The Edible Journey: El Salvador

Some culinary adventures aren’t quite what I’d hoped for. That’s what happened when we sat down to our El Salvadoran meal as part of our Lenten Friday rice bowl menus. (Read more about that here.)

The fault, I confess, is all mine. I hadn’t prepared quite as well as I thought, so I had to substitute ingredients. Sometimes that works. This time it wasn’t a good idea.

Our meal that day was Pupusas de Queso, or cheese-stuffed tortillas. That sounded marvelous. Anything with cheese sounds marvelous to me. But the recipe called for maseca, which is made up of ground dried corn that’s been previously soaked in lime water.  The soaking breaks down the difficult-to-digest anti-nutrients found in all grains. I was all set to buy it, but it came in a 5-pound package and I wasn’t sure I’d use it again.

“I’ve got regular corn flour at home,” I told George, as we stood in the grocery aisle, dithering. “How different can it be?” Famous last words.

Not only did I not use the maseca, when I started to cook


Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

I discovered I didn’t have enough of the regular flour, so I padded it with corn meal. What I ended up with was tough little tortillas that left a lot to be desired. And of course, that was the day George’s sister joined us for lunch.

“We’re conducting an experiment,” I told her, and she gamely went along with it.

If I’d cooked this right, I’m sure we’d have enjoyed these a lot more, maybe even as much as Fernando, the El Salvadoran man featured by Catholic Relief Services with this week’s recipe. He dreams of becoming a businessman, and of creating a better future for his family. It motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses, which is dangerous work for $10 a day because gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers.

Fernando is a graduate of YouthBuild, a CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. You can read more about Fernando by clicking here.

Meanwhile, here’s the recipe. If you try it, do it the right way, please, and not like I did.

2 cups maseca
1 pinch salt
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup queso fresco or farmer’s cheese, grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine the maseca, salt and water in a mixing bowl. Knead to form a dough like playdough. If the mixture is too dry, add more water. If it is too sticky, add more maseca.

Using wet hands, form the dough into 8 balls about 2 inches in diameter. Using your thumb, make an indentation into one of the balls, forming a small cup, and fill with cheese. Wrap the dough to seal the cheese. Pat the dough to form a round disk about a quarter inch thick. Repeat with the remaining dough and cook each side in a slightly oiled skilled.

Pupusas are served with curtido, a cabbage salad, and salsa roja. Find those recipes here. I did make both of those, and they turned out good. In fact, I liked the salsa a whole lot better than anything you buy in a jar.

I might, in all fairness, buy that maseca and make these the right way. The idea of making my own tortillas, stuffed or not, sounds intriguing.

Next stop on our edible journey: Mexico

Posted in cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meals, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged | 6 Comments

The tale of the mutant meatballs

This, as the title says, is a tale of the mutant meatballs–or, how recipes sometimes develop a mind of their own.

That can only happen when you’re unprepared, as I was today. I knew I had ground beef to cook, but was preoccupied with something else all morning and didn’t give much thought to HOW I’d fix it. We’d had meatloaf last week, I didn’t want hamburgers–and I was running out of time. Swedish meatballs, I thought–even though I’ve never fixed them in my life. But, a little nutmeg should do it, right? How long could it take?

I went online, found a recipe, and printed it off. And that’s where the fun began. I won’t print the recipe here–you can find one on your own–but I will confess all the permutations that developed along the way to our mutant meal.

First, Swedish meatballs are supposed to be baked, and I didn’t have time for that. Browning them to doneness would have to do. Second, the recipe includes bread crumbs soaked in cream. I didn’t want to take the time to make the crumbs, and I didn’t have any cream. So, I crushed up some soda crackers. A crumb’s a crumb, right?

Then I noticed that the meat is supposed to include ground pork. Right. I didn’t have any of that, either. Could a bit of pork really make a difference? I hoped not, as I proceeded without it. Since I had the salt, pepper, nutmeg allspice and ginger, I was still feeling fairly hopeful.

I heated the pan, and began pinching off portions of the meat to shape and brown. When they were done, I’d be adding some flower to the drippings and then some beef broth. I headed to pantry to get those ingredients ready–and found no beef broth.

At this point I let loose with a loud wail, and George came running.

“I don’t have any beef broth,” I howled. Nor chicken broth. How about the vegetable broth I’d been collecting in the fridge, he suggested. No, no, no, that just wouldn’t be the same. I was getting frantic. And stubborn.

Finally, he pointed at the canned soups.

“How about mushroom soup?” he said, a bit of desperation creeping into his own voice. Mushroom soup? MUSHROOM SOUP? Ick! I was not in the mood to be consoled with second- or third-choice ingredients, nor to be adventurously experimental for which I usually pride myself.

But the meatballs were finished cooking, the drippings were sizzling, and I had to add SOMETHING to that pan. I reached for the soup, still muttering under my breath “ick, ick, ick.”

I swirled the soup around, thinned it with a little bit of milk, then added some plain Greek yogurt–because of course I didn’t have the sour cream the recipe called for. I probably would have made that substitution anyway, but at this point every ingredient change was hitting me like a mortal wound to my culinary heart.

Finally, I plated our meal and called George to the table.Swedish meatballs

“Here you go, Swedish meatballs–such as they are,” I said, determinedly ungracious about what to me was a total fiasco.

George took a bite, his face impassive. Then he took another.

“Well, I don’t care what you call them. These are GOOD!” he said. And I, grudgingly, had to agree. While I couldn’t quite call them the real thing, they were tasty. I admitted it to George.

“If you hadn’t suggested that soup, I’d probably still be standing in the middle of the floor, wringing my hands,” I said.

For some reason this brings to mind an episode of the science fiction show “Babylon 5,” where the alien G’Kar has invited a fellow Narn to his quarters for dinner. His guest is delighted that G’Kar had managed to import breen, a Narn delicacy, for this meal.

“It isn’t actually breen,” G’Kar confesses. “It’s an earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It’s a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs. I suspect it’s one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained…or which will drive you mad if you ever know the truth.” (For the full effect, click here and watch the clip for yourself.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to say my mutant meatballs would drive a dinner guest mad if he knew the truth, but I think their precise identity would stump even the Narns. I console myself with the thought that maybe there’s a sentient race out there who fixes theirs exactly like mine.


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The edible journey: Zambia

Dinner was simmering on the stove, and George and I were both getting hungry.

“I think, for the first time, we’re REALLY going to feel like we’re eating in solidarity with the poor,” I warned him.

He hesitated for just a moment, and then replied worriedly, “Well that sounds encouraging.”

Our rice bowl journey took us to Zambia this week, where we would be dining on Ifisashi, or peanut stew over polenta. (Click here to learn what the rice bowl project is all about, and get the first recipe in the series.) We both love peanuts–as a snack, over ice cream for tin roof sundaes, even fed in the shell to our neighborhood squirrels and crows. But in a stew?

However, we had committed ourselves to this journey, so this four-ingredient stew, even with peanuts, wasn’t going to derail our travels.

As I sliced onions and tomatoes to add to the water and Zambiachopped the peanuts and spinach, I thought how little this recipe resembled any of the highly seasoned, often fat-laden dishes we Americans are so fond of. This seemed–well, sparse. No cheese, no eggs, no meat. No appeal?

And yet, as I read in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) brochure that comes with the rice bowl, this meal is a vast improvement over what generations of Zambians have been eating as a staple: a corn flour porridge called “nshima.”

“Growing up, I’d eat porridge in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening,” said Evelina, a Zambian woman quoted in the brochure. Not a particularly nourishing meal, and the malnutrition of the people was proof of that.

CRS has been teaching women like Evelina how to grow new, vitamin-rich crops, prepare healthier meals, and then share that new knowledge with their community, meals like Ifisashi.

I confess I’m not a polenta fan, so I chose the rice option to go with this peanut stew–basmati brown rice, my favorite, as you know if you’ve been reading these recipes. And I used the peanuts I had on hand, which happened to be salted, thus eliminating the need to add more salt.

So, here’s the recipe.

• 2 cups water
• 2 cup peanuts, chopped
• 1 onion, sliced
• 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
• 2 bunches spinach or collard greens, washed and chopped
• salt to taste

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the peanuts, tomatoes and onion. After a few minutes, add the chopped greens. Stir occasionally and continue cooking until peanuts are soft and mixture has become a thick, buttery sauce–about 15 minutes. Serve hot over polenta or rice.

Evelina said she and her friends “sing and dance during the cooking lessons” because they’re happy to be learning how to cook different kinds of food. I wouldn’t say George and I felt like singing and dancing, but this was actually a good tasting meal–even the peanuts. Simple, yes. Inexpensive, definitely. But healthy, too. George sprinkled a bit of Cajun seasoning on his, I ate mine as-is. And I enjoyed each mouthful.

I suppose a person could grate a little cheese on top, or drizzle in some beaten egg to make it a slightly richer meal. Maybe next time. This time we were out for solidarity with those who don’t have or can’t afford the vast food choices we Americans enjoy. And the money we saved will go into the rice bowl that sits on our table.

If you want to watch a video about Evelina, visit and click on “stories of hope/around the world.”

Next stop: El Salvador.

Posted in Catholic, cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, healthy eating, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meal, nutrition, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The edible journey: India

I was chopping tomatoes when George wandered past, sticking his head over my shoulder to watch.

“What are those for?” he asked. Since it was nearing dinner time, I replied in my best duh! tone of voice. “For dinner, of course.”

Then he meandered to the stove, where veggies were simmering, their aroma wafting through the kitchen.

“Mmmm, what’s this?” he continued, so I listed the ingredients.

“It smells wonderful! I can hardly wait,” he said, promising  words that any cook loves to hear, especially when she’s trying something new.

This was Friday, which means another of my rice-bowl meals was underway. (Check here for an earlier blog about the history and meaning of rice-bowl meals, as well as the first recipe in this Lenten series.) This week our visit was to India, where “dalma with spinach,” or vegetable stew, is a staple in some regions. I suspect some of the ingredients have been Americanized to compensate for things not readily obtainable here (do they have potatoes in India?), but the spirit of the dish is preserved as closely as possible.

As I cooked, and later as we ate, we learned about the East Indian Singh family, Megha and Raj and their two children and extended family, who can’t get to market to buy and sell food when the Malaguni River floods. And, if the waters don’t recede quickly enough, their rice fields can fail, leaving the family in financial danger.

Catholic Relief Services has provided new farming tools and techniques survive those flood times–like planting vegetables in a kitchen garden, in special sacks, which allows Megha to raise them above the flood lines and thus ensuring that they have access to nutritious foods.

All I had to do to prepare this meal was to read the directions and head for the store. IndiaNot much of a hardship. But still, a simple, meatless meal like this does help put me in solidarity with a family whose meals are always simple and meatless. And it makes me grateful for the blessings of a full pantry and well-stocked grocery shelves.

Want to try this recipe for yourself? I think you’ll have fun fixing it as well as eating it.

• 1 cup water
• 1-1/2 cups pigeon peas or black eyed peas, cooked
• 1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed
• 1/2 cup potatoes, cubed
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/3 tsp turmeric
• 1 Tbs olive oil
• 3 dry red chilis, broken into bits
• 1 tsp cumin seeds
• 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
• 3 cups spinach, chopped
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp chili powder

Mix peas, pumpkin or squash, potatoes, salt and turmeric in a pan with water. Cook until vegetables are soft–about 15 minutes–and set aside.

In a separate pan, heat oil. To the oil, add chilis, cumin seeds and tomatoes. Fry until tomatoes are soft. Add spinach and stir until soft. Combine both mixtures, adding cumin and chili powder (if a spicy dish is desired) and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

Dry red chilis are hard to find around here, so I just added some crushed red pepper flakes. A little of those go a long way, so be careful! And since I do love spices, I added everything they suggested. The rice I used was, again, my favorite: organic basmati brown rice. Best flavor in the world, but it takes a bit longer to cook than white rice so you have to start it ahead of time.

I also served some apple slices to counteract the spices and clear the palate, so to speak, between bites. It was a perfect combination.

If you want to watch a video about the Singh family, visit and click on “stories of hope/around the world.” And stay tuned for next week, when George and I pay a culinary visit to Zambia.



Posted in cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, Lent, Lenten food, Lenten meals, meatless meals, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged | 5 Comments

On the road again

George and I are traveling again. Every Friday we visit a different third-world country. We don’t get to see any scenery, but we sure do enjoy a lot of good food.

Our mode of transport is the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl. That’s a little cardboard container with a slot on the top for inserting coins or bills. It comes with one meatless recipe per Lenten week from different countries of the world where people have to eat simply, out of necessity.

The idea is to fast from fancy or expensive foods, eat one of these simple meals in solidarity with the poor, and put the money saved into the rice bowl. Seventy-five percent of it goes to CRS for their humanitarian efforts throughout the world. Twenty-five percent stays in our local diocese to help the poor we have right here among us.

Two years ago I picked up one of those rice bowls for the first time since I was a kid in Catholic grade school. George and I sampled each recipe, saved the ones we really liked for future meals, and I wrote a blog each week about our culinary experience. I decided to do that again this year, and I’m hoping some of you will travel–er, eat–along with us. If you’re Catholic, it solves the problem of what kind of tasty vegetarian dish to fix for those meatless Lenten Fridays.

The recipes start with the week of March 5, which means there was nothing for this Friday after Ash Wednesday. So, I dug out one of our favorite recipes from two years ago: Gallo Pinto, from Nicaragua. I’m told it means “painted rooster,” probably because of the colors, and although it’s just a basic beans-and-rice recipe, it’s wonderfully tasty.

I’ll give you the basic recipe, and then tell you how I tweaked it a

1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tablespoons fair-trade olive oil
2 cups rice
4 cups water
2 16-oz cans red beans
1 bay leaf
salt and black pepper to taste
fried egg or cheese, optional

In a large pot, sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in oil. Stir in rice. Cook, stirring often, until onions are soft. Add water and cook, covered, until most of the water has been absorbed. Add beans and bay leaf. Mix well and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Serve hot with cheese or fried egg.

First of all, since it’s only George and I, I halved the recipe. Then, since we had a can of light red kidney beans on hand, I used those. They have a more delicate flavor than the dark red. I also used organic, basmati brown rice instead of white rice, which requires a little more water and takes longer to cook. It’s chewier, and has a bit of a nutty taste. For aroma as well as flavor, it can’t be beat. I did add some chopped kale, both for color and because it’s so healthy.

We opted for both the egg and the cheese. Garlic on the eggs, of course. I grated some pepperjack cheese, because we both like things a little on the spicy side, and sprinkled that over each serving.

And, wonder of wonders, I–who have never met a salt shaker I didn’t like– didn’t add any salt or pepper and was perfectly satisfied without it. Something about that combination of ingredients, I guess.

We didn’t talk much while we ate. Too much chewing going on. We did look at each other, though, and say, “WHY haven’t we fixed this more often?” Although there are many red-beans-and-rice recipes out there, you can’t go wrong with this one. I promise.

Stayed tuned for next week, when we visit India for Dalma with Spinach.

Posted in cooking, CRS Rice Bowl, Food, healthy eating, Lenten food, meatless meals, nutrition, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

No ordinary French toast

Yesterday was Wednesday, and that means one thing: French toast for breakfast.

I’m not sure how that became a tradition. Probably because it’s halfway between Saturdays, when we have pancakes and bacon. The rest of the days are usually just toast and peanut butter. So, Wednesday is mid-week splurge, I guess.

Although it’s a tradition, I like to tamper with it just a bit, to keep things from getting boring. Yesterday I came up with something George and I both loved. Nothing fancy, you understand. Just a little different from regular French toast, and certainly different from any I’ve seen on a restaurant menu.

George and I aren’t big eaters, so here’s the recipe for three pieces (two for him, one for me). Adjust as needed for the size of your family.

3 pieces of English muffin bread
3 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. rum flavoring (I just poured, didn’t measure)
sprinkle of salt
1 banana, sliced
maple syrup

Melt coconut oil in a frying pan. Whisk the eggs with a bit of salt and the rum flavoring, then soak the bread slices, one at a time, on both sides, and fry them in the pan, flipping when the first side is golden brown.

Plate the bread, arrange banana slices on top, and drizzle banana-french-toastmaple syrup over the top. (A little toasted coconut would be great, too.) That’s it, and they’re wonderful!

The coconut oil is very good for you, so you don’t have to worry about frying, in this instance. (Or in any instance, if you always use coconut or grape seed oil, both actually helping to lower bad cholesterol and raise the good.) And of course I use real maple syrup, locally produced here in Door County, Wis. It doesn’t get any better than that. Tree juice, rather than that flavored corn syrup found in those name brand imitations on the store shelves.

The coconut oil, bananas and rum all have a tropical taste to them, something I’d never associated with French toast. I hope you try this, and I know you’ll enjoy!

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Giants in my bones

The rumble was more a feeling than a sound, almost subliminal. I glanced outside, expecting a UPS truck, but the streets were empty.

“Must be the shipyard,” George said. “They must be moving a boat.”34

“Boat” is a gentle term used affectionately for the behemoths that grace our harbor each winter, huge ore boats 700 to 1,000 feet long. The come to Bay Shipbuilding for winter layup, many of them getting their 5-year inspections done at the same time. While some are “parked” in one place until they leave in spring, some have to be moved in and out of dry dock as they take turns lying under skilled ship worker’s hands.

35The rumble was that movement–but not, as you might think, from the giant engines. Ore boats can creep in and out of harbor barely making a sound, most of us unaware that they’ve been here and gone.

Now, their engines were running, along with the engines of the tugs that help them maneuver in tight quarters through ice thick enough to hold pick-up trucks, but the engines weren’t responsible for that persistent vibration.63 It was the ice.

Stretching from shore to shore, the ice has to be broken by the workhorse tugs creating paths for the ore boats as they are pulled out from the dry dock and into the harbor, turned, then towed into a new spot, thus making room for the next boat’s turn. For every turn, however slight, the ice has to be cut by the tugs.

I remember the year one of the big boats slid 28through the bay in mid-winter, its several-stories-high bow going head to head with that ice–and finally coming to a grinding halt. Big as it was, the ice defeated it, and it took the tugs to release it, riding on, plunging down and pushing through that ice.

And therein was the source of our vibration, the rumbling that seemed to echo in our bones. The ice on our side of the bay, firmly attached to shore, was shuddering with frozen ripples that tremble more than roll, ripples that even reverberated through the land itself, right up to our doorstep, since we’re relatively close to the bay. Our world was groaning.

A groan needs acknowledgement. We grabbed our cameras and


George Sawyn photo

headed for Bullhead Point, half a mile away, a launching pad for ice fishermen and a graveyard for sunken boats. From there, the thousand-foot Indiana Harbor loomed in front us, tugs in front, tugs in back, moving slowly, slowly, heaving its giant shoulders against the persistent ice sheet. Behind it, the Gott, another thousand-footer, was inching forward, seemingly impatient to switch places and get its turn in the dock, like a restive horse at the starting gate.


George Sawyn photo

We shot the tugs, we shot the boats, we even shot the tiny plane that buzzed around like a steroid-laden mosquito, flying at eye level with the struggling boats. Another photographer, we assumed. Maybe someone doing a documentary. Maybe just another boat aficionado, getting good views because he could.

When we had our fill, we headed home. We’d paid homage to the groaning, which continued long after we were snug inside, downloading photos from our cameras. The pictures are here, no captions necessary. The saga of winter, and boats, and ice.

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It’s a killer

I never thought I’d miss the squirrels, but I do.

They may be back eventually, but for now, I think there’s a big red X on our yard and they’re all staying away. I feel sorry for them, despite all the raiding they’ve done at our bird feeders.

The reason for their desertion streaked past us as we drove in our driveway the other day. It was a cat, a dark charcoal gray, lean and mean, squirrelwith the limp form of a squirrel clutched in its bloody jaws. One of our squirrels. One that we’ve fed every day, chased out of the bird feeders, allowed in the bird feeders, and laughed at for performing squirrel gymnastics.

I was outraged, but the cat took off running, firm grip on its prey. When I got to our door, I glanced at the empty feeders, still swinging. And then I saw the saddest sight: Squirrels, huddled here and there in the very top of the maple tree where they had run for safety. A couple chattered in that way they do when annoyed, and flicked their tails over and over in agitation. Most, however, sat quietly, afraid. In the branches below were the little brown birds who usually hang around all day. They were flitting and fluttering, but staying well out of reach of marauding ground prowlers.

An hour later, they were all still there, in the tree, afraid to come down. Later in the day I noticed they’d vacated the premises entirely, all of them, squirrels and birds, and things stayed empty.

I suspect that cat is feral because I doubt any well-fed house cat is going to bother tackling a squirrel. I also saw the same cat today, chasing a crow off road kill and running off with the carcass in its jaws. I suppose I should feel sorry for the cat, fending for itself in this cold and bleak winter.

turkeys-in-the-yardBut I don’t feel one bit sorry. I feel like a traitor, like an accomplice to the crime since I’m the one who put out the food–in effect, the bait–that lured the critter to our yard. And even worse, I suspect he’ll be back. If I catch him there won’t be a warm welcome.

Today the birds are back, but not the squirrels. Perhaps the ordeal will fade from their little brains in time and they’ll return, driven by the easy pickin’s in our yard–the same easy pickin’s we’ve provided for that blasted cat.

Maybe the solution is the flock of wild turkey hens that visits regularly. tillieIf I could work up a gang of attack turkeys, no critter-killing cat would trespass in our yard. Or maybe I should stake our beagle Tillie out there now and then. The cat wouldn’t stand a chance.

Posted in Animal antics, beagles, feeding birds, nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Window peeking

“Oh look, a chickadee just landed at the platform feeder–nope, it’s gone, but a nuthatch nuthatchnutis there now…was there, he grabbed a peanut and got chased out by a fat squirrel…”

It sounds like the running commentary at an avian sporting event, and it is a bit like a show. Every morning, while we’re fixing breakfast or doing dishes, the critters arrive for their handouts, flitting, fluttering, fighting and feasting on the goodies we put out just outside our window.

I watch a little downy woodpecker peck, peck, pecking away at a frozen piece of suet, look away, then glance hairyback to see that he has suddenly bulked up as if on steroids, still pecking. His super-sized lookalike is just the hairy woodpecker, of course, big enough to chase little cousin away. But his reign at the suet lasts only until the red-bellied woodpecker demands his share.

A cardinal lands on the swing frame and watches, head darting in all directions, always leery. The food lines are full, and he likes plenty of space when he grabs a treat. For just a moment, one feeder clears, and he takes his chance, swooping, grabbing a sunflower seed and leaving again in a bluejayred blur, while down below, a blue jay lands, claims a peanut-in-the-shell, then flashes up to a tree limb where he cracks it open and eats without being disturbed.

Nearby, at the standing-room-only millet diner, a variety of nondescript little brown birds line up. Some are on the cardinalperches, some wait on the deck railing, sitting on their feet to keep them warm; others flutter about the eaters in the hopes of forcing them to vacate their seats. A few hopefuls gather on the cedar hedge below, waiting for fallout or a chance to snap up a suddenly empty perch. A lot of people don’t like those little birds; not fancy enough, I guess. But hedgeI find them endearing, and since no one else wants the millet, I welcome them.

All the varieties give way to the squirrels in an explosion of wings, of course. They leap onto the feeders like the acrobats they are, sending them dipping and swaying while they expertly ride the turbulence, oblivious to the baleful glances of the birds or my own shouted protests. climbing-quirrel-collageI don’t protest for long. The winter wind ruffles their tails, they hunker down, and I concede that it’s cold and they’re hungry, too.

Everyone gives way when the turkeys arrive, and even the squirrels don’t argue with them. Still, big as they are, they are the most cautious, pecking and looking, heads down, heads up, alert even to movement from the window as I try to shoot a photo. A squirrel moves in, crawling flat as if in supplication, but gives up quickly, outnumbered and outgunned. The turkeys-2turkeys like the peanuts, but they like the cracked corn better, and since the other birds disdain it, they have it all to themselves.

The feeding frenzy continues and then suddenly, they’re all gone, responding to some subliminal signal only the critters comprehend. For the time being. The little brown birds will return to the millet regularly, the squirrels will hog the feeders on and off all day. The woodpeckers and nuthatches, in their backwards march down the tree, will steadily chip away at the suet.

Every day the show is at once brand new, and the same. Every day it entertains and amuses. And every day I know I have these critters to be grateful for.

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Happy mysterious new year

George and I won’t be staying up until midnight tonight. 2017 will have to usher itself in without any help from the Sawyns.

You’re thinking that has something to do with our age. Two old fuddy duddies whose biggest excitement is getting a new leash for our dog or finding a good movie on Netflix. I confess those things are pretty exciting, but age hasn’t a thing to do with it.

I lost my interest in midnight even before I was in high school, back in the days when the hours beyond bedtime were exotic and alluring. They were in the grownup’s territory where exciting things probably happened, or why would they be so determined to get us kids out of the way.

And then, one year, I had the chance to see for myself. After much begging on my part, my parents agreed that I could stay up until midnight and greet the new year. Their yes was the key into that forbidden world, thus far denied to the in-bed-by nine crowd.

Everything was in place. The television was on, snacks were spread out, my cousin Karen, invited to share in the adventure, was clad in pajamas as I was, and we settled down to wait for the magic to begin, to experience for ourselves the mysterious moment when one year fades into another.

It didn’t happen. The mysterious moment was to remain a mystery for a few more years yet, because neither Karen nor I could stay awake that long.sleepy I tried, convincing myself that I was having fun. But when sandpaper eyes gave way to a slight headache, the truth won out: I’m not a night person. I gave up and went to bed. The next morning, the new year had arrived without my help.

I’ve remained not-a-night-person my whole life. When the sun goes down, so does my desire to savor, explore,  cavort or burn that midnight oil. All I want to do is go to sleep. Which is to say, during the winter months, I’m getting sleepy around 5 p.m. A party girl I’m not.

So, this New Year’s Eve will be no exception. I’ll go all out and indulge in a glass of wine, maybe satisfy my sweet tooth with usually forbidden treats, and probably head to bed around 10:30.

George will be with me. So will Tillie. In the morning we’ll awake to 2017, and for me, its arrival will still seem like a mysterious event. And who doesn’t love a mystery?


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