Watering the Birds, Practical Gardening (with a video!)

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Water is a necessity for all life. Birds need water for drinking and preening; it helps keep a bird’s body cool from the inside and out. Water baths remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from their plumage.

Adding a water feature to your garden is an important element, and one of the quickest ways to attract birds. Offering water will draw more birds than just food sources, since birds that would not visit your feeders can be enticed by water. And the more birds, the more bugs eaten!

Standing water is not dynamic enough for visiting or migrating birds to notice. Moving water will attract more birds because they can hear dripping, sprinkles or splashes, and the reflective motion catches their eye. Adding a jiggler accessory to a standing birdbath adds motion. A hose dripping into a dish or pond can have a similar effect attracting birds. Flowing water also stays cleaner and is less likely to harbor parasites or bacteria that could harm birds.

The most popular ways to offer birds water in your garden are the basin/saucer style birdbath, on the ground or pedestal, and misters.

For birds to feel comfortable using a birdbath, it should be ½-1” deep at the edge and only 2” deep in the center. If you find birds are hesitant to use the basin, add a flat rock to the center or several smaller stones at the edge to create a shallower island for birds to use. The birdbath should also have a rough surface to provide traction.

Keep the birdbath (and stones) clean by scrubbing with a dedicated stiff-bristled brush about every other day—and wear some gloves—rinsing it well. In the heat of the summer you may find algae to be a problem even with regular cleaning. To help reduce this issue, after cleaning and draining the birdbath, add one part white vinegar to nine parts water and scrub the basin again. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry fully before refilling with water.

Place birdbaths in the shade to keep the water cooler. The birds will feel safer the closer it is to trees and shrubs when they need to further preen and dry. A simple saucer or shallow bowl can be placed on the ground, secured to a fence, patio table, stump or steps. Hanging dishes and models that attach to deck railings are available. If cats are in the area, use a pedestal style instead.

There are several types of saucer birdbaths to choose from. Concrete is stable, but difficult to relocate and tip for cleaning. Ceramic and glass styles are easy to clean and relocate, but a challenge for birds to get a footing because of the smooth surfaces. These style must be protected or brought inside during the winter. Birdbaths made from plastic or fiberglass are easy to relocate, tip for cleaning, and can be used all year round by adding a heater—or purchasing a model with a built-in warmer.

Consider adding a small fountain or bubbler to any style birdbath to draw attention.

Misters are a favorite way for hummingbirds to find water and they will often repeatedly hover in a mister on a hot day. Misters may be attached to fountains or birdbaths, or they can come as separate water features that attach to a garden hose. For the best effect, position the mister in a partially shaded area that has several perching sites within its mist. Hummers also do an activity called leaf rolling to clean their plumage. They rub against water-soaked leaves!


A Peace, Ancient and Alive

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After morning Mass at Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian Church—a 115 year old country parish—I decided to take a drive along farm lanes, through “God’s country.” The glow of having just received communion felt too fresh to not, in some way, continue the prayer.

County roads here run straight and intersections at 90º a mile or two apart. I turned south along Hawley—roads were historically named after the land owner—and was surprised to see a hops farm. I wondered if the grower crafted beer or sold to local breweries. The grove was surrounded by a ten-foot-fence against deer browsing, and dozens of 16’ crosses pierced the earth. The cross-beams trailed heavy twine, secured at the base near the bushy vines.

I found the view unsettling as thoughts of Saint Paul Miki and Companions came to mind; twenty-six martyred by being hung on crosses in Nagasaki, Japan.  I shuddered and shook my head to clear the intrusive image of suffering.

Refocusing on my drive, I made note to come back to the farm through the summer to see how the vines progressed.

In south-central Michigan there are several small lakes, marshes, and muck-land farms—which grow celery, onions, cabbage, and peppermint. Crisscrossing three counties I drove past several, and had come upon a massive wetland whose beauty took my breath away.

Tussocks of tall marsh grasses glowed chartreuse in the morning light. They were surrounded by expanses of open water floating groups of lily pads and reminded me of paintings seen earlier in May. The rains of the previous week had raised the water above the ditch-line; it reached the edges of the road.

I left the car and stood near what would have been the shoulder. The soft breeze carried the deep, low scent of a quagmire, and, lucky for me, was enough to keep the mosquitoes away. Up the road a fully grown, two foot Northern Water Snake casually made its way to the opposite bank. In the stillness I listened to the peeper frogs’ trill.

Then from behind, and startlingly near, a loud swish. Instinctively I ducked as a pair of Great Blue Herons flew a few feet above my head. Their bright orange beaks were slightly open, long black legs were extended and tucked tight against their gray bellies. I had never been so near these large, seemingly primordial birds and was amazed at their size.

My heart was beating fast from being startled. I watched with an overwhelming sense of reverence as they landed a few yards away. The pair stood poised in shallow water, and elegantly folded their powerful six-foot-span of wings.

I stood in awe of the vastness of the marsh, the holy silence of nature, and felt the boundless gift of peace that is God’s. It is a peace that though a gift must be sought, and like the Herons that came from behind, brings with it unexpected beauty, ancient and alive.


Thursday’s Prayer for Priests

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Emmaus Prayer for Priests 

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer

For the spiritual renewal of priests.

We praise you for giving their ministry to the Church.

In these days renew them with the gifts of your Spirit. 

You once opened the Scriptures

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Now renew your ordained ministers

With the truth and power of your Word. 

In the Eucharist you gave the Emmaus disciples

Renewed life and hope.

Nourish priests with your own Body and Blood.

Help them to imitate in their lives

The death and resurrection they celebrate at your altar. 

Give priests enthusiasm for the Gospel,

Zeal for the salvation of all,

Courage in leadership,

Humility in service,

Fellowship with one another

And with all their brothers and sisters in You. 

For You love them, Lord Jesus,

And we love and pray for them in Your name. Amen


Catcalls and All

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In the past few weeks I spent time outdoors helping a friend by doing light painting. He has offices at a very busy intersection outside of downtown. Out front is a wooden sign, about 8’ x 10’, installed several years ago. Like all things made of painted wood, it needs maintenance.

Driving past one day I noticed how shabby the sign appeared and stopped to have a closer look. The situation was dire. Most of the furring strips—that secured the sign to its posts—had rotted through. One hearty gust of wind and the sign would collapse. And the paint was flaking off.

My friend is a busy kind of guy running his business, attending to his family, and being active at church. I offered him my help repairing the sign and he gratefully accepted.

Painting is something I can still do and a three-step ladder is not an issue. We talked about what needed to be done and bought supplies. I looked forward to helping him and being outdoors under the locust tree.

Over several days the work progressed as expected. What I had not anticipated was feeling vulnerable.

The building is located in a section of town that is not the best. Low-income apartments surround his building on two sides—two shootings took place there last summer—and across the road is another complex. Traffic cuts off from the main street down the 100 foot road in front of his business. And the traffic is loud. There were cars and trucks with mufflers gone bad, the deafening thunder of open trailers hauling equipment hitting potholes, and jacked up cars with punk-rock blaring hate-filled words.

At first I felt uneasy working alone with no one in the offices, and assumed I would feel more at ease with time. After all, I was painting on Saturday afternoons on lovely spring days.

That attitude worked for the first day. It was after the second that my fears rose. There were catcalls from drive-bys, the being looked up and down by gangs of adolescent boys, and abusive yelling that escaped through open apartment windows.

I felt exposed and vulnerable. I couldn’t tell who was good or who was a threat. I prayed for my safety as each car drove past, prayed as I avoided eye contact with people walking by. Twice, overwhelmed by fear, I scurried into the offices to quell my panic; I had to finish that sign!

I read one morning Acts 14:16-17 “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Up on the ladder again, painting around lettering, I wondered how many of those that passed, including the men who bellowed slurs from cars, knew God and had faith. The Lord allows us all to choose our own way. He offers the same fruitful seasons to the trying-to-be-good and those not-yet-seeking-goodness.

The Lord did not leave our world without witnesses—and that would be those of us with faith. I realized that working to make the sign look better was a witness to charity, my calmness as the gang of boys sauntered past an act of trust in them that they could perceive. To the people watching me from apartment windows, they saw a desire to persevere beyond the catcalls.

I found a means through my anxiety. My default is to pray, and I did for those who passed my way.

What-Why-How #MyWritingProcess

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The blogging about #MyWritingProcess appears to have begun in 2011. At least that’s as far back as the thread for this hash tag goes. It’s a wonderful insight about other writers and how they do what they do.

It’s my turn to step into the pool and swim, thanks to Nancy Ward’s invitation. 

What am I working on?

If you are reading this you already know that I write for Patheos. The blog includes prayers, contemplative pieces on nature, and practical gardening tips. I also write a monthly column at CatholicMom.com, and just finished a feature article for Catholic Digest. The presentations on building prayer gardens for this spring are over, unless I get a call from another group.

My main focus is currently on the first round of edits that came this month from Bob Hamma at Ave Maria Press for my new book. I love what he’s done with my (now our) manuscript and am embracing his challenges to improve the work. The launch is set for spring of 2015. Being a gardener I deeply appreciate and enjoy (love!) working with editors. They take my meager efforts, offer their insights, and my work grows in a way I had never thought possible.

I have twelve other manuscripts in progress—gosh, that sounds arrogant. They cover a wide range of topics from saints and soups to retreats and evangelization. They are all garden related, and that would be stretching it a bit when it comes to the memoirs of a gardener.  

What makes my work different from other gardening writers?

My Catholicism. All that I write is from my faith as developed in the Catholic religion. The gardening themed manuscripts are focused on learning about the Creator through his creation. The nature reflections are fleshed out in Adoration.  

Why do I write what I do?

Writing came about by default as I struggled to accept physical decline and associated depression. I struggled mightily with losing my identity as a gardener. I didn’t know who I was if not part of the earth, digging in the dirt, hugging trees, and touching flowers. I prayed desperately to God to be open to his will as my life took a turn, for what I thought was the worst.

What I gradually realized was that I could share with others how God is present in the garden. I brought this new awareness to Adoration, and while there came to embrace the fullness of God’s created beauty. I felt compelled to share this insight with other gardeners and to offer them not only the why but the how of glorifying God with his gifts from nature. 

How does my writing process work?

I am a very slow writer and must work at staying disciplined. I was not an English or Journalism major in college—failing an English class twice! What I’ve learned about the writing process, and am still learning, came by way of Ann Margaret Lewis and the Catholic Writers Guild, and from the writers group I attend.

Notebook: It’s more like a small journal that accompanies me everywhere. When an idea comes—I call them seeds—I write it down. There are a lot of one or two sentence entries. The majority of ideas come during my morning prayer time when I reflect on activities, people, and Scripture. Other ideas come when I am outdoors walking, gardening, or simply sitting with creation.

Adoration: These seeds of thought are taken to the Adoration chapel and developed. The dear women who attend to the altar placed a long narrow table at the back of the pews. It is there that I set my portfolio of notes, papers, articles and books. After offering my prayers and petitions for others, I ask Our Lord to fill my emptiness with his desires…and then write longhand. Sometimes for 15 minutes, more often for over an hour.

God’s Writing Time: The writing that occurs in Adoration takes place independent of this, though that work is always incorporated here. I am graced with a single life of solitude and friends tease me about living in an “upstairs hermitage.”

After morning prayer, with a second cup of coffee, I go to my desk and write for an hour and a half, minimum. Nothing interferes with God’s writing time. Well, maybe if the dog has to go out… When I say I write, it also includes researching of information pertaining to the topic. Sometimes I will return to writing in late afternoons, though my best work is done in the morning.

I call it God’s Time because of the Rule of St. Benedict: nothing comes before the Work of God. I don’t answer the phone, crawl around Facebook, read emails, clean house, etc. Sure, St. Benedict was talking about the Work of God being prayer, and for me writing is just that. I try to honor God’s gift, in answer to my prayer, by prayerfully offering whatever words are written for whoever reads them.

Steps: I make a rough outline, go back and fill it in. If I am working on a manuscript I consider each main topic a chapter, each sub-topic a section in it, and can usually write 3,000-4,000 words for a chapter. I try to write a rough draft of a whole chapter in one sitting.

My rough drafts are really ugly with all sorts of mistakes and incomplete thoughts. BUT the thoughts are all there. I rework it as best I can. Then take it, piece by piece of about 500-1000 words, to the writers group who are wonderful at teaching me how to make it better. For my blog, when I don’t know what is wrong with my piece, I reach out to CWG members for editing. Did I mention how much I love English  and Journalism majors?

I rewrite as directed. I believe nothing is ever perfect and that’s perfectly fine with me. I’ve written my best and leave the manuscript in the hands of whatever publisher is willing to take my workand then it is no longer mine but ours.

Query Letters: I just don’t fuss over them. I’ve done what I could, offered it up, and leave the rest in God’s hands and God’s time. My goal has never been to get published, but to serve Our Lord in whatever small way I can—to which I am still striving.

 Sometimes I feel terribly intimidated when I read the powerful words of other Catholic writers. The words I am given are simple and I try to remember that not everyone seeking God seeks him in theology. For this reason I wrote the following prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Help me to trust that the words you encourage me to write meet the needs of those you guide to read them. Let me continue to delight in the beautiful words written by others and not despair in the simplicity of my own. Help me remember always to thank them and encourage them in their work. Guide my thoughts and my hands to express your desires for our lives. Allow me to follow your will, to trust your ways, to be unconcerned with how I write but that I write in the light of your Light. Lord, send me peace of heart so that envy and disparaging does not constrict my work for your glory.


I am tagging a Christian friend, Lynn Eckerle who writes a cooking column for several newspapers and has a wonderful cooking and photography blog.