Nenette’s tale of woe, bird edition. (Kitty update!)

Our yard abounds with two types of birds: doves and grackles. I always liked the doves. I liked their calls. The grackles, not so much.

I noticed the grackles hanging out by the dumpster behind our backyard. I didn’t know what they were, at first. A friend filled me in. I don’t like them, I said. They’re creepy and they sit on our back fence by the dumpster, and sometimes they fly around it and dive in. She said that she liked grackles. We agreed that she could have my grackles if I could have her doves.

Cut to six or so months later, to a few weeks ago. Callaghan and I started spreading wild bird seed across the gravel outside our bedroom window, because Nenette loved to sit on the dresser and watch the doves. There were doves perched on the wire above, doves on the side fence, doves in the neighbor’s mesquite tree, doves everywhere. Nenette had a great view. If we put seeds on the ground, we thought, Nenette would have more birds to watch!

We bought a huge bag of assorted seeds and scattered them around that part of the yard, replenishing the spread every other day. The yard proliferated with birds in the mornings and late afternoons. It was just doves, at first, and then some smaller, brown birds that we decided must be finches.

Then the grackles joined the party. I watched them in dismay, but the more I observed, the more they fascinated me.

Look what they do! I said to Callaghan one day after calling him to the window. They use their beaks to dig and throw rocks aside so they can get to the sunflower seeds.

We noticed that the doves and finches weren’t eating those larger seeds. But the grackles were.

I studied them, transfixed by their methodology. A grackle would dig into the large gravel, picking up the rocks and flinging them left and right. Then he’d grab the unearthed sunflower seed, fly to a patch of dirt on our small lawn, and patiently gnaw at the seed, repeatedly dropping it and picking it back up until the shell gave way. He’d eat the seed, fly back to the gravel, and start the process over again.

We marveled at them. Grackles are interesting! They’re smart! They hunt, make decisions, use their beaks like tools. They eat the sunflower seeds, which no one else in our bird community did. We never saw them bullying other birds. In fact, it was the doves who were territorial and rude. A dove would march toward a grackle, who would then peacefully walk away to a different spot while the dove poked around in the grackle’s hole, even though there was nothing there that he wanted. We also saw the doves bullying each other.

I was wrong, I said to Callaghan. He said yes, it’s the doves who are the bullies.

Grackles aren’t creepy because they hang out by the dumpster, I thought. Don’t judge a book by its cover. My word! I’d been profiling the grackles.

Now a fan of grackles, I looked them up online so I could learn more about them.

I found out that grackles are considered to be PEST BIRDS.

We stopped feeding the birds, afraid that the grackles would start doing all of the Terrible Things. Callaghan was also concerned that with the abundance of doves, some would be sure to nest on our house and wreak whatever havoc that would cause.

And now, poor Nenette has no bird party to watch. This is has been Nenette’s tale of woe. She is bereft.

 

No more birds for Nenette.

 

I miss the birds, too. I loved watching them! Are they really that bad to have around? Would the doves wreck our house with their nesting? Does anyone know?

La Fin.

Do I look like June Cleaver?

It’s been a week since I complained about my rat’s nest hair and how it was dropping loose hairs into my face and interfering with my gym experience.

“Nothing works,” I said in that post. “If there’s a solution short of shaving my head, I want to know.”

One friend from BodyPump joked, “A shower cap!”

Another friend supplied a pic of a lady wearing a shower cap, all smiling and done up with makeup and looking like she also had a vacuum cleaner and high heels.

The next time I went to BodyPump, I gathered my weights and came back to my spot to find a shower cap lying on my bench. It didn’t take a PhD in psychology to figure out who put it there.

It wasn’t the friend who first commented, because she lives in another state. It was the guy who posted the shower cap lady. Cue jokes about me wearing the shower cap in class, which will never happen. He declared it himself: “Kristi will wear a shower cap the day I quit complaining about lunges.”

Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

I did a dress rehearsal, anyway, to verify that the shower cap wouldn’t work. And it didn’t. The elastic band wasn’t that elasticky, and my hair is very resistant to staying where I put it.

Do I look like June Cleaver?

 

THIS ISN’T WORKING

 

I’m pretty sure that’s also my expression when loose hairs fall in my face at the gym. It’s not “I wish I was holding a feather duster instead of a dumbbell.”

(In case you’re wondering, the outside of my right eye is red because I managed to tear my conjunctiva while doing absolutely nothing. It’s fine. My eye doctor prescribed antibiotic eye-drops, cold compresses, and ibuprofen. It will heal itself.)

Remember when I needed a shower cap for real, but couldn’t see shopping for one? Two people gifted me with shower caps after that, three years apart from each other. The first was my sista-from-another-mother, and the second was my sister-in-law. I thought that was a weird coincidence. That’s what sisters do, apparently.

But I digress. The jokester responsible for this post – let’s just call him “Ron” – has been walking a thin line with me at the gym with his antics; this shower cap was his crowning achievement, to date. I should start a petition to double our lunge tracks.

“superb in love and logic” (from a poem by Robert Hayden)

I’ve brought you my own (previously published) poems, but I don’t believe I’ve shared another poet’s work. Today, I wanted to share with you a poem by American poet Robert Hayden, as this poem has been on my mind.

(Poetry is a favorite refuge of mine when I’m at a loss for words.)

In 1976, the United States’ Bicentennial year, Robert Hayden held the post of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress; the post later became “Poet Laureate” of the United States. Hayden was America’s first Black Poet Laureate.

This poem by Robert Hayden was first published in his A Ballad of Remembrance (1962):

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS

 

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

 

I wish you all a beautiful week.

 

About the rat’s nest on my head. (My gym pet peeve.)

Most gym pet peeves have to do with people being rude: hogging the equipment, leaving sweat on the equipment, resting on the equipment between sets, leaving weights lying around instead of re-racking them, talking on the phone or texting while chilling on the equipment, etc.

None of this is cool in my book, either, but I only have one major gym pet peeve, and that is my own hair. My scalp releases loose hairs that sabotage my workout. Who else has this issue? If there’s a solution short of shaving my head, I want to know.

My hair gets on my nerves more than anything else at the gym. It literally gets on my nerves. I try not to let it, but it’s easier said than done. When a hair falls out and lands on me, it hijacks my sensory nervous system so the strand of hair is all I can feel. It’s hard to ignore.

The problem is that my hair is a rat’s nest, more at the gym than anywhere else. Here’s my hair after my workout yesterday morning:

 

Post-workout, 8/10/2017

 

If my hair only looked like a rat’s nest, I wouldn’t care, because I don’t care what I look like when I go to the gym in the morning. I put on sunscreen, lip-gloss, and clean clothing, and I’m good.

The problem is that my hair behaves like a rat’s nest. It doesn’t stay together. It gets pulled apart simply by existing. At some point during the workout, people will see me doing stuff with one hand while I’m frantically clawing at my face with the other hand. Usually, the hair lands in my mouth or in one of my eyes. I sometimes find the hair plastered across my sweaty cheek.

This happens every time I work out. Without fail. No matter what I do. I will spend long minutes beforehand sliding my fingers through my hair and removing loose strands. I’ll do up my ponytail and repeat the process, also removing loose hairs from my bangs and the sides that don’t get pulled up.

Nothing works. Headbands? I wish. I’ve tried. They don’t stay on, and then I have two problems.

I know this is petty and ridiculous. I AM grateful to have any hair at all, but having hair doesn’t make me immune to annoyance when the hairs try to blind or choke me!

So my hair is a rat’s nest at the gym. It gives the term “gym rat” a whole new meaning. Fine. I just need for the nest to hold together until I’m done with my workout.

[/shallow rant of the day]

 

On remembrance: atomic bombings and 1,000 paper cranes. (+ Atomic Blonde.)

I know that this title seems all over the place. It’s just that today is August 8, 2017.

Two days ago, it was the 72nd anniversary of the United States’ atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Tomorrow will be the 72nd anniversary of our atomic bombing of Nagasaki. These, as we know, were the first and last nuclear attacks in wartime history.

We’re familiar with the official justification for the attacks: Japan had to be stopped before more lives were lost, American, Japanese, and otherwise. The bombs were dropped, Japan surrendered, and WWII ended.

While debate continues as to the ethics of the atomic bombings, there’s another, less-familiar controversy regarding a possible “hidden agenda” behind the decision to launch the nuclear attacks on Japan. Some historians believe that the bombs were actually dropped in order to intimidate the Soviet Union (thus beginning the Cold War), and that Japan didn’t surrender because of the bombs, themselves; rather, they surrendered because of the post-August 6 Soviet invasion.

This theory has always fascinated me. (War fascinates me, in general, but that’s a topic for another day, perhaps.)

Reflecting on atomic bombs and the Soviets and the Cold War, then, I found it funny that the espionage action film Atomic Blonde, whose plot centers on Soviets and the Cold War (the film’s title quite possibly a nod to the atomic bomb “hidden agenda” theory), dropped in U.S. theaters the weekend before the atomic bomb anniversary weekend.

Even more interesting to me, personally, Atomic Blonde’s release date landed pretty much on the anniversary of the Atomic Bomb memorial service I’d attended at my hometown Buddhist temple 20 years ago. The film’s release date was July 28, 2017, and the memorial service date was July 27, 1997.

Yet another happenstance: I went to see Atomic Blonde the weekend following its release weekend. By sheer coincidence, I saw Atomic Blonde on Sunday, August 6… the 72nd anniversary of the first atomic bomb attack.

Then there’s the fact that nuclear weapons dominate our global concerns these days. We’re looking at atomic bomb anniversaries, atomic bombs in the news, and Atomic Blonde in the theaters.

All of this has had me thinking of Sadako Sasaki and her 1,000 paper cranes.

Sadako was two years old when the first atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, where she lived. 10 years later, she developed leukemia as a result of radiation from the bomb. She started folding paper cranes with an aim to create 1,000 of them, wishing for recovery and for peace in the world. In Japan, it’s said that folding 1,000 paper cranes can make your wish come true.

Sadako remained in the hospital for 14 months, then passed away at the age of 12. One account of her story says that she surpassed her goal of folding 1,000 paper cranes. Another account says that she did not, but her friends and family completed the project for her. Regardless, no superstition was going to undo the devastation of the atomic bomb. Since Sadako’s death, the paper crane has become a universal symbol of world peace as well as a symbol of good luck and longevity.

As explained on the origami resource center’s page,

Sadako’s friends and classmates raised money to build a memorial in honor of Sadako and other atomic bomb victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was completed in 1958 and has a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane. At the base is a plaque that says:

          This is our cry.
         This is our prayer.
         Peace in the world.

 

****

About six months ago, I found my Atomic Bomb memorial service program as I went through some old papers. I’d forgotten that I kept it. I took this pic to share it with you (sizing it large enough to be readable when clicked):

 

Atomic bomb memorial service program, pic taken on Sunday, August 6, 2017 – the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan

 

After I found the program, I put it in this old frame. It sits near my butsudan, where I can see it every day as a reminder and a visual point of meditation on peace in the world.

By the way – to end this on a lighter note – I really enjoyed Atomic Blonde.

Writing Q and A: habits, music, status. (Writing updates!)

My last writing update post was on 30 June, so it’s time for another one, I reckon!

Every writer’s habits and rituals are personal, right? And, for many of us, in flux. Things flow and evolve. We go with it.

I still wish I was a writer who could stick to a schedule. The best I can do – more importantly, what works for me – is to protect my optimal writing time. Currently, that’s one full weekday (Mondays) + all early mornings. The rest of the time is for flexible writing, meaning, I can write around going to the gym Tuesday-Saturday, as well as occasional appointments, errands, and lunches.

At this point, there’s never a day that I don’t write at all. I write something every. single. day.

Speaking of which! My Tuesday/Friday blog-posting time here in TALC has officially changed: I’m now posting within the mid-morning to noonish window.

With all of the above, I’ve started off this mini writing Q&A. I’m happy to answer some of these recurring questions:

Q: Can you multi-task while writing?

A: It depends. The deeper I get into a writing session, the more scarce I am on social media. When I’m in a “deep sleep” stage of writing, I’m completely incommunicado.

I can’t be off-line, though, because I refer to the dictionary, and I’m always researching something or another.

Q: Do you listen to music while writing?

A: Not usually, but sometimes.

When I started working on this novel, I’d listen to certain songs to invoke a memory of a time. I haven’t done that for a while. Now, I can write with music playing on a low volume, choosing music that creates a background soundscape.

A current favorite is by Rachel’s: “To Rest Near to You.” It’s moody and eerie with voices whispering “I thought the sea.”

It’s perfect for this last stretch of the novel.

Other good background songs of the moment: “With More Air Than Words,” “Night at Sea,” and “Letters Home” (Also by Rachel’s, from their 1996 album The Sea and the Bells.)

I wish I could provide you with “To Rest Near to You,” but I get my music from Soundcloud, and you have to have a Soundcloud GO+ account in order to hear that entire Rachel’s album. Here’s their song “Stark Sea,” though, also on my current writing playlist:

 

 

I like this sort of music while I’m writing. It’s atmospheric without distracting my creative brain cells with melody that wants following.

And when I say I play the pieces with the volume down low, I mean very low. The planes taking off and landing at Sky Harbor are louder.

Q: Do you take breaks?

A: Yes. Many. I have to stop often in order to put distance between what I’ve written and what’s in my head from having written it.

There’s actually a pattern: on an average day, I go through three writing stages and two break stages, beginning and ending with writing. (I take smaller breaks within the writing stages, usually to eat. In the afternoons, I eat often.)

Q: Distractions?

A: I do get up to wander around the house. I have to unfold myself from the floor every once in a while.

Incidentally, I have Nenette, who is not a distraction. She’s the opposite of a distraction. She puts her nose on my forehead to transmit inspiration.

 

Nenette in her crow’s nest tree in the corner of my office.

 

These days, Nenette is apt to sleep on the floor next to me while I’m writing, but she still spends time up on her crow’s nest.

Q: Current project stage and status?

A: I’ve reached, as noted earlier, the final stretch.

Things are accelerating. That doesn’t mean that my writing’s accelerating, though. I have to focus now more than ever in order to control the pace and manner of unraveling.

As for current status, my word court at present is 56,952. My goal word count continues to be a moving target, so I’m just going to say that I’m between 80% and 90% finished.

That’s it for the monthly update! Thank you all for reading, once again. Happy Friday… or whatever day it is when you read this. =)

Intensity before our eyes. (July Favorites!)

Most of this list is stuff we watched. I tried no new products in July. Two of the three food items here aren’t even new. I’ve just never mentioned them.

That being said, that which we watched in July made for some intense entertainment, some of it difficult to watch. It wasn’t all weighty and dark, though.

Let’s take a look!

 

1). To the Bone (film, Netflix)

 

 

I don’t know what life is like inside an eating disorder, but I would guess that this film captures a realistic glimpse of what it might be like… for both patients and their family members. To the Bone focuses on a young woman struggling with anorexia nervosa. We were surprised to find ourselves laughing a bit, which felt awkward at first – I would never expect to laugh while watching a film about eating disorder patients – but we’re supposed to laugh. To the Bone is a fine example of a dramedy, deftly scripted with humor to help make a serious and uncomfortable subject more understandable.

I’m not sure that I would recommend this film to everyone, as it may be triggering. Watch with caution.

 

2). Ozark (T.V. series)

 

 

What’s this?! It’s another Netflix original crime drama/thriller. Atmospheric Ozark stars Jason Bateman, whose outstanding turn as the desperate protagonist should earn him Best Actor nominations throughout the 2017 awards season next year. We were impressed when we saw the trailer, and with the cast including Laura Linney, we marked it on the calendar. Bateman was great, Linney didn’t disappoint. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers – thrillers such as Breaking Bad, let’s say – then you’ll likely enjoy this one.

 

3). Black Mirror (T.V. series) – S3 “Hated in the Nation” and “San Junipero”

 

 

Netflix’ sci-fi thriller Black Mirror is the series we watch when we’re in the mood to have our brains scrambled. I’m thinking particularly of season 3’s “Playtest,” followed by “Shut Up and Dance.” Season 2’s “White Bear” did it, too, as well as season 1’s “Fifteen Million Merits.” Never before had we encountered a series whose episodes made us say “Well that was a mindf*ck” so consistently.

This series is unique in that I couldn’t binge-watch it. That would be a bad mental health decision.

Black Mirror episodes are written as stand-alone stories, so they can be watched in any order. We haven’t seen them all, but of the episodes we have seen, the above-mentioned ones were made more disturbing by their very excellence. Two other season 3 episodes, though, stood out. They weren’t disturbing so much as they were just plain successful at being mysterious (“San Junipero”) and thrilling (“Hated in the Nation”).

I think it’s safe to say that if you like The Twilight Zone, you’ll dig Black Mirror.

 

4). The Handmaid’s Tale (T.V. series)

 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale takes Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel and brings it to chilling life in this outstanding Hulu original series. Elisabeth Moss may well have secured herself major awards nominations for her performance as Offred. There was also stunning beauty before our eyes in the town of Gilead: anywhere we hit “pause,” the image on the screen could’ve been a Vermeer painting. The use of color and music play strong roles in the telling of this story.

Sidenote: Callaghan found The Handmaid’s Tale to be so unsettling that we took a long break from it… we started it in June and finished it in July. We returned to it after we saw The Keepers (next on this list), which made The Handmaid’s Tale seem mild.

 

5). The Keepers (T.V. series)

 

 

I honestly don’t know what to say about this Netflix docuseries. I think it’s important to watch, but I would not call it “entertainment.”

Two middle-aged women – former classmates at a Catholic high school in Maryland – continue their efforts to solve the case of their teacher Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder. A priest and the Archdiocese of Baltimore come under scrutiny, and horrors are uncovered in the process. By the end of episode two, we were disgusted and enraged into speechlessness. We watched the seven episodes over the course of a week, and when it was over, we immediately signed the petition. I do recommend this docuseries, but again, my recommendation comes with a trigger warning (this one for sexual abuse).

 

6). Gypsy (T.V. series)

 

 

Admittedly, it was only Naomi Watts’ name that drew our attention to this Netflix series; we had no idea what Gypsy was about. Turned out we’d gotten ourselves into a psychological thriller, which we kept watching because of its intrigue… from beginning to end (of the season), we never stopped asking, “What is going on, exactly?” Naomi Watts plays a shrink whose behavior, um, deviates from the norm. I’ll just leave it at that! We did enjoy Gypsy, though, and I would recommend giving it a try if you’re looking for a different sort of ride.

 

7). GLOW (T.V. series)

 

 

I’m finishing this part of the list with GLOW, an offbeat Netflix dramedy that gave us a respite from the heavy intensity of the rest. GLOW was a treat. It’s smart and satirically (sometimes crudely) funny. It combines combat sports, misfit women, and the 80’s. There are a few turning-point situations in the women’s lives, and there’s some outlandish and creative problem-solving… solemn moments and hilarity held together with Aqua Net. An original, indeed!

Now let’s get into the food….

 

8).  Pearls pitted Kalamata Greek olives.

 

Pearls pitted Kalamata Greek olives

 

I love these olives in my salads. I always have, but now I have them on hand at all times, and I eat a few of them every day. I’m sure I’ll cycle through this olive phase eventually, but it’ll be one of those recurring phases. I can tell.

 

9). Nectarines.

 

Nectarines

 

All of a sudden, in the third week of July, I realized that I hadn’t eaten a single summer stone fruit since the cherries my parents brought when they visited in May. It was like I’d had blinders on in the grocery store. How could it be that I’d been so intent on finding the red grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, pears, oranges, and bananas that I’d failed to see the plethora of peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots right before my eyes? I’m still eating those other fruits, but I’m also making up for lost time. At the moment, I’m swooning over the white nectarines. Better late than never!

 

10). Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil.

 

Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil

 

There’s actually nothing new about Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil in our house. It just occurred to me, as we went to pick up yet another bottle, that it’s one of our staple foods, and I’ve never mentioned it in a “favorites” list. We eat salads at least four days per week, so we go through these big bottles of Trader Joe’s olive oil pretty quickly. It’s a good, dependable favorite, and the spout that comes with it makes it friendly to use, as well.

 

This brings us to the end. Heading into August! Much to anticipate already!