Monday, February 20, 2017


It's been a quiet week or two here at Sparrow Tree Journal. I imagine the sound of crickets when I check in here. I've not been feeling much inspiration to write, what with the wall of ice that's now up between me and my parents, and the death of little Chip. (Thank you all for your kind words on both subjects). Mostly I'm just marking time over here waiting for things to develop.

I have applied for three jobs, any one of which would be satisfactory. I have people speaking for me and putting in a good word at all three places--I hope I can at least get an interview for one of them. I'm still trying to eat better and exercise more. The results of that are still lackluster (as far as weight loss), but physically I feel pretty good. Life is just pretty ordinary right now.

I have had some fun diversions in the past couple of weeks. I finally found and read The Black Narcissus by Rumor Godden. I'm a bit disappointed to report that the movie was actually better. I re-read The Greengage Summer, also by Rumer Godden, and that one was better than I remembered so I can recommend it if anybody is interested. My current read is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders:

Lincoln in the Bardo

And because I'm lazy (and only halfway finished with the book) here is a review from the NPR Books website by Jason Sheehan:

It begins, like so many simpler books before it, with a party. And with a death.

But this is no simple party. It is a state dinner at the White House, hosted by Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln — a lavish, decadent state dinner thrown in 1862, as the meat grinder of the Civil War is just beginning to churn.

And it's no simple death, because it is the death of the Lincolns' beloved young son Willie, of typhoid fever, at age 11. He lay sick upstairs while below, the party went on until dawn. It was thought, in that moment, on that night, that the boy would recover. His mother saved him candies from the elaborate dessert display — a chocolate fish plucked from a pond of spun sugar, a bee made from honey — and told him she would keep them until he was feeling better. Knowing what comes, what history has already told us will happen (must happen), it is the first of a hundred or a thousand small heartbreaks in George Saunders's long-awaited first novel, Lincoln In The Bardo.

And then Willie dies. There is a funeral (glossed over) and an interment in a borrowed crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. Willie Lincoln's body goes into its box and the box goes into its hole in the wall.

At which point the story begins in earnest.

"Bardo" means limbo, a liminal place, between worlds, between lives. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the bodiless state that exists in the lag between one incarnation and the next, full of unquiet spirits tethered by ... guilt? By rage? By unfinished business, traditionally, or a simple unwillingness to move on.
And Saunders's novel is full of ghosts. Soldiers and children, rapists and virgins, slaves and fools and drunks and a hundred others, including Willie Lincoln, stuck in the bardo and surrounded by a chorus of spirits all urging him to move on or to stay; all giving conflicting, contradictory advice because "These young ones are not meant to tarry," according to one regretful suicide, even though some do — the why of it always a small story, crafted here by a master of small stories.
So for one night in 1862, Saunders uses his ghosts and his historians to build a tapestry of grief. While his sources cite the weeping in the Lincolns' residence, the fury of a nation divided and the petrifying misery which Willie's death provoked in Abraham Lincoln, his ghosts have a worm's-eye view of death and the beyond. In them lives all the pettiness of life (a debt owed, a love unstated) umbrella'd over by the inconceivable horrors of war. While Lincoln has lost one son, he exists in a world overspilling now with lost sons, and soon to be choked with them. While he slips down to the cemetery in the middle of the story's single night to open Willie's casket and hold his boy's body — to mourn in private and feel the weight of his son one more time in his lap — he stands also at the threshold of a war which will snuff hundreds of thousands of lives.

"No one had ever come here to hold one of us, while speaking so tenderly," says one of Saunders's ghosts.

"Ever," says another.

"Young Willie Lincoln was laid to rest on the day that the casualty lists from the Union victory at Fort Donelson were publicly posted," Saunders quotes, from the Journal of American History, then, "More than a thousand troops on both sides were killed and three times that number wounded," from Dolores Kearns Goodwin.

And so these two events, one small, one large, become forever linked. Lincoln's grief, as witnessed by the ghosts, as experienced by Willie, is enormous. The pain of it radiant as the President languishes in his own private bardo. In comparison to the grief of America at war, it is infinitesimal, but at the same time, no less potent or real. And in the friction between these two true things, Saunders finds his terrible, brutal truth: That all lives end too soon. That no one leaves complete. That letting go is the best, hardest thing anyone — even the dead — can do.

So far, this book is touching and unlike anything I've ever read. A great diversion, and I highly recommend it.

Another diversion I enjoyed was a trip to the movies yesterday afternoon with two of my book club pals. We went to see Lion.


I should have taken a handkerchief. This film tore me up inside, especially the acting of the young Sunny Pawar as the child Saroo, separated from his mother and brother and lost to them for the next 25 years, and then the final scene when the actual man and his two mothers (birth and adopted) that the film was based on were shown together. I had to sop up my tears on my t-shirt. I thought the film was very good, and recommend it to anyone who might appreciate the release of a good cry. I did, although I'm always embarrassed to weep in public.

There's nothing like good books and good films to divert yourself from the ho-hum of everyday life. Have any of you seen or read anything lately that you'd like to recommend?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Image may contain: plant

Our little House Sparrow, Chip, died Monday morning. She was 10 years old.

For those of you that aren't familiar with the story of Chip, let me explain.

Years ago I was an aviary keeper for a public exhibit of lorikeets (that's a whole other story in itself) and I was responsible for the handfeeding and care of around 2 dozen parrots, which consisted of mostly lories and lorikeets as well as 3 macaws. I also did some work for the pet store where Gregg still works to this day, handfeeding and socializing baby parrots. I got a reputation at the "bird lady" around town and would often end up with orphaned wild birds to rescue and release.

One day, a friend of a friend found a nest of baby House Sparrows that had been blown to the ground after a storm. Only one of the babies was still alive. It didn't even have feathers yet. The guy heard about me from our mutual friend, and brought the bird to me for help.

I hand fed the little sparrow, as I had done dozens of times before, and got ready to release her, but there was a bit of a delay. Gregg and I were preparing to move that spring. I wanted to be available to offer her food for a few days once she started living outside. Oftentimes young newly released birds will hang around for a week or so, for security and food while they're learning to live in the big wide world.

Once we got to the new house, I started taking her out every day to fly around. She lived outdoors for about a week, but two nesting mockingbirds started to harass her. She would frantically land on our shoulder every time we came outside, so we starting bringing her back in to keep her safe. We thought that as soon as the mockingbirds finished nesting, she would happily adjust to life outdoors....but she didn't. She would fly around for a few minutes when we took her outside, but then would cheep and cry and every time we walked in the door she would land on our shoulders and hitch a ride back inside. After a while, it started to get cold we kept her inside where it was warm and safe. And after that first winter, we had a pet sparrow. She didn't know how to live in the wild and we didn't have the heart to try to force her.

A few years later, we moved into our current house, and Chip came with us. She had a whole bedroom to herself, with a large potted ficus tree and a window looking out onto our bird feeder. We often opened the window in the warm months, so she could have left at any time, but she never did. We didn't keep her in a cage. She lived in her ficus tree, and we kept newspaper down on the floor in her room to keep it clean.

We grew very attached to Chip over the years. (A coworker of mine named her for the sound she made as a those first days I had to take her with me to work so that I could feed her every couple of hours). In addition to the fresh seeds and water that were always available to her, she loved bread. Every single morning for years, Gregg would take a tiny piece of bread in to her room and she would hop on his hand and nibble it. We noticed over the past couple of weeks that she was slow to wake up and get moving in the morning, and it would take her a few minutes to come around. She was extraordinarily old for a House Sparrow. And on Monday morning, when Gregg went in with her morning piece of bread, he found her little lifeless body underneath her ficus tree. We both cried.

Chip as a baby.

If you've ever wondered how my blog came to be named "Sparrow Tree Journal" now you was a tribute to Chip and the tree where she lived.

We're going to miss that little bird.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unprovoked attacks

It's been quite a morning for me. I woke up feeling good and looking forward to having the day off.
I made coffee and breakfast and sat down to eat with Gregg before he had to get ready for work, and everything seemed right with the world. Then my phone started to "ping" with private messages. They were from my mom. Here's the first one:

Jennifer, do you have to use such vulgar language on Facebook,? I haven't ever known you to talk like you do now, what's wrong with you?

I had no idea what she was talking about, and told her so. I don't use "vulgar" language on Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter. She went on to say:

Yes you have and you know you do...... I've always been proud of you, but since this election, you are just really something, you need to move on.

Again, what??? I've never used vulgar language on Facebook, and I'm fairly careful about what I share on a public forum concerning the election. Granted, I'm very opposed to Donald Trump and his administration, and I occasionally share legitimate news articles about current events, but I never attack anyone and I certainly don't use foul language. So I told her, again, that I had no idea what she was talking about. And this was her response:

Well.... Fuckbuck, and such words.....

What the heck does that even mean?! (That's what I asked her). And then I suggested that someone maybe hacked into her page, or mine, and left offensive remarks.

No, I'm not hacked it's about Ivanka Trump's line of clothes, and you made a comment, you know what I'm talking about and there has been other things too. don't play dumb with me .

Well, I started to get pissed off at that point. I've never said a single thing about the current controversy over Ivanka's brand of clothes. Not one single thing. And the whole "don't play dumb with me" was just a little too much and I told her so. How dare she basically accuse me of lying over something so stupid?

It's not just today, over months you have used bad language and you know it. I'm not as stupid as you take me for. I thought I knew you better, but I don't know any more.  I have never accused you falsely, I have never been disappointed in you until I got internet and have seen things you say, I hate people seeing you talk like you do.

I went back over my Facebook page at that point, looking for something that I might have said that would have set her off, and found nothing. There are mostly pictures of the dogs, flowers, sunsets, etc. And occasionally a news article critical of Trump. And oh, yeah, and this morning I posted a "Happy Birthday Charles Darwin" meme............

So here's what I think. My parents (mostly my mom, my dad is gentle and sweet and doesn't have a mean bone in his body) are conservative Trump supporters and evangelical Christians. I get the feeling that the fact that I'm a liberal atheist is what my mom really means when she says I'm "vulgar" and that she's disappointed in me. It's not about Facebook, it's about differences in our fundamental life values. She went on and on in the same vein, though, telling me that she's ashamed of me. Although we don't have a very close relationship (she was emotionally abusive and an alcoholic when I was growing up....although thankfully the Evangelical Christian part didn't come along until later, after I had left home) that still hurt my feelings so bad. 

I've never called  her out on how ashamed of her I was growing up, or how much her behavior in those days hurt me. I decided a long time ago to forgive her and move on with my life (even though she never asked for forgiveness) and to go my own way. But even at the age of almost 42 years old, her words still have the power to hurt me so much.

This is how I finally ended our conversation today:

This is ridiculous. If you can find something specific on my Facebook page that you take issue with, I'll be glad to discuss it with you. Otherwise, I'm done with this conversation.

Because mother or not, I'm not allowing anyone to talk to me that way. I deserve better.

So as I was sitting there, still feeling stung over what had just happened, my bird Marco flew over onto the couch beside me. I absent-mindedly picked him up and out of habit went to kiss him on the beak....and he bit the @#$! out of my lower lip. I burst into tears, both from the pain in my lip and the pain in my heart.

So now I have a cut and swollen lip to go along with my bruised feelings. How's that for a nice morning?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Scenes from a morning walk

Daffodils are beginning to bloom beside my house.

Beautiful sky on a windy February day.

Yet another blooming tulip magnolia in my neighborhood.

The dogs just finished leaving "pee-mail" for their buddy Bob the German shepherd.

It's a beautiful day outside, windy and cool with lots of sunshine and big fluffy clouds. I'm still struggling a bit with depression, but time spent outdoors with Ginger and George helps.

(Also, I finally found something new I want to read! Rumer Godden is one of my very favorite authors, and I've never been able to find a copy of  her book "Black Narcissus" which was made into a movie a long time ago. Last night I typed her name into a search engine on my Nook, and several of her books are now available for download...including Black Narcissus! I'll be reading for the rest of my afternoon off!)

Have a good one!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Food for thought...

Thank you all for the wonderful, thoughtful comments on my last post. I've read through them all several times and will respond individually after I've had a little more time to mull them over. There's a lot of food for thought there.

In the meantime, here are two photos I snapped on Saturday  and wanted to share.

The tulip magnolias are already blooming (almost a month early). This tree is in my neighbor's yard. 

Sunset later that same day. This picture was taken looking out of my front door. 
I try to remind myself daily that there's beauty all around me, if I'll only take the time to look for it.

Friday, February 3, 2017


John touched on this topic in yesterday's post....the fact that many bloggers seem to be suffering from a touch of writer's block right now. I certainly am.

It's not that there's nothing to blog about, but I don't feel like talking about anything that's going on these days. Our new president is going off the rails at a pace I never dreamed possible--every single day brings some new horror. It's getting to the point that I'm beyond fear and outrage. I'm just tired. I'm taking a break from most social media right now, for my own peace of mind. It's all too much. The ugliness and hate and division in our country feels like a recipe for disaster and I just can't engage for the moment. I feel like there's no use in trying and to hell with it all. Let the country burn down around us....I thought we were better than this, but I was wrong. If this is what the USA has become, then so be it.

Everything in my personal life feels equally pointless at the moment. I'm sticking with the changes to my eating and exercise habits, and have managed to lose 6 pounds in the last two weeks, but that fact doesn't seem to bring me any joy. It just feels like a long, boring journey that I'm just beginning with a lot of long boring days left to go before I even get close to my goal. I was off work yesterday, and nothing satisfied me. I didn't feel like reading, or walking the dogs, or knitting, or anything else that usually gives me pleasure. Messing around on the internet sucks, television sucks, and housework feels like the same damn thing over and over again. Pointless. I spent some time looking through job listings and there was nothing even remotely interesting to apply for (at least nothing that I'm qualified to do) and that made me even more depressed. You know it's bad when I find myself thinking that I might as well be at work! Speaking of which, I hit my 6 year anniversary at this job the day before yesterday. I thought I'd have made my escape by now. Sigh.

Apologies to Chris at The Pedestrian Writer, I stole this from his blog.
Apathy is the only word that comes to mind when I try to describe how I'm feeling. How do you pull yourself out of it when everything feels.....pointless? Any tips for shaking this funk I'm in would be really appreciated!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February Skies

This is what the sky looked like at sunrise this morning as I was leaving for work.

And this is what it looked like mid afternoon after I got off.

It's also 77°F outside today. February is starting off warm and beautiful in South Carolina!