Repost from 2015:

I visit the cemetery frequently with my two young girls. Although they don’t completely understand, they know that we are visiting their Nana, my mom, Carol McFeeters Thompson. We share laughs and stories with mom – sometimes even tears – hoping that she is able to hear them, knowing that either way she is there in our hearts.

My oldest daughter recently started preschool, leaving some special one-on-one time for my youngest and me. Last week, Collins and I brought donuts and juice for a picnic with mom. That morning, the clouds were dark with the threat of rain. We were already committed to our plans, and headed for the cemetery anyway. We laid out a quilt (made of my old souvenir t-shirts mom had saved from our travels together) under the oak tree that extends over mom’s grave as well as the graves of our Grandpa and Grammy. We listened as acorns dropped from the tree, making a thud as they hit the ground around us. We felt the breeze as it blew lightly across our faces and through our hair.  We noticed as the dark clouds faded to white and then separated so that the sun could shine directly on us. My mom may not have been there physically, but she was all around us. She had always encouraged others to see the beauty around them, and that is exactly what we did. Inspired by her life’s lessons, we sat and really took in our surroundings.


We have noticed an abundant number of ground squirrels throughout the cemetery. Kendall, my oldest daughter, has named them all “Buddy.” She is thrilled when she sees them, shrieking “Hi, Buddy!”, which inevitably causes them to jump back down into their holes – every time. While I cannot immediately identify the species of ground squirrel as my mom could, I can encourage Kendall that lowering her voice and standing still will allow her to enjoy “Buddy,” rather than scare him away. In return, we can watch him pop his head out of his hole, examining us as we examine him.


Collins and I were surrounded by ground squirrels during our visit, as Collins is significantly more quiet than Kendall. She’s just as full of energy though, and took off running through the cemetery. We visited the graves of some of Collins’s relatives and some of my very dear friends, cleaning them off along our way – realizing the unfortunate losses so many of us share.


As we returned to my mom’s grave, we saw a red-tailed hawk. I have always been impressed by their grace and beauty. Watching her soar freely through the now cloudless sky immediately reminded me of my mom, of course. In an article she once wrote, she said of the red-tailed hawk, “Designed for nearly effortless flight over open country, she sailed on the wind, gliding across the sky in little more than a moment without ever flapping her massive wings.  When she rose to clear the trees, the sun highlighted her distinctive russet tail against the bright turquoise sky  She disappeared from view, but her majesty lingered.” What a beautiful and impeccably perfect description of what Collins and I saw together, sharing those memories with my daughter as my mom once shared with me – and so many others. That’s when it occurred to me, our new found friend, the red-tailed hawk, was not only graceful to watch, but intuitive. While we were busy watching “Buddy”, so was she. “She wanted only to be left in peace to use her keen vision to watch for a hint of movement in the grass below that might signal a small rodent suitable for her dinner.”


Collins and I spent two hours in the cemetery that day. Heartbroken with the loss of my mother, it was initially difficult for me to find a suitable balance between new and old, the future and the past. Focussing on my surroundings, I have realized that balance is prevalent and necessary: predator and prey, life and death, past and present.  What I have discovered is that we can incorporate the past into our future, mixing new memories and experiences with old.

© 2015 Lauren Johnson;

Feeding the {humming}birds

(Written in 2017, but it’s hummingbird season again here in the Midwest!)

Despite growing up in a home that always had several, this was the first year I finally put out a hummingbird feeder. I cannot determine exactly why I have never had one, but the commitment always intimidated me. It truly is a lot of work to keep up with a hummingbird feeder. Instead, we have planted many flowers that attract both hummingbirds and butterflies, in hopes of having their yearly return visit.

I purchased my first feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited at the beginning of the year, with full intentions of its regular upkeep. Unfortunately, I failed, once again, of hanging it until later in the season – although I suppose that is a significant improvement over past years when I did not have one at all.

We had one single hummingbird in front of our house, who continued to visit frequently, despite the lack of feeder. He was what inspired me to finally dig out our feeder and boil my first batch of “nectar.” To make safe hummingbird food, you mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water. Boiling this solution kills any bacteria or mold that may be present. After boiling, you allow the water to cool before filling the clean feeder.

Something important that is often overlooked – and contrary to popular belief – you DO NOT add red food dye.

Research cannot confirm nor deny whether or not all red food dye is harmful to hummingbirds, however adding red dye does not add any nutritional value for hummingbirds and is therefore completely unnecessary. Some red dye is in fact proven to be damaging to hummingbirds (some dyes can even kill the hummingbird), so it is best to just avoid it altogether. Instead, clean your feeder and replenish it with fresh nectar regularly (every few days is best). If you’re still looking to add a little color, most feeders have red caps that help to attract the hummingbird, the nectar will do the rest.

When looking for information regarding hummingbirds, I dug into some past columns of my mom’s. I said earlier that I had one solo hummingbird, but according to the article, “Hummingbird Bander,” by Carol Thompson, “…the rule of thumb is that most hummingbird enthusiasts underestimate the number of birds using their feeder by two thirds. Most feeders host three times the number of birds their monitors think they see.” Immediately, I had to wonder how many others we had hanging around.

Some of this information may be redundant to some, but as I sat around chatting with my girlfriends the other day, we discussed some of these issues and concluded that there are a lot of people – from our generation especially – who do not have the experience or knowledge to maintain hummingbird feeders. Unfortunately, my feeder has harbored no visitors for almost a week now. It is safe to assume that the birds that recently visited our feeder are on “a treacherous round trip journey that will require two five-hundred-mile, non-stop flights across the Gulf of Mexico. If they survive, they may return to the feeder next spring…”

“A flash of harmless lightening, a mist of rainbow dyes, the burnished sunbeams brightening, from flower to flower he flies.” – John B. Tabb

© 2019 Lauren Johnson;