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.

 

 

Winter Birding in Michigan

I’ve never liked winter very much. Sure, the first snow of the season is pretty, but after a couple days the charm fades away and it turns dirty and slushy. And all the leaves are gone on the trees, making our home less hidden from the busy road. And it’s so cold. No thanks.

But all that changed when I discovered the thrill of winter birding. Early winter is a time for taking my spotting scope out to Lake St. Clair or Lake Huron to scan the migrating ducks that sometimes float on the lakes in rafts of thousands at a time. It took me several years to get motivated to go looking for ducks, and a couple more years to commit to it after I found out how brutally cold the winds can be on the shores of the Great Lakes in January and February. I had no idea that icicles could hang from my nostrils. Seriously.

The trick is to look for the unusual one that's sometimes mixed in there.
The trick is to look for the unusual one that’s sometimes mixed in there.

But now I’m prepared for the weather–stocked up on long johns, hats, mittens, and wool socks–and I enjoy the challenge of learning to identify the ducks. I’m even getting pretty good at it (except for the Greater and Lesser Scaup that still give me fits). I’m still not too keen on learning the complexities of gull identification, but the ducks are much easier.

It may sound crazy if you’ve never done it, but it’s surprising how invigorating and refreshing it can be to brace yourself against those cold Canadian winds.

A mixed flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings
A mixed flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings

And then there are the songbirds that come for the winter. The first to show up at our feeders are the lively flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos, like the one I showed you in last week’s Wordless Wednesday photo. But other birds feed in winter flocks in farm fields and along country roads, like the American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, and Horned Larks. (Actually the Horned Larks are here year-round in Michigan, but they feed in big flocks with the buntings and sparrows in wintertime.) I just found my first Lapland Longspurs today, mixed in with one of these flocks feeding on a snowy road east of Ann Arbor. I wish I’d gotten a photo of them.

I was also surprised to find a lone Rusty Blackbird in that flock, standing a couple inches taller than everyone else. I had to use my amateur Photoshop skills to selectively lighten up the bird in this photo; I have a lot of trouble trying to photograph birds on snow.

Rusty Blackbird from Superior Twp, Michigan, December 18, 2013
Rusty Blackbird from Superior Twp, Michigan, December 18, 2013

The pièce de resistance of today’s birds is, of course, the coveted Snowy Owl:

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

That photo was taken with a 400mm lens from a distance of more than a hundred yards. I was driving around the service roads at the Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, where Snowies have been hanging around lately. I had never been there before and didn’t know exactly where to look, and the way I found this owl was amazing. I’d stopped behind a car that had paused to watch a flock of Snow Buntings on the road. I couldn’t see the birds from my vantage point, but I didn’t want to drive past them and ruin their viewing experience, so I was using the time to look around me at the barren fields and roadways. There was a tall snow-covered hill on my left, probably 50 or 60 feet high. As I scanned the top of the ridge, something caught my eye. I’d been fooled several times already on this outing by big chunks of snow in cornfields, but something about this one made me pull up my binoculars. And I couldn’t believe my eyes — a Snowy Owl, sitting in plain view on the top of the hill! Well, actually he was very-well camouflaged, as you can see in this uncropped photo:

Well-camouflaged Snowy Owl
Well-camouflaged Snowy Owl

I jumped out of the car to set up my spotting scope for a better view. And since there were other birders driving around the airport on this same quest, it didn’t take long before someone else pulled up behind me to see what I’d found. I was jumping up and down and giggling, amazed that I’d found a Snowy Owl all by myself! I was like a kid who thought she deserved a gold star from the teacher. It’s one thing to read emails about an exact location where people are watching an owl and go there to have a look; it’s another thing entirely to stumble upon one before anyone else has spotted it. I’m still on a high from it as I write this, hours later.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is a juvenile male. They say most of the owls who come this far south in winter are the juveniles. And while adult male Snowy Owls are almost pure white, the females and juvenile males have the brown flecks you see on this owl. But because he seems to have the beginnings of a pure white bib, I’d guess this is a young male. I’ll never know for sure, and it doesn’t really matter, but it’s nice to say “him” or “her” instead of “it.”

Now I can relax, I’ve seen my Snowy for the year. I try not to be competitive about my bird list, but it’s hard not to want to chase down one of these when the talk on birding lists is so focused on these fascinating owls every. single. day. I just want to share in the fun, that’s all.  If you’re curious about these visitors from the Arctic, I highly recommend “Magic of the Snowy Owl,” an hour-long documentary about how they survive in that frigid climate.

After a day like today I’m reminded, once again, of the impact birds have had on me. They have completely changed my outlook on life. Just as my discovery of the spring warbler migration blew my mind, now my enjoyment of ducks and other winter birds has made the depths of winter tolerable for me. I’m convinced that the birds are the reason I haven’t suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) in two years; I’m getting more fresh air and natural Vitamin D because I go out looking for birds. They bring wonder and joy to my world, and for that I’ll be forever grateful to those little feathered creatures.

Have a happy and safe holiday season, everyone. See you in 2014.