Sunday, June 24, 2012

Our Abundant Back Yard

I really didn't expect much from our first year garden. We sort of haphazardly planted as much as we could, thinking only some plants would survive the harshness of Kansas pests, drought, and disease. 32 kale plants, 8 radicchios, 60 onions, 4 anaheim peppers, 4 jalapenos, 1 sweet bell pepper, 1 yellow squash, 4 zucchinis, 5 cucumbers, 4 watermelons, a scattering of spinach, swiss chard and lettuce, 5 planters full of various herbs and a whopping total of 34 tomato plants later . . . and now I think our biggest problem is overcrowding (ya think?). I'm almost ashamed to admit that I even started 24 bush beans, 6 pumpkins, 6 butternut squash, 6 cantelope and 12 beets not really knowing where they would go, and thinking "something's bound to die or stop producing by the time these babies are ready to go in the ground." Wrong again! Does anyone need seedlings?

 So, the lesson I'm learning for year 1 is "less is probably more." But my, has this been a fun experiement!

Swiss chard relaxing in the shade of the squash leaves
I really hope I can dry all these onions properly!
Zuchinni Blossoms for eating!
Zucchini blossoms stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese, dipped in tempura batter and fried
The difference one night makes in "Zucchini Time"
I think I need a bigger bowl!
  We also have a crowded, "survival of the fittest" flower garden with zinnias, cosmos, calendula, California poppies, and a row of sunflowers that are 7 feet tall and still growing (perhaps I should have read the package first - they can grow up to 16 feet tall!).  Every day Hannah checks our flowers, counting them and wondering when she'll be allowed to pick a bunch for our dining room table.

I have loved involving her in this process. Not only has she learned a tenderness and reverence for things that grow, but gardening is a wonderful lesson in patience! There is one cherry tomato plant in the far corner of the garden next to the sunflowers, which because of Hannah's small size only she can access. After checking the flowers she crawls back there and picks the red tomatoes for her own enjoyment. I'm not sure any of us have had a tomato from that plant yet!

 With 34 tomato plants in 9 different varieties, we bought an extra chest freezer for the basement solely for the purpose of preserving our harvest. I feel like I'm gearing up for that fateful day when our kitchen counters are overflowing with tomatoes, and I am a slave to the preservation of those those perfect, juicy red fruits for weeks on end. While I know it will be tiring work, I look forward to the challenge, and the gratification of preserving food from our own garden to outfit us with salsa, spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes for the winter. No more BPA-lined canned tomatoes for us!

I also tried my hand at pickling last week. We grew a variety of cucumber specifically for pickling when I discovered that my favorite sliced pickles (Vlastic Ovals) include High Fructose Corn Syrup in their ingredients! Really?!? Is that necessary? I'll admit, my first batch of pickles was not so successful. They taste great, but they are soft, and fall apart when you reach in the jar to pull them out with your fingers. 

Not at all the crispy, salty goodness I was hoping for, but this is how we learn, is it not? I've been told to add alum to the next batch, and to be careful about letting my cukes get overripe before pickling. Easier said than done when finding the darn things on the vine is like staring at a Magic Eye poster. I'm sure the neighbors get a kick out of watching me, face to the muddy ground, try to push the leaves aside and find those cucumbers hiding amongst hundreds of bee-covered blossoms. No one ever told me how dangerous gardening can be. And oh, the prickles on those cukes! Never pick cucumbers without a good pair of gloves!

 The kale has been producing for a long while now, and my mom and sister frequent the garden weekly for a bunch of kale for smoothies and salads, but there is no way we can keep up with 32 plants. So I tried my hand at blanching and freezing two ARMFULS of kale, ending up with three meesely quart-sized bags for the freezer, two of which I used to make a tasty kale pesto. We'll be doing this again, I think. And next year, maybe we'll just plant 6 kale plants. Or 8. Maybe 10. Not 32!

If you're still reading by the end of this mammoth gardening post, congratulations, and thank you! I am humbled now by all of you master gardeners out there. Gardening can be emotional, frustrating, and a downright war with the elements and your own silly choices, but it makes me feel productive - like I'm really working to feed my family the right things. And that makes it all worth it to me.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Babies


capturing hearts, one by one.


 chicken catchin'
song singin'
story tellin' 
lion roarin'
puddle jumpin'
nap skippin'
pool swimmin'
creek wadin' 
tomato eatin' girl. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hello Again

I know I've neglected this space. But guess what? I've re-named it, and that's a start. I'm also fiddling about with a new look, so please excuse the construction zone. I'm not as technologically savvy as perhaps I should be for my generation.

I also have this keeping me busy:

 . . . and as such, I am a slave to these wonderful plants of mine, and the produce they are producing. This is our first year gardening and I'm afraid our eyes were a bit bigger than our, uh, plot of land. Still, it has been a great learning experience, and we should be reaping the benefits from our 32 (yes, 32) tomato plants all winter long.

So bear with me (I don't really know what there is to bear) as I do some housekeeping, some regrouping, some tomato tending, and some thought gathering.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Remembering Now

Dear Hannah,

I've often wondered what things you'll remember from your wee childhood. You won't remember the first smile you cracked when you were 5 weeks old, the way you snorted while nursing, your very first strawberry or your first pair of shoes. You probably won't remember Japan - at least as your own memory - or the wonderful people who knew you from the day you were born. I don't know if you'll remember me reading chapters from "The Little Prince" to you each night before bed or singing "Baby Beluga" while you splashed with your chubby legs at bath time. But I have a feeling that some of your earliest memories will be from this crazy, adventuresome time. So let me refresh you on your fourth year.

This was a year of distinguishing fantasy from reality . . . of "Ladycorns" and Nightmares, monsters and imaginary friends. You tell us there is a white squirrel named "Squirrel Bob" who lives on the ceiling fan in your bedroom, and each night you have to kick him out of your room so he won't make noise and keep you awake. While certain stuffed animals frighten you at night (namely pigs, cats, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar), you still sleep with a menagerie of unicorns, rabbits and dinosaurs on your bed. You are adept at prolonging bed time each night, and a part of me believes it is because night time is the only time you actually sit still long enough to let your imagination really run wild! Because of this fixation on monsters, your favorite bedtime stories are those by Mercer Mayer - "There's a Nightmare in My Closet," "There's an Alligator Under My Bed," "There's Something in My Attic," and "There are Monsters Everywhere."

You have a love for all things shiny and fragile. While you are unusually gentle for a four-year-old, you do have your clumsy moments. One of my favorites happened recently, when I found you wandering the house when you should have been taking a nap. You were looking for me, because you had disassembled my marble egg-shaped kaleidoscope given to me by an old boyfriend. I can only imagine you holding that tiny treasure up to the the light and turning it while gazing at the crystals and mirrors within, and wanting to know exactly what was inside that was making those intricate patterns. So you broke it open, stuck your finger in the lens hole, and found yourself with a marble egg stuck on your index finger. I would have scolded you if I hadn't been laughing so hard.

You also have a love for music and theater. Are we at all surprised? We can find you singing most times of the day - sometimes actual songs, and sometimes just a melodious stream of consciousness or blow-by-blow of whatever game you are playing or world you are building. I call them "Hannah's Rock Operas," and they are a thing to behold. We often ask you to perform for our guests, and you oblige us with an original, never-heard-before medley. We are of course proud of our little performer, but there is one thing I would impress upon you, my love. Please never believe that life is a performance. By all means, play pretend, try on on different hats, and sing and dance to your heart's content, but I implore you to never feel that acting in a way that is not you will make you more friends, or make people love you. Your thoughts and feelings are the most beautiful, genuine expression of yourself.

This is a magical time in your life, little one. You inhabit a world of romance, butterflies, fairies, acorns, sandcastles, bubble gum, marbles and the color purple. If I were to choose your very first memory for you, it would be the magic. The adventure. The exuberant love for everything moving, breathing, shining, singing. You, my daughter, are a sparkling light of possibility. Every morning when I hear you open your bedroom door and stomp down the stairs, I wonder how you will have changed. Before you come into our room, I close my eyes and remember the girl you were the day before - the length of your hair, the size of your feet, the funny way you pronounced certain words - and then I send light and love to the girl you were and open my eyes to the beautiful girl you are now. Your pajamas are a little shorter, your toddler tummy a little smaller, and you have inevitably learned 20 new things overnight, including the proper way to say "burp" and "unicorn," much to my chagrin. You are growing into a stunning human being, Hannah. I couldn't be happier that your are ours.


Music Credits: "Love, Love, Love" by Avalanche City

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Welcome Home, Son

Please forgive me for the mushy sentimentality that might take place. It has been almost a month since Rowan was born, and while he sleeps and Hannah colors ponies on this rainy Sunday morning, I'm finally feeling grounded enough to write what I remember from his birth. To be honest, the birth happened so fast (an hour and a half of labor? Yes please!) that it has taken me some time to come to grips with the reality that it happened, it is over, and he is here. He is here. Here he is.

Rowan: A tree of protection; one that offers strength against adversity, symbolizing growth and rebirth. Also known as "The Whispering Tree" which has secrets to reveal to those who would listen.

Shepherd: A leader; one who guides.

His was not only the one name we agreed on, it was the name that quite perfectly described what he has been for us. After overcoming so much heartache and adversity in our lives, during my pregnancy with Rowan I truly felt protected, at peace, and guided toward a new, happy life with my family. This little person nudged us to the content place in which we now dwell. Hans has a steady, satisfying job. I have more students than I know what to do with. Hannah has grown into a beautiful, independent little person. We have a home. We have come Home. There is no place I would rather be than right here, right now, with those I love surrounding me. Growth and Rebirth, indeed.

Please click on the link to view this on a larger screen on Youtube. I don't know why it's so tiny here!
Music Credits: "Welcome Home" by Radical Face

So, here are all the nitty gritty details, for those who have asked. 

Following suit with his sister, Rowan came to us three perfect days after his "due date." With a due date of February 11th, we joked about having a Valentine's baby, but I never thought that's the way it would happen. On the morning of February 14th I was having contractions that were 10-15 minutes apart, and would sometimes go 30 minutes with nothing happening. To try and get things moving, I suggested to Hans that we take a walk. A friend of mine had graciously offered to take Hannah to preschool, so we had 2 hours to ourselves. "No way!" Hans cried, "It's too icy out there."

"So hold my hand. I don't care. I'm going with or without you."

Ten minutes later we were out the door. The sidewalks and roads were treacherous. We giggled at how silly we looked - this bundled-to-the-max overdue pregnant lady and her rather slim husband, slipping and sliding our way down the street. We decided to go to the library, where we had some books on hold (he a graphic novel and I a knitting book, of course). It was only a 5 minute walk, but it was exercise and fresh air, which was exactly what I wanted. While in the library waiting for Hans to complain to the librarians about a particular book being kept in the reference section (and thus unavailable for check-out), I suddenly felt extremely overheated and hungry. I had a few contractions that felt like more than Braxton Hicks, but thought of nothing other than getting back out in the cool air, and home to the three slices of cold pizza I had squirreled away to the back of the refrigerator for my lunch. I urged Hans to hurry, and finally we headed home.

My water broke shortly after arriving at home, but my excitement was muted, both because my contractions were next to nothing, and because I remembered Hannah was born a lengthy 12 hours after my water had broken before. Nonetheless, I texted my midwife Suzanne (what a lovely name!), and she quickly replied that she was on her way from Shawnee. In the meantime I ate the aforementioned 3 slices of pizza and casually checked facebook and pinterest for distractions, with no heavy or regular contractions. At the time I was thinking, things probably won't pick up until this evening, so I might as well relax while I can. Suzanne and her assistant Nicole came and checked his heartbeat, set up the oxygen tank and their supplies, then we twiddled our thumbs and checked watches for a few minutes, waiting for a contraction to come. Nothing. Suzanne perfomed a few midwifery tricks to get labor started. First she had me smell sage oil, then she gave me an herb the name of which I cannot remember, then she pushed several pressure points on my ankles and feet, and then she attached a Tens Unit to the small of my back, to help deal with contractions when they came. When things still weren't happening, they decided to go to lunch. Suzanne said to contact her when anything changed. Otherwise, she would check back in 4 hours.

My intention was to take a nap. Hannah returned home from preschool and ate lunch shortly after Suzanne and Nicole had left, and as Hans put her down for a nap and I prepared to lay down, my contractions suddenly grew more intense - to the point that I couldn't speak through them and had to practice my breathing technique (a combination of singer's breathing and hypnobirthing "sleep breathing"). When Hans saw me concentrating so hard, he said "should I fill the pool?" My lack of a coherant answer was answer enough, and he set to the task of filling, prepping, and calling the midwives back. They returned with record speed and helped me into the tub and its relaxing warm waters.

From the time I entered the water to when Rowan was born was about an hour and 15 minutes of what I can only refer to as "intense relaxation." The room was dark and damp, and somewhere along the way Hans had started playing calm Native American flute music in the background. To hear him describe the scene, our bedroom had become a shrine of overwhelming feminine energy. He said it was almost intimidating for him to be the only male in the room. My sister in law Kerri arrived next. She was to be our "Hannah guard" if needed, and my birthing coach if available. She took over the task of applying counter pressure on my back as I breathed through each wave. I was sitting on my knees, and it felt like Kerri's counter pressure was actually pushing the baby downwards. And that is how I would describe what I was feeling - pressure. Not pain. I felt like a pressure cooker, and each time the pressure rose, I blew it out with my breath, and Kerri directed it downwards with soothing hands.

Our little boy was born in no time. 3 very long, drawn out breaths and he was out, swimming around in the water with me and singing with anger at the indignity of leaving his little cocoon of warmth so quickly. There were no other hands holding or touching him for the first hour of his life. After 15 minutes I delivered the placenta - a "lotus birth" - and his cord was not cut until I had cuddled, loved and nursed him for one hour. During that time Suzanne, Nicole and Kerri quickly and efficiently emptied and deflated the tub and cleaned up. Just when they finished, Hannah woke up from her nap. Yes, it was that perfectly timed.

The only minor complication I can name was when I fainted in the shower shortly after, but I blame myself for not telling them I was feeling light headed, and that I probably should have eaten something before getting up. Aside from some marvelously purple welts on my lower back, there was no harm done there.

I hope this story will be a beacon for women who are considering a home birth, but might fear the unknown. If I had one word to describe Rowan's birth, it would be "unencumbered." In the comfort of our home - with no florescent lights, hospital gowns, probing fingers, unnecessary procedures and interventions - we brought a healthy boy into the world, and when all was said and done, ate a home cooked meal and slept in the comfort of our own bed. What's not to love about that?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Our Valentine's Day

9:00 AM

10:00 AM

10:30 AM

10:35 AM
12:00 PM
12:20 PM
1:30 PM
1:45 PM
2:00 PM
2:30 PM

 Introducing our baby boy, Rowan Shepherd Stephensen
8 lbs. 10 oz. 20.5 inches long.
The perfect Valentine. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

Life and preparations for the new baby have accelerated to a considerably fast pace, as well they should. We have a little over a month before we meet our little dude, and while with Hannah we found ourselves twiddling our thumbs during the last month of pregnancy, there just aren't enough hours in the day with this one. Why does that happen with subsequent pregnancies? Let me name a few reasons for me . . .

First, this little one keeps me on my toes. Every day she shows new, stunning independence. There are some days, however, when she understandably regresses. After we assembled the crib for the baby, for instance, she decided she wanted to take her nap there. We obliged, but after her nap we sat down and discussed what it means to be a big sister.
 I explained that yes, the baby will get special privileges like sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's bed or a cozy crib, drinking Mommy's milk, wearing cute little teeny tiny clothes that just won't fit a 3-year-old, etc. But there are also things that big sisters get to do that baby brothers can't! I've been keeping a running list with Hannah, so we can refer to it when life begins to feel unfair for her. Here are a few of the things she and I have named.

Baby brothers can't:
1. Eat ice cream
2. Run and jump and skip
3. Color pictures
4. Eat noodles (Hannah's favorite)
5. Change dresses as many times as they want
6. Call their aunts, uncles and cousins on the phone.
7. Go potty all by themselves
9. Walk
10. Sing all the words to "The Wizard of Oz."

Second, what started out as a small play group with preschool undertones has grown into a full blown preschool co-op with 6 moms and 11 kids! With the big move happening in November, this has been my first chance to host preschool. It just also happens to fall in the last month of my pregnancy! I wanted to make sure I hosted at least once before the baby comes, and what a tornado of joy it has been!
Beautiful puppet theater made by my talented sister in law
Celebrating 3 Kings Day
Dancing with puppets!

Third, I am teaching my final month of piano and voice lessons before taking two months of maternity leave. In December we had a small winter recital (only half of my students were able to attend), and though it was a small, intimate chamber recital held in my folks' living room, it took a lot of coordinating on everyone's part, and I am so happy with how it turned out. Music is such a gift, and I'm so grateful for students who are willing to share it.

Fourth, we are diving headfirst into the world of cloth diapering! We didn't really have this option with Hannah in Japan (at least from what I could tell), and now in America it seems we have too many options. After much research, asking around and deliberation, we (well, I) finally settled on a diapering system that will work for us, and I found a wonderful Etsy shop with the CUTEST cloth diapers I've ever seen. I mean, take a look at these beauties-for-baby's-booty!

Seriously, how can you NOT want to dress your baby's bum in one of these adorable prints?! The bottom three on the right are Happy Heiney's that I picked up at a consignment sale, only to find out later that it was one of my best friends consigning them (small world)! The others were made by Tabitha, a work-at-home-mom with amazing talent. Not only did I discover her wonderful Etsy shop KonstantKrafter while browsing Craigslist for diapers, but I learned that Tabitha lives right here in Leavenworth! I immediately contacted her and asked if there was a way for me to come see and feel her diapers. She had so many fabric options that I was getting overwhelmed making my choices. Tabitha enthusiastically replied and invited me into her home to check out the diapers in person, and the rest is history. With a generous supplement of size small Fuzzibuns diapers from my sister in law, I think we finally have enough diapers to cover our baby. 

Last but not least, I am still knitting and crocheting. :) Here is another shawlette (my third - I really like the pattern!) I made for a dear friend:

And a hot pink owl beanie (pattern from Inner Hooker) for a little one who outgrew her favorite hat:

Whew! This was just going to be a Yarn Along post to link up with Ginny at Small Things, Linda at Natural Suburbia and Donni at The Magic Onions, but it turned into so much more! This is my life in a nutshell right now - beautifully busy, messy and creative. I wouldn't have it any other way. A friend said to me recently, "this baby will slow you down from 100 mph to 1 mph." I'm looking forward to that slower pace, but until then I'll enjoy the chaos. :)