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my college career

Twenty years ago I was 17, a senior in high school, and driving 120 miles round trip to a community college every day to take college level courses. I am from a very small farming community, and the state had a program that paid for high school students to attend college if AP programs weren’t available. Being that my graduating class had eleven people in it, it’s safe the say there weren’t many advance classes for me to take.

My introduction to college opened my eyes as it was the first time I really fell in love with learning. I felt smart. I found myself surrounded by people who were really striving to learn, to soak up the lessons, and the professors were professional and knew what they were doing. (a pretty stark contrast to the teachers and organization of my high school…)

The name of this program was “Running Start” and the idea was you could jump start your college career and enter the work force up to two years early. I loved that it was free college. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to major in, but free is free.

It’s been twenty years since then, and I’m just now on a real, set path for a career. I’ve worn many different hats since that fall way back then; I was a full time college student, worked at Disney World, lived by myself in a few different cities, backpacked through Europe one glorious summer, tried working at an office for a miserable six months, joined the airline world, got married, had kids … it’s been a full and varied life.

But even as a flight attendant I had a want to do more, to be better. My college degree is in English Literature, a major I chose out of necessity not passion. I changed majors a lot during my undergrad career, wanting to work in Hotel Management, then Nursing, then Teaching.

Ultimately I wasn’t mature enough to focus on the heavy workload of nursing, plus I was working 40+ hours a week to support myself. At the time, partying was priority over intense studying. Teaching did not pan out well, with me failing my first teaching class and just not feeling inspired or motivated by the idea of making lesson plans and unit studies for the rest of my life.

I liked reading, I was decent at writing essays, and I was on my fifth year of college, so English Lit was it!

It was about 6 years ago that I started needing more beyond the demands of flying. Being a flight attendant made me very happy, and I loved it, but I had a pull for something a little more stimulating, a little more respected. I’ll never forget a passenger I had one red eye flight, a woman who was a recent grad of an accelerated nursing course designed for college graduates with a non-science degree. She told me about the prerequisites, she told me about her experience, and she encouraged me to look into it.

I did. I signed up a few weeks later for the first of my prerequisite requirements, Statistics, and took that book with me on every layover and studied with my one son next to me every chance I could. The next year we had our daughter, but I still took an online psychology course as I took care of my expanded family. The next year another baby came around and I started taking the science courses, chemistry and the first anatomy course. It was steady progress, once course at a time.

Eventually we moved to a new state, I finished the requirements, and decided to pursue a nursing degree from the local community college. It just made better sense for me, for my family, and financially as well, since accelerated degrees are pretty expensive.

So, this all brings us to here, at this moment in my life. This fall, 20 years since my first fall enrolled in college classes, I started the nursing school. The world is completely different from that moment, and even from the world we all had last fall. I’m mostly learning remotely, and I’m learning in the same room that my kindergartener is in. She’s learning her ABCs and I’m learning about ADPIE and vital signs and Med Calculations.

This moment is one I’ve been working towards for years, and I’m excited but also terrified. The course load is immense, and I’m trying to find a way to handle the stress in a graceful way. I’m trying to stay mindful of my moods and work on not snapping at my kids or husband too much. I’m trying to remember self-care, by carving out spaces of time to work out and walk our puppy. But it’s easy to feel like I’m drowning. My amazing professor keeps encouraging us, promising it’s just 15 weeks, we’ve got this, millions of nurses have done this before … and I’m all in. I’m ready to finally get my grown up job!

This is me, all suited up for my nursing school glory

tapping into my inner Karen

I’ve always been a weenie. A people pleaser. I apologize to servers when they mess up my order. My most common phrase in public is probably “I’m Sorry…”. As a grown-up woman, three years shy of 40, I’m ashamed of my timidity. There’s a fine line between being assertive and being a bitch, but I’m so far to the left of any of those I’m afraid I’m just weak.

I blame years, decades really, of customer service experience. I’ve seen the general public at their rudest, crudest and most demanding. I’ve heard how servers and flight attendants and cashiers and baristas talk about the negative Nancys and Debbie downers of the world. And the part of me that always wants to be liked always remembers this, preventing me from acting out in anyway.

A few years ago while working at Starbucks I was introduced to the term “Karen”. The kids I worked with helped me stay hip with modern slang I guess- because the term is totally mainstream now. The NY Times even did a piece on the history of “Karen” . Being called a Karen is now an insult to UMC women everywhere, and I can’t say we don’t deserve it. Shrill, demented women without any shame or empathy are worthy of mockery.

However – there are times I myself need to find that inner Karen within and woman up.

An example from a few days ago – I ordered an antique clock on eBay and it arrived damaged. This was especially infuriating as it was one of those auctions where the seller listed the shipping price exorbitantly high, over half of what the clock cost me. The seller haphazardly wrapped it with plastic bagged air and shoved it in a used Chewy box, and expected the “Fragile” stickers to protect it. This did not work.

So, I, an justified unhappy buyer, actually approached the problem in the weakest way possible. I emailed the seller and basically said, “Here’s a problem, how should we go forward?” Homeboy offered me a discount. This is not what I was looking for. I negotiated again. He offered me a refund AFTER I sent the clock back to him.

I empathize with the guy. He was out over a hundred dollars, and he’s never getting the shipping costs back. This sucks for him. But … in the words of every Karen out there, It’s Not My Problem.

The entire time, I knew what the actual rules are. Ebay is very clear. Items damaged while shipping are the seller’s problem. The buyer never has to pay to send the item back. The buyer will always win the dispute, always always. So why did I play so nice, so dumb? Why was I demurring when I certainly had every right to chop my hair into a angled bob, put on my best rhinestoned jean jacked and go 100% full Karen on him?

Because I want to be liked. Still. I want to be a good girl. Being assertive is still code for bitchy in my psyche. So, I said I’d agree to the refund, but filled out the form from eBay. The form which clearly states he needed to send me a shipping label, prepaid, before I sent the clock back. Within a few minutes, he messaged me again, and I got my full refund without needing to send the broken clock back.

My niceness ended up just wasting BOTH of our time. I should have just told him it was damaged and I was filling out the form, none of the waiting for him to do the right thing thing.

I do think I’m getting better, though. I used to hate any sort of confrontation, so I’d choked down the wrong food delivered without a complaint if the server messed up my order. I’m very comfortable standing up for myself if my coffee is wrong, because I’m nice when I tell them. I even don’t let the eye rolls bother me as much as they used to.

Maybe by the time I reach full middle age I’ll mature into a woman who just doesn’t care what others think of me. That’s not the goal, I don’t want to end up on social media blasted for my unhinged rants, but having just a little more confidence in myself would always be welcome. If I can just harness a small fraction of the Karen that resides in us all I think I can stick up for myself and stop wasting everyone’s time.

curing the summertime blues

Let me reminisce of last summer, a different decade, a different time. I was but a determined Mom of three, with a pen, a calendar, and a plan. We would not go bored. We would fill up our time with playdates, town and county events, classes, fairs, camps. I dreaded those blank days which stood out from the calendar pinned to the wall by the washing machine: most of the days had places and times highlighted, but every once and a while a day would stay completely white and blank. Devoid of activity.

The empty days filled me with dread. A day of cabin fever and nothing planned seemed like the worst kind of punishment – a long hot day with nothing to look forward to, boredom reigning supreme.

Times have changed. The metamorphosis stuns me, still.

Now that calendar is blank, except for all the crossed out events I dutifully planned over the winter. Goodbye annual trip to my home state of Washington. My son’s second year of overnight sleep away camp was cancelled. Swimming lessons, street fairs, even the usual blow-out birthday bbq bash we throw for my son is no longer.

If I’d known a year ago how empty my calendar would be in 2020, I’d probably feel sorry for myself and put in a preemptive order of prozac for myself. Imagine this, though. I’m happy with my white spaces schedule. The days are blurring together in a set routine of nothing, and … it’s okay.

Really.

I’ve talked about boredom with my kids, before. This summer is amplifying the sentiment of “only boring people get bored”. Yes, there are plenty of times they whine at me. We may be falling into a habit of just a little too much screen time than I’m comfortable with, but my kids are also playing with each other in ways I’ve never seen before. Going out of the house is the exception to the rule, not the normal any longer.

Yesterday I took the three kids to Costco. It was the first full-family shopping trip we’ve taken together since February. Is this as exciting as a trip to a theme park or like traveling to a different state? Of course not. But to my kids who haven’t seen much beyond our four walls and the beach for the past several months, it was an adventure.

These are the moments I’m trying to appreciate, to notice. Routines can feel special. After a spring spent inside at home, we are well prepped for this long summer of nothing. Fall is coming, and what it brings is still a mystery to us. My daughter is supposed to start kindergarten and I’m starting nursing school. Will I have a 5th grader and kindergartener learning at home? Will I have to teach my daughter sight words all while learning remotely about dosages and nursing care plans?

I have learned over this pandemic that stressing about tomorrow does absolutely nothing good. I live in the moment, much like my kids do. We wear our masks like good boys and girls and do our best to stop the spread by staying home and staying isolated. And life is good.

So maybe the cure to my anxiety last summer was oddly enough a world changing tragedy. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be stuck at home and bored.

over-sharing

A few days ago I saw a headline on people.com, “Kristen Bell’s 5 year-old is Still in Diapers”. Very quickly many thoughts went through my head.

First- judgement. I can admit it. 5 seems really old to be in diapers.

Then, secondly- solidarity. My 5 year old daughter is still in diapers overnight. Her pediatrician shook off any concern I had at her wellness appointment and told me not to worry at all.

Finally I was a bit horrified at the entire thing. I was mad at myself for clicking the link and also disgusted at myself for being part of the problem with celebrity gossip. I was also fairly sure Ms. Bell was probably going to have some explaining to do with her husband, Dax Shepard, about the whole thing anyway.

For those of you who don’t know about Ms. Bell and Mr. Shepard’s family, they have been extremely protective of their children while maintaining their own chosen celebrity lives. I really admire this. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Shepard’s podcast, “Armchair Expert”, and many of his views on a child’s right to privacy have reshaped my own views with my own children and how I expose them online.

Like most women my age with children, I’ve shared most aspects of my kids lives with the extended “friends” and “followers” I have on social media. There’s really nothing better to do during those hazy days of newborn babyhood. I didn’t really give it much deep thought, I’d post a picture of my kid with a funny caption and that was it. Being a mother made my own identity feel “less than”, after all, I no longer do much beyond taking care of my kids, and my kids are infinitely more photogenic than I.

Around the time I created this blog I did have some trepidation about how exactly much I wanted to share- at least when it came to giving out their full names and posting pictures of them. I know if I go through the archives there’s a few photos of their faces, but I think I’ve avoided using more than their first initials to identify them. While I don’t have thousands of readers or anything on my blog, it does feel like a uniquely personal space that is really open to anyone to read, and I felt like my children deserved a bit of anonymity when it came to it.

It was a few years ago when my eldest started requesting I stop sharing every picture of him on Facebook. He was around seven at the time. He didn’t mind if I shared some, but he wanted to approve of them first. This request sort of blew my mind. He had the understanding of privacy and I had to honor his request.

As time has gone on, I’ve completely deleted my Facebook, but I still maintain an Instagram account. I’m souring on using it as much as I did, because, after all, it’s part of the big beast of FB anyway, but I’m still addicted to the photo-scroll. However, this year I heard a podcast (Armchair Expert) where it was discussed on social media companies and ‘big data’ may one day (or even are currently doing….) be able to make predictions and judgements on our children through just photos alone. Like, in the movie Minority Report. Like, my innocent children being pigeonholed from birth.

They didn’t ask for that. They didn’t ask for any of this.

So I’ve made a conscious effort of block as much of their faces as I can with my social media. My posts have gotten a lot less cute, but I’m okay with that. I haven’t resorted to using emojis to conceal their faces (like the Bell/Shepard family does), but this very subtle change makes me feel like I’m sharing my life but not exploiting them.

I’m probably being an alarmist. I’m paranoid and I love a good conspiracy theory. But at the most basic level, I’ve come to terms with the idea that my children do deserve some protection online and my own decision to share my life online extends only to my own self. Yes, my kids are a part of myself and my identity, but I respect them as individuals and once they are old enough they can put as much (or as little) of themselves out there as they chose.

This brings me back to the Diaper-gate headline with Kristen Bell.

The day after the first headline, People published a new one. “Kristen Bell’s Daughter Only in Diapers At Night”.

Hooray.

Why this was ever newsworthy is beyond me. She had made the statement on a podcast with a fellow mother and they pulled out a throwaway story and made a huge deal out of it. I feel bad for her.

But these are our times we live in. I’m writing in my little read, but deeply personal blog (I’m not writing for any other reason than for myself) but one day someone could take a line or post and make a story about it. I as a parent have a delicate line to balance. I love to share my life with people who know me, and I enjoy writing on this platform whenever the mood strikes me. I have a nagging bother at the back of my mind to erase the line at the beginning of this post disclosing my daughters overnight-diaper needs. It’s perfectly normal and not anything to worry about, yet, why share?

Ms. Bell only told the story as a way to explain how every child is different. Her first potty trained extremely easily at 21 months old, and her second is throwing her for the loop. I have similar results with my kids; all potty trained at different ages with varying degrees of success.

Sharing these stories is important so other mothers don’t judge themselves. How I wish I had read testaments from women on how difficult breastfeeding could be when I struggled with my first; I reached out to every person I knew for advice and mostly heard back, “It wasn’t hard for me!”. We are already so hard on ourselves as mothers and in the glossy picture perfect world of social media it is nice hear from other women that they don’t have it all figured out and no one is perfect. But it just goes to show how easy the story can twist from being a personal story of mothering to direct judgment on the child itself.

There is no easy answer. You can’t avoid online life and data tracking and even though I’ve deleted accounts and photos of my kids from social media, I know they aren’t really gone from the “cloud” and everything I put on the inter webs is out of my control once I push post. But I am going to make a conscious effort to continue to be mindful about how I share my children’s lives online and I think this whole diaper-headline is a perfect example of why it’s important.

yes, we are still here.

What luxury it is that our biggest stress right now is boredom. That the monotony of the same is the major struggle our family faces.

This is the longest shortest time. My husband and I count the weeks by Friday Pizza Night- when that evening comes along we toast to another week at home and marvel at the passage of time.

Summer is creeping in, and it feels like it’s been summer for months already.

***

Our new puppy breathed excitement into our lives. She’s an adorable little shark and is learning quickly.

I never really considered our 3-year-old when choosing the puppy, but that’s been the biggest struggle. They are the same size and the same mental age, so managing them together is a bit of a challenge. But he loves her and she loves everyone so this time will pass quickly.

I’ve had my moment of puppy blues, and really missing our amazing older dog who passed, but she’s wheedling herself into my heart and sometimes I’m just taken aback by her cuteness. I mean, nothing is as cute as a golden retriever puppy, am I right??

***

I got some big new this past week. After six years of prerequisites (in between quitting a career, birthing two babies, and moving) I’m officially in nursing school, starting in the fall! I’m so excited and nervous and ready. I’m sure there’s going to be many updates and posts regarding my future schooling to come. 🙂

***

I hope you all are well and staying safe. Hang in, guys, we can do this.

good doggie

We lost our wonderful pet, Sadie, a few months ago. It was a tragic event for all of us, of course, and the pain I felt was so raw and real. It literally took my breath away. She faded quickly from a cancerous lump, and even after surgery to remove it, she still couldn’t beat it. Watching her last few days, her struggle to move and breathe, broke my heart.

It’s very true, when you lose a dog, you lose a family member.

As part of the grieving process, I immediately went to look for another dog. I’m not sure why this was, maybe I was looking to replace the hole in my heart as quickly as possible. It’s a little funny how you can learn and get to know different rescues and animals available for adoption with just a few websites: petfinder.com and adoptapet.com were my personal favorites.

I did stop looking when I realized I was in no way ready for a new dog.

But then the quarantine occurred. And my husband went on a stretch of trips and trainings that left me home alone for an extended period of time. I missed having the other creature in the house, looking over us. I missed the companionship a dog provides. I missed the quick clean-up of food drops from my messy eater kids. Dogs bring joy into every house and I needed that vacancy filled.

A good part of this social distancing age is everyone wants a dog now. The rescue operations around me are very competitive. After spending hours researching and selecting dogs that look perfect for our family, I kept finding out they were no longer available. Suddenly, getting a rescue is like a job application- I needed personal references and our previous dog’s medical records.

Another, selfish, part of me wondered about Golden Retrievers. Even though I believe in “adopt don’t shop”. My family has always had Golden’s, and I know they are amazing family dogs. So, I also started looking into buying a new puppy.

This proved just as difficult. Finding a reputable breeder is confusing online, and golden puppies are scooped up quickly. It almost became a game. My husband, who had the refrain “I DO NOT SUPPORT THIS”, got into it as well. Sending me links, leads, and letting me know he was just as obsessed as I was.

Then, yesterday morning, as I was sipping coffee and going over my Sunday papers (I get physical papers delivered every weekend) I saw an ad in the local classifieds. For Golden puppies. I called. Yesterday we drove to meet the litter of 6-week-old puppies. I fell in love with this sweet girl…

And the rest is history. We are bringing her home in two weeks.

I’m honestly conflicted about buying a puppy, but we were able to meet the parents of her, see that they are well kept, and it’s not a puppy mill or anything like that. My oldest hurt the most when we lost our dog, and one of the first questions he had for me was how long we could expect her to live. When I’d show him available dogs for adoption he’d do quick mental math on the life expectancy- “Mom, she’d only be alive for another 4 years, that’s too quick”. I like knowing, as long as we take good care of her, we can have as part of our family for another 10 years. I think he likes that too.

Now, instead of looking at doggy profile pics and crossing fingers, I have hours to fill by looking up puppy training philosophies and making sure our home is puppy ready. Apparently a new puppy is just as difficult as a newborn human. I’m anxious about raising a dog the right way. But I know this puppy will bring joy, light, and fun into our home.

In two weeks Captain Princess Summer Rose (there’s a story behind that name lol), or Summer, will integrate into our household and I simply can’t wait.

the boredom curve

I’m going to admit something that is going to make me sound like an inattentive mother. I’ve gotten exceptionally talented at ignoring my kids. No, no, hear me out. Like millions across America right now, I am home with my children. Unlike before, there is no out-of-home activities to cart the littles to. In the past, a great distraction in the day was a trip to the local park or the library. These days are no more.

So now my days are predictable and routine. Life revolves around snack time and meal time, and I prioritize my workout time (thank you, Peloton). Beyond that, there isn’t rules. My fourth grader is excellent at keeping to his school schedule, but the littles have free reign on the house.

I have learned a secret trick to parenting them. When they say they are “bored” and have nothing to do, if I just sort of ignore their cries and leave them be…. they find something to do. Luckily they have each other as playmates. So, without fail, within a few minutes, they distract themselves and play.

It seems like a revelation to me. How many lists and schedules and ideas are we sending to each other at this time, trying to fill this void of sheltering in place? And, for the most part, all this planning is for naught. Sure, I give the kids some direction, but for the most part, I can be totally hands off. There might be whining and a few tears, but they are very good at entertaining themselves. I don’t have to fight them, I don’t have to say platitudes like “Only boring people are bored”. I just let their cries wash over me and then watch the miracle of free play and creativity come out.

***

My neighbor and I had a pseudo-play date yesterday. It was gorgeous here in suburban New Jersey, and after a family bike ride we saw them in their front yard playing with sidewalk chalk. The kids did an excellent job of staying 6-feet-apart from one another, and I had some much needed, in person, adult communication. (for reference, my husband is currently out of state for training, he worked last week quite a bit, and wont return home until this weekend)

I admitted to her that my kids don’t seem bothered by all this societal change. Because, they don’t. They haven’t begged to leave the house beyond a bike ride or a walk in the neighborhood, and to them going in the backyard is just as great as a field trip to the park. The other day I had to force my eldest into the van with his father to get take out food, I assumed he’d miss riding in the car since it’d been 3+ weeks since his last outing, but he didn’t care.

My neighbor said the same thing. It made me think about all the distractions and events we are always carting our offspring to don’t really matter. The kids, at least my kids, are just as happy at home with us around all the time. We have a way of over scheduling and over stimulating our kids, and it might not matter. Maybe we are over complicating everything and this return to just sticking it out at home is good for us, like a juice cleanse for ourselves.

My eldest is sad about not seeing his friends. He misses school. My littles say they miss preschool as well, but, they just accept than they can’t go right now. The kids are handling this social change much better than I am, and most adults I know. They are so amazing at just living in the moment, not looking into the past or future, and this life outlook is something I try to keep during these “troubled times” (as they say).

Life is slower right now, but we all have our health. We are happy in our self-appointed quarantine and have everything we need right now. Our boredom is a privilege and as my kids show me every single day, boredom isn’t something than needs fixing. If I’m feeling anxious or like acting out, if I just let the emotion ride and then dismiss it as quickly as it comes, I too am on to the next thing.

journey to the front lines

I’m really good at sheltering in place. For the most part, my life isn’t that different from before the ‘rona hit. I’m patriotic just by never leaving my house, except for our daily walks around the neighborhood, which are patriotic in their own way… neighbors popping out to chat from their front door (we stay on the sidewalk, well within social distancing guidelines).

But, after two weeks at home, my fridge got low and few days ago, and I had to make the Costco run. The first Costco run since our state (New Jersey) put all the official restrictions in place. In a matter of 14 days, the idea of leaving my bubble caused anxiety. My husband has been working, flying around the states, but I’ve been quarantined and the prospect of a routine shopping trip suddenly felt like a big deal.

Something so simple and basic, all of the sudden, daunting. I didn’t know what to expect.

The whole drive there I felt that nervous energy. The steady stream of thoughts went something like this: Will I encounter friendly people, or aggressive jerks? Will I find items I need? Is there an item limit? What if people yell at me for shopping, for buying so much? The last time I’d gone to Costco (the day after the official Oval Office broadcast from our president) there’d been armed cops in the toilet paper aisle.

I’m generally not an anxious person. I’m outgoing, yet as I age I do find myself more weary with crowds and closed in environments. And since I’ve become such a shut-in, this tendency to fear crowds really lit up.

I purposefully went to Costco in the late afternoon, knowing I was possibly missing out on some items, but hoping to avoid long lines.

Luckily, there were no lines. I walked right in. The staff was the same efficient, busy workers they always were. I tried to remind myself to stay 6-feet away from everyone, which is kind of hard in aisles. I took my time and found everything I needed. Sure, eye contact was minimal, and most people had masks or plastic gloves on, but otherwise it felt normal. I made small talk with a few customers and employees, my first in person communication with strangers in weeks.

I needed that.

I think I’ve been spending so much time wrapped up in my little hovel, consuming news, isolated from real world experiences, and because of this a simple routine task became suddenly something to conquer.

It makes me a little nervous for when life becomes normal again. Ever since the Colorado movie theater massacre, I can’t sit in a dark movie theater without a nagging worry. Am I going to have even more issues in crowds in the future? Will the practice of wearing masks in public eventually become the norm in American society? Back when I was a flight attendant, it wasn’t that uncommon to see tourists from Asian countries wearing masks, and this was a decade past SARS. Are we about to turn into a nation of OCD germaphobes?

It’s a fine line between awareness and paranoia. I have faith that we will get past this massive hurdle, this massive challenge. One day life will return to is chaotic mess. I know I need to lead by example for my kids, so I keep trying to take it one day at a time, and trying to get out of my own head and worries about the future. And if all I need to do to remind myself things will go back one day, and the world isn’t a scary place, is just a simple shopping trip every 14 days or so, so be it.

backyard bird watching: how I entertain myself during (and before) the age of social distancing

It started a few years ago. My mother-in-law gave our family a birdhouse for Christmas, it was a craft project she’d done. We hung it up on our shed in the backyard and didn’t think much about it.

Spring came, though, and I realized a family of birds moved in. Watching the parents swoop in to feed their babies every few minutes awed me; you could hear the cries for food from the back porch. The co-parenting cooperation inspired me, they both worked equally hard to calm the cries.

Then, tragedy struck. One morning I noticed the daily dash in and out of the house stopped, instead, the parents were crying mournfully from the top of our shed. I went to the back and discovered a few bodies of baby birds, lifeless in the grass under the house. I grieved myself, and the parents stayed out most of the day, calling, shrieking and fretting over their offspring’s disappearance.

My husband rolled his eyes when I confessed how sad the situation made me, but I couldn’t get over the little family in our backyards huge loss.

And then, a few weeks later … I noticed the parents circling back and forth to their home, and heard the cries of new babies from within. I’m sure I was projecting way more into the bird family than they were capable of feeling; how brave, I thought, how inspiring, they are moving forward with life, they are moving forward with love … once again, my husband seemed unimpressed with the proof that “life finds a way”, but I felt hope watching nature happen in my own backyard.

When we moved I honestly fretted over that birdhouse. Would the new owners of our little house keep it up? Would they understand the beauty and harshness that happened within those plywood walls? Or would they rip it down, disgusted by the remnants of nest falling out as they tossed it in the trash? And what about the brave family unit who overcame so much and pushed through with love and perseverance?

***

Our new home has a very large backyard, full of mature trees. When we moved we put up a few birdhouses, but alas, no family has ever moved in. It’s probably because there are plenty of better trees around to nest in.

For my birthday last summer, my mother in law got me a bird feeder. I didn’t know what to expect from it, but we set it up just outside the kitchen window. Almost immediately we had visitors. I downloaded the Merlin Bird ID app, a wonderful tool for identifying wild birds, and started to learn the names of each bird I’d see. Our most frequent visitors are house sparrows, purple and house finches, chick-a-dees, cardinals, blue jays, and grackles. I’ll also catch glimpses of titmice, golden finches, nuthatches, juncos, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, and larks.

This spring my husband set up three more bird feeders in the back of the yard, along a wire, and it’s just chaos back there. Everywhere I look there’s a bird flying or eating or fighting. I will literally stand at the kitchen window for 10-15 minutes at a time and just watch the movements and drama of the backyard. My kids are getting pretty good at identifying birds and they, too, spend a significant amount of time just gazing out our windows.

Of course, it’s not all woodland wonder. The squirrels are a real nuisance. We recently had to put our dog down (a totally different post to write about one day, maybe…) and she had been a great defender of the feeders. Now without her guarding, it’s getting out of control. I spend just as much time opening and slamming our backdoor to chase them away as I do watching the birds. I’ve tried crisco on the pole holding the feeder, I’ve resorted to throwing rocks at them, which takes out aggression on my end. I also purposefully miss them because, what if I actually hit one? Yikes. The squirrels, for their part, often go back to sniff the rocks, hoping they were actually chunks of food.

I recently, maybe, had a breakthrough on the squirrel repellent front. Spice. The squirrels hate it. I’ve been painting the edges and tops of the feeders with watered down sriracha sauce and it’s keeping them away. Birds don’t care about spice, apparently they don’t have taste buds (thanks internet!) so, for now, notch this in a win column in my battle against the rats with fluffy tails.

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This post has gotten much longer than I anticipated, but I have a lot of passion for my backyard birds. The past few quiet, long days of social distancing have been filled with me sitting in the back yard with a book on my lap and my eyes following the comings and goings of my visitors. The first few days of spring are always glorious in their brightness and the fresh air after months stuck inside, and especially with everyone stuck at home, having the kids chasing each other in my backyard feels like a treat. It’s easy to forget about the troubled times when you enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Even my battle against the squirrels takes my mind from fretting over the economy crisis and my anxiety over the health of my loved ones.

Backyard birding is an easy way to engage with nature, and it honestly has given me so much entertainment over the past few years. I never would have thought I’d find myself into birding, but I’m ever grateful that it happened.

Now, excuse me as I plan to retire to the backyard on this sunny morning and refill the feeders and camp out in the corner to see what new visitors I get in the backyard.