The Divining Wand

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Jenny Gardiner and Winging It

March 15, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

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When Jenny Gardiner debuted with her novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, she wrote a funny yet heartfelt story of being married and staying in love for the long haul. Now tomorrow — March 16, 2010 — with the release of her second book,Winging It: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me, the author proves how committed she is to long hauls in any relationship.

In last week’s guest post, How Jenny Gardiner Copes with Parrot-hood, it was explained that Graycie had been a Christmas gift that would keep on giving…entertaining moments in exchange for a great deal of patient care:

“Graycie, a too-smart-for-our-own-good African Gray parrot, came to our family from the wild, a Christmas gift from a relative living in Zaire 20 years ago. Graycie arrived on our doorstep–with a temporary stop in parrot prison (quarantine)–in good health but bad temperament. The first few years were arduous, as she was ferocious, snapping and growling at us when we got near. Who could blame her? Poor thing was chopped down from a tree and separated from her parents, stuffed into a crate with a hundred other terrified baby birds, and left to survive with little food or water.

“Had I anything to say in the matter, I would have nixed owning a contraband bird from the get-go (back then most parrots ended up in the U.S. this way; shortly thereafter such means of parrot acquisition were banned). Nevertheless, I was determined to make the best of the situation, despite the fact that she arrived on the heels of the birth of our first child. I was having enough trouble dealing with the demands of a small human who needed my attention all day and night, so was ill-prepared to welcome a bird into the home who expected that and then some.”

As one might imagine, after almost twenty years of living with a wild gray parrot, there are stories to tell. Some tales have become legendary and shared with family and friends, while still others have been written about in Jenny’s local newspaper column. And, since this “pet” has become the focus of everyone’s interest, the writer thought it would be fun to do a book about Graycie.

In fact Jenny even admits to a “funny” backstory of where and why she began the writing:

“YEARS ago, I was sitting in a bat mitzvah, and becoming really antsy as a captive audience to a language I couldn’t remotely understand. So while sitting there for 3-1/2 arduous hours (it was a high holiday so they had an extra long service with it), I pulled out a notebook and pen and HANDWROTE four chapters of what would eventually become this book…”

And that book, Winging It, is described in this synopsis:

A hilarious and poignant cautionary tale about two very different types of creatures, thrown together by fate, who learn to make the best of a challenging situation — feather by feather.

Like many new bird owners, Jenny and Scott Gardiner hoped for a smart, talkative, friendly companion. Instead, as they took on the unexpected task of raising a curmudgeonly wild African gray parrot and a newborn, they learned an important lesson: parrothood is way harder than parenthood.

A gift from Scott’s brother who was living in Zaire, Graycie arrived scrawny, pissed-off, and missing a lot of her feathers — definitely not the Polly-wants-a-cracker type the Gardiners anticipated. Every day became a constant game of chicken with a bird that would do anything to ruffle their feathers. The old adage about not biting the hand that feeds you — literally — never applied to Graycie.

But Jenny and Scott learned to adapt as the family grew to three children, a menagerie of dogs and cats, and, of course, Graycie. In this laugh-out-loud funny and touching memoir, Jenny vividly shares the many hazards of parrot ownership, from the endless avian latrine duty and the joyful day the bird learned to mimic the sound of the smoke detector, to the multiple ways a beak can pierce human flesh. Graycie is a court jester, a karaoke partner, an unusual audio record of their family history, and, at times, a nemesis. But most of all, she has taught the family volumes about tolerance, going with the flow, and realizing that you can no sooner make your child fit into a mold than you can turn a wild parrot into a docile house pet. Winging It is an utterly engrossing reminder of the importance of patience, loyalty, and humor when it comes to dealing with even the most unpleasant members of the family.

*****

Now read an excerpt, Chapter 1.

Then watch and listen to the author discuss her memoir:

And how about some words from Graycie herself. WARNING: For those with dogs, cats, or small children around, it would be wise to turn down your volume before watching the video, Cats Away, Graycie Will Sneeze.

Sounds a bit like a jungle in the Gardiner household, doesn’t it? And there may be moments while reading the book when you shake your head, thinking “How in the world do they stand this?” However no pet (or human) is perfect even if domesticated and Graycie is not, BUT she is part of a family.

Winging It introduces the reader to that family as Jenny’s writing opens the door to her home. It’s warm, loving, and chaotic thanks to children, dogs, a cat, and Graycie. Still, within a few chapters, it turns into a natural way of life — one filled with respect, understanding, patience and good humor.

Jenny will be the first to tell you that her book is a cautionary tale. Library Journal agrees, stating: “Gardiner’s memoir proves that the hope of having a model pet (or child) is usually not realistic. It will speak to animal lovers and offer fair warning to anyone considering the 40-year-plus commitment of owning a parrot.” And, given that Easter is fast approaching, please think twice about those “cute” chicks, ducks, and bunnies as gifts.

Gift Graycie was fortunate that her recipients had huge hearts as well as a sense of adventure. For living with this wild parrot has been (and will likely continue to be) one adventure after another. And that translates into TRUTH: Winging It: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me is heartwarming, eye-opening, and refreshingly informative. Allow this book to fly into your hands without concern for Graycie’s sharp beak and claws. Jenny has her “vengeful” bird under control!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Jenny Gardiner’s memoir, Winging it, in a random drawing of all comments left on this post. The deadline is Wednesday, March 17th at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post.

8 Comments to “Jenny Gardiner and Winging It


  1. This is, as always!, a great post. As a writer trying to cram too much into the short days, I am reminded that I need to be prepared to write whenever and wherever. And that I shouldn’t be so snobby about only wanting to write on my computer.

    Four chapters!!!!

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  2. Good morning Larramie! Thanks so much for hosting me here! And thank you, Rebecca for stopping by–it is good advice to be prepared to write whatever comes your way…you just never know!

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  3. cathy carper says:

    This book sounds great, not to mention Jenny’s sense of humor. Enjoyed reading this… thanks!

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  4. I played the Cat’s Away video and got some very strange looks from my dog! Sounds like a great book. I tried to convince my parents to get me a Quaker parrot when I was a teenager. Probably a good idea that they didn’t! Sounds like they can be a very challenging pet.

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  5. thanks for stopping by. Thanks Cathy! And Janel, definitely talk to me before indulging in a pet parrot LOL.

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  6. Jean Sagarese says:

    Greetings from NJ my African Grey sends best regards to Graycie, his name is Barney and I am his 3rd owner – he loves to yowl like a cat in heat and we have had cats line up at the back porch

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  7. This is really interesting. What an adventure.

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  8. I can definitely relate to the busy, hectic household, but I don’t know if I have what it takes to have a bird! My four year old is loud enough 🙂

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