Friday, February 27, 2009

Kitchen, Before and After

We still have some work to do, but here's where we're at right now.



How could I resist?

Here are some oh-so-cute pictures of Zosia from the last couple of weeks that I just couldn't help but post:
Zosia "cooking" in the kitchen which is one of her favorite tasks, and mainly involves spooning water from one bowl into the other.
The other afternoon it grew unusually quiet in the afternoon while I was doing some sort of housework, and I walked into the living room to find Zosia quietly reading her book on the couch:
After an art activity the other week. I think more paint ended up on her face than on the paper. This is what we call "the look of death"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How can I do lent?

It's happened again. I'm not ready for lent. Maybe this is my own way of avoiding the darker part of life and a sign of my immaturity. Maybe it's because here in our house we're eagerly awaiting the birth of a new baby, and it feels more like Advent than lent. Who knows, but I do know that while Advent seems to be this amazingly fruitful spiritual time for me, lent has fallen flat for a few years now. I've gone through the motions, even at times attempted to do some sort of deeper spiritual practice, but I just haven't felt "present" to the season. As I look at members of our family, many of whom are going through difficult times physically or emotionally, I really get how the journey of lent must be a powerful identification with their own condition. But how does a young, happy, healthy woman in the prime of her life take on the lenten message in the same way?

So, this year, as in previous years, I'm going through the motions. This morning's Ash Wednesday service was a beginning, and this year there's an especially exciting culmination-- Ben is being confirmed at the Easter vigil at our church, and then this baby will be born very soon thereafter. I'm ready for the resurrection-- I get the celebration and the excitement. But I just don't quite get the suffering between now and then. I guess no amount of degrees will give you the amount of wisdom and insight that one acquires with age, experience, and suffering.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Attachment and Independence

I'm really excited about the arrival of this next baby. I feel like through pregnancy I get to know the baby a bit before she arrives. Zosia was a little ball of energy (shocking even the midwives with her movement and activity), and she lived up to her in-utero self in person-- her first few months she seemed frustrated just because she couldn't get around quite the way she wanted to. These days, she's happy as a clam now that she has full control and and can get to where she needs to go. This baby, on the other hand, has a zen-like calmness to her. She moves around here and there, but all in all she's mellow and happy to hang tight and relax. So, who knows, maybe number two inherited Ben's baby personality, which was totally calm and inactive. So I'm not feeling nervous about this baby or our ability to keep her happy and secure-- I know from experience that even difficult baby phases pass and steadfast love, nourishment, and getting to know your baby for whoever he or she is are the perfect combination for any baby.

However, from the moment I found out that I was having another baby, I have been worried about Zosia's ability to adjust. Partly, I just love being able to give her attention, watch her learn, and give her love. There's nothing better than being able to play in the bath with her and lose track of the time, have her be my "helper" in the kitchen while I'm cooking, or snuggle with her and a bed full of pillows. How will all of these simple pleasures that make up the bulk of my days be changed with a baby in tow? How will my heart be able to expand to accomodate another little person that I know I will love just as much as this first beloved child? And how will I do it without making Zosia feel like she's taking the back burner?

The other week I had an appointment with a midwife in the practice I've been using. To be totally honest, I hadn't "clicked" with any of the midwives that I had met with yet-- they were all skilled and educated, but I just never felt that personal connection. So when I met Lisa, who is this amazing mother of three children and just exudes maternal energy, I knew that I had found my woman. I immediately felt like I could talk to her about the things I've actually been thinking about and worrying about with this pregnancy-- which generally aren't the technical types of things because I've already been there and done that. And, as this experienced mother of several kids, she has the knowledge to help guide me in those types of personal issues.

I brought up my fears about the transition for Zosia-- and mentioned that I wasn't sure how to "prepare" Zosia for the transition. Should I start "cutting the cord" now so that Zosia isn't totally shocked when she doesn't have 24/7 access to me? And Lisa gave the most beautiful, and in retrospect, true answer. When kids are attached, secure, and totally filled up with love, they tend to seek out independence as they are ready. When kids are denied that attachment, pushed away, and forced to venture out in to the world before they're ready, that's when they cling and clammer for more attention. So, she said, basically keep doing what you've been doing. Fill her up with assurance, attention, and attachment. Give her all of the love that you can now, and continue to do that when the new baby comes-- read to her while you breastfeed, wear the baby in a sling while you play with her, and incorporate her in as many baby tasks as possible. As she's ready, she will seek out independence and do so with confidence and security. When I look at Zosia now and all of the milestones of independence she's already reached, I know in my heart that Lisa is right-- attachment and independence couldn't be a better match.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Family and Monasticism

This morning while I was trying to go to the bathroom, Zosia was in the bathroom desperately trying to get my help/attention and climbing on my lap. I had one of those moments that was like, "Where has my freedom gone? How is it possible that I can't even go to the bathroom in peace?" And as I was thinking about my apparent loss of freedom, I somehow remembered once looking at the schedule at a convent. I don't remember which convent, or what the particulars were, but let me tell you, it was rigorous. These women get up at like 4 in the morning, work, only take teeny weeny breaks from their schedule of manual labor and prayer, and have every minute of the day planned out for them up until 9 or 10 or whenever they go to bed.

But, somehow, I feel like many monastics whose writings I have read describe an increase and not decrease in their feeling of freedom. Having a strict daily schedule with a lot of accountability helps them to "let go" and pursue a quest of deeper meaning in those mundane daily activities. And I remember Mary, my prayer partner at Episcopal Divinity School, one of those amazing women who fully embraces what is feminine while still presuming a teaching role, describing her life with her two daughters when they were little (this before kids were even on the horizon for us). She described the ebb and flow of naps, snacks, outings like a monastic experience. Unlike some women whom I have heard describing the drudgery of having babies around, Mary found deep meaning and fulfillment in the work of caring for little bodies. She was a monastic in her life as a mom and housewife.

Now, I'll be totally honest. There are some days when I am feeling totally zen and monastic and there are some days when I am pulling the hair out of my head. But that's not the point. The point is that the potential exists within this life that I have (or whatever life anyone has) to find that deeper meaning.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Creeped out

Ben and I have been doing some work on our kitchen since we've moved in. We started out by painting the cabinets, adding new door hardware, and putting in a tile floor (all remarkably cheap, by the way). Then over the months, Ben put in some recessed lighting, our brother in law helped put in a door to the basement, I painted the walls, and the past few days we've finally installed some extra cabinets (a pantry, a base cabinets, and some open storage) which actually make all of our kitchen-y things fit. I'll post some pictures this weekend after we're sort of officially "done" with this phase.

But, you know what's really weird? Yesterday I pulled out an old "This Old House" magazine of Ben's from November 2008 that I have no recollection of looking at, and the kitchen on the cover is our kitchen. Same cabinets, hardware, open shelves, tile floors, even paint color. And none of those things are particularly "generic" looking. So I'm thinking that either I saw the magazine and was subliminally influenced by it (which would still be weird, because most of the work we had done was before this magazine would have come out), or it's some sort of weird cosmic coincidence. Creepy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Aim low

Pregnancy has generally been pretty easy for me-- no severe morning sickness, bedrest or medical complications. I think that while for some women it truly is a labor of love to make it through 40 weeks of pregnancy, for many it is a pretty normal time. For me, I think that being pregnant has many positives in my life. I'm happy most of the time and seem to lose the seasonal depression that often kicks in in the winter; after the initial period of tiredness at the very beginning, I actually have big surges of energy; and it's a magical process to be able to see my body transform to accommodate this life growing inside of it. It's a beautiful time.

But, I also realize that like many life phases, pregnancy is a time that has limitations. With my first pregnancy, I think I was almost trying to prove to the world that pregnancy was no big deal. I remember going on a 7 or 8 mile hike in the White Mountains with Ben and some friends when I was about 6 months along. I thought, "see world, I can do this!" but the next morning I could hardly walk and had the worst leg cramps of my entire life. Apparently, my pregnant body was not ready to perform in the way that I would have expected my non-pregnant body to perform.

This time around, I think I am being much more realistic about what pregnancy is and isn't. I am much more likely to ask Ben to take Selma for a walk in the evening, ask a family member to watch Zosia for a bit while I lie down to rest (especially if I'm under the weather), or take a nap with the baby. I think I'm just happy to have a healthy pregnancy, but also happy to take it easy and to be totally honest, doing so has made this pregnancy easier than my last, because I'm not suffering the consequences of pushing myself too far. I remember the zen-like slogan my most beloved college professor espoused: Aim low. That's what I'm all about these days.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Friday afternoon we headed out to Middleburg, a tiny town half way between here and the mountains. Ben had told me that we were staying at a B&B, but didn't give any details, so as we pulled up to a beautiful house on a farm, I was totally surprised!
Here's the view from our room the night that we arrived:
We went out to dinner in Middleburg, got to see some amazing stars, and had the chance to spend some time together sans baby. Now, I must admit-- Ben and I are pretty good at making time for each other even with a toddler around. If anything, having a baby has increased our one-on-one time, seeing as how the baby is in bed at 7:30, and we have a long evening together at home every night. But there are little things that we miss about the pre-baby days-- being able to hold hands on walks, being able to take long walks, being able to linger at the dinner table. They're all superficial and temporary, but it was nice to be able to spend some time together without any constraints. It was romantic and felt very luxurious, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

In the morning we had breakfast, hunted for a decent cup of coffee in town (which we never found... those country folk don't seem to understand the concept of strong coffee), found an abandoned house to explore, and did a wine tasting at a vineyard before heading home (I let Ben do most of the tasting, but come on-- even pregnant women have to live a little). And I was even good at not being the overly-worried mama. I only called home once to check in on Zosia, and apparently she absolutely loved spending time with her Baba.

The weekend leaves me feeling full and joyful and very much in love.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Valentines Day Trip

Ben and I are going away tonight-- just the two of us, which is a first since Zosia has been born (18 months ago!), and probably a last until way after this next baby is going to come. I'm really excited about it! A whole valentines day trip with my hubby! We're going to a restaurant in Middleburg which is a cute little town half way between here and the mountains (although more mountain-y), and then staying at a B&B and hopefully going for a nice hike tomorrow morning before heading home. We'll see how I hold up, since these days I'm feeling more pregnant than ever, but I have always remain convinced that nothing gets the baby quite as ready for coming out as doing some good walking, so hopefully this will be a step in that direction!

My mom is coming to stay with Zosia, which should be fun and wonderful for both of them. Zosia doesn't love anyone quite like she loves her "baba", so I think she'll do just fine here in her own home with her beloved grandma. As with all firsts, I'm a little anxious about how Zosia will do, and a little nervous that she's not ready. But, I have to remind myself that she is a very independent little toddler, very sure of our love and commitment to her, and also generally more ready for her "milestones" than I seem to be (weaning being the perfect example).

Happy Valentines Day! I'll be sure to post some pictures when we get home.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Best Valentines Day Cake Ever

I've been making this cake for Ben for Valentines day every year since we've been married, and it is AMAZING. I hope I'm not breaking any family pacts or secrets by sharing it here... it's actually my sister's husband's grandmother's famous recipe, and surprisingly easy and one of the most delicious cakes you will ever taste. And it's beautiful pink hue makes it a no-brainer for Valentine's day (and while I don't have one, this would be great with a heart-shaped cake pan). You can make it as a layer cake, cupcakes, or whatever. Anyway, here it is! Enjoy!

Gigi's Strawberry Cake

1 Package Delux Dunkin Heinz Cake Mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 warm water
1 package strawberry jello
1 large package frozen strawberries

1. Mix eggs, oil, cakemix
2. Dissolve jello in warm water, add to cake mix.
3. Add 1/2 of berries, drained and thawed, to cake mix

Bake in layers at 325 until toothpick comes out clean


1 box confectioners sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
rest of berries

Cream butter, add sugar and berries, and spread on cake.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Happy Ending

Several weeks ago, Ben and I started noticing signs popping up in our neighborhood for a lost dog. They looked like the average "lost dog" sign. The sign said "Help Find Rocky" and had a picture of a cute, average looking puppy looking up at the camera. Over the next couple of weeks, we started noticing more of the signs-- and they were fortified with rain covers. Some were glued to big posters, and they were ALL OVER falls church. You couldn't pull up to a stop sign without seeing Rocky looking up at you from a street light post. This was turning into a movement! There were several on our street alone, and every time I walked by one, I would start thinking about where Rocky was, whether he was alive, and how I would be feeling if Selma had run away. The harshest weeks of winter passed by, and there was a bad snowstorm. I was losing hope for Rocky. To tell you the truth, I really started assuming the worst.

Tonight, Ben reminded me that the posters had a website on them:
We had never been to the webpage, but my husband with the photographic memory had been meaning to go, so we went, and........ Rocky was found! You all should seriously check out the blog for the whole story, but let me say that Rocky has one committed owner-- and was missing for 36 days. This guy coordinated postering efforts all around town, had posters in Spanish and english, hired a tracker dog at sites of recent sightings, and set up feeding stations close to where Rocky had last been seen.

Anyway, the news made my day, so I thought I would pass along the happy story.

Animal Testing

Ben sent this to me and I couldn't resist posting it!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Be Not Afraid

It's amazing how powerfully motivating fear can be. I know that from childhood through just a couple of years ago I was really really afraid of being alone in a house. I literally would have someone come and stay with me (thanks Rachel and Emily!) when Ben went away just because I hated being left by myself. I think that part of what ultimately got me over my two irrational fears (being alone and basements) was transitioning to being a mother. I think that somehow my body just realized that it couldn't have these irrational fears while being a responsible caretaker of another being. Anyway, whether it was that, or God, or both, I am happy to say that I have turned a corner and am no longer terrified of being alone.

So anyway, it comes as no surprise to me that fear seems to be one of the main tools used by advertisers, politicians, even people in relationships, to motivate and manipulate people. Whether it's fear of someone breaking into your house (so buy a security system!), fear of someone leaving you (so comply to my relationship demands), fear of things changing (so don't allow same-sex couples to get married), or fear of terrorist attacks (so start irrational wars in other countries), we are a people of fear. So I wasn't totally shocked, albeit a little disappointed, in the ways that the Obama administration seems to be manipulating fear, namely fear of an economic crash, just as skillfully as the Bush administration manipulated fear of terrorism. I'm left wondering, how can we get beyond this sort of petty manipulation?

And it is in moments like this that I am reminded of Jesus, who himself told us not to be afraid. I just looked up the passage, Matthew 14:27, and, being the Catholic that I am, had never really known the context of the passage. Jesus has just walked on the water, the disciples are terrified because they think that he is a ghost, and Jesus says, "Take courage, it is I. Be not afraid." The disciples are scared, but the irony is that the thing they are scared of is Jesus himself. In this passage at least, the object of our human fear is the very place that God is found-- the very place that is transformed from a place of uncertainty to a place of divinity.

So today I'm left with those words on my mind, wishing for more hope and less fear, and trying to see the presence of God in those dark basement corners.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Photo Updates

We've been enjoying some beautiful spring weather here in Virginia... currently it's 57 outside, and it's already 7:30 in the evening. It has been amazing to be outside without layers and layers of bundling, to work in the yard, and to start thinking about spring. Here are a few pictures, as promised, now that our camera is in working order.

The requisite pregnancy shot (29 weeks and counting!):
Me and Zosia before heading to the farmer's market:
The oh-so-rare full family shot!:
That's it for now! I'm off to check on some pregnancy-craving brownies that should be close to done in the oven.... mmm.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pregnancy Life Update

These last few days have been inconsistent. One day I'm zipping around, taking on major household projects, other days I'm pushing just to stay awake until bedtime. I guess this is pregnancy in your third trimester. People often ask me how I'm feeling, which always catches me off guard, because I tend to totally forget that I'm pregnant. And when people ask me "When are you due?" I almost invariably think they're asking, "What do you do?" and respond accordingly, which I think people must find amusing, because I am getting to look VERY pregnant these days (picture to follow... we recovered the camera!).

I think I'm just too busy this time around to sit around thinking about the fact that I'm pregnant, which is something I did A LOT of when I was pregnant with Zosia. So here I am mere weeks from birthing another baby, and I have not at all started to wrap my mind around the idea-- although there are moments that the joy of it breaks through and I just get so so excited about meeting this new person. We have some major work on the house we're hoping to get done before #2 arrives-- finishing the basement being the top priority-- and I almost think that until that stuff gets done, I won't be able to truly settle in and start nesting properly. Or maybe I'm just using this house stuff as an excuse to postpone dealing with the work of baby prep. Who knows.

Anyway, I'm 29 weeks along these days, and everything is going amazingly smoothly and well. My biggest concern at the moment is how Zosia is going to deal with the transition, but I trust a) that God will take care of our family through the transition and b) we have an amazing network of support that will make this transition comfortable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

GW Democrats Deface Crosses: Grow up

I just read this article about GW College Democrats defacing crosses from the March for Life. According to the article, after the event:
Student Republicans found drawings and writing in black ink on some of the crosses. One depicted a stick figure of a crucified Jesus. Another, hung upside down, had a condom stretched over it. One had the name of a College Democrats leader.
And here are some pictures of the crosses plus commentary at a GW blog.

Those of you who read this blog know that I'm all for finding a "middle ground." I firmly believe that there's a group of pro-lifers (traditionally Republican) who have started making some first steps. But come on, college democrats, defacing crosses? This is rediculous, immature, and ultimately will not serve your political ends. I'm glad that the democrats have come forward and apologized, albeit halfheartedly, and I can only hope that others will join in the chorus of voices condemning the action. GW democrats will do some soul-searching about the direction of their club... and the democratic party, for that matter. There is no room for intolerance and hatred.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Vietnam Fried Rice

I'm just about to head out the door to watch the superbowl, but wanted to share a recipe that is a standby in the Collins household. It's great because it uses up leftovers, and many of the ingredients are variable, so you can use whatever is on hand. We've been making huge batches of brown rice at the beginning of the week and freezing them in portion-sized containers, which works great for this, because you need some cooked rice (and brown rice just takes so darn long to cook!). But the flavor is great and we love it! This is pulled from More With Less, which I heartily encourage everyone to purchase a copy of.

Vietnam Fried Rice

Serves 4

Heat in large skillet:
4 T. cooking oil
1/4-1/2 lb. any cooked or raw meat, cut into thin strips (tofu works great too)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. sugar
1 T. soy sauce
Stir-fry until meat is tender and hot, about 1-2 minutes (or until meat is cooked if raw)
3 c. cooked rice
Stir-fry 5 minutes. Add:
1 c. leftover or frozen vegetables such as peas, green beans, or carrots
Stir well into rice-meat mixture.
Just before serving, add:
2 eggs, beaten
Over meium-heat, stir carefully through rice until eggs are cooked. Serve piping hot with salad of leaf lettuce, cucumbers, fresh mint and parsley.