Saturday, January 31, 2009

Programming Fun

There's an astonishing amount of education going on here at the moment, considering our normal levels of chaos. Emily has become very interested in programming. We downloaded Small Basic and its little manual and she has been working her way through that, ably assisted and encouraged by Gramps :-)) She got the hang of it at lightning speed and has had great fun cobbling together some little basic programs and messing around with the code of example programs.

We had also purchased Game Programming for Teens; unfortunately, although the book looked excellent, the accompanying software was infuriating and refused to work properly, and even the free download from the book's website didn't fix matters and in fact made them worse. Very disappointing. Undaunted, however, Emily has been spending hours reading on the net about various programming languages, asking questions to which I have no answers and working with the small basic thingy. We're very impressed.

In addition to that, Emily's also been doing a lot of reading about evolution and Darwin, and I've been writing snotty emails of complaint after discovering that neither Survival Rivals nor The Great Plant Hunt were willing to send materials to home educators, only to "proper" schools. Fume, swear, fume. What else, education wise? Oh yes, lots of maths, lots of English, lots of logic work and some North American geography, modern history in the form of the Kennedy assassination and Nixon's resignation (courtesy of a free DVD someone lent us), law, ethics and morality in the form of much discussion after various crime dramas, and lots and lots and lots of cooking. That's *lots* of cooking, completely unsupervised and in most cases with us not even knowing where Emily's gone before she arrives back triumphantly announcing that such and such is in the oven, lol. We're being spoilt :-))

After a rather long lull, festival-wise, we hope to get back to celebrating various festivals imminently, starting with Imbolc next week.

Lulu seems to have come out of her psycho phase, lol. She's stopped being aggressive to Emily, I'm delighted to say. She's not exactly friendly, either - she's kind of indifferent at the moment, but it's a big step forward and a big relief all round. Lulu's happy enough around Emily, but she doesn't fly to her and won't step up onto her hand..... but she will soon, I'm sure. Emily's still being very patient with her and is totally in love with this parrot, lol. As indeed are we all.

Clever Gramps made Lulu a fabulous swinging climbing frame last week which she absolute adores, and she also became the proud owner of a new set of hexagonal swinging rings plus a ton of old baby toys, rattles and the like which she loves to play with. Next week, we'll be putting a rope across the dining room ceiling for her in addition to all her swings and perches down there. Parrot play room, lol.

Lulu's becoming very, very brave and bold, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's delightful to watch her personality really emerging. On the other hand....with five cats around.... it's "interesting". Previously, Lulu would sit quietly on my or Jon's hand or shoulder to make the trip from the upstairs sitting room (where her cage is) to the downstairs dining room when Emily and I are down there. This is quite a long trip, through and past various other rooms. Last week, however, she decided she'd rather like to investigate these new areas, and took to flying off for a good look round en route. Eek. One day, she flew straight into a window (because she wasn't familiar with the room) and crashed to the floor...Severus was in the room and had pounced before I could get to him.... he landed, literally, six inches away from Lulu who was then on the floor. That was close, and not pleasant. The following day, on the way downstairs, Lulu flew off into the big downstairs sitting room.... elderly Cassie-cat wasn't so elderly that she wasn't on her feet and stalking within seconds. Sigh.

If Lulu sits on a hand during the journey, we can put a thumb across her feet so she can't fly theory. In practice, she tries anyway and you end up feeling awful as this flappy thing tries to wrench its feet out of your hand. A little more training required in that department, I think! If it wasn't for the cats it wouldn't matter and she could fly around where she wanted, but we can never be sure where there is or isn't a moggy. We'll get the hang of it. Training-wise, we've been doing some clicker training and other bits and pieces and she's taking to it very well and seems to enjoy it.

Anyway, some more pictures, as if you aren't all fed up of parrot pictures! Here's Lulu with Gramps' hanging climbing frame:

Juliet waiting in prime position, hidden on a stool underneath the kitchen table, just in case Lulu decides to make an inspection flight of the kitchen on her way through. "You ain't seen me, right?"

Severus, a picture of injured innocence. "What?? I don't even like parrot!"
Lulu with her new swingy thing; she's certainly not frightened of new things, she was on this and Gramps' one almost before they'd been hung!

Playing in her "paddling pool", rofl :-)) She loves to paddle in there, but she *still* hasn't got the full idea of getting herself properly wet. She doesn't like it any deeper, but she does fluff all her feathers up as if she's *thinking* of having a in one of the photos here. She did finally get a wet tail and wet tummy, though and then celebrated by demolishing a corn on the cob ring - sweetcorn beak!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parrots.... They're Not Easy

Not that I thought having a parrot would be easy. But it sure as hell isn't.

It's been a fairly traumatic week. Not one but two of our major clients, BBC and the Press Agency, have failed to pay us on time (and still no money from either), leading to knock on repercussions in paying off our credit cards and paying back my Mum and Dad the money they lent us for Lulu. That's nearly £2000 "missing" this month, which is a hell of a lot when you're budgeting down to the last fiver.

Emily's earrings had their six weeks up on Tuesday, so she was supposed to take them out and put new ones in. The taking out was fine. The putting new ones in wasn't. To put it in a nutshell, Emily was scared to death of putting new ones in. To put it in an even finer nutshell, I tried putting them in for her and couldn't - it was as if the holes at the back had already healed up, and I wasn't about to punch through the flesh of my hysterical daughter for the sake of a bit of sparkly stuff. That's cutting a very long and very difficult story very short....Tuesday wasn't a good day.

So....we're leaving them to heal up. She can have her ears pierced again in a few year's time if she still wants them done.

Meanwhile, amid all this joy, Lulu decided to temporarily become the parrot from hell, at least as far as Emily was concerned. For a couple of days, she took to biting Emily at every opportunity and even when she was in her cage, running at Emily (and only Emily) through the bars, feathers all fluffed up, trying to attack. Last night when she was out of her cage she flew right at Emily's face in full on attack mode, only fended off by a split second arms-up-to-face by Emily. Much tears ensued, not only from Emily. When Greys bite, it *hurts*. A lot, lot, lot. Facial bites in particular frequently require stitches. You should see some of the pictures I've seen. Having a Grey in fury flying at your ten year old for no apparent reason is not a great thing to witness. We felt like complete failures - failing to help Lulu feel at ease with Emily, failing to help Emily feel at ease with Lulu, failing to do any damn thing and likely to spend the next sixty years with a psycho, Emily-hating parrot.

Ahem. Did I mention it's been traumatic?

Like I said, parrots - they're not easy creatures to get to grips with. I'm pleased to report however that today has been a lot better, Emily and Lulu wise. Lulu's still being a bit anti-Emily (heaven knows why, Emily's had the patience of a saint with her) but hasn't outright attacked and isn't running at her. She shared Emily's sugar puffs at breakfast time ;-) She will even (occasionally) fly to Emily for a sip of fruit juice and is certainly happy to be handed treats and toys by Emily and for the odd stroke. On the plus side, Lulu is an absolute darling at other times. She's very affectionate to me and to Jon (**especially** Jon, lol) but for some reason she seems to be playing up with Emily, which is of course deeply upsetting for Emily who'd been so looking forward to having Lulu and who really hasn't done anything at all to disturb or frighten Lulu, so it's a bit of a mystery.

Sigh. We'll get there. Lulu has a "forever home" here; we're not about to give up on her. Lots of love and patience are required; it's very unfortunate that she's being fearful of the child in the family rather than one of us grownups who might not take it so personally, but we'll get there. The issue seems to be mostly related to territorial behaviour in the room where her cage is, since she's so much more amenable to Emily in any other room. We're so used to cats, but of course cats are predators - parrots are prey animals and their psychology is sooooo different. I've asked for lots of advice on a parrot forum, but they're....not very helpful. Very cliquey and I think rather disapproving of anyone who has both parrots and cats (not that that's remotely the issue here). So we'll figure it out ourselves. Everyone's loved - it'll work. Today was already better. Repeat: we're all loved. We'll get there.

From everything I've read and observed, I'm thinking at the moment that perhaps Lulu is jealous of Emily as being her (Lulu's) rival for our attention. Greys are renowned for their intelligence, but as I think I said before, it's believed to be like having a permanent toddler in the house, including the emotional tantrums. I know Emily's hurting over the situation - and there have been many tears - but I'm so proud of her for persevering and for realising that a) it's not Lulu's "fault", she's not being "naughty" and that however she's behaving there's a reason behind it, a reason that we need to understand and that b) it's not Emily's "fault" either, and that with love and patience it **will** pass. It simply has to. Cats are fairly low maintenance compared to parrots, lol - and even though we were fully aware of what we were taking on, we're still learning.

Education has been happing amid all the chaos. Emily has developed a sudden and very deep passion for computer science and has been reading and researching all kinds of things about how computers work and about viruses and internet security. She has now upgraded her "when I grow up" list to include computer expert as well as archaeologist, author, baker, chef and fashion designer. Bless her. We've also been learning more about birds in general and about viruses and bacterial infections, the human immune system and the development of medicines. Oh, and maths. It's amazing how long it can take to do a few sums when you have a beautiful companion swinging upside down from one claw and warbling at you ;-))

Anyway, I've rambled again. Some photos. These first were of Lulu in Emily's blue room last weekend (when she was only half psycho, lol)

These others are from today and yesterday downstairs while Emily and I were "working".....although how much of that is possible with such a lovely distraction still remains to be seen. The first are of Lulu in flight to Emily's hand for a sip of fruit juice, although in typical fashion I managed to lose this rare and joyous moment in a silhouette because of the light coming through the dining room windows....grrrrr!

Others include Lulu enjoying her bungee rope - she loves this and it bounces about wildly as she climbs and hangs from it - and an improvised table top play stand which used to be a shelf unit in the bathroom! Oh, and her ladyship lording it over us all with a carrot stick, naturally.

When she's not being psycho, Lulu's adorable :-))

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bare Bones of a Routine

This is apparently my 500th post on this blog :-))

Ever so slowly, a routine is beginning to emerge which will mean we can get back to some education, having got used to having Lulu around the house.

Yesterday, we took Lulu downstairs to fly free in the big dining room where Emily does most of her work. She'd been down there before, but only in her travel cage, so we were a bit nervous about yesterday as there are so many shelves and cupboard tops for her to get into mischief on. Sure enough, she immediately flew onto a large picture and wouldn't come down, lol.

Once she had settled, though, she did wonderfully well on her playstand and on the easel my Dad made ages ago for our whiteboard. Late yesterday, my clever Dad made a hanging swing perch for Lulu right up at the ceiling level in the dining room, to satisfy her instinct to be high up. So today, she's spent nearly all day downstairs with us and has been a very happy birdie indeed.

Which has meant that Emily and I have....drumroll....done some work! This morning, Emily did some maths puzzles and this afternoon we read a lot about birds and examined a tiny nest Jon found in a hedge the other day.

In theory, so long as we can keep the five cats away from the dining room while Lulu is loose, we should now be all set for some kind of return to normality. Says she with fingers crossed. Juliet, Romeo and Cassie-cat aren't bothered about Lulu, but the baby kibbies Voldemort and Severus are still unhealthily fascinated and not particularly impressed at being shut out of various rooms at various times. We're trying to make it up to them with lots of cuddles.

Lulu has started to fly to Emily's arm now too. Onto her ceiling swing (Lulu's, not Emily's, although she did express a desire to have one too....) we fixed a cardboard cone which we can fill with assorted bits and bobs and titbits of food for extra play value while she's up there. She's developed a particular love of blank beer mats which we had in stock years ago for craft purposes - it's a good thing for her to shred and chew safe cardboard, so it's just as well we've got lots of them!

We also tried persuading Lulu to have a bath today, as she needs to get wet on a regular basis to help with her preening and feather condition. We have a spray bottle we can use for her but she's not that keen. She took better to a washing up bowl with shallow warm water and some cabbage leaves floating in it, although she still didn't really get the idea and had to be splashed a fair bit. It did help with her preening though and she had a good old clean up afterwards up on her swing :-))

Keeping Lulu occupied and happy is incredibly time consuming, but we're getting the hang of it (and we knew it would be). She's enjoying several hours of out of cage time every day and she likes her cage too, so fingers crossed we're doing OK for first time bird owners! It's good fun foraging around the house to find things to make toys for her too. She needs to exercise her brain as well as her body and we have a lot of puzzle type toys she could enjoy too, but she doesn't like standing on a flat surface (floor, table, playstand base, whatever) which is where she needs to be to enjoy an abacus and that kind of thing. We'll have to have a think about that.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Lulu Update

This week has been pretty much dominated by Lulu ;-)

We're slowly starting to get into a routine of her cage cleaning and her feeding and letting her out to fly and play at roughly the same kinds of times each day. Lulu had until today been quite strong willed when it comes to going back IN her cage - she's not daft, and although she'll step up onto your hand in seconds to come OUT, she plays up something chronic when it's time to go back in. Not surprising, I suppose. Plus she's a baby still, only three months, so she's exerting her independence. Yesterday we bought a new spray bottle (like you spray flowers with) to give Lulu a daily "shower" of warm water which is supposed to help her keep her feathers in tip top condition. She liked it yesterday. Today she objected strongly, lol. She has a mind of her own.

We'd also been worrying a little over Lulu's diet. She loves her seed mix, but it's nowhere near sufficient in itself for a parrot's diet, and she won't touch the "complete" pellets the breeder said she loved. We'd been preparing three lots of lovely, varied fresh fruit and vegetable and pulse and cereal mixes for her each day, but she was leaving them largely untouched and just eating the seeds.

Early this evening we had a bit of a breakthrough, though. By being extremely patient and just sitting watching the TV and talking to her while she was out on top of her cage, I eventually managed to persuade Lulu to fly to my hand by calling her and waggling her favourite toy. Once on my hand, with lots of praise and neck scratches, she allowed herself to settle in my lap and completely demolished huge chunks of carrot, apple and cauliflower off a plate. She then flew back to her cage and I thought I'd had it, lol - but as soon as I called her name and waggled her toy again, she flew back to my hand, paused for a tickle, then flew a large circle round back to the top of the cage....then within seconds, back to my hand, tickle, nibble toy, back to cage...back to hand, nibble toy, tickle, back to cage - four or five times in total, and once play time was over, she flew to my hand and allowed me to pop her back in her cage, for a reward of half an apple wedged for her in the bars next to her favourite perch.

Just now, she's out of her cage again, on Jon's shoulder as he's watching football in the dark. She did have a crash landing at the back of the settee and was hanging upside down from the back of it (!) but she let herself be rescued without a fuss and was making her excited noises again within seconds when she was fussed over and calmed down.

So, I think she's starting to get the hang of this.... and so are we ;-)

Lulu's very affectionate towards Emily when she's in her cage, coming running to see her and have her head scratched through the bars. She won't fly to Emily's hand yet, but it's early days - I think that might just be because Emily a) doesn't have *quite* as much patience yet and b) her hand might be slightly wobblier than ours are. But she's getting there.

It feels like such a huge privilege to have her fly to you. :-)))

Lulu aside, we have briefly done a few bits of maths this week, mostly revision of fractions. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had Lulu downstairs with us during the afternoon in her travel cage, but yesterday we didn't do that and today we were out at Jacki's all day, so Jon had Lulu out on and off all day with him. A new play stand arrived for her today with lots of perches and places to hang toys - I'm hoping that once she's used to that, she will be able to play out of her cage but on that for extended periods of time, in which case we can have her loose down in the dining room with us. We shall see. :-))

Not much textbook education going on at the moment, but we're all learning a lot about birds!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Year, Birthday and New Family Member :-))

Thank you for the kind remarks following my morose post; I feel a lot better now.

Emily's ten now :-)) We've had a very eventful week.

New Year's Eve
On New Year's Eve, my Mum and Dad cooked us all a lovely celebration meal and then we stayed up, of course, playing games. We always used to have our New Year meal on New Year's Day, but with the rush to get things ready for Emily's birthday (plus the occasional hangover, lol) my Mum had the brainwave of having the meal on NYE instead, which was much less hassled and much more fun.

New Year's Day
Happy New Year, by the way! We had a pleasant, quiet New Year's Day. Emily and Jon and I played lots of games together, and I also made Emily's birthday cake (yum - orange and white chocolate cake!) and decorated the dining room. The theme this year was tropical paradise because that's the only thing I could think of that included parrots!

Emily's 10th birthday!
So...Emily turned ten years old on the 2nd January. She had a lovely day (I hope). Presents included Wii Fit (very fun indeed), some other Wii games, a pasta making machine and accompanying recipe book, an ex-Avon set of 100 perfume samples (!) and a selection of earrings, since her newly pierced ears will soon be ready for the initial studs to come out. Plus assorted parrot related items. From Nana and Gramps, Emily had received in advance their customary £100 worth of premium bonds - they have given her this every birthday since she was born, so now she has £1000 worth! - and they had also bought the big parrot cage as part of her birthday present, but they also found some beautiful bits and pieces for her including a gorgeous white and turquoise watch and a large vanity case style black jewellery box which she was over the moon about.

We had a nice birthday tea of traditional party food bits and pieces for the family, and I made some scrummy punch from fruit juices, lemonade and cut fruit; Emily had hers in half a coconut shell to match the theme. We stayed up late playing roulette, which was another of her birthday presents as she's wanted for ages to know how to play it. Nana won hands down having broken the bank, but Emily did quite well too - me and Jon were out very early on, lol.

Tasting white wine while playing roulette, lol ;-))

Meet Lulu
Our African Grey parrot baby was due to arrive on around about the 9th January, but on Saturday 3rd we had a phone call from the breeder - his son would be in the area on Sunday and did we want our baby delivered then. Blimey. With a bit of last minute panic furniture-moving and cage-assembling-wise, we were more or less ready. It's a lovely big cage, with a large low rectangle shape and a tall tower too. We were lucky to have a temporary financial loan from Nana and Gramps because the (large sum of) money to pay for her hadn't yet cleared into our bank account - and so, on Sunday lunchtime, our baby arrived :-))

Emily named her Lulu and it seems as if she's been here forever. She's a gorgeous English-bred Congo African Grey baby, three months old today. Super tame and super affectionate and with one heck of a personality and a will to match! We're absolutely enchanted with her. The cats aren't quite so sure. Romeo, Juliet and Cassie-cat are nervous of her, but Voldemort and Severus are fascinated. A little too fascinated, to be honest - we've had to keep the door shut when we're not in the room or they'd be climbing on her cage, and we won't be letting them sleep in the sitting room at night until we're absolutely sure they've all got to grips with one another (and not around the neck). Lulu's not scared of the cats (or anything else), but cat saliva can be deadly to a parrot if she was bitten, and (perhaps more to the point, so far, it seems) she has one hell of a bite and could easily hurt the kittens if she was spooked or annoyed by them.

They'll all settle down, though. Of course the cats are not allowed in the room when Lulu comes out of her cage, and I don't suppose they ever will be, but I'm sure they'll be fine when she's in her cage very shortly. African Grey babies are notoriously clumsy ;-)) until they grow up and Lulu has certainly lived up to that in this first three days. She has a worrying tendency to fly into walls and then slide to the floor with a sickening thud (!!!!) - quite heart stopping the first few times you witness it, but she seems unfazed once you've picked her up and promptly carries on as normal. It's getting better, though. Today's she's only done that once. The very first time we let her out of her cage on Sunday, she flew straight to the highest cupboard in the room, knocked our huge wedding photo frame over on top of her and slid down to the middle shelf where she promptly pooed. Baptism of fire, lol.

Lulu's also discovered that if she flies to sit on the curtain rail, we can't get her down without climbing on a chair. Mischief is her middle name. To be fair, though, she's generally very good and only plays up when she doesn't want "out" play time to end. She loves to snuggle up on your lap or under your chin and she spends most of her out time playing on her cage top stand or climbing over the cage or climbing over her adoring public. She was a little ungainly getting from one perch/toy to another in her cage, but she's getting more adept and agile all the time and we've noticed a big difference even in days. She loves to land on your head when she's free, which can be painful with those talons....but we've already managed to train her to "step up" onto your hand or onto a stick when wanted, so that's good news. Lulu didn't eat very much for the first two days, but today she's completely stuffed herself on seed, banana, apple, oranges, peas, lentils, broccoli, couscous, sprouts and shredded wheat, lol, so I think she's found her appetite.

This afternoon, Emily and I finally (after an hour....patience is a strong point with baby parrots) coaxed Lulu into her large travelling cage so that we could take her downstairs into the dining room to keep us company while Emily did some maths. The idea is that once she's fully used to the environment, she'll come downstairs with us during the day and play on a play stand or fly free in the room while we work. Hmmm. We've a long way to go before we can let her loose down there yet (too many high cupboards full of ornaments), but she settled well enough in the travelling cage in the end and had fun shredding bits of paper and showing off her acrobatic skills. Not much maths was done.

So. My next challenge in 2009 is getting us into any kind of routine. We had enough trouble getting into a routine when we only had five cats to worry about. Now we have a baby Lulu as a beautiful timewaster too.... the maths may have to wait. Sooner or later, we'll figure it out and the cleaning cage/feeding Lulu/getting Lulu out/picking dazed Lulu up off the floor/cuddling Lulu/playing with Lulu/feeding Lulu again tasks will slot in around the rest of it. I read somewhere that having an African Grey is a bit like permanently having a toddler in the house with the emotional age of two and the intellectual age of five, with all the attention that demands. So far, I'm beginning to think they have a point....but my husband, my ten year old and I think it's rather lovely :-))