Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bye Bye Birdie(s)

I confess...I really do want to blog more.  And I really do want to write about more than pain and books.  But I am just feeling drained of energy of late.  The latest attempt at remedying the pain doesn't seem to be the magic bullet.  Back to GP next week and Lady Pain Doc on 8/8.

Anyway...something different...perhaps only of interest to me and definitely a bit rambly, but a bright spot in our house...

Last year, a robin repeatedly tried to build a nest on the front porch light.  We pulled it down several times, always in the early-going, because it simply wasn't a workable nesting place.  She was pretty determined but eventually did fly off. 

I'd tried to tell Momma Robin that the back light might be a better choice and she listened this year.  She also had good timing.  We do use the back door to get to the grill a lot in the summer, but we've been away a lot so she got the jump on us.  Plus, we are both softies and couldn't take it down once it was fully built.  It was a bit of an odd looked like it was two-stories or like she'd built a second nest on top of the first.  Apparently they do sometimes do that, but not usually before they've raised a "clutch" (I've learned some Birdie Vocab...they have a couple "clutches" a year between May and July).

We returned from our last ten day trip, a trying and stressful trip when MM's father passed, to find one robin on alert.  She was watching us through the window, perched on a railing just outside the kitchen.  We opened the back door and were greeted with quite the squawking.  The Baby Birdies had hatched very recently..MM says there were four but I only ever spotted three.  They aren't the prettiest of things, half beak and half shrively body.  They still made us smile.  They were constantly chirping and looking for a visit from Momma or Poppa (apparently both parents feed nestlings...more Birdie Vocab).  I read that they were supposed to be wired to stay still unless they were about to be fed.  They didn't get that memo.

It was pretty cool to watch them evolve. The nest was a bit high, I could see them when they passed the rim but couldn't see inside.  MM often held up his phone above his head so we coud better peek into the nest.  They gradually grew wings and they did quiet down a bit in time. We checked on them a few times a day,   Momma Bird and Poppa Bird were vigilant protectors.  We were dive-bombed when we dared venture out the door and eyed when we stood near it.  One was always perched nearby and the youngins' were fed often.

I knew they only spent about two weeks in the nest and we could tell it was getting tight.  Momma seemed to ease up on the vigilance, perhaps an effort to get them to try their wings.  We worried they'd fall too far, the wrong direction was a big plummet down concrete basement stairs.  Everything said they could glide safely down, but we were still fretful watchers.  MM hooked up a plastic sheet to cover the stairway and stop a fall.  He called it the BRD ("Birdie Rescue Device")...I called it the trampoline. 

One got brave and hopped out yesterday afternoon, a bit before the others.  Birdie Research said this was the most dangerous period for them since they could really only hop and just flutter a small distance,  Birdie 1 was venturing a bit far, in the direction of an outdoor cat.  We'd read that it was a myth that Momma and Poppa would abandon a baby that had been touched so MM decided Birdie 1 needed a rescue.  I wasn't such a fan of the idea, but MM scooped Birdie 1 up to bring him closer to home.  He screeched and suddenly every adult robin within a few bocks radius arrived, screeching and flying in protective circles.  Birdie Research said each pair of parents was given it's own space and we really hadn't seen other robins nearby since the little ones arrived, but quite the flock arrived.  It definitely left me pondering about animal communication.  Is there a Birdie S.O.S.?

Birdie 2 fledged (Birdie Vocab!) last night and Birdie 3 left this morning.  MM asked to keep one but I told him that it was time for them to go.  I know they are nearby as they learn the ropes, but we haven't spotted them today.  I did see Poppa scanning for one mid-morning, a bit of food in his beak...apparently helping feed the fledglings for a little while longer is Poppa Robin's job.  

As evening rolled in today, MM took down the vacant nest.  Birdie Research suggested doing so.  It was already ridden with mites so clearly the necessary call. 

We'll push on through our Empty Nest syndrome   Bye Bye Birdies.  Come back and see us next year!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Time...A Beautiful 4.5 Star, Happily Rounded Up (Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter) and a Three Star w/ an Intriguing Plot but Never Pulled Me In (Little Night by Lunna Rice)

I confess...I've been in a slow reading period, largely because circumstances have just left me rather worn out.  I feel like it has been eons since I wrote a review post and even a good while since I finished the first of this review duo.

It is hard to really explain this book, another one I read thanks to the lovely folks at Harper.  It bounces from a small coastal town in Italy to Hollywood and from 1962 to the present day.   The story opens with Pasquale, a young man trying to bring tourists to an inn that's located in a town that even most maps likely overlooked.  He intersects with a young starlet who comes amid the tumultuous filming of Cleopatra, as well as a young writer trying to make sense of the world after his time in WWII.  Other plotlines involve a crumbling legacy of a Hollywood director, a starlet who thinks she has been stricken with stomach cancer, and a former musician drawn in by the dream of returning to the stage.  And, yes, since most other reviewers seem to mention it so I feel compelled to follow suit, Richard Burton has a role and there's also a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor.

The various plotlines, characters, and timeframes could have, in the hands of another writer, sparked confusion -- especially for someone like me who often struggles with the "who was that guy?" question during movies.  However, Walter manages to make characters vivid enough to stick in the reader's memory.  She paints beautiful images of place and very real, very fallible characters.  Some are more likeable than other, but all stay in the reader's memory.  It is not an easy read, nor a particularly quick one, but I think it is worth the effort.  While I tend to read for characters, I think it also has enough plot for a reader looking for a more in-depth story.  It is a lovely story, ultimately about what and whom we love.

I'd likely give it 4.5 stars, just because I'm stingy, but I'll round up to 5.  It is a book for readers and lovers of written words looking for a novel to fall deeply into and a journey that rewards the follower.

I won a copy of this book on Goodreads and had not previously read anything by the author.  The plot was intriguing and the story opened with Clare making a visit to her sister Anne.  The sisters, close in youth, have grown apart due to Anne's controlling and abusive husband.  Clare visits in order to try to convince Anne and her young children, nicknamed Grit and Gilly, to leave the situation.  She is making progress when the husband returns home and nearly chokes his wife before Clare stops him by hitting him with a burning log.  The husband claims he was attacked, Anne backs him up, and Clare spends two years in prison.  Many years pass, with the sisters estranged, when Clare is suddenly contacted by her niece, Grit, now 21 years old.  The novel explores both Grit and Clare's lives in modern day NYC as they attempt to understand their pasts and become a new family.  There are also flashbacks to Clare and Anne's childhood as well as the story of Clare's long-term relationship with Paul, whom she met in her teens.

I wavered on this book.  I didn't really expect it to be spectacular, a bias I'll admit I hold against the more prolific fiction writers of our times.  I did enjoy it, but it definitely ebbed and flowed.  I was interested in the childhood backstory, Clare's career involving NYC bird life, the growing relationship between Grit and Clare, and in Clare's relationship with Paul.  I was less interested in the developing mystery when Grit believes her mother is trying to reach out to her, Grit's film project,  and in some of Grit's own forays into NYC, including her own flirtation and a potential career opportunity.  As I write that, it becomes clear that, beyond her intersection with Clare (one of the high-pints for me), I wasn't all that compelled by Grit.

This is an okay book, just not something I'd feel compelled to share or revisit.  Three stars.  Perfectly fine, perhaps a decent plane read to keep you busy for a bit but one I'd gladly put down for a cup of Diet Sprite from the refreshments cart.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Being in the Room -- Brief Hours Recounted and a Wish for a Loved One Departed

I's been a long few days.  I try not to talk too much about "other people's stuff" here and to focus on my own story and my own thoughts. I may be okay to live openly in the e-universe, but I can't presume others are as well.  This post will be a bit of an aberration.  It may also be hard to read.

We left Central PA on Friday when we got a call that MM's father was struggling.  He has been ill for some time, beating one diagnostic estimate by many years.  The past month, however, has been a downhill journey and this is our second visit in a very short period.  He was home the first visit and had some home health help, but required overnight care from a relative.  Towards the end of that stay, after some long nights for MM on the other side of parental care, he was moved to the hospice wing of the hospital.

We came back out last Friday for MM to attend a family meeting with the hospice team.  The care provided by the hospice team was amazing.  They were kind and gentle to the patient and also very available for the family.  They had a nicely stocked kitchen for families to use, either for themselves or to bring something in to the patient.  It was definitely a danger zone for this Rambler with graham crackers, cookies, ice cream, and PB, but a lovely touch when you realize the long hours families may spend in the hospice care wing.

His voice has been quiet and raspy, usually difficult to hear, through the weekend.  On Monday, it was suddenly clear.  We'd been warned that there would be a fleeting moment of improvement before the final time, but it is tough to not see that moment and hope.  On Tuesday, they called to report "a change in condition."   MM's sisters were there early and we brought his mom around 1.  He couldn't speak and his breath rattled.  He tugged hard at his wife's hand.  When the sisters left on an errand, his struggling got worse.  They gave him medicine to relax.  He got out the word "help" a few times, along with "I love you" to his family.  He let us know he wanted to see the digital picture frame and MM held it for him. I wavered between being unobtrusive and helping, when others couldn't speak through the tears, to tell him it was okay to go and that soon the pain would be gone.  As his breathing slowed, MM and his mom held his hand.  I tried to hold them as best I could.

I won't detail the time that followed.  Needless to say, it was hard.  I stepped away a few times to give them privacy.  A sister later said I needn't worry, that I was part of the family too (which made me teary again).  I'd been trying to bring water since I knew they couldn't focus on self-care.  A mention was made of ginger ale, a favorite of the father's that they suddenly craved.  The family kitchen had run out of the mini-cans they'd had for days and a volunteer told MM, who'd gone looking, that they didn't have more.  I offered MM a two-liter of Sierra Mist from the fridge, but he said specificity mattered.  I ran off with my purse -- somehow relieved by having a task, a way to help just a small bit.  I returned with four 20oz bottles from the cafeteria.  They laughed at my packed-full paper bag as I told them I'd bought the place out.  Okay, not quite true...I got one per person other than me...but it gave a moment of smiles and laughter which I think helped as much as the hydration.  Later, I helped by offering what I view as one of my personal gifts, putting together words for the first draft of an obituary notice -- at once brief but also long enough to honor the passing. 

Some other time, I'll talk about the complexity of feeling pain when in the presence of something much worse...that had characterized the earlier days and the prior visit.  Right now, I'll say that I'd never before witnessed someone's last moments.  It is an odd feeling.  I tried to speak when others couldn't and assure him it was okay to rest.  I knew he had a strong religious background so spoke to him of that and handed a prayer card to MM to read with his Mom.  I told him he'd soon be free of the pain that he'd faced for a long time.  I know he believed he would find a better place beyond this one, and that he hadn't wanted further efforts when the time came.  We all tried to offer comfort, but I still saw a fear unlike any other. 

Being in that room was hard, even when I knew it was harder for everyone else.  In no way do I think my emotions were as important as the family's, but I'll admit I felt helpless.  I wanted to help, but I simply couldn't.  I wanted to make it better for MM and his family, but it wasn't a feeling I could fix.  We (MM, his mom, 2 sisters, a minister for part of the time) talked for a few hours in the room, with moments of tears but also moments of smiles.  That seemed right.  I think a passing should be marked by sadness but also celebration of memories and of loved ones moving forward.   

Beyond that, I also realized something else....being in that room, being present at the moment between here and "there", helps bring a measure of a comfort in a time of great fear.  Perhaps more notably, being in the room, at that moment, is an honor. 

I don't know what lies beyond this world.  Still, I wish him peace, the knowledge that he was loved, and the comfort of knowing his family will mourn but will do so together.  And also that they will be okay, they will survive and move on to live their lives with his memory inside them.