On becoming a fan of birds

Photo by Ed Myers
One of the greatest things about our new place is our view of the outdoors. There's a sliding glass door looking out to the backyard and a window next to the dining room table looking to the side yard. The front screen door and living room window look out onto more trees and shrubbery. Because of these great views, we've (by default) become bird watchers!

In our last place, we got to know our Scrub Jays, American Crows, Mourning Doves and briefly, a family of Cooper's Hawks, but they weren't usually easy to see without going outside. Now we've got a ringside seat for all the bird entertainment we could want.

It all started with the little brown birds on the grass. Most of the birds on our property were familiar to me, but these chubby brown hopping birds were not, and I found myself with a strong desire to know what they were. So I bought a bird book and found out that they were California Towhees. I love knowing stuff!

Now that I had the bird book, I started to observe more unfamiliar birds. Isn't that the way it always goes? You buy a red car and then suddenly you notice every red car on the road?

Then my neighbor loaned me her book on crows, called Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness(affiliate link). As I read about the crows (who are not as visible here as they were at our last place), I had a revelation that I had never given birds credit for being as interesting as they really are!

Now that I had the bird book, I started to figure out the names of our visitors. I recognized the sparrows, but I didn't know that they were called White-crowned Sparrows. Or that their occasional partners in snacking were called Golden-crowned Sparrows.

Then there was the Anna's Hummingbird. We had hung a hummingbird feeder above the deck, and enjoyed watching the birds come to feed. But we didn't notice -- until we noticed -- that the same hummingbird would come back every day, perching between feedings on a branch about twelve feet from the dining room window. She would sit, preen, scratch and poop, then make another trip to the feeder. We never would have detected the tiny bird in the bush had we not been actively following her flights.

In order to see her better, we pulled the binoculars out from under the car seat and put them on the dining room table. And when yet another two unidentified birds appeared in the yard, I bought another bird book.

Here's the list of birds we've met so far:

California Towhee
Anna's Hummingbird
Scrub Jay
Downy Woodpecker
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Black Phoebe

We're starting to recognize where they hang out, where they eat, where they perch, who they hide from and what times of day to expect them. Our neighbor has a bird bath, and it's fun to watch them drink and bathe. We plan to add different kinds of bird feeders and increase the bird-attracting plants in the yard.

Neither of us has ever had an interest in birds. It's amazing what happens when you just open your eyes and ears and start paying attention.


A tribute to Noonie

Once again, I'm having to write a tribute to a kitty we've loved and lost, this time our sweet Noonie. We miss her so much.


Moving in and moving on

I have not kept up with this blog, and I'm sad that I've been so lax. My whole purpose for starting it was to remind myself of the joyful things in life, big and small, and share them with you when you might need a lift or a smile. I still see those things, but forget to share. Shame on me. Here's what's occupying me right now.

We recently moved, for the first time in 19 years. It was exciting but stressful.

Back in 2010 we had decided it was finally time to move, spent six months looking with no luck, then thought we would try to make it work in our tiny, decrepit place. We were going to make a commitment to making it more livable, partly by taking over the studio on the property and remaking it as my office, and partly by holding our landlord to her word that she would fix the roof, upgrade the electrical, and tent the place for termites. Once we got serious about staying, just three months passed before our landlords decided to sell the property.

We knew that there might be some time between showings and an actual purchase, but we didn't want to wait around and find out. On Friday, we got the news the landlords were selling. Over the weekend, I studied Craigslist and found some houses to look at. On Tuesday, we looked at the first place on the list, and fell in love. Apparently the owners fell in love with us, too, because on Thursday they offered us the place.

We've now been here just over two months, and we feel like we're living in the lap of luxury.

The roof doesn't leak!

We have double-pane windows, so there's not a draft to be found. The house is cool on hot days and comfortable on chilly days.

The place feels like a mansion: We have (count 'em) TWO bedrooms -- one of which is my office-slash-guestroom -- and we have (count 'em) TWO bathrooms. One of them is twice the size of our previous bathroom.

We have a wood burning stove, and a heater WITH A THERMOSTAT (I cannot emphasize enough the luxury of having a thermostat).

We have a garage with additional storage, and a washer and dryer -- hubby spent the last 19 years taking our laundry to the laundromat.

We have a dining room that's separate from the living room. Not only is my office NOT in the dining room, but we actually have a table in there. Where we actually eat.

We have a lovely outdoor space with a deck, fruit trees and plenty of room for gardening, and we have privacy on all sides (my office does share a wall with a duplex-mate, but so far no complaints).

And can I talk about the landlords for just a minute?

To give some perspective, our previous landlord came on the property maybe five times in the 19 years we lived there. Hubby and his dad renovated the bathroom, and she didn't come see it. We had a house fire and she trusted us to handle the follow-up. Her hands-off approach was both a blessing and a curse. She was also always "broke," so could never afford to fix anything. When she agreed to replace our refrigerator years ago, she bought a cheap used one from a friend (we had to pay half), that ended up having cockroaches living in it. We ended up buying our own and bringing it with us to our new place.

New landlords: like night and day.

They come by on a regular basis to take care of gardening in the front of the property. Before our housewarming party, in fact, Kris came by to mow the lawn because she wanted to make sure the place looked nice for our guests.

Before the first rains of the season, Dan came by to make sure all the outside drains were clear. And then after it rained, he came by to make sure they were working and there was no flooding.

One day I discovered them outside filling in cracks in the front walkway. When I mentioned the grout in the kitchen counter needing to be sealed, first Kris told me what product to use and offered to reimburse us. And then she mentioned that they seal all the bathroom grout every two years. Seriously. They seal the grout every two years.

A large, mature palm tree in the front of the property had become dangerous when its fronds caught fire resting on a power line. Within days, Kris and Dan had arranged to have it removed, and today there's nothing but a stump. Sad to see the beautiful tree go, but we've had enough experience with house fire that we were not interested in reliving that drama.

People assume our landlords are retired, but they're not. They work full time and are just a little bit older than us. They lived in this house and raised their children here, so it's a home to them, not just an investment.

I hadn't felt truly comfortable or happy in our previous home for several years. We had stopped inviting friends over; the house was so cramped and in disrepair, and even the deck out back started to seem unsafe to walk on. Our wiring was so old and unsafe that an electrician (while also delivering the bad news that there weren't enough amps for a dryer) suggested we could have an electrical fire in the wall at any moment.

Since we've moved, my attitude has changed. I feel lighter, happier, less stressed (even though our rent doubled). My home is a sanctuary. I want to invite people over all the time. I have real furniture. I feel like a grownup -- but in a good way.

I thought adjusting to the new place would take time after so long on Quinto Street, but the minute our move was finished, I was mentally gone from the old place and here to stay. For how long? Who knows? But it feels like home.


With a little help from my friends

Last December, I made a commitment that, in 2011, I would think less, and act more. I haven't been as consistent as I would like to be, but I am conscious of my theme, and have it written on a sticky note above my desk so I don't forget.

There are times when I think about, dwell on, and dread what I should be doing, but I don't do it -- as is probably the case with most of you. A typical example is working out. I'll be watching the clock tick down to the time when I start to get dressed in my workout clothes. Sometimes I get carried away with something else and I don't notice how late it's gotten.

I used to look at the clock and say, "Oh well, it's too late." And just continue with whatever I was doing.

Now I look at the late hour on the clock, assess the rest of my day, and if I'm not in a time crunch, I get off my butt, put on my workout clothes and go.

Yesterday is a perfect example of how sometimes I need help to ACT -- even when the action is fun, not work.

I was eating dinner at a restaurant with hubby Rudy and friend Evelyn. The conversation was all about momentum, motivation and accountability. At one point, I mentioned something about planking, and how I would love to plank (pics) on one of the tables in the restaurant. After talking about it, scoping out good tables, discussing how the two of them would have to stabilize the table so I wouldn't fall off while getting into position, and talking about it some more, I basically chickened out.

Then, as we finished our food and got up to leave, Evelyn walked over to a table and grabbed onto the edge. I said, "Oh, are we doing this?" Rudy grabbed the other edge. And in an instant, I had dropped my bag, climbed onto the table, and had accomplished my first plank.

Now, this may seem like complete nonsense to you (but if you're reading this blog, then you must have a tiny sense of silliness in you somewhere), but I had been talking about doing this for weeks, and I finally did it. Sure, it's completely silly, but I like and need silly in my life, and I wanted to be part of this silly game playing out around the world.

Much like the nudge I needed to meet Kathy Griffin, as I described in my Starstruck post, Evelyn gave me that that little kick in the butt. No, I haven't finished either of my books. No, I haven't finished my online group coaching program. No, I haven't started packing for my move in three weeks. But YES, I planked on a table at Wahoo's restaurant, had a great laugh, and took a picture for posterity. I stopped thinking and started acting. Thanks, Evelyn!


Getting ready for 50

Lately, I find myself surrounded by articles, images and living examples of stylish, fit women in their fifties. I suddenly can't help noticing how many great-looking 50-year-olds there are here in Santa Barbara and elsewhere.

So maybe a lot of them can afford fitness trainers, weekly massages and manicures, facials and personal shoppers, but the fact remains, women in their fifties are looking hot.

Why am I suddenly obsessed with women in their fifties? Because I've got four years to get ready, and I need to get on the ball.

I was never prepared for aging, as most of us aren't, but I was excited to turn 30. I was so tired of everyone thinking I was still a college student, when I had accomplishments and achievements and life under my belt. Finally, I could say, "No, I'm not in college. I'm 30!" I felt I had come of age, a true grownup. I also gained weight for the first time in my life during my 30s, but easily exercised it away.

I was thrilled to turn 40. It was the year I walked away from the nonprofit I had founded and created my perfect career as a public speaking coach. I was coming into my own as a person and an entrepreneur, and feeling optimistic about the possibilities for my future. And I started noticing it was much harder to stay in shape through exercise; for the first time ever, I had to pay attention to my eating habits.

I'm not excited to turn 50. (Yet.) I feel more apprehension than anything else. My forties have been great, but also a wake-up call regarding my mental and physical health and fitness. I just can't screw around any more. I have four years to get my act together: I can either be a frumpy, dumpy 50-year-old who creaks and groans every time she gets up from the couch (and it's just downhill from there), or I can be a stylish and fit 50-year-old with joints and muscles that haven't completely deteriorated.

The grainy, fuzzy picture above of a half-eaten strawberry cake is symbolic of the journey I need to take, starting now. I need to approach my next four years with a new kind of discipline, a more mindful way of eating, exercising, taking care of myself and presenting myself. I don't mean discipline in a harsh or punishing way (and just to be clear, I don't believe in dieting). I mean the kind of discipline where I respect my body and what it's capable of.

That cake: It looked delicious in the case, but on the plate something was off. There was a chemical flavor to it, like artificially flavored jam. But I kept eating, thinking I would get used to it, or grow to like it. I mean, it was there.

It's easy to keep eating the bread in the bread basket, or the french fries that could serve an army, or the tortilla chips that keep coming with a new dish of fresh salsa.

But are they worth it? The question is no longer, "Are they good for me?" but rather, "Are they worth the extra weight, sluggishness and regret I'll experience if I'm not mindful of my eating?" And the answer is NO.

If I had ordered a rich Danish pastry, something that restaurant specializes in, I would not for a minute have hesitated to finish it. Because yes, some things are worth it. It would be a special treat and I would savor it.

But an off-tasting piece of strawberry cake is not worth it. A huge pile of generic french fries is not worth it. The second half of a gigantic burrito is not worth it. This is the lesson of my mid-forties.

1. I don't have to be angry that I can't eat everything I want or as much as I want. I just have to savor and relish the truly delectable foods I do eat, and eat them mindfully and in moderation.

2. I don't have to obsess over getting back the body of my 30s, when I was at the peak of my fitness. I just have to work out enough to keep my heart pumping, my joints flexible, my bones strong and my cholesterol at a reasonable level. Maintaining a healthy weight would be nice, too.

3. I don't have to resent dressing like a grownup (even a fun grownup). I can be comfortable in my clothes, while making a little more effort not to wear t-shirts and shorts every day. And for that matter, why do I always save certain jewelry, accessories and perfumes for special occasions? I need to pull those out, use and enjoy them.

As I've been looking back, I've also been looking forward. I want to carry the younger, feistier, more colorful me into my middle age. I also want to carry the older, wiser, more sensible and confident me forward. I want to live a long, happy, healthy life with my kitties, my husband, my family and friends.

I've made good strides over the years, and I'm on a good path. But the real work starts now. Four years to go... how will I do?


Sparkly fun with jewelry

Click images to see full size
I may not be as adventurous a dresser as I once was, but I do have a special affinity for funky jewelry, especially earrings.

From 2004-2007, I had a jewelry business. I made one-of-a-kind earrings, necklaces and bracelets from vintage, Venetian and art glass beads. I had been a jewelry artist as a hobby for decades, but at a time when I had been laid off my jobs in nonprofits three times in four years, it made sense to turn my hobby into a business.

Unfortunately, turning your favorite hobby into a business doesn't always work, and I found myself resisting the mass production that was going to be required in order for me to make a living at this. It stopped being fun to crank out 8-10 pairs of earrings in a day. And I had started my public speaking coaching business in 2005 that was starting to look like it would go somewhere.

I closed the jewelry business in 2007, and for probably a year, didn't pick up my tools. Slowly but surely, however, I've gotten back into my hobby, especially when I want to remake a piece for myself that I sold. It's fun again, it's a great creative outlet, and I take huge satisfaction in wearing my own handiwork.

It's gratifying to know that people still wear my jewelry; just the other day, a Twitter friend mentioned she had on a pair of my earrings, and when I met another friend for cocktails on Saturday, she was wearing some as well. I love seeing that my jewelry stands the test of time; it's not dated or out of style. It's a style all its own!

Here are a few of my favorite pieces, most of which now belong to someone else.


Are you who you were?

When I was a freshman in college, my first experience as a theater major was participating in creating a collaborative play created by my fellow theater classmates and an English class. The English students submitted stories from their parents, grandparents and other ancestors; we submitted our own life stories. Then the whole thing was turned into a script and performed by my theater class as a two-part play exploring the differences and similarities between generations entitled, "Are We Who They Were?"

This title has come up again for me recently, but more in the form of "Am I Who I Was?" It was triggered by watching Jessi Arrington's TED talk on "Wearing Nothing New." If you haven't seen it, you can (and should!) watch it below (it's short). I also wrote about it from the public speaking perspective here.

I was once like Jessi in my thrift shopping zeal and love of colorful outfits. I still am, in fact, but you'd never know it.

Back in high school I shopped in thrift stores because it was the cool thing to do and, as I was a kid, I had limited income. I could buy bag loads of stuff with very little outlay. I even worked at a thrift store one summer and came home with half my pay in clothes and shoes. My best friend and I would wear our outfits to death, then trade and wear each other's to death. I went to the prom in an elegant 50s embroidered satin ballgown with a full skirt and deep V-back, and a week later, to a classmate's debutante ball in my best friend's vintage black lace evening gown. Vintage was hot in those days, and I amassed a distinctive collection of outfits from the 40s to the 60s, including shoes, hats and accessories.

I took my cool clothes with me to college, where thrift shopping was less cool among the preppy rich kids I hung out with, but I still enjoyed expressing my creativity, style and kooky personality through my mostly-thrifted threads. For many years I didn't own a pair of shorts or sweats; I preferred my mini-skirts, pencil skirts and pleated plaid skirts, thank you very much.

Pre-prom, 1983 (I didn't have time to put on makeup!)
Once out of college, I found myself in the workforce. With a full time job came a sense of needing to fit in as well as a certain amount of disposable income, leading me to shop more frequently in regular retail stores. I don't even know how or when it happened, but things started to change. I still shopped in thrift stores, but those purchases became more and more about finding good brands and well-made pieces (the joy of finding a like-new high-end silk or linen blouse for just a couple of bucks!) that made me look like everyone else.

20+ years later, my thrift store wardrobe now makes up a tiny portion of my closet, and most of those items are no more interesting (and sometimes less interesting) than the ones I buy at Banana Republic or Calvin Klein (the outlets, of course. I still hate spending money on clothes.)

Watching Jessi's talk reminded me that there's nothing wrong with expressing myself through my clothing, even in a professional setting, even if the colors and patterns I choose are a little brighter or crazier than the average girl. But I don't know if I can ever get back the devil-may-care attitude I used to have about my clothes. After all, I'm 46 and I'm supposed to exhibit some decorum, right?

The red Hilo Hattie dress
Thanks to Jessi, I visited the thrift stores this past week with the express purpose of breaking out of my usual habit of safe shopping. I found a red Hilo Hattie Hawaiian dress to replace the one I've had for over a decade and that no longer fits (here I am in my new dress). I also found an apple green velvet jacket, a tangerine skirt, and a pink, orange and red multi-colored top that may or may not go with anything in my closet (or maybe with aforementioned skirt and jacket!). All good quality and, by the way, fun.

I also picked up a sensible pink-and-red-striped shirt for "business-y" meetings (never let 'em see you sweat) and a soft gray sweater that will go with anything, no matter how garish.

I'm on a new quest: To be who I was. Or at least a reasonable facsimile; after all, I don't need to look like I'm 22 years old, I just want to let myself be playful in ways I haven't allowed in many years.

How about you? *Are you who you were?*

Do you wish that you were still doing things you used to do? *What's stopping you?*



Barbara Wayman, me, Diana Long, Meredith Liepelt
Let me preface this by saying that I grew up in Santa Barbara. Because we're so close to Los Angeles, yet somewhat isolated, celebrities are a dime a dozen here. They own homes or come for the weekend. They shop at the farmers market, eat breakfast at hometown haunts and of course, attend the occasional gala event like the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

We let them be. It's not cool in Santa Barbara to bombard movie stars for autographs or to ogle them from across the room. We don't get starstruck.

So WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO ME Tuesday night, when I attended my first ever big Hollywood event, the Costume Designers Guild Awards?

I didn't go into it expecting lots of movie and TV stars, although I knew Kristin Davis would be the emcee and Halle Berry would be accepting an award. I figured there would be lots of successful costume industry people, a nice cocktail reception, dinner and awards speeches. I was with a group of women invited by my cousin Barbara, and I looked forward to meeting and enjoying a glamorous evening with these fellow coaches and consultants from across the country.

I was a theater major in college, my emphasis on acting. But through a serendipitous series of events, ended up senior year a costume design major. I still find costume design fascinating and analyze every detail of movie and TV costumes. I felt so lucky to be part of an event honoring such creative people. But the costume designers' faces were not familiar to me like the performers' faces were.

From the moment Kristin Davis walked by in her gorgeous black-on-white polka dot gown, I knew I was not going to be cool. I knew I was going to gawk. I so wanted to be unfazed, but it was not to be. Barbara managed to find her way into the VIP press lounge as part of an entourage of colleagues and friends. When she came out, she had met Bill Paxton and spotted Bette Midler somewhere in the crowd.

And then it just got more and more surreal as the movie and TV personalities piled up. I spotted Kathy Griffin, one of my favorite comedians (and the subject of a few Speak Schmeak blog posts), sitting at the next table on the lower level, facing me. As I gawked and squealed, suddenly Barbara and Meredith appeared in my view, chatting with Kathy along with their friend Lash who, of course, knew Kathy. As I marveled at how the heck they got there so fast, Diana, sitting next to me, started to jump out of her seat to join them. I said, "Are you going?" and impulsively leaped up to join her. We nearly sprinted to the Kathy Griffin table.

Here's something about me people don't believe: I'm shy. I love standing up in front of an audience of 500 people to speak. But when it comes to introducing myself to someone I admire, I'm a total freak. I will hide in a dark corner rather than say hello to someone of whom I'm a fan. I could have sat at that table all night staring at Kathy Griffin, just a few feet away. Thank goodness for the impulsiveness of Diana, forcing me to take action.

I butted right to the front of the group, probably a little rudely, to say hello to Kathy, who was absolutely lovely and charming. She asked if I wanted to take a picture and uh, heck YEAH I wanted to take a picture. She very graciously posed with me as Lash snapped away (I hope I actually get a copy!). I thanked her for being so willing to be accosted by and photographed with strangers. Then the conversation continued, and Diana and I went back to our seats.

There was a charming and handsome young man at our table, who looked familiar. Turns out he was Matt Lauria, from The Chicago Code and Friday Night Lights, two shows I've never watched. He was what someone my age calls a "nice young man."

And the presenters kept coming. Robert Duvall, Melora Hardin, Lisa Edelstein, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Claire Danes, Isaiah Mustafa (yes -- the Old Spice Guy!), Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Diane Lane, Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Maher, Samuel L. Jackson...

It was a fairly small room and the presenters weren't far from us. It was easier to see them on the monitors, however, so we mostly watched the big screens. Which is how we normally view celebrities, right? Then I would turn my head and that person was standing RIGHT THERE, making an award presentation. Surreal, I tell you.

And yes, I ogled. I gawked. I stared. I tweeted and Facebooked and took a ton of pictures. And enjoyed every minute.

I'm a thinker and planner, but the "doing" usually follows much later, which is why my theme word for 2011 is "ACT!" Unfortunately, "acting" doesn't always come easily, which is why I'm so grateful for Diana motivating me to go meet Kathy Griffin. In the grand scheme of things, it's maybe a minor event in my life. But why not take the opportunity when it presents itself?

I find I'm now second guessing myself, wishing I had taken MORE action. "Why didn't I tell Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton how much I enjoyed their presentations?" Why didn't I do this? Why didn't I do that? In fact, because I was so in the moment, and hadn't planned or thought out anything, I couldn't take action at all.

My lesson in this: There is indeed value in the planning and preparation that I like to do, if I want to be on my toes making things happen.

A little planning goes a long way, but so does a little action!

(Shout out to Barbara, Meredith, Diana, Ruth and Jill, my companions for the evening: a group of powerful, accomplished, brilliant and gorgeous women that I'm so glad to have met!)

Photos from the event are here.


Why do you work out?

When I was a teenager, I worked out because I wanted to win games and races. Without proper training, I had no idea what I was doing, and achieved little for my efforts.

When I was in my 20s, I worked out because I was skinny and wanted muscles. It was fun for a while, but my studies (and parties) were more appealing.

When I was in my 30s, I worked out because I wanted to match the women I studied as an advocate for gender equity in sports. And I had suddenly discovered my metabolism slowing down and myself 20 pounds heavier than I had ever been.

I became very fit and strong -- and very obsessed with exercise -- and found myself sick all the time.

In my 40s, I think I've finally found the right reasons to work out:

I work out to stay fit, but not to the detriment of my immune system.

I work out to support my vast energy stores (so lucky to be a high-energy girl).

I work out to maintain my mental health.

I work out to enjoy the natural beauty Santa Barbara offers every day.

I work out to get away from my desk, if only for a short time.

I work out because it feels damn good.

I try not to let fear or guilt motivate me. I try not to compete with other women's bodies. I try not to push myself beyond what's reasonable for my age, physical condition and interest. Sometimes I fail at these things. But I'm so much more physically and mentally healthy at this point in my life because I do what I enjoy and do it as often as possible.

Why do you work out?