Our Parrots’ Wild Habits

October 31, 2013 § 2 Comments

I’m on a research kick.  This is nothing new, but a few thought-provoking posts and comments I’ve read lately have gotten me really interested in the wild habits of our parrots.  It started with diet, but then I just found out a lot of fascinating things.  As usual, as I found more answers, they led to even more questions.  Although my research pertained to Cape Parrots and Budgerigars in particular, I think what I found might be quite interesting to all parrot owners.

First, I’ve often wondered if Lola was just a little bit chubby and clumsy and therefore not the greatest flyer.  I’ve noticed that in comparison to my budgies (Charles in particular, who was a spectacularly graceful flyer) as well as my mom’s Hahn’s Macaw, who is another beautiful flyer, Lola is … well, she’s a little slow and labored.  She likes to fly, but unlike my mom’s Hahn’s who takes joy in doing laps around the open floor plan of her home, Lola likes to go shorter distances and sometimes opts to waddle over when she can.  Obviously I think part of this is influenced by the fact that as an apartment dweller she simply doesn’t have as much space to fly and therefore gets less practice, but I also read recently that Capes in comparison to other birds actually have shorter wings, evolved for maneuvering in the forest canopy while feeding, rather than for long distance flight.  In fact, I read that it can take Cape Parrots twenty-five times as much energy to fly than other birds!  This was really astounding and fascinating to me and explained a lot about Lola’s flying efforts.

On the other hand, budgies seem to be wonderful, graceful, and rapid flyers.  Sabrina is an exception because she had a lot of trouble with breaking her wing feathers as a baby and as a result is a bit of a shaky flyer, but Charles was magnificent in flight.  Which makes sense, because in the wild, budgerigars can travel dozens and even hundreds of miles in a single day looking for food.  So although they are often described as ground feeders and foragers, their long tails reflect that they are also spectacular flyers.  (Lola’s short little tail, on the other hand, gives her away as a ground feeder who is not meant for long distance flight.)

I also started thinking about what Lola would eat in the wild.  Cape Parrots feed almost exclusively off of the fruit of the yellowwood tree.  Nowadays, due to the destruction of the yellowwood forests in South Africa and other regions of the African continent, they have turned to other sources of food, including plums, pecans, cherries, acorns, and others.  However, this has also coincided with a widespread outbreak of PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease), which has been rapidly decreasing wild populations.  Many researchers believe that the PBFD outbreaks are linked to the Cape Parrots’ inability to find adequate food sources.  (The Cape Parrot Project is dedicated to saving the wild Cape Parrot.  They are an excellent organization and I highly recommend giving their site a visit, and donating to their cause if you are so inclined.)

Anyway, all that aside, these simple facts got me thinking: why do we think variety is so crucial to a healthy diet?  Don’t get me wrong– I’m by no means saying it isn’t– in fact, I am fairly certain I have said in this blog that variety is key, and I still believe that.  Let me be clear that I think there are often two arguments for variety: first, for health purposes (e.g. to get a variety of vitamin/minerals/nutrients), and second, for boredom/enrichment purposes.  I still believe in the first reason, that variety is necessary for health purposes.  Obviously we do not have access to these yellowwood fruits, and thus  we cannot replicate the wild diet– so, we should do our best to give a variety of nutrients that will mimic a complete diet or attempt to do so, at least.  I still do this and think it’s important to do.

But, I think that maybe we obsess over the second argument for variety too much: the boredom/enrichment argument.  Again, of course I believe enrichment is important!  (In fact, this has been another research kick of mine, and I am working on a large write up on it.)  But why do we assume that parrots get bored eating the same thing everyday, when that’s exactly what some of them do (and is healthiest for them to do) in the wild?  And although Capes are somewhat unique in that regard, they aren’t the only ones.  The vast majority of the diet of wild Hyacinth Macaws, for example, is made up of palm nuts.  Just thinking of the way that I feed Lola, however, I often obsess over giving her a variety of foods from sprouts to fresh veggies (from chopped to sliced to steamed to whole to stuffed) to dry mixes to fruits to breads to mashes to endless variations upon variations.  I’m wondering if these things really matter to her at all, being that she’d be perfectly happy and healthy eating yellowwood fruits all day everyday for the rest of her life.  (One important distinction: the question of dietary enrichment in terms of presentation or foraging, I think, is a separate one. I absolutely believe in variety of presentation and encouragement of foraging.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to make food presentation less “boring” by hiding food or creating foraging opportunities– I think that’s super important!  I’m talking about boredom, referring to the make up of the food itself.)

Maybe this is all just very obscure and doesn’t make sense.  I mean, I’m still confused about it.  And I’m not sure I will necessarily be doing anything differently.  I think maybe I will not obsess so much over giving Lola a different fresh fruit/veggie mix every morning, so long as she’s getting a good mix in there.  (I used to be afraid that she’d get bored of eating the same meal three days in a row.  Now I feel silly thinking that.)  But again, as usual, my research leaves me with more questions than answers.  Just something to ponder!

Oh: and Happy Halloween! 🙂

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In Gratitude and In Loving Memory

August 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I always knew that I am blessed with such kind and generous friends, but this week I was truly taken aback by the extent of their thoughtfulness.  Two friends of mine were so sweet that they, despite only knowing of Charles via this blog or other internet forums, sent me incredibly beautiful keepsakes to commemorate his life.  I am so moved and so touched, not only by these precious gifts but also by their love for Charles, and for their true understanding of how wonderful a little soul he was.  I am most happy knowing that Charles was loved and appreciated not just by me but also by his few “fans” around the country (and the world!), and that during his short lifetime, I was able to share with you all how precious he was to me.  He really was an amazing bird.  So a very sincere and heartfelt thank you for these lovely gifts.

The first gift is a really beautiful glass and crystal pendant made by Mango Gyrl Designs.  It’s a really adorable photo of Charles looking particularly regal in one of his many swings… it makes me smile every time I see it.  Thus, I think that the inscription “Joy” is so very appropriate for this photo.  Aside from how nice the pendant itself it, I couldn’t believe the level of care and detail that went into the packaging.  The pendant was in a blue satchel which was protected with cotton and decorated with a ribbon, also reading “Joy,” then placed in a box with the photo of Charles on it as well.  The presentation was so lovely and as soon as I began unwrapping it and saw the box, I was so, so surprised and overjoyed (it was, obviously, a completely unexpected package).  Thank you so much to both Mango Gyrl Designs and the gifter!  I absolutely love it.

The second gift is an absolutely beautiful painting of Charles, recreated from perhaps my favorite photo of him alone (the ones of him and Theodore might not be a fair comparison since they have double the cuteness).  But the background was turned into a rainbow, signifying his passing… which I thought such a lovely way to commemorate him.  This painting, to me, really captures his true spirit.  Even in passing over the “Rainbow Bridge,” his expression is brave, docile, and steadfast.  Charles approached everything with maturity and equanimity no matter the task, be it nail clippings or vet visits or new, somewhat hyperactive cohabitants.  And, he looks as spiffy as ever, with his polka dotted collar perfectly in place.  I absolutely love this painting so very much– thank you!

Both of these gifts are so perfect and so thoughtful.  Thank you to my dear, dear friends.  My grief over Charles’s passing is lessened by my happiness that you two were able to “feel the love” as well.

Charles’s Burial and Necropsy Results

August 2, 2012 § 13 Comments

Today I buried Charles in my parents’ yard next to his beloved Theodore.  He had a short but sweet ceremony.  Immediately after it was over, the sky opened up and wept for him, too.

As some may know, Charles had not quite been at 100% for quite some while, but he was very strong and very stable.  In the past week, however, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he began breathing extremely heavily for no apparent reason, eating less, and even once began making extremely disconcerting gurgling noises while I was clipping his nails (which he usually doesn’t mind at all).  I took him to one vet who thought that he either had an infection in his trachea or that he had a piece of food stuck in his trachea, either of which were not allowing him to breathe properly.  She wanted to sedate him and do surgery in order to either treat the infection or remove the blockage.  I was skeptical that he would survive sedation and surgery and decided to seek out a second opinion.

The second vet was unsure in her diagnosis but thought it could be a few different things, all of which were easily treat-able and could be done as preventative measures without ill effects, so we went ahead and tried a few.  He was a good sport about all of it, although he was breathing very heavily again.  That night, Charles actually seemed to be doing far better and his appetite was back.  The next morning, he was playing on his boing and suddenly began sneezing, squeaking, breathing heavily, and holding his wings far away from his body.  He looked as if he could barely perch and as I held out my hand, he shut his eyes and passed away in my palm.  It was all over in a matter of seconds.

That day I had a necropsy performed by the second vet to find out the cause of death.  She found an enlarged kidney mass (tumor) in him.  Charles had cancer.  Unlike most kidney tumors, which usually cause a leg to go limp and are sometimes detected earlier on by inability to perch, Charles’s tumor was pushing against his air sacs and preventing him from being able to breathe properly, which is not a typical symptom.  I never suspected cancer, although the placement of his tumor explained his heavy panting and struggles with breathing.

Thank you so much to everybody for your love and support.  It has been a very difficult week for me and Sabrina.  I never expected him to go so soon or so young.  He was my heart and soul and the light of my life.  I never knew I could love anybody as much as I loved Charles.  Charles, I wish I could have saved you.  I’m sorry I didn’t discover the problem until it was too late.  I hope your last days were not too painful.  I love you so, so much and I hope you are happy and safe with Theodore now.

Rest in Peace, Charles

July 31, 2012 § 28 Comments

Charles Kingsley Wentworth was born on July 10, 2009 and passed away on July 31, 2012.  He was gentle, loving, and sweet, and never hurt a soul.  Even when handled by vets, he never attempted to bite.  He was the best bird in the entire world.

the very first day he came home in October 2009

a young Charles in late 2009

taking a cat nap on one foot

with his best friend, Theodore in 2010

Theodore and Charles

taking his first and only voluntary bath ever

on one of his favorite swings

with Sabrina in 2011

my beautiful Charles

Charles, I love you so, so much and I will miss you everyday.  I know that you are in Heaven now with Theodore.  Rest in peace.

The Budgies’ New Setup, Too

July 17, 2012 § 3 Comments

Well, I was really hoping to get better photos of the budgies’ setup before posting, but I seem to be having very bad luck with my digital camera as of late and cannot find it anywhere, so I guess that’s not happening.  Again, the lighting is very funky in these photos and they are just generally unflattering, but they will simply have to do for now.

Like Lola, the budgies got a brand new cage setup recently but the biggest news is that they have graduated from the solid acrylic divider in between them to stainless steel bars!!  This was a huge and exciting step for them and for me.  I noticed that they’d both seemed much more chilled out and calm recently (perhaps diffusing the essential oils has been helping?  Nothing else has changed!) and decided to pilot the barred divider for a few hours in the afternoon while I was home.  Well, they’ve been doing so great with it that I no longer switch it out when I leave.  They have access to each other through the bars at all times now and I’ve yet to witness a single spat between them.  I’m so happy with them!!  Hopefully in a few weeks or months, we can eliminate the divider all together– that’s the dream, at least.

the entire cage

Until then, however, we’re making do with the bars and with two of everything.  Usually I tend not to do such similar setups for both of them, but everything kind of fell into place this way while I was arranging their cages, so I went with it.  They seem pretty happy so far.

open sesame

Here it is with the door open.  On the door, as you can see, they each have their own adorable skywalk platform perch from Oliver’s Garden.  I just love these perches and can’t say enough good things about them for birds of all sizes.  Lola has a beautiful one with beads in it, and the littles just love perching up front on their skywalks and crawling between the center cut holes!

We’ll take a look at Sabrina’s side first.  She has her lovely welded sleepy swing (a custom item from Grey Feather Toys) up on top, which both she and Charles would be completely lost with that.  You can barely see it but in the back there is a cute little fleece covered platform perch.  Towards the left is a boing, also from GFT, and another snuggly type of swing from Big Beaks Bird Toys.  Perches include a nicely branched sandblasted manzanita one in the back and a cageput one towards the front, and plenty of toys including Kris Porter’s fantastic foraging block, lots of custom toys from Things for Wings, and some great jingly stainless steel ones from GFT too.

Down below, she has a tiny safety pumice perch in purple in the back, two more natural wood perches, both of grapevine wood, some more toys, and some more food bowls.  I’ve since added one more perch towards the back there, pretty low to the ground as well.  So far, her favorite spots are on her platform perch on the door, the cageput perch up top (where she and Charles sit across from each other and chit chat), and the sandblasted manzanita perch towards the back, where she can chew up and destroy a lovely seagrass toy.

On to Charles’s side… he looks quite tubby in the photo!  Up top he has a very similar arrangement.  His custom sleepy swing, a fleece-covered platform perch in the back (this time in blue), a lovely boing with a foraging block, and some great toys.  In the back there is a sandblasted manzanita perch and a manu mineral perch on the right in front of a food bowl.  It’s out of focus, but way in front on the right side there’s also a fluffy swing for him with a natural perch.

And zooming out, there are two great grapevine wood perches in the front on both the left and right sides, and a branchy dragonwood perch towards the bottom.  Like Sabrina, I’ve also added one more perch in the back for him towards the bottom.  He has some great toys– one of his favorite toys of all time is the little leather horse with seagrass legs from Grey Feather Toys, and he also loves his custom toys from Things for Wings.

So far the setup has been working out really well for them– they’re using all of the different levels of their cage and they have a nice variety of surfaces on which to perch.  I’ve also attempted to arrange everything such that no perch or toy is getting soiled regularly, and so far, so good!  It’s always tricky with a more vertical space like theirs is.  Hopefully, one day, they won’t need the divider at all, and I can get a lot more creative with their cage arrangements with the more open space. Until then, this setup will do!

Peace & Calming through Essential Oils

March 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

Yesterday, I diffused a new Young Living essential oil, Peace & Calming, for the first time.  Wow.  What an effect!  Again, almost immediately, all three of my birds this time responded very positively to the new scent wafting through the air.  Charles and Sabrina again had the most dramatic reactions.  Both of them were immediately calmed by the essential oil, and their noisy chatter turned into very pleasant, soft, higher-pitched chirps.  Sabrina actually stopped trying to attack Charles through the acrylic divider in their cage, and the two of them sat across from each other making lovey-dovey eyes.  It was unbelievable!  Lola, too, actually responded to this oil.  Usually in the afternoon when I come home from work, she is hyperactive and anxious to get out of her cage.  But as soon as I started diffusing, she stopped her squeaking and begging, and sat on the platform perch in front of her cage and just soaked it in.  She seemed utterly at peace and actually okay with the fact that I was home and she was in her cage.

In the spirit of disseminating practical advice for using essential oils with birds, I’ll talk about some of the more logistical things.  Since I last wrote about essential oils, I have worked my way up to full thirty minute diffusion sessions once daily with my birds.  Because tomorrow is Saturday, I will probably try more than one diffusion session in a day for the first time.  Conservative estimates generally consider three thirty-minute sessions a day to be safe (again, keeping to a schedule of either three days on, one day off; or five days on, two days off).

I had been diffusing Joy for about one week when I decided to switch.  There was still a small amount of Joy essential oil diluted with water in my diffuser, however, and I could have poured it into a glass bottle for keeping for further use.  This is okay to do so long as the smell of the essential oil is still strong; once the scent degrades, so do the beneficial effects.  Unfortunately, I did not have any receptacles handy and decided to pour out the extra Joy mixture.  I am not sure how much longer the mixture would have lasted, but I wanted to try a new oil.  I suppose I should invest in a few glass jars for the future.  But I poured it out and rinsed out the bowl of my diffuser, and switched to a few drops of Peace & Calming instead.  We will probably continue using this oil for another week or so, or until the mixture is completely diffused (since I am diffusing for longer amounts of time, it might be used up more quickly).

fleece-covered platform perches

Since we’re on the topic of peace and calming, I figured I’d also throw in a photo of these very adorable little fleece-covered platform perches I recently had custom made from a chinchilla shop actually.  They are regular pine wood platform perches with stainless steel hardware, only they have little envelope-style covers made to fit over them so that the birds have a snug and cozy place to rest their feet.  There’s one for each.  I hope they like them!

My First Diffusing Experience

February 24, 2012 § 5 Comments

… was nothing short of surreal.  I can’t even begin to describe how sublime an experience it was.  It was like nothing else. Let’s back up.  Yesterday I received all my wonderful essential oil equipment and couldn’t have been more excited.  I mentioned in this post why I’m interested in diffusing (please read it if you are considering using essential oils; there are many safety precautions to take!), but it was much more theoretical and only discussed the why and the what.  In this post, I aim to address the how: I’ve read so much fantastic information about why essential oils are great and what they can do to help our parrots and ourselves, but I’ve found considerably less concrete advice on what exactly to do when it comes to diffusing.  Which diffuser?  Which oils or blends?  How much?  How long?  How often?  It’s all of these little things that are so vitally important that I hope to address here and in future posts.  That said, I am by no means an expert; quite the contrary!  I hope that anybody reading this will also do their own research and decide what is best for their own flock.

my ultrasonic, water-based diffuser

I’ll start with diffusers.  There are several different kinds, but at the recommendation of Dr. Shelton and other essential oil (EO) users, the best kinds to use with parrots in particular are water-based and not air-based diffusers.  Air-based diffusers release the EOs directly into the air in a more potent concentration, whereas water-based diffusers dilute the EOs, which in my opinion is probably particularly important in the beginning.  When you are just starting out with EOs, it is important to monitor your parrots very carefully for any discomfort or unusual behavior and reactions.  (If you notice any discomfort or unusual behavior or reactions, it is important to stop diffusing immediately and ventilate the area.)  It is also important to make sure that the diffuser you choose does not heat the EOs at all, as this can damage their healing properties and benefits. Young Living actually sells various diffusers on their site, but Dr. Shelton and many other people I consulted in my research highly recommended a different ultrasonic diffuser by Plant Extracts International.  This diffuser is not only water-based but it also has three different volume settings that allow you to control the output (which, again, is so important in the beginning: I started out at low) and it is virtually silent.  It also has colored lights which can be turned off if desired. I wasn’t crazy about the looks of this diffuser because it looks like a spaceship or a crock pot, and there’s one Young Living diffuser in particular that is far more aesthetically pleasing, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by it when it arrived in the mail.  The photo doesn’t really show this quite well, but it’s very compact!  I thought it was going to be rather large (I really was thinking crock pot), but it’s a very small and pleasant size that isn’t imposing in a room by any means. Once you have your diffuser, you need your oils.  Again, as I covered in my last post, you absolutely cannot purchase any old EOs and use them in your diffusers.  Poor quality EOs can actually be deadly to birds, so please be very careful.  In my research, Young Living essential oils are the absolute safest to use around parrots.  But, purchasing them isn’t as easy as it seems.  Young Living works through distributors rather than directly to customers.  Thus, you can either choose to purchase through somebody you know who has an account with Young Living, or you can enroll with Young Living yourself. As much as I would love for you all to purchase through me so that I could make money off of your purchases, that simply wouldn’t be fair.  I strongly recommend that anybody interested in EOs enroll with Young Living as an independent distributor, as I have.  At first I absolutely did not want the responsibility of being a “distributor,” but it’s really far less complicated than it seems.  All that being a distributor means is that you purchase an enrollment kit (which can be as little as $40), and then as long as you spend $50 per year (which trust me, you will), you get wholesale prices on all Young Living products.  Wholesale prices are a whopping 24% off, so you’ll earn your money back very quickly, plus the $40 kit comes with two YLEOs and a $40 coupon for a diffuser (among other things).  To be honest, I’m not sure why anybody wouldn’t become a distributor!  You have no obligation to sell whatsoever (as I’ve chosen not to sell).  To enroll, however, you do need a member referral number.  You can use mine, which is 1304850.  As far as I understand I don’t think I receive anything for referring people but I will obviously disclose if I do.  (I hope I’ve gotten across the message, however, that I’m not in this for any sort of compensation.)

the Young Living essential oils I chose to start out with

So, once you enroll, you must choose which oils to start out with, unless you have a solid four figures to drop on a full set of all of the oils.  I’m going to assume that most of us don’t and have to be a little bit more choosy.  As you can see from the photo above, I purchased the two EOs that came with my $40 enrollment kit: Lavender and Peppermint, along with five other EOs: one single oil, Copaiba; and four blends of oils, Joy, Peace & Calming, Thieves, and Valor.  I’ll briefly outline why I chose each one.

  • Copaiba is an excellent anti-inflammatory.  I’ve read about it used to prevent swelling and pain, and used with tumors.  According to Young Living, it also aids in digestion and supports the body’s response to injury and irritation.
  • Joy, as its name implies, is an uplifting blend that raises mood.  It is said to help shake grief and depression and can also be worn as a perfume.  It has a lovely scent and I’d read so many people raving about it that I simply had to try it.
  • Peace & Calming is another very uplifting blend, but it is more targeted towards promoting relaxation and providing a sense of calm.  It supports emotional well-being and can help to lift tension and anxiety.  It also helps promote restful sleep.  I immediately thought of Sabrina when I read about this blend.  Her feisty spirit could use some peace and calming!
  • Thieves was probably the most highly touted of all of the EOs I read about.  It has some incredible properties, according to some reports, including that it may be antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral, etc.  It also supports the immune system and general good health.  Many people swear by it and use it to clean cages, carpets, dishes, etc.
  • Valor was not one that immediately jumped out at me as something I needed among my flock, but again, I had read so many positive reviews of the effects of valor that I was swayed.  Valor is said to help energy alignment in the body to increase feelings of strength, courage, and self-esteem.  It enhances one’s internal resources and has helped with many nervous birds.

There are many, many other great oils to use.  Two others that come highly touted are orange and lemon, which are actually quite inexpensive, but I didn’t want to go too overboard.  Eventually, depending on how these work out for us, I hope to purchase those, as well as other very popular ones such as Trauma Life, Purification, ImmuPower, PanAway, Geranium, and others. Once you have your oils and you have your diffuser, you can finally get started!  I chose to begin with Joy, simply because I’d heard so many positive reviews of it and I figured all of our moods could use some uplifting after Sabrina’s scary episode earlier this week.  It is very important to start slowly and carefully with EOs.  Once you fill your diffuser with one cup of distilled or purified bottled water and a few drops of your chosen oil, you should absolutely be present in the room and very carefully watching and observing your parrots.  I chose to diffuse Joy at the lowest volume for only five minutes about three to five feet away from my birds. It’s difficult to describe the immediate calming effects Joy had on my budgies.  Anybody that has a pair or more knows what they are like: they are incredibly active, busy, pleasantly noisy little birds.  Sabrina in particular is the feistiest little budgie I have ever seen.  They are always hopping from perch to perch, playing with this toy and that, never sitting still.  As soon as I turned on the diffuser– which they were oddly not afraid of at all (they are typically quite fearful of foreign objects)– they both propped themselves up on their perches and were transfixed by the diffuser.  They became so utterly calm.  Then, the weirdest thing happened: they both started to look up, as if looking at the sky, and just had the absolute most peaceful look on their faces that I have ever seen.  Seriously.  It was beyond bizarre.  They aren’t even that peaceful when they are sleeping.  Sabrina tucked one of her little footsies up and just looked like she was in Heaven.  Charles began preening away.  They just seemed so happy! As soon as I turned it off after our short five minute session, the both of them came to the front of the cage and just stared at me and the diffuser, as if to say, “Why did you turn it off?!”  Lola, who is always a zen bird, didn’t have any immediately noticeable changes, but she seemed pleasantly un-phased by the new, uplifting scent in the room.  I’m wondering if she will respond to other oils differently. Honestly, I didn’t think that diffusing would have such immediate effects, but I have never seen my two little ones act like that. In any case, after diffusing, I had a minor freak out when I realized I had no idea what to do with the left over water and oil mixture left in my diffuser and I called a friend of mine who so graciously answered my panicked questions.  (I was worried that I left it in the diffuser in the same room, it’d give them a sensory overload.)  So for anybody new to this as I am, you can leave the oil mixture in your diffuser and save it for next time.  As long as you can still smell the scent of the oil the next time you diffuse, it will have its beneficial effects.  Eventually, the quality will degrade, at which point you can dispose of any leftover if you have yet to already diffuse it all.  (It is, however, important to clean your diffuser with mild soap and water at least once a month.) From here on out I will continue our brief diffusing sessions, adding five minutes every time, so today will be ten minutes.  As long as all goes well, tomorrow will be fifteen.  From what I’ve read, it is generally considered safe to eventually build up to having three 15-30 minute diffusing sessions for five straight days, then two days off; or three straight days with one day off. That’s all for today, but hopefully I will be able to continue writing about our experiences diffusing with more practical advice for fellow parrot owners.  But again, please be sure to do your own research and to understand all of the benefits and risks involved.  I am by no means an expert and I am simply synthesizing the advice and experience of others, and very much learning as I go.

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