whatever the heck you call what I do these days. International woman of mystery. Ten years can be a very, very long time on a career trajectory.
Ten years ago, I was unfit, a lifelong non-athlete, homebody, and shy person. Somehow in the past decade I’ve run a marathon, become a Distinguished Toastmaster, self-published a book, visited four continents, climbed a rope, done standup comedy, jumped over open flames, and otherwise completely shocked myself.
I’ve also been bit by a fire ant and gotten into the stinging nettles, sing Hey for a life of adventure...
In 1999, I wore a size 14. In 2009 I wore a size six. In 2019 I wear a size two. Twenty years ago I was a chronically ill, overweight young woman with a brunette pixie cut. Now, weirdly, I am a thin middle-aged lady with long blonde hair, boxing gloves, and a collection of adventure race medals. I look like a completely different person, I have a different name, I live 1000 miles away from where I started, and the only thing I really have in common with myself is my reading habit. Who am I??
Ten years ago, we had our pets, Spike and Noelle, and we were afraid to leave them alone in a room together for even ten seconds. Today, not only is it amazing and a little tearjerking to think they are both still here, but their decade of friendship is something beautiful to behold. He finally let her snuggle him for a couple of minutes the other day, fluffy breast puffed up against his side. We never had anything to be afraid of, other than the day they say goodbye. Whatever else ever happens in our lives together, we’ve had eleven years of the Spike and Noelie Show; we’ve loved them always. Heaven will be the two of them napping side by side forevermore.
Ten years ago, and certainly twenty years ago, I could not have imagined anything about my life today. Not where I lived how I look or my social life or how I spend my time, certainly not the technical innovations that are an ordinary part of my day. Only the love in my heart for my man, my little animals, and my family, that’s all I seem to carry.
What will happen in the next ten years? Where will we be and what will we be doing? Who will still be here and who will not? Will we have said everything we should have said to them? Will we do everything we’ve intended to do, or will we do more, or will we squander the days and years? We’ll burn through them one way or another, so let us burn through them lovingly and with all our hearts.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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