The Story of Pookie: The Importance of Being Needed

When my husband was growing up, his family had a series of songbirds, canaries and parakeets, each of whom was named Pookie. So it seemed only natural that the green-and-yellow parakeet we acquired would be dubbed Pookie as well.

Pookie didn’t strike me as a very exciting pet. He didn’t sing, he didn’t talk, he didn’t do much of anything. That is, except when my mother-in-law, Bubbie, would visit. Having nurtured the entire Pookie dynasty, Bubbie knew ways of talking to birds that were foreign to me. Her voice assumed a certain inflection, she would give Pookie her undivided attention, and five minutes later, he was singing and chirping away.

parakeets  The Story of Pookie: The Importance of Being Needed parakeets“Why don’t you keep Pookie?” we asked.

“I don’t want a bird,” she replied. “Too much trouble, too much responsibility. No way.”

One day, our cat made a leap for Pookie’s cage. Although the bird miraculously escaped, its near-fatal adventure inspired us. We would be visiting friends, we told Bubbie. Could she keep Pookie overnight until we returned and could rehang the cage?

Bubbie sensed a plot, but reluctantly agreed. “Okay,” she said, “but pick him up the second you get home.” We delivered the bird to her apartment. She was so busy talking to Pookie, she didn’t notice when we left. We called the next morning to schedule the pick up. “Let’s negotiate,” she said. “Pookie stays here.”

So began the friendship of Pookie and Bubbie. Certainly, the relationship was good for Pookie; he chirped and sang constantly, played with toys and occasionally even talked. But it was clear that Pookie gave more than he received. According to my mother-in-law, he was “the smartest bird” that ever lived. He made her laugh. He provided company. He was a friend, and perhaps most important, Pookie needed her.

Like many people of her generation, my mother-in-law had a hard life. She began working as a young girl and cared for brothers and sisters. As a married woman, she and her husband operated a small restaurant and lived above it in a tiny apartment in which they raised their family and several generations of Pookies. A good listener, Bubbie’s counsel was sought by friends and family. She was needed; she played a vital role in many lives.

At 85, however, my mother-in-law was a widow and no longer worked. Her children and grandchildren were grown and self-sufficient. Few people depended on her for nurturing or advice. Instead, she depended on others. Pookie made a difference in her life. Each morning, she got up to change Pookie’s  water, replenish his food, adjust his toys, and of course, talk to him. Twice monthly, she went to Petco to buy supplies. She cleaned Pookie’s cage. In short, Pookie depended on Bubbie.

Then, Bubbie fell and broke her hip. Someone had to care for Pookie until Bubbie returned from rehab. Our daughter bravely volunteered. Two days later, she called and said, “Pookie is lying at the bottom of the cage with his feet in the air.” There was a collective groan. Caring for Pookie was motivation for Bubbie to get well. His death would make her sad, and we were certain she would refuse to get another bird.

I am the first to admit that I am not a bird person. To me, a bird is a bird. So I took the still-warm Pookie in his crate and headed to our local Petco. The manager saw me, crate and dead bird in hand, and assumed I was there to complain. “You don’t understand,” I explained, and told him the whole saga: how important Pookie was to Bubbie, how she had broken her hip and the bird had died, how caring for Pookie was the reason Bubbie needed to get well, and how we needed a bird that looked just like Pookie.

We searched the parakeet cage, which housed dozens of birds, but none of them looked remotely like Pookie. “How much time do we have before she gets out of rehab?” asked the manager. “About a month,” I said. “I have seven stores in my territory,” he continued. “I will check every one for a parakeet that looks like Pookie.” Using his cell phone to capture Pookie’s coloring, he gave me his phone number, work schedule and email address. I left the store astonished, grateful and committed to shopping at Petco for the rest of my life.

I called the manager two weeks later. He had been to four stores with no luck. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “I still have three stores to go.” Meanwhile, Bubbie was making great progress in rehab.    “I saw Pookie the other day,” my son told his grandmother. “He misses you terribly and is not like himself. In fact, he’s like a whole new bird.”

A month after entering rehab, with almost no advance warning, Bubbie was discharged. Panicked, I called Petco and asked for the manager. “He’s on vacation for two weeks,” I was informed. “Oh no,” I groaned. “He was getting me a bird.” “Are you looking for Pookie Novack?” the clerk asked. I rushed to the store. In the back was a very thin, very quiet, but definitely Pookie-ish parakeet. “Thank you God,” I said, and the new Pookie and I went home.

The next day, Bubbie returned to her apartment. Leaning on her walker, she smiled as she settled into her recliner. She looked at her small sitting room, her family pictures, and at her bird. “Pookie,” she said, “I am so glad to see you.”  We had passed the first test!

We called the next day. “How is Pookie?” we asked. “He’s a little thin,” she replied. “He must have been traumatized by the change. But he’s coming around. He hasn’t stopped singing.”

As the months passed, it became clear we had pulled off the switch of the century. We were grateful to everyone who helped in our conspiracy of love, but especially to the employees of Petco, who understood the power of pets in the lives of older adults and the importance of being needed.

My mother-in-law read the New York Times Book Review, did crossword puzzles and was addicted to her computer. Not too much got past her. “Do you think she doesn’t know it’s a different bird?” friends asked. “If she does,” I replied, “she doesn’t care; she is busy loving this bird.”

“It’s the weirdest thing,” Bubbie said one day. “Pookie plays with toys he never played with before.”  No doubt about it; Pookie was one happy bird.

Bubbie passed away five years ago, in her sleep, with a crossword puzzle on her lap. We found Pookie a new home, but he died within a few days. We think he is sitting on Bubbie’s shoulder.


Happy Holidays from your friends at Moving Solutions!


Giving Home for the Holidays

iStock_000004921287Small house gift  Giving Home for the Holidays iStock 000004921287Small house gift


This holiday season, we’re not going home, we’re giving home — to patients and families who come to the area for specialized medical care. It’s through an organization called Hosts for Hospitals, and if you have extra bedrooms, you can give home, too.

Hosts for Hospitals is a non-profit organization that provides free lodging to patients and families who come to the Philadelphia area for specialized medical care. It’s one of a handful of services like this around the country, but more are growing.

So what’s it like to be a guest host? We’ve been doing it for about 10 years now. We provide a clean bedroom and bath, access to a refrigerator and a shelf in our pantry so guests can cook or keep snacks. Guests do their own cooking and laundry. We provide a roof over their heads, and a place they can call home while they are away from their own home. If they weren’t staying with us, most guests would need to stay in hotels or travel 3-6 hours per day by car. For some, hotel bills would be tens of thousands of dollars.

When we first started as hosts, I got a pretty notebook and left it in the guest room so guests could write a message if they wanted to. We keep cards we’ve received from guests too, and over the years it has become a sweet reminder of strangers who became friends.

You can tell that pets are a big part of our family since most of the cards and the entries in the book start with, “Dear Margit, Bill, Poppy, Stryder, Tiger, Peabody and Ernie.” Pets are one of the things that Hosts for Hospitals screens for when they match hosts and guests; we cannot host anyone with pet allergies.

What are our guests like? Well, they are all different. Some are patients, and some are family members. Our youngest guest, 8, stayed with us (with his mom) for four months as he waited for serious spinal surgery at Shriners Hospital. Our oldest guest was 75. Bob was our handiest guest. He was here to receive Proton Beam Therapy at Penn and was home most of the day, so he kept looking for repair jobs to do around the house. He fixed a hole in our fence, took down a small dead tree and finished a quarter round project my husband had started. He took our greyhounds on so many walks they were exhausted. It was great!

Some guests, like Bob, are at the house much of the day. Others spend most of the day at the hospital. All of them, if they are home at 7 pm, watch Jeopardy. My husband makes it clear on the first day that from 7 till 9 he owns the remote, but they have access to our high speed Internet service.

Guests come for various conditions, all serious or unique enough to require specialized care not offered nearby, but not necessarily life threatening. We spend a lot of time laughing with guests. But some conditions are serious. We’ve had guests receive grim prognoses while they were staying with us, and a father who stayed with us while his 21 year old daughter waited for a heart-lung transplant. He left a note one morning, “Thank you for allowing me to stay at your home. It made a difficult time much easier. However, I will not be coming back. Michelle is not expected to live past this morning.”

Hosting is not for everyone, but for us, it has been easy and incredibly rewarding. Our guests make us realize how lucky we are, not just to be healthy, but to be able to offer something they so value, that is so easy for us to give.

The Healthcare Hospitality Network (HHN) is a professional association of over 200 unique non-profit organizations that provide lodging and support to patients and families who are receiving medical care far from home. HHN has a toll-free referral line and searchable database with information about programs throughout the country. HHN also helps communities and organizations develop hospitality lodging programs, and help existing members become more effective at serving families.

Perhaps my perspective about Hospitality Housing is unique. As a Senior Move Manager, my career is spent in homes with mostly empty bedrooms.  I can’t help but think about how well those rooms could be put to use giving home.

Happy holidays from Moving Solutions.

Passing the Passover Plate

It happens in every family — a rite of passage that marks a new life stage — when you give up, or take over, hosting family holiday dinners. As I take out our Seder plate and Passover dishes, I think back to when I assumed this function for our family, and wonder when my children will assume it for me.

passover tablecloth  Passing the Passover Plate passover tablecloth

If you’re lucky, these role changes occur over time. You offer to make the chicken soup or brisket, you arrive early to help set up or stay late to help clean. And then one day, you are hosting the holiday meal, and your parents and children are helping you. These are happy transitions, that you make of your own will and where you control the timing. But sometimes, change is thrust upon you, because someone passes away or is ill. These changes are no less natural, but both metaphorically and physically, there is an empty place at the table.

There seems to be no set age when you “become the grown up.” Some people host holiday meals well into their eighties; others shift the responsibility in their fifties, sixties or seventies. I’m not sure how families decide when to change their routine and custom.

Passover is unique, perhaps, because you can host the holiday meal, and a parent can lead the Seder or formal retelling of the departure from Egypt. You can assume the physical work, and an older family member can still have the role of patriarch or matriarch. Perhaps every religion has holidays and rituals that pass this same way from one generation to another.

My husband and I are hosting Passover this year, but already my kids have started the Passover passage. My daughter is arriving the night before to help set up and prepare her famous matzo-spinach lasagna. My older son is helping his dad make chicken soup, and my younger son will help arrange our furniture to accommodate a crowd of 20. We plan to hold Seder at our house for many years to come, but we are grateful for the help, and thankful that our kids are interested in preserving the tradition.

As with all holiday traditions, initiating change is hard. When we once suggested moving away from brisket, there was widespread family rebellion. Every departure from a favorite dish, it seems, is suspect or outright vetoed in advance.  It seems that dishes served year after year become comfort foods that define the holiday. And in part, I like this. For decades, a friend’s mother prepared a broccoli-corn casserole for Thanksgiving. Although her mom died five years ago, my friend and her dad still prepare the same broccoli-corn casserole together every year. In doing so, they honor her mother’s memory, and more important in my mind, celebrate the relationship she has with her dad.

I heard today about a new custom, a lovely one, and although I am not sure it is right for us, it may be for others. Each year, everyone who attends this Seder signs their name on the tablecloth. My friend then embroiders the names, and the next year, the same tablecloth is used and that year’s names are added. They are starting their third year of this tradition, and already her children have said that this tablecloth is one of the things they most want when they “grow up.”

Personally, I like incorporating new traditions in with the old. It makes holidays into living things that evolve and change over time. Passing the baton to the next generation on Passover is like that too. It is as if, through change, we keep things the same.

So what about you? When did you assume the role of host for holiday meals in your family? What new traditions have become part of your holidays?

The Rightsized Wreath

The origin of the wreath comes from the pre-Christian era when people gathered wreaths of evergreen during cold winter months as a sign of hope in the coming spring and renewed light. The concept of recycling is to turn used materials (waste) into new products – in a sense, a rebirth. So it makes sense to marry these two concepts as a celebration of hope and sustainability.

Below are my favorite examples of wreaths made from recycled or everyday household items. To make something so special out of things that are so ordinary is truly glorious. Which is your favorite?

The Rightsized Wreath tools wreath







made from old tools


The Rightsized Wreath cork wreath







made from wine corks


The Rightsized Wreath paper roll wreath







made from paper towel rolls


The Rightsized Wreath sweater wreath







made from old sweaters


The Rightsized Wreath ties wreath







made from neck ties


The Rightsized Wreath photos wreath







made from old photos


The Rightsized Wreath paper wreath







made from book pages


The Rightsized Wreath paint brush wreath







made from paint brushes