One of my favorite quotes is by J.R.R. Tolkien: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." Here I'm giving glimpses of all I am deciding in the time that is given to me. Enjoy! All pictures and posts are mine, thank you! Please ask permission for photo use.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

empty nest

I left town to work a symposium in San Antonio, Texas. While there, my fiance called me from home to tell me our baby birds had left the nest. He didn't see them fly away; one morning they were just gone. I was excited that they had left to begin their new lives, but sad that we didn't have them around anymore. Thankfully I snapped a few more pictures before I left town--they were getting really big by then!

This large one might look like the mother at a quick glance, but it's one of the "babies!" You can see some leftover fluff on its wings and head.

Finally, we had a lucky surprise! We had thought all along that there were five chicks. It turns out there were six! I was shocked--how in the world did they all fit in that nest? Try counting the beaks below to see all six of them (they're crammed in there!). 

Today I climbed a ladder to get some shots of the empty nest.

Bon voyage, my birdies!

Monday, May 13, 2013

teenage fluff update

All five are there!

teenage fluff

It appears the parents have added white dental floss to the nest.

I can't believe how big they are! I haven't seen all five (they're all hunkered down in the nest right now), but I hope that they are all still there.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

on planning a wedding

"You must be so busy!" "I hope you're not stressed out!" "That's quick! You have a lot to do in a short amount of time!"

I'm planning a wedding--my own, in fact. :) It's funny how many comments I've had regarding my stress level and such. The beautiful, wonderful, lovely thing about planning my wedding is that it's been stress-free and relatively easy. It's not like I'm one of those women who grew up planning my wedding--picking out my cake flavor, the cut of my dress, my hairstyle, and all of the other details while I was a girl and far from being married. No, my planning started when my guy put the ring on my finger.

I will say this: the simpler your wedding, the simpler your planning. Our wedding gathering is going to be small, meaning immediate and close family and friends. We're not doing a lot of things that are considered traditional, simply because we want to do things our own way and neither of us believes that people should do things because "they've always been done that way" or because it's expected from others. We're paying for our own wedding, and we've been independent for years, and luckily we both have extraordinary parents who aren't pressuring us to do anything in particular.

I'm not done planning by any means, but I've already garnered useful tips and advice and ways to save money and your mental health! I'll share what I know below, but remember that no one should tell you how YOUR wedding should be (unless they're paying an exorbitant amount of money for your day to actually happen, in which case they might be entitled and in which case I would urge you to seriously consider using that money for a house instead...but to each their own!).

  • Accept help when offered. My sister used to work at a florist in high school, and she'll be arranging my flowers and bouquets. Talk about saving money! All I have to do is buy the actual flowers--much cheaper than having them done "professionally." My other sister is super creative with decorating, and the day I became engaged she set up a private Pinterest page where my sisters and I could exchange ideas about decorations, hair styles, and such. My soon-to-be mother-in-law used to print professionally before retirement, so she's actually printing my invitations. I'll be using custom-made stamps and embossing powder to add my own personal touches, and we purchased the paper together from Paper Source. Another huge way to save money--I highly encourage couples on a budget to explore various DIY options! My parents will purchase the alcohol locally so that I don't have to worry about it while I'm living two states north of where the wedding will actually be. All of this help is making my life so much easier (thank you!). 

  • Have a checklist and a budget. The first thing I did before I did anything else was to create a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. One tab includes my checklist of things to do (it's broken down into the following sections: Invitations and Announcements, Counseling, Meetings, Ceremony, Reception, Miscellaneous/Honeymoon). Another tab includes my guest list, another a list for announcements after the wedding, another for my actual budget, and another for all of my printing and decorating supplies I need to purchase. Being organized will save your life, I promise.

  • Have your cake and eat it too! I've heard horror stories of brides not eating at their own weddings. What is THAT about?!?! I joke that my dress is going to be loose so I can eat my heart out. Joking aside, I absolutely plan on eating at my own wedding and would be dismayed if my groom or anyone else for that matter didn't have a chance to eat. A wedding is supposed to be a fun celebration, not a formal affair where you can't enjoy your own menu! And speaking of menu, we chose buffet style; we've been to too many plated dinners where there were not enough diverse options. I have some vegan friends that will be in attendance, so I chose menus that include vegan options. And our cake? Not the typical "wedding" cake. In fact, my fiance and I aren't fans of wedding cake, and we only discovered this about each other once we started talking about our own cake that we wanted. So instead of a typical tiered fondant-encrusted cake, we're getting several different cakes (hello different flavor options!) from a local healthy/eco-friendly supermarket, and these will be cakes that we'll actually enjoy eating (and--you guessed it!--we're saving money by doing this).

  • Re-think your theme. I don't necessarily have a color scheme and I don't have one large theme for our wedding. Instead, we sort of have smaller themes integrated throughout the planning and the actual celebration. The first and most important theme? Simplicity. We're not a high drama couple and we don't need a high drama day, extra frills and flair, and complications. We want a simple wedding, period. Another theme? Local. I'm getting married in my hometown and we're supporting local businesses by getting our cakes locally, using a local caterer, renting chairs (if we decide we need to do that) from a local business, purchasing locally brewed beer for the reception, and potentially purchasing some items from local farmer's markets. There's a little bit of a lovebird theme on our invitations, programs, and favors, but I'm not going to spoil too much for those who will actually be coming. :)

  • Honor your mother when you plan--Mother Earth, that is. Our caterer has an environmentally conscious focus, and their menu includes local and organic food (I already mentioned vegan options). Our invitations and RSVP cards are all on card stock that is 100% recycled and is made from at least 30% post consumer waste. Our programs and the cards that will be used in favors are chlorine-free. We'll be spending a couple nights in the Proximity, the first LEED Platinum hotel in the USA and named the highest rated “Green” hotel and restaurant in America. I'm hoping to be able to use some eco-friendly disposables at the reception, but I need to do some more research.

  • Add your personal touch. I was born and raised in North Carolina, and I knew I had to have some signature Southern touches when it came to the food. Our menu will include a kabob station (with marinated grilled steak, herb-grilled chicken, balsamic marinated Portobello mushrooms, and barbecue tempeh kabobs), a mashed sweet potatoes bar, garlic grilled green beans, Brussels sprout hash, smoked gouda mac and cheese, grits and greens, sweet tea, lavender lemonade, and water with fresh berries. I also will have my own music playing--my laptop and a special, hand-picked iTunes playlist will serve as my DJ (the house where the reception will take place has an indoor/outdoor speaker system).

  • Have fun! I plan meetings as part of my job, so thankfully I already have practice when it comes to organizing, preparing for, and executing an event. Still, as with anything, it's up to you how you go about doing it and what attitude you bring to the task. My sisters will go dress shopping with me, and our reception is going to be at a close friend's home. I get to spend time with my future mother-in-law, whom I love and adore, while we work on invitations and programs. My parents and uncle have been sound boards for me and have been full of support every step of the way. By surrounding yourself with loved ones who are on the same track as you (that's super important--they have to be on the same page as you and respect your goals and plan), you'll feel just like you're prepping for a fun party (and in all honesty, that's what it should be). I also don't want to waste too much time with the staged photos after the ceremony...I want to get to the party! 

  • Talk to your's his wedding too! I personally didn't need an engagement ring (for multiple reasons that I won't list here), but my fiance wouldn't dream of not giving me one. I wanted asparagus, but it won't be in season in November, so we went with the garlic grilled green beans. I picked our hymns and he decided that we wouldn't have communion at the ceremony. He didn't want a flower girl or ring-bearer. I was the one who picked our church and reception location. None of these things were compromises--we both came to consensus before making these decisions.

  • Embrace the unique and question tradition. I have two dads, and they're both going to walk me down the aisle. The catch? No one is "giving me away." I give myself away. My fiance knew that I wanted to be the first person he asked when it came to marrying him. I've been living independently for almost nine years...why in the world would he ask a parent for permission? I know there's a tradition for that, but I'm (as my parents both know) fiercely independent and loath to follow traditions that I believe are outdated and/or don't apply to me personally. I've seen fathers put promise rings on their daughters to encourage them to stay virgins...ew, that really creeps me out...but moving on... I'm not asking nor am I expecting my sisters to pay ridiculous amounts of money for my wedding and pre-wedding events "because it's all about me" (in fact, I insisted that they wear dresses already in their closets and not spend money on a new dress). We're not jumping the broom, because my fiance thinks that it's an outdated tradition that doesn't apply to us. Like I said before, it's your day and you get to choose what you do. I'm only encouraging couples who are about to be married to think about why they are doing what they are doing before they do it. Do you know the creepy origin of a garter toss? If the answer is no, and if you're curious about some other wedding traditions, read on: Not listed but ones I learned in an Animal Behavior course in college are the following: the man historically stood on the right so that he can have his right hand (traditionally the hand used to hold his sword) ready to fight an upset father, a jealous ex-lover, and etc., and his groomsmen were there to help him fight others (and essentially kidnap his bride if needed).

The hardest part for me so far? Having to cap my guest list. Hands down. It's not easy, folks.

What I'm looking forward to doing next? Dress shopping and premarital counseling (we have a great pastor on board).

Any tips or advice? Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on your big day?

This post isn't meant to be a manual or an "I'm right, you're wrong" essay. This is just what's working for me so far, and hopefully it will inspire you as you think about your own big day or provide you with fond memories from the one you've already celebrated.

Above: my sister Heather celebrated with me the day I became engaged.

five is a crowd

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

hungry chicks

None of my pictures with the mother were decent, but she's been feeding them too! You'll notice a lot of poo on the edge of the nest; I've actually seen them scooting their little birdie butts to the edge of the nest and taking care of business there. Their instincts are to keep their home clean!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

a love letter from my spine

I've been taking a class at the Virginia Theological Seminary called Finding God in Your Body, taught by the remarkable Rev. Ann Gillespie. As a result of taking this course, I've learned about listening to my body, appreciating it as I appreciate my soul, and honoring it as I honor divine creation.

I truly believe that the body is divine, and that "flesh" isn't evil, as some cultures and religions would like us to believe. If we are created in the image of God, then that must include our physical being.

As one of my final assignments, I chose to write a letter to myself from my spine (it ended up as a poem), and after receiving positive reactions when I read it to the group, I decided to share it with you, dear readers.

A love letter from my spine
By Natalie Ramirez

I am the river birch in your parents’ front yard,
Bent under the weight of ice, bowed down during the stress of a storm
But flexible in the end, rising back up to the sky to touch the sun.

I’ve seen you through car crashes,
Being hit from behind by a vehicle traveling 55 miles per hour
While you were at a standstill.
Did you know I could handle that?
Air bag burns, glass under your skin, bruises, and trauma
All have nothing on me.

I am the garden hose you used for the sprinkler when you were a child,
Running in the summer with your sisters during heat waves.
When I have a kink in my line,
The nerves stop sending, the connections stop flowing,
And when you ignore me I’ll remind you to pay attention
With temporary paralysis,
Forcing you to give me the rest I require while you’re knocked out
With codeine and muscle relaxers.

I am a mountain range;
I am a coral reef.
I am a temple of stones stacked on top of one another
And a chain of stars connecting a constellation in the night sky.

I’ve told you when your high heels needed lowering,
When your slumping needed straightening,
When I couldn’t take any more hiking, rock climbing, horse wrangling,
Or when your full time job and full time university courses were killing me.

Cartwheels and roundoffs, headstands, backbends, and splits.
Down dog, up dog, cobra, bridge, and wheel,
Half moon, triangle, plow, and extended side angle.
Did you know I am a tree, an eagle, a king dancer, and a warrior?

The chiropractor is my friend and the massage therapist is my savior.

I’ve curled up with you in the womb
and I’ll lie down with you when you’re ready to return to the earth and to stardust.
I’ve got your back and I’ll raise you up.

their big debut

Baby birdies have finally decided to show their faces. Several of today's pictures are very grainy, because I was set far back and behind panes of glass to photograph the shots when the male bird returned to feed both female and chicks. Earlier the female had patiently let me take pictures with the balcony door and screen door both open, but I don't want to disturb the family and potentially put the chicks in harm of their parents abandoning the nest (if they think I might be a potential threat), so I'm trying to give them space and privacy. Still, when I see baby bird heads bobbing up and down with beaks wide open, it's hard not to watch! (Hint: you might need to click on the pictures to make them larger--that will help you see the babies better!)