Monday, August 29, 2016

Hummingbirds...and working hard to stand in place

A favorite spot in the garden
I know it’s usually the squirrel I bring forth for life’s funny little lessons.  But this week, I find my focus on another favorite of mine…the hummingbird.

I have had a hummingbird feeder for a few years now.  Last summer, there were three or four that fed several times a day and I loved being able to get a really close up view of these amazing creatures.  Their energy levels are completely over the top insane and amazing!

This year, I have just one that visits me a couple of times a day.  Usually early morning or evening, which is my favorite time to be outside just before sunrise or after the sun has gone down.

I’m no expert on the species…simply an admirer of their tenacity, beauty, and strength.  A few days ago, I was walking past the window and paused for a minute to look outside.  At that same moment, the tiny hummingbird hovered in place almost at my eye level.  Life is so fast, but these kind of moments…they seem like time freezes.  He wasn’t afraid and seemed to simply stare back, with equal curiosity.  I’m sure it was just a few seconds, but it was long enough for me to wonder why I’d been blessed with this uniquely individual experience with one of nature’s wonders.

And instead of just moving on I decided to see what else I could learn from this little close encounter.  What else might the hummingbird have to share and how could I learn from the every day instincts that enable this tiny bird to survive in its tiny frame, in all elements of weather.

The first thing I thought about was how they manage to hover in mid-air, exerting great strength, flapping wings at a rate of around 50 times per second…a skill that enables the hummingbird to pause in mid-flight and observe.

Well that was the first connection that made sense to me in applying this discipline to my own life.  I think about how much concentration and effort it takes in life to pause…stand still, and open yourself up to the possibility of living in a less restrictive, yet more deliberate way.  Speaking only for myself, I consider the focus and effort to stand still in time and live in the moment, without worry…well, I can easily imagine myself exerting an equally daunting amount of energy and discipline…for the simple purpose of standing in place instead of moving ten steps ahead. 

Hummingbirds are also more aware of their own limitations (feel another lesson coming on J).  With such a high metabolism rate, they have to conserve energy when food is scarce.  So at night, they go into a “torpor”…sort of like hibernation.  They slow their metabolic rate to 1/15 of its normal rate.  Another impressive feat and one we could learn a lot from.  Such a simple lesson….so basic…take care of yourself, rest when you are tired, conserve your strength.  Yeah, I’m really liking this sweet little bird.

But what about when life gets really tough?  I wondered how these delicate, winged animals survive over time…and what does a lifetime represent for them?

Sure, they have some wicked talent when it comes to flying and hovering in place.  But what about the harsh elements of the outdoors?  What about storms and wind?
These little guys are rock stars even in the toughest of environments, quickly adapting to wind gusts by increasing the amplitude of their wing strokes angle and changing the orientation and size of the surface area of their tail feathers into the shape of a fan.  So basically, all I need to do to follow suit is to similarly roll with the uncertainties in my own life, balancing and adjusting…adapting and learning.  Hmmmm…can’t possibly be that simple.  Or can it?

Let’s consider this a little more.  The average life span is around 3 to 5 years, but they can occasionally live a decade or longer. 

How do they weather the elements season after season?  How do they survive in the rain while flying?  I frequently find myself in a torrential downpour (metaphorically speaking), and struggle to find my footing and find a dry spot to ride out the storm.  These guys…they are unflappable.  They continue to fly in the rain, shaking their heads and bodies to shed water.  Even more impressive, these naturally “street smart” aerodynamic experts naturally adapt when raindrops may collectively weigh as much as 38% of the bird’s body weight.  Think it slows them down?  Think again.  They simply shift their bodies and tails horizontally, beat their wings faster, and reduce their wings’ angle of motion when flying in heavy rain.  Rock on, little guys!  I need to remember this on those mornings when the weight of my head to lift off my soft pillow is more than I can muster…I should be channeling Tom Cruise from Risky Business and leap from my bed and onto the wood floor, sliding halfway to my closet in my socks.  I have to wonder if softer isn’t always better.  The easier we are on ourselves, the harder it is for us to rise to a challenge, when faced with something less than routine.  Shake off the water, spread your wings, and don’t consider embracing the day as an option…but more of a privilege. 

There’s also some cultural beliefs by the Aztecs.  Talismans, representative of hummingbirds were considered a sign of vigor, energy, intimacy and propensity to do work.  The talismans were also thought to draw sexual potency (LOL we can skip that one), energy, vigor, and skill at arms and warfare (a little overkill for me unless the apocalypse and zombies come to pass) to the wearer.

It was also believed that fallen warriors would return to earth as hummingbirds. Although the lifespan would be super condensed as compared to a human lifespan, what an amazing journey to be able to see through the eyes of this spectacular bird and take flight with a kind of reckless abandon, instinctively responding to changing environments and somehow continuing on, without incident. 

I still have a fondness for the squirrels (and their survival instincts), but I’m feeling a new affinity and a sort of kindred spirit to the many strengths and traits these birds possess.  And the strengths I don’t share today, maybe I can adapt as well and learn to appreciate more of the moment by moment kind of living.  A strength that can help me exert the most energy at the most trying of times, enabling me to continue to adapt, learn, and live in a way that lets me appreciate the bigger picture. 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

An Ode to Surgery… Asked and Answered This Week

"Um, I'm sorry, but I asked for Dr. McDreamy.  

(Nurse for pre-op testing over phone, while I am driving in my car, with 12-year-old) “Describe for me in your own words, what procedures you are having during your surgery next week”

(Me) “I’d prefer not to if it’s all the same to you.”

(my 12-year-old) “Just say it.  I know everything.”

(Nurse) “Yes, well I think you understand the procedures given what you have already said.  We can leave it at that.”

(Nurse drawing blood) “We usually have you sign in writing that you cannot be pregnant…but you’re 50, so we don’t need to.”

(Me)Hey, thanks for calling that out.  You didn’t have to rub it in…I could have just told you I’m down a uterus and called it a day!”

(my 12-year-old) “So what exactly are they going to do to you?  I mean, where are they going to cut you?”

(Me) “Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to know…and I’m tired of being asked.”

(pre-admission phone call) “I just want to make sure that you are getting everything you want.”  (laughter) “I mean, that you understand what is going to be done.”

(Me) “Oh yeah, I can’t wait.  It’s beyond my wildest dreams and I could not ask for more!  Please sir, may I have some more?”

(pre-admissions) "Do you have any religious beliefs that would prevent any life saving efforts like blood transfusions or other measures?"

(Me) "No, please save me.  I'll take whatever I can get ... and while we're at it, let's take a look at a medical directive because now that you've mentioned it, I don't want to leave anything to chance...or my family members LOL"

(my younger brother) “So who is going to take care of you when you get home?”

(Me) “I’ll have the kids and they will pitch in and help.”

(my younger brother) “You’re F’ed.”

Laughter…(me) “I think you might be right!”


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Squirrel on meal selection and life choices...Apple Sauce or Apple Butter?

What if making choices in life resembled the basic choices we make in our food intake each day? 

Sometimes we are in a rush, so we pull together something frozen and quick instead of preparing something from scratch, requiring more time.  I think in some ways hunger is like the satiation we seek in life.  Sure, one is a physical need and one is merely a physiological urge or desire…spanning anywhere from where we want to land in life with a career, kids or no kids, and who we want to be with…or not.

So as I was making apple butter today for the first time ever, I gave this consideration as I worked through the process of my apple butter recipe.  First, you make applesauce, and then you continue simmering to make the actual apple butter.  I’ve had a few failed attempts at canning as of late, so I didn’t want to invest the time to make just apple butter and risk it being a total loss.  I decided to pull a few jars of applesauce from the saucepan at mid-point.  My rationale? I would have two chances to succeed at something tasty…both of which I really like.

I finished up the apple butter, which looks to have been a success as well.  I carefully stored the new jars to cool on the counter and froze the tubs of apple sauce in the freezer.  I put it next to the strawberry jam I made last week.

Getting back to my point about how choices in life can often be dictated by the convenience factor and the time you’re willing to invest, not knowing for certain if it will turn out the way you wanted.

Today’s lesson was a safe bet…at least for cooking.  Apple sauce takes less time to make and is almost as tasty as apple butter.  Apple butter takes a really, really long time to make, but when done right, it’s worth the trouble.

Here’s hoping we can all recognize that any choice we make in life is an important one, and we shouldn’t rely solely on immediate gratification or a sure thing.  Sometimes what requires the greatest effort is more rewarding than a quick and easy win.  So when you consider your next decision point outside the kitchen, remember that some of the toughest decisions are worth the trouble just as some of the hardest recipes result in the most rewarding outcomes.  And the more you practice, the more adept you’ll be in seeing the difference, one ingredient at a time.


Friday, August 19, 2016

My First Harvest…a Cornucopia of Learning


  Sunflowers can be harvested too soon and be empty shells (garlic flavored cardboard)


            Corn may not be my thing after growing weeds last year, and a whopping three ears this season 

                   Tomatoes were the bumper crop and easy to grow


Kale fail…one caterpillar took my entire harvest (insert beautiful sunrise :)

                   Green beans are fun and a solid boost to ego, giving me a smile almost daily as I plucked a few beans nearly every morning…though never enough to do anything but snap and snack on the go

                    Sweet peppers can be claimed as a victory; plenty of peppers for variety of purposes (just please don't ask me about the's still too painful to talk about)

            A cucumber by any other name is NOT the same (a tale of my squash) - use caution planting similar vining plants too close together.  I "picked a cucumber" that turned out to be a squash.  

                    I can’t believe I never canned before…it’s awesome, cost effective…and makes you feel pretty good about making your own food from start to finish (okay, I may have been in a jam and a friend was kind enough to give me his strawberries, so I could learn how).

A star is born !


Humility – after creating a perfect batch of jalapeno jelly…only to find I used so much pectin, the jars are now decorative candles, requiring wicks to enjoy aroma.  

Epic Fail!


I’m gonna need a bigger garden next year…win or lose, it’s fun and I'm going to do it again!