Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Bump in My Begonia


One morning mid-July I stepped out onto our deck and noticed a bump in my potted begonia.



It was solid yet spongey, made of twigs, leaves, little bits of light green moss, and a small scrap of candy wrapper.



At first I thought something was wrong with the plant. 

But as I stepped away, a small nutmeg-colored wren swooped in with bits of dried grass in her beak. For the next few minutes, she and her mate brought in materiel to complete their domed nest.



These sweet little Carolina Wrens had chosen a spot not 15 feet from my back door for their second nesting of the season. Location, location, location. 


Over the next day or two, they worked diligently making their summer home cozy and waterproof. It even had a little porch for them to step on before entry or exit. 


Domed nest complete with front porch, sleeps four to six.

Shortly, the female laid her first egg. The next day, a second egg. And so on until there was a clutch of four.



A clutch of four Carolina Wren eggs

Not more than 48 hours afterwards I caught one of the parents singing to high heaven as if to say "Look at us! Look at us! We've done something fabulous!"

She and he took turns guarding their babies, and after two weeks the little chicks hatched.
Two of the four chicks. Those straight yellow lines? Those are the beaks. 

At first they were nothing more than pulsating fluff but day by day they grew as mother and father brought nurturing food. 

Bringing home the bacon. Or bug. 



Within 10 days the chicks' eyes opened and their parents called out to them from a nearby tree. It was time.


Still mostly fluff but the yellow outlined-beak is apparent.
 Gingerly,  the chicks made their way to the front porch to see what all the fuss was about.


The first two chicks get ready to leave their domed nest.

And within another day, all four had fledged and flown away. 

It didn't take more than a month for the entire process to play out before my watchful eye, but I was transfixed. And flattered. Of all the places in this beautiful countryside to raise their children, this Carolina couple chose close to our home. 

There is nothing left now but the bump in my begonia. And a warm reminder of continued life.
__________________________

Singing it, loud and proud!



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An October Epilogue: 

Now that the begonia is done for the season, I was finally able to extract the wrens' nest from the planter. Such lovely work they did!




Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Inversion of Joy


Nine months gone now.

I remember being pregnant with Carey, all the excitement and nerves as the weeks flowed along. I read books, rented videos, talked with other young moms. There were baby showers, and old women patting my arm at the bank. I got the nursery set up, onesies washed, diapers stacked and rocker set. But all the preparation did not really ready me for the first moment my baby lay in my arms.

Sure, people reminded me about poopie diapers and midnight feedings. But they neglected to mention the joy - the absolute joy - of seeing my infant yawn for the first time. That sweet little mouth and soft round cheek. Because, hands down, there is nothing more adorable in the world than seeing that first precious calm of your baby. And I mean nothing. 

And the first time I made my baby laugh? Oh, sweet heaven! If they could hook me up to a seismograph my emotions would be off the chart. 

And the second and third giggles are just as good! So is the tenth. But then . . .

. . . Gradually, somewhere around the thirty-fourth time it's not quite as wonderful. Still cute. But not the thrill it once was. Over time, the adorability became less and less marvelous, and more and more part of my day in day out life.

In a lot of ways, Carey's death is very similar. Only it's the exact opposite on the seismograph. Instead of exhilarating highs, there are sharp ravines. Instead of rippling giggles, there's a long, long piercing silence. 

It's the inversion of joy.

Now instead of joyful firsts, I face their tragic inversion. The first Christmas without Carey. The first Mother's Day with no phone call from him hoping he beat his brother to the punch. The first Cubs win of the season. The first time I had to refer to him in the past tense. 

It's been nine months now. 

As it was with my baby's first milestones, these tragedies too will fade, the edge will dull and gradually be absorbed into my day in day out life. And next year will be a tiny bit easier. 

At least I hope so. 



Friday, July 21, 2017

Peach Pie in Winter -- but you gotta prep it now!

There's much to love about warm weather and at the top of my "I Heart Summer" list is fresh peach pie. I can justify eating it anytime of day, standing up, sitting down, barefoot, beachbound, or by the barbecue. But when summer goes, so go the peaches, right? Maybe not.

Enjoying warm, sweet peachy goodness in the cold bleak winter is not just doable, it's pretty easy -- and might be as close to time traveling as I'll ever get. 

This process is the next best thing to post-season pie. But you have to prepare it now, in summer, while peaches are in season. Don't wait. The good ones won't last. 

I'm relying on you to use your own favorite peach filling recipe here. If you don't have one, mine's at the bottom. 

Here's the process: 



Step 1. Start with fresh, ripe peaches. They shouldn't be so juicy you'd have to stand over the sink it eat them. But juicy enough to have a good ripened flavor.

Peel and slice the peaches. Place in large bowl.



Step 2. In a separate bowl, combine whatever sweeteners, spices, and thickener you normally use. 


Sprinkle over sliced peaches and stir to coat. Some folks add a little lemon juice here, too. 



Step 3. The peaches will look a little muddled with the sugar, etc. It's normal. 

Step 4. Now comes the big difference. 


Line a pie plate with two sheets of plastic wrap large enough to hang over the edges about 5-6 inches. 


Step 5. Pour the prepared filling into the lined pie plate. Drizzle a little melted butter over filling. 

Fold the plastic wrap over the filling so it's well sealed. 

Freeze for 4 hours or overnight.  


You now have a frozen peach pie filling shaped exactly like your pie plate. (You can see where this is going, right?)







Step 6. Remove the pie filling - still wrapped in plastic -- from the pie plate. Put the pie plate in the dishwasher or back in the cupboard, whichever you think appropriate.


Wrap the filling in aluminum foil and return to freezer. 



The pie filling will stay good in the freezer up to a year. Mine never seem to last more than 6 months because, well, peach pie in winter.


Step 7. When you're ready to bake, prepare your pie crusts as usual. (If I don't have time to make my own, or simply don't feel like it, I unabashedly use Pillsbury unroll-and-fill pie dough.)


Remove peach pie filling from freezer and unwrap it from the foil and plastic.



Place the frozen pie-plate-shaped peach filling into your pie crust. It should fit perfectly.




Step 8. I usually do a lattice top on mine just to be fancy. 

Bake at 425 degrees for 1 hour or so, covering edges with foil when they start to get too brown.











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Jenny's Standard Peach Pie Filling
5 cups peeled, sliced fresh peaches
1.5 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 Tablespoons melted butter, depending on the juiciness of the peaches. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Grief on the Frontier



I had a history professor once ask, "What exactly is the frontier?"

Our class came up with several muddled and vague definitions. But in the end our professor gave us this: the frontier is that thin strip of land running between civilization and wilderness. It is a buffer between what is established and what is yet unknown.

For almost three years I have lived on my own frontier of confusion, anger, exhaustion and grief, a narrow land of unlivable territory spanning between life and death.

The minute I learned Carey’s cancer had spread, I stepped away from all that I knew and out onto this barren frontier, with nothing but wilderness as far as the mind could see. Forced here by the chance ricochet of cancer’s bullet.

And here I have lived on that unrelenting edge with my eye fixed on my family, unable to go back to what I knew, petrified of staying for what it meant. There were days on the frontier where I watched my son cross a brutal terrain of chemo treatments and radiation, braving his way with dignity, calm, and even humor. And then, finally, when all hope of survival here had failed, I watched him travel on without me, further into the wilderness. Into the unknown.

My time on the frontier territory is drawing to a close. I can’t stay here. There’s no point. I need to return to my loved ones, to my new home, to all that is still familiar.  But there will be days when I look back over my shoulder to catch one more glimpse of Carey. To see if, by chance, he passed that way again, even if for a second. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Honest Day


It’s a day like any other day.
I plan this week’s meals, make a grocery list and finish my coffee.
I put on galoshes and drive to the store, 10 miles in the rain. 
I check the eggs, weigh the apples, and decide against salmon. Maybe next week.
It’s a day like any other day. Only sadder.

After I put away the groceries
and drive 14 miles to the gym, I
work up a sweat and wait for the endorphins to kick in.
They don’t always, despite the hype.

I get home and pull the condolence cards out of the mailbox.
Reading through them makes me feel better and
Worse at the same time. 
So I cry.
I cry and wonder how my daughter-in-law is and 
what my grandchildren are doing.

I cry like I’ve done nearly every day for the past
41 days since my son took his last breath,
Since I felt his skin grow cool under my hand,
Since I kissed his forehead for each of his grandparents, his uncles, his aunts,
I cry like I’ve done nearly every day for the past
41 days since I finally let go of hope.

Crying is now part of my daily routine.
I take time for it.
It’s a day like any other day, only sadder.
And dinner still needs to be made.