Getting to know you... Jay

Photo by Justin Watts
Here's an update on our backyard bird community, since the last time I wrote six months ago. We've now gone through our first spring in this house and we're into summer, and the bird landscape has changed as well.

Since the last bird list, we've had sightings of so many beautiful birds: Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, Spotted Towhee, Nutmeg Mannikin, Purple Finch, Common Yellowthroat, Oak Titmouse, Hooded Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. You can see what these critters look like on my Pinterest backyard bird board.

But my favorite birdwatching right now is the Scrub Jay family.

About ten days ago, we discovered that we had fledgling jays in the yard, babies that had recently left the nest.

We've been feeding peanuts to the parents for some time, but didn't realize they were a family unit until the juveniles appeared.

As I said in my previous bird post, I had never been particularly interested in birds, and even seeing so many colorful visitors to the yard felt more like an exercise in collecting and categorizing than in getting to know the birds.

But the jays have changed all that. Watching the adults choose burial sites for their peanuts has been entertaining, sure. But watching the youngsters learn the ropes of being a bird is amazing. As corvids (the family that jays and crows belong to) are known for their intelligence and curiosity, the baby jays don't disappoint.

They chase the towhees and sometimes forage with them.

They pick up everything they find on the ground, sometimes trying to bury it, sometimes calling loudly for someone to come see their discovery. They've already developed the habit of hiding treasures under leaves, but sometimes the leaf itself is the treasure.

They steal from each other.

They can't figure out how to land in the bird feeder because of their size and still awkward flight ability, so they occasionally fall out.

One sits on a branch under the sock feeder, reaching up with its beak and trying to determine how to get the seeds without actually clinging to it like the finches do.

One juvenile came flying out of a bush the other day with something stuck all over its face, maybe leaves and spider webs? He rolled on the ground, he scratched, he flapped. The parent jay stood by, watching, then shoved some food into the baby's mouth and took off. Not exactly the most helpful act, but later the youngster returned with a clean face.

They sun themselves in the garden, lying on one side, fluffed up, wings out, with mouths hanging open. Sometimes they sleep on the sunny branch of a tree.

They scream for food, and occasionally I'm in the right place at the right time to see one flapping its wings and opening its mouth to receive a snack from the parent (they're almost as big as the full-grown jays, but will still be fed by them for another few weeks).

First bird to discover the new birdbath: baby jay. And he splashed and drank like it was the best thing ever. Sibling jay was a little more cautious.

The baby jays are no different from any kittens I've ever known. They play, they hunt, they explore, they learn and they become more and more like their parents every day.

I'm a little sad for the time when they're grown and their lives become all about work -- just like us human grownups. Jays tend to live in family groups for a couple of years until the juveniles are adults and ready to mate. And even then, they may stay nearby and raise *their* families.

I feel honored to be a part of the lives of these wild creatures. The parents still come for their peanuts and the babies follow. Maybe someday soon the babies will come for peanuts of their own!


Music for walking

My current favorite form of exercise is walking. I have two particular routes I take from my house, both about three miles round trip. There's just the right mix of hills and flats so I get nice and sweaty and strong.

One route is my practical, errand-running route. I can get the mail, go to the bank and pick up small items at the grocery store that fit into my backpack. The other route goes in and around a neighborhood where every house on every street seems to have either a lush garden or a drought-tolerant native plantscape. Either way, most of the gardens on my route are beautiful and inspiring.

Both routes have strenuous sections, but the garden route is the one I take when I want to get into a more meditative mood. Here's a song that fits perfectly my garden-walking mood. How can you not feel good listening to "Feeling Good?" My fave: the Adam Lambert version (lyrics are below). I posted it on Yay Life! before, but I thought enough time had passed to post it again!

View on YouTube

Feeling Good lyrics

Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Reeds driftin' on by
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Fish in the sea
You know how I feel
River running free
You know how I feel
Blossom in the tree
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don't you know
Butterflies all havin' fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when the day is done
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine
You know how I feel
Scent of the pine
You know how I feel
Yeah freedom is mine
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
For me
For me

And I'm feeling
I'm feeling
I'm feeling


Stop wasting food - use a fridge triage box!

Sorry for the blurry pic, but you get the idea...
How much food do you throw away? If you're like me (or at least how I was before), probably a lot. I have a tendency to over-buy at the farmers market, for one thing. All that produce looks so delicious! Then I forget about it, or only use part of it.

Also, hubby works in the specialty foods industry, which means he is constantly bringing home samples. Everything from breads and crackers to sauces and spreads, ice creams, chips, veggie burgers, drinks, pasta and grains, dressings and dips... you get the picture. We may open a sample, but never get around to finishing it, and if it's perishable, that's a lot of food waste.

So I was super excited to read this article about something called a "fridge triage box." I love the name, and I love the concept.

The idea is to put a box or container of some sort in a highly visible spot in your fridge. Right in front, so you can't miss it. Into this box goes every perishable item that has been opened and needs to be eaten.

My white board where I track my produce
Those giant jars of pasta sauce that languish in the back corners of the refrigerator after one use? Put 'em in the triage box! That deli salad you had for lunch but couldn't finish? Triage box! That package of deli meats or hot dogs (in my case, vegetarian faux meats or the inevitable half-package of tofu) you opened last week? Put it in the triage box and EAT it!

I'm enjoying seeing what's at the top of the list for my meals. Sometimes it's not even an opened package, but one that is unopened and nearing its expiration date. The triage box is a great way to eliminate (or at least reduce) my food waste, and I do believe it's working, though I don't have scientific research to back it up.

I'm also using a small white board on the fridge to track what produce I pick up each week, so I can see what I have without having to paw through the produce drawers. This has been beneficial in keeping me from wasting food.

Is this something that would work for you? Have you tried this before? I'd love to hear your experience!


Doing it for the right reasons

These crazy steps get steeper as they get higher
I woke up last Sunday and very gingerly got out of bed. I expected sore feet, an aching back, and stiff quads. The previous night I had spent a couple of hours dancing (sometimes vigorously) to The English Beat. I had moved my body in ways it had forgotten and lost a couple of gallons of sweat.

It was a fabulous night, like being back in college, but I was certain I would suffer the next day. Just the fact that the band didn't start playing until after 10 p.m. was a warning sign.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, except for suffering from minor dehydration and less than a full night's sleep, I felt darn good. No pain, no soreness. Just the memory of a fun concert with friends.

And it occurred to me that maybe my workouts were to thank for my easy recovery.

I don't work out as much as I should or as much as I would like, but I try to get in a combination of climbing stadium stairs at Santa Barbara City College and a heart-pumping and hilly 3-mile walk a couple times a week.

Sometimes I am not sure what my goals are for working out. Yes, I'd like to drop ten pounds. Yes, I'd like to keep my cholesterol and triglycerides in check. Yes, I like the endorphins that keep stress at bay. And yes, I hope to reap the physical benefits of stronger bones and cardiovascular fitness.

But I don't feel strongly enough about any of those things to get myself out the door more than three times a week, or else I would be doing it.

Then it occurred to me that what I really want from exercise is the ability to live my life the way I want to live it. I want to do what I want to do and go where I want to go, without hobbling around in pain, or worse, avoiding activities altogether.

If I go to San Francisco, I want to be able to walk up and down hills. If I go to a festival, craft show or fair, I'd like to be able to stand on my feet for hours at a time. If I go to a concert, I want to be able to rock out! There are many other instances that come to mind where having energy and endurance are necessary in my life. Public speaking, for example!

So really, exercise serves one main purpose for me: to allow me to live my life. All the other benefits are welcome and happen without any extra thought, but if I were to focus on those results, I would be exercising for the wrong reasons. At least the wrong reasons for me.


How many signs do you need?

How many signs (or hints or warnings) do you need before you realize it's time to make a change? For me, a lot.

9 years ago, I started having problems with my digestion. After much misery, my doctor told me I was suffering from both IBS and GERD. Lovely. The typical "prescription" is to manage stress, change diet, and lose weight. And in my case, take a Prilosec every day.

So I did (actually, I lost the weight unintentionally when I changed my diet). I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol, stopped eating after 7:00 p.m., started drinking more water, and either eliminated or reduced triggers: spicy food, acidic food, processed food, chocolate, wheat, raw or overly fibrous vegetables, raw garlic and onion.

It was a rough (and bland) year.

However, I got my digestion back on track and amazingly, lost 30 pounds. Which was pretty cool.

Time passed. A couple of years went by. I slowly started adding the offending foods back into my diet. Started going wine tasting a lot. Started drinking caffeinated tea in the mornings. Started buying such delicious tangerines at the farmers market... you get the picture.

And I started getting signs that my digestive problems were back. But only occasionally, so I could overlook them. One bad bout of heartburn here and there... so what? One day every now and then when my gut just wouldn't settle down. Big deal.

At the same time, my joints were becoming more arthritic (the result of a car accident 22 years ago) and my back and neck were constantly sore. I know I'm getting old, but I considered myself pretty fit and not overweight by more than a few pounds. But I know that digestive issues and inflammation are closely linked and wondered if my problems were related.

So I started toying with the idea of going back on my healthy digestion diet, and also started researching inflammation and foods that cause or reduce inflammation.

Then I was struck with the realization that I was having these digestive problems, not now and then, but every day. And my GERD was getting more painful. And I could barely eat anything anymore without some kind of flareup. Hello -- could this be a sign?

Yesterday I talked to BeTheMatch.org, the registry for the National Bone Marrow Donor Program, and that conversation sealed the deal.

Backstory: I joined the registry in 1990 when the community rallied around a local child who needed a transplant, and over the years I had received a call or two about being a possible match. I can't donate blood because of the mad cow disease scare in the 90s; I lived in London during a period of time considered risky for becoming a mad cow carrier. But that doesn't matter to the bone marrow donor registry, and since 1990 I've hoped that I could maybe help save someone's life with my bone marrow.

I got a letter last week from the registry saying that I'm a possible match, and that I should call in for more details and a health evaluation. Guess what health problem caused me to be deferred? No, not the digestive stuff -- the back and neck pain.

There are two methods of bone marrow donation. One is a surgical outpatient procedure where the bone marrow is extracted from the pelvic bone, and the other is a donation of peripheral blood stem cells in a procedure much like typical blood donation. The PBSC donation requires the use of a drug for five days before the procedure to stimulate the growth of these cells. Both the medication for the PBSC donation and the surgical procedure result in back pain.

Because my back pain is a recurring issue and not under control, I was deferred. So disappointed. But could this be another sign?

This was the push I needed to figure out how my diet is affecting my body physically through inflammation, including the back pain and the digestive problems, and to immediately shift my eating back to foods I know won't aggravate me.

I feel a little bit like an idiot for waiting so long to do something about it. But I'm motivated to get my health back on track -- for myself, and also so I can become eligible again to be a bone marrow donor.

I feel terrible that I might have been a match for someone and now I can't do anything to help.

How many signs do you need before making an important change in your life?

ETA: Today, February 27, I went to my doctor about the loud pulsating sound I've had in my left ear for two months. When she determined that I didn't have an ear infection, and started going down the list of possible causes, I just KNEW possible cause #3 was going to be GERD. Do I need any MORE signs?