Lifted Spirits: My Personal Journey

For close to a year now I’ve been volunteering at Lifted Spirits, a drop in center for homeless women in downtown San Jose. It feels like home.

Back patio: a sanctuary for the women we serve

There was a time in my life when this work would have overwhelmed me. I started out on the fringes, dropping off donations of needed clothing or making contributions from a “safe” distance. Eventually my friend Mary invited me downtown for a tour. They were looking for additional volunteers to work in the clothing boutique.

Social Hall for meals and Friday bingo

I took a breath and jumped in. What scared me? That I would be emotionally unable to work closely with such a vulnerable group of women without falling apart myself. To the contrary, the work continues to be rewarding and engaging. This is not to say it’s always easy. Some of the women we serve are mentally ill. Many are also abused. Toss in addiction to drugs or alcohol, jail time, and mind-numbing poverty and it adds up to a group of women in crisis.

I’m a professional organizer who put myself through college working retail jobs. In my early career I worked as a theater costumer, so I’ve measured a number of actors in my time. I’ve put these skills to work offering bra fittings for the women we serve in the boutique, a complete reorganization of the physical space, and regularly re-working the boutique to keep it looking fresh and inviting. We’re there to lift spirits after all.

It’s the skills I didn’t know I had that surprised me. I’ve been able to remain present for women in crisis without losing myself. I can offer a hug to anyone, recognizing the restorative value of human connection when it’s warm, sincere and sustained. I’ve earned the trust of women who’ve been let down by others, probably for a lifetime. And for the most part, I’ve lost that fear.

I also have a lot to learn. A few of the women we serve push all my buttons. They’re rude, demanding and aggressive. It’s a challenge facing them on a regular basis. I want to be as understanding and compassionate with them as I am with the women who arrive emotionally overwrought or with a blackened eye. That’s the real work.

This Friday I begin a free, five-week course offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). It’s a targeted provider education course recommended for people who work or volunteer with individuals living with mental illness. In the end we’re all people needing love, support and understanding.

Special thank you to Mary, Stephanie, and Bonnie for helping show me the way.

How about you? Have you faced a fear head on with positive results? Please share your thoughts below.

A Little Sorrow, a Little Joy

Thank you to readers Lisa and Eliza for correctly identifying the songbirds posted in A Tale of Two Wrens. Our feathered guests are House Finches.

Last week I rescued a finch from our walkway. It sat fluffing its feathers but not otherwise moving. I brought him inside, made him a little nest inside our cat carrier and drove to the local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility. I learned a few days later that the sweet little songbird suffered from a highly contagious and generally incurable eye disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis or MG. Our rescued finch has been humanely euthanized by the caring folks at Wildlife Center Silicon Valley.

There is small comfort knowing he died in a pair of loving hands. Left on the cold sidewalk he would have surely fallen prey to a cat. Further, since it’s highly contagious, removing any diseased bird from a community gives the others a fighting chance.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Male House Finch with MG, a highly contagious eye disease prevalent in songbirds

Clinical Signs
House finches with mycoplasmal conjunctivitis will exhibit swelling around the eyes, crusty eyelids, and watery ocular and/or nasal discharge. Extreme swelling and crusting can lead to impaired vision and at times blindness. In severe cases, birds may become debilitated, depressed, lose body condition, and die. Some birds can act as carriers of MG while showing no clinical signs of the disease. 
Diagnosis
Mycoplasmosis is diagnosed based on clinical signs and the isolation of M. gallisepticum by culture or other laboratory tests. 
Treatment
Treatment of wild birds with MG is not recommended. Although antibiotics may clear clinical signs, birds can become asymptomatic carriers that can spread the bacteria to new locations. 
Management
Management efforts to control mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in finches focus on transmission prevention. Bird feeders and baths should be kept clean and spaced far enough apart to prevent crowding. Only clean, fresh feed should be provided at feeders. Tube-style feeders seem to be particularly problematic in MG transmission. During outbreaks of mycoplasmosis, bird feeding should be discontinued to eliminate this source of transmission.

https://www.northeastwildlife.org/disease/avian-mycoplasmosis

We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

We don’t feed song birds via a feeder, but we do have a hanging bird bath and a bubbling fountain. I’ll need to be more diligent keeping them clean. Holly Cormier of the WCSV confirmed that vinegar is just as effective as bleach, and it’s non-toxic. You need to let it sit 15 minutes, then thoroughly rinse with a blast of a garden hose.

Armed with this new information, I was anxious to learn of the wellbeing of our second House Finch. He arrived in December and continues to sleep under the eaves each night. Most nights he’s facing in so I can’t see his face. I finally captured this photo showing no outward signs of MG.

Male House Finch, San Jose, California
Male House Finch Closeup San Jose, California

 His healthy presence brings a bit of joy to each day.

Please consider sharing this post with anyone attracting songbirds to their garden.

 

A Garden in Rest

We’re quite spoiled living in California this time of year. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and we’re frequently treated to several days of unseasonably warm conditions. 

Curb garden perennials going to seed

While much of the country is dealing with weather known as the polar vortex with insanely cold and hazardous conditions, I’m wearing a t-shirt as I go about my day. I wish I could send all my mid-west and eastern seaboard friends a bit of warmth and sunshine. Come June, I’ll be looking on enviously at your summer rains.

Nigella and sweet peas populate the curb garden

I’ve been popping into the garden at the end of the day, pulling young weeds before they get a foothold. It’s a joy to observe the daily treasures nature has to offer.

Nigella bud just before opening
Nigella in all its beauty

When fall arrives in late October, my garden cleanup includes pruning, grooming and dead-heading perennial plants and shrubs. Last fall, I consciously let things go. This wasn’t born of laziness. In fact, it took some resolve to let things be. My propensity for organization and a tidy garden are nothing new, however my awareness of the benefits of a garden to all the visitors comes with a sense of responsibility.

Rose hips in the curb garden

Emerging growth on a miniature rose

Letting perennials go to seed means there are seeds available for birds passing through. Allowing a bit of leaf drop to cover the garden floor provides cover for some beneficial insects, while at the same time providing a natural mulch. Mulch keeps the soil warm and moist, while reducing weed growth and protecting roots from uneven temperatures. Leaves breakdown quickly, feeding the worms and improving the overall health of the soil.

Excess leaves, swept from the sidewalk and deck, made it into our compost bin. After working my way through three different compost systems over the past decade, I finally found one that I like.

Tessa likes to sit on the composter at dusk

New habits take time. I’m itching to get out there so I can prune some of the dead growth. I’ve had a little chat with my inner gardener, and together we’ve decided this is best. After all, the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere is only 49 days away.

I can hardly wait.

A Tale of Two Wrens*

Note: Since publishing this post, I’ve learned that our feathered visitor is a House Finch not a House Wren. I’ve made changes accordingly.

As I walked up the garden path this morning I noticed a house finch sitting on the ground. Mouse the cat was just a few yards away so I had to think fast. I waited for the bird to take flight. Instead he fluffed his feathers and bobbed his head, but made no effort to move.

In a flash, Mouse shot through the bushes, aiming straight for the bird. In one fell swoop I scooped the bird in to my hands and lifted him off the ground to safety.

Now what?

I loosely cradled the finch in my hands, its soft wings fluttering against my skin.

house wren

Closeup of the house finch in my hand

The next five minutes are a bit of a blur, but I somehow managed to get Mike’s attention through the kitchen window and he came to assist. He secured the cat, assembled a cardboard box from the recycle bin and even managed a few pics from a safe distance.

I opened my hands to see if the bird would fly. He climbed on my finger and calmly perched to survey his surroundings. It was then I noticed that he couldn’t open one of his eyes. It didn’t look damaged, but it may have been what grounded him in the first place.

He eventually hopped from my hands to a low bush but leaving him there would mean certain death. I caged the little fellow in a cat carrier (oh the irony) and drove to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.  How lucky we are to have a place like this that will rescue, rehab and return animals and birds to the wild whenever possible.

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley signage

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley

Later in the day when I had time to think I wondered if the injured finch might be my nightly visitor. Over the past thirty days, a male house finch returns at dusk and spends the night on the cord under the eaves.

I lingered outside till 5:20 willing my nightly visitor to return. I came inside with a heavy heart assuming the two finches were one and the same. Then moments later, I glanced out the kitchen window into the dark corner of the eaves and spotted his tail feathers under the eaves!

house finch under the eaves january 24

This house finch arrives at dusk to spend the night under the eaves

I’ll learn tomorrow the fate of the bird in the care of WCSV.

I Keep Forgetting to Tell You…

Does this happen to you? I start telling a story in great detail, only to realize midway that I’ve told the story before. My friends are polite and would never interrupt. The “tell” is a patient look on their face, and I’m suddenly aware of my faux pas.

Conversely, I’ll assume I’ve shared a story, in the same great detail, only to have my friend say “this is the first I’ve heard this.” or “I had no idea.”

I’m a woman of a certain age, so I can chalk this up to the number of birthdays I have under my belt though I suspect I’ve been doing this my whole life.

Today’s post is about those little things I keep meaning to tell you, promises I made to “share in a future post” and just a couple of random things I would share if we could sit down together and share a cuppa.

Feel free to roll your eyes skyward if you’ve heard this one before. The magic of the internet is I’ll never know.

First up, my sister’s Halloween costume. Sharon based her costume last year on Pauline King’s gorgeous piece of art . I blogged about it last October.

Pauline King’s gift to my sister Sharon: The Wise Woman

I promised to share pictures of Sharon’s costume which turned out beautifully. We shared the same wig since we needed it on different days and she already had the hat and a simple black dress. I found the knotted walking stick (actually a cane) at a costume shop for $7 and had my husband saw off the hook. I bought her the cape, and as you see in the photo below, art imitates life which imitates art.

Halloween costume The Wise Woman

Sharon’s Halloween costume based on Pauline King’s art piece The Wise Woman

Next up is an unexpected blogging connection from my friends Dan and Rosie. After their older dog passed, my friends started looking at rescue organizations for another black Labrador retriever. Dan fell in love with black labs as a little boy when his dad snuck one into his room one night.

A few weeks into their search, Dan sent me a photo of them posing with a Golden Retriever named Ginger. (I’m pretty sure Ginger is also part horse). They missed having a dog so they expanded their search. I immediately recognized the bench they were sitting on because I’ve seen it often on Audrey’s blog.

That’s right; my friends adopted a dog from a rescue organization called Homeward Bound.  I’ve been followed Audrey’s blog for years. She’s a terrific writer and a good soul who helped revitalize the Memorial Garden featured in this photo and on her blog. You can follow along at Gardens For Goldens.

rescue dog

In the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden with Ginger

rescue dog

Meeting Ginger last summer. She’s a sweetie.

I’ve also been meaning to share photos of Mike sporting his beautifully woven scarves from fellow blogger Kerry at Love Those Hands at Home. Kerry and her husband took up weaving a few years ago, and now offer their wares on Etsy. She offered to make a couple of scarves for Mike so he could choose one, but he loved them both. The scarves drape beautifully, and are both soft and warm. Here’s Mike over a year ago wearing the two scarves sporting his before and after beard. We both had the flu, so shaving dropped off the list until he was well.

As I write this I’ve just finished a hot cup of Rooibos”tea“. We had multiple power outages throughout the night during a heavy storm but the power is back on and our fence is leaning but still standing. Lot’s of people are happy to replace the fence, but we can’t find a soul that will come and re-pour the improper footings. Twenty years ago we might have re-poured those fittings ourselves, but we’re not feeling it now.

Just one more share: Here’s  34 seconds of Tessa chirping at a flying insect near the window…

…and snuggling in to a pile of sheets on our bed.

Tessa snuggled in the sheets.

What would you share if we could sit down for a cuppa?

About Those Christmas Lights

The jokes abound about leaving up the outdoor Christmas lights well into January. It’s always more fun to put them up than to take them down (says the woman who does neither). The outdoor lights are my husband’s thing.

That said, I had a vested interest in their removal this year after noticing a small deposit of bird droppings at the corner of the front steps just before Christmas. I looked up hoping to see a bird’s nest but alas, no nest in sight.

I got a jug of warm soapy water, rinsed the steps and carried on with my day.

A few days later the droppings were back, but still no sign of my feathered neighbor.

As luck would have it, we drove up the driveway around 5 pm one evening and I got out of the car to fetch some packages. In the process I startled a small red-breasted bird who is apparently sleeping on the edge of the extension cord used to hang the Christmas lights.

Bay Area House Finch

Possibly a house finch, common to the area, and probably male with the red breast

House finch under the eaves

House Finch under the eaves, December 28, 2018

My feathered guest leaves during the day, then returns at dusk for the night. He tucks his head toward the edge of the overhang, perched on the cord, and though it looks inhospitable to me, he’s clearly content. We replaced our Christmas lights several years ago with long-lasting, cool-to-the-touch LED’s so it’s not the heat that attracted him. Why he’s chosen this corner we’ll never know, but when the lights came down yesterday, the extension cord remained.

House finch under the eaves

Still visiting, January 2, 2019

It’s a lovely start to the new year and a softening of the inevitable melancholy that follows when both boys head back to university for another term. I’m immeasurably happy to see this little bird perched there each night, and hope he remains year round.

What’s new in your corner of the world?

Bay Area Birds

Merry Christmas from the Family Felines

It’s hard to time a holiday blog for two hemispheres. Further, not everyone celebrates Christmas.

If you’re celebrating today, or perhaps you’re reading this on Boxing Day, I hope your season is merry.

And if today is just a random Tuesday (or Wednesday), I hope your days are merry, too.

Tessa in a box near Mickey Mouse stocking

Tessa just took a nibble from Mickey’s ear which is part of my son’s Christmas stocking from many years ago.

Lindy sporting Santa hat

Lindy, 16, sporting the miniature Santa hat. She looks sullen, but mostly because I’m blocking the stream of sun keeping her warm.

Lindy the cat sunbathing

Another one of Lindy sunbathing

Mouse the cat on a jigsaw puzzle

We usually have a jigsaw puzzle going this time of year. It’s a popular place to nap as well. That’s Mouse.

Tessa smelling Christmas greens

Who’s misbehaving? Tessa jumped up on the kitchen counter to smell the fresh Christmas greens.

Tessa under the sheets

“…and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” – Clement Clarke Moore

Wishing you all good things in the coming year.

Love, Alys and the family felines.