Here’s lookin’ at you, kid

Great Blue Heron with big fish in mouth - part of series w sig
I’m seeing lots of amazing things at the Biggest Week in American Birding, but can only show you this for now. I took a series of photos of this Great Blue Heron as he caught and ate a huge fish. I’ll post the entire series later, but thought this particular shot was so interesting because of the proximity of the eyes of both predator and prey.

Three days into the festival and seven more to go. It’s already exhausting, but it will all be over far too soon!

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

I’ve Got Swamp Fever

Metzger Marsh

Metzger Marsh

In the early 1800s, a large part of northwestern Ohio was an impenetrable swamp, inhabited only by a small number of Indians and a few hardy settlers. Somewhere along the way this 12-county area became known as the Great Black Swamp, known for its mosquitoes and a dreaded summertime disease called swamp fever. By mid-century it had mostly been drained and turned into farmland though, and all that remains of it now are the marshes of Lucas and Ottawa counties: Magee Marsh, Metzger Marsh, and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

If the Great Black Swamp was still in existence today it probably would be a nature preserve and wildlife refuge similar to the Everglades in Florida. (– Jim Mollenkopf, in his book The Great Black Swamp)

Yellow Warbler at Magee Marsh on May 2, 2015

Yellow Warbler at Magee Marsh on May 2, 2015

Thankfully, I’ve got the 21st century form of swamp fever. The primary symptom is an insatiable desire to roam the marshes, woodlands, and meadows, watching hundreds of species of birds migrating through. The fever also causes a person to become blinded to virtually everything else for weeks at a time: household chores are ignored, as are friends and family–unless those friends and family are also afflicted with the fever. Everyone knows the fever is much more fun when you can share it with others.

Those who suffer from the modern version of swamp fever recognize fellow sufferers by their attire, which looks like this:

My t-shirts for the 2015 Biggest Week in American Birding!

My t-shirts for the 2015 Biggest Week in American Birding!

I’m actually deliriously happy to have this particular affliction. I just wish it could last a while longer.

Great Egret hunting in the marsh

Great Egret hunting in the marsh

The photos shared here were taken in the marshes of northwest Ohio in the past couple of weeks. On Friday I’ll be heading back down there for 10 glorious days in the “Warbler Capital of the World.” I’ll be doing some volunteer work for the Biggest Week in American Birding, catching up with friends from across the country, and trying to see as many beautiful birds as I can in this all-too-brief period of time.

All aboard the BSBO birding express!

All aboard the BSBO birding express!

Did you notice my cute little BSBO hat? (BSBO stands for Black Swamp Bird Observatory — aren’t you glad you know where their name came from now?) I usually hate wearing hats, so I was thrilled to find this new style in their gift shop yesterday. I think it looks like a conductor’s hat instead of a baseball cap. And within 15 minutes of putting it on, a total stranger yelled across the parking lot at Magee Marsh to tell me he liked my hat…proof that it’s a keeper.

Double-crested Cormorant at Magee Marsh

Double-crested Cormorant at Magee Marsh

Palm Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

Palm Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

Prothonotary Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

Black-throated Green Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

Black-throated Green Warbler at Magee Marsh, May 2, 2015

John Burroughs sign at Magee Marsh (2)

Yes, this.

I hope you enjoyed these photos, and I also hope I’ll have many more to share with you very soon. Even if you’re not lucky enough to live near the Great Black Swamp, make sure you still keep your eyes peeled in your neighborhood–you never know who might use your yard as a migration rest stop!

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged | 13 Comments

The Trickle Before the Flood

Black-throated Green Warbler (from last year)

Black-throated Green Warbler (from last year)

Well, the first few warbler species have started showing up in southeast Michigan this month. So far we have Yellow-rumped, Pine, Black-throated Green, Palm, Yellow, and Yellow-throated Warblers, as well as Common Yellowthroats. That might look like a lot for mid-April, but these species aren’t here in large numbers yet, just a few here and there. But the rest of them are definitely on their way. Soon, my pretties, very soon!

Reading all the reports of warblers on the various online birding groups has motivated me to get busy reviewing warbler songs using the Larkwire game. Every year I hope to improve my ability to identify the birds by their songs. I haven’t been too successful with it though. I think that’s because they’re only around for a few weeks each year and my brain just can’t seem to retain what I learn in my brief pre-migration cram sessions. And there are just so many species to learn–we have something like 40 warbler species that migrate through the eastern half of the country.

Warbler Guide book cover for websiteThis year I’m adding another tool to my arsenal: I’m using the book “The Warbler Guide,” which uses sonogram images of warbler songs to–supposedly–make it easier to distinguish the confusingly-similar songs. I’m especially eager to experiment with the techniques in this book since I’m going to be birding with the authors during The Biggest Week in American Birding. Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle are leading two of the “Birding with the Stars” walks at Magee Marsh, and I’ll be the volunteer host assisting them on one of their walks. (See, there are some sweeeeet perks to being a volunteer!) And I love the fact that Tom and Scott are donating 100% of the proceeds from their two walks to the Ohio Young Birders Club. That’s true generosity of spirit, if you ask me.

These weeks leading up to my annual visit to the Lake Erie shoreline are always hard to endure. Not only is my excitement getting boosted by the daily bird sightings, but preparations for the festival are in high gear now as we count down the last 17 days.

Biggest Week T-shirt for 2015

Biggest Week T-shirt for 2015

The new festival t-shirt design was just revealed this weekend. Created by Paul Riss (of Punk Rock Big Year fame), this one is already a big hit with everyone who has seen it.

And even more exciting, there’s now a smartphone app created just for the Biggest Week (the first time a birding festival has had its own app…very cool). I got my free copy from BirdsEye on the day it was released, and set it up to link with my eBird account. So now when I launch the app, it uses GPS to tell me instantly if there are birds nearby that I haven’t yet seen. It shows my “life list” as well as a list of all the species that have been seen by other people in whatever location I happen to be in at the moment.

BirdsEye screenshotAs you can see in this screenshot from my phone, I still haven’t managed to see the Connecticut and Kentucky Warblers (nor the Prairie Warbler, which isn’t shown on this screen). So only three more warblers to go and I will have seen all of the eastern species at least once. The Connecticut is one of the hardest ones for anyone to see because they skulk around deep in the underbrush, taunting us, defying us to find them. I’m sure I’ll eventually see one though. I’m in no hurry. I like the idea of always having more birds to see for the first time anyway. The anticipation is almost as good as the moment you finally get to see the bird. Almost.

Blackburnian Warbler, one of my favorites

Blackburnian Warbler, one of my favorites


And the anticipation of being back in the midst of all those amazing birds is almost too much to take. This year I’ll be on my own for the first time, but I’m okay with that. I’m hoping to connect with a few special friends for quiet walks on the beach (…and in the woods and marshes). And for those times I feel the need to be with other people, it’ll be easy to mingle with a few hundred of my fellow birders on the Magee Marsh boardwalk. I don’t like to be in crowds all the time, but even an introvert like me can appreciate the fun of being surrounded by other people who love the birds as much as I do. Some of my favorite memories are from times on the Magee Marsh boardwalk when a group of total strangers shared smiles while watching a bright yellow or orange bird hopping from leaf to leaf just inches away, in total disregard of us. Those are the moments when I feel the real magic of birds, and I remember why this place is so special to so many people. I just cannot wait!



Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged | 8 Comments

Zugunruhe: Do You Feel It?

Zugunruhe. Do you feel it too? It means “migratory restlessness,” and it’s normally used to describe the behavior of birds and other migratory species as they prepare for their long journeys in spring and fall. (It’s pronounced “zoo gen ROO ha” — or at least that’s as close as I’ll ever get to pronouncing a German word correctly.)

Humans are obviously not migratory species, but as a birder, I experience something similar to Zugunruhe each spring as I anticipate the arrival of the birds from their southern wintering grounds. I get antsy if I have to spend too much time indoors, unable to be out searching the skies and the trees for the first signs of birds returning from the south. Along with thousands of other birders, I begin reading the weekly “Birdcasts” from Cornell Lab of Ornithology (here), and watching radar images of birds taking to the skies each night across the continent. This image is from last night:

Bird radar April 1 2015

The blue circles are flocks of birds lifting off to head north. Isn’t that the coolest thing you’ve ever seen? If you’d like to read more about using radar to see birds, David La Puma has a great explanation on his Woodcreeper blog, here. And if you want to check the radar yourself, go here around dusk and keep refreshing your screen to watch in real time as the birds lift off. Just remember to watch for the “blue donuts.”

Some of the migrants have already started to arrive here in Michigan — the Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, Turkey Vultures, and even the Tree Swallows. In a few short weeks we’ll begin finding the first warblers, signaling that it’s time for me to migrate to the southern shore of Lake Erie to witness the amazing congregation of my beautiful avian friends at Magee Marsh. (By the way, if you’re planning to attend the Biggest Week in American Birding this year, you should know that we’ve sold out virtually every space in all of the field trips already, but there are still spaces available in the educational workshops and presentations each day. And you can walk the Magee Marsh boardwalk for free, so if you’re ready for your world to change forever, come and see what all the fuss is about. You’ve got to do this at least once in your life!)

I want to share a bit of migration trivia with you today, to remind us all of the enormity of what these birds do twice each year. It’s mind-blowing when you think about it.

Migration Mania Trivia

    • The longest known bird migration is by the Arctic Tern, which can travel up to 25,000 miles per year in its two migrations. It flies from the Artic to the Antarctic and back, crossing the entire planet each year!

      Arctic Tern (Photo by Lindsay Robinson via Flickr Creative Commons)

      Arctic Tern (Photo by Lindsay Robinson via Flickr Creative Commons)

    • Some individuals of the tiny Blackpoll Warbler species, who weigh only half an ounce, fly a 1600-mile nonstop journey across the Atlantic Ocean from eastern Canada to South America. See, I told you this would blow your mind! You can read the fascinating details of the newly-published study here. (Hint: They put light-sensing backpacks on the birds to determine their flight paths.)
Blackpoll Warbler by Kenneth Cole Schneider (via Creative Commons license on Flickr)

Blackpoll Warbler by Kenneth Cole Schneider (via Creative Commons license on Flickr)

  • Before embarking on their journeys, birds experience hyperphagia, a period of nonstop eating designed to put on body weight. Some birds actually double their weight before the trip and burn off all the excess fat before finally arriving on their breeding grounds, exhausted and starving.

  • Raptors, swallows, and waterfowl migrate during the day. Songbirds generally migrate at night. This may be because they need the daytime to feed and replenish their energy; conveniently, it may also help them avoid many predators–like raptors–who migrate during the day.

  • Monarch butterfly chrysallis (Mission, Texas, November 2014)

    Monarch butterfly chrysallis  (Mission, TX, 11/2014)

    Birds aren’t the only animals that still migrate–whales also migrate twice each year. And many insects migrate as well; the best-known insect migration is that of the monarch butterfly. But the monarchs that winter in the mountains of Mexico will not make the journey more than once. On their way north in the spring, the females stop to lay eggs on milkweed plants as they travel. Some of the adults will make it all the way north, but most will die along the way. The next generation emerges from their eggs and continues northward. When you see a monarch with tattered wings early in the season, that’s probably one that wintered in Mexico. The newest generation will have fresh, untorn wings. According to, summer generations only live two to five weeks; the last generation of the summer is the one that migrates to Mexico, and that generation can live for eight or nine months.

  • Elk in Yellowstone National Park

    Elk in Yellowstone National Park

    Some large land mammals still migrate in Africa, but the only remaining one I know of in North America is the elk. Many thousands of them migrate each year in and around Yellowstone National Park. Most other land mammal migrations on this continent have been disrupted by the ever-expanding human population and our need for homes and roads.

I hope you learned something from this, as I did while writing it for you. Now get outside and tune in to the wonders of bird migration! See you on the trails….


Posted in Bird Migration | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The One Thing

Red-winged blackbird calling Everyone has it, right? That one thing that is your sign that spring has finally arrived. For some people it’s seeing the first bulbs poking up from the mulch in their gardens. Others might be more attuned to the day the sap starts to flow in the maple trees. For me, it’s the first day I hear the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds or Killdeer. And today was that day, so I hereby declare the end of winter. Finally. Yes, there’s still snow on the ground here in Michigan and we’ll most likely have to endure more of it before we’re through. But now that I’ve heard the calls of both of my avian harbingers of spring, I feel the weight of winter melting off my weary shoulders. Hallelujah!

Great Horned Owl in bucket 2015Today I went to Lake St. Clair Metropark because I knew I could find these birds there.  I walked the trails for a half hour, passing the marsh where the blackbirds were already trying to out-shout each other from the tops of the cattails. I visited the Great Horned Owl bucket and found one of the adults already sitting there, as expected. I went over to check out the lake and found it still frozen solid, its surface speckled with ice fishermen and their tents.

Ice fishermen on Lake St. Clair

Ice fishermen on Lake St. Clair

So I decided to drive up to Port Huron, where I knew the river was ice-free. I wanted to see if I could find the King Eider that’s been there lately. I didn’t find it, and there wasn’t much other duck activity on the river today either. I spent a couple hours driving to various little parks and viewing areas along the shore, finding only scattered small groups of a half dozen species. There were Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks, Redheads, a few Scaup, and some Buffleheads. And the only ones that weren’t really distant were the Redheads, so they’re the only photos I didn’t have to crop a great deal. Aren’t these beautiful ducks? Just look at the golden eye on this male…and the water droplet on his back (you might have to click on the pic for the larger version).

Male Redheads on the St. Clair River

Male Redheads on the St. Clair River

Redheads are diving ducks, so they’re always entertaining to watch as they leap out of the water and dive below in search of tasty morsels.

Now you see me....

Now you see me….  you don't!

…now you don’t!







But the most entertaining group of the day was this gathering of seven Common Goldeneye, five males and two females.

Common Goldeneye
They seem rather calm, don’t they? Well, don’t forget, it’s spring. And that means one thing to them: It’s time to find a mate. The mating display of this species is quite the spectacle, even for us humans. I made a video of it but something happened to that file, so I’ll just have to share some still photos.

The males display to the females by flipping their heads backward and forward repeatedly in a sort of “head dance,” as you’ll see in this series of pics:

Ah, he seems to have her attention with this first fancy move.

Ah, he seems to have her attention with this first fancy move.

Now let's show her how tall I am....

Now let’s show her how tall I am….

...and then the big finish! So baby, what do you think? Wanna date me?

…and then the big finish! So baby, what do you think? Wanna date me?

Let’s hope his efforts were enough to keep her away from his competition. (Here’s a video on YouTube if you want to see them in action.)

Here are a couple views of the river at Port Huron, looking across toward Canada:

Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario

Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron and Sarnia, Ontario

The sculpture is called "Sugar the Iron Horse"

The sculpture is called “Sugar the Iron Horse”

Even though I didn’t see lots of birds today, the ones I saw were special and interesting. And even if I hadn’t seen any of these birds, this still would have been a great day — exercise, fresh air, sunshine and–most importantly of all–melting snow!!

I hope you’re finding time to get outdoors too. Being outside is always a good thing, but right now, at the end of winter, it’s really and truly good for the soul.

So what’s your “one thing” that means Spring?

Posted in Bird Migration, Ecotherapy, Walking in the Woods | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Photo Friday: Dreaming of Spring

Photo Friday for blog - flower garden Photo Friday for blog - dogwood blossoms Photo Friday for blog - daffodils in woods

Posted in Ecotherapy, Flowers and Gardening, Photography | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Birding With a Purpose

Can you feel it? Something really BIG is going to happen on Monday at noon. People all across America are making plans. They’re reading field trip descriptions, booking hotels in northwest Ohio, texting their friends, and updating their “birds needed” lists. And at 12:00 noon on Monday, February 16 (tomorrow!), they’re all going to make sure they’re at their computers with their fingers warmed up and ready to go. That’s right, registration is opening for this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding!

Biggest Week Carbon Offset logoAs I do every spring, I’ll be telling you much more about the festival events and the birds as we move through the season. But today I want to tell you about something that makes me very proud to be associated with this event–Oh wait, did I tell you I’m on the festival planning team this year? I am! But that’s not what I was talking about. The thing that makes me proudest is that the Biggest Week (BW) has continued to maintain a laser-focus on their mission of bird conservation. These people aren’t just trying to sell a bunch of t-shirts with pictures of birds on them, no sirree, Bob! This purpose of this festival is to increase people’s connection with birds so they’ll care enough to contribute money in support of the important bird conservation work carried out by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO).

Last year’s festival raised $14,000 to help save habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, a migrant bird that’s experiencing steep population declines.  If you’re curious, here’s a detailed description of how last year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset donations were spent to help that species. (Hint: Planting 12,000 trees was just part of it!)

And this year’s Biggest Week Carbon Offset Program donations will help protect and restore habitat for the Cerulean Warbler, yet another species that is having trouble. The population of this tiny blue warbler has declined 70% in the past 40 years, mostly due to habitat loss caused by human activities like agriculture, mining, and logging. They’re so hard to find that it was even hard to find one at the Cerulean Warbler Weekend sponsored by Michigan Audubon. But I did manage to get this identifiable picture of one of the males high up in an oak tree:

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

Cerulean Warbler, June 7, 2014, Barry County, Michigan

Here’s a link to the American Bird Conservancy website that tells you all about the plight of the Cerulean Warbler. I’m excited to see how much we can raise this year to help stop the decline of this beautiful bird before it’s too late. And by the way, even if you aren’t able to come to the Biggest Week this year, you can still make a donation to the BW Carbon Offset Program to help the Cerulean Warbler. Here’s the direct link to Paypal , or you can also get to the donation page from the home page of the Biggest Week website, here.)

The easiest way to know it's a Cerulean: that black necklace.

The easiest way to know it’s a Cerulean: that black necklace.

In a world where there’s so much bad news all the time, and where it’s hard to feel you can make a difference, this event stands out as a highlight in my year. It’s supported by hundreds of volunteers who bend over backwards to make sure visitors have a great time while they’re in Ohio. And the birds always put on a spectacular show for us. It’s a win/win situation: The birds (and other creatures) benefit from the habitats protected, and the people who live and work in northern Ohio benefit from the tourism dollars that have become so very important to them in recent years. (Economic studies found that the Biggest Week in American Birding brings an average of $25 million a year to the local economy. Hotels, bed & breakfasts, and restaurants hire more staff to keep up with the added business generated by the 60,000 people who show up to see the birds each spring.) And on top of all that, the people who travel to the shores of Lake Erie to see the spectacular migration have a great time while they’re here.

Biggest Week gives back

Some of the causes that benefited from the 2014 Biggest Week in American Birding.

So you see, we birders aren’t just a bunch of dorky people with binoculars and funny vests wandering around out there — we’re protecting wetlands, planting trees, and saving birds! Why not join us and see how great it feels to be a part of this worthwhile event?

Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Migration Mania #3: Black-and-white Warbler

Okay, those of you who are paying attention have already said, “Hey, wait, it’s not migration time yet! What are you trying to pull here?” And you are absolutely correct–migration is many weeks away. But there’s no reason we can’t daydream about pretty little birds to help us get through the depths of winter, right? So I’m picking up with my Migration Mania series early this year. You may have forgotten about this series because I started it in 2013 with two articles (here and here) and then neglected it last year. But I didn’t forget…aren’t you glad?

And by the way, I’m not the only one thinking of migration already — the Biggest Week in American Birding is going to open registration in mid-February. I’m the coordinator for the festival’s bloggers again this year, and our whole team is gearing up to bring you lots of fun info over the next few months. Such excitement, I can hardly contain myself! (By the way, if you’re coming to the festival, you’d be wise to book your accommodations asap because many places are already sold out for May 8-17!)

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler on tree trunk

So in this edition of Migration Mania I’m going to tell you a bit about the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia). He’s unusual among warblers because he doesn’t wear any of the bright colors we usually think of in these birds — yellows, oranges, and blues. The BAWW (that’s cool birder-speak for Black-and-white Warbler) wears a bold graphic pattern of…wait for it…black and white!

And not only does he stand out for his appearance, but he’s got a different way of feeding than the other warblers too. Most of them forage for food around the leaves of trees and shrubs, but this guy spends a lot of his time on the trunk and branches, probing the bark for hidden goodies. This is how you normally see a nuthatch or a creeper feeding, not a warbler. It’s an advantage for those of us trying to take warbler photographs, because it’s easier to keep focused on a bird moving up a tree trunk than one that’s hopping over and under leaves at the speed of light (well, that’s how fast it seems sometimes…).

So where are the BAWWs now, while we’re freezing our tushies off up north? They’re down in Central and South America, that’s where. Places like Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Nice and warm, and plenty of food. You can see on this map that there are some of them in the southern U.S. now, but they’re probably not on the move yet. By early or mid-March we’ll start seeing some northerly movements though, and they’ll be off on their long journey to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada.

eBird map of Black-and-white Warblers in January 2015

Since this species is one of the earliest to move northward in spring, some of them will already be nesting in April. It’s thought that they can come north earlier in the spring because of their ability to feed from the bark of trees–they don’t need the leaves to be opened before they come up here, like most of the other warblers. That’s a cool little fact to know, isn’t it? There are a few more fun facts below these photos.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler (2)

Fun facts:

  • These little birds weigh less than half an ounce and will fly an average of 20 miles each night during migration. Yes, that’s right, they migrate at night. As dawn breaks they drop down from the sky to feed so they’ll have energy to fly again the next night.
  • What do they eat? Butterflies, moths, ants, flies, bugs, click beetles, round-headed wood borers, leaf beetles, weevils, leafhoppers, plant lice, spiders, daddy longlegs, and more. Yum!
  •  The females build their nests on the ground, using dry leaves and grasses. The nest is usually at the base of a tree or beside a fallen log.
Black-and-white Warbler undertail

I love the pattern on his undertail coverts (the feathers that cover the base of his tail feathers).

I hope you enjoyed getting a closer look at one of my favorite warblers! And I hope you’ll be inspired to look for these adorable little birds when you’re outdoors this spring.

(Source for the stuff I didn’t know: Birds of North America Online from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)


Posted in Biggest Week in American Birding, Bird Migration | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Brain Reboot; Kim 2.0

Deepak Chopra. Eckhart Tolle. Turmeric. Chia seeds. Aromatherapy. Epsom salts. My massage therapist. My chiropractor. My library and Barbara Feldon (yes, Agent 99!).

What do all those people and things have in common, you ask? They are all part of my healing process, ingredients in my recovery from a very sad and scary period of my life. A couple months ago I was almost ready to give up on everything and just shut down. Divorce after 50 is not for the faint-hearted, and it knocked me down hard despite how much I’d thought I was ready for it. But somehow I found the strength to start grasping for anything and everything that might help make me stronger. I needed emotional strength, and I needed physical strength and health.

And now I’m feeling some positive changes happening in my brain, like I’m installing a new operating system and learning how to work with it. It’s called Kim 2.0.  It still has some stubborn bugs in it, but I’m figuring out how to work around them.

I’ve been learning from some of the wisest teachers I can find, like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. I finally got meditation to work for me after listening to Deepak discuss the basics with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday. It’s helping me think more clearly and to be calmer.  He claims to have meditated every single day for 40 years, and says he never feels stress at all anymore. I want some of that, don’t you?

Graffiti - Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will

Graffiti wisdom on a stairway railing


And another one of the keys to getting my head on straight was listening to Eckhart Tolle talk about how to be in the present moment, how to become an observer of your thoughts and learn to let them just flow through your brain without impacting you negatively. I’d tried to read his book, The Power of Now, but found it hard to understand. Then I discovered him on YouTube a few months ago, and his philosophy had been percolating in the back of my mind since then. I started to understand his ideas better when I listened to him instead of reading his books. His unusually calm manner of speaking was very soothing when I felt my mind racing out of control, full of fears about the future.

Graffiti - I can do all

Affirmation in the woods


In addition to all the work I’ve been doing on my mental health, I’ve been experimenting with some changes to my diet too. Not a complete makeover, but just adding some things that are believed to have important health benefits. I bought a NutriBullet and use it to make healthy smoothies every day. I tend to prefer the sweeter combinations of fruits and yogurt, but am trying to get my taste buds to adjust to more vegetable mixtures too. I’m struggling with the texture of vegetable smoothies, but I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ve been amping up the health benefits of my fruit-based smoothies by adding some of these things: turmeric, chia seeds, almonds and other nuts, ginger, and cinnamon.

turmeric macroI won’t go into all of them here, but I do want to share something I learned about turmeric, that golden-yellow spice used in many Indian dishes. It’s said to act as a vacuum cleaner for your system: “It vacuums up free-radical debris that can cause disease. Turmeric is the aspirin or ibuprofen of the spice set. It controls internal or systemic inflammation, which is implicated in so many chronic diseases, from arthritis and Alzheimer’s to cancer.” (That’s a quote from nutritionist Rebecca Katz on the Spirituality & Health website.) And I found a fantastic recipe for a Turmeric Smoothie too — it’s got pineapple, coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and more. I could drink that every day!

I use these essential oils in an electric diffuser.

I use these essential oils in an electric diffuser.

Okay, I’m betting you want to know how Barbara Feldon helped me. Those of you of a certain age probably remember her as Agent 99 in the 1960s sitcom, Get Smart! I was surprised to find that she’s also the author of an excellent little book called Living Alone and Loving It. I found this book on one of my late-night searches through my library’s catalog for advice about adapting to life as a single woman after divorce. There are lots of books out there, but I was intrigued when I read the positive reviews of this one on Amazon, so I checked it out of the library. I devoured it the first evening, finding so much great advice and encouragement inside it that I read it a second time and took notes. Much of her experience seemed to parallel mine (except for the famous actress part), so knowing that she found ways to rebuild her life and be happy was very empowering for me when I couldn’t see how to get there on my own.

In one part she describes how she had neglected her friendships when she was married, and then found herself without a support network when she was alone. She learned that she had to make systematic and concerted efforts to get friends back into her life over a period of time, and how great she felt when it finally started to pay off. I liked this:

I’d grown passive during my coupled years. My partner was the oak tree of my social world and everyone else was lesser foliage. Since friendships have a way of blossoming if you shine on them and withering if you don’t, I was facing a languishing garden that was badly in need of tending. Ironically, now when I had the most need for people, I had the least skills and inner strength at my command to remedy it.  (Barbara Feldon)

That really hit home with me, and I’m taking her advice to heart, trying to be more attentive to my friendships now. I don’t ever again want to feel the depths of loneliness I felt when I first moved into my apartment. There’s a big difference between enjoying some solitude and feeling isolated, believe me.

Well, this got a bit longer than I intended, but I think you can see that I’ve found a wide range of things to be important parts of getting through my rough time. Two months ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be adjusting so well to my changed circumstances. It continues to surprise me. I do still have bad days, but overall I feel stronger and less afraid each day. I’m grateful.

Graffiti wisdom: All you need is peace, love, and music.

Graffiti wisdom: All you need is peace, love, and music.



Posted in Ecotherapy, Happiness and Gratitude, Health | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

A Fresh New Year: Why Is That So Important?

If you’re like many people, you place at least some significance on January 1st. Whether you make resolutions or set goals, you feel that something important is supposed to happen because the page on the calendar has turned.

Although I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions, this day is still unlike any other day of the year for me. I have a couple superstitious rituals that I usually follow: I do some type of house cleaning as a way of starting fresh, and I eat sauerkraut to bring good luck in the coming year. But you know what? I eat sauerkraut all year long, on regular old Mondays or Tuesdays, on the 3rd of the month or the 21st of the month. When I feel like having it, I do. What happens to me in the days afterward has nothing to do with that meal. Eating a particular food doesn’t bring good luck, I know that. But the superstitions persist, for me and millions of other people. I think part of the reason is that it’s human nature to try to find cause-and-effect patterns in events so that we feel more in control of our lives. We think that if we just don’t walk under that ladder, we’ll prevent bad things from happening to us. Or if we carry a four-leaf clover, we’ll win the game. We’re funny animals, aren’t we?

This was the sky as I ended my walk today.

This was the sky as I ended my walk today.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this as I took a brisk walk around the city park today, with the cold wind chapping my cheeks and stiffening my fingers. I was there because it was January 1 and it felt important to get outside: I wanted to see my first birds of the year, and I wanted to start my year off right by exercising and getting fresh air.

Paint Creek in city park

But why do we make such a fuss about starting our year off right?  Why not start the next day off right? Or the next minute? Life is filled with opportunities to change our habits or make other positive changes. We can do it whenever we want to.

And for that matter, every moment of every day is a chance to improve our lives. Every moment is a fresh start. I remember hearing this advice when I was trying to change my eating habits a couple years ago. Let’s say you’re having a bad day at work and you indulge in a bag of cookies at lunch to soothe yourself. Then you berate yourself for the weakness and decide that you’ve already ruined the whole day, so you might as well have ice cream and cake for dinner too. Well, if you remember that each moment is a chance for a fresh start, all you have to do is decide that in the next moment, you aren’t going to eat junk food. In the next moment you’re going to drink a big glass of water. That’s all. You don’t have to throw away an entire calendar segment just because you ate some cookies. What matters is what you do now, not what you did in the past.

I’ve been through a great deal of difficulty in recent months, as my regular readers know well. I’m so thankful that, in the past few weeks, I have somehow found the strength to pull myself back out of despair. I’m using lots of different things as tools, and I may tell  you about more of them soon. But one of the most important has been the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, who shows us how to live in the present moment, the Now. Rather than worrying about the past or the future, learn to accept “what is” and ignore the endless stream of thoughts that run through your mind. I’ve been practicing being in the moment, and it really does bring me some peace. I’ve also been learning to meditate better, and that seems to give me positive energy so that I’m more inclined to focus on good things during my day rather than dwelling on fears or negativity. (Here’s a link to one of Mr. Tolle’s videos on YouTube for those of you who aren’t familiar with him yet.)

And here’s a video I shot today. Animals live in the moment; no worrying about past or future for them!

I’m learning a new way of experiencing gratitude and how to be mindful of the moments in life. Most importantly, I’m learning that our thoughts create our feelings, and if we can manage our thoughts we will vastly improve our outlook on life. It’s a skill worth practicing.

So, in the spirit of living in the moment, instead of wishing you all a Happy New Year, I’ll wish you a Happy Now. It’s a very good place to be.

Trees in fog for blog with quote by Eckhart Tolle


Posted in Happiness and Gratitude | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments