Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Robin's Nest

 trigger warning: pregnancy loss.

This spring, a robin started to build her nest right outside the window in our kitchen. I spend a lot of time looking out that window, since the sink is right there, and I'm doing the dishes at least twice a day, and it was fascinating to watch the process up so close.

Each day, the nest became thicker, deeper, more well-constructed. Sometimes we'd all marvel at the wonder of architecture, sometimes we'd watch the robin and wonder what she was doing as she pressed her body into the nest. "Is she laying an egg?" I asked no one in particular, aloud. I would avert my eyes, feeling like it was a private moment, but how could I not look?

The robin wasn't much of a homebody; we'd see her there occasionally, and then the nest was empty. Except one day, it wasn't. A bright blue egg, like a piece of turqoise. Astonishing, against the drab brown of the nest.

I worried about the egg. Was she spending enough time there? Was it safe? Were we too close to the window? Was the light from the kitchen too bright?

Then, one day, another egg. Then, away again. And another day, a third. Away. And finally, a fourth.

With each additional egg, my concern grew. The robin spent a lot of time away from the nest. Were the eggs warm enough? Would they be OK there? We learned that robins spend 15 minutes of every hour warming their eggs. They sleep at night.

I peeked over the windowsill carefully, never opening the window, taking stock of the robin's appearance and disappearance. After the fourth egg, it seemed to stay for a bit, hunkered down.

Except one day, when she was out, I noticed that two eggs had gone missing.

I felt my heart drop. Where were they? Eaten? Did they fall? I half wanted to go rooting around in the bush, see if I could find the eggs on the ground, replace them in the nest. But of course, I couldn't. So I pinned my hopes on the two remaning eggs, watching the robin come and go, come and go, checking to make sure that she was spending enough time warming the two precious remaining eggs.

And one day, the robin left, and didn't come back.

I have been watching the nest in vain hope ever since, the two perfect beautiful turquoise eggs that will never hatch. Was it something we did? Was the lawnmower too close and too loud? Did we walk by too many times, even at what we thought was a safe distance? I fault myself, ourselves, over and over.

My kids tell me "it's just nature, Mom." My daughter, wise, knowing that there were others before her that didn't hatch, tries to console me: "this even happens to humans." Which, of course, is exactly the problem.

I'm heartbroken. And every day, at least twice a day, ten times a day, I look at the eggs, sitting in the nest, outside my kitchen window. Reminders of the birds that will never be.

Reminders that our hearts are never quite the same.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Rustic Bean Soup and a Visit to the Apocalypse

When the decision was made to bring students back to campus this semester, despite the fact that classes would still be remote, the Campus Life group developed a program that would bring staff in for occasional "rounds" to encourage student adherence to the social contract guidelines (facial coverings, social distancing, not moving furniture, limited in person gatherings, etc.). Initially, I declined to sign up for the opt-in responsibilities, thinking that I'd see students on my own terms, when I was ready, and not visit what was likely to be a petri dish of COVID. Over time, though, I started to feel like maybe I should show up. After all, it had been months since I'd really been on campus for more than a minute or two. And at some point, I thought, I'd have to go back. Better to mentally prepare myself for that moment in small doses.

My first shift the other day was scheduled close on the heels of another meeting, so I figured I'd go to campus early, take my meeting in the office, and then show up for my shift afterwards. On paper, it looked easy.

What I didn't anticipate was just how hard it would feel to walk into that office, remember where the light switches were, and sit in a chair that wasn't mine (because mine was at home, where I brought it early in the pandemic), looking at a huge double monitor setup. It felt weirdly foreign, like a space I'd never inhabited before.

But there were also weird reminders of time that stopped in its tracks. Files from students that had graduated last year. Half-completed paperwork that ended up completed online. Ghosts of the year gone by. And perhaps most bizarre, my planner, open to the date last year when we all left campus, thinking we'd be gone for two weeks. It was like returning home after the apocalypse, digging through the debris alone, lights turned off, no one else in sight.

I left that day, after my meeting, realizing that it would take a long time to feel like this space was normal again.

Rustic Tuscan Bean Soup
This was a recipe I shared with some friends early in the pandemic when the "I'm out of meals, send your recipe to ten friends" chain letter was going around. I never forward those things, but I always respond to the sender. Sort of like a voice from the future, speaking into the past.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 yellow summer squash, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 quart vegetable (or chicken) broth
2 (14 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with juices
3 cups chopped kale, ribs removed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, and squash. Saute for 4 minutes.

Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and rosemary. Cook 30 seconds.

Stir in the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Bring the contents to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and add the chopped kale. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to partially puree the soup, leaving some chunks of beans vegetables for texture.

Add the salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve topped with Parmesan or Dubliner cheese and a side of crusty bread.


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