April 24, 2013

25 in 25 List: Literary Classics

Do you remember my list? You know, this one? I wrote an ambitious goal of reading 10 literary classics in my 25th year. I picked up 'The Grapes of Wrath' from the library a few weeks ago and for the life of me, I just could not get into it. And then I got to thinking... what are the parameters by which I'm defining 'literary classic?' Pulitzer Prize winning? Something I was supposed to read in school but read the SparkNotes for instead? The fancy, discounted books all decorated to look the same on the end-cap aisles at Barnes and Nobles? A book I can find on a best-sellers list from every decade in the 1900s? The possibilities are really endless.

But I wanted books that weren't just chores to read so that I could check them off my list. Others may love 'The Grapes of Wrath' but how would I decide which books were worth reading for making a more lasting impact than falling asleep reading them at night just to accomplish another task? And then it hit me when I was talking to two of my best friends (Char and Claire) in two different phone conversations recently. I would trust their opinions- if they told me, 'don't bother,' or 'I'm putting my copy in the mail to you pronto,' I'd listen.

I decided to create a literary classic list that is completely unique to me and where I am in life right now. I'll be reading ten works highly recommended by ten individuals whose opinions mean a whole lot to me. My only question/prompt for them: what is one book that has had the greatest impact on your life//what book could you read over and over again that you would define as YOUR life classic?

So far, I'm working on two recommended by Char and Claire- 'The Happiness Project' (Char's pick) and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (chosen by Claire). Look for some exciting lessons I'm already taking away from The Happiness Project in tomorrow's post!

What are you reading right now? If you had to pick your life classic, what would you include?

Love and reading lists,
Mama Bird

***An update/correction: My apologies to Char and Claire! The idea for my new definition of 'literary classics' was born out of conversations where we discussed great book recommendations, but to be fair I don't think I posed them with my more refined question of 'what is one book that has had the greatest impact on your life//what book could you read over and over again that you would define as YOUR life classic?'

I still plan on finishing their great book recommendations listed above, but I want to give room for them to pick their true 'life classic' and make that my official selection for my list. I'll update you when I have a more comprehensive list from Char and Claire, and the others I'll be prompting with my question!

Thanks for forgiving my imperfect memory ;)

April 23, 2013

25 in 25 List: The Great Salad Challenge

I'm not opposed to salads. I love the idea of them, and I really enjoy them when someone else makes them (at a restaurant, dinner parties, etc.). But for some reason, they've always seemed a little boring and plain when I've made them at home.

As a part of my 25 in 25 list, I challenged myself to eat healthy, hearty salads every day for a week. I decided that to do this challenge right, I needed to get really creative. And guess what? I kind of fell in love with making salad! There are a few that have already been repeated at home or for cookouts.

Here are the 7 salads and recipes/ingredients if I pulled inspiration from other blogs/sites:

Day One- Summery Salad- 
mixed greens, strawberries, green pepper, tomato, feta cheese crumbles, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and turkey

Day Two- Southwestern Salad
This quinoa and blackbean recipe (I used dried apricots in place of mango, and withheld the cilantro and jalapeno); grilled chicken and limes on the side

Day Three- Simple Italian Salad
mixed greens, Roma tomato, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, with a little bit of salt and freshly ground pepper

Day Four- The 'SoCal' Salad (Fork in the City)
romaine, peppers, fire-roasted salsa, guac, grilled chicken, pita chips, and an awesome avocado-lime vinaigrette

Day Five- Mediterranean Chicken Kebab Salad

Day Six- Kebab Salad Leftovers
Cause it was that good :)

Day Seven- Garden Inspired Salad
Recreation of a salad we ate a lot last summer (ingredients fresh from the garden):
mixed greens, green beans, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and pickled beets (canned from last summer!), topped with balsamic vinegar. Served with grilled salmon on the side. (Not the clearest picture but the description just makes my mouth water)

If you decided to eat salads every night for a week, could you do it? Or would you have to start over three or four times like me? How do you mix your salads up?

Love, healthy eating, and checking things off my list, 
Mama Bird :)

P.S. If you ever want to check how that bucket list for my 25th year is coming along, be sure to click on the link above that says 'The 25 in 25 List!' Next plans: I'm starting to put together ideas for a themed birthday party for Emmett's 1st bday in June, and I've started reading two 'classics' that are on my list. More on these things later!

April 22, 2013

The Little Adventures // 3

// A series of pictures. Maybe a few words. Here's a glimpse at my recent adventures on a sweet, quick trip to visit two dear friends last weekend...//

"Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine..."
-Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden 

 And of course, a few Instagram goodies to cap it off:

This weekend away (in Alexandria/a little bit of D.C.) was a quick, little-over-24-hour trip, just to see some really good girlfriends, and drink good wine and eat good food and walk around and laugh really hard and show pieces of my heart that have been aching for these friends, and have alone time to write and pray. And miss my little family. Coming home has never felt sweeter. 

What are the little adventures that having been filling your heart with springtime lately?
Mama Bird

April 17, 2013

One small step for baby...

And our lives will never be the same... :)

Today, after weeks of being on the cusp of walking, Emmett took his first steps.

These past few weeks we knew it'd be here soon- we saw him letting go of furniture to stand for a few seconds at first, and then for longer as he got braver and more confident in his ability to balance. He has always loved 'walking' around holding our hands, but he's loosened his grip and has barely been holding on to a finger of one of our hands. He's been cruising around the room like a pro, and his crawl has developed into a Quasimodo-type scooch (as our friends call it with their adorable son who taught Emmett the half crawl- just one knee on the floor, a hunched little back, and the hands propelling him forward). There have been quite a few times where he has let go of the couch or our hands and teetered on the edge for a few seconds, almost deciding, am I ready yet? We'd hold our breath, and then eventually he'd plop back down on the floor or grip the comfortable soft edge of the couch and keep on cruising.

But today, I was in the kitchen preparing a dish to bring to a cook-out for our small group while Neil played with Emmett in the living room. Suddenly Neil called out to me, 'Heather, he's walking.' There was urgency in his voice, a bit of excitement and nervousness, but I could tell he was trying to keep his voice even as to not scare our boy. I rushed into the room to see Emmett standing, both arms out, catching his balance and a surprised look on his face. After a few seconds of staring at me, and me looking at him in great anticipation, he sat down.

I started to get teary-eyed. I voiced out loud what my greatest fear has been all along, 'Neil, I missed it. I can't believe I missed his first steps.' As a stay-at-home mama, I thought for sure I'd be there to witness all of these big moments and I felt a little sad at first that I was in the other room. But I quickly let it go, and we encouraged him to try again. And in just a few minutes, he did it again. Stand, balance, one little step, balance, another little step, sit (or plop gracefully, as our child for some odd reason does). And then again, stand, balance, step, balance, step. He got a little braver and less shaky each time, but it always was just a step or two at a time before he sat down again.

This afternoon had great significance for a number of reasons:

-I realized how special/important it was for Emmett's papa to be there for this. I get to be there for a lot of 'firsts,' but Neil's heart aches to be home with us and to watch Emmett learn and grow the way I get to at times. It was so sweet that he got to see those first steps, and I was very glad that the next few followed shortly thereafter.
-I had a poignant moment of seeing that we will never get to do this memory over. We didn't have cameras out, or a way to video-record this moment. It was just Neil, me, Emmett, a Wednesday afternoon in springtime, and Emmett in his shark t-shirt and a diaper. I told myself, remember this.
-Every time I start to get somewhat comfortable with the routine Emmett and I have, something changes and we get to start all over again, or adapt in big ways. Babies grow So. Stinking. Fast. Today was a good reminder that I can never really get comfortable as a parent. Emmett is always going to be growing, and I will always have room to learn. I just have to brace myself for a very active period of chasing him around and learning some more!
-I felt apprehensive about sharing this news (as exciting as it is) because as mamas, I think it's really easy to compare our kids and their ages when they reach various developmental milestones. I know from personal experience, this can cause some conflicting feelings. We can think to ourselves, hooray! I'm so glad your little one slept through the night at just a few weeks old, but when Emmett had bad reflux for the first 6 months and hardly slept, it felt like salt in the wound to see those milestones. When we had trouble nursing, and I had to grieve giving it up at 6 weeks old, I felt jealous and sad in hearing about babies that had awesome latches and women who got to experience that bond for much longer as their kids were breastfeeding champs. The list could go on, really, and it could also make me crazy. Emmett may not have had the easiest time so far with sleeping or eating, and he's been through a lot to get to this point where he's not colicky all the time, but I think it made it so much sweeter when he DID finally sleep through the night/we figured out techniques to get him to eat well/etc. I think today, more than any other milestone so far, I realized that Emmett's exciting changes or difficult challenges are so very unique to him. My friends whose children are on their own trajectories may have advice to offer me when I'm struggling with parenting through new transitions, and I might be able to offer encouragement/commiseration/advice with struggles and milestones we've been through. I know this is all a bit long-winded, but I guess I'm just trying to say, I want to savor what happened today with Emmett, but also remember to be so excited for my friends the next time one of their littles succeeds.

So, here's to more baby-proofing, capturing mental memories, and cheering on those around us, on their hard days, and their exciting ones.

Love and giant leaps,
Mama Bird

April 5, 2013

Five Minute Friday: After

Today I'm joining Lisa-Jo Baker for Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes flat and join in a chorus of raw, honest writing around her one-word prompts. Today, we write about 'after.' Will you join us? Head on over to Lisa-Jo's blog and link-up!


The day starts before I'm even out of bed. My 9-month old ball of energy and squeals and screeches is up and ready to go at 6:30am and I'm still drinking my coffee and taking time to wake-up when he is ready to play with trains and books and making loud noises that I'm not quite ready for. And then we tumble into the day:

Breakfast and reading and music and playtime and more playing before a bottle and nap and housework and a shower (some days) and he's up again and needing a change and we play with Grandma for a little while and look at the doggies outside and have a snack and do more reading and playing and changing and feeding. I forget to eat lunch and it's time to cook dinner. He fights his second nap tooth and nail but finally I get him down and I have a little bit of time to write or call a best friend or catch up with my mom. He's up again and we go for a walk and dinner is ready and Neil is home. We eat, he plays some more, it's bath time, bottle, bed.

The day is so full, I hardly have a minute to catch my breath before it's 7:30 and I stop for a second and think, Breathe, Heather. It's time to be still.

It is only after Emmett's needs are met, and the day is past that I get to have quiet. And write out prayers. And love on my husband, or my dear friends both here and far away. And maybe be a little creative or get to do some baking or blogging. One of the hardest lessons I'm learning this year, this first beautiful and raw and difficult year of mothering, is that sometimes I have to come after my family. Especially our sweet little boy who needs me so much these days. It's a hard lesson to learn, and I'm striving to find that balance. Thankful that each day, grace abounds.


April 4, 2013

Let's Be Honest Here

I got an iPhone 4 a few weeks ago. It was a promo from Verizon and we were in need of upgrades/a new plan anyway, so we went for it. I love having the Bible at my fingertips with an app that lets me do my devotions and keep on track in the mornings. I enjoy having the clear camera at the tip of my fingers so I don't miss capturing a funny moment with Emmett to send to my husband at work or my family in NJ. And of course, there is the joy that is Instagram, where I can snap and share pictures of the meals I'm cooking, the farm around me when Emmett and I go for walks, or our boy just looking cute as can be, and not feel guilty for this since my account is private.

When I got my new phone, I texted a few friends to let them know my new number (I'm still finishing this project- sorry for those of you I haven't shared it with yet). A good friend of mine responded to see how I've been, and told me that it seemed like things were going pretty well for us here.

It gave me a tiny pang of guilt in knowing that since we haven't talked in a while, this inference was gathered from my blog and what I post on social media. And I thought to myself, yes, it's true, things are going pretty well right now, but no, what I share online is not always the whole truth for several reasons:

-I don't like dwelling on the negative/I don't think anyone else would enjoy it if I whined on here as much as I could on the rough days
-My mother taught me at a young age to count my blessings and keep lists of what I'm grateful for. I try to practice this in my writing, both privately and publicly. I share lists of the 'simple things' and 'little adventures' because they keep me grounded and remind me (and hopefully others) that there are little blessings to be found even when the rest of life can seem hard
-I do try to be honest when I'm working through something (big life/faith lessons on trust, learning how to love my husband better, struggling with my identity as a mom vs. an independent creative person), but what I blog or the little status updates don't show the whole picture of the nights where I cry myself to sleep, or talk it out and process it all out loud with God/my husband/family/best friends. I think there is an appropriate context for those conversations, and blogging immediately to let you in on the hard stuff isn't necessarily the way I like to do things
-if I did list all of the difficult and messy things I go through, I have grandparents and family members hours away who read this blog and would just be worried sick about me all the time. Most of the reason I keep this blog is to inform and update them (and friends) with the great things I'm learning, how Emmett is growing, what we're up to in VA, etc.

SO, please please know that when you see my perfectly cropped and filtered photos on Instagram, or the status updates where I'm praising God for a long-answered prayer request, our lives here on the farm and in our little basement apartment with my in-laws is far from perfect. I do share my personal highlights because it's what I dwell on to stay afloat and practice gratitude. But I in no way want to rub that in anyone's face or make you do that comparison thing that we ALL do if we take part in social media/read others' blogs/scroll through pictures on Instagram.

I share all of this out of conviction from an article I read today by one of my favorite contemporary Christian writers, Shauna Niequist who wrote an article for Relevant Magazine entitled, Stop Instagramming your Perfect Life. I just wanted to share that while a lot of times you may see pictures like this from me:

What you don't usually see (except for today when I'm trying to make a point), is me, right now, sans make-up and Insta-filter, looking pretty miserable with Emmett in his active carrier and a blanket over his head to hide the light in the ONLY possible way I could get him down for a nap after a fussy afternoon:

Or the phone call with a best friend that happened in the middle of me writing this, where we talked and cried and prayed together about the grieving process she's going through.

And then the huge mess from dropping the salad, shattering the bowl, and getting tomatoes, cheese, olive oil everywhere:

I guess I'm sharing all of this to say, I hope to encourage authenticity through this space of My Little Bird (and the respective social media outlets I use both for personal use and in connection with the blog). I hope you never feel like you can't be yourself when you come here, or like we can't show each other the messes and the scars and the ugly.

I'm going to continue sorting through these thoughts, but I wanted to put it out there to ask YOU: do we overshare with social media? or undershare in that we're only posting what looks pristine and glamorous and beautiful? where do we draw the line? how can we be more honest about what our lives REALLY look like without getting too negative? I would really love to hear what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments below and let's all have a conversation about this.

Thanks for thinking about this with me today,

April 2, 2013

Farm Walks

When you take a walk down the same road every day, you're bound to notice things that are always the same, and those things that beautifully change, kind of right before your eyes.
The last couple of weeks as the weather's gotten warmer I've been taking afternoon walks down our half-mile-long gravel driveway and even beyond that onto the farm land. And I've just been watching spring come forth right before my very eyes. It's prayerful, being able to crunch on the gravel and walk out my (sometimes) anger or impatience or worry, or at other times, when my heart is right, I'm able to just bask in the springtime sun and pray and smile and listen to God's voice in the beauty around me.

I watch the brown and dead slowly dissipate and make room for the green pushing through the earth. And I see the little tiny purple and pink buds on our neighbor's driveway and I see our bright daffodils that keep getting fuller and filling out the lines along the fences and the back of the house.

I'm excited to plant the garden with my mother-in-law, as I try making my own patchwork of arugula and oregano and garlic and basil and cilantro and mint, and I dream of her summer tomatoes and green beans and lettuce. And I can't wait to work with my hands and pull out the weeds and watch growth happen so that we can live off of this land. I'm excited to walk back and forth past the garden and say, we did this.
 My baby is strapped to my back, and he sleeps, and he feels kind of weightless, as I've made this walk so many times before. And what used to feel heavy no longer does as I think back to a year ago. I walked these roads last spring, arriving scared and pregnant and unsure of what we were doing, waiting for our little boy and in the middle of mountains, so foreign to me. I crunched along this gravel in the hot of June, swelling and full and hoping to bring on Emmett's arrival and furrowing my brow and asking God, 'When?' In fall, I started to look around a little more, and venture past the gate onto the land down below and started to settle into being 'mama.' I even began to miss these hills and these trees, this familiar walk and the fresh air through winter, as I sat waiting for this, waiting for now. And finally, with the last of the snow melted, we walk again, Emmett and I, in time to see springtime arrive, and hope again even, towards another summer walking on this farm.

With love and growth and springtime,
Mama Bird