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In Birdland we are prepping for winter.

Yesterday, Michael wrapped half the coop in a new, blue tarp while I graded essays. My husband is on top of things. We’ll finish the rest today. After dark, we went out to catch the finches in the aviary to bring them into their winter home. The aviary was aflutter for a while and lively with our two flashlights, but we caught them all and took them to warmer climes. A few days ago, I fed my bees and slid the winter jacket over the hive. We built it last year out of corrugated plastic, but I forgot that we had added a honey super in the summer, so the jacket is a little short. I will have to get more supplies to make an extension. I added insulation and a ventilation system in the roof so the condensation doesn’t make their hive too damp. I still need to get more corks to plug the entrances and to attach the mouse guard — a wire mesh at the entrance. In the summer, if a mouse tries to get in to rob the hive or make a nest, a couple of stings will make it rethink its trespassing ways. But in winter, the bees spend most of their time just trying to keep warm, so a mouse could sneak in and wreak havoc.

All these preparations make me think of our own winter preparations. As the days shorten, I have vowed to get myself out of bed with the sun. On teaching days, I have to get up much earlier, which makes it feel luxurious to sleep in on the other days. But why waste even a drop of sunlight? Of course, sometimes I need a nap in the afternoon, but that’s easier to justify when I have made the most of the morning. I think ahead, too, to winter holidays when I can’t visit with family and friends in person. It’s a bit hard to swallow, but I believe that it’s worth it to take even more care as COVID-19 cases rise to protect myself and my family so that we will all be there when we get to the other side of this. Here are a few things that give me hope: good news about the vaccines being developed. If we can just hold on a while longer, we may see the end of this pandemic; good news about a new study commissioned by the World Health Organization showing that masks may protect not just others in our circle, but ourselves as well. I have been perfectly willing to mask up to protect others in case I’m one of the asymptomatic carriers, but now that I know masks might help keep me from getting the virus? Praise the Lord and pass me my mask.

I recently spoke with a good friend who blanches at a mask requirement. She told me she wears one to get into the store, but she doesn’t like it. She said we can’t live in fear; we have to live our lives. It was one of those times when you don’t know what to say in the moment, but upon reflection, you find the words too late. I wish I had told her that wearing my mask actually dispels my fear. Wearing my mask is the very reason I can go on and live my life. Granted, my life looks different now than in the before times, but wearing my mask is both a shield and a reminder to be careful when I go into the grocery store, or take an outdoor, socially-distanced walk with a friend.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I’m thinking of new ways to visit with people. What about calling my mom and sharing a cup of tea on a video chat? I’ll put on a kettle and we can sit and talk while the water boils. When the kettle whistles, we can each pour our cups. How about making soup together? My brother has a crock pot. With a little planning, we could each make the same recipe, chatting while we chop vegetables and drop in the ingredients. Michael and I could walk the dogs in Allerton Park and talk to our son and his wife while they walk their dogs in Seattle. We could make sourdough with our San Francisco son and show off our indoor winter garden with our Chicago son and his sweetheart, who have one on their porch. Last night I put together birthday/Thanksgiving packages for the kids: pumpkin scones, gingersnaps made with my grandma’s cookie mold and a few presents. It will be a different Thanksgiving, but I’m grateful for all the ways we can show our love.

Bake in Gratitude; Mask in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is serious about answering mail from readers, email too! Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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