Sunday, November 27, 2011

Life's Like A Movie

Kermit's back!

Yes, The Muppets is out. If you are a lifelong fan or a Muppet newbie, you will love this film. It's the only movie theater I can recall being in where the audience literally cheered and applauded throughout. It is relevant to the times but remains true to its roots. I don't know how they did it, but they did. 

There are endless funny moments, with several throwbacks to the late 70's/80's which will thrill the original Muppet generation. And there are moments where I got completely choked up in a good way. It was like entering a Time Machine to your younger self! The theater we were in was packed so our group had to break up in order to find seating. I sat with my brother-in-law and he was so sweetly invested in the plot -- he kept making concerned noises when any of the Muppets were sad or in any kind of trouble. I just about lost it twice -- once in the opening of a show they put on and once during a very sweet nostalgic duet.

Here is one of the many hysterical trailers out there. 
You gotta love that the turkey goes after Chef. 

But if you don't believe me, Rotten Tomatoes gave it 5 stars and a score of 98 out of 100. Not too shabby!

So how does this all play into a blog about not eating animals but being nice to them? Well, it goes back to the weirdness of our society. How can we claim to be "the biggest fans" of puppets that represent different animals --- but then eat those same animals? Omnivores at this point may be throwing up their hands in laughter, crying out, "Of for the love of G-d, give it a rest! It's just a movie! Lighten up!"

But think about it. We are so entrenched in what has been defined for us as normal, that it is easy (and natural) to miss the irony of our thinking. We grow up surrounded by animals in our books, our walls, our stuffed animals, our cartoons -- we love them. But we think nothing (literally) of eating them and having them live unimaginable lives behind conveniently placed walls. I love this clip by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau that illustrates this beautifully.

I think one of the most beautiful Muppet moments was the end of the first movie. The line, "Life's like a movie, write your own ending," always spoke to me, but even more so since I've pulled out of the violent industries that do unimaginably cruel things to the animals we grew up adoring. As much as individualism is revered, there is still a lot of pressure to do what everybody else is doing. So hail to Kermit!

And while we're reminiscing, here's another classic to enjoy...

I'd love to hear back from you! Favorite Muppet character? Favorite Muppet Show episode? Memories of seeing the original movie? Have you seen the new movie? (And check out The Muppets activity page - lots of cool stuff to make! Also, you can add your own Mahna-Mahna online...Funny!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This game, I guarantee, will make your Thanksgiving like no other.

Almost ten years ago, I collected recipes from my family and created a family cookbook, which I gave to everybody at Christmas. It had plenty of recipes, of course, but there were also little bits in there that chronicled our family history. One of those was a ditty I wrote about the game we call Spoons, which  was played at every big family get-together. Perhaps it will become a family tradition for you as well! In fact, if the whole world played Spoons, I think everyone's aggression would get used up, their laugh muscles would get a good workout, and we'd find an unexpected avenue towards world peace, though we might have a few more broken tables.


(Interpreted by Katrina Donovan)

After any sort of dinner event at Gramma Carol and Grampa Bill Donovan's house, we would either sing (to the magnificently talented accompaniment of Jane Riley on piano!) or play a good, rousing game of Spoons.

Playing cards
Big, durable table  (no fussy, delicate tablecloths!)

1. First, count the folks playing. For our purposes here, let's say you have 10 people.

2. Go through your cards and make sure you have four of a kind for each person. So if you have 10 people, make sure you have four Kings, four Queens, four "3"s, four Jacks, four Aces, four "9"s,  four "2"s, four "7"s, four "6"s, four "4"s... See? There are 10 total. It doesn't matter which ones, really ...

3. Clear table and seat everyone around table.

4. Subtract 1 from the total amount of players and put that amount of spoons at the center of the table, within reach of everybody. (It helps to arrange them as they appear above, so that everyone has equal grabbing access.) So in this case, put 9 spoons at the center.

5. Dealer shuffles the cards and deals four cards a person, face down.

6. Everyone is allowed to look at their cards for a second or two, to determine if they stand a chance in h-ll of getting four of a kind.

7. Dealer yells "go," or something equally creative, and everyone picks a card to discard to the person on his or her left. If played correctly, you will hear a collective "whump" of hands hitting the table.

8. While you slapped your unwanted card to the person on your left, however, your right side neighbor has given you his or her rejected card. All players pick up the new card to their right, determine in a millisecond if it will suit their purposes of getting four of a kind, and then "whump," everyone discards another card to the left. This continues and, again, if done correctly, there should be a "whump" every 2 or 3 seconds. (Hint: It's never done correctly.)

9. Enter individual strategy. This is where personalities emerge. When you have four of a kind, you take a spoon from the center of the table. Some folks scream and grab a spoon. Others will very slyly sneak one off the table, so as not to arouse attention and to feel superior to their clueless family members. BUT -- As soon as one person has taken a spoon, the floor opens for anyone to grab a spoon and the one person who ends up unlucky and spoonless (remember? There were only 9!) gets a letter. As the game is called "Spoons," the first letter is "S." Let's suppose you have a particularly slow family member who loses six games in a row. He or she gets "S," "P," "O," "O," "N," and "S." That person is then taken into the backyard and shot. Or eliminated from the game. It depends on crowd temper. 

The winner is the one person who is not eliminated and who is left with a spoon in their hand at the end of the game.

The tricky part of the game is keeping your eyes on the spoons (to see if any have disappeared) WHILE you are simulataneously looking at your cards (and the newly arrived card on your right) to see if you have four of a kind. It's a nerve-wracking balance, guaranteed to chase away a food-coma.

Warning: Family members who ordinarily appear docile and who have supported you through thick and thin will turn against you without a second thought. Wrestling and biting over utensils has occurred in the past and will no doubt occur again. You have been warned. 

Helpful hint: Small children or people with very short arms should be strategically placed close to the spoons and should wear protective body gear.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Balloons, Fat Ladies, and Potatoes That Party!

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that remains unadulterated. It's about coming together, eating brightly-colored, comforting food, and taking some time out to reflect on what we are most thankful for. I've always loved it.

When I was little, it meant getting up early to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on our livingroom TV. The big balloons were the best part, and I'd get giddy when Snoopy or Kermit rounded awkwardly about the city block corner, bobbing down at the elated crowd. The woodstove would be crackling and sending off comforting waves of heat and I'd dance around to the marching band music in my footie pajamas. All was right in the world.

My mom was a whiz at making the house cozy. She'd make Fat Lady's Dessert in the morning and I'd watch the parade while consuming a heaping bowl of it. (It was a mixture of a homemade strawberry whipped cream mixed with lots of fruit -- pineapples, mandarin oranges, bananas, frozen strawberries, apples -- and walnuts. It was a delightfully naughty way to begin a holiday! (It got its name, I'm told, when my mother ate an entire serving bowl of it when she was pregnant with me and uncomfortably overdue.) The whole house would smell of happiness as the day's meal cooked.

I think Thanksgiving was exciting too because it was like the Start-Your-Engines time for Christmas. From Thanksgiving until Christmas (and even later), there would always be a Christmas album playing, usually Nat King Kole, Bing Crosby, Gene Audry, Johnny Mathis, or Andy Williams. And the Muppets John Denver Christmas album of course. My grandparents, like clockwork, gave us grandchildren advent calendars on Thanksgiving, which officially began the exciting countdown. Gramma always found the coolest, sweetest calendars, always covered with silvery blue glitter. She had an eye for that kind of thing.

And Thanksgiving Night at my grandparents house? Talk about cozy. The house was filled to the brim with loud, laughing relatives who seemed to adore us kids. We were well-loved children! We'd usually play a few violent games of Spoons*, force mountains of dessert in our already-full bellies, and then Jane Riley, my grandmother's best friend since they were girls, would finally get pushed into the living room to play the piano. At this junction, she'd usually protest that she wasn't any good -- she was -- but someone would inevitably force her to sit down at the old upright piano. Then her amazingly nimble fingers would run across the keys and she'd lead everyone into enthusiastic Christmas caroling, which we'd belt out for two hours or more. (Made possible because my organized Gramma had typed up Christmas carol books with all the verses to all the songs. So a person had no excuse not to sing!)

People say that the whole Norman Rockwell family is a myth, but my friends, I was the lucky gal who landed in that picture, though there were probably more plaid shirts and inappropriate jokes in our version. Our family gatherings were such wonderful times, full of raucous laughter, playful teasing, and endless hugs.

In the past few years when I was considering vegetarianism, a small part of me was afraid that if I gave up meat (read, turkey) then I'd be turning my back on those irreplaceable memories. That I'd somehow be turning my nose up at my family, particularly those who were no longer with us. As I've mentioned before, though, seeing the reality of the animals' plight wiped those worries from my brain. And now that I've been vegan for 7 months? I can't believe I worried about breaking tradition. The tradition for me wasn't about the turkey. (You're probably thinking "Duh!" but bear with me -- I'm a bit slow.) It was about the memories and the wonderful smells and tastes of all those vegetables! The tart "ping!" of the homemade cranberry relish, the buttery squash (vegan butter tastes the same!), and, oh lordy, the party potatoes.

Party potatoes. We had those at every family get-together. A carryover from the 60's/70's, it is a mashed potato dream, with butter, sour cream, and cream cheese. You cringe, but you never tasted such wonder. Though it sounds heavy, it wasn't. It was the perfect blend of flavors. Party potatoes were what happiness would taste like if you could somehow serve it up. I decided to give it a whirl with vegan products.

Now, I should point out that I was not holding my breath. As I plopped all the ingredients together, I did not have a good feeling about how things would turn out, and had prepared myself for a disappointing culinary disaster. But I had to try! :)  Much to my absolute delight, though, this new version tasted (drumroll.............) exactly like my grandmother's! Wow! And no cows hurt! Double wow!

Here is our beloved recipe if you'd like to try it yourself and have a serving of heaven on your Thanksgiving plate! 

Party Potatoes
8-10 potatoes
1 cup vegan sour cream (Tofutti is awesome)
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp onion salt
vegan butter (Earth Balance is the best)
8 oz of vegan cream cheese (Tofutti or Follow Your Heart are both good)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel, boil, and drain potatoes. Beat sour cream and cream cheese. Add potatoes gradually. Add spices. Put in a 2 qt. ungreased casserole dish and dot with butter. Sprinkle paprika on top. Bake until brown on top. (About 30 minutes? I forgot to time it.) Makes enough for about 6 small servings.

We've also test-driven a couple of grain-based meats that we both like. Ryan's favorite of the two was the Gardein Stuffed Turk'y, which you can find the the freezer section. And my favorite was the Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute, also in the freezer section. Both are great! You can't go wrong.

I may also make the Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe from The Vegan Table, which has lots of yummy holiday recipes! I'm really lucky, though, in that my stepmother is going all-out to make sure there is plenty of animal-friendly fare at the table. Isn't that so sweet? I offered to take care of it, but she insisted. My heart is still all warm and glowing. :)

I had mentioned yesterday that there were ways you could help the turkeys who suffer unimaginably for our palates. First off, don't eat them. (Life goes on, I promise. In fact, it gets way better!) Second, consider following the lead of Ellen DeGeneres and Adopt/Sponsor a Turkey through Farm Sanctuary. (There is probably a similar program at an animal sanctuary near you!)

Here's a fun video of a woman who helps place rescued turkeys. (It gets intense at 1:32 - 2:26, so skip that part if it's too much for you. But don't miss the rest of it! The kids snuggling with these turkeys is too much and seeing them enjoy a nice blow-dry simply has to be seen to be believed.) 

So -- what are fun old or new traditions that you enjoy on Thanksgiving? What is your favorite dish?

*Sometime before Thanksgiving, I'll post the game Spoons. You absolutely must play this game with your own family!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I love turkeys...and not in THAT way. Or the food way.

 Petunia, a rescued turkey at the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary in New York.

Today's post raves about how cool turkeys are! Tomorrow's post will focus on my yummy plans for Thanksgiving this year...stay tuned! :)

Two years ago, I happened upon a very graphic undercover PETA video on how turkeys are treated in the industry. (I believe it was at a Butterball factory farm.) I was devastated and could not fathom how people could be so cruel.

And yet I couldn't fathom giving up turkey.

So I went online and researched humanely-raised turkeys and how I could procure one that had had a good life and a fairly painless death. The closest I got was Whole Foods, who assured me that their turkeys had it much better than their Butterball counterparts. I felt slightly better, but still uneasy.

For two Thanksgivings, I got caught up in the tradition of the day -- a day I adore! How great is a holiday about giving thanks? -- and was able to successfully avoid thinking about the bird as anything but food. Yet I could always feel the blinders digging in in an irritating fashion, the way a bra feels when it's just not fitting right. (Sorry boys ... you'll have to come up with your own analogy.) :)

It wasn't until last April that I decided to stop eating animals, after finally seeing the immense suffering my taste buds were inflicting on animals that had done nothing to me. (And "humanely-raised meat," much to my dismay, did not get a free pass.)

Once I no longer had to deal with feelings of remorse,  though, I became very curious about the creatures that I had previously and guiltily acknowledged as food. Turkeys, whom I'd always assumed to be sweetly daft, are fascinating creatures who defy the stereotype as the animal kingdom idiot. ( it easier to hurt an animal if we think of him or her as unintelligent? As Jeremy Benthem noted in the 18th century, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?")

Here is a lovely excerpt about a turkey named Ethel, written by Kathy Stevens, the founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York. (Taken from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's Vegan's Daily Companion.)

Ethel, The Greatest Turkey of All Time

"Ethel arrived with six other turkeys, fortunate escapees from an industry that grows close to 300 million birds annually -- and then kills them.

Fortunately, Ethel was to have a different fate.

From her first day, it was clear that Ethel was a standout, curious kinda gal. Turkeys are gentle; Ethel groomed our truly free-range chickens, sheep, and pigs. Turkeys are affectionate; Ethel became our first lap turkey.

Ethel craves connection. Whether you're turkey, sheep, horese, chicken, rabbit, pig, human, or other is irrelevant. Her criteria are simple: if you live and breathe, Ethel wants to know you.

Despite her love of animals, Ethel seems to find the greatest joy in connecting with humans. When I sit down and cross my legs, Ethel sidles up to me until her big bird body touches my side, trills her lovely turkey trill, and stares at me. When I pick her up and place her in my lap, her body relaxes and her eyes quickly grow heavy with sleep. For those moments, all is right in my world, and, it seems, in hers. 

Every weekend throughout our visiting season, both tour guides and guests struggle not to step on Ethel. When we're in the barn, she settles into the middle of each group, moving with us as we move from animal to animal. She moves from one guest to the next, looking deeply into their eyes. In these moments, whatever's in that big turkey heart seems a lot like love."

To further illustrate how amazing turkeys are, there's a new documentary on PBS about a man who, by chance, became the mother of a clutch of wild turkey eggs. It's called My Life as a Turkey, and it looks fascinating!

You won't believe this short clip from My Life as a Turkey. So sweet and moving.

So if these creatures are indeed so wonderful, how can we justify hurting them? Killing them? Giving them such a horrendous life when they pose no threat to us? And all this senseless cruelty when we can survive quite beautifully without consuming them?

Below is an intense video (and one amusing commercial) on what happens to turkeys in order to bring them to our tables. I feel fairly certain that very few people will watch this. In fact, the chances are that nobody will. Which is fine. I totally get it. But if we can't even bear to watch it, what does that say about our choices? (And I'm throwing myself in that ring too -- I ate turkeys for 40 years.) Should we be paying others to hurt/abuse/kill feeling animals when we can't even watch it happening, never mind do it ourselves? If we are true carnivores/omnivores, shouldn't we be salivating, not cringing?

 Intense video of the journey turkeys take to get to our plates
(read above before watching)

 And this commercial, which is not intense, but very accurate and pretty funny!

So, as I said, tomorrow will be all happiness and holiday-cheer! I'll be talking about the yummy things I've got planned for this Thursday and how you can help these amazing creatures in very simple ways! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's a Major Award!

T'is the season and all -- or it will be in about a week.

Today's news has nothing to do with animal rights and everything to do with a little essay I wrote on a lark for the NPR show This I Believe. In fact, I'd written it months before I'd even considered giving up animal products, but I thought y'all might allow me this little break from routine.

I've always loved this show --  the way it archives deep beliefs from regular people. It's very similar to the StoryCorps, which is also fascinating. I suppose that's what makes blogs so fun too -- you get a glimpse into the not-so-ordinary lives whirring about you and the learned truths find a way of settling gently into your own life.

Anyhow, long after I'd forgotten that January 2011 submission, I got an email this morning from the show saying my essay had been reviewed and added to the database of other stories on their website. So while I'm not famous or rich now -- in fact, I'm just one of thousands -- I'm pretty tickled in the same way The Old Man was in the movie A Christmas Story upon using his "brain power." In Darren McGavin's words, "I won! I won! I won! ... Why it's a major award!" (If you don't get this reference, get thee to your Netflix account and order the movie NOW.)

So here's the link! Hope you like it!

If you're interested in writing a piece yourself, here are the guidelines from their website. It's quite a fun challenge and it's cool to have a piece of your family history forever saved.

This I Believe Essay-Writing Guidelines

We invite you to contribute to this project by writing and submitting your own statement of personal belief. We understand how challenging this is—it requires such intimacy that no one else can do it for you. To guide you through this process, we offer these suggestions:
Tell a story: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events of your life. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
Be brief: Your statement should be between 350 and 500 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief, because three minutes is a very short time.
Be positive: Please avoid preaching or editorializing. Tell us what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Make your essay about you; speak in the first person.
Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the producers’ invitation to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well and we are abiding by it. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.
In introducing the original series, host Edward R. Murrow said, “Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” We would argue that the need is as great now as it was 50 years ago. We are eager for your contribution.

And, of course, I leave you with some entertainment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What the #&%$ is "suet" ??

 Carol and Bill Donovan, my grandparents!

First off, Gramma would hate the title of this post. She was a big believer in clean language. :)

When I was little, the biggest treat was to go to Gramma and Grampa's for the night.  I'm not joking -- to this day, I don't think I've ever felt the intense joy and anticipation (with the exception of waking up on my wedding day) that I felt knowing that Gramma would be picking me up in her old sky-blue VW bug. I had the most wonderful set of grandparents a girl could hope to have. I miss them every day.

Their house was a marvel. It wasn't a super-fancy house. It wasn't big. Just a two bedroom, one bathroom home that they had raised three boys in. The two bedrooms were on the second floor, which had no other rooms, aside from a walk-in attic that housed interesting hat boxes and several cozy robes that Gramma would save for all her grandkids' visits. (Maybe this is where my obsession with cozy nighttime-wear began?) The front hallway, Gramma's office, the diningroom, the kitchen, Grampa's office, and the bathroom were all arranged rectangularly around the two stairwells that went upstairs to the bedrooms, and downstairs to the cellar. This setup of rooms provided us grandkids a sort of O-shaped racetrack, which we would run around and around, particularly during big family gatherings, always knocking into the adults who were doing boring things like talking.

Every inch of that house held some fascinating object. Photos galore. (Gramma documented our history well!) Statuettes from all her sons' travels across the globe. Upon the shelves you'd find countless little frog and owl figurines nestled upon interesting rocks she had found during her walks -- not in a "Precious Moments" obnoxious kind of way, but like they belonged there in their little home. Gramma would pick them up and admire them, often cooing to them how wonderful they were. The seat of the old, out-of-tune but well-used upright piano housed sheet music from their glory years and an assortment of maracas. As the family business was an office supply and checks store, Gramma always had a well-stocked drawer full of markers, pencils, and other art supplies, all kept in recycled coffee cans which still wafted that telltale scent every time you opened the drawer. On the front of her cupboards, she neatly taped favorite pictures of animals she'd find on calendars or in magazines. As well, she had on one cupboard the old Yankee adage, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without," which they lived by. They walked the talk.

I could write a book about that house. I dream of one day buying it back. In fact, about three years ago, I drove by there in the early morning and decided to ask the owners (who were very kind) if I could have a look in the backyard for old times' sake. The yard had barely changed. Same brick path that Gramma had energetically laid herself leading to the back woods, where we would walk early each morning. So what did I do? I admired all the tall evergreens that surrounded what used to be their old fishpond, looked towards the back screened-in porch, and started to cry. Hadn't seen that coming. But it felt like nothing had changed and that any moment, I'd see Grampa saunter onto the porch with his newspaper in hand and would hear Gramma calling me to join them for a grilled cheese sandwich and homemade cowboy cookies. They felt so close at that moment that it tore me in two.  But as hard as it was, it was so sweet to stand there again and feel like I could reach out and hug them. (They were both phenomenal huggers. You felt flooded with love when they hugged you.)

It was from this unusual couple that I developed a love of birds. ("Aha!" you're thinking, "she's finally getting to the point!")  They had the most intricate bird-feeding system. Bird feeders everywhere, strung on heavy wire, with contraptions to discourage the clever squirrels from dominating the scene. I was lucky enough the inherit one of their dome feeders, which is pictured  below!

As well, they had suet cages. Suet is actually raw fat from butchered animals. If I remember correctly, Gramma used to get it for free from the butcher. A few years ago, I tried that route, but the butchers looked at me blankly and said, "What the #&%$ is suet?" and still looked puzzled after I explained it to them. So I ended up finding suet cakes at a local store at a greater cost than "free."  But suet is a favorite among many birds, particularly woodpeckers, blue jays, and nuthatches. In the winter, they can't get enough of the stuff, as the calories help them survive the cold winters here. Check this link for some suet cages from my favorite local birdfeeding store, Wild Birds Unlimited.

A typical suet cake you can buy

So what's a newly vegan birdwatcher to do?

I adore seeing birds come to the birdfeeding station just outside our kitchen window. I especially love the downy woodpeckers, and have missed seeing them since I stopped using suet. Knowing, though, that the meat industry would benefit from my dollars if I bought a typical cake of suet, I decided to find another way. It was one of those tasks I kept putting off and finally, last weekend, I found a solution. After doing a search online and making some adjustments, I ended up with some animal-friendly suet!

Here are the ingredients you'll need if you want to try it yourself!

1 Cup vegetable shortening
I Cup chunky peanut butter
3 Cups stoneground cornmeal
1/2 Cup white or wheat flour

kitchen scraps (animal-free would be kinder!)
dried fruit
Unsalted nuts, chopped

1) Put the shortening and peanut butter in a saucepan. Mix and cook over medium heat until melted.

2) Add other ingredients and mix (have a sturdy wooden spoon for this part...I used a plastic spatula and broke the handle! It's not that it was overly difficult to stir, but the plastic just didn't hold up.)

3) Once it's all mixed and uniform, let it cool for about five to ten minutes. 

4) Place in "Molds" and put into the freezer. (I just looked into my recycling bin and used what I found there for molds. A couple of plastic take-out trays worked great, but you could also use shallow cereal bowls.)

5) They'll be ready in a jiffy. I think mine was ready in only 1/2 hour. Pop one into your suet cage and keep your eyes open! If you've never fed birds before it could be a week or two before you see any activity. After that, you should have a steady stream of visitors!

Here is what your newly-filled suet cage should look like ... (I had to break the cake up a bit to make it fit.)

This is the view of one of our birdfeeding stations from our kitchen window.

My Dad made us an amazing birdfeeder which we have in another section of our yard. Sadly, the glass broke a second time -- my bad, not my Dad's -- so we need to find some good plexiglass and set it right. (So sorry, Dad, if you're reading this! I love our birdfeeder!)

Speaking of Dad building things, he also made us a roosting box last Christmas. A roosting box gives temporary shelter and warmth to birds in winter during nights of severe cold, when they can otherwise succumb to the cold and die. The hole is at the bottom, not at the top where you typically see it for birdhouses. This allows the heat from the birds' bodies to rise to the top where it can't escape. There are little perches inside for the birds to sit on and even mesh inside for the woodpeckers to cling on.

Interestingly, we had a pair of starlings take it over early this spring. They didn't seem to care that it wasn't meant to be a birdhouse.We were nervous at first, because we figured any babies would fall right out of the hole in at the bottom.  The starlings, however,  seemed unconcerned and spent several weeks industriously building their nest, occasionally coming out to yell at any other birds who got too close. Soon there were barely audible cheeps emerging from the hole, and two harried parents, flying in and out of the house at breakneck speed. Over the course of two weeks, the cheeps got louder and lower, to the point where it sounded slightly frightening. The parents must have surely been suffering from postpartum depression, 'cause those babies were demanding!

Soon we noticed curious feathered heads peeking out of the hole. And one lovely day, I actually witnessed the parents slowly woo the babies -- which were startlingly full-grown -- out onto the perch. I managed to be there at the very moment when the last baby took his first flight from the house. After that none of them ever came back to live in their little green house. It was an amazing thing to watch!
Roosting box built by my dear Dad! (See the nest sticking out the bottom?)

Last year, we invested $45 in a heated birdbath, which is essential to helping your new feathered neighbors survive the winter. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it last winter, but they actually bathe in the bath, even on the most frigid of days! Keeping their feathers clean allows for better insulation. Plus, drinking water is hard to come by in the winter.

And since we are perusing the yard, here is what our garden looks like now. I'm still harvesting dinosaur kale (in the back) and collard greens (which have become a bit insect-eaten, but are still great in smoothies!)

Most of the other crops have been pulled up and put into the compost, which is quite full now! Once it decomposes, it will go back into the garden...

Gramma and Grampa never got to see our home and birdfeeders, but I always feel them with me when I sit with a cup of tea or mulled cider and watch the wide variety of birds enjoy the feast. There is something timeless and very comforting about feeding birds, and I am very thankful that my grandparents shared that passion with all of us! And I'm glad I can continue to do it in a way that is kind to all animals. :)

In fact, at the school where I teach, I worked with the other third grade teachers to create a birdwatching project in the garden area outside of our classrooms! We got a grant a few years ago for binoculars, birdbooks, and some birdfeeders (to supplement the empty dilapidated feeders we found in the garden). The students' parents donate birdseed and the third grade classrooms take turns filling the feeders. The majority of our students have never had this kind of experience before, and they go wild with excitement at seeing the array of birds coming to visit! By the end of the year, kids can correctly identify an impressive amount of birds, including red-tailed hawks! I always get such a thrill from watching them fall in love with the birds and feel a little of my grandparents' world seeping into theirs.

Gramma and Grampa -- I hope in some weird way you are able to read this. I miss you and am indebted to you for all the wonderful memories you gifted me with!

Your Trina-Banina-Banana-Banoona

PS. Here is a great article in The Boston Globe about my grandparents and some of the amazing things they did. :)