A field guide to the birds

Roadside Silhouettes

The image above shows the inside cover of a fifty-five-year-old copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds. One of the advantages of helping sort the thousands of books donated to our library’s sales is that one may find a treasure like this… for $1.

Speaking of birds, and treasures… The female rose-breasted grosbeak was at the feeder this morning — as fine a celebration of my daughters’ return as any.

Much of the girls’ first two days home involved unpacking their belongings and eating, in their words, “good food.” My younger daughter also joined me in the yard work Friday and Monday. We’ve planted and / or hung a number of bird- and butterfly-attracting plants this year and set up a new wasp-resistant hummingbird feeder. The male ruby-throated hummingbird has already put in a brief appearance, and all the usual suspects — robins, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, mourning doves, house finches, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and more — join us regularly. Once the orioles and indigo buntings stop by, it can most certainly be called May in the forever home.

(When my daughters and I sit in companionable silence and watch the birds, I am reminded of the many hours over many years we have spent observing backyard visitors. How is it possible that they are college seniors already? Time bends and folds.)

In other news… Over the weekend, we headed into Chicago for the Court Theatre’s production of Harvey. Timothy Edward Kane’s turn as Elwood Dowd is reason enough to see the play. Recommended.

By the numbers

The 2.75-mile trail along which we logged five geocaches.

Number of weeks, more or less, since my last post.

Number of days in our daughters’ spring break, during which they studied, researched, and recharged at home.

Number of geocaches we logged during their break. What a delight to share this new pursuit with them!

Number of trips into Chicago during spring break: one for the Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin (review here) and one for Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (review here).

Number of hours I will have worked (early voting and Election Day) for the Consolidated Primary and the Consolidated Election. The turnout was much larger in October and November, which is both normal (Presidential Election) and puzzling (when you consider that local elections have an immediate impact on a voter’s life).

Number of weeks I’ve completed in my latest MOOC. (Three to go.) This one concerns reading in the digital age and has sent me to the shelves for my copies of The Shallows (Nicholas Carr) and The Gutenberg Elegies (Sven Birkerts).

Number of books I’ve already read this year. This is shaping up to be the first “Big (Reading) Year” I’ve posted since adopting a “reading slowly” approach. I haven’t moved away from that; rather, I simply have even more time to read. Book notes to follow.

Boxing with Death

This entry, which first appeared on my previous site five months after my son died, is posted here at the request of a former reader. There are no words, but please know that you have been in my thoughts.

Because he died the weekend before Thanksgiving, we were pummeled by the first of “the firsts” (i.e., the first Thanksgiving without him, the first Christmas without him, the first trip to the Brookfield Zoo without him, etc.) in quick succession — One! Two! Three! Left! Right! Another left! — before we had even risen to our knees from the near-knockout punch delivered by three grim-faced Marines at 5:10 on a gray Monday morning.

Know this: No referee can or will intercede. So raise the gloves; absorb the blows. Fall to the mat; rise again.

We’ve endured five months of firsts now, and we’re still standing. Sometimes we stagger. Sometimes we grip the ropes. But sometimes we deliver our own punches, too. One! Two! Three! Left! Right! Another left! It seems that humor — dark, silly, ribald, sophisticated, Seuss-inspired, or Shakespearean — is our best offense. Laughter has certainly prevented us from remaining down for the count.

It’s too early to say, I suppose, but our sense of humor may, in fact, cause a majority draw in this boxing match between Death and our family. Death has certainly beaten us up, make no mistake. But it won’t beat us. And if I’m right about humor’s role in our ability to stay on our feet during this fight, then it’s a damned shame that laughter, sardonic or otherwise, isn’t more thoroughly endorsed by those involved in the death-ritual business (e.g., funeral directors). A hundred times, nay, a thousand and a hundred, I have thought, Boy-boy would have thought this was hysterical! And he would have. Because it usually is. After all, so much of what we humans say and do — especially what we say and do in times of stress — is funny. Silly. Humorous. Ridiculous. Stupid. Clueless.


Tears are expected, but sometimes laughter feels like the much more appropriate — and the much more restorative, healing, even — response. Laughter mixed with tears works, too. And laughter takes the edge off those times when tears are, in fact, unavoidable.

I suppose I began thinking about all of this because I will celebrate my birthday soon. My first since he died. And then it’s Mother’s Day. The first since he died. And soon after that, summer swim season will begin. The first since….

And perhaps the only way I can make any sense of the days, the months, the years that will follow, that will have the balls to occur even though my son has died, is to remember how he laughed and how he made us laugh.

And to laugh, even if it’s through tears.

Winter break

img_0795The last exam slot during finals week was 7 to 10 p.m. Friday night, and when our younger daughter emerged from the laboratory building, the sidewalks and roads were so slick with ice, we wondered whether we should check into a hotel and try for home in the morning. We pulled away from their residence hall after 11 p.m. Sleet. Wind. Snow. It was a long, treacherous drive, and after we pulled into the garage, we cleared the driveway and walks. By the time we crawled into bed, it was nearly 4:30 a.m.

But they are home.

And all is right in our world.


img_8613Afternoons end before they have really begun now, don’t they? By 3 p.m., I must turn on a light here and another there. Abbreviated days possess a sort of magic, especially when the snow finally arrives. But by early January, I suspect that, as in years past, the long nights will begin to weary me, and I will sniff the air for the scent of warm, clean dirt. Spring.

I took the image above during a recent trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. The adventure was equal parts sentiment and foolhardiness. After all, who goes to MSI on the day before Thanksgiving? Everyone, as it turns out. And the trip into the city took twice as long as it should have. Still, we had a lovely time and plan to return for a proper visit (i.e., one that coincides with everyone else returning to work and school) over our long winter break.
img_8610After MSI and dinner, we browsed the wondrous stacks at the Seminary Coop Bookstores and then attended Electra at the Court Theatre. The Court’s Greek Cycle has met with somewhat mixed reviews, but we have appreciated all of it — particularly Sandra Marquez’s majestic Clytemnestra (all three plays) and Kate Fry’s Electra.

Apart from getting the band back together, the trip into Chicago for MSI and Electra was the highlight of our recent ten-day break. Our daughters, now juniors, use the Thanksgiving holiday to get ahead on final projects and examinations, so when they came up for air, we kept it pretty simple. We (re)watched some Sherlock (in anticipation of Season 4) and walked. We raked leaves and counted birds at the feeders. We ate good food and talked. They had appointments for haircuts and annual physicals. Otherwise, they were absorbed by their studies. Soon they will be home again, though, with no projects or exams looming large. We have assembled a much more ambitious itinerary for our winter break, then, including four plays, four museums, the postponed zoo trip, and some eagle-watching.

In early December, while they finish up their fall courses and enter their reading and examination period, I will work through some holiday music and Unit 4 in Rubank Advanced Method, Vol. 1. I have been studying flute for just over two years now and will (again) acknowledge that while I have made tremendous strides, some skills may be beyond me, including velocity. Young learners have a decided advantage when it comes to manual dexterity and speed, to be sure, but the pursuit remains worthwhile and stimulating. Other pursuits for these next two weeks include reading, of course; Project FeederWatch, which now offers an option to report behavioral data (displacement and predation); and my volunteer work at the library, which I don’t think I have mentioned previously. My husband and I gave several hours each week a few summers ago but stepped away from the commitment to focus on our literacy volunteer assignment. I returned to the library in September and am enjoying the people and projects.

Until my next post, here are three more images from our MSI visit, which included a stop at the “Brick by Brick” exhibit.



Another summer gone

IMG_7586Have you observed the continued changing of the light as summer slides into autumn? Sure, summer is putting up a fight, but for all intents and purposes, it’s over, isn’t it? Why, the students in our neighborhood have already returned to school! If that doesn’t herald fall, what does?

Speaking of school, since my last post, my husband and I moved our daughters into their university residence. A well-organized, dry-eyed endeavor, move-in included a midnight run to stock the refrigerator and a visit over the weekend to replace some shelving and bring a few additional items. I think the fact that each of us has absorbing plans and projects for the fall contributed to the (admittedly surprising) lack of tears. At some point, I found myself thinking, There is so much more to celebrate and anticipate than to regret. Of course, we won’t discount how helpful technology has been: The iPhones and iPads are getting quite a workout with messages, email, and FaceTime. Still, although I’m a cautious woman, I believe that this can be declared a fairly successful transition for all of us.

Some of my plans: This week, after an eight-month hiatus, I have resumed my service as a literacy volunteer. I have also returned to my daily music practice after a nearly ten-day break. And now that I have time to read more than a page here or there, I will (finally!) finish Eileen today. Unfortunately, this week I am also fighting a cold, one that I felt arrive with startling all-at-onceness yesterday afternoon. My sinuses filled, as if I were experiencing an allergic reaction, then my throat became scratchy, and then I became heavily tired — all within thirty minutes. I’ve been in defense mode ever since, taking advantage of my retiree status to lay my head down regularly and to drink a river of juice, tea, and water. It’s too early to say that I am winning, but I am hopeful that my tussle with sickness is more successful than summer’s losing battle with fall. Heh, heh, heh.

Book notes should follow Thursday or Friday.

Can you believe it’s August 1?

From one of my favorite Mary Schmich columns (Chicago Tribune, August 1, 2008):

If you merely count the days from summer’s official start in June until its finale in September, August 1 doesn’t even mark the summer midpoint. But it does mark the high point, which means the beginning of the end.

The light shifts, softens. The shadows on the leaves and the living room floor make you wonder: When exactly did the wane start?

People in other places may not wonder, but Chicagoans are connoisseurs of summer light. We spot the changes as surely as a foodie detects the difference between fennel and star-anise.

The light has most certainly changed, but there have been other reminders:

● This is the time of year I plan most of our theater, opera, and concert adventures for the upcoming season, and my calendar notes that single tickets are now on sale for performances at the Court Theatre and Remy Bumppo.

● My daughters have all but concluded their summer work obligations, and the younger daughter’s summer class ends this week.

● The linens, rugs, and homey touches for their university residence have been purchased and are arranged in orderly stacks in the “girl cave.”

I knew this summer would pass quickly because I so desperately wanted it to go on and on. Therefore, it should not surprise me that it is, in fact, nearly over. Still, there’s a bit more to savor, at least for a couple of weeks.

So we will sleep in.
Sit beneath the oaks and read.
Take a few more long bike rides.
Eat the cherry tomatoes we grew.
Keep an eye out for the hummingbirds and orioles that visit our yards.
Play Bananagrams. And Ticket to Ride. And Exploding Kittens.
Finish Season 9 of The X Files.
Learn something.
Talk. And talk some more.

And then we will pack. And then… Well, I will think about that later. Right now, I want to pretend the summer has just begun, that all of its hot, dew-drenched possibilities await me like the shelf of books I assembled over Memorial Day weekend with firm plans to finish everything by today.

Can you believe it’s August 1?