Sweet & Sparkling Specialty Sugars for tea and coffee and sprinkling

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So happy she loved the gift I made for her! Specialty Sugars for her tea and coffee and sprinkling on toast, cereal or anything else that needs a little sweet sparkle.

Delicious and beautiful flavored sugars in jars.

Delicious and beautiful flavored sugars in jars.


I bought the decorative knobs and glass jars at Hobby Lobby. It was easy drilling a hole in the corks, using a hack saw to shorten the knob bolt and gluing them together with a few beads.
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~ Lavender Sugar ~
I ground up culinary lavender with a mortar and pestle, then put the lavender and sugar in a food processor. The lavender sugar was then layered with crystal sugar in the jar.
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~ Lemon Orange Sugar ~
Lemon and Orange zest were placed in a food processor with sugar and ground medium fine. I’ve been making this mixture for years for use in cheesecake because it makes a very fine textured cheesecake. To fill the jar, I spooned in a layer of Lemon Orange Sugar then used tongs to place white sugar cubes against the side of the jar. Then I spooned in more sugar and repeated the layers. Next time I’ll add more orange zest for a darker orange colored sugar.
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~ Vanilla Bean Sugar ~
I scraped the seeds from two vanilla beans and ground the seeds with sugar in a food processor. I used one half of each vanilla bean, split lengthwise, to place in the jar. I spooned in about 1″ of Vanilla Sugar in the bottom of the jar. Then I used tongs and a wood skewer to position each vanilla bean against the side of the jar before adding the rest of the Vanilla Sugar.
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~ Pumpkin Spice Sugar ~
This recipe is something one of my sons and I made up, based on the spice ratio I use in my Pumpkin Pies. We keep this sugar blend on hand to make Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which everyone knows don’t have any pumpkin in them anyway. haha. Still, the flavor is very close to my pumpkin pies, sans pumpkin. To fill this jar, I used a small spoon and a tiny funnel I made from two straws. I can’t explain how I did the design but if you look up “sand art in a bottle” on youtube, you’ll get the idea. The white layer is Vanilla Bean Sugar. The dark brown “spots” in the white layer are pieces of cinnamon stick. I wanted to position the cinnamon stick pieces to look like hearts but the white sugar kept filling in the spaces so it didn’t work out.
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“Necessity is the mother of invention,” it is said. So true. I couldn’t access my precut wood pieces or run a saw so I ended up using the only wood on hand, a 30 year old piece of Sassafrass root from my parents property. It’s been in my tea collection for decades and still has a beautiful scent. I used a small craft saw to cut thin slices of the wood to make the tags. I wrote on them with permanent marker. Now I wonder if I had wood-burned the words in… could the slice of sassafrass be steeped in boiling water to flavor tea? What fun that would be! I’ll have to try it out.

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For each of the flavored sugars, I used one cup of granulated sugar plus the flavoring agent. That was plenty to fill the jar, with a little left over.
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I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! We sure had a jolly time.

THE Carpenter Christmas Tablescape

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Carpenter, as in not someone’s name, but rather the vocation. The wood worker that cuts down trees and uses sharp gouges to make houses and three-legged stools.

And not just any carpenter, but THE carpenter. Jesus could have been any profession in the world. But he was a worker of wood, a simple carpenter by trade. When I volunteered to do a tablescape for the Christmas brunch event at our church, the first thing I thought of was Christmas trees and wood, and how significant wood is in relation to Christmas and Jesus… and me.
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Jesus worked in a wood shop. He used logs and blocks of wood. He used saws and gouges.
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At the end of a day he would have had the glorious smell of aromatic sawdust and curly wood shavings clinging to his garments.
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As an apprentice, one of the first pieces of furniture he would have made would be a three-legged stool.

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Three legged stools can sit firmly on uneven surfaces.

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And if one leg is a little longer than the other, the stool still works so it is the perfect beginner’s project for making furniture.
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My dad enjoyed wood working as a hobby but he didn’t build furniture. He built his own house, he loved cutting down trees and chopping wood, and he loved carving.
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I learned to carve by watching him. “Never fight the grain of wood,” he quietly said. “Work with the grain, not against it. Take tiny cuts. You can’t put wood back but you can always cut away tiny bits. Take your time.”
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My father had incredible patience and I watched in silence as he made tiny cuts in the wood.
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I was 22 when I married and moved away from home. All I learned about woodworking was during my childhood but I never forgot my father’s skill. My father passed away just a couple days before Christmas, two years ago. But instead of having the memory of his passing be something hard, it is beautiful this time of year. Because my father worked with wood and so did Jesus. My dad never got to see my carving. But somehow, I think he knows and is glad.
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Wood workers mark their tools and their woodwork. It’s called a “maker’s mark.” My dad carved his name into the gouges he made from nails.
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He carved his name and date in his carvings.
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He sometimes carved the location where he made his piece.
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Jesus knew all the details of woodworking.
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His first contact with wood was being laid in a wood manger, a feeding trough for animals. It was rustic and rough.
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As he grew, He learned how to shape wood and smooth wood, remove tiny bits to make something functional and beautiful. He knew which trees were strong, which had the best grain, which smelled aromatic. And he would have known about maker’s marks.

As I put together my Carpenter tablescape, I included two wood cross beams leaning against the back of the creche.
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After spending a life working with wood, Jesus’ last contact with wood was being nailed to it.
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And there, in the cross, was Jesus’ “maker’s mark”, the nail prints.
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This Christmas, what is precious to you? To me, it is the memory of my dad, the wood carver.
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And being blessed with the ability to work with wood like my dad and Jesus, The Carpenter.
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Eyes on Succulents

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All eyes are on succulents.

Today is a great day for #7 from the previous post. “Laughter can be The Best Medicine Ever. You’ve got to try it! Read humor, watch comedy, laugh with family and friends. Don’t just hope laughter might happen, deliberately make it happen.” – from 31 Wonderful Things Severe Pain Taught Me

Scruffy succulent.

Scruffy succulent.

We are gathered here together...

We are gathered here together…

Sopranos, go for the high notes... Bass, pick up the volume...

Sopranos, go for the high notes… Bass, pick up the volume…

Succulent solo.

Succulent solo.

Chirp, chirp.

Chirp, chirp.

Oooo, that's scary!

Oooo, that’s scary!

31 Wonderful Things Severe Pain Taught Me

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31 Wonderful Things Severe Pain Taught Me

He gave me a bouquet.

He gave me a bouquet.

1. Your mind is very powerful. “Mind over matter” makes sense when you’re dealing with crippling pain. Fill your mind with wisdom and knowledge. There is plenty of room for thoughts that aren’t related to your pain at all.

2. You’ve heard it said, but those who have been there truly know: You ARE much stronger than you ever thought humanly possible. If you think today’s pain is a 10, downgrade it to a six. Then rejoice that you’re still 4 away from max.

3. There may or may not be another day. But time is on your side. Time is not the enemy because God is in charge of your time. And God never makes mistakes.

4. You CAN adapt.

5. These statements are simultaneously true: Things can always get worse… AND… This is the worst it will ever get. Which means this moment, right here, right now, can be the most fantastic moment you’ve ever had. Make it that way.

6. There are many ways of coping with pain. If one way doesn’t work, try something different.

7. Laughter can be The Best Medicine Ever. You’ve got to try it! Read humor, watch comedy, laugh with family and friends. Don’t just hope laughter might happen, deliberately make it happen.

8. Distractions are valuable. Listen, taste, see, smell, feel something new. Enjoy it slow.

9. Friends are pure gold, whether they’re wearing skin or fur.

10. Don’t let the sick part of you stop the healthy part of you. Let pain take up only its own space. If your head hurts but your hands are fine, let your hands delight in the day.

11. It’s never too late to learn something new, even something challenging. Learn a new language, study geography, literature, science, art.

12. There is a time to fight pain and a time to roll with pain. When pain is an ocean, be a fish.

13. Always take a little less pain medication than you need. Learn to be comfortable with pain instead of always trying to banish it.

14. Be glad if you have identified your pain-bearing limit. Then work to stretch it further.

15. You CAN do this! You can live WITH pain. Don’t listen to any voices that say you can’t. Don’t listen to voices that only want to lay pity on you. They aren’t helpful and you end up stuck in a swamp.

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16. It’s OK to cry. Let your eyes express and acknowledge pain. But remember to let your mouth smile. Your mouth is good for that.

17. Pain is divisive. It will divide parts of your body from functioning together. It will divide people from functioning together. Fight against further dysfunction. Recognize the crevasses caused by pain and build bridges to go over.

18. Remember that this life is not the end. We were created to live after our bodies can’t go further. This life is the path to the next.

19. Pain is a heavy weight, sticky and personal. Don’t make your pain an issue that pulls others down into the stickiness. Let others help lift you up from it.

20. Pain is a noun. Give it a name… like Motivator, Teacher, or Police. Artist, Poet or Musician. Rest or Transformation. Never let pain become Politician, Spoiled Child, Bully or Tyrant. Make your pain the noun you want to live with.

21. Pain is a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Write the story you want pain to be.

22. If you face pain, face it fully. If you run from pain, don’t miss the scenery.

23. You do have a strong will. But maybe you let it get weak. Work at strengthening your will power.

24. Pain is dark. Find ways to add more light. There are always ways to add light. Find ways to “Be the Bright.”

25. There will always be something excellent that you can derive from pain. Don’t look for the damage pain caused, look for the benefit.

26. Don’t confuse fear with pain. Fear can be conquered even if pain can’t be.

27. Everyone has pain. You are NOT alone.

28. Pain can be ugly or beautiful. You’re in charge of that.

29. Don’t let pain get louder than it should be. Pain only has a voice if you give it one. If Pain needs to speak, try letting it speak through writing, through painting, through music. Some of the most beautiful art in this world was created with pain.

30. Listen to other people. Even if that’s all you can do, it’s ok to just listen.

31. God is here now and he knows everything about pain. Have some great discussions on the topic with him.

I’m praying for you. Sometimes it’s not about the completed painting, the final finish line. Today there is beauty in the brushstrokes, the breaths taken one after the other. Today the beauty is in the heartbeat and the single footstep, the eye contact and hand holding.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Every breath has enormous value.

You can do this!
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The tiniest book I ever made – Blue Flowers

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This tiny book, less than a quarter inch square, is titled Blue Flowers.

The tiniest book I ever made was titled Blue Flowers.

The tiniest book I ever made was titled “Blue Flowers” and included tiny paintings and descriptions of blue flowers. In order to qualify for “micro mini” status, it had to be under 1/4″ square.

I shaved the blue suede as thin as possible so the edges could be folded with less bulk.

I shaved the blue suede as thin as possible so the edges could be folded with less bulk.

I think I made 7 copies and traded them with book making friends. I have one copy but don’t remember where the other copies went. Each book with blue suede cover and gilded page edges was tucked inside a tiny blue flower.
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The text was printed using a laser printer. When the pages were cut apart from the sheet of printer paper, I had to be careful not a single breeze blew over my worktable since I couldn’t see the text and would have to use a magnifying glass to put them all back in order again. I was glad when I had all the pages stitched together!

Each book had a headband made of silk ribbon.

Each book had a headband made of silk ribbon. The gold ink used to gild the edges was sticky so I used an exacto knife to carefully cut the pages apart so they wouldn’t stick as the ink dried.

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Tiny book, with blue suede cover, text and water color paintings of blue flowers.

I made the paintings on each page using a magnifying glass and a brush that had only 3 hairs in it.
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Blue Flowers - a micro mini book with descriptions and water colors of blue flowers

Blue Flowers – a micro mini book with descriptions and water colors of blue flowers

The paintings were so fun to make! Some day I hope to make a tiny book about Pink Flowers. But that will have to happen soon before my eyesight ages even more.

Croque Monsieur

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It’s the most luscious Ham & Cheese sandwich ever! Definitely our favorite. The guys loved them for lunch.
Don’t these ingredients look yummy?

Ingredients for Croque Monsieur. Sliced homemade bread, sliced ham, gruyere cheese, Herbs de Provence, mustard bechemel.

Ingredients for Croque Monsieur. Sliced homemade bread, sliced ham, gruyere cheese, Herbs de Provence, mustard béchemel.

I followed Bon Appetit’s recipe for Croque Monsieur. So delicious!
I baked a loaf of bread the day before but the guys cut into it so I had to make the Croque Monsieur slices a little thinner. The mustard béchemel turned out perfect. The only mustard I had on hand had horseradish in it but that was great with the ham and gruyere. The herbs were from Penzey’s, Herb de Provence.
Four slices of bread were spread with the prepared béchemel.

Tear two round ham slices in half to fit a square piece of bread.

Note: Tear two round ham slices in half to fit a square piece of bread.

Half of the cheese sprinkled over the ham.

Half of the cheese sprinkled over the ham.

The remaining four slices of bread had more mustard béchemel spread on and placed on the sandwiches.

The remaining four slices of bread were spread with more mustard béchemel and placed on the sandwiches.

The remaining cheese was scattered on top of the sandwiches.

The remaining cheese was scattered on top of the sandwiches.

Herbes de Provence sprinkled over tops of the sandwiches.

Herbes de Provence sprinkled over tops of the sandwiches.

 

Baked for about 18 minutes at 425.

Baked for about 18 minutes at 425 F.

Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur

The smell coming from the oven was sooo good… The cheese! The toasty bread! The herbes!

Oh I wish you could taste this Croque Monsieur hot from the oven!

Oh I wish you could taste this Croque Monsieur hot from the oven!

The middle was all melty and soft and the bottom crusts with dripping cheese had a great crunch. Oh so delicous!
Please comment if you’ve ever had a Croque Monsieur sandwich. Did you like it? This will be our go-to sandwich when we have tomato or bean soup this winter.

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Never Never Never give up

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Some days are just plain hard. But God is powerful enough, loving enough and HERE enough to repair even the greatest brokenness.

Never give up.

Never give up.

In Lieu of Luke’s Diner – Sugar Crusted Orange Ginger Muffins

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The plan was to get a free cup of hot coffee from “Luke’s Diner” in town. Commemorating the 16th anniversary of Gilmore Girls, and to celebrate the upcoming debut of a Gilmore Girls mini series, Netflix sponsored pop-up “Luke’s Diner” in coffee shops all over the country. Oh my goodness, I love that show!

I had every intention of going and really looked forward to it. In fact, I even walked toward the line and snapped a picture. What a special event in town!

"Luke's Diner" pop-up at one of the local coffee shops

“Luke’s Diner” pop-up at one of the local coffee shops

But then I started to miss my own “Rory” so much that I had to leave. If I had stayed, I feared I would have started to cry and end up blubbering something like “Will you please be my daughter? I miss my daughter! Anyone in this line, can I please be your Lorelai because my daughter lives halfway to China and I’m missing her so much and we watched Gilmore Girls together when she was going to college and HOW can I possibly get a cup of coffee that we would have shared but can’t because she’s halfway to China??” If I had stayed, I totally would have done that. 0_0

So I left without coffee, immediately went home and did a Sookie thing – I whipped up some Sugar Crusted Orange Ginger Muffins and cried the entire time. I sure did.

Sugar Crusted Orange Ginger Muffin

Sugar Crusted Orange Ginger Muffin

I made up this recipe years ago, just because I needed a batter that fit in the big, new muffin tins. I still use my favorite batter-scooping spoon, even though the handle is broken.

Scooping the muffin batter with the broken spoon, just because it's the perfect size and shape for scooping.

Scooping the muffin batter with the broken spoon, just because it’s the perfect size and shape for scooping.

Sugar Crusted Orange Ginger Muffins

Sift together in a large bowl:
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom

Mix together in another bowl:
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp grated orange rind

Mix together in another bowl:
3/4 cup raisins (I like golden best but any raisin will do)
3/4 cup candied ginger cut up into little pieces (I never buy the precut ginger because it has too much sugar sprinkled on it. All that extra sugar changes the texture of the recipe. It’s better to buy candied, sliced ginger and cut it up yourself with scissors.)

Dump the egg mixture into the flour mixture and quickly stir with a whisk or wooden spoon about 5 or 6 strokes. Mixture will be lumpy and NOT mixed together.

Dump in the raisins and ginger.

Stir quickly and thoroughly but briefly using a wood spoon or whisk. Mixture will be lumpy. Make sure you scrape the dry ingredients off the bottom of the bowl while mixing. If the batter gets rubbery and stretchy, you mixed it too long and the muffins might be tough. Anyway, drop spoonfuls of batter into greased, large muffin tins.

Sprinkle tops with coarse sugar crystals.

BAKE at 400F for 20-25 minutes.

Makes 12 large muffins.

Spicy bits of crystalized ginger and raisins stud this ginger & cardamom muffin.

Spicy bits of crystalized ginger and raisins stud this ginger & cardamom muffin.


After I had two cups of good strong coffee and a muffin, I felt better. But since I miss my daughter so much, I’m declaring it Official Wallowing Day. Truly. At least once a year I just need a good wallow.

I miss you and love you, Heather. <3
And Texas just seems like half-way to China. ;)

I made fabric from photos of my carvings

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If you’ve been following my Instagram feed here, https://www.instagram.com/juliaamonroe/, you can see the progress I’m making carving wood panels for a terrarium.

Before assembling the carved wood panels into a terrarium base, I thought they would make a nice striped fabric so I took photographs of the panels and created a seamless, railroaded Floral Wood Carving Stripe fabric design. The design repeat is a little over a yard. You can find the fabric here on Spoonflower.

Fabric design from photographs of the carvings I'm making for a terrarium base.

Fabric design from photographs of the carvings I’m making for a terrarium base.

Close up of carving detail printed on fabric.

Close up of carving detail printed on fabric.

Another close up of the carved fern section.

Another close up of the carved fern section.

The Floral Wood Carving Stripe also makes a great gift wrap.
It’s available as wallpaper too.

The design is railroaded, with a repeat a little over a yard.

The design is railroaded, with a repeat a little over a yard.

I’m looking forward to making pillow covers from this fabric. They will look so nice outside on the deck. Or I might make cushions for the deck rocking chairs. Hmm, that will be a hard decision!

Floral Wood Panel Fabric

Floral Wood Panel Fabric

The Day the Baby Hawks Learned to Fly

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The Hawk family lived in the trees in our backyard for over a decade. I never paid attention to them until 2014. During 2014, my recovery from spinal surgery meant most days were spent dealing with pain. So getting outside was still a big deal for me. And all that un-busyness gave me more time to notice details. Like the incessant squawking from little birds.

Every spring, the hawks make a terrible racket. But I never looked out my window. That fine day in 2014, I decided to look out the window. And I saw a very large bird on the ground in the backyard. I grabbed the camera and ever so slowly, crept up to the bird. I had no idea that the bird couldn’t fly. Which explains why it didn’t move and let me get very close.

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There was some kind of tissue in the bird’s beak so it must have been eating recently.
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There was a second baby hawk over on the logs of the wood pile. Like the first one, it didn’t move.
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I talked to the hawks, encouraging them to fly, so I could catch photos of those early flights. But the birds didn’t move. The one on the wood pile was silent, but the one in the yard made a lot of noise. I went back in the house in case I made the birds nervous. The one in the yard finally ran across the yard into the trees. But it didn’t get off the ground.

Hours later, I went back out to see where the birds were. One was still on the wood pile. The other one was climbing a tree, making a lot of racket and flapping wings, but not flying.
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The hawk then got stuck on some branches. I watched helplessly.
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The bird would occasionally stop flapping its wings and just hang from the branches, wing extended. It looks so awkward, painful and frustrating!

I really related to that bird. So much pain and it seemed that I would never recover from surgery. It was over a year and a half since surgery. Why was I still in so much pain and so immobile? I spent weeks and weeks sitting still against a heating pad, pacing around the house, impatient to mend. But there was absolutely nothing I could do to hasten the healing. It just had to take time.

Looking through the camera lens was sometimes difficult, since I couldn’t look up very well. My eyes blurred with pain a lot.

I heard a very small squawk high in the trees, pointed my lens and took a picture. It had to be the mother. She stayed close and watched her babies like… well, like a hawk. She never took her eyes off them.
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When I looked at the photos later, I discovered that the mother hawk was holding a snake! That explained the shreds of tissue in the baby’s beak.
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I imagined the birds were making such a racket that the mother pushed them out of the nest mid-meal. “If you two don’t shut up, I’m kicking you out!” I imagined her saying. But she cared enough about them that she didn’t take her eyes off them, especially when they were on the ground, unable to fly.

All day long I frequently looked out the kitchen window, hoping to capture the first flight. But the birds took their time. One chattered incessantly, the other was mostly silent. At one point, the silent one was up in a tree and I was glad to see it had successfully gotten off the ground. It sat on the limb with one leg up. For a long time, one leg in the air, perfectly still.
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The mother hawk ate more snake. But she didn’t come down from her high perch, where she kept an eye on the two.
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Evening came and I checked the hawks again. The one that spent so much time stuck on a branch was no longer there. There was one on a favorite old tree, its head tucked tight under its wing for the night.
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I prayed for the hawks, that the missing hawk didn’t get eaten by some wild critter in the woods.
The next morning, the mother hawk was in her high perch, watching closely over her babies.
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Both the baby hawks were in their favorite tree. How glad I was to see them safe!
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They still must not have been good at flying or hunting. One hawk kept crying loudly all day long. I could just picture the conversation..
“I’m STARVING! I’m gonna die!!!” said the noisy hawk.
“Well, you shouldn’t have gotten us kicked out of the nest. We were right in the middle of breakfast!” said the other.
“We’re GONNA die. I know it! I’m Starved! STARVED, I tell you! I’m GOING TO DIE!!” said the noisy one.
“Oh shut up,” said the quiet one.
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Birds are so dramatic.

I marvelled over the hawks, and felt a keen gratitude that they let me into their special time of life. What an honor!

I wasn’t able to check on the birds again till the third day. High in the sky I saw one fly. Birds always learn to fly. It just takes time. And there are branches to get stuck in and a bit of hunger while learning to hunt. But birds always learn to fly.
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The hawks built their nest in a new location the next year, high in the trees right near my bedroom window. They had never lived so close to the house. Even though the crazy squawking of the new peeps in spring was so annoying, I felt a warm kinship to these strong creatures.

It’s 2016, over three years since my surgery. I can now lightly jog short distances and can look up better. Things take time but time always changes things. Birds always learn to fly.

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