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The Birds

Herons and hawks and eagles, oh my!

It has been a mad March hereabouts, with temperatures fluctuating 40 degrees in a matter of a few hours! We have had snow and rain, sunshine and strong winds – March in the Midwest.

The wetlands and ponds and sloughs in our little kingdom have, however, tempered the gloom of this frenetic month, as the great bird migration takes place.

Perhaps it is my own increased awareness and interest in birds as I wander the habitats around me, but it seems that his year, this spring, there have been more birds, especially waterfowl, stopping by for some R & R, courting and breeding and feeding,

I really need to take my serious camera with me on my excursions; that and a bit more patience. I squeal and clap with the glee of young schoolgirl when I need to be still and calm and present.

I was driving, barely pedaling at 10 mph, in the parking lot at the boat dock at the Saganashkee Slough (aka Sag Slough). I thought I saw something. I stopped, looked up through the sun roof, and there he was, in all his glory – a bald eagle. He circled and circled, just over my head, close enough for me to see his white head and distinguished tail. The circles grew wider and wider, with this majestic bird rising and soaring until he became but a speck in the distant sky.

The very next day, parking my car at the grocery store, a red-tailed hawk swooped past me and landed, quite authoritatively, upon an electrical pole. A small field of dormant grasses and a paved parking lot were his domain. I am quite certain he looked at me and winked. While I was shopping, so was he. As I walked toward my car, he swooped off his hi-wire perch, his purchase in his talons as I carried a sack of groceries in my as I headed back to my car.

There was also this drama another day this past week; a day when the wind was still and the temperature warm.

I was at the very same boat launch at the Sag Slough. I rounded the bend and saw one of those puzzles common in a children’s publications with the caption “what doesn’t belong in this picture?”. I drove back around to figure it out. There it was, plumes of white peaking over the launch –  and me in my driving machine. I arrived just in time to see it, a snowy egret, arise from among a gathering of gulls and sweep across the water before resting further along the shoreline.

Wow!

Sensing the shore was where the action was, I went around the parking lot, again.

I wonder if a drone has been watching me, the goofy granny in a mocha VW, circling a small parking lot, at a boat launch with no boats, going 10 mph).

It was on that third lap of ring-around-the-wildlife that I saw a heron in the grasses.

I stopped, parked, stood next to my car. The heron turned, waded a few yards down the shore, stopped, waited, then in an instant speared his meal. Gulls and geese and ducks and cars went about their noon-time business while the heron prepped his catch, putting it in the water, then out again, repeating the process. He expertly carried the fish a few feet, lifted his head. I watched, in awe as he tossed the fish into the air – and caught it. He swallowed and I could see the fish slowly slide down the heron’s long, elegant neck. It was dramatic, dear friends, and it was nature at its most pristine.

 

This Great Blue Heron, sated and stately, prepared for lift-off. Like the egret earlier, the heron arose from the water. He flew low and swiftly along the shore. I watched in awe and wonder in this mad and marvelous month of March.

Are you seeing birds in your neck of the woods? Are they nesting? Migrating? Settling in for the season ahead? Leaving for greener pastures?

Bald eagle photo and more information from here

 

 

The Muffin Man

As we perused the vast holdings of my laptop computer, Ezra pointed to a word on the bookmark bar.

“Yia Yia, what’s that?”.

“What, honey?”.

“That. It says strawberry. What is it?” 

Forgetting what it was that I had bookmarked, I clicked onto that coveted word, strawberry, which propelled this adorable bundle of energy into a froth of strawberry anticipation. As he filled to the brim of excitement, I found myself humming.

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields …

The bookmark was for a recipe for Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins; something I hoped to make for Ez when he came to visit. We looked at the recipe (well, I looked at the recipe, Ezra looked at the pictures of the muffin) and I mentally checked off what ingredients I had on hand. Soon enough, we wandered away from the computer and on to other things, the muffins forgotten – or so I thought.

The next morning, Ezra came searching for me to see if I was awake. Finding me with my eyes open and sitting upon my cozy chair, he fastened his baby blues on my face and proclaimed “let’s make strawberry muffins!“. He had me twisted around his fingers and he knew it!

Unlike the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake bake-a-thon of the previous day, this time I didn’t have the ingredients, but, I did have a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Jiffy mixes are always easy-peasy and good in a strawberry pinch. While I cracked the eggs, measured the milk, cut up a few strawberries and turned on the oven, Ezra put paper liners in the muffin tins. As I put the mixture into the cups, he and Papa made a crumb topping and then very nicely topped the muffins with it.

These two are the best of buddies – and a great help in the kitchen! Ezra tried to be patient as the muffins baked, checking the oven window to see how they were doing. Before long, the buzzer rang and the muffins were set on a rack to cool.

It is hard work watching strawberry muffins cool.

Finally, the muffins cooled enough to eat. They were still warm enough for the strawberries to tease taste buds and seem akin to strawberry jam. My pint-sized muffin man could finally eat his strawberry muffin.

Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man
He visits Yia Yia’s Lane?

PS – Ezra asked me for the recipe.

If I knew you were comin’

 I’d ‘ve baked a cake,

baked a cake,

baked a cake.


If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘ve baked a cake.

How-ja do, How-ja do, How-ja do

Our Up North family came down for a visit last week, which meant this most excellent “cook fantastic” wanted to bake, bake, bake! Bake, we did, every day they were here, however, one of the days found us snowbound and Yia Yia did not have any box mixes in the pantry.

I always have a few boxes of cake mix on hand for quick use just in case company comes. Not a box to be found, I remembered the chocolate mayonnaise cake that I made last year for the Elmhurst Garden Club’s celebration of the 1930’s – AND I had all the ingredients on hand. Out they came, along with cake pans, waxed paper, and a little white lie.

Kezzie’s birthday is much later this month. She was thinking out loud about it through much of our visit in that inquiring way youngsters have as their birthdays approach.

Hmmmm . . .

I decided that we would make this cake, only I told her it was to bring to a gathering at a friend’s house on Friday. We could make it early since Kezzie was such a good helper. I froze the layers, then took them out on Wednesday to frost. Kezzie was eager and more than willing to not only make the cake, but, to make the frosting as well. Hershey’s cocoa and butter and vanilla and milk and WOW! Lots of licking ensued once the cake was properly dressed.

Kezzie pondered, rightfully, that the cake needed a bit of pizzaz. I had a few Fannie May mints left over from Valentine’s Day, so, out they came and round the cake they merrily marched. The cake was on a cake stand (so I could easily transport it to my “friend’s” house) and there it sat, all afternoon, under a glass dome, waiting.

That evening the entire clan was over for our hearty corned beef and cabbage dinner; a St. Patrick’s Day tradition here on the Cutoff, along with the first of the Irish Soda bread (which Kezzie also helped make). Since all were gathering, we decided on an early St. Paddy’s Day celebration.  Amid the end-of-meal talking, laughing, resting from a big meal, I slipped away from the table. I put some candles on the cake while the Antler Man set out plates and made a pot of coffee.

On cue, Tom turned out the lights and in came the cake to a very surprised young lady, who, we all declared, had to bake her own birthday cake!

Do you have a favorite cake to bake?

Words to the song by songwriters Al Hoffman, Albert J Trace, and Bob Merrill

Loaves

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Two loaves of Irish Soda Bread are baking in the oven emanating a buttery temptation as the scent of baking bread rises on this rather gloomy St. Patrick’s Day. These two loaves will follow me out the door and down the roads I often traverse. When I return home, two more will go into the oven; one for my tall, Irish lad and the other for a neighbor.

We had a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage the other night when our Up North family was in and our hereabouts daughter and son-in-law could join us. Tonight – ah, tonight, I will make corned beef hash from the tasty leftovers.

I will be back writing soon, but, until then . . .

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.”
Irish Blessing

Bonnets

I wish I could wear a hat with style.

My sister has a flair with hats. She knows right wear to position them and how to tilt the brim just so. My dear friend, Cori can pluck a plume laden bonnet from a rack in an antique store and, tada, she is THE model for the picture hat. Me? It’s more like trick-or-treat time.

It is what it is, and it doesn’t stop me from wearing a hat now and then, but, these hats, ah, these hat are worn in special a way.

Aren’t they creative?

This one held spring ephemerals from the garden.

These hats were a few that members created for the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Oak Park and River Forest Country Club. I had the pleasure of attending this lovely affair, and hope they don’t me showing some.

This hat was planted with spring ephemerals currently blooming in the garden .

These lovely bonnets make me want to try and toss hat into the flower ring.

Down By the River

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It was in the silence.

I drove slowly along the river. There were pools of water close to the road; overflow from the early March rains. A portal for bikers, this inlet is also a favored fishing hole for humans – and migratory birds. This was slight detour on my way home from errands; an activity I frequently participate in, especially this time of year when nature begins its slow journey into Spring.

So it was, driving along in the slow silence of the riverbank, that I sensed that which I could not hear and did not see. I stopped and I waited. I needed to be still and patient and respectful.

Can you find it?  You might need to click on the photos.

It took me a few minutes to see what I sensed, then, a slight movement. A barely discernible ripple in the water. There it was. A heron.

He waited then slowly slipped along the shallow water, barely causing a ripple, almost hidden, a slight turn of his head, waiting . . .

. . . then dipping into the water, swiftly and successfully capturing his prey.

Down by the river.

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”  e.e. cummings

Like a Lion

img_2807March arrived full of fury and growling thunder, with flashes of lightning and strong, gusty winds. He brought with him hail and havoc and fast rising rivers. March’s bravado –  the fiercest of  lions if ever there was.

As March exhibited the height of madness, the daily mail arrived. There were the usual bills and advertisements, a save-the-date announcement as well as a lovely invitation to a spring luncheon, which I set aside in a prominent place, a visual reminder to respond.

It was not, however, these usual postal suspects that caught my attention on this damp, dark day. It was the splash of color with petals and leaves on the covers of much-anticipated garden catalogues that brought the hope of Spring on an otherwise blustery day.

White Flower Farm continues to publish one of the finest catalogues with trusty perennials, plants, even gardening tools. It is, in fact, such a well crafted publication that it calls itself a garden book.

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One long ago and equally blustery day, though not a March day, I ordered a passel of spring bulbs from White Flower Farm. Tete-a-Tete and Thalia, King Alfred and other daffodillian royalty were purchased in bulk, planted in Fall, and filled the garden of our first house with delight the next spring and many springs thereafter.

The catalogue is exceptional, as is the staff at White Flower Farm. While ordering some plants on the phone, the helpful employee I spoke to patiently took my order. It was a bit lengthy. There was one plant, I no longer remember which one, but as I named the plant she advised me against purchasing it, stating it did not do well in my zone.  She then suggested a few similar plants that were suited for my area.

It has been several years now since I have ordered anything from White Flower Farm, but, this periodical “garden book” continues to arrive and it is something I always look forward to; not only for its beautiful photography and offerings, but, for the descriptions of plants and suggestions for where and how to settle them into a garden.

Then, there was this . . .

img_2780

. . . a new and welcome discovery!

Prairie Nursery’s publication is touted as an ecological gardening guide – and it is. Not only is it a worthy source of native and prairie plants, it is a welcome resource for those of us establishing prairie gardens, or just interested in learning more about the midwest prairie.

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The Table of Contents is amazing.

Most gardeners in the Midwest deal with some of these soil types listed. Here on the Cutoff, we actually contend with all of these soils – medium, clay, dry and sandy, moist, shade! I look forward to digging deeper into these pages and hope to establish some of the plants offered.

I was appreciative of sections of this guide that cover planting issues that include Protecting Water Quality, Hometown Habitat, Planting Guides, Land Restoration – and, of course, Deer Resistance.

These two gardening catalogues came just when I needed encouragement to tamp down the madness of the March lion – and think about a No Mow Lawn.

http://www.prairienursery.com

http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com

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