Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Color Of Winter

"The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination."
-Terri Guillemets

The hoarfrost is even thicker today. I hiked up to the hill top, huffing and puffing, Rafael huddled warmly into his carrier as usual. I am so greedy when it comes to photographs. The strong desire to capture beauty with my camera lens gets me itchy and desperate to go out into the world. I don't want to miss anything. Some people collect baseball cards or shoes. I collect images.

I read a quote, "Having a camera does not make you a photographer," and it's true, I'm not a photographer. But I love taking photographs. Love it.

See pictures of today's striking hoarfrost on the phenologist. It was so beautiful that I didn't feel the cold.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hoarfrost Over A Quiet Village

Last night on an evening walk I could have sworn I smelled snow. That cold, sweet, clean smell.

There was no snow, but all the tree tops were heavy and white with hoarfrost early this morning. I bundled Rafael up into his carrier and set out down the village street which leads to the woods. Houses had blue smoke seeping out of their chimneys. It was very still and we were the only ones out, though there was a group of crows flying low in the grey sky.

Tiny kernels of ice floated on the air which could have been mistaken for snow, but were really only bits of frost sifting down from the branches. Raffi observed everything with his inquisitive eyes, but was still sleepy, and soon closed them, napping while I stopped to take photographs. He looked so cozy, like a little chipmunk cuddled in for winter.

I took a few pictures in the icy forest, which you can see over at the phenologist.

I would say Winter has begun here in this peaceful little corner of the world. Soon Rafael will see his first snow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wreath Making at the Farmhouse

My friend Daniela, whose baby girl was born four days after Rafael, invited me over to her farmhouse for a get together to make advent wreaths. She lives with her husband and daughter in an old farmhouse at the end of a dirt road outside of town. It's so rural that no snow plows go out there, and her husband has to clear the way with a tractor when it snows.

Us women gathered around a huge old table, our babies and children piled on the couch and crawling on the floor, while the men headed out to cut evergreen branches, rose hips, and berries.

Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, you light one candle. An additional candle is lit during each subsequent week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit.

That familiar spicy fragrance of cut evergreens filled the room when the men carried in arm loads of branches; the smell of the Christmas season.

We chatted, wound branches with wire around straw rings, breastfed our babies, played with toddlers, ate cookies, drank tea, and decorated our wreaths with nuts, berries, pine cones and candles.

Certainly, one of the most wonderful parts of holidays are the preparations!

Rafael napped and then played with some other babies (meaning he lay next to them and sucked on his hand). He was so peaceful and content. I can't help but feel very proud of him every time I look at his sweet face.

I chose to use the classic colors of the holiday: red, white, and green, with some browns mixed in for a touch of rustic country charm.

I love how it turned out and hope Daniela will hold this gathering again next year. There's just something about a group of women, sharing conversation and using their hands to make things together, that feels very right to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November on the Little Ranch

On Rafael's 2 month birthday, I walked with him to the little ranch on the edge of town where there are sheep and ponies. I know he is still too young to really notice them, but going there with him made me look forward to the many times we will visit the animals in coming years with carrots and oats in hand.

I get swept up in anticipation and filled with happiness when I imagine all the things we will share, all the things I will show him, and the fun he'll have.

Thank you for all the congratulations; there are so many moments each day when I can hardly believe my luck to have been blessed with this amazing little being.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2 Months Old!

Here he is. My little boy. My sweet son. Rafael is two months old already!

He is such a wonderful baby. He smiles so much, and makes me warm inside just by looking at me. We talk to each other without words, and I can tell, he likes me too. He lets me know with giggles and gurgles, and by showing me how much he needs me near.

When he takes a nap, at first I'm happy, because I can eat something, refill my water glass, do a load of laundry, and blog a little. But after a while I start to miss him. REALLY miss him. I let him continue sleeping, but when he finally stirs, I go to his crib, lean over, say hello, and he looks into my eyes, and then gives me the biggest, sunniest grin. We both laugh a little, and I help him stretch his arms and legs, and give him a nice tummy rub, all the while smiling and laughing with him. And then, after a little while, he lets me know it's enough, and that it's time for him to eat. With that first little whine in his voice, my mother-heart leaps, knowing I am needed, and knowing I can give him what he needs.

He likes to lie on his changing table, looking up at the little fat butterfly that hangs there. He thinks that butterfly is so hilarious. He'll just grin up at it and start cracking up. If he gets really fussy I bring him there and he'll stop crying right away. And if I need to brush my teeth and get dressed, his Papa stands there with him and they have a good laugh together.

Raffi loves bath time. When I place him in the water, first he stares at me with wide eyes and is very still. Then, suddenly, he smiles, and starts kicking his feet around wildly and making an 'O' with his mouth. He doesn't, however, like being taken out of the bath. But I wrap him up warm, put a fresh diaper on him, and nurse him right away, breathing in the lovely scent of fresh clean baby boy.

He's a great sleeper. He usually sleeps from 11 until 4 or 5 in the morning straight through, pressed up against my body. His favorite position is with his head buried between my arm and chest. I can't imagine him sleeping somewhere else...our night cuddles are the best!

When he gets fussy because he's hungry, he turns red and looks so poor. But as soon as I sit cross-legged with the nursing pillow on my lap, and start to take out my breast, he looks at me with pursed lips and kicks his legs around; he knows what's coming.

He weighs 5 kilos now, and is healthy as can be.

Here are 10 things I have learned thus far:

1. Don't get attached to any sort of eating and sleeping schedule. Even if it holds for a few days or  weeks, it can suddenly change. Be flexible!

2. Instead of constantly trying to locate a cloth diaper for burping and spit up, have baby wear a bib around his neck. It sounds obvious, but I always considered bibs to be for older babies who are already on solids. I'm so glad I discovered how handy they can be for nursing/bottle fed babes!

3. Watch for the first subtle signals of hunger or boredom; knowing these and acting quickly will save you from a 'screaming baby situation.'

4. Learn quickly who to talk to about what. While it's nice to exchange words with other mothers, or doctors, midwives, and parents, it can get confusing and overwhelming, because everyone seems to have conflicting opinions on things. I've learned now that, when most people ask how Rafael or I am doing, I should just answer that everything is going great (which is true). I only get into the little details of small challenges or problems with people I can trust to not be upset if I don't take their advice, and who are open to opinions other than their own.

5. Don't get stressed about picking up the phone when it rings, answering emails right away, or getting to an appointment on time. People will understand. And if they don't, that's their problem. I've realized that being in a hurry is a choice.

6. Take a lot of photographs and home videos. People aren't kidding when they say 'They grow up so fast!' Also, put the age of the baby in the title of the picture or video.

7. Prioritize. I had all these ideas in my head before Rafael was born: him in an adorable costume for his first Halloween, a family photo shoot for Christmas cards, and being a well-dressed, well-groomed, skinny Mom. None of these things has happened, and I'm OK with that. Those things aren't priorities right now; eating and drinking enough for my energy and milk supply, getting lots of body and eye contact with Raffi, giving the dogs attention when I can, and spending time talking and laughing with my husband....those are my real priorities.

8. Sometimes when your baby is fussing, the solution is so simple. Change his position, hold him, or just smile at him and talk to him. For some reason I am still always surprised when it becomes clear that all that he was missing in that moment was love and attention. Your baby needs more than just nourishment. Bonding and connecting with your baby is really important, too.

9. That having been said, giving your baby space and time to just explore his surroundings with his eyes and to just be is also important. I try to let him sit quietly and observe for as long as he wants to. He lets me know when he wants company again.

10. Find the right balance between 'Humble First Time Mom' and 'Lion Mama.' The humility part comes in when you have to admit that the way you've been doing something is not right and needs to be changed. When you need to listen to advice and realize that other people may know better than you about certain things, because they have more experience. Listen to their advice and take it as help, not as criticism towards you as a mother. Lion Mama comes in when you need to listen to your gut and stick to your guns. FINDING THIS BALANCE IS THE MOST CHALLENGING THING FOR ME and I will probably be working on it for a while.

It has been such an amazing time so far. And I keep thinking about the many things ahead, all the growth and changes, for both Raffi and us, and just feel so incredibly blessed.

I am so grateful for Rafael's life, for his health, and for his happiness!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin Ravioli With Bacon Cream Sauce

While my mother was visiting in October, she took some leftover cooked noodles and threw them together with warm bacon and topfen, which is an austrian dairy product that is something like a fusion of cream cheese, sour cream, and cottage cheese. The result was delicious. She told me that she had based the impromptu dish on a Hungarian recipe from her childhood called Túrós Tészta. She remembered it being a side dish to fish, but it was certainly filling and satisfying enough on its own.

Traditionally the recipe calls for egg noodles, but when I saw a package of fresh pumpkin ravioli at the market a light bulb went off. Pumpkin, sour cream, bacon, and a cold autumn day. The perfect combination.

There are a few fantastic things about this meal: it's incredibly quick, very scrumptious, filling, comforting, and very versatile. My mom used leftover pasta, I used ravioli, and you can basically substitute any kind of noodle, from tortellini to gnocchi, or stick with the classic flat egg noodle.

Click on the Túrós Tészta link above for the Hungarian version, or follow mine. Either way, you will love the creamy, tasty result. 

Pumpkin Ravioli with Bacon Cream Sauce

1 package fresh pumpkin ravioli (or make your own if you're up for it)
Around 8 slices of smokey bacon, diced into small pieces
1 Tablespoon butter
2 cups sour cream 
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives for garnish

Cook the ravioli and drain.
Fry up the butter and bacon bits in a pan until bacon is glassy.
Remove the pan from the stove top.
Toss ravioli in the pan with the bacon.
Add 2/3 of your sour cream and toss quickly, just long enough to warm up the sour cream.
Divide onto serving dishes, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, add a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with chopped chives.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Beautiful Fall Weekend

Kiki goes leaf crazy this time of year. She is a leaf chaser extraordinaire! Witnessing the excitement she feels dashing after leaves would fill anyone with joy; her happiness is very infectious!

We spent the most lovely hours of the weekend hiking in the woods, soaking up the final days of foliage. Sure enough, yesterday brought winds which sent the last of the leaves down.

This is a handmade bird feeder that stands in the middle of the woods. It's a heart warming thought that there are other people who love the birds as much as I do.

Someone, I wish I knew who, makes these stick 'teepees' all around the forest. This time they covered one with fallen leaves. So lovely!

Raffi loves our walks. He usually keeps his eyes wide open for the way up into the forest, and then naps for the way back. We keep each other nice and toasty.

Ramon giving the dogs water. (And Kiki smiling...I know one of you mentioned her looking 'sad,' but that's just the way Cavaliers usually look. Here's proof that she's doing well!)

Rafael, 7 weeks old. He'll be 2 months next Tuesday. My bundle of love.

P.S. I thought I would let you know that I've finally followed my passion for nature and photography and have created a new blog dedicated solely to my nature photographs. May All Seasons Be Sweet To Thee will remain my personal blog, where I share my thoughts and pictures of my life and family. But I have always wanted a collection of my nature photography, all in one place. So, I've begun The Phenologist. Please don't feel obligated to follow both of my blogs; I just wanted to welcome anyone who is in love with nature and seasons like I am to visit The Phenologist, a place dedicated purely to celebrating the beauty of wildlife.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Misty Autumn Morning and An Encounter With The Mysterious Phenologist

It was a cold, misty morning. I bundled up with Raffi and we set out into the deep russet red of the November woods, camera in hand, hoping to capture the last firey colors before they blow away. Autumn is so short and precious...blink twice and you might miss it.

My heart was pounding as we entered the forest. Surely, this is the absolute height of color for the year. Copper leaves spilled everywhere, fluttering and spinning through the air.

We came to the hunter's lookout that was put up in the summer.

Behind it, thick fog curling around tree tops.

The little wild daisies on the roadside were a pale contrast to all the deep vivid colors. They were wilting and wet with dew, but still holding on.

Sometimes, when I'm leaning close to take a picture of brittle weeds and brush, I wonder if anyone else who walks by thinks they are pretty like I do.

And did anyone else notice the charm of this cluster of inky mushrooms?

It was impossible to avoid the wet muck of these tire tracks, glistening with puddles full of leaves. But who can bother caring about muddy shoes when the world looks like this?

Raffi was asleep by now in his carrier, his hands folded neatly and his chest rising and falling against mine. I was filled with happiness, realizing that I was finally doing it...I was finally sharing this season with my very own child. I have longed for this for so many years!

I continued down the path, the tall trees reaching into the mist on either side. The only sound was my sneakers crunching in the leaves.

We passed the skinny trees, as I call them...they look odd and interesting in every season, but especially now, so bare, like a bunch of matchsticks someone shoved into the ground.

And somewhere along the way, I spotted him. The phenologist. Walking down the path, his hands behind his back, the faint sweet scent of pipe tobacco smoke trailing behind him.

He walked slowly, taking in the colors, noticing the wilting daisies, the roadside weeds, and the inky mushrooms, just like me.

Or...was it just an old man?

In my imagination, he is the phenologist. Noticing all the little seasonal changes. Jotting down careful notes in a little book that is falling apart with age. Drawing sketches of plants and insects. Taking photographs of the first green spears of wild garlic in March and stopping in his tracks to listen to the crow's lonely caw in December.

As we stepped out of the forest, I turned back to look at the red tree tops, and thought of the phenologist, whose heart is one with mine.


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