How to spend waiting time? A Robin & Writing Update

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Robin incubating a clutch of eggs.

Waiting can be so difficult. That whole “watched pot” thing. Whether it’s 30 seconds to heat up the coffee in the microwave or 2 weeks for eggs to hatch – time just passes so slowly when you must wait for an outcome. I’m in that waiting phase in two ways now – with the robin nesting on my windowsill and with the novel I’m writing. 

Mrs. Red Breast moved from laying to incubating her clutch of four eggs. Though I left the shade up while she laid the eggs, now that she’s nesting, I’ve pulled it down to keep from startling her off the nest. An expectant mama just does not need to be startled or to worry about being startled.

Whether she worries or not, I don’t know. I’m likely ascribing my own emotions to her.  When she’s not on the nest, I worry if she’s abandoned it. Now that we’re experiencing an unseasonal and heavy snow, I worry the eggs will get too cold. I worry whether Mama can find enough food in the brief moments she flies away from her post.

To distract myself from my role as Chief Robin Worrier – I’ve been fortunate to have found the support of several readers who informed me a nest of eggs is called a clutch, and who shared links as well as their own knowledge of robin behavior. I thank all of you for your comments!  A few interesting things I’ve learned:

  • The American Robin is actually in the thrush family. Though immigrants to America named it after the European Robin, they’re not the same. The European Robin is similar in size and shape to some of our bluebirds.
  • Robins don’t listen for worms, though the way the cock their heads makes it appear that they do. Rather, one eye is trained on the ground watching for worms while the other eye is scanning the sky for predators. Here’s a link to more surprising robin facts.
  • American Robins can become trusting of humans; European Robins are not.
  • Even though robin nests look trashy, they are quite clean. Robins keep their nesting area and the nest itself cleared of insects.
  • The jury is out on when and how much the male robin is involved in caring for the young. Apparently it depends on how many babies hatch. Stay tuned. I’ll report on what I see.

I just love learning little things like this. Like Mrs. Red Breast, I am in the stage of anxiously/eagerly awaiting news of my novel, tentatively titled All She Ever Wanted.  This week, I gave draft copies to beta readers. This is the first time I’ve put my novel in front of readers who know nothing of the story and who I trust will give honest feedback on how or if the story works, whether the characters have depth and are believable, how well I’ve established the setting of rural Iowa during WWI. 

While I wait the next month for my readers to read, I’m figuring out ways I can distract myself from my Chief Novel Worrier role and do something productive. One thing I’ll be doing is working on a one-page synopsis of the novel as well as the critical cover blurb. Both of these tasks will require research and study and no doubt the help of others who’ve walk this path.

Writing novels and nesting birds. There are just so many similarities to these experiences. Don’t you think?

Other Robin posts: A Bird’s Eye ViewAnd Then There Were Four

Beauty & the Beast – Spring Snow

Magnolia tree bearing the weight of snow.

Magnolia tree bearing the weight of snow.

My predawn walk to the mailbox this morning was marked by the beauty of trees coated with snow. That kind of wet snow that clings to every branch creating the effect of a winter wonderland. The kind of winter scene we enjoy so much in December.

However, it is May. Magnolia trees are in full bloom. Our maple and ash trees sprout seeds and leaves. The grass is green and growing with enough vigor that we’ve already mowed and begun collecting grass clippings for mulch on the garden.

During my walk to the mailbox, I considered how pretty this record snowfall was in spite of its untimely arrival and planned to bring my camera out to capture this winter/spring visual delight when the sun was up.

How much can an old willow tree take?

How much can an old willow tree take?

Later, as I trudged through the snow, I faced the beauty and beast nature of this snowstorm. Snow against the raspberry sherbet redbud blossoms, the luxurious pink magnolia blooms, and the spring green tree leaves was striking in its beauty. However, already laden with heavy blossoms, the limbs of the magnolia tree drooped to the ground under the added weight. Some had cracked. Our old willow tree, already damaged by a heavy winter storm lost so many branches it’s hard to tell where the tree ends and the ground begins. Around me, the sound of tree limbs snapping punctuated the air. A beast tore through our landscape.

Unexpected green in a black and white landscape.

Unexpected green in a black and white landscape.

As I sit looking out my window, I mourn once-beautiful trees that appear to have had a bomb set off in the middle, I wonder if they’ll survive such an assault. I cannot help but think of the Boston Marathon. There, too, unexpected violence ripped apart a beautiful spring scene.

I take hope in that nature has a remarkable way of healing. Some of our trees may not survive. But I expect most of them will. The scars will be visible for years, perhaps forever, but the trees survive. In the Boston bombings, three people did not survive the assault. But most will. They’ll have scars, but most will survive. Nature and human nature. We survive.

And then there were four

Four Robin Egg NestMrs. Red Breast added another egg to the nest Sunday morning.  Someone suggested the total would be four. Maybe so. It seems a neat number and there’s hardly room for more.

My concern that she might be scared away by our use of the facilities so far seems unfounded. I performed my morning ablutions while she was in residence. We were both appropriately discrete, each directing our eyes elsewhere to give the other necessary privacy.

Some years ago, we had a cardinal nest in a burning bush right next to our outdoor water faucet. Lady Cardinal put up quite a racket each time we came near but eventually she became used to us. We were treated to watching (very carefully) a nest of babies grow and take wing.  Hoping to do the same here.

I realized in writing my last post that I didn’t know what to call a nest of eggs. We have pods of whales and gaggles of geese, litters of puppies, cats, and pigs (all mammals).  But what do you call a group of eggs in the same nest? Not a flock. So what? Anyone?

NOTE: I first wrote about Mrs. Red Breast when she reached three eggs. Here’s the link to that post.

A bird’s eye view

We know it’s really spring when the robins start building nests. Every downspout around our house has a robin in residence. Until now it’s always been the downspouts. But this spring an enterprising mama is making her home on our bathroom window sill.

You can't get a better view than this!

You can’t get a better view than this!

When I first spotted her, Mrs. Red Breast was still building the nest. Each time I went into the bathroom, she flew away. I wondered if she’d persist in this location. Would she be chased off the nest every time we used the facilities after she had her babies? Because, really, we aren’t going to stop using the bathroom!

When I told my husband, he said, “What do you think? Knock it down before she lays eggs?”

It must be said that robins make messy nests. Bits of twig and leaves dangle from the nest. The idea of bugs and bird droppings is not all that appealing. In some cases, I’d agree with him, but not this time. The opportunity to see a robin raise a nest of babies from a foot away is too good to pass up.

Mrs. Red Breast did finish her building. And then she began to lay eggs. One a day. Today she had these three.

This afternoon when I was working in the yard, I looked up and saw her nestled firmly in her home. Laying more eggs? Incubating the three she’s laid? Time will tell.

Have you ever enjoyed such a bird’s eye view of a nesting bird?

UPDATE: I’m sharing the progress on this nest. Here’s a link to the story on a fourth egg.

Timing is everything

Saguaro cactus and a carpet of yellow, Mexican poppies.

Saguaro cactus and a carpet of yellow, Mexican poppies.

With so many things in life, timing matters. In my experience, that’s never more true than when it comes to seeing the wonders of nature. My travels this week have brought me to the desert southwest and Phoenix, Arizona.

I’ve enjoyed Arizona’s deserts many times over the years, visiting family and friends or on business. But in all these years, I’ve never seen the desert in bloom. That is both a matter of good timing and the right weather. This week my timing was spot on.

Desert blooms, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The yellow overpowered the more subtle, yet equally beautiful, lilac and purple blooms.

Last week it snowed in Arizona, even in Phoenix. This week the desert took advantage of that moisture added to earlier rains to put out a spectacular display of color. Sweeps of yellow Mexican poppies; delicate spires of purple flowers that looked to be in the Lobelia family, tiny lilac colored stars.

Yesterday, my friend Carol and I hiked near Lake Pleasant, though hiking is somewhat of a misnomer for our walk, which was constantly interrupted by my exclamations about how spectacular the flowers were and the innumerable stops to take pictures.

Desert booms, saguaro cactus, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

A carpet of flowers covered the desert floor.

As an Iowa girl, I’m very fond of green, but the desert has its own beauty. And never more so than when the flowers bloom.

Have you seen the desert in bloom? Have you experienced a moment of very good timing? Please take a moment and share your story.

A high-class problem

The Hare - Crystal Bridges Museum

The Hare – Crystal Bridges Museum

If you could choose to do anything, what would you do? That’s a question life coaches ask to encourage their clients to explore where their passion really lies. What would make them the most happy/satisfied/fulfilled. It’s not an easy question to answer.

In a limited way, I’m exploring that question this month as I take a week to drive from Iowa to Utah for a writing retreat. Though I’ve often traveled alone on business, I’ve never made such a long driving trip on my own. I found the prospect hugely exciting and also challenging.  Every step of the way, I would decide – what, when, where, how. In other words, I have to know myself.

Rather than take the direct route west, I elected to head south for Arkansas – the only state I’d never had occasion to visit.  Now that I’m here, I have to say, I don’t know what took me so long. The land is beautiful, the people friendly, there are far more things to see and do than I can accomplish in the two days I’ve allotted.

Yesterday morning I spent wandering the trails of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, enjoying both natural and man-made art, relaxing on stone benches where I could appreciate both a bronze bear and spring temperatures that promised flowers soon, wandering off the paved trails to follow meandering trails with flagstones banked to test the skill of bikers and to make me think I was walking the Yellow Brick Road. When I finally wandered inside the museum, I found a wonderful collection that I spent only an hour or so exploring. Not nearly enough time, but after soaking in so much beauty outdoors, I found myself less interested in what hung inside.

I went back outside to my car to think about this while I ate lunch. As I ate, I unfolded a map over my steering wheel, dug out a variety of flyers from the welcome center, and considered my options. Return to the museum refreshed by lunch? Go back into history and visit the  Pea Ridge Civil War National Park? Search out the artist conclave at Eureka Springs? I could do anything. But, what?

At that moment, a man returned to his truck parked next to my car. When he got in, he opened his windows just as I had. It was a beautiful day. He looked over and asked, “Would you happen to be lost?”

“Oh, no,” I answered. “I’m just thinking about where I may go next.”

He laughed. “That’s a high class problem to have!”

“Yes,” I responded. “I guess it is.”

What legacy will we leave?

Bald EagleWhen I was a little kid growing up in Iowa, we seldom saw Bald Eagles, even though we lived near the Mississippi River. When we did chance to spot one, everyone, children and adults, looked skyward, hoping for a glimpse.

Eagles were endangered because the pesticide DDT found its way into the eagles’ food supply, ultimately weakening the egg shells, causing them to break during incubation. Since DDT was banned in the early 1970s, eagles have come back.

Now, Bald Eagles are common in Iowa. It’s not at all unusual to see one of these majestic birds soaring overhead. In the winter, there are even more eagles as the birds migrate along the Mississippi and Missouri River “super flyways.” Adults and children still find it a thrilling sight, gathering on  bridges to watch our national symbol swoop for fish in open water and roost in the tops of trees.

The Des Moines River runs through a park near my home so I ventured out to see if I might spot some eagles for myself. I pulled into the parking lot and hadn’t even gotten out of the car when I saw three mature eagles in a nearby tree.  One by one, the eagles took off, leaving me yearning for their return. Even though the river is low, they would be back as long as the river isn’t frozen overPop can in river.

The drought has been so severe the river now runs in less than half of the area its carved for itself. I set out for a walk, figuring it’s not every day you get to walk on a river bottom. Winter or summer, the river can be a quiet, peaceful place. As I walked, the silence was broken only by the sound of geese calling to each other.

I took along a plastic grocery bag to pick up any trash I might see. Very soon I realized I should have brought more than one bag. Cans. Bottles. A cowboy boot. Even underwear! In no time, my bag was full and the handles were tearing. I left the bag to pick up on the return and continued to walk. In the distance, the sun glinted off the water moving around what I thought was a pile of brush. As I got closer, I could make out a wheel. Then a tire and an axle.

Wagon trash in riverDuring a drought, the river reveals how we’ve cared for our waterways. The disregard we’ve had for them over the years, using them as a trash bin. Perhaps people thought they’d never fill up. Or that no one would ever know because the garbage sinks out of sight. Perhaps. Until a drought like this shows us the folly.

River clean up efforts like Project AWARE – A Watershed Awareness River Expedition – involve hundreds of volunteers every summer to clean tons of trash out of Iowa’s rivers. The visibility Project AWARE has brought to the plight of our rivers has encouraged thousands of volunteers in communities across the state to get out on the water, too. Those volunteers are doing good work, but they can’t make real progress until people stop putting trash into the rivers in the first place.

Sometimes we humans get it wrong and are able to fix it. We were able to do that with Bald Eagles. I hope we can be that smart when it comes to our rivers.

Bald Eagle photo credit: w4nd3rl0st (InspiredinDesMoines) via photopin cc

Does exercise improve your writing?

A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.Helen Dunmore

British novelist, poet and children’s author Dunmore shared this bit of wisdom in a list of her “Nine Rules of Writing.”

Other writers have also found that physical activity plays a role in their creativity. The January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest touched on this in an article “If Walls Could Talk” by Joy Lanzendorfer. (I could not find this article on line.) Lanzendorfer visited the writing spaces of a number of famous authors and shared the lessons she took away from those visits.

She reports that Lousia May Alcott was a runner. Alcott also climbed trees and jumped fences), activity that gave her the energy to write Little Women.  Poet Robinson Jeffers split his days between writing and gathering the boulders he used to build his house. Lanzendorfer’s conclusion is that there is a “connection between the moving body and the thinking mind.” And that “Even just a walk through the neighborhood can invigorate writing in unexpected ways.”

I’ve  found that walking yields writing benefits for me, too. An early morning walk clears the nighttime cobwebs so I sit down to write with a clear head. A mid-day walk offers a break from the keyboard, loosening my neck and shoulders at the same time it seems to loosen my brain. Sometimes I step out with a particular dialogue or plot problem I’m puzzling over. More often, I make it a point not to think consciously about my writing. It is surprising how many times I return to my desk with a new thought, a clearer thought, about how to tackle the next page.

I don’t know how it works or why. Perhaps for the same reason people facing a difficult decision are often advised to “Sleep on it.” Stepping away from a problem lets our subconscious minds work their magic. In any case, it’s nice to know all my walking does serve a purpose. And here I thought I was just procrastinating!

My guess is that many forms of exercise accomplish the same end. Is exercise part of your writing routine? I hope you’ll take a moment and share your experience.

How does spring inspire you?

It’s fall and during fall we think of endings. The end of summer. The end of good weather. The end of vacations. So it’s with delight that I attended the launch of a new book that focuses on spring–a time when things are beginning.

Spring – Women’s Inspiration for the Season of Hope and New Beginnings is the second book in a four-book series edited by Debra Landwehr Engle and Diane Glass.

According to Glass, Spring speaks to the yearning within all of us for bringing new possibilities to life. In this new book, 36 writers share poems, essays and stories with their experiences and insights into dreaming of and preparing for growth, giving birth, and nourishing the tender new shoots of life.

Winter – Women’s Stories, Poems and Inspiration for the Season of Rest and Renewal launched the series earlier this year. Glass and Engle say the final two volumes featuring Summer and Fall will be published yet this year.

The four books share women’s diverse voices around themes central to Tending Your Inner Garden, a program of spiritual and creative growth that has guided hundreds of women internationally in finding meaning and purpose in life.

Here’s one essay from Spring, reprinted with permission from the author.

My Bucket List

By Pattie Flint

The springs in Seattle can be described by two words: unending rain. Only native Seattlites can brave this incessant drizzle without a feeling of a slow and painful drowning, but even grizzled Northwesterners can sometimes feel a little depressed when each new day brings rain without hope of summer. Often it drives us inside to the comfort of our couches and kitchens, and it was on such a dreary March evening that I plopped down in my my favorite armchair to watch “The Bucket List.”

Overall, I didn’t much find the movie that interesting. But afterward, in a spurt of aimless creativity, I decided to start my own bucket list. Never mind that I was only 20 years old, and it would hopefully be decades before I really had to worry about what I had accomplished in my life. It would probably also be decades before I had enough money/time to do any of the things on my bucket list anyway. To combat my boredom, I wrote down everything I could remember wanting to do. I stuffed the sheet of paper in my drawer and forgot about it.

Several weeks later I found myself pulling it out and really looking at all the things I wished I could do. I crossed out a couple of silly things and added several new entries. I posted it on my refrigerator door and marked some of the smaller, easier ones that I could work on right now. With a reminder posted where I could see it nearly every day, I was astounded to realize how much of my time I spent on menial, repetitious tasks when I could have been doing something better with my time.

I eventually gave away my TV because I spent too many rainy nights watching movies, and I cancelled my Facebook account. With a keen eye on my bucket list, I taught myself French and threw a tea party in my living room, complete with a Mad Hatter hat. I jumped into Lake Washington in the snow on New Year’s Day, and I kissed a man–a complete stranger–on the mouth when I saw him picking out a book I loved at a bookstore.

I can’t say why I wrote, “Kiss a complete stranger” on my bucket list, but he and I have been together since that day. He has added items to my list and helped me check others off.

I got over my fear of heights when I rock-climbed a mountain in Colorado at dawn. I forgave my father for abandoning our family. And while there are things on my bucket list I’m not sure I’ll ever accomplish, such as meeting the President, bungee jumping (okay, I lied–I didn’t completely get over my fear of heights) and flying to the moon, the list on my fridge is a constant reminder of how I should be living each day to its fullest and treating every action with ceremony. After all, someday when someone asks me what I wish I could have done with my life, I hope I’ll be able to answer, “I did everything I ever told myself I wanted to do.”

Except, maybe, make Seattle springs any less wet.


To get your copies:

Winter and Spring are both available through the Tending Your Inner Garden Bookstore. Winter is also available on Amazon and Spring soon will be.


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Twitter: @YourInnerGarden
GoldenTree Communications

Find Pattie on her website: and follow her on Twitter @PattieFlint

Gratitude in a drought?

Hot, dry weather yields brilliant fall color – 2012

Are all these sunny, dry days good for us? Only in Iowa would someone even ask that question! I spent last week in California where no one ever questions “yet another day in paradise.” But here in Iowa, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

As the sunny, dry days stretch on, I look at my flower gardens, which I don’t water, and wonder how many of the plants I’ll lose by next spring. I look at my prairie, which history says can stand the swings of nature, and notice that the grasses thrived in the dry heat while the flowers were much less lush and brilliant. And all of the prairie plants were shorter.

The farm fields suffered painfully in the drought. I hated even to look as I drove by many fields of corn. The leaves were curled up and pointed to the sky, as though pleading for rain. When none came, eventually, the stalks wilted, turned brown and crumpled. Yields are way down and we’ll all feel the farmer’s pain at the grocery store in coming months.

At lunch today, a friend commented, “This area wasn’t made for perfect weather all the time.” He’s right. Iowa thrives with the change of season. We thrive when we have sun mixed with regular rains, hot days followed by cold days. We thrive when it all evens out.  This year hasn’t been like that. I joked when we were getting 70 & 80 degree days in March that we were going to have the longest summer on record. I didn’t know how right I’d be. I didn’t know it would be a California summer.

Looking past concerns of drought, I have to say a California summer in Iowa is beautiful – the endless perfect days, the ash trees turning gold. I’ve determined to be grateful for the beautiful weather, to marvel in the brilliant colors, to be outside as much as I can be. And to try not to worry that there’s no rain in the forecast for another 3-4 weeks. If then.

I will remind myself that in all things I can give thanks.