Bird Cottage, (Book Review)

I just finished the most unusual and delightful book I’ve read so far this year! Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a novel based on the life and research of Len Howard. Len was born Gwendolen Howard in 1895 in Wallington, UK. She grew up in a bird-loving, artistic family–her father was a poet and dramatist–and became a violist with an orchestra in London.

After years of a successful musical career, she decided, at age 40, that she’d had enough of city life and that what she really wanted was to live quietly in the country observing and interacting with birds.

She moved to Ditchling in East Sussex, had a small home constructed, which she aptly named Bird Cottage, and lived the rest of her life with birds. The birds learned to trust her, would fly in and out of her house and even roost in her house in nesting boxes. They became familiar enough with her that they would land on her head, shoulders, hands, and feet. A few of them even came to her when she called. Len began to distinguish different calls and songs, and to understand the birds’ behavior through close, careful, continual observation.

Over the years, Len wrote for various nature magazines and wrote two books: Birds As Individuals and Living With Birds. She became more reclusive as she got older because she was so focused on not changing things in the birds’ environment. When guests would visit, for example, the birds were unfamiliar with these newcomers’ gestures and voices and would stay away. This would set back her research for several days.

Sadly, because she was not a trained scientist and she focused on bird behavior and relationships rather than measurable, quantitative observations, none of the scientific journals would take her seriously and publish her research. However, her writings did raise the general public’s awareness to the importance of birds and the habitats they needed to thrive.

What was wonderful about this book was the way the author interspersed chapters about Len’s life, from age ten and onward, with chapters containing fascinating stories about particular bird friends at Bird Cottage. Even though it was fictionalized, it felt as if I was reading a biography.

Whether you enjoy books about birds, nature writing, or people who follow their own path in life, you will absolutely love this book. I highly recommend it!

I received a copy of Bird Cottage from Pushkin Press, but all opinions are completely my own.

What I’m Doing About Anxiety

For the past few weeks, I’ve had higher-than-usual anxiety levels. Lots of activity and a full house are definitely part of it, plus the changing weather, and my ongoing post-divorce inner work/healing. Yes, I know, we’ve all got stuff to deal with and we have to do the best we can every day. So, here is a list of some of the tools that are helping me get my anxiety under control each day.

Calming Aromatherapy Blend:

(4 drops Cypress, 3 drops Lavender, 5 drops Sweet Orange essential oil.) When my anxiety seems to be peaking, this blend helps me almost instantly. I put it in my diffuser, sit down to work at my desk, and within 10-15 minutes I feel that tightness in my chest ease, the inexplicable sadness and worry lifts, and I come back to myself.

Calmsense:

I’ve said it before and will say it again: This blend of B vitamins and herbs really works to calm me down, boost my mood, and relieve stress. Whether for everyday anxiety issues or for situational anxiety, (before a performance, for example), it works for me within twenty minutes. You should have this in your natural first aid kit.

Walking outside for at least twenty minutes each day.

Just get out there! Your mood will lift, your ability to focus improve, your stress levels will drop, and your overall sense of well-being will rise. Feel the sun or rain or wind on your face, connect with your surroundings, and remind yourself that you are part of the planet, and the planet is part of you.

Meditation/Yoga/Prayer/Pranayama:

Pick one or do all of them, but whether you are praying, practicing yoga, meditating or doing breathing exercises like Pranayama, you will benefit with lowered stress levels and a calmer, more positive outlook. I enjoy meditating and practicing yoga with the YogaGlo app on my phone.

Watching something that makes you laugh.

I can get so serious and stuck in my head, trying to solve problems and get work done, that I forget to take a break and just laugh. Whether it’s I Love Lucy episodes, a movie like Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah or a TV show like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a good laugh session will do wonders for your mood and you’ll stress less.

Reading books on contemplative prayer and mindfulness:

Peace of Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

I would love to hear about what tools you use to help yourself when you are feeling anxious.

I’m Thinking About Trees (A Poem)

I’m thinking about trees, the ones standing 

at the back of the house. Maples, in particular. 

And how they are so clearly trees and 

are not in the habit of having identity crises. 

They aren’t wondering if they should perhaps

be like the evergreens next to them, or, 

maybe, like the apple trees in the orchard. 

After all, those pines don’t stand naked and 

exposed during the coldest months of the year. 

After all, apple trees have pretty pink blossoms 

in spring and all those juicy apples in fall. 

No, the maples stand sure with their trunks straight, 

while their branches grow out their new green leaves. 

They don’t seem to care if the wind blows fiercely 

against them. They just dance along—their branches 

swaying and bending, their leaves shimmying 

with each gust. They have two aims: to root down 

deep into darkness and to grow up tall toward 

the light.

If anything looks like a prayer to me, 

it’s how a tree lives its uncomplicated life. 

How it gives itself to each day completely, 

as only a tree can. How it stands rooted 

no matter what comes and never tries to be

something it’s not. A tree is itself: a tree.

Poem by Kim Pollack /©2019 All Rights Reserved

Planting Native (A Book Review)

Here in the Northeastern part of the United States in April, we haven’t planted our gardens yet. But we are cleaning up our and gardens and preparing them for planting. We are buying shrubs and trees and perennials too. If you are wondering what to plant, PLEASE think about birds before you do. Are you investing in plants that are native to your area? Birds need native plants to thrive and if you already know this, hooray!!! But if not, and you live in the Eastern part of the U.S., this book might be just what you need to help you choose plants for your yard!

The book I’m recommending is called Planting Native to Attract Birds to Your Yard by Sharon Sorenson. What I love about this book are several things: The photos of birds and native plants are gorgeous, the quotes by naturalists sprinkled throughout the text are inspiring, and the facts that are highlighted bring perspective, importance, and responsibility to us as property owners.

Another thing I like about this book is that in chapters 1-3, the author explains EVERYTHING–even down to a definition of what a native plant is (not a weed!) She doesn’t simply say “birds need native plants for shelter, nests, and food”, but explains how birds use the plants for shelter, nests, and food, and why it’s so crucial that we have them in our yards.

Did you know that native plants are actually less work and less expensive to care for than non-native plants? They don’t need fertilizer, and they rarely need watering, pruning, or deadheading either!

In Chapter 4, the author helps us to formulate a plan for our yard and garden spaces, by analyzing what is already in our yard and neighborhood. We make a list of assets and liabilities. She also includes a list of invasive plants named “The Disaster Dozen”. She shares why they are such a problem, how to get rid of them, and what to replace them with.

She goes on to have ample suggestions for what to plant in any size space. Chapter 5 is dedicated to Native Trees with consideration of biodiversity, soil conditions, space, personal preference, and more! Chapter 6 is all about Native Shrubs and Vines and she has you choose one for each season. (I would’ve never thought of this!) Chapter 7 is Native Perennials: Flowers and Grasses, and finally, Chapter 8 discusses Adding Water.

So, if you are a property owner, gardener, landscaper, or bird lover, I highly recommend that you order this book here or from your favorite bookseller!

Late Winter Musings

These last few days of winter and this last day before the season of Lent begins are vibrating with change, energy, and light.

I’m struggling to sleep past six each morning because I am still used to darkness and silence and haven’t yet adjusted to the sun peeking out and birdsong lilting through the closed window.

Not that I am complaining–quite the opposite! I actually prefer change over stagnation, but this year I seem even more aware of the natural world slowly waking up and shifting toward activity and growth.

I have the privilege of living in the middle of all this glory we call the Finger Lakes Region: fields and meadows, forests, hills, valleys, lakes, and wildlife everywhere.

Much of the time, I block out what is happening on the other side of these walls and carry on with the ” more important work” of business and commerce and marketing and study. This disconnect is detrimental to myself, other people, and the earth, so I seek to take a hint from the seasonal transition we are in and change my behavior.

When my children were young and we homeschooled, I followed the Charlotte Mason method which emphasized art, literature, music, history, handcrafts, and plenty of time spent out of doors for nature study. My kids and I each had a nature study notebook. The idea was simply to spend some time outside and draw something that you observed while there: a tree, a cloud, a bird, an insect, a leaf, etc. This strengthened powers of observation while creating a habit of attention to the natural world.

My homeschooling years are behind me, but I need to reconnect myself to nature’s rhythms and be at one with the true pace of the planet. I very much need to reawaken my whole self to what has been before me and what will go on after I have lived my life here.

Mary Oliver, who passed away earlier this year, wrote all the time of nature, of her observations in nature, and of the depths of emotion she experienced in the natural world. I’ll end with her poem, “Mindful” from her book Why I Wake Early:

Mindful

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Day 28: Saturday Meanderings

IMG_1490

This hilltop home is being buffeted by the wind AGAIN. If we have one day per week when it’s still, that is something to remark upon. When my son was leaving Wednesday night, we stepped out into the evening and everything was still.

No crickets or frogs. No bird singing itself to sleep. Not even a jet or a truck. Just the lights twinkling across the lake, the stars winking at us overheard and quiet. “You’re in the middle of nowhere,” my son stated as he got into his car.

Yes, and the middle of nowhere has its advantages and disadvantages. On the pro side, we can play music as loud as we want, keep the property as neat or unkempt as we want and no one approves or complains. We can absorb the tranquility and beauty of nature from our windows and certainly from a walk around the yard or down the road. Lake, fields, hills, valley, farms, and big sky everywhere we look.

DSCN4997

On the con side, you have to drive a long while to get anywhere. Like to Ithaca for groceries or a concert or to a restaurant for dinner. And people don’t always want to come out to visit because it’s a bit of a hike. If they do venture this far, I hope they feel the rewards are many: the view, it goes without saying, and good food and conversation.

This is where I wanted to be when I was six years old living with my parents and siblings in a third-story apartment in Brooklyn. I hoped and prayed for this opportunity. So you could say, I’m living my dream.

Every summer which my mother, siblings and I would spend with my grandparents, flew by with a speed that was stunning and sad. I loved every minute of each day we were given here in Interlaken and every aspect of my grandparents’ home and lifestyle. Although, they were far from wealthy, there was a comfort and solace from the cold, tough and dangerous hustle of city life that I couldn’t wait to run to.

The walks with my grandmother down the lane, into and through the woods are some of my favorite memories of my childhood summers. The sound of my grandparents starting their day in the kitchen, making coffee and eggs, the smell of kerosene when the heaters were lit during cold spells, the feeling of gratitude at twilight as I sat on the tree swing and swayed as the wind pushed me–I hold these dear.

I’m thankful I can go back there and relive those good, wholesome moments and that I had them to begin with. And I’m thankful to be telling my story in the place where my happiest moments live.

DSCN5004

 

Day 9: Tulip Bulbs, Dean Koontz and Carrot Cake

After a busy weekend when we play out, Mondays always seem like I’m trying to find all the pieces of me and reassemble myself.

I woke late, went to the gym late and then planted sixty-one tulip bulbs around the gazebo. Yes, that’s a lot and my back can testify.

My sister-in-law sent me a very generous birthday gift of one hundred tulips and fifty daffodils. They arrived Friday.

I’m thrilled when I think of the beauty coming up next Spring, but now is the time to plant them while the ground is wet and the temperature mild. So I planted a little more than a third of them today and will work on planting them the rest of this week.

After I came in and showered, I put a gluten free vegan pizza in the oven for lunch and sat down to finish The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspensethe Dean Koontz book Alan gave me for my birthday.

It wrapped up nicely, but clearly a sequel was on the way. And indeed, The Whispering Room: A Jane Hawk Novel is now available.

Jane Hawk, the protagonist, is definitely a badass, but one with a heart of gold. Everything she does is to protect her son, avenge her murdered husband and save the world. No big deal. If you like suspense novels, add this one to your list.

Next up on my fiction list is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: Author’s Preferred Text.

My afternoon was spent sewing felt dolls and birds while watching The Tunnel on Amazon Prime.

And then it was time for carrot cake. Sarah Bakes Gluten Free is a blog filled with delicious gluten free and mostly vegan treats.

I have a friend coming over for lunch tomorrow and wanted a classic dessert to serve her. This recipe will produce a carrot cake you won’t forget. I subbed carrot for the zucchini and added 1/4 almond flour. With vegan buttercream frosting, it’s scrumptious.

What was your Monday like?

9608D85D-DBCC-4C60-A956-3A2C2378385E