Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I should be sleeping...

...but I'm not. Christmas Eve is less than 48 hours away and the clock is ticking. I'm trying to finish up a dozen projects I hope to have ready for the big night. As the clock ticks, some of the projects will fall away. What's left standing on Wednesday morning will most likely be it. The rest will have to wait until next year. Or not at all.

In the case of Christmas, my crafty eyes are bigger than my crafty stomach. Pardon the analogy. It's just that I have so many ideas spinning around in my head, and not enough time, energy, or hutzpah to complete them all. Even if those ideas start forming in August, somehow, it's the night before Christmas, when all through the house, only crafters are stirring, of course, not a mouse. But why? Whose fault is this anyway?

Mmm...I blame my mother. The woman who somehow did it all come Christmastime. She somehow managed to make sure everyone was included. She was heaven-bent on making sure each child got the same amount of gifts, in one way or another. She found ways to include friends, relatives, pets, even. Christmas stockings were full, gifts from Santa underneath the tree. When we awoke in the early hours to dump out our stockings, and tear open the gifts from Santa, the tape was still fresh on the boxes, the ribbons just curled. My mother, exhausted, had barely fallen asleep when we trotted down the stairs in the early morning light. By the time she arose, to start preparations for Christmas dinner, we had made our way through fresh oranges, and chocolate, and several Christmas cartoons, maybe even Scrooge.

I wonder what I would be like with a house full of Children at Christmastime. A lot like her, I suppose, if my crafty expeditions are any telltale sign. I don't have children of my own. But I do have four darling parakeets. And I know this...come Christmas morning, their stockings will be full.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Caroling, Caroling...

Christmas is almost here...it wouldn't feel like Christmas without a little Christmas music. Since I don't really want to go out caroling solo (it would be comical, though, would it not?), I've decided to put up a few of my original Christmas tunes on my blog to spread some holiday cheer. It's been a tough year for many, and I think we could use a little positive musical karma.

There are two songs posted here that were recorded just this past week. My skills at the 8-track mastering board are lower than novice, so I apologize for the less than perfect mix. I do hope, despite that, you will enjoy the tunes. Check out the menu in the player above, select a song, and enjoy.

Update: clearly something isn't working with embedding the player. So, here is a link to click on that will take you to the online playlist.

Merry Christmas to all.
May you have a Healthy and Happy New Year, too!

Monday, December 1, 2008

HO HO HO and Here We Go....

Here it is again, Christmastime. Seems hard to believe, how fast the year has gone by. But here we are, putting up trees, bustling through shopping malls, shoveling snow, writing letters to Santa, planning get togethers, singing Christmas carols.

Christmas carols. Aside from the fact that the local radio stations literally started playing Christmas music ON Halloween this year, I love Christmas music. I'm a fan. Dedicated. I have amassed a large collection of tunes throughout my 45 years, and I make a point of sharing my favorites with as many people as I can.

Back in the early 90's I started assembling a Christmas collection as a vocal Christmas card. I oftentimes included original productions as well. But culling the CD's, visiting the different record stores each Christmas season and picking out new titles to add to my collection has always been a treat. And, with music, a great deal of the joy is in being able to share it.

This year's theme will include birds. Hey, I'm Parakeetgirl; it figures, doesn't it? It's been a bit of a trick to find Christmas/holiday/winter songs that make reference to birds. Given that birds are a well referenced theme in Christmas cards, ornaments and decorations, you would think that songs featuring them would be plentiful. Not so. I've done my homework. I've scoured my CD's, gone through songbooks, visited many a website about birds, and have only come up with about a dozen. And that counts an original I'm producing this year with a friend of mine. That's okay, I'll fill in the disc with several new discoveries.

And speaking of discoveries...here's a new Christmas collection worth checking out - "The Hotel Cafe' presents...Winter Songs". It's got some brand-new holiday tunes, and very original productions of some tried and true favorites. The title track "Winter Song" by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson is beautiful. "Frosty the Snowman" by Fiona Apple harkens to a bygone era. "The Heartache can Wait" by Brenda Carlile is haunting and melodic. Definitely worth a listen. A portion of the profits goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight breast cancer, so there's good will attached as well. Check it out here: http://www.hotelcafe.com/wintersongs/

Over the years I've searched high and low for obscure Christmas tunes. My main complaint about holiday radio is that they play the same things over and over. When you're trying to fill 24 hours of air time, you'd think they would welcome something a little different. That said, there are a few artists I've never found Christmas/holiday tunes for. Wouldn't it be grand, or at least interesting to hear holiday music by: Bob Dylan, Bjork (the only piece I've found is instrumental, and amounts to the "sound of snowflakes" falling), Billie Holiday (something besides the classic "I've got my love to keep me warm"), Patti Griffin, Lucinda Williams, The Killers. There are more, but it's late and I'm starting to fade...more on this subject matter later. In the meantime...

I'll fade out...cue the jingle bells...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wild Beauty

So, it's nearly Thanksgiving already. My the year has flown. Last year, on the day after Thanksgiving, I was at work and my husband stopped by the shop I work at to surprise me with lunch, and to show me some video he had taken in the backyard that morning. A local feral cat had shown up with two kittens in tow. They were romping around our backyard, playing amongst the worn out garden and leaves. They were adorable.

We were on the lookout for them after that, and eventually discovered there were four kittens in all. We would put out food and it would disappear, but they managed to come by when we weren't looking, or weren't home.

When winter came, we wrapped a big tarp around a swing we had in the yard. One day we discovered that Momma kitty and her kittens were enjoying the shelter inside the tarp. I had hopes of trapping them and getting them to a shelter, but I've never done that before, and they were rather inconsistant in their visits. And, being winter, I didn't want to set a live trap and have them out in the cold all day without any decent cover.

So, I enabled them instead. I got two big wine crates, some old fleece blankets, and set them up on the cushions of the swing inside the tarp. They made themselves at home. Trouble is, any time we got close, they took off running so fast, there was no way we could catch them. So, we just kept putting out food, and watched for them.

One sunny winter morning I looked out the bedroom window to see a couple of them playing, peeking in and out of the tarp. I quickly grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures. I got some great shots and posted them on flickr. When spring came we took the tarp apart, washed all the blankets, and dismantled the swing. It needed new cushions anyway. Some friends of ours took the swing and rehabbed it for themselves, and we got a new swing with removable cushions.

Earlier today I looked out the bedroom window and discovered one of the kittens, now a full-grown cat, napping on the new swing. I'm sure he's done it before, just not when we've been around. I called my husband, Joe, to come and see, and we both snapped some photos of our guest. That adorable kitten had grown into a beautiful, wild, cat. Eventually, a neighbor walked by and the cat ran off to some other spot.

Watching him rest on the swing, it was clear he was truly enjoying himself. Basking in the sunlight, and the softness of the cushions.

We dismantled the cushions today, got the yard winter-ready. But I'm worried about that cat. And his mother and siblings, too. Clearly they've made it this far on their own. But winter is coming again. I'll have to come up with some kind of shelter for them for those cold, cold nights. Maybe this year I'll be able to rescue a furry friend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Kids are Famous Now

Well, relatively so. Tori, Pumpkin, and Miss Pixel are featured in a video montage of pet birds on Ultra Kawaii.com. Featured a total of three times, in fact. Alas, Texter didn't make the scene, perhaps next time. He's got some catching up to do. He's certainly screen worthy. Anyway, just a little fun to brighten up our day. If you get a chance, swing by the site and check it out.

In the meantime, I think they're just about due to make a Christmas video of some kind. I have a feeling they won't be receptive to the Santa hat thing, though.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Great Pumpkin

It was two years ago, this week, that we brought Pumpkin home to join the family. He and Tori were instant friends, and have been constant companions ever since. Watching them hang out together, playing, chatting, sitting so close you can barely discern a line of space between them. It's an incredible thing. Sure, they've had "jealous sibling" issues, like brothers vying for attention, or first dibs at toys or treats. But, all in all, they are the best of friends. Brothers in wings.
When we were looking to find a friend and companion for Tori, I visited Kay and Ralph at the pet shop many times before making a decision. It had to be the right match. The first time I saw Pumpkin he was wrestling with his brother bird in a cage in the store. They wrestled so boisterously that they both fell off the perch and were rolling around at the bottom of the cage. Not fighting, but wrestling. No harm done. I was amazed. When Kay told me that Pumpkin's brother had been sold and that someone would be taking him home in the next few days, I knew that I couldn't let Pumpkin go lonely. He would be missing his companion. His buddy. His brother. So, the decision was made, and we made plans to bring him home.
When we got him home I spent a bit of time with him, hoping to keep him calm, and not stress him too much. Then we introduced him to Tori. Within minutes they were both sitting on my hand together. Like they'd been friends forever. And, now, it seems, they have been.
Pumpkin has always been a true "boy" in all things. Always on the move - places to go, toys to play with. Flying to do. Except, not too long after he joined the family, he was a bit over zealous and somehow wounded one of his blood feathers. I panicked, and ended up taking him to an emergency vet clinic about 20 miles out of town. I hadn't been through it before, and I wasn't taking any chances. For those who haven't had birds, it's important to note, they are small creatures, so even a little blood loss can be harmful. It's very important to make sure that any injured feathers are treated, or removed as the case may be. That any bleeding is quickly stopped, and any chance of infection staved off. Fortunately, everything worked out fine and Pumpkin was okay. But he had more than a few blood feather incidents in that first 6 months or so. It just seemed like he would start to heal and he would get just rowdy enough to injure himself again. I had many an urgent conversation with Kay during this time period. She would look him over, make sure all was well, and then proclaim him "all boy".
Pumpkin is doing very well these days. It took some time for him to really come around and want to hang out with me. But he and I are good friends now. Though, Tori wins the number one spot.

My Flock

My flock. Aren't they something?! I was offering a treat and they were all "Don't mind if I do!". Some people might cower at the prospect of having four birds climbing on their heads, and shoulders, arms and hands. Not me. This is pure joy. It rarely fails to make me laugh with glee. Such a simple thing, and yet, it can turn a really bad day into a much better one.
Try it sometime.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Final Countdown

3...2...1...Over...Well, just about over. It's the final weekend for voting in the Hallmark Your Funny*ness card contest. The final countdown, the end of the road, the last dance, last chance for romance tonight. Oh, wait, I've segued into a Donna Summer classic.
Did someone throw the cake out in the rain yet?

Okay, this is just nuts. Wait, that's it. Some days are just nuts. Sounds like the theme of a greeting card. A really funny greeting card. One with a very amusing photo of a squirrel on it.

Enough of this craziness. The final two days of voting in the card contest are upon us. They have now clouded the online vote status in a veil of secrecy. You can still vote, but they won't show you the results.

So, maybe, just maybe (oh sure, click my heels together three times and it'll happen) when the lights come up, and the final votes are tallied, and the results are posted Mr. Squirrel will find himself a winner. Uh, probably not. But does that mean we shouldn't try?

Does it mean that all the cupcakes I baked, the cookies I baked, the fliers I printed and handed out, the people I met, the excitement I felt, the Hallmark card store tour, the t-shirts we wore, the campaigning, the printed cards available in stores, were all for naught? I think NOT! It was fun. It was a brief moment in time. One moment in time. (Oh, sorry, another diva song). It was my Warhol share of the limelight. My 15 minutes. I even got one of my cards in the mail with a request for an autograph! (Thank you, Fred!)

Maybe we should try. Just one more rally. Would'ya, could'ya, double-dare'ya. Will you vote for me please? One last time? Or maybe two? For the good times. www.hallmark.com/you

Hey, you take the good, you take the bad, and then you have...oh, don't make me say it...the facts of life...

Let us climb every mountain. We'll be strong. We'll be invicible. We'll be Squir-rel!

Thankyou, folks. Thankyouverymuch!

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Sunshine

Sometimes, while I'm getting the birds ready for bed at night, I sing to them. Usually, the song is "You are my sunshine". Sometimes they sing along, very often they climb up on one of the playgyms, start to relax, and listen quietly, attentively. After a while, they close their eyes, twitter softly, contentedly. Occasionally, I think they expect me to let them sleep all night on top of their house on the playgyms. Eventually, I tuck them inside, one by one, and there they stay until the morning, and the sunshine, comes again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Could we really rally?

So, I logged on earlier today to vote for Mr. Squirrel, and I discovered our percentage had gone up from 2.7% to 2.8%. Huzzah! However, we were still in 13th place. Then, later this afternoon Joe logged on to place his vote, and, zippa-dee-doo, we were still at 2.8%, but in 12th place!! Yowza, Yowza, Yowza! Someone is voting for us for certain!

Could we rally? Really? Could we make it to the finish line? Catch up to that baby (who, by the way, is now a toddler)? It would take a major happening to pull that off. But, I'm grateful for the momentum. Looks like Mr. Squirrel will at least be getting a fresh bag-o-nuts, if not a weekend in Chicago with the comedy stylings of The Second City.

Thanks for voting, whoever you are!

Kimberly & Mr. Squirrel

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hallmark Summer

Well, the party's (nearly) over. Come August 31, voting will end for the Hallmark "Your Funny*ness" card contest, and I will be in the running no longer. I've had a beast of a time climbing back from 13th place. I was at 12th a while back. My percentage of votes has increased, and so many people have been kind enough to take the time to vote for me. But darned if that baby, and several other cards, just seem to have me beat.
I made a fair play for the finish line. I marketed. I visited over a dozen Hallmark stores in our region. In fact, Joe and I visited four of them today. Even got asked to sign my autograph at one!
I met some interesting people along the way. I was generously given a one-year membership to the Squirrel Lovers Club after contacting the president of the club about the contest. He was so kind and supportive. Check out their website if you get a chance. More information about squirrels than you would expect to find in one place. Gregg, the president of the club, is a genuinely nice guy.
I was brave (or crazy) enough to approach complete strangers with little hand-outs about the contest and ask them to vote for me. Most were gracious enough to at least take the hand-out and pretend interest. And for those that did actually vote, thank you!
At one point there was a small article in the local paper about the contest, and myself. I got a local radio DJ to vote for me, and plug the contest on-air. Last week I baked squirrel shaped sugar cookies and sent them to work with my husband in a last-ditch effort to rack up some votes. Although most said they would vote, the numbers didn't change. I suppose the other finalists are out there campaigning, too.
I have to give thanks to my friends, family, and co-workers for being so supportive and patient. I know I've sent email after email. Chattered on about the contest at length. And everyone has been very kind about it. Some of them even wore custom-designed squirrel t-shirts to promote the card. Many of them went to Hallmark stores and purchased a card, too!
Hallmark has a new contest for the holiday season. Submissions are due at 8am on Monday. So far I haven't come up with anything to submit. I think this will be a tough contest. It's heavily illustration based, which is defnitely not a strong point of mine. I can barely draw a straight line. So, I told my husband Joe that I didn't think I would be entering. The relief on his face was evident - at least he wouldn't have to bug his co-workers to vote for me again.
I did inform him, though, that I have two photos in the local Humane Society 2009 calendar contest, and that voting starts online in September. So, um, there will be more voting requests to come. Although I don't know any of the details yet, and I don't know if I'll make the cut anyway. The pictures are of my budgies, though, and who can resist their beautiful faces? We'll see.
Anyway, it's been a real Hallmark Summer (shouldn't that be a Beach Boys song?). I'll be sad to see it end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Winking Game

I noticed it first when I visited the pet shop and was introduced to Tori. He was so sweet, and pretty. And when I talked softly to him he paid attention. I winked at him. He winked back. Coincidence? I tried it again. He responded. This went back and forth for a bit. He didn't shy away from me, and he winked back at me. This was a good sign. This was the one.

A lot of the manuals tell you that for the first few days you should leave the bird in its new house, keep things quiet. Let it settle in before talking to it, attempting to hold it, and so on. This may be the case when you buy a bird at Petco or somewhere like that. But when you buy from a specialty breeder that hand raises the babies themselves, things are a little different. At least they were for me. Kay & Ralph are among the believers in prompt results. They know their birds. They are careful to match the right birds with the right people. They always answer any questions I have (and I have had soooo many) with such patience, and a sense of humor and compassion.

It's possible that a bird will not eat in the first day or so that they are in their new home. They are adjusting to their new surroundings. They are nervous. I hated the idea of Tori going hungry, so I was of the mindset that I would get him to eat at least a little bit. If I could get him to eat, then I knew he would be happy here. That he would be okay. When I brought him home I talked softly to him. He was listening. He sat on my finger. Eventually, I put some seed in the palm of my hand and he ate some. I was so relieved. I didn't want to put him in for the night, I just wanted to watch him. Let him know he was going to be okay, and, happy. Joe finally convinced me to tuck Tori in to his new house and let him get some sleep.

Over the next days I talked to him. Played different music for him. Got him to sit on my hand, and on my shoulder. We played the winking game. It was a secret way of communicating. If I blinked hard, squishing my eye down, he did the same. It was adorable. By the end of the week he was hanging out on my shoulder, and napping beneath my chin while I watched television.

With each bird since then I've followed the same idea. I try to make that initial connection - if they pay attention when I speak, or are intrigued by the rest of the birdies when we visit the pet shop, if they play the winking game, I know it could be a good thing. And, so far, I haven't been wrong.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I found my Japanese-English-English-Japanese dictionaries today. I knew I had them stowed away somewhere, it just took a little searching. I found my multilingual guide map to New York, too. Joe and I took a look at it after dinner.

I actually have a fairly easy time with pronunciation when it comes to foreign languages. What I don't have much luck with is remembering any of it! So, as I've mentioned before, when we went to New York with "the cousins from Japan", I took several translation dictionaries, and a notebook, so I could jot down things ahead of time so we could communicate as well as possible. My sentence structure was terrible, but I could at least at least convey where we were, where we were going, ask if anyone was hungry, and so on. To be honest, most of my sentences consisted of one or two words. Three, if I was really working at it. Plus a hand motion or two. The ability to play charades does come in handy.

Joe grew up in a household where his mother spoke Japanese, and his father spoke some. Strangely enough, neither Joe, nor his sister Theresa, or brother John, picked up much of the language. A phrase here and there, the ability to count in Japanese. But no real working knowledge of the language. So, it was rather amusing that on this trip I spoke better Japanese than Joe did.

One key word worth learning in Japanese is daijobu (pronounced di-jo-boo). This word is essentially translated as "okay" or "fine". However, depending on how you present it, it serves multiple purposes. Asked as a question it serves to inquire whether or not the person (or persons) you are speaking to is "okay", or in agreement. Expressed as an exclamation, it can convey that you are happy, pleased, excited, or, obviously, okay. Coupled with a slight "ta-da" of the hands, it can signal "destination achieved". Here's where it gets a little more complicated.

If you want to suggest that the group get a bite to eat, you should make eye contact with everyone, ask very slowly, and somewhat loudly, "Is anyone hungry? Hungry? (motion to stomach). I think that we (motion to yourself, then to all) should go (motion towards something) to the restaurant over there (point to restaurant) and get something to eat (motion to your mouth, then rub your tummy). Pause to allow time for confusion to settle. If this does not work, allow additional time for your co-traveler with the translation dictionaries to look up random words having to do with dinner, food, eat, and so on. Try one or two words or phrases to get the message across. If this does not work, revert once again to speaking slowly with gestures. When this fails, just hand signal to all to follow you and lead them to the nearest eating establishment.
Upon arriving, exclaim "daijobu!"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New York City, 2004

There were six of us. Joe, myself, and the cousins, Haruko, Rieko, Yuri, and Tsuyoshi. We were bunking in two separate hotel rooms at The Portland Square Hotel, just a few blocks from Times Square. It was quiet enough, with small, but tidy rooms. And, thank goodness, air conditioning, since it was the height of summer and it was HOT! In the 90's.

When we arrived in the city mid-Thursday afternoon, we had parked the van at a reserved parking garage and walked the 10 city blocks to our hotel, luggage in tow. Once there, we checked in, cleaned up, and headed out for some immediate adventure.

We stopped first for some lunch, which is a bit tricky when you can't really translate the menu to your guests. We found, somehow, that steak translated well, and, so, that's what the cousins ordered. After lunch we made our way to Battery Park, and to the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty tours. Post 9/11 the Statue of Liberty was not open inside for tours at the time, but the grounds were open. We spent some time there, then got on the ferry to go over to Ellis Island. The museum was open and we spent quite a while there looking at all the exhibits.

There is an incredible display there. It stands floor to ceiling, and, maybe, two rooms wide or more. In it there are hundreds of photographs of people that have come through Ellis Island over the decades. You walk in one direction and see all the pictures, one by one, but when you stand back and walk in the opposite direction, the display becomes a giant, waving, American flag. I remember seeing this, then pointing it out to Yuri, who is twelve. I watched her walk along looking at the photographs, and then saw a surprised look come across her face as it changed into the flag. She laughed and clapped her hands.

We took the ferry back to Manhattan, and made our way up to the Financial District, and then to Ground Zero. It was strange to look into this wide empty space in the middle of this vast, iconic, metropolis, knowing what had happened. However, I found it even stranger to look towards the cityscape from the ferry coming back from Ellis Island and realize that those two very tall trade center buildings were, indeed, missing. We found our way to the Metro and headed back to mid-town.

To be honest, I can't recall exactly what we did after that. If we had dinner, or stopped anywhere else. I can remember that we were all exhausted from the long drive, and a day full of sightseeing and walking. I do recall that once we got to our room, Joe and I just dropped down on the bed and moaned about how tired we were, how our bodies ached from all the walking, and the heat. A little while later we managed to freshen up a bit and walked up the block to Langan's New York Bar & Restaurant for a glass of wine to celebrate our first day in NYC. I've no doubt the cousins were fast asleep by then. It had been a long day.

The next morning we met in the lobby and, together, made our way to the siteseeing tour, where the cousins met up with their translator and received a two-three hour tour of the city and the surrounding buroughs. This left Joe and I a few hours together, which we spent walking the city streets, and into Central Park. As mentioned in my previous post, this is the point where romance falters and the human condition kicks in. My digestive tract revolted and we bolted for the nearest restrooms. Finally, after a few hours we found ourselves running late to meet up with the cousins after their tour of the city.

We did catch up to them. They had stopped for a bite to eat near the tour company building, so we were able to find them pretty quickly. They wanted to find a currency exchange office so that they could exchange their yen for dollars, etc. It took a while, but we finally found one.

After that they wanted to do some shopping. We got on the metro, but, somehow, I had gotten us on the wrong one. So we got off, asked a stranger for directions, and got back on the right subway car. Next up, we visited Grand Central Station. They had some shops there, but not what we were looking for. So, we had a snack in the food court, and some guy overheard us talking about where to go, and he gave us a few pointers. He said if you had only one day to shop in NYC then you had to go to Macy's. So, off we went.

Macy's is huge. A little intimidating, if you ask me. We were really looking for touristy stuff, but it wasn't easy to spot. We finally asked one of the clerks and they told us it was in the basement, or some such thing. Ooh, that's where they send the tourists.

Anyway, we made our way down there and spent some time shopping. At one point Joe had to caution his cousin about being too open with her money. She needed to be careful. We found a wad of cash lying on the floor near the checkout. Oy-vay!

Evening was approaching. We made our way back towards Times Square. Then headed to Rockefeller Plaza. Took in some of the sights. Sat for a while and just absorbed the view, watching the people come and go. In the summer the center of the Plaza is like a big party, not a skating rink. It looks so different than that familiar image. We walked by NBC, Radio City Music Hall, then made our way south towards the Empire State Building. The building featured in so many movies. So many happy endings.

You have to understand, it had been a busy day. We walked a lot. I was a bit sick for a while. It was exciting, but a little stressful, as any good vacation might be. We managed to communicate between bits of Japanese and English, but it was frustrating not to be able to just converse.

After 9/11 the security at the Empire State Building had become a maze of checkpoints, photo id's, and rules. Just getting from the lobby to the elevator exit at the observatory deck takes forever. The entire way up, from floor to floor, you have to cue up for baggage xrays, id checks, and so on. They even photograph you. (And, you can even purchase a copy of said photograph -- we didn't).

So, it's dark now. We've been on line forever. We're so close to getting to the point where we can step out on the observation deck. Just a few people in front of us. Then it's our turn, I go up the last few steps to enter the shop that goes out onto the deck, and hear someone calling to the cousins to turn around.

They are turning back away from the line and heading in the wrong direction! Where are they going? All this security! I don't know what to say because my Japanese is sooooo limited. So, what do I do? What do I do?! Well, I growl! I turn towards them and, honest to God, growl! Stomp my feet. Joe motions to me to go ahead into the shop towards the observatory deck. He will handle it. I go inside. Feel the blood rushing to my head. Not even aware of how embarrassed I should be from my display. I had a meltdown, right there in the Empire State Building, in front of maybe 100 people. I wandered around the shop waiting for them to follow. They did not. A woman came up to me, "Excuse me," she said. "Would you like a Xanax?"

I didn't accept the Xanax, but thanked her kindly. I was calming down. We had been in line a long time. The cousins couldn't wait any longer and needed to use the restroom. That's where they were headed. Perfectly logical.

Finally, they were back. We found them out on the observation deck looking at the sites. Joe and I walked around, looked at the view of the city. Amazing. We were standing together. He put his hand in his pocket, pulled it back out, held it out, opened his palm, the ring glistened. "Still want to marry me?" he asked. I'd just had a major meltdown at one of the most famous places in America, and he still asked me to marry him. What else could I say? "Oh, alright" I said.

We found the cousins and showed them the ring. They congratulated us. Took our picture. We browsed the gift shop, then made our way back out of the building to the city streets below.

Friday, August 8, 2008

August 2004: Strangers in a Strange Land

Joe's father, a polish, and devout south-side Milwaukee man, spent time in the service in Okinawa, Japan. That's where he met Joe's mother, who is Japanese. His dad was persistant, won her heart, and they got married. When his time in the service was over, they came back to America, and Milwaukee, with baby Joe in tow.

Many years later, Joe and I were living together and talking marriage. Joe had purchased a ring. Well, we picked it out together. But once he had it, we had been playing a game of hide and seek with it all over the house. I was doing pretty well at finding it. But Joe wanted an opportunity to make an official proposal. I told him I wanted that ring by the end of summer (half-teasing).

We had been told that Japanese relatives were coming to visit the family towards the end of summer, but were not privy to any specific dates, names, or plans. Joe and I talked off and on about when his relatives might be coming. We should contact his folks and find out when. Find out if anyone needed a place to stay, and so on. But our timing was a little slow (as usual).

So, on a Sunday evening we received a call from Joe's parents. The cousins were in town and at their house. They wanted to meet him. For some reason I didn't go. Can't recall why. Joe called from me his parents house.

"Honey? Are you working this week?" I was inbetween jobs and temping at the time, so my schedule was somewhat flexible. I was scheduled to work part of the week, and said so. But, if needed, I could probably switch with someone. "My parents are wondering if you would escort my relatives to New York."

The scoop was...there were four cousins here from Japan. Three women (including a 12-year old girl), and one man. They had been told by many that if they were coming to America, they had to visit New York City. But they did not want to go alone. Joe's parents weren't up to traveling to New York, so they were trying to come up with a way to accommodate their cousins. Since I was temping, they hoped I would be able to get on a plane, or a train, and escort them to the city, then fly back home on my own. I told Joe to come home and we would discuss it.

While waiting for Joe to come back home, I went online and started researching. I checked plane rates, train rates, bus rates. Back in 2004 gas was much cheaper than it is today (well, in hindsight anyway). I figured the best way to handle this would be to drive to New York. We would borrow Joe's dad's van, pack it up, and drive out there. I found us great rooms just blocks from Times Square at a great rate (it wasn't even a slum). I found a parking garage where we could leave the van for a great rate and not have to worry about parking while we were there.

I presented this proposal to Joe when he got home.

We discussed it. I spoke no Japanese, so how could I possibly escort four people, that did not speak english, that I did not really know, to New York City and just dump them there all on their own? Besides, I've never been to New York City and here was an opportunity presenting itself. And, Joe had plenty of vacation time, he hadn't really taken any, so why not use up a few days worth?

The next evening we met with Joe's parents and his cousins to discuss our idea. Joe's mother served as translator, telling them our plan, and then telling us their response. They were relieved to know that they would not be left in New York City all alone.

That was Monday evening. We went home, made some calls. Made reservations for the hotel rooms online. Made a reservation for the parking online. I went out the next day and bought several English-to-Japanese-to-English dictionaries, a few New York maps and travel books, and started making notes and packing. Wednesday morning we loaded everyone into the van and started off for New York City.

Given more time to plan, I would have hired a NY college language student to come along with us on our travels and serve as translator. Joe's mom wasn't there with us, so I was piecing together sentences in a notebook so I could explain where we were, how far we were, if we were stopping at a rest area, getting food, and so on. They did know a bit of english, but not very much. The person who knew the most was Yuri, the young girl. She was learning english in school.

We quickly figured out a few words and motions to communicate, and showed maps, etc. when necessary. They had a map of NYC in Japanese, so we were usually able to compare and point out where we were going. I was able to make arrangements for them to go on a multi-language bus tour of the city where they had their own Japanese translator. You could see their entire bodies relax when they met the translator at the tour station. They would probably get a better tour of the city than Joe and I would.

The tour gave Joe and I some time to go off on our own. We decided to walk through the infamous Central Park. I was unaware, but Joe had discussed with his friends that this trip would be the perfect opportunity to offer me that engagement ring. He was hoping to take me on a carriage ride around Central Park and propose then. However...

My stomach...most likely in reaction to the stress of the impromptu trip, lack of sleep, and erratic eating, and, maybe, one too many Starbucks iced coffees (there really is one on just about every corner in NYC),...my stomach decided to revolt. So, there we were in the middle of Central Park, and I was desperate to find a bathroom. This was not cute. Not romantic. This was panic. We found one. I was a bit hesitant to go in, after all, this was Central Park in NYC. Surprisingly enough, the restroom was quiet, and pretty clean. Ah, relief. Joe waited patiently for me.

We started walking through the park again. It was mid-August. Hot. Humid. My relief didn't last long. Suddenly we were making another mad dash for the nearest restroom. We spied the Plaza Hotel not far in the distance and made a beeline for it. It's a lovely hotel. I can now highly recommend use of the restrooms there. I have no idea about the quality of the restaurants, rooms, or anything else. Just, thank goodness they have nice restrooms. I did tip generously.

So, no carriage ride, no proposal. We were all strangers in a strange land. Strangers to each other, strangers to the city. We were running late to meet up with the cousins after their tour. What would happen next...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Items not referred to in the manual...

The manuals tell you what they like to eat. What they should eat. What they shouldn't eat. What chemicals are dangerous to them. What to do if they injure a blood feather. How often to clean their houses. That they need indirect sunlight and exercise time, toys, and companionship. They tell you that the males will flaunt themselves a bit in wooing a mate. The females are a bit diva-ish. They will talk if you keep at it. They can learn tricks if you wish to take the time and they seem open to it. That you will become one of the flock. And so on...

I've gone through several of these manuals. Not word-for-word, mind you. But there are some things I guess you just need to figure out for yourself. They don't tell you, for instance, that if you start with one bird and it learns to talk that once you bring home a companion bird it will most likely revert to mainly bird-talk. Within the 10 months that Tori had come home to live with us he had developed a pretty nice vocabulary. "Hello", "Hi!", "Tori, Tori, Tori", "Pretty Bird", "Tori is a pretty bird", "How was your day?" and "Hello Sweetheart". And a few others that we couldn't quite make out. Amazing.

Once we brought Pumpkin home, however, Tori reverted to mainly speaking bird talk. After all, he didn't need to converse with me in my language anymore. He does still say "Pretty Bird" and "I love you", so all is not lost. And, in fact, has taught both of those phrases to all of the other birds. I think they say "I love you" a lot. Joe claims that only I can hear it. Hmpf!

Tori and I had a pretty strong bond. When Pumpkin came along that eased for a while. He still loved me, but there was a real birdie for him to hang with now. He and Pumpkin would talk to each other, preen each other, feed each other, disagree with each other. They would play with the same toys, and bicker about who got to eat out of which food dish. I was handy for treats like broccoli and carrots. Eventually, Tori came back 'round, and Pumpkin started to hang out on my head and preen me.

They don't mention in the books how a bird might have a good time all on his own. It took me a few views to realize what Pumpkin was doing with the big ball of rope fringe on the playgym. He was enjoying himself, and how. Oh, my. I called Joe into the room - "Honey? Is he doing what I think he's doing?" Joe's eyes got wide, he said "Oh my God!" and quickly left the room. I guess so.

For a long time it seemed Pumpkin was the only one doing a drum solo. No big deal, right? I talked to Kay at the pet shop. She told me a few stories of very "happy" birdies and their human companions unhappiness with their selection of "happy places". The shoulder, a balding head. I guessed that I was lucky.

Tori likes to keep me company sometimes. He'll sit on my arm, shoulder or hand for what seems like hours. He'll chatter, preen, nap, demand my attention. Sometimes he likes to pick at my teeth, which is another story for another time.

But, one day, he was sitting on my hand, chattering away, and the next thing I knew he seemed to be getting very excited. He was running back and forth across my lower arm and the back of my hand. His feathers were standing upright, he was chattering wildly. Pecking at my fingers. Nipping at my fingernails. What was going on, I asked him. He kept pulling at one of my fingers. Pulling it upward towards him, then chattering at it and pecking at it. Next thing I know he's feeding my fingertip seeds. And, then..."Honey, could you come in here a minute?...Is he doing what I think he's doing?"...Joe stops dead in his tracks..."Oh...my...God!" And makes a mad dash for the living room. I guess so.

This happens off and on for a few weeks. I resist the urge to yell at Tori and tell him "No." After all, he's just doing what comes naturally, and he's not harming anything, or anyone. He's happy. He's expressing his love for...my hand. Hmmm...

One evening Tori stops over for a visit and eventually begins his dance while I'm working at the computer. I only partially pay attention. Before I know it he is going all-out and rubbing himself madly. One wing expands, then the next. Both wings stretch out and wrap around my entire hand. All the feathers on his back and neck are standing upward. He is in rapture. He extends his entire body, and then sits upright. Now quiet. He blinks at me once or twice. Then begins to grind his beak in contentment. Eventually he leaps to my shoulder and sits there for a while, grinding his beak. Letting out a soft twitter of happiness now and then. Then Pumpkin calls, and he's off to play.

This was not in the manual. Probably a good reason for that.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thank you very mulch

Late Saturday afternoon, near the end of the work day at Lighting Accessories, I received a phone call from my husband, Joe. I could hear the panic in his voice immediately and asked what was wrong. There was background noise on the phone. He was outside. "Honey? he asked. Did you order a delivery of mulch?!" I did not, and told him so. I think I would have remembered that.

I asked how much there was. He said a truckload. (Cue hysterical laughter here...) It had filled up my entire car port beside the garage. I wouldn't be parking there when I got home.

He mowed the lawn that afternoon and had gone inside to take a shower. Once out of the shower he was dressing in the bedroom and looked out the window to survey his work, and discovered the delivery. No one had come to the door. No delivery receipt. Nothing. No clue as to where it came from.

I asked him if he was kidding. I very often play pranks on him, this might be a little revenge. No, he swore it was the truth. He's not the best actor, and judging by the sound of his voice, I knew it was authentic. So, I headed home from work thinking about how we would figure out who it belonged to.

I got home and parked down the block and walked the rest of the way home. When I walked into the backyard Joe was standing with the pile of mulch still looking bewildered. "Honey, I said, that's a lot of mulch."

We asked a few neighbors if they had seen the delivery truck. Nope. We walked around it. We took pictures. We determined it was very fresh. Possibly a maple tree. We joked about it being a mob drop and that there were woodchipped bodies buried in there. Okay, that was me. Joe didn't think it was so amusing. We debated how long we would have to keep it before we could start giving it away - we have no need for it. I'd already installed enough mulch this season. We went online and started surfing legal advice websites for information -- would we be responsible for payment if contacted by the deliverer? We have plans for the upcoming weekend, company coming. How would we get rid of all of that mulch by then?

We made a few phone calls. Mainly to share the story, because it's funny. We think. So did everyone we talked to.

After a while we took another walk around the neighborhood. We found the recipients. They live just across the alley from us and weren't home when it was delivered. They were very apologetic. We told them not to worry. They said they would clear it out right away. They did. Joe and I went out for dinner and by the time we got back they had it all moved away. That was a lot of work to do in just two hours or so.

Not the most exciting ending to this story, I know. But for a while it was damn funny. Damn funny. We'll have to keep that in mind. We've been known to pull a prank or two...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You've got to have friends

Look at those two. Pumpkin and Tori. I often find them sitting like this. So close. Chattering to each other, or just sitting quietly. Sometimes with their eyes closed, sometimes not. Sometimes Tori is chattering quietly and Pumpkin just nudges in close, closer, closest. They have been friends a long time now. Nearly two years.
From the first day we brought Pumpkin home they were buds. Eager to be near each other. Not that they didn't have issues. Pumpkin is like that little brother that wants to follow big brother everywhere. To do what he does. Eat what he eats. Play with his toys, and so on. But their bond is a strong one. And though we've added the adorable Miss Pixel, and the playful Texter, they are as strong of friends as ever. And that's encouraging to see. To watch. To know.
Because, even though life brings constant change, some things remain true. Though the dynamics may be different, the amount of time spent together altered, knowing someone for who they are, for where you've been together, what you've been through. That's something we can hold on to. Something special. Everyone needs friends. Parakeets, even.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

There's no place like home, sweet budgie home

I've been procastinating. Certainly nothing new. About two months ago, now, we purchased a larger bird house, to replace the two houses we've been using. Splitting the kids up during the day when we're at work, or out of the house for one reason or another. At night, occasionally, they pair up as well. Although, more often Miss Pixel has her own place, and the boys share a budgie bachelor pad.

It's a lot of upkeep, two houses. And, I thought it would be nicer for them to all be together in one house, albeit one with plenty of room for each to spread out. They really like their own little "space" at night time.

So, we bought the bigger house and I put it on my desk, and put the big playgym on it, so the birds would get used to it. They enjoyed the big playgym there, but had no interest in climbing down and inside the new house. Even after I'd filled it up with toys and food.

So, now, finally, I decided it was time to make the move. I would clean all of the houses, and rearrange things, so the new house took the place, literally, of the original two. I moved Tori's house over to the desk, so as not to traumatize them, and shifted the playgyms around a bit. They seemed okay with the playgym shift, but, once again, had no interest in checking out the new digs. I convinced Tori to go in for a minute or two. Long enough for a snack. Pumpkin sat on a perch for about 30 seconds, and that was it. I'm worried. This is going to be difficult. I can't get Miss Pixel or Texter to go near the door. They keep flying off.

So, last night, all four of them slept in Tori's house. It was a little crowded, since they all want to sleep in the same spot. So, there was a bit of a tussle once they were tucked in. Not for too long, though.

Today I worked, but Joe was home, so they were out all day. Joe said they didn't go inside the new house at all. They did go into Tori's house for snacks.

Tonight I tweaked the set up a little bit. Put fresh food and water in the new place, and when it was time to tuck them in, that's where I placed each one of them. To my surprise, little resistance. In fact, they all found a comfy spot, and within minutes were chirping at me to turn on the night-night music and turn out the lights. They are all now sound asleep.

I made this out to be such a big deal. I was so worried about traumatizing them. Parakeets are not the most comfortable with surprises. They like time to adapt to things. If you put a new toy on a playgym, they will stay away from it for a while. Won't go near it. So, I thought this would be a long drawn-out process.

Perhaps having the house sitting on my desk did help them acclimate a bit after all.

Of course, there's always tomorrow. They may revolt.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What music the birdsong brings...

Their chatter in the early morning gets a little louder, and more demanding as the sun rises higher. They hear the least subtle move. When I sit up in bed, fluff a pillow, attempt to sleep a little longer, they get a little louder. "Let us out! We want to play!" Well, they don't actually say that, but it's pretty clear what those calls mean.

I get up, let them out to play. They call to one another, "Come out! Come out!", until all four are out and buzzing the room. Flitting from playgym to playgym. I turn on the radio, or a CD for them. And, sometimes, I go back to bed for a while and listen to them play as I close my eyes a bit longer. Occasionally, on a gray, sunless day, they will sleep in a bit, and I may actually have to wake them.

They keep me company as I get ready for work. Tori loves to sit on my shoulder, arm or hand while I blow-dry my hair. Sometimes Pumpkin joins him. Some days even Miss Pixel wants in on the fun. I don't know why they like it so much. Is it the sound of the hair dryer they like? I use a diffuser, and I don't point it in their direction, so it's not the blowing air. Or maybe they just want to distract me. Because by the time I've dried my hair, it will not be long before I tuck them back into their houses for the day while I go off to work.

As soon my husband or I arrive home we let them out to play again. They can hear the key turn in the lock and start calling to be let out. They play. They snack. They chase each other around. Take turns landing on my head while I'm at the computer. Throw their toys on the floor. Jump in the "swimming pool" I put out for them. Sing along with the radio or CD, sit together and have parakeet conversations, take a nap. Sometimes one or two will nap on my shoulder, softly chirping with contentment now and then.

When I put on a new CD Tori and Pumpkin often run over to the CD player to watch and see what I'm doing. Waiting for the music to start again. They have favorites, believe it or not. A most recent is a New Orleans tribute CD. Others are Iris Dement, Van Morrison, David Gray, and some compilations I've put together. They have a special Night-Night CD of celtic music I put together for Tori and Pumpkin when it was just the two of them. I put it on when I'm getting them ready for bed. They know it's Night-Night music. Once it is on they are ready to go inside and be tucked in for the night. It's amazing.

Sometimes I'll be at the computer a little longer than they would like, once they've gone into bed, and I'll realize that one of them is yelling at me to "turn the damn thing off". So, I'll turn it off and say goodnight, and off they go to dreamland.

They are remarkable creatures. Angels do have wings.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Miss Pixel would like your attention

Miss Pixel wants to remind you to vote, vote, vote for Mr. Squirrel and his card at the contest website www.hallmark.com/you. Well, okay, maybe not. What she really wants is the attention of her three male companions - Tori, Pumpkin, and Texter. All of whom were playing up above her house, and not inside, with her. Check out the video and see how she makes her feelings known.

As you can see by the wild fluttering of her wings, Miss Pixel is clearly demanding something. It is my interpretation that she wants her friends attention. I'm pretty sure I'm correct.

She is the only one of the four that does this. A short while after we brought her home I noticed she would do this when Tori and Pumpkin were hanging out together, or spending time with me. Although she is very fond of me, I'm certain it was Tori and Pumpkin's attention she was looking for.

The dynamics were interesting. At first it seemed as though Tori and Miss Pixel might be an item. See the video "A Very Awkward Moment" for further example. After a while, it became clear that Pumpkin was not going to back off in the pursuit of Miss Pixels affections. I was worried that Tori would be lonely without his best friend, Pumpkin, to pal around with. And that he would feel rejected by Miss Pixel. (Oh, how we humans do like to project our feelings onto others...) Anyway, Tori did have me to play with. Our strong bond has continued to grow. And, after a while, the trio did seem to settle in to their places.

But, then, we added Texter. Another male who definitely is fond of Miss Pixel. Miss Pixel does seem to return some of that affection, but, so far, I think the majority of her affections are reserved for Pumpkin, and, herself. She is a confident little Diva after all.

More on this little parakeet soap opera another time...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hay-elp! Hay-elp! Someone forgot to vote...

Well, gee, gosh-darn-doggone-it anywayzzzzz...we're slipping in the polls again. We had finally gotten up to 2.6% and now we've slipped back down to 2.5%. Ohhhh, fudgsicle! On my visit to the Hallmark contest website tonight I discovered a decline. I'm sure it's just a temporary glitch. We'll bounce back and then some, right?

Meanwhile, Mr. Squirrel is dreaming of a winter with lots of nuts in store.

There are only 53 voting days left in the contest, folks. Let's give that cute little baby a run for his money, honey. Remember: www.hallmark.com/you (vote for the squirrel)

I promise, I'll send good wishes out to you all.

Many thanks,
Kimberly & Mr. Squirrel (seen here napping on a sunny day this past winter)

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Mourning Dove

I discovered a baby mourning dove today, while working in the yard. He (or she) was relaxing underneath a lawn chair. Waiting for mama bird to come back with lunch, I suppose. Anyway, I was able to snap a few pictures. Here's one...

Happiness is a birdie on my head

Tonight Texter was brave. He was curious. He wanted to go where the other birdies go. Onto my nose, eyeglasses, and head. I can tell the relationship is going well when my birdies finally decide to sit on my head. Why is it so interesting to them? Because that's the highest point on my person, and they want to sit up there? Because my hair is up there and they like to preen me? Miss Pixel likes to preen my eyebrows and eyelashes. It tickles, and its sweet.

So, tonight, as I was getting the birdies ready for bedtime, Texter decided it was time for him to take the leap. To see what it was all about. To preen me. Then, of course, the others had to join him. Miss Pixel, then Pumpkin. Tori took a seat on my shoulder instead. Before you know it, Texter will be flying over to sit atop my head while I'm at the computer, just like the others do.

And so, I'm happy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is this thing on?

Just wondering if anyone is out there reading this...

Is it age, or the parakeets?

I've always liked animals. We had cats and dogs, the occasional mouse, gerbil or hamster growing up. I even had a wonderful parakeet named Hutch for many of my teenage years. I was never much of a dog person. Not that I would be mean to one. In fact, I get very upset if I see one mistreated. They're just not my thing.

When my husband Joe and I first moved in together, I expressed an interest in getting a bird. I wasn't certain, however, if it was the right time. We both worked long hours, and I worried about it being alone all day. Plus we were adapting to living together, and that in itself was an adventure for two people used to being on their own.

Finally, a few years later, after we were married, I decided it was time. I gave Joe the option - baby or bird. Well, I was joking, really. Both in our 40's by the time we married, kids weren't in the plan. I've never really had that deeply felt longing. An occasional yearning, sure. But it just never felt right. So, we brought Tori home, and thus began our parakeet adventures. And my mellowing...

Like many parents, I have, on occasion, projected my emotions/perceptions onto the birds. I've decided that they are sad, or hurt, or lonely. Sometimes I think my perceptions are right, after all, I know them well. But I can go a bit overboard.

But aside from that, I started to look adoringly at dogs out for walks with their owners. At stray cats and kittens in the neighborhood. I convinced Joe to put up a tarp over our yard swing, and put in crates with warm fleece blankets to keep the kitties warm over the winter. I put out food for them. Took pictures of them playing in the snow. I started looking into rescuing them. So far that hasn't worked out.

I now talk to the wild birds in the yard. I talk to Mr. Squirrel (of Hallmark fame). I had a rather one-sided conversation with a baby mourning dove the other day. He/she was resting comfortably under one of our lawn chairs.

We've put out feeders for the wild birds. I've even taken to talking to spiders and ants, and other critters, putting them outside of the house instead of squashing them. It just feels better not to destroy them. After all, what's the point. I haven't, however, crossed this spiritual threshold with centipedes. I hate them. I just do. Fortunately, I don't see them too often.

Early this spring I was doing some cleaning. And discovered an ant on the counter. I decided to take it outside, not kill it. I got it to crawl onto a piece of paper to take it out. But, when I turned to go outside, I knocked over a diet coke and it spilled all over the kitchen floor. I took the ant outside and released it. Returned to the kitchen to clean up the spill, and slipped on some ice cubes and did the splits falling to the floor. I haven't done the splits since high school gymnastics, and even then, not really. But this was authentic. And I felt it. The muscles in my legs pulled in ways I didn't know were possible. I sat for a moment on the wet floor, and then slowly got up. I was sore for a day or two. Good karma and clean kitchen floors. I guess it was worth it.

So, the question is...is all this goodwill due to the mellowing that comes with age (not necessarily with hot flashes), or is it a byproduct of having these wonderful birds as companions? (I'm sure my sweet husband has something to do with it as well).

I still swat at mosquitoes. After all, they want my blood. But I also had a brief conversation with a firefly the other night. Well, I did the talking...

Thank you, thank you, it's working!

Huzzah! Someone is out there listening/reading/voting. I logged on to the Hallmark contest website today and, lo' and behold, my percentage of votes has increased from 2.3% to 2.6%! Seeing as how I've been stuck at 2.3% for quite some time now, it's a vast improvement. So a great big THANK YOU to all the voters out there! And for those of you spreading the word as well, Muchas Gracias big time!

If any of you have been watching the stats, you may notice that some of them have changed. Still, that darned (but cute) baby is still in the lead. I'm not one to pull the bottle from a baby's mouth, but I'd like to catch up to that little rubber baby buggy bumper. So, keep voting, Please.

I've decided to try a new tactic to get more votes. I came up with the idea of making sugar cookies in the shape of a squirrel, and including with them a note on the contest along with the website address. But first I had to find a squirrel cookie cutter. Not an easy task. Wasn't exactly the hardest task either. I found one at Joann Fabrics & Crafts. However, it was one of a set of 50 animal cookie cutters. But, 50 cookie cutters for $9.99 - not such a bad deal, right? Besides, I'm sure I can make use of some of the other critters at some point.

I did a little shopping, and took my cookie cutter kit and got in line at the check out. The woman behind me in line joked that she was curious what I needed 50 cookie cutters for. I told her that, actually, I only needed the squirrel, which she thought was very funny. Then I asked if she would like to know why. She was a little reluctant, but said "sure". So, I explained about the Hallmark contest and how this was my new marketing/bribery plan to get more votes. By the time we both had checked out and left the store, I had given her a card with all the voting information on it and asked for her vote. And, she had shared with me a story about a crow that visits her backyard on a regular basis. He picks up stale bread at the Uno restaurant near her neighborhood, then brings it to her yard where he dips it in the birdbath to soften it, and then feasts away. I told her that warranted video, not just a photo!

I received an email from my cousin, Deb, who was in a Hallmark store recently and found my card. Out shopping on her own, she wanted to show the card to someone, and struck up a conversation with one of the other shoppers in the store and told her that the card was by her cousin. So, now, members of my extended family are getting in on the act of approaching total strangers. No word, though, on whether she convinced this stranger to get online and vote.

Well, that's the latest news regarding Mr. Squirrel. Keep voting America. If anyone needs any animal shaped cookie cutters, just let me know!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Awkward Moments

Living with parakeets is a joy. Presently, we have four of them. Tori, Pumpkin, Miss Pixel and Texter. My husband, Joe, worries that I will come home with another at any time. Not that he doesn't like them. He does. But he worries. Or so he says.

The babies, as we call them, are all pretty easy going, happy birds. Each has its own distinct personality. Tori was my first, and we have a pretty strong bond. He was talking quite a bit, with his best phrase being "How was your day?". But once Pumpkin came along, Tori decided that, aside from the occasional "pretty bird" or "I love you", he would just talk parakeet talk.
He and Pumpkin got along well from the start. Although Pumpkin can be a bit of a stinker, and likes to follow Tori around, wants to eat what he's eating, play with what he's playing with. Pretty much the same as a younger sibling will shadow an older one. But, at times, when they sit close together, chatting, or one chatting away and the other listening closely, with his eyes closed, they seem like they've been friends forever.

Tori is what I call my intellectual. He likes to sit quietly and listen to music. Sometimes he will sing along beautifully, joyfully. He loves to sit on my shoulder, and, since he was very young, really enjoys sitting atop my nose. Early on he would sit on my glasses for the longest time while I read a magazine, or watched television. He waits eagerly for me to get out the hair dryer in the morning when I'm getting ready for work. For some reason, he loves to sit on my hand, or my shoulder while I dry my hair (I use a diffuser, and never point the dryer in his direction).

Pumpkin came along second. He was one of a pair of brothers. The brother was adopted, and I thought it was just too sad that he was all alone without his brother, so he came home to live with us, and Tori.

Pumpkin is always moving. Rarely still. Always checking out what's going on, and very eager for all the others to come out and play. He was very shy with me for a while, so I didn't push it. Once he was ready, he was flying over to sit on my head, or hand, or to help Tori clean my teeth. (check out the youtube video here)

Miss Pixel was chosen by the boys. I had taken them to visit Kay, (the pet shop owner/breeder where we've found them) for nail trimmings. When we go to the shop we visit the other birds. On that particular day Miss Pixel decided that we were of interest to her. Both Tori and Pumpkin perked up, and chatted at her. She came right to the front of her cage and answered back. I talked with her a bit, and she answered back sweetly. I figured she might be the next one, and discussed it with Kay. Tori and Pumpkin were boys. Miss Pixel could add a whole new dynamic to the scene. Kay suggested I talk it over with Joe first. We had decided the next bird would be named Pixel. But since it turned out to be a girl, we decided to call her Miss Pixel. A fitting name, actually. She's a bit of a diva. But, very, very sweet. She was sitting on my finger and chatting with me the first night we had her home. It took a while for her to really trust me, but she and the boys got along very well. There have been a few romantic triangles and awkward moments since she came along. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYKUau7SzMg

Texter was chosen in much the same way. I took the babies in for pedicures, and we visited the birdies at the store. Tori showed a keen interest in Texter, and Texter seemed very interested as well. Both were hanging from the fronts of their cages and just quietly observing each other. Again, I went home and discussed it with Joe. The next day I went back for Texter. By the end of the evening, he was hanging out with the gang.

Not that there haven't been surly moments between them all. A few scuffles here and there, but no injuries, no malice. Just, hey, that's my toy, my swing, my perch.

We have no plans to add another right now. But that could change...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still at 2.2%...bummer

Well, it seems my numbers may be increasing (although they don't give you any actual numbers to go by), but the lead cards (Lincoln and The Baby) are gaining percentages, so my stats just seem to linger and linger at 2.2%.

I discovered that Lincoln's creator got a big plug from the TV station he produces for in Detroit, so I'm guessing that's helping push his numbers up. And The Baby? How do you compete with a baby?

The sales stats for the cards are interesting - the "facelift" card is in the lead. I'm guessing women across America are finding that card very amusing. I'd like to think The Squirrel is in the Top 10, but they only list the Top 5. At least I can fantasize he's in the Top 10.

I have posters put up on the windows of my car. I saw a woman reading it today when I was on my way to my car, but then she looked away. I smiled at her, and she smiled back, but I resisted the urge to chase her down and make her commit to voting.

I met a woman in our store today who works at a local Hallmark store. I shared info with her on the contest, since she was unaware of it. She is going to bring up the subject at her store meeting. I told her she should suggest putting up a big display that promotes The Squirrel. Ha-ha...

I haven't let Mr. Squirrel know that he isn't winning. I'd hate for him to get depressed.
It's bad enough he can't seem to find his nuts...

If anyone is actually reading this blog, will you leave a comment. Just a quick "Hello"?

Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marilynn Mee votes for the Squirrel!

So, I sent an email to Marilynn Mee, at radio station WKLH, here in Milwaukee. Explained to her about the contest and asked for her vote. Not only did she respond, and vote, but she gave a shout-out on air about the contest. I'm hoping that helps the vote tally increase.

I shall endeavor to achieve enough votes to at least crack the Top Ten.

Some days really are just nuts, you know?


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Please, please, please can I have your vote?

Hello Folks,

For those that haven't been badgered with emails about it already,
I am a finalist in a Hallmark Shoebox card contest. The winner is the person
to receive the most amount of votes by the end of August. Voting is online.
Each person can vote once per day up until the end of the contest.

Out of 18 finalists, I am still in 13th place. Since there is a very cute baby card up at first/second place, I doubt I will win. However, I'd like to crack the Top 10.

Local "M" magazine was supposed to publish a small bit about the contest in their July issue, but it got knocked out by some other story. And they already have the August issue staked out. So, I won't be getting any extra publicity in that manner. They did show interest in doing a story if I win...

I'm asking for your votes, folks. I promise not to raise taxes. I promise no mud-slinging. Just honest-to-goodness votes for the cutest darn squirrel photo with amusing caption. Send a link to a friend or family member. To someone who likes squirrels. To someone who sometimes feels like the underdog. After all, how do you compete with a cute baby card anyway?

If you feel like purchasing the actual card, it should be available at your local Hallmark Gold Crown store. But purchases do not count towards the contest, so it's unnecessary. But it makes a good every day funny card.

Thanks for your vote!
I'm Kimberly Mackowski and I approve this message.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How do you do?

How do you do? My name is Kimberly. I'm married. Live in the Milwaukee area. I have a very sweet, quiet-natured husband, and four very lively parakeets (budgies). I have a passion for photographing the parakeets, and have videos posted featuring them on Youtube.

Lots of viewers have asked questions about raising parakeets, and I have so many photos to share, that I thought I'd start this blog. Although, it will probably contain all kinds of photos, raves, rantings, musings, wanderings, etc., on a variety of subjects.

I'm a novice gardener, into arts and crafts, photography, music. I sing. I crack jokes. I crack wise (and sometimes not-so-wise), and torture my husband (lovingly, of course).

The most exciting thing to happen to me lately is that I've been a finalist in a Hallmark card contest. I created a "Shoebox" card using one of my original photos, entered it in the contest, and am now one of 18 finalists. All of the finalists cards are being sold in Hallmark stores across the country. And voting is ongoing online until the end of August. You can vote once per day, per person at the contest website: www.hallmark.com/you

If you wish to purchase any of the cards you can purchase them online, or visit your local Hallmark store. Purchases do not count towards contest votes, however. Voting is free.

Well, that's it. My first post. I'll be back soon.