Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bluebirds - A Recipe for Happiness

I've been looking, looking, and looking for an Eastern bluebird on our new farm property since we first went to look at the house and land last March. I have seen one fly across the road about a mile away on Dec 27, land and pose in the sunlight next to the road for a great view, but that had been the only one I've seen. Until today! While driving down our driveway, I saw one fly from the dead ash tree at the front of our land (in the center of the photo at the top of my blog) to the stand of staghorn sumacs just to the south of our garlic fields (on the right side of the photo currently at the top of the blog).

I don't remember where I first learned of the long and widely held association between bluebirds and happiness. However, I still vividly remember the deep happiness I felt the very first time I saw a small flock of bluebirds (February 29, 1976 at Festge County Park, just outside Madison, WI), and I also clearly remember the look of happiness that spread over a friend's face when she opened an office "secret-Santa" gift to find two blue glass "bluebirds of happiness".

One of my favorite artists and writers is Julie Zickefoose. Although many people may recognize her name from her lovely NPR commentaries, I was introduced to Julie's art and writing years and years ago in Bird Watcher's Digest magazine and have been a fan ever since. When I heard that Julie was coming to speak at a local bluebird festival several years ago, I quickly looked through all of my past magazines to find an issue where she had drawn the cover artwork to take with me, hoping for an autograph. She happily autographed 5 covers for me, and 3 of those 5 were of paintings of bluebirds, one of her favorite subjects that she paints using observations of bluebirds on her own farm in southern Ohio.

In the early 80's I was a bluebird trail monitor for several of the trails established in the northern Illinois forest preserves nearest to our home at that time. Two of those summers, I monitored the trails checking on the bluebird houses with my youngest son in a carrier on my back. The first summer was understandable and easy, as he was only 6 months old. The second summer was more challenging as he was now 18 months old and considerably heavier. I really envisioned that he would love to walk those trails with us, and he tried. Of course he got tired, and I did expect to carry him part of the way, but what I didn't envision was his aversion to having any high grass or twigs touch his sturdy little legs. He was so upset (!!) that I still remember the instant I sighed with sadness, put him into the carrier on my back, and thought to myself "this child will never be a naturalist". (Thankfully, thankfully, 27 years later, my worries in that regard have turned out to be totally unfounded!)

However, that summer was my last to volunteer for bluebird trail management in Illinois. The following year I was on chemotherapy and the year after that I was still too debilitated from my treatments to do all the walking required to monitor the trails. Then we moved to Michigan and that enjoyable part of life was put on hold.

Until now! Seeing that bluebird today has brought back such past happiness and also given me much happiness to look forward to. I knew I was remiss at not getting bluebird houses set out last fall, so the bluebirds that stay all winter (and many do in this area) would potentially have a place to take cover during nasty winter weather and also have first choice of a nesting box for the upcoming spring. While I cannot get any poles in the frozen ground at this date, I am going to quickly look for other mounting locations (like one of our clothesline poles?) and also be ready to get some up in the best locations as soon as the ground thaws enough to do so.

According to Wikipedia, the bluebird is a widely accepted symbol of cheerfulness, happiness, prosperity, hearth and home, good health, new births, the renewal of springtime, etc. So I take the January appearance of a bluebird on our property as a positive sign for the renewal that our new home and land is undergoing in 2010.

Although I did not have my camera ready to take my own photo., I leave you with two beautiful images of bluebirds in sumac during winter. The photo is from the web site for the Tennessee State Parks and the painting is from Julie Zickefoose's web site. If we are lucky, we may have the opportunity to move a beautiful old barn like the one in Julie's painting to our property to both preserve and restore (stay tuned - I'll be sure to let you know if the stars align for an opportunity and effort of this magnitude).

I hope you find your own bluebird of happiness, something that brings back happy memories in addition to something to look forward to with happiness.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Short and sweet! I have two (two!) engaged sons, one planning a wedding for summer 2010 and the other for summer 2011. I am so proud, excited, and thankful that both of my boys have reached this milestone in life with happiness and confidence, each having found a truly lovely young woman to love, each of whom we also already love and eagerly welcome into our family.

To say that I am grateful to have this opportunity to see and share in their happiness is a serious understatement. In fact, I would say the 'goose-bump-feeling' must be close to pure bliss. :-)

We did ask that they chose a date to be married that is not smack in the middle of our garlic-harvesting season, but I don't know what other input and options we, as parents of the grooms, will have. Much is still to be determined, and we'll all enjoy the planning and the process!

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow, inch by inch, row by row

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Signs of Spring

Yes! Although some are from last year, some are from this year already, too!

(Photo: Queen's Anne Lace, often called "bird's nest" during winter months as the remaining flower structure closes in on itself to look like a very small bird's nest)

(Photo: some bird's nest beginning that was never completed last year, or maybe even a complete but flimsy nest, or perhaps what is left after nature has taken its toll on the structure - this is in a shrub of some kind approximately 8-10 feet from the ground right next to a trail)

(Photo: Very well structured bird nest - there were two of these very close to each other that looked practically identical - these two nests were in some dense second growth 4-5 feet from the ground)

(Photo - Red-twig dogwood - I love seeing the beautiful red bark so clearly in winter without the leaves and in stark contrast to the snow)

(Photo: Fuzzy buds on what I believe is a magnolia - I don't remember seeing them a week ago!)

Large flocks of robins are roaming my neighborhood, chuckling and chortling but not singing yet, Carolina wrens can be heard singing nearly every day, tufted titmice are calling and singing their hearts out from the tops of trees, and cardinals will begin singing to establish mating territories very soon (I start listening for their songs in mid-late January, often hearing them for the first time of the year right on Martin Luther King's birthday). In addition, the days are already noticeably longer and brighter as we move farther and farther away from the winter solstice.

I needed a break from the inside messes to step outside to observe how the seasons are progressing, both enjoying winter and looking for glimpses of spring, too.

All this now seems even more beautiful tonight while finishing up the writing for this post than when I took the photos early this afternoon. Why? A good friend just sent an email telling me that a another good friend we both knew from our Madison days in married student housing (but had each lost touch with) died recently after a short 4-month battle with cancer - sigh and sob..........

Enjoy winter, each and every day, while also looking for spring. I count my lucky stars that I still have the opportunity to do so.

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow, inch by inch and row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Home Blessing

The holidays have come and gone too quickly. Our grown boys were home from the East coast and the West coast for 7-10 days, which was simply not enough time for them to catch up on their sleep, to finish holiday shopping and wrapping, baking and cooking, writing our family holiday letter, visiting with friends and family, host an open house at our new farm (not waiting until everything is done), and just relaxing and doing nothing. :-)

My husband and I have not yet taken down and put away all of our Christmas decorations knowing it is our last year in this home, having now switched into high gear making the myriad of decisions about the details of the remodeling and repairs we are having done to the house on our new farm. It has been overwhelming, we have gotten tired and "grouchy", and then came the earthquake in Haiti to remind us to put all of our problems and grouchiness in a true perspective, i.e., our "problems" are what my husband has always liked to call "the problems of success".

Right after I re-oriented myself to how fortunate we are to only be worrying about "Are we over or under budget for this item?, Are we ahead, at, or behind our contractor's time-line with these choices?" Have you and I reached consensus on this decision?, etc, etc," I took a few minutes to start reading the book, To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue. The first chapter is suitably titled "Beginnings". From this book, I was able to share with my husband the Irish proverb "Tús maith, leath na hoibre," a good beginning is half the work. The sweet smile on his face (his instant recognition that all of this mess plus all these decisions are getting us closer to our dream) was heart-melting and something I'll remember forever. :-)

Here are just a few photos of our current mess, which represents incredible progress, a good beginning is half the work!

(Photo: New roof in progress, front view, hopefully the landscaping that we want to keep is resilient)

(Photo: New roof - back view. Chimney repairs have already been done to stop the leaking from that source)

(Photo: New siding on west side, new bedroom windows installed, new bathroom window blocked out almost ready to install, new roof being put on)

(Photo: New private entrance being made from the hallway bathroom to the main floor guest bedroom, all repairs were necessary due to the leaking plumbing from the upstairs bathroom)

(Photo: Gutting of the main floor bathroom, all plumbing is being replaced or repaired for this bathroom plus the bathroom above it so that nothing will leak anymore! Everything still functional is being reused or removed intact where possible in order to be donated to our local Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.)

I'd like to end with the following poem, a blessing, by John O'Donohue in this same book:

For a New Home

May this house shelter your life.
When you come in home here,
May all the weight of the world
Fall from your shoulders.

May your heart be tranquil here,
Blessed by peace the world cannot give.

May this home be a lucky place,
Where the graces your life desires
Always find the pathway to your door.

May nothing destructive
Ever cross your threshold.

May this be a safe place
Full of understanding and acceptance,
Where you can be as you are,
Without the need of a mask
Of pretense of image.

May this home be a place of discovery.
Where the possibilities that sleep
In the clay of your soul can emerge
To deepen and refine your vision
For all that is yet to come to birth.

May it be a house of courage,
Where healing and growth are loved,
Where dignity and forgiveness prevail;
A home where patience of spirit is prized,
And the sight of the destination is never lost
Though the journey be difficult and slow.
May there be great delight around this hearth.
May it be a house of welcome
For the broken and diminished.

May you have the eyes to see
That no visitor arrives without a gift
And no guest leaves without a blessing.

We currently have a brass four-leaf clover over the main entrance to our home, given to us by my father when we first moved into our current home. Although it is no longer shiny and the stem has broken (life takes a toll on everything), we will take it with us to hang over the front door of our new home, a link of continuity to my family and the hope that our new home will also be "a lucky place, where the graces your life desires always find the pathway to your door."

As you begin 2010, cancer survivor or not, I hope your home is also lucky, a place of discovery, a house of courage and forgiveness, and that no visitor arrives without a gift or leaves without a blessing.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD