Monday, October 1, 2012

A Quiet Michaelmas

Michaelmas daisies and apples blend harvest time into the festival.
Public battleground, or coffee and and a show!

Most people have heard of Saint George and the Dragon, the story of England's patron saint. That legend is often the story we reflect on when we explain Michaelmas to young children. Essentially the festival is about defeating the dragon (lurking within and without). There are many better blogs that explain the significance of the Michaelmas celebration and some of them can be found here:

Since our town's Waldorf school is only in its second year, there is no older class to help dramatize the story of Archangel Michael defeating the dragon. We will have to wait a few years for that to happen, but over our few years of homeschooling we have celebrated Michaelmas in various ways. Last year, our co-op had a day at the arboretum full of verses, songs, and games. This year brought a different approach and I welcomed the flexibility to weave our own observance in between a teething baby's needs and naps, our Daddy's coming and going, and my own low energy level from a bit of a busier week than usual. Fairy Girl suggested a nature walk. I aimed to take that walk by 1:00pm, but we didn't leave the house until 3:00pm. That slight delay did cause some grumbling, but I never know how long it will take bread to rise and I wanted to get the dragon bread baked before we left. We left it on the counter to eat when we were home again.

It was a bright and dry day. It was also a bit breezy on the mountain but still comfortable for t-shirts. The added bonus of hiking on my friend's property was meeting her newborn after the hike.  But I digress. When I called ahead she mentioned moose out and about. That scared me just a bit, but having been recently bolstered by the stories of knights defeating dragons, I hiked on; but admittedly, talking louder than necessary. I had previously hiked this trail in a group with other mamas, so I guess I prefer people to wildlife...

Though the sky above was blue, looking out at the horizon it was smokey and the visibility was more limited than usual.  The dry month caused some fall colors to be more muted than usual and the air smelled dusty and aching for a rain. There is a seasonal spring/ stream I like to hike to but it was very dry when we got there. That made it a good turning point and time for a treat.  The kids asked about the dead standing trees and I explained how important snags are for wildlife habitat.  They decided they were high rise gnome homes.

How some gnomes get around the woods.

Feeling cleansed by some time out in nature, we headed home (after a few errands) and ate our dragon bread with some honey. We played some more bowling knights after rescuing the dragon ball from the errant path it took into the heating duct in the kitchen down into the playroom in the basement!  I then became aware of a battle reenactment going on in the living room and was happy to catch some video (that of course won't upload for me).

Stealthy dragons in years past.

Seven-headed beast from Revelation

I love this verse because I think it is a great one to teach the essence of Michaelmas to young children and enables their sense of righteousness and faith in what is good and true and beautiful.

We cuddled up later and watched the "Cave of the Yellow Dog," which is a nice slow moving docudrama about a small girl in modern Mongolia. Then this very tired mama, happy for the way the day went, put everybody to bed.  I had grateful thoughts about some very big dragons of my own from earlier in the year -that the battles they represented were resolved just in time for changing with the season. I can look into the dark winter months ahead and say."Brave and true I will be."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welcome Fall

Tonight we celebrated the autumnal equinox with our 4th annual fall potluck. Our group was smaller than usual because some mamas were very near their due dates and one just had her baby yesterday. But with our close crew of six couples and kiddos, we visited well past sunset.

I look forward to this potluck and through all the trials of raising little ones, I have somehow succeeded each time at pulling off some seasonal decor and bringing some food made with local ingredients. My kids look forward to this yearly mark as well.  It wasn't hard to convince them this morning to help me pick sunflowers from the garden. My son even remarked there were too many sunflowers.  But obviously, that's not possible.

I added a volunteer tomatillo (for their little lanterns) that I knew wouldn't develop enough before the frost and Michaelmas daisies.

I am excited to have discovered a volunteer elderberry on the east side of the house and added one of its two clusters with some hound's tongue for added contrast.

This Joe Pye weed had four sleeping bees on it when I  clipped it this morning for the arrangement.

After picking flowers, I went in the backyard and picked some more plums.  Our plums are small and tart, but still yummy.  I have dehydrated some, my sister made some into fruit leathers, and the kids eat them off the table, but still there are too many; even the chicken have grown sick of the fallen fruit. By the front driveway, our neighbors have a bigger and sweeter purple plum with yellow fresh that we can pick. So far, the flowers and fruit for tonight are straight from the yard and free!

A beautiful salsa garden harvest.

Then it was time to make some salsa, roasted beets, and some roasted potatoes for the potluck. I made salsa first because it was a good way to get rid of the fruit fly bait. I have never made salsa before but I had all the ingredients I needed, most of which came from my Dad's garden while he was away. Then roasted beets because, well because, we are just not a beet eating family yet.  I have lots of beets from my CSA cooler the last couple of weeks and thought tonight's potluck would be a good way to send those off.  Finally, the roasted potatoes were something I knew my own family would eat. There was a lot of chopping, nursing a baby, chopping, roasting, and getting baby to nap before assembling food for the potluck.

I snuck some zucchini in the salsa just to use another one up.

These potatoes had been in the fridge awhile (which worked out well for roasting texture), and I added carrot and apples with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, thyme, and rosemary, garlic salt and pepper.

Due to the uneven napping nature of my teething seven month old, these potatoes got stuck to the foil because I didn't have a chance to stir them up, and note to self, using the convection oven changes the time needed for roasting veggies!
I didn't take pictures of the beets, but I made this recipe: Roasted Beets with Balsamic Glaze.  For the beet-eaters at the potluck, they were a hit!

Three babies under seven months and two due in a week (remember there's only six couples here!)

As sunlight dwindled on the last summer's evening, conversation carried on and babies settled into warmer clothes and blankets. Finally, the apple candles burned out, and except for two more mechanical re-lightings so that eager candle-blower-outers could have their turn, it was dark and time to pack up. I am already hoping the sunflowers are as abundant as they were this time.  Here come sweaters, short days and long nights, colorful leaves, soup dinners and cozy reading. Happy Fall everyone!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day, Hooray!

A purchased bouquet for deer insurance (see below)
From the innocence of wearing flower crowns to the pagan Beltane celebrations, May Day traditions have always captured my imagination. Last year for Fairy Girl's Waldorf inspired class, I made a maypole  and dyed strips of muslin for the ribbons. Their instructor taught us this song as they danced.

Here's a branch of snowy May, a branch the fairies gave me.
Who would like to dance today, with the branch the fairies gave me?
Dance away, dance away, holding high the branch of May,
Dance away, dance away, holding high the branch of May!

Despite sick kiddos and tulip eating deer, Fairy Girl and I were still able to sneak away early this morning to deliver flowers in the neighborhood.  It's a cool day, in fact the thermometer read 40 F this morning as we picked flowers.  The gusty wind made it even colder and Fairy Girl mentioned numb fingers while picking. But even though the deer had indeed stole more flowers from the yard, we were still able to harvest some. Last year the tulips hadn't even bloomed by the first of May.

Grape hyacinth is always so cheerful

Pretzel did not like waiting while we picked flowers

We made one less drop off this year because I didn't have enough cans/ jars prepared, but under the circumstances I don't think anyone will hold it against us. I know in future years I will have more helpers, but it has been special to create this tradition with Fairy Girl.  When I went into her room at 6:30am this morning, she was awake in bed just waiting for the cue.

Sneaking up
Sometimes I hear rumors from the other adult in the family that maybe we celebrate too many festivals. The concern is for my stress level I guess.  But honestly, most simple festivals relieve stress.  I look forward to their observances.  I can't think of one that I would like to discontinue. Sometimes special days are the best reason to get up early with a cranky baby and do something beautiful. Hopefully, sleep will come in the afternoon!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring time out

Monday, April 23rd, was a wonderful, sunny Spring day. We finally had a "good" school lesson after adding a new baby and navigating Grant's cancer surgeries. The kids celebrated with bubbles out on the front lawn. I came out and sat on a blanket with Pretzel and we soaked it all in.

I love it when Boo wears this dress, a hand-me-down from her dear friend.  It epitomizes the essence of warm days and carefree play. This was the first time I let her wear it without a shirt and pants underneath. In my spare time I would study the pattern and recreate one for each day of the week. But like I said, in my spare time...

As I sat out there, I remember wondering if my sore throat was from all the pollen in the breeze. The progression of days showed that it was indeed a virus and Boo got it the worst. By Friday I was feeling better, but Pretzel and Boo had something and we went to the naturopath. The girls acted as if they weren't sick at all at the appointment (so much for trying to avoid an ER visit on the weekend by seeing your provider on Friday afternoon). Then Saturday came and little Boo had croup.

Just as I am writing this on Monday night, I had to pop up from my computer and comfort her during a coughing spell. Humidifiers in the bedroom, steam showers in the middle of the night, cough medicines, homeopathic meds, and herbal teas supported her, but I could tell she needed us to up the ante. Something about her cough brought back memories, so we pulled out the nebulizer she needed when she had croup at 10 months old.  We were out of the medicine though. This is where it's so wonderful to have a Family Nurse Practitioner to call on a Sunday night and a father-in-law who's a pharmacist.  Our NP called in the Rx and Papa picked it up.  After her first successful treatment, I was sure that we had just avoided the weekend ER visit. Thank you, Lord!

It's interesting to me that croup can have a genetic tendency. Grant had croup growing up and it seems our girls are prone to it as well. I am so thankful for the circle of providers we have in our town. I would hate to move and try to recreate the relationships we've formed and the trust we have in those who have watched our family grow. For my midwives, our chiropractor, our naturopath, and our nurse practitioner who does house calls, I am so grateful. I am also so thankful for the man I married who so tenderly gets up with his kids to turn the shower on in the middle of the night because he knows exactly how they feel.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day 2012

Watching, waiting...

Sorting varieties
So this was a special day. I have been waiting for nine years to do something very important. And I have kept some strange things in the freezer in order to do it.

Ready to jump in and help...
Today we planted the children's placentas, or as I explained to Boo, their baby buddies, the pillows they had while they grew inside Mama. Ever since I read about a tree planting ceremony, I wanted to do it.  It's just I didn't want to bury something so special under a tree that we would have to leave when we moved to another house. Hence, the freezer tactic. So now, nine years later, after our fourth and last child has been born and we live in a house I can't imagine ever moving from, the time came. Actually I wanted to do it last year.  I had the trees circled in a catalog. But it didn't happen.  Then this year it made even more sense to plant everyone's at the same time.

I ordered trees from Raintree Nursery.  I spoke with the most helpful person named Sue.  The call went like this:
"This is Sue, how can I help you."
"Hi I live in Spokane and I am a first time wannabe home orchardist and I need help picking out the right fruit trees." (this I said nervously, all in one breath run together)

One down, three to go.
Sue then gently took me through the process of matching cross pollination timing between varieties and selecting root stocks. This took two phone calls because Pretzel woke in the middle and asked for attention very loudly. When I finally completed the order, I couldn't contain my excitement. We were really going to plant fruit trees and the kids would all have their own tree to take care of over the years and eat from.

Fairy Girl's peach tree.
We had other very kind people help us when we planted the trees too. Nana and Papa came over just in time to see that we still didn't know where the trees were getting planted and that Grant and I were still "discussing" it. Bless them for their patience because we eventually agreed on a compromise and Papa took the liberty of doing all the digging. They are so good to us. With Grant's recovery requiring minimal use of his right arm, and with my total distraction by four energetic kiddos, we were glad to have extra hands and their experience. It's hard to describe how right it felt with the warm weather, blue sky and puffy white clouds, Grant's parents, happy children, and planting trees altogether. Everything felt connected and grounded in positive activity.
Youngest to oldest: Lapin Cherry, Pristine Apple,  Zestar Apple, Harken Peach
Before we planted each tree, I took out each child's placenta and buried it in the loose soil at the bottom of the hole. It felt so good to return to the soil something that had nourished my babies as they grew. It could only have been more complete if I had been returning them to soil that I had actually eaten food grown from while pregnant. Nevertheless, participating in the cycle of life and decay into life again was poignant. I hope the trees will be happy in their new soil and grow strong with abundant fruit just like the children to whom they belong.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A month old already...

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! *

How is it that our sweet newborn baby is already four weeks old?

Her birth came halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, just as the daylight became noticeably longer. As she grows we are beginning to discover her personality.  Her favorite hold is on daddy's arm like a football. She likes floating in the bath with mommy. Being a fourth child, she has no small warm up cry, only fidgeting and then full on wails to be heard over the din of her siblings. True to form she stepped up nursing to meet her three week growth spurt and now her shirts barely cover the roundness of her tummy. And like the longer days, her very blue eyes are open more to the world around her (just not in this picture).

She has grown into her name even though we often still call her Pretzel . We were shy to tell anyone the name we had chosen for her. It was still new to us because we had only discovered it the day before she was born. Since she came on Groundhog's Day/ Candlemas, I think it was only fitting that she had a Gaelic name. Zybeal is a version of Isabel, which is Hebrew, Spanish or English in origin, meaning consecrated or devoted to God. So in the end, we succeeded in finding a name that is Hebrew and passes for Irish and fits most of the other guidelines I blogged about previously. But we also succeeded again, ahem, in naming our kid something most people will mispronounce. So for that reason, we call her Zibby and that seems easy enough.

Another blessing to come from having Zibby is the blossoming of a lifetime bond between her and Selah. The oldest will hold the youngest anytime, in fact, even when you are enjoying holding the youngest and don't need relief. They are almost 9 years apart and though they won't be close playmates, their mutual admiration grows. These are the lessons of having a baby I am so glad to witness.

*by William Wordsworth from his Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

Saturday, February 25, 2012

She-Ra no more: Birth number four.

She’s beautiful, healthy, whole, and adored.  But mama just feels kind of old and tired now. As I rested in bed those first days and read magazines and nursed my newborn, my attention was suddenly stolen by ads for anti-aging balms and wrinkle creams. It dawned on me that I wasn’t a 25-year-old –first-time-mom any more and I had some experience showing up on my face. I wanted four children since the time I decided I wanted children at all. Having the last baby gives me a sense of closure and a sense that time has indeed caught up with me.
three sisters... but proud
As I look back on my four births, I have found a way to describe each of them.  My first was about the journey through the unknown and proving to naysayers that I could indeed do birth without pain relief.  It was also about discovering that birth is one part of the equation and recovering from birth and learning to breastfeed were also parts of the equation I wish somebody had mentioned.
intro to motherhood
Births two and three were about finding my groove, correcting misperceptions from my first birth, and doing it even better than before. When they were over, I felt like doing a touch down dance.  I felt powerful and undaunted.  I was high on the experiences.
two's company

then there were three
Yet birth number four was so different. I could feel the difference during my pregnancy. I had a lower tolerance for pain, less stamina, and a lot less to prove. When labor started, I was excited but worn out. When horse lips and blowing raspberries got me through other births, this one required the invention of whale-song (that my hubby heard for a few days afterward even though I wasn’t singing anymore). While my other births centered around and in a tub, this time the tub wasn’t the relief I wanted it to provide. Somethings were the same. My husband was amazing. Like a man in his element, he is the ultimate “dude-la”.  I always wonder how other women do it without a husband like mine. He remains my hero through all four births. My friend and doula, only a few weeks behind me in her own pregnancy, gave me the consistency I needed through this last birth.  Having been with me for births two through four, her presence gave me confidence and a sort of walking record of what helps me and what doesn’t. Still, with all this support, I was so crabby this time, so full of complaints and woe-is-me attitude.  All I can figure is that my body was done doing this, that my mind wasn’t in the game, and that I was glad it was the last time.
oldest and youngest
I wanted to say that I couldn’t do this. But just as I was about to utter, “I can’t do this anymore,” I had to stop myself and rephrase it.  Why? Because my lovely 9 year old daughter was witness to this birth. We have a saying in our house when the kids complain that they can’t do something, we always reply, “Kellers can, Kellers try.” So I said it was hard and I just wanted to rest. When I let my midwife check me and she found that I was “only” 5 cm dilated, I could have had a very demoralizing meltdown was it not for the history of birth number 3 in which I was “only” 6 cm dilated, but then pushed a baby out 20 minutes later. I am not sure exactly how much time it took between 5 cm and pushing number four out, but it was less than an hour. Less than a very long feeling hour, but still not exactly an average chart of dilation. Then she was here! Just like birth number 3, my doula had to fetch the midwife in time to catch. As much as I tried to savor the last time the gates of my body threw forth a life into this world, I was just plain tired. Don't get me wrong, I was also pleased and relieved.  I held my new daughter in great happiness and joy. I nursed her and she nursed greedily and again it was a throwback to my first attempts at nursing a newborn: it hurt! How could this be after my 9 years of breastfeeding experience? Now, three weeks later, it’s a non issue.
first time big sister
 When I look back, my last birth is a good birth in the catalog of births. I was surrounded with people I trust, and the outcome of a healthy mother and healthy baby was a success. As I regain my energy and my enthusiasm for the new normal in our home, I am delighted with my history as a birther, but also delighted its history. Thus, if wrinkle cream is all I need to “face” the future, I have no complaints. Finding time to apply a cream daily- well that’s the challenge, and in the end nowhere even close to a priority. Savoring my baby is my true impulse. Loving my family and its new shape and personality is my pleasure and life’s work. What a wonderful blessing it all is.

connect four