One more bird story. Promise. (for now) But this is a good one and it demonstrates why I love to go birding with my son.

First, a little about the bird, the American Woodcock. This bird is very secretive and has excellent camouflage so for the most part you are going to hear him before you see him, if you see him at all. An exception to this rule was a woodcock who took up residence right under a window at our friend’s house. He called us and said, “Hey, we got some weird bird here under our window.” We rushed over and was amazed to see a woodcock. Usually they look like this:

There's a woodcock in this picture. See the outline on the right picture.

There’s a woodcock in this picture. See the outline in the picture below.

hiddenThe one under their window looked like this:


Still blends in pretty well but he moved around so he was spotted

If you are trying to find a woodcock, you go out at dusk, starting at the end of March, in a likely habitat. A brushy field is good. Then you listen. If one is in the area he will make a peent! sound, then about 6 seconds later another peent!. This goes on for a while and then he will take off in a crazy zig zag flight (his wings make a twilling sound) and then land pretty much back where he started and call again. He’s looking for a lady friend. Some years we have heard the peent! and one year we heard the flight sound and a dark object whipping through the sky ( just barely). But this year we have had no luck.

Okay. Flash back to Sunday evening, May 10, La Crosse, Wisconsin. My husband and son and I have spent all day birding and now we have gone to dinner in La Crosse. No tiny town. It was Mother’s Day, busy downtown, cars, bars, general ambient sound. It is dusk and we are leaving the restaurant, talking and laughing, while we walk to the car and suddenly my son Nathan says, “Woodcock!” and stops.



“What?” Here? In town?” I say.

“Yes, listen”, he replies.

We shut up and listen.   “PEENT!”   “PEENT!”

Yep, he heard a woodcock.* They don’t usually make that sound when they fly so it must have been sitting on a roof. We don’t know. But Nathan heard him. And then so did we. I love my son.


*revision: After further consideration based on habitat Nathan feels he heard a Nighthawk. Everything else I spoke about applies. Difficult to find and mostly active at dusk. Calls extremely similar. He still heard it over the noise of the city.


You’re Going to Drink That?

Our son is home for the holidays. When he was little he was a picky eater, as are many little kids. He had his beige phase – noodles,cheese, cheerios.  Carrots were never high on his list and salad, or for that matter, any leafy thing, was taboo (he could pick out one miniscule piece of lettuce from a Taco Bell taco even though it had been ordered without lettuce). But as he grew so did his palate and his bravery. His father, like his father before him, will try almost anything once and Nathan also has developed this crazy fearlessness. Well, crazy from my point of view. I have a whole list of things that Curt thinks are tasty bit which I won’t try, even once.

On this trip Nathan did not only bring home his laundry but a can of Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink  from Taiwan. He said it was an impulse buy he made while picking up some groceries at his local Megafoods. My impulse buys usually tend toward chocolate or deli salads not weird drinks but, like I said, I live with adventurous palates.

Front and Back view

Front and Back view – note the festive Christmas colors

The ingredients listed were water, grass jelly (mesona procumbens hemsl), cane sugar, corn starch and honey. I forgot to mention this was ‘honey flavour’, implying there are other ‘flavours.’  And the can was in Christmas ‘colours’. Nathan said this was the only flavor on the shelf and later, we noticed it was way past its expiration date so it had been on the shelf for a while.

In his research my son discovered this was considered a dessert drink made from the boiled down stalks of a member of the mint family. We were having stir fry for dinner so he thought it might be a nice accompaniment. Poured into a glass it looked a bit different from the picture on the can, as Nathan put it, “Sort of a poo color.” Yum! The one thing missing in the glass from the picture was the chunky jello looking bits. Nathan found a few bits around the lip of the can which he tried to shake into the glass.

A glassful of Grass Jelly

A glassful of Grass Jelly

Now it was taste test time. Nathan said he really couldn’t identify a flavor. I said it was sort of a sarsaparilla with a hint of turpentine, and Curt said cough medicine. Nathan finished it but said he wouldn’t buy it again. For something with honey and sugar, it wasn’t very sweet. But where were those chunky bits featured on the can? Surprise! They were there all along, hiding on the bottom. So slippery they snuck right by when poured into the glass.



The Grass Jelly bits

The Grass Jelly bits

Once we saw the bottom of the glass we were kind of happy they weren’t floating around freely in the liquid. They had a shiny thick seaweed looking appearance and no one, yes not one of the fearless foodies said, “I’ll finish that!”  But Grass Jelly is also listed as a digestive so I think it will work fine in my compost. Can’t wait to see what they bring home next.

Happy Holidays!

A Fine Donation or a Tale of a Tail

My son started college in September of 2005. At that time his hair was what I would call shaggy. Like a short haircut that was a month overdue for a trim. It looked good.

First, Second and Fourth Year

Throughout his five years at college he never really got it cut. I remember a trim of 2-3 inches now and then but for the most part Nathan wasn’t into hair care. Wash and wear was his motto.  He graduated in May 2010 and was actually able to get the mortar board on all of the hair, which I might add is also thick, like twice that of an ordinary person. By November of 2011 it was half way down his back.

This long 7 months ago

This current hot summer with its 90+ degree days and really warm evenings finally had him rethinking all that long hair. Last month he found a hair salon and had it cut off. But he didn’t just go into any salon, he looked for one that would cut and mail his hair to Locks of LoveLocks of Love is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis. As his hair grew and grew over the years we had suggested this to him because his hair was so thick and such a dark, rich brown. So, in a way, we encouraged him to just let it grow rather than getting a few inches here, a few inches there, cut off during the years. In order to make a hairpiece Locks of Love needs hair that is at least 10 inches in length. Nathan was able to donate 11 inches and still have a 3 inch tail left. The salon ended up with five bundles of hair when they usually only get four from a typical head.  Needless to say I was proud of him and I know some kids are going to be wearing mighty fine wigs. And the new hair cut? Well it is pretty much the same only shorter so all he does is wash it and pull it back into a much shorter tail.

I became a Mom 25 years ago Today

Today I want to leave behind our normal theme of food or birds or art and celebrate the birth of our son, Nathan John. Twenty-five years ago today on a Sunday at 11:02am, he was born. Nine pounds, three and one half ounces of baby boy.

He’s a great guy.

Short hair days

When a child he was a beige eater: cheerios, buttered noodles, applesauce, Kraft cheese slices. He quickly graduated to more adventurous eating and this evening he told me he is going to a sushi happy hour with friends. His own cooking skills aren’t too bad and once he has a decent kitchen of his own I know his Dad’s good example of preparing the food in our house will serve him well.

He’s a science guy. Always wanted to be a paleontologist and from an early age could pronounce the dinosaur names way better than I. He has made it as far as a degree in geology. The job market has not been kind but who knows where the future will take him.

He’s a gamer and has been sitting at computers and working the mouse since he was four, now he owns a primo laptop, a so-so laptop and and desktop computer.

My son, age 4, and the Mac Plus (1991)

But he is also very much a nature lover.

He is a birder like us. Probably because we took him out on all our forays into the woods. His life list now is longer than mine after scoring 50 life birds on a trip to Belize. I don’t ever remember him saying ‘birdie’ as a kid but rather calling the bird by name…’robin’, ‘goldfinch’, ‘sparrow.’ On our road trips he would sit in the back seat and memorize the bird guide book.

The Birders: Nathan & Curt

He has a temper that flares up quickly but he can be as gentle as a lamb, catching bugs in the house and escorting them outdoors rather than squashing them flat as I am prone to do.

He can talk your ear off on a subject he is passionate about but make you pry every word out of him in a phone call.

Ever since high school he has wanted yellow pants. He always bemoaned the fact that guys clothes were in such boring colors. I finally located yellow pants this year. And some orange ones. Happy Birthday, don’t get mugged.

He has hair down to the middle of his back and a beard on his face. Wonder where he got that from? His parents were such a conservative looking couple.

12 inch ponytail

Ponytail parents













He is a fine young man, a good friend, a great son. So happy birthday Nathan, we love ya, and we are glad you came before Groundhog’s Day.

Leaving the Nest

My son gave his notice at work  yesterday. In two weeks he will be moving out of the house into an uncertain future. How do I feel about this? Mixed.

A little back story.

On the five-year plan, he graduated last May from the university with a BA degree in Geology. He’s a guy who loves science, nature, birds, rocks, and has always dreamed of being a paleontologist.

The economy being what it is and the shy guy that he is, job searching has been tough for him. He has sent out a lot of applications (not a deluge) but now a year later he has had no bites.

He has been living at home, working at a factory job (my nature boy is inside from 2 – 10pm making plastic furniture) and is unhappy.

He turned 24 in February.

About six weeks go I asked him if he had any plans. Very solemnly he took me aside and had me sit down. I wasn’t sure what to expect as he told me he had a chance to sublet an apartment with some friends in his college town. Well I couldn’t say much, he certainly is old enough to make his own decisions. Part of me thought, how can you leave a job with benefits and go to a two month sublet with no job? Another part of me said, yes! for good or ill you’ve made a decision. And when I looked at his face I knew he had to do this.

At my age, I can’t imagine quitting a job without having a guaranteed job, or in my case a pension, to move into. When I moved out of my parent’s home I had a teaching job but zero money in the bank. Nathan has been working a year and is moving out but has a fairly nice savings. There is no wife, kids, mortgage or car payments on his back right now. Yes, he has a school loan but he’s got a payment plan worked out on that.

Working 2nd shift and living at home hasn’t allowed for much of a social life. He has always gotten along with us and we will always be friends but his age group friends are the people he met in college and many of them are 3 or more hours away. He needs to talk and drink and eat and laugh and stay up late with people his own age.

His room

Me? Honestly I’m ready to be an empty nester. I don’t need to worry about where he is if he doesn’t get home exactly when I expect him. I’m tired of picking up his socks, potato chip bags and soda cans. We each have a different level of clutter tolerance and his level beats mine every time.

Curt and I have travel plans, remodeling plans…retirement plans. Sure, Nathan’s bed will be here if  things don’t work out but I think things will work out somehow. At least he has his priorities in line. After telling us about this next step in his life he asked his Dad to write down some of his favorite recipes and give him cooking tips and pointers.

Will I still worry. Damn right! I’m his mother and I love him. But for him it’s cutting the cord, sink or swim time, taking the leap!!! Good luck sweetie. We’ll be here if you need us.

Boy’s Fish Night (and crispy fish skin)

I don’t like fish.
I have never liked fish.
My mother loved fish and would try it on us but I just refused to eat it. My father wasn’t a big fish eater so she didn’t try too often. Thanks Dad. I think I used to eat fish sticks when I was a kid and I made tuna casserole when we were first married. But my husband who loves seafood of all kinds, quickly drew the line on tuna casserole. He would try to cook fish for me over the course of our marriage, not to torture me but because he enjoyed fish and wanted me to enjoy it with him. Well I love him but I just don’t like fish.

In 1987, our son was born. My husband and I agreed that we shouldn’t put our food phobias on him but let him try a lot of different food and let him decide. So if Curt made salmon for dinner, we would give Nathan some on his plate and I would promise to not make faces, wrinkle up my nose or make gagging sounds.  There were many successes and some failures. One big failure was pickled herring. Once, when he was around 5, Nathan first tried pickled herring.  He put it in his mouth and immediately removed it and tried to scrape his tongue clean with his fingers. It was pretty comical – I bet we could have won America’s Home Video if we had a tape of it. However, over the years even fish he didn’t enjoy as a child, he came to like as a teen and in high school and college he even began eating sashimi (and salad too, but that’s another post).  Never herring though.

I have recently retired from working at the local public library. I would regularly work Monday evening and that night of the week soon became known as Boy’s Fish Night. I would not be home for dinner and Dad and the lad were on their own to cook and eat whatever they wanted and they wanted fish.  When I came home from work the house always smelled really fishy. I didn’t mind they cooked fish but I insisted they use some air spray.

Once my son went off to college, Boy’s Fish Night ended. Curt would still cook fish on his own but he no longer had anyone to share it with. This past spring my son graduated from college and is currently living at home while searching for a job.  This past Friday I was planning to have dinner with friends from work. I announced to Nathan and Curt that they would be on their own. Boy’s Fish Night!

The boys anticipating "Fish Night"

Curt asked Nathan what he would like, his only criteria was, a whole fish. As we shopped Friday morning I saw a clerk holding up a fish over the counter while my husband smelled it. ” What’s going on?” “Making sure it’s fresh” was the response. So two whole trout were wrapped up to come home with us. I went out to dinner so the remainder of the story is Curt’s.

Well, first off, the house didn’t always smell REALLY fishy.  Sometimes, yea, but fish always smells “fishy” to those who don’t like fish.  I’ll admit that there were times that the house did smell pretty strong – usually when we had fish with the skin on.  Now, I really like fish skin.  The first time I encountered it was in a Japanese restaurant when I ordered a Crispy Salmon Skin Roll.  It sounded exotic and tasty, a winning combination.  Of course, the cook was doing what cooks everywhere except in modern America have done, they were working with the ingredients they had at hand and trying not to waste anything.  If you’re making sushi or sashimi, the skin is usually removed from most of the fish species.  But why waste it?  Fried in its own fat, fish skin becomes crispy and delicious.  Sprinkle on a little salt and you have the perfect “cook’s snack”.  Actually, it’s fairly light (most of the fat is rendered out), crisp and just the right amount for a little bite.  Kind of like fish chips.

On the nights that Jeanne thought the house smelled REALLY fishy I had probably cooked up some crispy fish skin, removed from a salmon fillet but not wasted.

Back to the trout.  These were farm raised rainbow trout and were pretty fresh so cooking them whole was the order of the day.  Lightly salted and peppered, dredged in some flour and fried in olive oil.  Served with a side of Lundberg Black Japonica rice (they refer to it as a field blend of black and mahogany rice) which cooks up kind of purple but with a nice toothsome texture – better tasting than brown rice and it doesn’t take as long to cook as wild rice.  Not to fear, normally I would have added some green vegetable but not this night.  Boy’s Fish Night!

Two trout, ready to go