Monday, October 27, 2008

Blowing The Stink Off

Whether or not you are in a stressful job, transitioning through a life crisis, or just stuck in a rut, sometimes you just have to get out of the house and (as my father says) “blow the stink off.” Otherwise, you can lose track of the days and where you are in life. You wander around the forest, asking everyone you see, “Where are the trees? That is, until someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go birding.” The words I cannot resist, and unless there is a Major Household Event going on, or an illness, the weekend tasks that were planned are jettisoned for a pair of binoculars and a bagel.
My friend Suzanne and I blew the stink off last weekend at the Edwin B. Forsythe Sanctuary, fondly known among birders as Brigantine, or just “Brig.” You can walk, bike, crawl or drive around an eight-mile dirt road where you might see just about anything. Not knowing what’s out there is what makes birding so addictive, and also why it has become so popular over the years. It is a bloodless hunt; the discovery of something we might or might not see; an invitation for the unexpected to enter into our lives.
I have been birding for many years and consider my expertise to be at a sliding scale intermediate level. Like anything else, the more you get out and bird, the better you are at identifying them. I hesitate to say “better birder,” because I have known individuals who are intent only on seeing “their” bird to add to the list, and will stop at nothing, including endangering an individual bird. They may be great at identifying, but they are NOT better birders. (I once walked away from an opportunity to see a Mourning Warbler (which would have been a life bird for me) when it landed in a popular spring birding site in NJ, exhausted and hungry after a long migration, and a crowd of excited birders had circled around to get a look. There was no rest for that bird. I was rewarded later in the day when I was standing alone near a stand of shrubs, resting my foot on a stump, and one popped out in front of me. A gift).
Every year I must review the warblers. It is not uncommon to hear “Yellow-breasted Chat” on my Shuffle Songs Ipod, right after Jason Mraz or just before Mozart. And since I do not live near the coast, there are slim opportunities to develop any expertise with shorebirds in general, especially the peeps, those tiny dove-gray, beige and white balls running to and fro upon the beach.
Nevertheless, I judge each birding trip on its own merit. I am happy to watch a band of crows, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird build a nest, or listen to a White-throated Sparrow sing its “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody....” And what could be better than to do what you love than to do it with a good friend?
Here are some of the birds from our trip to Brig, including a Life Bird for me, a Salt-Marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Suzanne, my birding mentor!
Salt-Marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Life bird of the day! Isn't he handsome?
Immature Black-crowned Night Heron
Immature Little Blue Heron hanging out in the foreground with the big guys, the Great Egrets. (You must hear Suzanne sing: "Egrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention..."
Great Egret. Flying away, always flying away.
Herring gull hanging in the wind.
Arrival of the Snow geese!
This Common Tern was trying to snag a fisherman's catch!

Wanna go birding?

For more great shots of Brigantine, go to Behind the Bins.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ghost It Forward

I am delighted to be tagged by Arleen of Grey Horse Matters for “Ghost It Forward,” which is a game of sorts involving stories of ghosts or unexplained phenomena.
I’ve been ruminating about what to write about. My friend, Rita, comes to mind. I am not sure this story belongs in a Halloween blog, but suddenly I hear the lilt of Irish laughter and remember Halloween was her favorite day. So, al-righty, then, Rita; we will co-write this blog post. I’ll shove over to share the keyboard....
It seems odd to me now to ask a favor of a dying woman. At the time, it seemed not only normal, but right. Besides, she said yes. I asked Rita, if after she... well...died, if she could, would she mind terribly, if it wasn’t too inconvenient...let me know somehow if she was okay. A sign I would recognize, I added.
I asked her during the afternoon of my last visit. She was dying by inches and had asked me to come.
The conversation was like many others before. We often discussed matters of faith, comparing her devout Catholicism to my randy spirituality. Rita loved her church even while acknowledging its flaws, which meant she quickly forgave the young priest who recently came to see her but who refused to talk about death and dying. So we did instead, in the same way we talked about everything else.
“So, Rita,” I asked. “What do you think it will be like?”
“Well,” she smiled at what had been a frequent topic in our conversations; and then gave our standard answer:
“How the hell am I supposed to know?”
We laughed. Always, we laughed.
“I wonder if it really is like a veil,” I said, “Where you will be able to see us but we can’t see you. Just a simple transparent veil that if we only had the capability, like John Edward, we would be able to understand and not be afraid. We could even look forward to it. Sort of.”
Rita gazed at the ceiling.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my mother and father and my brother who passed away years ago. And Noreen. Especially Noreen.”
Noreen was a daughter, a twin, who had been been killed in an automobile accident ten years before.
Rita continued. “I think heaven will be a place where I will be able to help people in very special ways. Ways that is not possible for me to do now, here.”
So very Rita.
She died four days later.
Fast forward three months. Rita’s husband,Ed, called me at work to tell me of a conversation he and his grown children had had with a highly regarded channeler. He apologized for what might be perceived as a bizarre story but I encouraged him to go on, my breath catching at his every word.
The channeler was amazing, he said. She connected with Rita almost immediately, and related stories and incidents about their family impossible for the channeler to know otherwise. Ed and his children were there almost two hours, and at the end of the session, the channeler sat straight up and said:
“Before you go, Rita wants you to deliver a message to someone. She has a message for someone named Diane.”
Ed and his children looked at each other. There was no one in the family or the neighborhood or among their close friends with that name. There must be some mistake.
The channeler hesitated, inwardly listening. “Yes, there is,” she said. “Rita is very emphatic about this. There is someone named Diane she was very close to.”
The family still disagreed, and the channeler kept going back and forth, insisting that Rita would not let them leave without promising to deliver a message to this Diane person. Suddenly, one of them remembered Rita had a friend at the place she once worked. The friend’s name was Diane. Is that who it was?
The channeler answered instantly. YES!
“Here is the message”:
“I promised to let you know if I was okay. YES, I am much more than okay. I am beyond more joy than you can imagine... I am OKAY!”
November 1st, the day after Halloween, is traditionally the Day of the Dead. Perhaps we should change it to the Day of the Living.
I tag Murmuring Trees, one of my favorite blogs of Bevson’s exquisite photographs and unusual life experiences, complete with unusual and delicious recipes of international cuisines.
I also tag Piece of Truth, and would love to read any of Kim’s stories. Kim is a brilliant and prolific writer, and we connect on a special level with a common understanding of what it means to miss the world of horse ownership.
My third tag goes to Musings on Nature, another favorite bog where I relish Wendy's sensitive observations on nature and the world around her. Be sure to read today's entry about the battle between a spider and a wasp. You'll have to read it to see who won!
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"A Planet of Pain..." NY Times Article by N. West Moss

They say our most intimate feelings are also the most universal. The secrets we harbor for fear of anyone discovering our horror or our shame turn out to be among humanity’s most common experiences, which is why the keeping of secrets can cause us to isolate. We set ourselves apart by believing we are the only ones with feelings of unexplained sadness. Anxiety and meltdowns in the darkness of our inner rooms become part of our daily lives.

It seems like such a paradox, but vulnerability can be our greatest strength. When I confess an inner struggle to a trusted friend, I often learn they too have bleeding skeletons in their closets. When we open the door to these monsters, they diminish enough to yank out and deal with. Sometimes, they even vanish altogether when we realize we are not alone. The light of knowledge is freedom, yet it takes courage; sometimes courage we did not even know we had.

I invite you to read a personal account in today's New York Times written by a friend, N. West Moss, who describes her third miscarriage in words that will sweep you off your feet. You do not need to be in the shoes of someone who suffered such a loss; indeed, all women are connected at the nucleus of life, and we all mourn and support those who grapple with the tragedy of a loved one lost.

Thank you, West, for having the guts to share your darkest hour. By writing this, you are holding a lantern out for the rest of us to find our way home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What To Do With Your Feet of Clay?

Not to sound too depressing, but my husband and I have been discussing various life choices and decisions. Among them: What to do with our feet of clay?

What started the conversation was a very expensive and inappropriate life insurance policy someone talked Ken into long before we ever met. What was once a win-win slowly became a lose-lose. We had to ask ourselves why we would want to continue with this or cut our losses and move on.

As kids, we learned that life insurance policies were for when you died. Funerals are expensive. If there are children and mortgages and debt, life insurance would sweep those financial worries away. But we do not have children; it’s just us and the cats. And there are many choices for how you want to dispose of your body after you’re done with it. prepare for my own choices, when I visited my friend in Burdette NY last weekend, we visited Greensprings Natural Cemetery.

I wanted to see this natural burial site and walk the mowed trails through the meadows, stroll over the hills where the pointed firs stood sentinel to the souls planted at their feet. Patches of milkweed cotton sprinkled the path. Graceful grasses and the spent reeds of goldenrod waved in the sun. The fields lacked the jagged edges of tombstones ticking off the dead but in their places grew a stand of apple trees where a Carolina wren trilled in the branches.
I laid down on the cut grass, half in joke and half curious to see what it would feel like to be lying face up in the earth with nothing but sun and sky and trees and grass and birds and probably an occasional deer for company. A Turkey Vulture balanced its way over the blue vault of the sky and peered down....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friends and Co-Workers

They say it’s important to keep strong boundaries between your work and personal lives, but occasionally you meet people who can hold both ends. Rare, but it happens. This past weekend, two co-workers-now-friends and I were finally able to puzzle our schedules together to visit the one who retired last year and relocated to the Finger Lake Region in New York, to both be closer to her son and live in alignment with her beliefs in education and stewardship of the earth. It’s a life I also long for, though my own retirement is a long way off. Nevertheless, I have my eye on the towns around Ithaca--you never know.

Autumn in the northeast--you just can’t miss taking breathtaking photos--here are a few, in case you don’t have a window....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Case of Mistaken Identity

May 2008: My parsley plants are huge this year, I told Ken, my husband. The leaves of the flat leaf variety, my favorite, are enormous. It must be some kind of hybrid that makes them so big.
July 2008: I slid some parsley into my BLT tonight, Ken. The leaves were tough but it tasted okay. Don’t think I’ll do it again though. I’ll mince them up in the fall. They will probably be better in soups and stews and as a garnish for fish. That hybrid isn’t so great, goes to show you that bigger is not always better.
Saturday, October 4: Time to cut down the basil, thyme and parsley to mince them into piles to be frozen for winter dishes. There is nothing like fresh herbs originally from the garden, pulled from the freezer and added to the warm aroma of roast chicken or a spicy goulash. But hey, these parsley plants are monsters. The leaves are bigger than ever. The stems are more like stalks. I cannot even pinch them with my fingers but must use heavy scissors instead.
Sunday afternoon, October 5: Time to pluck the parsley leaves from their heavy stalk-stems and mince them into bags. Pillows of leaves overflow the bowl. I pull out the wooden board reserved for vegetables and sharpen the heavy knife. Slice through lush bunches of green, and CHOP, CHOP, CHOP, like the TV chefs. The crisp leaves burst with the moist aroma of....of...something that is not parsley.
What is going on here? I remember picking up the squishy black tray at the nursery last May, happy to find the flat leaf parsley label that identified the tender shoots springing up from their rectangles of soil. I planted them in the sun, near the tomato plants and basil, fed them compost, watered them when it was dry, watched the little teeny, tiny, baby plants grow into adulthood.
I leaned into the pile of partially chopped leaves, trying to talk myself into a parsley kind of mood. Then chopped some more.
Pushed my nose into the moist leaves and sniffed again. Hells bells, this ain’t parsley. It’s not the clever sharpness of cilantro nor basil’s licorice sweetness. I wanted to deny it. I did not want to admit that Ken and I took care of a summer garden thinking we had all this great flat-leaf parsley, when what we really had was a bunch of...skinny celery.
Next year, I’ll plant from SEEDS.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

That Time of Year

It's getting to be that time of year when a young buck's heart turns Be careful driving.

If You Can't Find the Bird, Eat Instead

A Northern Wheatear, a robin-sized bird from northern Alaska, was reported to be bouncing among the horse paddocks just outside of Paterson NJ, not far from home, so Bevson and I had to sacrifice Saturday cleaning chores to rush over and find it. Friday evening’s email update had birders still on its trail at 6:30pm. Based upon historical sightings of this species, we thought the chances were pretty good this one would stick around a few days.
Once we arrived at Garret Mountain, we realized the lack of people walking around with binoculars slung around their necks was the first sign that the bird was gone. It could be that it was hidden away somewhere, protected from the morning chill and the onset of an early fall drizzle. But remember, this bird is from NORTHERN ALASKA; this chill is a summer day at the beach. We searched among the paddocks and yards, watched a couple of horses playing “halter” over the fence, and then returned to the car.
On the drive home, our thoughts turned to food, which turned into a trip to the Ringwood Farmer’s Market, which then veered to the supermarket and eventually became my version of goulash. This recipe is my version of the stew made by a woman whose family I lived with in Austria many years ago. It’s perfect for the chilly, damp days of fall and creates wonderful aromas through the house. Try it with a nice, chewy pumpernickel.

2.5 lbs chuck for stew
1/2 cup flour
3 Tblsp paprika
1 large onion, chopped
1 cups (1 can beef broth)
3 Tblsp caraway seeds (or to taste)
1 bottle dark ale (I use Guiness stout)
1 lb sauerkraut
1 can tomato paste
2 or 3 each chopped carrots, celery, potatoes (amount to taste)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)

On a plate or sheet of waxed paper, mix paprika with flour.
Cut meat into bite-sized pieces & coat in flour.
In large pot, heat 2 Tblsp olive oil. Brown meat well.
Remove meat and put in bowl.
Saute onion, then put meat back in pot. Throw in rest of ingredients and simmer 2 hours.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Skywatch Friday-Fly Away

Spotted this guy on the steeple of a church in the town where I work, but only had the "little" camera with me. When I pulled it out of my purse and turned it in, he launched. I love his big sky. He owns it all.
Click on Skywatch for more beautiful and creative photos!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Eileen Ivers and Celtic Music

I love Celtic music! And I am now Eileen Ivers’, “Nine Time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion” newest fan.
This concert was the latest in our local library’s New Legacy concerts that they have hosted for the past seven years. Library volunteers shove book shelves aside and set up rows of chairs in the “Young Adult” section so we are already sitting in the bright energy of youth when the show begins. Tickets are first-come, first-served but we purchased ours over a month ago. It’s a small venue and popular shows sell out quickly.
There was a mixed crowd of children, adults and seniors greeting each other, as they do still in small New Jersey towns. Finally, after introductions and local announcements, the band strode onstage and immediately swept us off the continent of age and into the music that leaves no one behind.
My social persona is usually one of quiet reserve. I am the smiling wallflower at parties, the one who prefers to wash dishes in the kitchen for the hostess than be the target of attention or shallow conversation. But somewhere among the sedate style of my heritage, an Irish eye is smilin’. And the one Irish gene that was passed down to me was the one with the fiddle in it.
There is something about Celtic music that splits my joy wide open, something that makes me believe in green grass and dreams coming true. I am kin to the sad ballads and am moved by memories not my own. This music makes me want to explode right out of my skin. I pound my knees, clap my hands over my head, jump up and down with the drums, I sing, and I follow the fiddle’s screaming heartbeat wherever it takes me.
The joy of music is the best cure for a cold I know of!
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