Hunting-birds in summer showers

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“Mom, can we look for hunting-birds?”

It was hot. Sticky. Thunder rippled overhead, randomly spooking my five-year-old. Oliver dashed inside. But his three-year-old sister was looking up at me, curls damp and eyes hopeful.

Dropping lunch bags and tote bags, junk mail and travel mugs, the kids and I settled on the porch while the mosquito welcoming committee rushed to greet us. I cringed. My idea of spending time in nature is ordering chips and salsa on an outdoor patio. But we’ve all taken a new interest in fresh air, rain, space. Our world got smaller this year.

My husband hung bird feeders years ago, around the time we first moved in. But working from home since the spring, and with little to distract from the kid mess and “Floogals” on loop, Spence has really committed to refreshing them. Every few days he’s pulling them down and mixing up a sugar solution, carefully rehanging them under the eye of watchful bird-neighbors.

The hummingbirds — Hadley’s <i>hunting-birds</i> — seem to be everywhere. Several duke it out for the prized feeder on the porch; others have laid claim to the back deck, where they alternate sips and squawk at one another. We can see them from our family table or Spencer’s desk in the office. He often took the kids out to watch the birds during COVID, when the days stretched with uncertainty. I was at work, watching drive-through lines for COVID testing stretch around my hospital building.

Oliver and Hadley’s daycare reopened two months ago. We worried about what to do, talking through multiple variations of the same thing … and ultimately decided it was best for everyone to settle them back in such a familiar and comfortable setting. And, you know … suffice it to say that everyone’s sanity felt like it hung in the balance.

So they’ve been happily back amongst some teachers and friends — back and as socially-distant as possible, anyway — since late June. The routines have been wonderful for everyone. Already I feel like those strange, scary first days have receded a bit in the mist. Everyone is happier; everything feels a little lighter. My anxiety dreams spin up less and less often.

COVID isn’t gone, of course. Of course. Face masks are now a staple of daily life, like temperature checks. So much of what would seemed absolutely unthinkable six months ago — canceling weddings, suspending sports, making all-important black-tie fundraisers “virtual” — is now all just so … unsurprising. Disappointing, yes. But just part of life in a pandemic.

As we’ve tiptoed into a “new normal” (do you hate that overused-but-apt phrase as much as I do?), at least for the moment, there are certainly glimmers through the rain. I now pick up the kids after school, and we talk all the way home. Before, with Spence on pick-up duty, I’d drag myself into a chaotic house with children already glued to tablets. “How was your day?” went largely unignored.

It doesn’t now. And we move slower. Each day begins with a kiss on the forehead — part affection, part diagnostic — and breakfast: string cheese for Hadley, pancakes for Oliver. I hug my husband in the doorway, step out into the heat. Begin the first of my two full-time jobs, starting the second as soon as I see those sweet faces again.

Version 2

On Wednesday, the day after a tropical storm ravaged the next county over, the air was damp and heavy. Hadley asked to see the hunting-birds. I felt the bugs clustering on my exposed ankles, then thought of the constellation of bites that would soon dot my skin.

But already I’m often “Mom,” not Mommy. Little hands don’t seek mine quite as much. I don’t remember the last time a child fell asleep in my arms (not counting my four-month-old nephew). And I think — fingers crossed! — that we’ve officially changed our last diapers … five-and-a-half long years after changing our first. (Not exactly sad about that, though.)

So we sank into our hand-me-down porch furniture — Oliver tall in a chair, Hadley and I snuggled on a bench. I tried to ignore the cobweb threads on my elbows while we watched the feeder intently. At one point we heard a mad buzzing, and my daughter and I jumped. The hummingbird was just a blur.

Spencer soon crept out. As our resident avian expert, he pointed out the tiny bodies bouncing between tree limbs. They were clearly watching us, too.

“Let’s try to be really quiet,” he whispered to our two squirming children — and me. “If we wait patiently, I bet they’ll come over.”

It took a few minutes. Thunder rumbled, but distant now — music from a storm that wouldn’t come. Hadley rested her head on my arm; Ollie settled his hand on the other.

And then, they did come. There and gone in mere seconds, but hovering enough for us all to clearly admire them. The iridescent green hummingbird, an emerald flash, was my favorite. Oliver was so excited that he jumped up, exclaiming that he needed his video camera (an Adam Goldberg in the making, for sure). The moment ended as Oliver lost it after he couldn’t find said camera … but calm moments these days are all precious.

“I love that smell,” said my husband, grinning as a soft rain started. “And I love that sound — just a summer rain falling.”

I didn’t know the last time I heard it. Or smelled it. Or … really noticed it at all.

“Me too,” I said, and mean it.

 

Making myself (un)comfortable

Beach babes

Ah, summer — you snuck on in and just made yourself comfortable.

After possibly the strangest spring of all time, Maryland’s hazy days and humid nights have settled in. Lifting some restrictions placed during the COVID-19 crisis has meant we could finally see the family we’ve missed so much in the last few months. I met my baby nephew (and can’t put him down)! Work at the hospital has pivoted from all coronavirus, all the time, to a few daily tasks as we resume some regular operations.

Normal life is slowly seeping back in, filling in the cracks of pandemic life.

Whatever “normal” means, anyway.

In many ways, of course, nothing feels normal right now. And it shouldn’t. Protests against racial injustice continue across the nation and world. The idea that it’s not enough to be simply “not racist” — that we must, instead, be anti-racist — has definitely changed my perspective lately. It’s gotten me thinking … and remembering times in which I should have said more, done more, been braver.

My own work will be partially in embracing discomfort and having hard conversations — with others and myself. It’s going to be in raising thoughtful, open, big-hearted children. And stepping forward when it would feel much safer to hang back.

And so, like always, I turn to books. I read to learn and grow and look beyond my bubble. My TBR is constantly expanding. Next up? Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. And there’s plenty more in store.

At home, we take it day by day. Spence continues to work from home with Oliver and Hadley until our daycare center reopens. While I’m eager for the kids to see their friends and get back into routines, it’s scary to imagine taking them back out into the world. Surreal, even.

I don’t know what this summer will look like. None of us do. But in processing what the last few months have meant, I return again and again to this poem by Leslie Dwight — likely circulating in a social media feed near you:

What if 2020 isn't cancelled

So far 2020 has been nothing if not uncomfortable, but it is time to grow.

I’ll keep reaching toward the sunlight.

 

Grilled corn and tomatoes with a honey lime dressing

Roasted corn

Come Saturday morning, you’d be hard-pressed to find me somewhere other than the farmers’ market.

Given we have a stroller and adorably demanding human in tow these days, those trips have to be a bit more planned out . . . but since Oliver has been cleared for public strolls, we try to pack the little guy up and head out.

We were housebound for a while there — and the last time I made it to our local market, we had a choice of zucchini, squash and a few paltry peppers. This past weekend? Well, friends, it was a veritable smorgasbord . . . and I went hog wild.

Cherry tomatoes.
Watermelon.
Cantaloupe.
Blueberries.
Tomatoes so fat, you want to bite right in.

And after picking up half a dozen ears of corn for our little Fourth of July barbeque at home, I remembered a simple corn and tomato side dish I whipped up a few times last year. Like this cucumber and onion salad, this dish is light and fresh and comes together in no time flat.

Especially valuable when the little person inside the aforementioned stroller has a meltdown.

The original recipe calls for the addition of avocado, but I didn’t have any on hand — so I skipped it. It’s delicious without, so I’m imagining it’s even better with!


Grilled Corn and Tomatoes
with a Honey Lime Dressing

Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes
4 ears of fresh sweet corn
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, or 1 tbsp dried cilantro

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Remove husks from corn and grill over medium heat for 10 minutes. (The corn should have some brown spots and be tender, but not mushy.) Cut the corn off the cob and remove silks. Set aside to cool. Slice tomatoes in half.

To make the dressing, add all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Combine the sliced tomatoes, cilantro and grilled corn with the honey lime dressing and mix gently until evenly coasted. Chill the dish for at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Epicurious


Simple summer side: cucumber + sweet-onion salad

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We’ve had an embarrassment of cucumbers lately.

Our new tradition of hitting the farmers’ market on the weekend brought us three of them for $2 — a steal! — and they’ve been patiently hanging out in our new fruit bowl since Saturday. Spencer came home with two more from a friend’s garden on Tuesday, bringing our total of OMG-HUGE vegetables to five.

Martha Stewart to the rescue, it seems! With some quick Googling, my husband found this recipe for cucumber and sweet-onion salad, and it is light, refreshing summer deliciousness.

And now nothing will go to waste. Just the way nature intended it, I think.

Between you and me? Um, we didn’t exactly have fresh dill or freshly-squeezed lemon juice . . . so we improvised with a dried variety as well as lemon from a bottle. The results were still great. In case, like me, you don’t feel like hitting the grocery store.

Just don’t tell Martha.


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Cucumber and Sweet-Onion Salad

Ingredients:
3 English cucumbers, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large bowl, toss together cucumbers, onion, dill, oil, lemon juice, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper.

(Recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food)


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Dog days of summer

Dogs


The summer has been crazy. My brain is like a sieve this morning. Between getting up at 4 a.m. Saturday for a lighthouse cruise and getting up at 3 a.m. yesterday for an amateur radio flea market two hours away (I read while Spencer sold stuff), I am off to work . . . barely able to form a coherent thought. I need more diet soda. Please excuse this random post.

But I wanted to share this photo of three dogs on a raft with you. I took it last weekend on a rare day when I was actually sitting poolside, steadfastly not burying my face in dessert and trying not to freak out as Spence tried to teach me to “swim.” (Despite years of lessons as a kid, no, I can’t swim.)

They’re my sister’s fiance’s dogs. They’re cute. I totally have a favorite . . . and he definitely doesn’t like me as much as I like him. (Buster, in the foreground — and refusing to look at me. Typical.)