Great Backyard Bird Count

One of the things I try to do for my children since they don’t get the luxury of seeing a lot of wild animals is cultivate their knowledge of birds since that is one wild animal we have in the city.  On our freeway drives, we count the number of hawks and falcons we see.  Even though we don’t often know if we’re accurately identifying them since we are moving past them without binoculars, I like that we’re cultivating eyes to see the unexpected.  The great thing for us is after years of looking for these birds, they’re no longer unexpected.  In fact, we spotted a rare osprey just this week resting on a 605 interchange lightpole.

So as bird watchers, we decided to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell lab of Orinthology.  It is an international event where people submit birds seen for an allotted time.  On Saturday, I lead a group of girl scouts in El Dorado Park where we saw a Green Heron, something I hadn’t seen before.

  Green Heron

Our morning at El Dorado wasn’t enough so we spent some time in our backyard in the afternoon capturing some of our birds as well as submitting a bird count.  My daughter captured this hummingbird, which I think is a male Allen’s Hummingbird.


Then I captured this vibrant one, which I think is a Rufous Hummingbird but I’m just not sure so I didn’t put this one in our bird count.


What I’ve noticed over these last couple days, is that I long for a familiarity of birds, which I do not have.  I cannot get clues by their sounds, flight wings and shape because I’ve mainly used color and some shape before.  I cannot use those former clues because they aren’t familiar to me.  However, I can spot a deer, coyotes, and large birds like hawks and eagles from far distances (though nothing compared to my dad who I swear has a bionic eye) because I’ve been spotting them my entire life.  It’s a habit so to speak that I’ve developed.

In the same way, I long to become so familiar with my internal feelings, thoughts and dynamics that when they show up, I can readily identify them.  I’m just beginning to see the fears inside myself that keep me trapped and disempowered.  I’ve also just identified a lack of assertiveness that impedes my ability to speak up in certain situations, oddly, it’s most often with strangers.  For me, having a certain familiarity with these internal feelings (or events) allows me to respond differently.  It allows me to speak into my fear and act from a place of empowerment.  It also allows me to recognize times when I’m self-preserving rather than stepping out in vulnerability.  I believe it is absolutely crucial to have self-knowledge in order to change and develop new ways of being.  We are too self deceptive to merely trust our instincts or guts.

I’m grateful for the Backyard Bird Count.  It caused me to take time to observe nature and in turn notice how easily I could identify the familiar and how difficult, and at times impossible, to identify that which was foreign to me.  I think within myself I need to pause and observe more often than I’ve realized in order to live my best life.  If you have time, sit in your backyard and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count at thru President’s Day.  Just maybe you’ll learn something about birds and yourself.


Grandma’s Birthday

My grandma’s birthday is February 12th.  If she was alive, she’d be 97.  Every year, I honor her birthday by doing something that she enjoyed when she was alive.  One year, I had a girl’s night where we socialized, did our nails and drank all sorts of delightful beverages.  I have fond memories of popping into her home unannounced and sitting beside her while she filed her enviable fingernails, strong and long.  She kept them groomed despite her daily gardening (a discipline I have yet to adopt).  Other years, I’ve bought a plant, created a poem, reread the eulogy I spoke at her funeral, or spent several leisurely hours reading because she loved it.

I honored her yesterday by choosing two things.  First of all, we went to an Eric Carle inspired theater production with my two children from Mermaid theater company from Canada.  She would’ve been thrilled to go.  She was an elementary school teacher who loved reading and theater.  We lived in a small town with occasional productions but where she viewed the most theater was on PBS.  When I had moved to the city, she would often welcome me home by saying, “Now sit right down here and tell me about everything you are doing or have seen.  You have so many opportunities and I’ve just got to hear about them.”  The other thing I did was buy tickets to a tea for two so Eden and I could have a special outing together doing something she absolutely loved — tea.  She had stacks of tea cups, some from her grandmother and mother.  There were also special ones like the yellow rose cup from my grandpa who was the love of her life.  Before she died I wrote down the teacup’s stories so I could pass them down to Eden with their stories intact.  She was known as the “tea lady” at church who would generously cart all her cups, plates, and teapots so everyone could enjoy “the real thing.”

There are so many things I love to remember about her.  My grandma was one of those pioneer women who graduated with her masters before many women even had their bachelors.  She wasn’t afraid to share her opinions and had a confidence that wasn’t tainted by arrogance.  She was a strong woman role model for me and I think I wasn’t afraid to speak up due to watching her interact with other adults, especially men. (Then again, maybe it was survival on my part having three brothers to compete with.)  I also love that she knew what she liked and she wasn’t afraid to go against the culture by doing things like wearing orange when neutrals were fashionable.  She was also extremely glitzy, something I pride myself in as I do love my accessories.

Probably most significant, she spoke into my life.  She told me what gifts she saw in me.  She spoke about how proud she was of me.  She helped fund a bit of my graduate school.  She taught me how to croquet beautiful table cloths though I’ve only made a small one fit for an end table.  I miss her, especially on special days like yesterday when I would at least hear her voice every year we were alive together.

Who has influenced you?  How do you remember her or him?


Favorite Quotes from January Reading

From Kevin Powers (2012) The Yellow Birds: A Novel.  “[War] tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded.  Not that our safety was preordained.  We were not destined to survive.  The fact is, we were not destined at all.  The war would take what it could get.  It was patient.  It didn’t care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all.” (p.3,4)

From Charles Duhigg (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House:

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.  Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.” p. 17

“Willpower isn’t just a skill.  It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms and legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” p.137

From Elan Golomb (1992).  Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle For Self.

“The more a person’s worth is exaggerated the smaller he feels.  False labeling destroys one’s sense of worth.” ….”[With a narcissistic parent] The child’s inner self, which requires unconditional love, is treated as identical with his external behavior and his products” (p. 29)

“A man with a healthy ego takes longer to establish his commitments since he looks before he leaps.” (p. 83)

From Brene Brown (2010) The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

[A quote from Chodron in Brown’s book]…”Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (p. 16)

“The heart of compassion is really acceptance.  The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.  Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us.  This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.” (p. 16)

From James Finley’s Christian Meditation

“In passing from ego consciousness to meditative states of awareness, we are awakened to that eternal oneness with God that is the very reality of ourselves and of everyone and everything around us.” (location 162 ebook)

“We start out in ego consciousness, imagining that the union with God we seek is far off.  After all, ego consciousness is the subjective perception of being a separate self that has to find God, who is perceived as being other than one’s self.  But then, as ego consciousness yields and gives way to meditative awareness we begin to recognize the surprising nearness of God, already perfectly present in the intimate recesses of our very being.” (location 168,173 ebook)

From W.S. Merwin Migration: New and Selected Poems loved FINDING A TEACHER, for copyright reasons won’t reprint it but encourage you to look it up.

Being Liked and Me

I couldn’t tell you when it started but at some point in my life I needed to be liked.  This need hounded and drove me toward whatever I needed to do in order to be liked by whomever I was trying to impress at the time.  I remember feeling like a store where I would change the window front depending on the group I was relating to at the time.  Looking back, there were things that were some real positives.   For instance, I mastered relating with almost anyone and could blend in with most groups.  Even today I enjoy this quality because I’m not afraid to take classes, do retreats, or try something new by myself.  I also became disciplined in order to be successful, which led to being liked.  This need to be liked, to some degree, probably led me to become a therapist because I sincerely loved being with all different types of people. I found that with each group or individuals I had access to parts of myself that I didn’t necessarily have without them.

What wasn’t so helpful about this need to be liked is that I attended to others’ opinion in order to judge whether something was valuable or not.  I would attach to significant mentors and want to become who they wanted me to become but at the expense of listening to my soul or God’s revelation in my life.  Most of the time I felt like one big false self because I would keep hidden those things within me that I didn’t think would find approval.  What this practically translated into was many people knowing little bits about me rather than a small group knowing a great deal about me.  I think this practice of attending to what others think has paralyzed me from starting this blog much earlier than now.  Even after I wrote my first post, I felt too exposed and vulnerable to share on facebook that I had started it.  I gave myself a couple of days to let what I had written sink in so that I could experience a sort of grace towards myself that allowed the post to be just as it was, not perfect but good enough.

What I think I’m slowly learning in my life is that this need to be liked has nothing to do with needing affirmation or needing to know I’m likable.  Rather, I think most poignantly it is, and was, about needing to escape myself –needing to escape a relentless critical self that could recall the minutest details and shame the imperfections.  There were many times I’ve not been able to avoid it.  When I was in high school it was so loud I wanted to commit suicide to shut it out.  I’m deeply thankful that I needed to be liked because it was likely the experience of being liked and valued that caused me never to act on these feelings.  Spending all of my twenties in therapy helped me to quiet down the volume enough so that it wasn’t the driving force behind every action I made.  I even learned to get out of the hamster wheel and not be blasted by self-criticism until I got back inside the wheel.  Yet, it is something that will never go away.  I’ve accepted that.  Now I’m trying to befriend it so that I can be curious about why it’s showed itself again.  I’m befriending it as well so that I don’t need to be liked by others in order to pretend to like myself.  I’m befriending it even still so that I don’t have to numb myself with chocolate, romantic movies (because shame and rejection is always met with love and acceptance, in the end), or external accomplishments in order to believe that I’m good enough and worthy to be accepted.

I’m grateful for this blog and the opportunity to practice quieting the criticism and opening up to being me — imperfections and all.