Sunday, December 8, 2013

LETTER TO BIRDLAND: SEATTLE THANSKGIVING

Foggy Seattle




IT'S FOGGY IN SEATTLE, AND THE SUN IS JUST RISING. I'm at the airport, waiting to board my plane back to Chicago. Chandra drove me through the dark streets, down the interstate. My oldest knows the way to the airport. It was not that early, 6:30, but the sun is just now rising an hour later. Winter days are short in Seattle.


Our Elegant Feast
Just yesterday we feasted on a rolled turkey breast, brined and herbed the night before. Chandra eats vegetarian on ethical and environmental grounds, but he made an exception for the holiday. Through the magic of technology, we connected with the rest of the family, feasting in Chicago. We each sent photos of our table. On ours, besides the turkey, was a lovely green salad, some artisan bread, and our dessert, a Persian sweet potato pie, like no pie I've ever made. We peeled and sliced the raw potatoes and arranged them in a spiral, like petals on a flower. Then poured over the petals a spiced brown sugar syrup. The crust was a wild experiment. After bragging that I could easily handle the crust, I decided to get fancy. First I thought I'd add cardamom, then I thought, "what about using half coconut oil and half butter?" At home I usually substitute flax meal for 1/4 cup of the flour, but when I saw that we had only bread flour, I also switched in some rice flour, sorghum flour (new to me) and some other kind of gluten free flour. All was fine until the rolling out, when our neat little ball of chilled dough shattered with the first touch of a rolling pin. "No problem, really," I told him. "We'll just do a pat-in-the-pan crust." Since we used a fancy brown sugar from India, the sugar syrup was dark, giving our potato-petaled flower lovely dark tones. We baked the pie and the bread and then had two hours for the turkey roll to slowly roast. "Do you want to go to Volunteer Park?" asked my boy.


Brisk walking kept us warm, and though it was foggy and damp, it was sweater weather. In Seattle most of our walks seem to be uphill. Walking in Seattle on a quiet Thanksgiving afternoon was peaceful. Winding up through the neighborhood toward the park we joined in the holiday spirit. Smells of turkey and sage wafted from various homes. Every block or so, we'd encounter a new delicious aroma. We passed one kitchen window with partly drawn shades to see hands chopping vegetables, the celery and carrots laid out in neat piles.
Pat-in-the-Pan saves the day.
Volunteer Park has lovely, expansive lawns and well-tended gardens. We walked up to the koi ponds. I remembered these lovely round ponds with lilies from my last visit, but now they were empty of fish. Close by is a wonderful round tower of rustic brick. "What's that?" I asked. "It's the water tower. We can go in," said Chandra. And so we climbed the hill to the tower, and climbed the spiral staircase up and up for a lovely view of Seattle. By now the fog had mostly cleared, but still a haze hung in the distance, haunting the skyline just a little bit. We looked out of the arched windows, through decorative iron railings. Then our turkey began calling us, so we descended the tower, the hill, the neighborhood, and returned to our dinner.
light and shadow in the water tower


Back at home it was time to phone the rest of the family. We had been texting pictures of our preparations across the continent. After we set our little table we made a call to Chicago. They had a lovely roast chicken and mashed potatoes, the traditional pie and cranberry sauce. We had our elegant feast. We teased back and forth. They had already eaten; we were about to sit down. "It's not a contest," said Chandra, "but we're winning."

Water Tower in Volunteer Park
 And now, here is my plane, ready to board. It will carry me over mountains and back to the prairie just in time to have a birthday feast with my middle boy, Dylan.


Fly in Beauty; Feast in Peace; Blessed Be.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

THE LEGEND OF THE MILKFISH

Michael said we were going to
find some fish.
LAST WEEK WE WALKED OUT THE GRASS WATERWAY TO THE MEADOW BEHIND THE BENSON TIMBER. We looked at beans along the way, now drying, getting even smaller in their pods. It was just a walk, but without really planning it, we realized we were both looking for the fish.
I thought he was joking.

Many years ago we walked back there with our oldest two boys. I probably carried the chubby, red-headed baby, the oldest in a turtleneck shirt with his shock of wheat hair walked alongside. Michael said we were going to find some fish, and I snorted, because we have a tiny stream back there, zigzagging out of the woods before it goes underground when it hits the meadow. But that stream only runs in spring and fall, or maybe after a heavy rain. It's little more than a trickle, washing over a stony bottom. We might see a salamander, or the prints of raccoons or deer, but it's not enough water to support a fish. I thought he was joking.

.In those days the waterway was full of weeds--goldenrod, milkweed, Jimson Weed, Multiflora Rose, sure, but also a lovely briar of Wild Rose as tall and as wide as a volkswagon bug. Grass was a tall as our oldest, and we blazed a trail through the Timothy and Bluestem, Canadian Rye and Indian Grass, or sometimes, when the brush was too much for him, edged along the side of the cornfield. But before we even got to the meadow, Michael stopped at a colony of milkweed. Its grey, thorny, looking seedpods were hanging from the plant like something prehistoric. Some had opened, spilling snow-white floss into the wind.

"There's a fish in here."
Michael picked one just barely dry and knelt carefully to show Chandra. My oldest bent his blond head solemnly over the my husband's cupped palm. "There's a fish in here," said Michael. "What does he have up his sleeve?" I wondered, and I bent over too, showing the baby. Michael carefully opened the pod, and sure enough, we could see the fish scales--the seeds all laid out in a regular pattern, the floss beneath still damp and tight in the pod. An eyeless fish, waiting to burst and spread its seeds across the prairie to feed the monarch butterflies.

Fish in Beauty; Cultivate Peace; Blessed Be.
I shake myself back to the present and take my husband's hand, and we continue our fishing expedition. We finally find a small school of fish plants at the very end of the furthest waterway. None of the seedpods is dry enough to burst, so we will come back next week to bring home seeds to plant in our yard, to give the monarchs some respite on their long journey.

Monday, July 1, 2013

SMALL PACKAGES

HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN SINCE I'VE SET EGGS IN AN INCUBATOR AND TURNED THEM PATIENTLY FOR THREE WEEKS? Many years. We did it in the early days a few times, but mostly bought day old chicks by mail—a different kind of patience, a different kind of waiting. When you order chicks by mail, you get a range of dates they might arrive. Expect an early call. Our postmistress usually calls before 7 to tell me that a suspicious package has arrived in my name—full of cheeping! I drive the mile and a half to town and she cheerfully hands me a box. She tells me she likes this kind of package, but last week someone ordered bees! She was afraid of the buzzing and didn't want to get too close even though it was tightly wrapped. I don't tell her that I aspire to someday receive a mail order package of bees.
How can they send chicks through the mail? They have to put enough chicks into the box to keep them warm through body heat to make the trip, Some places will send “warmer chicks” if you order only a few They are cushioned in straw. Before they hatch, chicks absorb all the rest of the yolk through the umbilicus (Yes, chickens have umbilical cords!) and that gives them all the food and water they need for the next 24 hours. After hatching, they need time to dry off and learn to walk. No time for eating until those important tasks are finished. They make the trip overnight and I get to open the box of peeping chicks. I used to order the bargain mix, which really just means the leftovers from the hatchery. Opening the box for me was even more exciting, since I got to see what kinds of chicks I had. They're not all yellow. Look at a hatchery catalog sometime to see the colorful assortment of chicks. We always had fun transferring them from the box to the brooder, counting them carefully. The hatchery often throws in one or two extra, in case some don't make the trip. When I put them in the brooder, the first task is to show them each, one by one, where the food and water are. I dip their beaks in the water, and set them down, so they know where to find it again when they are thirsty.
Well, that was how we used to do it, but this spring I got a hankering to hatch out some Serama chicks. Seramas are sometimes called "the teacup chicken" because they are so tiny. A full-grown rooster is about the size of a 6-week-old kitten rolled up in a ball. Before I could talk myself out of it, I ordered a dozen Serama eggs. I set up an incubator and marked the eggs with an X on one side so I could tell that I was giving each egg a full turn. I realized later I should have put an O on the other side. 
My memory of hatching is pretty foggy. You need to turn them 3 times a day (or 5 or any odd number). If you let them lie on the same side for 21 days (or even for most of that time) the chicks will develop unevenly--one side of their body bigger than the other. I did faithfully turn them, but I forgot the part about leaving them still for the last 3 days. In fact, I didn't remember that until yesterday, when I went to turn them and heard peeping! 
At first I thought it was my imagination, or that a bird had flown into the vent fan again and made a nest. I had read that you could hear chicks peeping from inside the eggs, but I had never heard it myself. Oh my! Time to get a brooder ready. Three eggs had tiny chips. When I exclaimed the peeping grew louder. They were responding to my voice. I kept checking, but the cracks didn't seem to get any bigger. I checked the humidity. If it's too high, the chicks can drown in their shells. The humidity was in the right range. I had to go to town, and when I returned I found 2 sets of eggshell halves and 2 tiny, wet chicks peeping and trying to stand. The chick uses its egg tooth to cut the shell in a perfect circle, all the way around, so the top of the egg comes off like a little hat. The chicks went into the brooder (a box with a light bulb), but I didn't hear any more peeping. The next morning, one more wet chick was in the incubator, and he joined his nest mates. Will more eggs hatch? The adventure begins.
Wait in Beauty; Hatch in Peace; Blessed Be.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

PREPARATIONS

IN BIRDLAND THE SHOWY SPRING FLOWERS ARE ALREADY FADING. The quince, just yesterday so full of white blossoms it looked like a snowstorm hit, now is full of wrinkled, tea-colored crepe. The peaches have swapped their delicate, pink petals for green, furry marbles. The branches are so full that I'll have to pick some before they grow too big, or the branches will surely break with the growing fruit. After losing last spring’s entire crop of peaches to a late frost, this is a good problem to have. The forsythia has traded its bush of sunshine for green leaves, but we will soon have yellow again, because I went around behind the lilac bush and saw that Grandma's yellow rose is full of buds. These last only a few days, but they will be fragrant and bright.
 
Now comes the Sweet Rocket, luxurious bouquets on every stem, not quite purple, almost pink, bouncing in the wind. Horseradish answers with its shock of white florets, echoing the Sweet Rocket in shape, like a bridal veil to the bridesmaid pinks. Both are in the cruciferea family (cabbage, broccoli, radish, mustard) with bunches of 4 petaled flowers. Look closely and you'll see 6 stamens in the center of each flower. Four are long, 2 are short. Rain swells the Peony buds to tight golf balls, ready to burst forth in pink, white, magenta,  burgundy. Perhaps this year we'll see what color I brought back from Nancy's yard in Indianapolis one fall, a few years ago. We had a digging party, but she couldn't remember the shade the blossoms would be, and we couldn’t tell by the roots. The Iris sends stately stems skyward, and petals unfurl in different colors. For years we only had my grandmother's delicate, faded purple, with the soft, powdery fragrance, but a few years ago I started adding colors, from buttery yellow to a deep purple, almost black. This parade of flowers continues, and I can already imagine the Shasta Daisies that are now in buds that will come, just as the Sweet Rocket is fading.

My fiancé thinks we can never have
too many flowers.
And yet, with all these, Michael has brought home Foxglove to honor my eldest son. My fiancé (my husband by the time you read these words) thinks we can never have too many flowers, and brings home flats of trays and 6 inch buckets. Together we will plant these to border the walk to the chicken coop.

For this week our days are filled with projects--organizing and cleaning, with some modest carpentry—to make Birdland ready for our gathering of family and friends. I pull china and books off of shelves and vacuum the thick dust—almost a pelt behind some of the china on the high shelves—while Michael scrapes grout from the shower, replacing some tiles. We have indoor chores and outdoor chores, items to get rid of to make way for fresh beginnings.
  
Live in Beauty; Love in Peace; Blessed Be.
As we sweep away the dust, may we sweep away misunderstandings and regrets. As we clean the windows, may we open up our lives to the sunshine and warmth of friendship and the fresh breezes of laughter. As we rearrange furniture, let us open our hearts and minds to fresh ideas. As we put up tents and hang hammocks for the party, may we create comfort for each other, for our children, offer shelter for our family and community. As we string lights in the trees, may we illuminate our hearts and souls, that we may appreciate the good in each other, and see our faults by the generous light of love.