No Rest For The Weary

I spend a lot of time obsessing over the bluebirds that nest in a box in our back yard, something you know a bit about if you are a regular here at The Daily Grace. But this Spring I haven’t been around to keep as close an eye on this precious couple (and their offspring) as I’d like. 

We knew there were eggs, and we hoped there were healthy babies, and we believed some had fledged but we just didn’t know for sure.

Then a couple of weeks ago I spotted this cuteness at the new feeder I’ve placed just outside my studio window. It holds a magical cone of seed and dried worms all of birddom now fusses over.

 

hello baby blue!

 

This sweet little munchkin, who I figure is four…maybe five weeks old, is sitting an inch from a full-on mealworm feast. But he refuses to reach his little beak through the bars to grab one. Instead he sits and squawks and demands to be fed.

Mama’s having none of it.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me.

 

She flies in, eats in front of the youngster, then flies away.

(Which results in an even louder ruckus from the little one.)

Then in comes Papa who does his best to ignore but finally can’t take anymore and pops worm after worm in the mouth of the babe.

 

okay

 

OKAY!

 

It captivated me, this bluebird drama, as I stood back and considered how much the scene resembles my own years-ago baby mothering and that of so many friends in the throes of such today. Parenting is hard. There are so many ways to get it wrong. And there are so few to get it right.

 

 

Love well, I’d think, and then I’d pace and worry. Love well, I still think now, and that will be enough.

Oh yes.

And yet the question remains. 

 

 

Does love fly off?

Or feed?

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case of the Missing Bluebird Egg

MY SOUTH CAROLINA LIFE is centered around the sweet pond on which our house and back yard sit. Through the big kitchen window I have a bird’s eye view of all the goings-on, and to get close to the action I merely need step out the side door or take a quick stair step run down to my studio, which is positioned (thrillingly) in the midst of the action.

All this perfect geography gives me the chance to spend the hours of spring All Up In the activity of the co-inhabitants of the little neighborhood. I could not be happier about this; I never get tired of watching the plants and animals as they quite literally come to life during this birth/rebirth season.

This year has been especially sweet.The pond is full again following a couple of long, sad years during which floods, improper sediment runoff management and Mother Nature’s insistence on returning things to their natural state combined to create rather a mess behind our house. But the cove has been restored and the whole of the animal kingdom–snakes, frogs, turtles, beavers, birds, fish, and ducks among them–the whole of the Bickley’s Pond animal kingdom and I are rejoicing.

 

 

MY BELOVED BLUEBIRDS are among them and together we’ve had a rather tumultuous time of it. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’VE had quite a time–to this day I can’t give you an accurate accounting of their first brood of the season. First there was the precious nest, then that one perfect blue egg, then the egg disappeared! And so the internet told me to build a Sparrow Spooker, which I did, fashioning my own emergency version. I watched and watched and watched until the second egg–which would now be Egg One–was laid. BAM I was out the door attaching said Sparrow Spooker to the box (this was per the internet’s very specific directions). By golly it worked! Or else it wasn’t needed in the first place, but either way that couple and I ended up with four gorgeous eggs the second time around. Mama kept them warm while Papa and I hung close and in no time at all we’d hatched two baby bluebirds with two left to go. It was time for a trip to the mountains, alas, so I left the raising of those two, maybe three, maybe four babies to their devoted and quite capable parents.

Dang it.

 

Mama and the spooky Sparrow Spooker

 

And then there were babies!

 

We were away just long enough that when we returned an opening of the nest box would have created a great risk of too-early fledging. I was also busy with work and other things and couldn’t keep as close an eye on the family as I’d have liked. Which resulted in some big worries, I have to say. I never saw the parents feed the babies, not even once, in the first three or four days we were home. I’d watch for a while, then go out and stand next to the box hoping at least to hear sweet bluebird baby chirps. I never did. But every time, without fail, those parents would come swooping down out of nowhere, very unhappy with me and my proximity to their nest, which made me very happy as I figured surely they were protecting their offspring. 

Still there didn’t appear to be any feeding.

No feeding at all.

 

pretty Mama

 

THEN I HEADED north again, this time on my own for a writer’s retreat in Kentucky. I left Tim in charge. He’s great about these things since he’s in the yard so much, humors me so much, and cares as much about such happenings as a normal person does. But let’s face it. I never can get him to hover quite as close as I’d like.

Still I’d hardly gotten my suitcase out of the car when I got this text from my thoughtful husband:

 

 

Soon as I got home we opened the box to sure enough find it empty but for one unhatched egg. That meant there were three little bluebird fledglings flying somewhere around Bickley’s Pond. Maybe? Tim had seen two, and we hoped for a third but we just didn’t know.

(SEE THIS IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP A CLOSE EYE.)

 

WE WAITED FOUR or five days, then set about cleaning the box. This time when Tim opened it that last egg was also gone. (For the life of me I don’t understand how small birds accomplish that.) He removed the old nest, tidied up a bit in the box and left a clean house for Round Two, should these sweet parents decide it was a go.

A week later we found this.

 

Then this! 

 

There’s no Sparrow Spooker on top as the wind finally brought it to the ground and I’ve hardly had time to construct another. For one thing there is the other bird nest I must monitor. And the baby eagle. And the courting woodpeckers, and the goose families X2. And a big happy surprise right in my raised bed garden!

There is so much more to come on all these wonderful Bickley’s Pond developments.

For now I just go ’round skipping and thinking: Spring, I do adore you!

XXOO

 

It would make me so happy to send you a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

A-Ramp-Hunting We Will Go

MY SWEET ELIZA is home from her California adventure, and we whisked her away for some well-deserved R&R following two years of working a job that asked so much. A few days in the mountains–where rest and relax are the exact formula–seemed just right. 

We’d hardly unpacked our soft-cothes-only wardrobes when I got this joyful text from our mountain neighbor, Jessie.

Ramps, you say???

Oh, yes.

 

I’VE KNOWN OF RAMPS all my life, them being regular mountain food in the part of the world where I grew up, where many folks lived from the land and made the most of whatever was available. In my mind it was akin to Poke Sallet, made from pokeweed, although I must say to my knowledge neither of these ever graced my mother’s dinner table. (Rather than anything fresh or leafy green we were much more likely to be eating Kraft Spaghetti–the box kind. Or frozen pot pies.)  So although I have long had an awareness of ramps, I am certainly not fluent. 

And heaven knows, I’ve never gone in search of.

But today these plants are a different thing entirely. Now the lowly ramp–which is sometimes called a wild leek, or spring onion–is a delicacy made so by swell young chefs of the foodie movement who’ve refined their preparation and feature them on specialty menus during their super-short growing season. Part of the appeal, no doubt, is due to this limited window during which ramps can be harvested and eaten. Look for the trillium to bloom, I have heard, and you’ll know: Ramp Season is on.

 

AND SO OUR neighbors planned an outing, and because they’re thoughtful they invited us to come along. They’d gotten permission from the landowner–a very important detail as many experts agree the elevation of the ramp’s status has resulted in a great decline in its population. So up that mountain we went.

My little heart beat fast at the sight of them, I’m not gonna lie.

 

 

We got on our hands and knees and dug.  

 

Gus, the pro

 

Gingerly, we dug.

 

Eliza, going strong

 

Then as the pretty white ramp bulbs emerged, Gus took a close look and made the call they were too small. Our friends needed a little more time to grow.

 

what a happy ramp

 

We did not despair but walked all around, looking at the early spring beauty right where we were, the miracles happening all around us right there in the woods.

 

 

 

Then we loaded up and headed for home, making one more impromptu investigative stop at the pond.

There are salamanders that live in that pond, you see, but only for a short time during early spring.

Might as well give it a look.

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

The Gift of Mercy from Anne Lamott

 

WHAT WILL you remember most?

It’s a question my friend, Teresa, asked as we drove along in the dark, I-77 South stretching long in front of us.

Hum I said. It was taking some time, the sifting of all the contenders, so many beautiful possibilities floating around bumping each other at the top. There were Anne’s comments on surrender.  And truth. And wonder and mercy. And then I remembered her saying this, and my soul shifting, and my heart opening.

Just say what Jesus says.  She smiles. Just say “Me, too.”

 

 

THERE ARE SO MANY reasons I love Anne Lamott. She is a generous giver, a compassionate teacher for seekers of every kind: the lost, the found, the addicted, the broken, the resurrected. We are all worthy, she preaches, each and every one chosen. And it is our responsibility (as well as our joy) to lift each other up, to pull each other along in a world that is overwhelmingly difficult and yet beautiful beyond belief.

She is also a writer’s writer, Anne Lamott, a powerful storyteller who gets down to the bone of the thing. Her truths are raw and real; her honesty unarms in a way that casts every speck of pretense aside. I’ve never had the privilege of studying with Anne and yet she is my writing spirit guide. For each and every what-on-earth-am-I-doing chapter of my manuscript’s first draft she was there on my shoulder cheering sweetlyYou can do this. One sentence at a time. Just get it down. It feels so overwhelming, the largeness of a novel, a thousand mile journey you  walk in the dark. And Anne would say:  Tell me what happened.    I’d write.   Then what happened?   I’d write.   Then what happened?

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, out of the blue, I clicked on my inbox to find this email from my sweet, soulful friend, Joanne.

Anne Lamott is coming to Charlotte. Here are tickets. 

It was a generous, thoughtful gesture from someone I adore and don’t see nearly enough. It was also a powerful God-wink. I knew He had things to say to me.

 

AND SO WE were there, Teresa and I, when Anne Lamott walked onto the stage at Ovens Auditorium. She’d had one hell of a day, delayed more than six hours at Dulles and arriving 30 minutes after the start-time of her talk in Charlotte. She came straight to the gathering with no time at all to relax or recharge or even change her shoes. Instead she took a big drink of water, exhaled, and began answering life’s toughest questions before a crowd of thousands.

This one came up in no time.

So what is mercy, anyway?

Mercy, she said, and smiled. Mercy is grace in action.

(That’s as perfect a definition as I’ve ever heard.) 

And then she offered this by way of explanation. When a friend is troubled or shamed or downtrodden or broken hearted, our nature is to try to “fix” things by offering advice, or worse yet, platitudes. 

This is not Mercy.

Mercy, she says, Mercy is sitting with someone in their pain with no judgement and absolutely no intention of changing anything. (One person changing another is not possible anyway, she points out.) Mercy, like Jesus, simply says 

I know.

Me, too.

 

Do you feel the relief I feel in realizing this?

Are you happy to lay down the burden of  “fixing” things?

Can you exhale knowing in the pain you’re allowed to just be with it?

 

It is a gentle, compassionate way to live, and it was my biggest lesson of the night.

Yet there was so much more. So much more.

 

We’re so hungry for what we’re not giving.

You are being pulled for.

When someone shares deeply, say “thank you.”

Help is the sunny side of control.

The ultimate act of mercy is to listen.

80% of anything is a miracle.

 

THANK YOU, ANNE. Thank you, Christ Church. And thank you, Joanne, for this gift of grace–and mercy–in my life.

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note when there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

Surprise and delight

 

Last summer I became enamored with the Cedar Waxwings that make their presence known in the great field behind our North Carolina place. I don’t know how I’d never noticed them in all the years of my bird obsession; for sure the high mountain altitude brings a different crop when compared with our flat South Carolina back yard, but still Waxwings are common and plentiful. And these beauties are difficult to miss. The crest flips up (isn’t that distinctive?), and the eyes are wrapped in the most fantastic, elegant black Zorro mask. It’s upper wings are tipped in a brilliant red, and the tail–it’s so fun–the tail looks as if it was accidentally dipped right down into a can of bright yellow paint.

 

Then just the other day I was standing at the kitchen window when I looked out to see a mass of birds in the tree on the edge of Bickley’s Pond. From the distance I couldn’t tell their make and model, so I grabbed my camera and stepped outside for a closer look. In one fell swoop all the birds took off for the Cope’s yard, where I got close enough for this. 

 

 

Is it?

 

 

Could it be?

 

 

Yes! 

 

what a beauty

 

It was the first time I’d noticed Waxwings in our back yard, and true to form they fascinated and delighted me.

 

Aren’t they just the coolest?

 

XXOO

 

Let’s be friends! Leave your email here and I’ll send a little note whenever there’s a new post on The Daily Grace.

When the morning comes.

 

Most nights we are in the mountains I awaken two or three times just to check for light at the foot of the bed. It’s something we didn’t realize when we bought the place, the fact our bedroom faces east. Which means we can leave the shade open at night, and when it’s time to rise God nudges us up and out with the most gentle, spectacular show.

 

 

I mean.

 

 

My first words each day are: Is it get up time yet?

 

 

Tim always says yes. Which is perfect because every day is different–and we don’t want to miss a thing. 

 

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: February

February, here goes.

Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Harper Collins says of this book: A sparkling talent makes her fiction debut with this infectious novel that combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. I listened to the audiobook so the “charming pluck” really came to life. (To tell the truth, I’m not sure it would have held my attention in book form, but maybe.) Worth a listen, for sure.

The Mothers, by Britt Bennett
Called “dazzling” and “ferociously moving” and “luminous,” I could hardly wait to read Britt Bennett’s The Mothers.  The young author has become a bit of a literary darling with this–her debut novel–winning tons of awards and finding a spot on nearly every 2016 Best Book list. Plus I adore the cover. So I was thrilled when it came from the library just in time for our recent trip. I settled into my window seat on the plane, cracked the book open and nearly had a heart attack when I read the location for the story was our destination: Oceanside, California. Serendipity! But alas, turns out this is not the book for me. I finished it–but struggled. Please, please somebody read this book so we can discuss!

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I’ve had the same title at the top of my Favorite Book of All Times list for nearly 20 years, but this reading season has served up two grand competitors. First I covet Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, a thick, rich, delicious novel I sank into and savored over several weeks last Fall. And now there is Lincoln in the Bardo. The first novel from George Saunders, it is–without a doubt–a masterpiece. Stunning and brilliant, Saunders offers a compelling (and original) story about the first days after the death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, beloved son of President and Mary Todd Lincoln. (You will want to read this one in hard back.)

Oh friends. This book.

(My previous Favorite Book of All Time? Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.)

Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton
I mentioned this memoir in a previous post on The Daily Grace, noting at the time I had some mixed emotions about it. This is a tough read; the first three quarters detail Melton’s lifelong battles with addiction and the subsequent (and shocking) implosion of her marriage. She writes with an unsettling honesty and goes into great detail–so much so I nearly gave up on her/it. (Clearly this is the desired effect.) But just then the story takes a turn and the insights she offers about “unlearning” and living in truth are surprising and powerful. I think about this book every day.

TO BE READ

Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh

One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voscamp

Above the Waterfall, by Ron Rash

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

News of the World, by Paulette Giles

A Snow Garden, by Rachel Joyce

A Hanging at Cinder Bottom, by Glenn Taylor

If you have thoughts or other book recommendations, please share in the comments. I’d love to know how you feel about my selections or any suggestions you have! 

XXOO

Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little financial reward for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post, but since it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books, I thought it might be a good way to help cover the hard costs of this labor-of-love blog. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader.

Oh–one other thing. On the days I find a great deal on one of my favorite, favorite books, I often share it on Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

The Gigantic Life Truth I’d Forgotten

IT’S A PITIFUL EXAMPLE for a gigantic truth that’s parked itself right alongside me like one of those huge roadside boulders in Southern California.

I was in my pilates class, and Jan–our superhero instructor– introduced a new, more difficult move that involved stretching forward to push down on a weighted bar while extending a leg behind you. It takes incredible strength and balance to create this horizontal body position, and it didn’t take long for me to determine I couldn’t do it.

I tried.

But then I decided: This is too hard.  This is too hard for me, given my weak shoulder. Considering my age. How tired I am. That rib thing. (I could go on and on.)

Then a whisper came that had already presented itself to me twice this week, insisting again:

You can do hard things.

 

MY DAUGHTER, ELIZA, has spent the last seven weeks 2000 miles from home. She’s there working with a beautiful, amazing child who spends every moment of his life doing things that are hard. Born with a tiny single genetic mutation, the simple control of his arms and legs requires enormous energy and concentration. He can’t talk or stand or walk, but spend five minutes with this seven year old and your very definition of determination will be changed. He fights for every movement, willing his body to do things it simply cannot do. He strives to understand, and to be understood, communicating in innovative ways that make the mere act a holy one. And he laughs. He laughs with such ease and with such boundlessness that joy fills all that is around him, all color and light, all pure, sacred goodness.

He stole my heart, this remarkable child, and I don’t ever want it back.

 

AND THERE IS ELIZA, who moved boldly into a new life in a new world, who gives so well in a job that asks so much of her. She is brave and strong, and I admire her willingness to step out and step up, taking it on even when it’s hard.

We can do hard things.

I will strive to remember this the next time I face down something that requires more of me than I want to offer, the next time my inclination is to quit or to turn and run toward an easier path. 

 

 

We can. We can. We can.

XXOO

I’d love to send a little love note when there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.