Great balls of fire

It’s curious how events  often come together in a strangely synchronic manner.  We had spent two months over the summer looking for a vacation home so we could be nearer to Deanna and Al and what struck me most about them each time we went touring, was their Craftsman charm, high prices (ouch), and most of all the brilliant sunlight they enjoy, literally pouring into each space. For people who have had apartments/co-ops in New York City, you know how valuable (and pricey) light and air are there. In Southern California, it comes baked in to the atmosphere, if you’ll allow me to mix images.

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Consequently, I referred to the whole experience as one dictated by the sun, that great ball of fire that seems to be a permanent fixture of every outdoor and indoor space. This is partially due to California’s golden climate and in part the result of global warming. Whatever the cause, it is here to stay.

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At the same time, I began a new project working on questionnaires for parents who have ‘explosive’ children, those who have combustible personalities as a result of one or more in a range of mood disorders. In the past we may have thought of these kids as “brats”, whose personalities were permitted to run wild. They were “out of control”, “undisciplined”, little “tyrants”. Or so it was assumed.

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Now we know that these are children who have difficulty processing information and change. They are easily frustrated and act out, as their ability to deal with stressful (to them) situations deteriorates and they lash out in what is really a cry for help. We need to radically rearrange our thinking about and approach to this potentially deadly syndrome.

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That made me think about how dramatically child-rearing has changed in the more progressive parts of the country.  When most of us were growing up, parents routinely barked orders for which non-compliance brought punishment. The latest thinking in child development psychology is that punishment does not produce learning but only short term benefits with long term deficits.

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Another thing I learned long ago, when I was in school earning my first of degree in what used to be called “special education” (in my case, for emotionally disturbed children — now referred to differently, more along the lines of those with emotional needs), is that all teachers should receive more training in child psychology and development. If they did, they would all be better equipped to accept and manage children in the regular classroom whose maturation is delayed in a number of areas (cognitive, emotional, physical, mental, etc.).

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Rather than treat them as if they were defiant delinquents, we now realize they have a condition akin to any other syndrome that may afflict any of us from birth, like poor eyesight or impeded motor skills.  These kinds of anomalies require extra care and can be managed so these children eventually catch up to and function among their peers who do not have these particular challenges.

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Instead of barking harsh commands and enacting extreme disciplinary measures, the best practices approach now is to calm and reassure them to diffuse the impending explosion or blow up and then engage them in a safe verbal exchange that aims to bring their ideas into the situation in a cooperative, collaborative way. These are children who know what is expected of them by parents, teachers or peers and want to please, but whose short fuse leads to a temporary deterioration of reasoning that makes any attempt to “reach” them virtually impossible.  Best to avoid getting them to the trigger point by picking battles (not sweating the small stuff) and concentrating on the most important behaviors that they will need to master to be fully functioning in society now and in the future.

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Anyway, this is more than you probably wanted to know about my work, but it did seem appropriate to go along with the explosive and fiery nature of the sun this past summer while we were looking for our getaway place. There must be a joint lesson in all this for me — but one thing it has done is caused me to look at my own nature, the corners where my anger demons dwell and to consider the value of getting things out of the shadows, into the bright light for examination. I determined, through both the process of “owning” my time in California, hot and alien though it may be to this East Coaster, and looking at the areas in which I am inflexible/intransigent and at times combative, that the approach educators and therapists are now taking to these volatile human beings, is the one we should all take all the time with everyone. This is especially important right now with all this dark toxicity interfering with our collective sense of peace and security.

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We would be a much happier, sunnier society. Just a thought or two and a work in progress, like everything else I embark upon.

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Images: Chez BeBe assets/San Diego

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By the way, please read today’s post from my friend Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, on children with ADHD and suicide. Madelyn’s entire site is devoted to research and therapy in this field and provides invaluable information, resources and commentary.

Rode to joy

You will be gratified to see that this is not a wordy post, for a change because this has been a frenzied two weeks and the rest of the year portends to be no less harried.

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Time for updates. Autumn has finally arrived in Los Angeles, more or less. We had a scorching summer and the utility bills to match. Ouch.  But, finally, we will be in a six month mild period of sorts and not a day too soon for this cold-weather afficionada.

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This weekend I am heading down to our new second home, first to our cottage and then to my Aunt’s and finally to stay with Al and Deanna while they welcome a new addition to their household.

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Whenever I am able to be on the ocean, I feel at home because that’s where I grew up, both in NYC and at the Jersey Shore. As many of you know, when Geoffrey and I first moved to California as newlyweds, we also lived on the beach, so taking my morning coffee out to watch the waves and my evening tea to see the sunset, is something I have done all my life. For some reason, in San Diego in particular, the sunset lights up the western sky like a huge beeswax candle. It is really exceptional. Perhaps it is because the air is so clean.

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These photographs were taken on the last trip we took down to get our second household set up.  It is still a work in progress as we don’t have time to be there together for long stretches. This month, Geoff is holding down the fort in LA, while I get two weeks change of pace that will I am sure include lots of photography, shopping, eating, and basically relaxing — at least that’s the plan.

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There isn’t much news in our neck of the woods. At the end of October we will make our annual rounds up here taking pictures of the beautiful Halloween ornamentation that people do who have the time, creativity and money to celebrate autumn, the real Oktoberfest.

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After that, I have in mind to show you all another lovely Northern LA community and then, our neighborhood at the winter holidays, as I do every year.

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Thank you all for stopping and reading. Bear with me as my next post may be late, since my schedule is now in the hands of mother nature. 😀

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Images: ChezBeBe assets/La Jolla, California

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In my mind

29048014664_3215c79c29_oAs I promised, I am adding a new Autumn sticky post this year that will enable me to alternate between my NYC fall post, up right now for the season, and the new one.

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Not being one to shrink from taking on too much and this being an incredibly busy time for me, I chose a place that I think may be the other perfect state to visit when you just want to see the leaves turn but you don’t want to shiver doing it. That state is North Carolina.

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I can speak about it in an intimate way because I have been to North Carolina more a dozen times in the past decade or so.  My mother’s extended family is populated with physicians, so I have aunts, uncles and cousins who are doctors practicing up and down the East Coast.  There is a cluster in the Research Triangle, comprised of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

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So, whenever Geoff and I want a change of scenery, going from parched to quenched, we head to visit my family in the Tar Heel State.  Most of them moved there from England or the Northeast, but now consider themselves local natives and that has made it possible for us to travel all over the south, from their jumping off point and appreciate the beauty of that little region that encompasses Virginia, Georgia, South and North Carolina.

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Growing up I had only passed through or flown over them on our way to my parents’ condo in Boca Raton.  I really missed a lot, but I suspect that the North Carolina of today, bears less resemblance to that state of a few decades ago. I am glad I waited. It really is up and coming in an exciting and unique, yet familiar way.

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My cousin Hallie and her husband Mike are pathologists and chose North Carolina for its famous scientific community of young, progressive, professionals. They also loved its reasonable costs of living. A house in North Carolina, even in the metropolitan areas costs about 20 percent of its equivalent in the North East or California.  They have a beautiful sprawling house on 20 wooded acres of paradise, three seasons of the year.

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The winters are mild, even when it snows, in North Carolina. Spring sees a burst of life, due to rich fertile established loamy soil, regular rainfall and warm temperatures. If you want a temperate four-season climate, this is the closest I have seen to perfection. There is only one brutal month: August.  Literally, stepping outside on a sunny August day you had better just wear a towel, it is a veritable Turkish bath. The first time I spent August in North Carolina, the humidity hit me like a wall, it was shocking.

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And, along with that comes mosquitoes, a particular concern right about now, until the state perfects a program to eradicate them.  To make matters worse, gullies or culverts run in front of almost every residential street, presumably to direct overflow during tropical rainstorms. They present all kinds of hazards, including for drivers who often drive right into them inadvertently when the roads are slick with snow or flooded.

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There is something else to mention, lest you consider living in North Carolina. If you are a fierce progressive, you might have to adopt some mental and political flexibility, as the state is undergoing rebirthing pains. For those of you who know the American South, you will understand the tug of war going on right now for the hearts and minds of millennials seeking the 21st century even in rural southern states. I don’t want to delve into it too much, but the struggle is ongoing as the state emerges from a chrysalis of tradition that has a three hundred year history.

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Never mind that. North Carolina is fairly bursting with things to do. The most exciting gourmet and ethnic eateries, bakeries, cafes, coffee houses are on almost every block in Downtown Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. I hope to mention a few of them as I work on this seasonal sticky-post this fall. It may take me awhile to list all my favorites, but I will consider this particular post to be ongoing and a real-time travelogue. Bear with me on this.

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Meanwhile, I am putting these pictures here so you get an idea of why this is a place you should consider for a vacation, three seasons of the year (unless you need an all over body-sweat, LOL) and perhaps a place in which to buy vacation property or your retirement home. You had better hurry though, it can’t stay this affordable forever.

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While I am thinking about it, I will probably not list any hotels or B&Bs as I usually do.  These days, more and more, the way to do this is by snagging an Air B&B and using Uber to get around, if you don’t want to drive or rent a car. There is no better way to “live” your vacation than through a home for lease, including a Vacation Rental By Owner, aka VRBO.

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So, this is my test case for an evolving seasonal travel post — stop back periodically. More is coming.

Welcome Autumn 2016!!

Images: Chez BeBe assets /North Carolina in three seasons

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(F)All in: NY

Here we are again, time for a seasonal travel post, this time for Autumn, 2016.  I am re-posting this one I did for New York previously, largely because it is still my top choice for autumn travel, being my home town, but also because I have a new Autumn post in progress on North Carolina, another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, just posted on September 30.  I will be adding some restaurant recommendations to it over the coming weeks.

A note on my four seasonal travel posts. Some people realize they are “sticky” and always appear on my main page, while my current posts appear on the right, in a column. I put up new posts every two weeks and some of you have found your way to them. Thank you! But others seem not to realize that these seasonal posts are permanent fixtures and miss my newer ones.  I appreciate anyone stopping, reading and commenting, but if you want to know what I am thinking and doing lately, please look to the right and I hope I won’t disappoint or offend anyone. 

OK, so for now, here is my beloved City, which comes to life and sparkles in autumn

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If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.

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Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.

There are other reasons.  Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion. First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold.  There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.

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At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning.  Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has.  Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones.  If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks.  If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way. It’s most famous green space is the second largest in the five boroughs: Prospect Park, as magnificent as Central Park in Manhattan. Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.

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The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels.  The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about.  This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street.  One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue.  The Wales is right in the middle of it.  Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms, good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.

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My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria. I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre, Carlyle). My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation.  All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens. It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet.  In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.

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If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia.  Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic.  You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK.  In every way, Newark is a pleasure.  In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).

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I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things.  Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.

When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America.  He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there.  When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around.  They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc.  These were wealthy world travelers.  But!  When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).

NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse.  I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $800K) and work there than to visit.  So how you approach the visit can be critical.

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Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends.  If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center.  If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).

The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated.  They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).

Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.

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After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village.  If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca.  All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops.  Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists.  I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic.  You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn.  Think Moonstruck.  If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)

If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.

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If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point.  It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk.  If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens.  You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.

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Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week.  You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.

Images: holidayforce.com,theweblicist.com,flickriver.com,virtualtourist.com,panoramio.com,commons.wikimedia.org,virtualtourist.com,restaurantsinyc.com,viator.com,fodors.com

 

Winged flowers

When I walk through our family room in the morning, someone says in a bright and hopeful voice, “I love you”.

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No, not my spouse who is usually at work by this time, but my companion Psyche. And she means it.

Recently, I saw a study on what makes for longevity. It was conducted by Harvard researchers over a 75 year period, so it was a longitudinal study, which are rare and hard to fund, much less conduct. It studied a specific group of men and thus may have whatever the limitations of that cohort being the sample has, but it did reach some significant and valid conclusions. Longevity is dependent upon happiness and happiness upon our relationships.

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I am sure the researchers referred to human relationships in this work, although I have not read the original publication. But, those of us who are highly attuned to all of life, know how much other creatures contribute to our well being.  I cannot imagine life without Psyche and Ricky, our dog. Because Psyche speaks so well, both to us and to him, Ricky tries mightly to speak whenever possible — not barking, which he does too, as a great watchdog, but with vocalizations that to us seem to be simulating human speech — and is rewarded for it with lots of praise and clapping, by the two of us and Psyche as well, who repeatedly tells him “Good boy”.

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One of the most important missions I have had over my lifetime, in addition to being the champion of children, especially those with disabilities and other disadvantages, has been to raise awareness about the precious nature of animals and other defenseless creatures that in the past were either taken for granted or wasted by a variety of means.

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In our yard, we are doing everything we can to provide a hospitable environment for the littlest beings around us: butterflies,  bees, ladybugs, spiders, Praying Mantis, dragonflies, lizards, and even harmless garter snakes. We would love it if we saw a frog, but it is unlikely in this hot, dry climate. We also have a variety of small birds and the occasional predatory raptor, part of nature but one I try to discourage from dining on our little community.

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While the Harvard study does indicate the importance of loving relationships, especially in early childhood — my specialty — it does not include the importance of cultivating inter-species understanding. That is something I have tried to do on my own, by instinct.

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It is in my nature to be kind, even if I have a short temper sometimes. I never, ever direct it at the non-humans in my life. I cherish them. I would no sooner harm or, heaven forbid, consume one of them, than I would a human being.  It is so clearly barbaric and cruel that I cannot, truly, understand how anyone convinces themselves to do so.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. — Galatians 5:22-23

I am not advocating, by the way, companion animals. After a lifetime of thought on the subject, I believe it is absolutely wrong to bring a bird, for example, into the artificial environment of our homes, no matter how carefully and scientifically we create a space for them. Psyche now has the very best of care in every respect, from her “rooms” to her indoor tree to her diet. She also has nothing but love and positivity from all of us, including Ricky who at worst tolerates her gently and at best, finds her a bit interesting and strives to communicate with us as well as she does, with over 1000 words and phrases in her English vocabulary.

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But, it is really never the same as the surroundings that are natural to birds in the wild. Unfortunately, we have bred dogs and cats and horses to live with us as “pets”, a terrible holdover term from centuries ago that continues to convey a sense of enslavement, however well meaning, on them.

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We are all enculturated in our Western countries to get and keep a certain class of animals in our homes and treat them royally. I am certainly for treating all living things in the best manner possible, suited to their true needs, which we need to take the time to learn about and understand. It isn’t easy and I have personally made some monumental blunders. I think as a society, we are just waking up to what is right and wrong in this regard.  Certainly, the number of people who take in rescued animals are to be commended.  My families have done that over the years, with mixed success.  Because of Psyche and how delicate she is, I have to be very careful about the nature of any other species with which she is in contact. Labradors are especially gentle, even though they can be hunting dogs. When they do retrieve, they have what is called a ‘soft mouth’, but even so, no domesticated bird would likely survive being picked up by even a gentle dog.

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In any event, here are some pictures I took at the Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion a couple of years ago. I had Anna in tow and two cameras. It was a very hot day, the exhibit was crowded and all of those who entered were roasting. By the end of our scant 15 minutes proceeding along the path, both she and I were dripping and testy. Still, I learned enough about butterflies on the two trips I took to the Pavilion, to create one in our yard, without the tent.  We have had some success with it and now have more bees and butterflies, as well as praying mantis than we did before.  It is still a work in progress, but as we eliminate lawn during our prolonged severe drought, the little pavilion expands. This year we will be planting cone flowers and creeping thyme around it, both of which attract humming birds, pollinators and especially butterflies.

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We learned not to touch the flowers butterflies (and other pollinators) need for food. Once touched, they will not alight on them. Butterflies like sunlight. If you cast a shadow on them, they will fly off. If your movements are too abrupt, they will avoid you.  We should never touch a butterfly either. They will give up part of their wing to get away and that shortens their lives considerably.  They need water, just the way all living things do. The best practice in order to co-exist with a butterfly is to plant the flowers they love, give them a place to rest such as the star lavender we have in our yard, and just admire them quietly from a safe distance. That is the true definition of love and respect for one another isn’t it? Give to each what s/he would have you give to him?

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As I grow older, I have learned to surround myself only with loving, kind, positive, life-affirming creatures, both human and otherwise in every venue, starting with home and extending to all my social media sites. When selfish, petty, mean-spirited people cross my path, I try to wish them well and avoid them. The Harvard study instructs us that we can learn and enhance our lives well into our 90s, and one way I do that is to be consistent in all situations: love all creatures as you do yourself. Evening living to be 100, is just a blip. Why sully it in any way?

Images: Chez BeBe assets: Los Angeles Natural History Museum Butterfly Pavilion; click to enlarge

[Title: refers to the famous saying by Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun, who once referred to them as “flying flowers”.]

In Memoriam: Dr. Joy Brown has passed away. She was the essence of what a behavioral therapist should be: kind, loving, wise, patient, humble and most of all, self-reflective. The world has lost a great friend.