Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Robin Family

For the second year in a row, a robin built her nest in my largest aloe plant on the front porch. Perhaps it is my own impending motherhood, but this year I feel especially attached to the little birds. It has become the highlight of my day to watch the babies grow each day. (Sorry, I didn't get around to taking pictures of the pretty blue eggs.) The babies hatched on Mother's Day.

Just hatched! Naked and blind.

Feathers are starting to come in!

Some of them have open eyes!
Two weeks after they hatched, disaster struck: a neighbor's cat found the nest. At 3am, D and I heard angry chirping outside the front door. The aloe plant had been tipped over, and only two of the birds were left in the nest. The mama bird was no where to be seen. And the two birds that were left in the nest looked a little worse for the wear. One was splayed out awkwardly, but wouldn't tolerate us touching him to help him get in a better position; the other was curled up on the bottom of the nest, apparently sleeping through it all (at first we thought he was dead, but after some mild poking he started moving a bit more). I took the flashlight down to the parking lot below our porch (we live on the second floor), and found one of the other babies just sitting by our car, as calm as can be. She immediately climbed onto my hand, and snuggled up as I held her close to keep her warm.

We returned her to the nest with her brothers and restored the aloe plant to its rightful place. About 15 minutes after going back to bed, D heard a thump on the porch and ran out to scare away the cat, who had returned for a second helping. He (D) then proceeded to stand guard at the front door for a few hours to make sure the cat didn't come back, while also looking up ways to take care of baby birds in case the mama robin wouldn't return to her disturbed nest. (Fortunately, she did come back by the morning). We lost one baby, but three survived the night.

Starting to get too big for their nest.

Almost ready to fly!

We continued to keep an eye on the birds, especially at night. D worked on ways to "cat proof" the porch. His natural night owl tendencies were helpful in keeping watch over the little ones, since the cat only came around late at night. The birds continued to grow and their feathers started filling in nicely. D named them - Amelia, Orville, and Wilbur. (Amelia is the one I rescued from the parking lot, Orville is the awkward gangly one, and Wilbur is the sleepy one).

But then, D went out of town. The first night he was gone, the cat came early. I ran outside to see Mama Robin facing off with the cat in the parking lot. My mom suggested I sprinkle chili powder on the steps to deter the cat, and that seemed to work well for the first night.

But this morning, I woke up to this sight:

It seems that sometime after I went to bed, the cat came back. I'm not sure exactly what transpired, but my guess is that the cat probably got at least one of the birds. I'm hoping the other two were strong enough to fly away in time. There are two white clumps on the porch that indicate that perhaps two of the babies were just knocked out of the nest, spent a little bit of time wandering on the porch, and then were able to fly away. I'd like to say that all three flew away, but clearly the cat got into the plant at some point. I wasn't awakened by furious chirping from either the baby birds or Mama Robin, and Mama Robin isn't sitting on the telephone wire loudly lamenting the loss of her babies, so I am fairly confident that at least one or two of the babies were able to fly to safety. Or, at least, that's what I'm telling myself. Of course, I'll never really know. But the journey was interesting while it lasted.

Here are some fun facts about robins: While Mama Robin is the one who builds the nest and sits on the eggs, Papa Robin does help care for the babies after they've hatched. He assists with feeding and protection. The parent robins remove any waste from the nest (the avian version of a diaper change) so it doesn't get messy. It takes about two weeks for baby robins to be able to leave their nest, and even then they can only fly short distances. They hide in bushes and follow their parents around, still depending on food for another few weeks. It turns out that only 25% of robin chicks will survive the first year. The good news for Mama Robin is that she can lay up to three broods each season, each with 3-5 eggs. She'll use a new nest for her next round of babies, so I won't get to watch the new little ones grow up, but hopefully she'll move into safer territory next time.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Can't

I've always been told that pregnancy is a great way to prepare yourself for the sacrifices of being a mother. After all, you are sacrificing your body, space, personal comfort, and sometimes dignity while growing another human inside of you. I understand the point (although sometimes I find it a bit disheartening, especially when I'm struggling with the sacrifices of pregnancy), and I'm not a pregnancy expert by any means, but I have taken away something completely different from this experience: sometimes, you just can't.

What do I mean by that? I mean, you can't do it all. Or even half of it. Or sometimes, any of it. Forget the elementary school mantras of "you can do anything you put your mind to," because when you've suddenly gained 20+ pounds and can't remember where you put the milk (in the pantry) or the cereal (in the fridge), your mind and your body are two entirely different organisms working against each other. Sure, you can think about all the things you used to be able to do with ease, and for the first few months you can (usually) still accomplish them; but as time goes on, this ability quickly diminishes. And that's hard.

What makes it challenging is that we're always told that we can do anything. If we just try hard enough, push through, persevere, believe enough, wish enough, work enough, we can accomplish anything. The only thing holding us back is ourselves! As a ropes course facilitator, I have had the chance to see people of all ages push through mental blocks to be able to overcome great physical and emotional challenges. I know that, with the right mindset, a lot of things are possible. But there are also those people who really just can't do it. For whatever reason, they start to climb the ladder and they simply cannot go on. Of course, once they return to the earth, we always encourage them in their efforts and tell them they did a great job challenging themselves, but a small part of me has always thought, "If you had just pushed a little bit harder, you would have been able to make it all the way up and had a great time."

I've now discovered that this simply isn't true, and I've discovered this the hard way. I spent the first 2/3 of my pregnancy trying to do everything I used to do, just like I used to do it. Sure, I took precautions (or, at least, I tried to). I even tried to think ahead. While continuing to work in a very active job, I made some accommodations: I stopped leading hikes (although I still "take up the rear" - very slowly - behind the kids); I asked other people to help me carry the big box full of rocks and minerals; I didn't teach more than one class in a day. I tried to "cut back," but felt guilty about it. I felt like I was wimping out - after all, wasn't there a woman a few months back who ran a marathon and then gave birth a few hours later? If she could do that, why couldn't I climb this ladder to tie up a rope? Why couldn't I jump up and down leading silly songs at a campfire?

So I tried to navigate through the small ways that I cut back, while still putting as much effort into proving that I still could do anything if I just tried hard enough. And then this week, my body simply said NO. Actually, it screamed it.

It started on Sunday night, when a cat attacked the baby robins on my porch at 3 a.m. I wasn't sleeping anyway, so D and I were able to go out and rescue three of the four birds. But this resulted then in anxiety about the future of those poor birds (because I'm pregnant, and have an odd emotional attachment to animals who have no idea I'm alive.) So that meant little sleep. Monday brought a busy day at work, followed by a picnic in the evening. Tuesday was another busy day that required me to be a lot more physically active than I have been lately - hiking back and forth to the creek and the lake. Oh, and I was still not sleeping because I have been so concerned about these darn baby birds. So by Wednesday I was exhausted. Unfortunately, this coincided with one of my long days where I was supposed to work until 10pm leading students in high energy activities. It also happened to be the day that all of the mistakes I've been making lately started to show up. Remember what I said about your brain and your body being totally separate? That might be because, at least for me, my brain has completely dissolved. I can no longer problem-solve, I miss important details, and I can't think through anything far enough ahead of time to make it useful. It's not even that I'm off daydreaming about the baby; it's really just that I'm not able to think about anything. This became apparent Wednesday morning, and unfortunately my inability to think through and communicate these details were going to make everyone else have to work a whole lot harder to make up for it. So I was upset with myself, exhausted, and facing a very long day.

D picked me up for our prenatal appointment that afternoon, and the moment I got in the car and he asked how my day was going, I burst into tears. And I cried the whole way to the midwife. I sat in the parking lot for 15 minutes before my appointment trying not to cry - with little success. I knew I was just plain exhausted. My body was angry with me for not letting it rest, and unfortunately that manifested in ugly, snot-dripping sobs. My midwife recommended some herbs to help me sleep, and told me to start taking it easy. One of the nurses cautioned me about working too much or too hard, and how she did never took a break and her when baby came four weeks early, she was almost too exhausted to be able to care for her son. When I got in the car to go back to work, I knew I couldn't do it. I did not have the energy to stand up in front of a group of students and be excited for another six hours. Instead, I took the night off. This ended up putting added pressure on the two other staff who were working that evening. Their night was more demanding, and this of course made me feel guilty. But ultimately, I could not do it. I had to get to a point where I could say, "I can't."

Perhaps part of the reason it is so hard to admit this conclusion is because I know there is a part of me that loves being lazy. I try to fight this instinct as much as possible, but it's still there. So I feel guilty when my motivation is laziness; I don't want to cop out of something just because it's hard or I'm not really feeling up to it. But there is a difference between between being lazy and not wanting to do something, and literally being unable to function. I hit the latter this week, and it has been humbling.

The good news is, despite all of my efforts to be able to do ALL things and falling short, God does not consider me a failure. Even without pregnancy to remind us of this, it is only when we get to this point of admitting our weakness and our inability to do something that God can work greatly in our lives. He is strong when we are weak. Sometimes, we just have to throw our hands up in the air and cry out, I can't do it anymore! These are the times when God works in big, wonderful ways. It might not happen immediately, or even in the way we expect. I find, for myself, I don't even recognize it until later. But He is always at work, and it is these times, when we are absolutely unable to function and need to cease our own efforts, that He shows Himself most. This is the time when God shines big.

I hope, once this pregnancy is all said and done, that I remember this the most: I can't. I will not be "super mom," I will not always be happy and cheerful, I will have dirty dishes and dirty diapers and dirty floors. I will have times when I will not know how to comfort the baby, or when to call the doctor if she's sick. I will not know how to show love to my husband when I am exhausted. I am sure this list could go on and on and on, but through all of these times when I can't do something, I hope that I remember to step back and let it go. Because it's not always a case of mind over matter. It is a case of God over me. And when I hit that wall - physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually - it will not do me any good to keep on banging my head against it in self-defeat. Instead, I just need to admit that I can't do it and then turn it over to God. Because all of the greatest stories ever told all have the same theme: He can.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Morning Doughnuts

The Sunday morning routine around here is pretty standard. I tend to wake up with tons of energy, and I jump out of bed ready to tackle the long list of household projects and chores I've neglected over the course of the week. I always start off with laundry and dishes, and then usually begin to tackle some bigger, more intimidating projects. I am able to do all of this because we don't go to church until 11:00, so even if I sleep in until 8:00 I have several hours to get stuff done. It is also pretty standard that D sleeps in on Sunday morning, and wakes up at some point after 10:00 (Saturday nights for him tend to be designated to staying up late and working on various woodburning projects). This allows me plenty of time to get stuff done without having to worry about being in his way (or him being in mine). It's a pretty good system, with the only flaw being that by the time I get home from church at 12:30 I am ready for a nap and have lost all motivation to continue my projects, so they sit until the following Sunday morning when I can tackle them again.

This week was a little different. I slept in a little later than usual, and, since I've been battling a lot of weepiness on Sundays lately, decided to take it easy in the morning in the hopes that I would not be an emotional mess by the time I arrived at church. In hindsight, I didn't really do too much differently; I still did laundry and dishes, and I cleaned the clutter off my desk. But I dedicated some time to writing in my prayer journal (a new tool I've discovered thanks to my mom that has really helped me think out/pray about some of the heart issues I've been dealing with). And then, something crazy happened: D woke up early! I was pleasantly surprised, because it gave me a great excuse to do something I have been wanting to do for a while now: make breakfast. And by "breakfast," I clearly mean "doughnuts." Okay, I don't really consider doughnuts to be a great breakfast, but it's a nice treat every now and then. I have a great recipe for baked doughnuts that I rarely use, so today I busted it out and made a handful of homemade doughnuts. They are quick and easy, and taste great (and are slightly healthier than fried doughnuts). Here's the recipe:

*1 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted (sometimes, like this morning, I cheat and use all purpose flour - and don't get any complaints)
*1/2 cup granulated sugar
*1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
*1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*3/4 teaspoon salt
*1/2 cup buttermilk
*1 egg, lightly beaten
*1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a doughnut pan with nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Add buttermilk, egg, and butter and stir until just combined. Fill each doughnut cup about half full. Bake 4-6 minutes or until the top of the doughnuts spring back when touched. Let cool in pan 4-5 minutes before removing.

This recipe made 9 regular sized doughnuts (it is actually the "mini" doughnut recipe, and apparently makes 24 of those). And yes, I use a doughnut pan... I am not sure how to make them without that, but I'm sure there's some kind of way. (Perhaps piping the batter in a circle on a baking sheet?)

Once the doughnuts are out of the oven, you can begin the fun part: deciding how to glaze them! I think my personal favorite is to dunk the top in melted butter and then sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. You can also melt chocolate chips to make a chocolate glaze (add some butter for a smoother look). To make a vanilla glaze, mix together 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until sugar is completely dissolved. You can also take a hot doughnut and toss it around in a ziploc bag full of confectioner's sugar to make powdered doughnuts.

I ran out of granulated sugar when making the doughnut batter, and powdered doughnuts tend to be too messy for me, so I decided to improvise on a topping. I mixed a half cup of melted peanut butter with 2 1/2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar to make a makeshift peanut butter glaze (I don't like it too sugary, but others might prefer it sweeter). I dipped each doughnut in the peanut butter glaze and then sprinkled it with chocolate cookie crumble. They were delicious!


The lighting in my kitchen isn't very good for taking pictures, but I promise they tasted better than they look! Baking something easy like this was such a great, relaxing way to start the day:-) If you try out the recipe, I'd love to hear how you glazed them!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cut the Clutter: Part 2 - The Kitchen

As I wrote previously, clutter drives me nuts. We have clutter in every single room of the house, but the worst culprit was the kitchen. D and I both lived on our own before we got married, and therefore we had two apartments worth of dishes, silverware, and appliances to combine. We also got quite a few of these when we got married, with the idea that the new, matching sets we received would replace our older, chipped, stained, and outdated dishes. And we did pretty well, at first - we got rid of a lot. But, we still held on to quite a bit.

And then I discovered one of the biggest argument catalysts in our marriage: dishes. We both hate to do dishes, and don't own a dishwasher. So, with an excess of dishes, we would go through about a dozen plates (yes, for just two of us) before either one of us would be motivated enough to do dishes. The sink would be overflowing, and the counter tops were covered in dirty dishes. And then, of course, doing dishes took even longer because it had been a week or so since either one of us had done them. It was annoying and causing a lot of unnecessary stress and resentment. 

We came up with a simple solution. I picked out six plates, six cups, and six bowls and put them in one small cabinet. I took all of the other dishes and put them in a larger cabinet with a sign reading "do not use." For the last year, this system has worked miracles! Even if we use every available dish in the small cabinet, it still takes less than 10 minutes to wash them. When we had guests over, we used the "other" dishes, but even then it was rare that we opened that large cabinet since 6 place settings was usually enough anyway.

So now, with the decluttering project underway, it was time to really examine all of those "extra" dishes. I started quite simply: I took everything out of the "other" cabinet and laid it on the counter, just to see what we had in there. Here are some pictures of all of the "extra" dishes we've been holding onto the last year:

Now, some of these dishes are "special occasion" items - such as the champagne flutes from our wedding. And no, I did not end up getting rid of all the items shown here. But it did help me realize what an excess we have been holding onto! So we sat down to go through the piles, and after much negotiation, we sorted out two full boxes of dishes and appliances (not pictured) that we would get rid of. D's younger brother is getting a new apartment, so those boxes are going to help him set up his new place. All of the other dishes we decided to keep  (special occasion items, mostly) got put with our regular dishes. We now have one dish cabinet instead of two. This opened up space to move some appliances around (many were stashed in bottom cabinets and difficult to reach - especially as bending over is getting more and more difficult for me these last few weeks). I have now completely reorganized the kitchen so that everything is easily accessible and has its own spot. I know it seems like such a minor thing, but it really has helped eliminate some stress (when you're trying to stack your food processor on top of your crock pot which is on top of your cupcake pans, you've got a bit of a problem). And even though we'll be moving out soon, we now will have a lot less to pack and move when we go!

I don't think this would have been nearly as easy if we had not previously sorted out our "extra" dishes and gone over a year without using them frequently. I highly recommend this strategy for anyone trying to get rid of excess (although you might not need to wait a full year - it just took me this long to get motivated!)

On a side note, right after I reorganized the kitchen, I scrubbed it down until it sparkled. And then... the kitchen was the only clean room in the house. I found myself going in there just to stand and look around at how clean it was when I was feeling stressed (and D admitted to doing the same thing). There's something about everything having its own place that is really refreshing, especially when everything else in life is chaotic!

So now the question is... what room is next?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cut the Clutter: Part 1

I hate clutter. Nothing ruins my mood faster than tripping over unnecessary items scattered about the house. I hate when things don't have a place (even if I don't actually take the incentive to put them there - it's nice to know they have a "home"), and I hate useless stuff.

Now, I've seen the tv shows where they go into the home of a complete clutterholic and it's absolutely horrific. My home is not even close to that bad. In fact, if I was a cleaner person in general and kept my house tidy, you probably wouldn't even know that I had so much clutter hidden away. But I do. It's lurking in cabinets, cupboards, and drawers. It's under the bed and in the closets. It's stashed in the attic. And yes, some of it is out in the open because I have simply run out of room. There is clutter everywhere.

On the flip side of the clutterholics I see on tv, I have also read blogs and stories about people who have completed the 100 item challenge. The idea is that you get your personal belongings down to only 100 things. Some people did this quite literally (3 plates, 2 bowls, etc.), while others had general categories (plates = 1, bowls = 1). I was drawn to this idea for a while, but I think that putting a number on it would stress me out even more.

I have also heard about the strategy of putting things you aren't sure if you want to get rid of but hardly use into a well-labeled box (listing the items and the date they were put inside) and putting it in the attic/basement. If, after a year, you still have not opened the box, then just take it to the nearest thrift shop and donate it. Don't even open it. I like this idea, but have never really had the follow through to do it. (Although we have a lot of stuff in the attic that I have no idea what it is, so I'm pretty sure that a lot of it will be donated anyway). 

The truth is, as much as I hate to admit it, I LOVE stuff. I love having trinkets and decorations. I like the memories that come from old quilts or the painted wind chimes my nephews made me. So yes, "stuff" is important to me. Or, at least, some of it is.

But there comes a time when too much stuff becomes a bigger problem than finding storage space. It's when you become dependent on stuff and stop seeking out provision from God alone. I have been struggling with this with many of the things that I've been holding onto. For example, I had two bed skirts (you know, the ruffly things that go around the bottom of the bed so it looks pretty and you can't tell what hidden stuff monsters are lurking underneath). I bought them years ago (when I was single and living alone and cared about things looking pretty) because I couldn't decide what color I wanted. Here's the thing: I only have one bed. And I've been holding on to both of these bed skirts, but only using one. Ever. The other is in its original packaging. This might not seem ridiculous to those who don't move very often, but I have moved several times over the past six years and have moved this unused bed skirt around with me. (Note: for about two years of this time, I was living at camp and not using my own bed - or either bed skirt). What if I changed my mind about the color? What if something happens to the other one? Okay, I'll admit that this is a silly example, but the point is I hold on to things because I want to be prepared for the "what if." I want to make sure that I am never without. So, instead, I am drowning in excess. Even though I don't have financial abundance, I have materialism out the ears.(Does that sentence even make sense? I only used "ears" because I am not sure of the correct spelling of "wazoo.") And while this may not be true for some people, for me it comes down to a lack of trust. I don't always trust that God will provide for my needs. So I chain myself to things and seek out provision from various items that I buy or collect. I own eight million blankets - I will never be cold! (or ever have room in my cedar chest). I depend on all of this stuff, as if it is some sort of demonstration of my ability to survive and thrive. This is when clutter stops being a physical issue and becomes a heart issue.

We have officially turned in our two months notice on our lease. In the middle of July, we will be moving out of this apartment, and at this moment we have no idea where we will be going. We might be moving into a different apartment, or we might be moving in with family. Regardless, the idea of packing up some of this stuff and moving it started to seem a little pointless. So I am embarking on the great decluttering of 2012!

I woke up this morning all excited for my project. I decided to tackle the kitchen first (more on that in a later post). I was going to free myself from this addiction to things and make some much needed room in the cabinets. It was going to be liberating! I only forgot one important thing - to tell my husband what I planned to do. So today, D woke up and got blindsided by my giant piles consuming the kitchen. It turns out, I failed to explain to him why I felt the need to get rid of things, and he wasn't quite prepared. Lesson learned on my end. Fortunately, we worked it out and the Clutter Elimination Project is well under way.

There are some areas that we have agreed not to mess with. For example: books. We both love books. And while I periodically go through mine and get rid of the ones I no longer want, we still have hundreds of books, and many more on our wishlists. But, as a family, we have decided that reading is extremely important to us and we want our children to have a vast library from which to choose their reading material. So the books, as cumbersome as they are, are staying (at least for now). But there is definitely stuff that needs to go, and needs to go now.

Confession: I still have office supplies and craft supplies from college. I graduated in 2006. So for six years, I have been holding on to mismatched envelopes, post-its, craft paint, and sequins, waiting for the chance to use them. And sometimes they do get used - about once a year. And yes, I don't want to be wasteful and just throw it all away. And buying new paint every time you do a project can be expensive. But, if you're only doing a project once or twice a year, and you have a box larger than your tv set full of miscellaneous paint colors... it might be time to do some prioritizing. These are the kinds of things that I hope to start eliminating from my house in the coming weeks - especially as new baby stuff keeps piling in. Because for me, this isn't simply a house cleaning or pre-baby nesting. It's a way to prepare my heart for all the uncertainties of the future; to let go of my need for things and focus on my need for God. It's already a lot more difficult than I thought, but I am excited to see what happens. Wish me luck!