Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tessa in May into June

It is June in Fairbanks Alaska, and I have a baby, and we are all in good health and therefore; all is right in my world.

 Avery multi-tasking; making dinner and entertaining the baby.

Having a baby with two older children in the house has been one of the most rewarding experiences. There is always someone eager to hold her if I need a break as long as she is not overly tired and fussy. They do fight over her now and then so we have to allocate turns for who gets to entertain her when.

The garden was in by mid May - record early for me. I let the house get cluttered, cooked the most basic of meals and Dustin watched Tessa on weekend mornings for four weekends in a row. Now it is time to thin the carrots and start weeding and cutting the grass. The kid's garden's went in last as usual. Noah spontaneously decided he wanted a bean teepee and he built one on his own and it hasn't blown over yet so I think it may last the season.

 Noah built this bean teepee all on his own.

I'm not sure what is sweeter than a ten year old boy with his baby sister.  She just brings out all the sweetness in him.
Tessa in her happy place.

I love this picture of Tessa. It epitomizes her first twelve weeks of life; a thriving, chubby, happy baby surrounded by love, light and beauty. The fairy mobile was made by several moms at my blessingway. To me it represents all of the guardian angels in her life, her grandma, her auntie and my close friends who will be there to look out for her as she grows and blossoms into the girl and woman that she will become.

I don't have a lot of time to write these days but I'll try to share some more soon. Miss you guys!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tessa Brynn arrives

 Triumphant baby and mom by candlelight.

Triumph at last! Our baby entered the world Saturday at 7a.m. at home and in our tub as was hoped for. I've been thinking that I might get around to sharing her birth story but I'll try and give the condensed version for now. Friday night Avery went for a sleepover at her grandparents and Dustin and Noah stayed up playing Dungeons and Dragons. So I also stayed up past my normal bedtime knitting and re-watching the first season of Downton Abbey. I finally got into bed at 11p.m and was noticing the familiar contractions that I've been experiencing for the past few weeks. However, as I lay there trying to fall asleep they began to take on a slightly deeper and stronger tone. Thinking that this may be it, I got up and walked around and sure enough the contractions progressed. After another hour to make sure it wasn't another case of pre-labor, I had Dustin call the midwives to give them a heads up.

From 1 to 2 a.m. my labor continued to progress and I had Dustin call the midwives back to have them come over. I think they showed up around 2:30 or so. By then I was having strong contractions but they were 4 or 5 minutes apart and I wanted to speed things up and be done with it all already so I asked Vanessa if she could pop my water. As I was already about 8 cm dilated, she was willing to do so and sure enough my contractions picked up the pace to just a minute or two apart. I continued to labor, mostly hanging on Dustin until around 6 a.m. I hopped in the tub once for quick relief and then got back out and cooled off. I started having the urge to push, so I got back in to the tub and was very relieved to feel her head crowning soon after. I took my time and let my body do the work, doing very little intentional pushing myself until I actually thought I could get the whole head out in one push, upon which I exclaimed, "Yes! That's the best feeling ever!" and flipping over to my back revealed her head to all, who hadn't realized I was that close. From there, all was fairly easy and I was able to finally hold our baby in my arms for the first time, which actually is the best feeling ever and one of the most precious moments in my life.

She was alert and calm. She hardly uttered a squawk, but just looked around at all of us for several minutes. We were surprised by her size and her abundance of dark hair. We woke up Noah as soon as I was holding her in my arms. He got to see his dad cut the cord. We called my folks to let them know to bring Avery home. Then we all hopped into bed together.

 Noah, taking a cue from mom and dad and having some skin to skin time shortly after birth.

Avery holding her sister.

Smiling and cooing at four days old.

 Tessa Brynn; 9 lbs. !! 21 in. head circumference 14 1/2 cm. !!
and look at all those rolls and all that hair!!

In my pouch.

So it has been one of the very best weeks of my life; laying around holding my baby, nursing, changing lots of diapers, experiencing explosive poo-cidents, and staying off my feet as much as possible. Dustin stayed home and has been taking care of all of us and feeding us well. 

I feel too well rested to have a one week old. Last night we fell asleep by 9p.m., nursed briefly at midnight, nursed briefly at 2 or 3 a.m. were up for an hour from 4-5 nursing and diaper changing and then back to sleep until 8 something this morning. 

Despite giving birth to a nine pound baby six days ago, I am feeling remarkably well. I attribute a significant portion of how quickly I've recovered to some of the essential and herbal preparations I made as well as taking the homeopathic remedy arnica, during labor and after. I'll review some of the things I made and took in another post.

Avery has picked up her knitting. She and Noah are each knitting a square for a baby quilt for Tessa. So, I've got to pay close attention to make sure she doesn't drop any stitches or do anything weird. So for now, goodbye.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trying for patience

I am four days past my due date and I can not say that I am feeling content and patient. I can say that the kids and I have enjoyed most of these quiet pre-baby bubble days. We have relaxed our school schedule, with my goal being for us all to read together, for the kids to have reading time, to play educational games together like Quiddler, and we have just been starting a typing curriculum that I hope to do for a short period a few times a week. My favorite part of our day has been first thing in the morning when we sit on the couch and read together. We just finished The Little Princess, which we all enjoyed immensely. Tomorrow morning we start The Secret Garden.

We have had unseasonably warm weather so we've been able to get out daily. The kids have been sledding on our driveway while I just hike back and forth until I feel the need to come in and lay down. I've been enjoying a small amount of yoga followed by daily afternoon naps which are just lovely and another highlight of these late winter afternoons. For the most part we have been enjoying and trying to make the most of this pre-baby calm. The sun is returning and filling our house with light.

The last couple days we've been getting a little restless. I'm ready for baby. The rest of the family is ready for baby. We have had a break from commitments and get togethers but the kids are starting to miss their friends. It has been nice not to be battling any new colds since our outside contact has been limited. Today we found ourselves looking for reasons to go to town and at the same time eyeing every door knob with suspicion - it is just that time of year where everyone has either been traveling and bringing back bugs or they are low on vitamin D and everyone is getting anything that is going around. So while we are getting restless and the kids would like to see their friends, we are simultaneously wanting to keep our distance so that we remain in good health for this special time.

I am trying to be patient but am only having mixed success. I had a night of pre-labor a couple weeks ago that was hard to bounce back from as it got me all excited and ready for labor and baby. Ever since then I have been having contractions off and on again which are quite a tease. I prefer to tackle challenges head on and waiting for them to come to me is not a strength of mine. So, these days I am very distracted, always half paying attention to the babe stirring in my belly and what she is or is not doing. I have no interest in distracting myself with books which is quite unusual for me. I can't seem to really get into this latest knitting project that I've started but I don't want to start something else. I know we should be getting in as much crafting and school as possible but I'm so over trying to have productive days. I want the baby to come so I have a good excuse to just lay around and not have to think about what I should be doing.

Last week Noah brought in a Willow tree that is budding out and we decorated it with past year's decorated blown out eggs. We planted rye grass around the base, as that is what I had in the pantry- not keeping wheat berries around anymore and never having used up all the rye berries. The cat thinks the new soil and indoor grass is for him, so we'll see if we can keep it looking nice. Avery and I wet felted some plastic eggs with plans to possibly embroider on some. A couple of them I cut open and hung from the tree. They aren't quite how I envisioned and need some more work, but one has two Amanita mushrooms inside and the other has a bird nest with eggs. We've decided for our hard boiled eggs this year we are going to try pressing fresh flowers on them and wrapping them with onion peels. The kids also want to paint some blown out eggs, which we could do sooner than later. I've been trying to get motivated to snip some willows and make a few woven baskets for decoration.

 I have to say that I am at war with myself, knowing that I need to relax and enjoy these final days of pregnancy and at the same time put an end to this waiting with some Cohosh blend tincture. It is not even that I am terribly uncomfortable or anything. I love being pregnant and with few exceptions feel pretty good still. I'm just not good at waiting for things I'm really excited about. I know that really I just need to distract myself and allow this baby to come when she is ready. I've been trying to think of what I could get excited about and today I realized that it is time to buy some seedling mix. It's a little early for here but I could start some herbs and flowers which would occupy me for one afternoon and making nests would occupy my hands and mind for another. I've been wrapping my belly for support but I can't stand in the kitchen as long as I'd like to make all the foods I'm inspired to make. So, I'm having to budget my kitchen time to make sure I have enough energy for dinner at the end of the day.

Wishing and trying for patience here. Thanks to everyone for all the good wishes and kind words.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Preparing for Birth

Is there anything so awe inspiring, so amazing and yet so common?
I'll never forget the empowering feeling I had after my first child's birth. I felt like I was just amazing, that I had created and gave birth to such a perfect being. I felt like if I could do that, I could do anything I set my mind to. In the weeks following his birth I started noticing all the moms and babies everywhere, especially at the store, babies and toddlers and kids everywhere. I had an epiphany realizing that almost half our population experiences this phenomenon at least once in their lives at that every person I see comes into the world in this manner.

My two children's births were like night and day. Noah's birth was long and hard. It was a good thing that I wasn't at a hospital or I probably wouldn't have been given the chance to have him naturally. He was large, two weeks overdue, not in the right position and he came out hand first, trying to claw his way out. I tore and needed stitches in three places, and I crawled around the house for a couple weeks, unable to stand upright due to the pressure on my stitches. Despite how beat up my body was, I was triumphant.

By the time I gave birth to Avery, I had learned not to have expectations. With her birth I was smiling all the way up until it came time to push her out. She was two weeks early, smaller and my body had already been through the process once. I thought that labor probably couldn't get much easier than Avery's. Having said that, labor is named aptly. It is hard work. It can be intense and painful and can seem never-ending. It is easy to want to just skip past all the work and wish we could wake up with a new baby in our arms.

At my blessing way, a mom wished that I would have beautiful moments during my labor. I have been dwelling on this wish. How many women in our society have or look forward to beautiful moments during labor? What a foreign concept? Doesn't that almost sound like an oxymoron? Well, I had beautiful moments during Avery's birth. There were the moments that Dustin and I stood, embraced in front of the crackling wood stove after he had built up the morning fire. I remember him lighting candles in the bathroom window as I looked out at the fully golden Birch trees. I sat in our bathroom stall and moved back and forth moving my body however seemed natural. When the second midwife showed up I had the satisfaction of hearing the first midwife tell her it wasn't going to be long. And all through that time I smiled and glowed, knowing that my body knew what it was doing and that everything was happening as it should. 

I pulled out a private photograph album that Dustin and I have with the gorier pictures of both our children's birth. We looked at it last night even though I wasn't sure that I wanted to. The pictures are hard to look at, but they are testimony of my strength and the inner power and inherent ability that all women have; to give birth naturally using the power of their bodies and without the interference of drugs and surgery.

I have been physically preparing with cleaning and cooking. I have raspberry tea frozen in chips in the freezer for sucking on and frozen perineum pads frozen and read for soothing application. The diaper bag is full of cleaned diapers and rags. Baby clothes, hats and slippers are cleaned and stored away where the cat can't lay on them and dust can't settle. 

Even more importantly, I am feeling mentally prepared. Less prone to panicking then I was a week ago. I have been mentally preparing for weeks as I think of what is to come. One of the things I really wanted to do was this chalkboard drawing I'd been envisioning. The verse is the beginning of the song, "We are one"; "For each child that's born, a morning star rises and sings to the universe who we are."

I am surrounding myself with beautiful words and images for a beautiful birth. When it comes to birth, it is hard to have pre-conceived notions or plans set in stone. But one can set positive intentions and visualize the birth and outcome they desire.

My wish for myself today as well as all other mamas getting ready to give birth is that we may all have beautiful moments as we labor to bring our babies into this world.

My Blessingway

I was blessed this weekend with my first Blessingway; traditionally a Navajo ceremony to prepare and bless a mother and her baby before birth. As with many traditions and ceremonies, I'm sure this one has evolved and become vastly different from what it once was. I had never heard of a Blessingway until I had the honor to attend my friend Sami's a couple years ago. When I was pregnant with Noah I hadn't had a Baby shower because I couldn't get over the stereotypical baby shower with streamers, pink cake and obligated gifts; it just so wasn't me. With Avery a small group of friends hosted a baby shower for me and at the time I needed a special afternoon with girlfriends and it was much appreciated. A Blessingway goes beyond a baby shower in that it takes on a more spiritual and sacred aspect. There are soul searched words spoken and heart felt tears shed. Here are some pictures from my first and most likely last Blessingway.

 My birth dream catcher with a bead holding intentions and dreams for me and the babe, from each thoughtful mama.

Hand knit baby blanket, made by the mama's and young girls in my family community.

My sister-in-law, and her daughter Petra; who will be just nine months older than this baby girl.

 Everyone made a wool Fairy/Angel for a mobile to hang above the cradle.
Avery and I each made one together the next day.

Birth Alter with stones, plants and birth statues brought for loan by friends.

One of my midwives happens to be an artist. So, I got my first Henna Belly tattoo!

 I have never had a henna tattoo. But I was told to leave on the paste until just before going to bed and then scratch or rub it off with coconut oil. This lighter brown design is left behind to last a week or two.

 Visiting and eating, crafting and singing, sharing birth stories and blessing this birth to come, gifting and receiving; I have been floating on a cloud for the last couple days. I feel so thankful to be bringing a baby into this world with so much love and support to welcome her.

Knits for baby and crafting with Avery

 Avery, proudly hanging her Mandala sun catcher in the window.

We have been so focused on math and language arts for school, that we haven't made as much time for the fun stuff this winter. Avery loves to craft and I love crafting with her. So one of my goals for the beginning of this month was to start saving some energy for crafting in the afternoons. Often by the time we've finished our school day and cleaned up from a late lunch, it is time to start dinner and there is no time or energy left for crafting. We finally got a few fun projects in though.

To celebrate the return of the sun (literally) to our home, we made window crafts that would look special in our south facing windows. First we made folded paper flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and a sun, that were inspired by another blog link we found on pinterest. In the second window we made three mandala type sun catchers using embroidery hoops and dried and pressed flowers and leaves - also inspired by another blogger. Avery and I each made one and then we made one together, which we both agree is the prettiest. Both of these crafts I would readily do again, or expand on. But for now, I am happy to have some pretty things in our south facing windows. And here are the links in case you are interested in some similar crafts;

Then Avery had two birthday parties to go to in the last couple weeks and we came up with crowns and wands. I came across a genius idea that I wish someone had shared with me two or three years ago when my kids first started needle felting; which is to fill cookie cutters with the wool and felt them inside the cookie cutter. It made it a lot easier for Avery to do most of the work and all I did was clean up the edges a bit when she was almost done. I also braided the band part using wool roving. Dustin cut a drift wood branch for the wand and he and Avery attached the wool felted star and beads to the end using wire. It was a fairly simple and easy project for all of us. For the second gift Avery felted flowers and leaves for the crown and a flower for the end of the wand. Here is the link to the blog that gave us this great idea; she posts more detailed instructions and a lot more pictures;

Here is a baby cardigan I finished. It is called "In Three's baby Cardigan" I believe. It is one of the few patterns I've bought on Revelry. Here I made it in a Malabrigo wool blend. I've almost finished a second one using a coral pink silk wool blend from String Theory that I bought on vacation in Blue Hill Maine.

Sartje's booties - free on ravelry

Here is my most recent pair of baby booties I made, after the first pair seemed like they might be too small to even fit a newborn's feet. I wanted to have a matching pair of pink slippers and hat for first baby pictures. Still need to take pictures of the two pink hats I made. I'm coming to the end of my knitting frenzy. I'm not lacking in ideas for things I'd like to make my family, only the motivation and initiation to accomplish anything more.

What crafts are you making on these late winter days?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Does your cold weather chicken coop need a heat lamp?

Picture of our chickens today, outside at about ten degrees above zero.

"Do we need a heat lamp for our chicken coop?" I get asked this question often, and there isn't an easy "yes" or "no" answer, as there are a lot of variables to take into consideration, most importantly; your climate, how well insulated your coop is, how big it is, and how many chickens you have.

First, the Fairbanks area ranges from zone 1 to 3, due to micro climates and a weather inversion that traps colder air in the low land. On our hill I believe we are in zone 3 territory. This winter we are experiencing warmer temperatures than normal, mostly 0-20 above zero Fahrenheit. But some winters we see a good deal of 0-20 below zero as well. We usually only get a few days colder than that here on the hills. We do not use a heat lamp for our chickens, although at times in the past we have used one on a timer when we had a more spacious and less insulated coop. For the last two years (out of 8 total winters with layers), we have noticed that our chickens are happier in our smaller coop that is dug into the side of a hill, framed out and well insulated with one narrow door in the front. The ceiling is probably around 7 feet from dirt to ceiling in the summer, but we let the deep pack bedding build up and currently there is probably only five and a half feet from floor to ceiling. The dimensions of our coop are 7x9 feet, giving us 63 square feet of floor space. We have twenty layers and a rooster, which is the limit for this small coop. It works out to only three square feet per bird which is less than the recommended four square feet per bird. Having lots of places to roost and a covered and sheltered outside area with straw on the ground, helps make the most of our small indoor space. We run a forty watt bulb around the clock because I haven't gotten around to putting it on a timer, and the chickens seem to do fine. We also use an electric heater for the metal galvanized water container. The low watt bulb and electric water heater combined are just a fraction of what we use to pay when we had a heat lamp on a timer. 

The biggest question I would ask you is "How cold does your coop get without a heat lamp?" If your answer is below 20 degrees F,  on a regular basis, you will want to consider some different options, which need not be exclusive to buying and running a heat lamp on a regular basis. Our coop stays above freezing without a heat lamp and our chickens are fairly happy considering that they've put up with several months of a dark cold winter and limited indoor space already. I do believe that your layers will do the best for you if their coop temperatures are higher than the number I've given. I think low forties is an ideal coop temperature for our climate. That way they don't get so climatized to warm temperatures that they don't want to go outside when it is 20F. Nor is their coop so warm that it is humid and real stinky, which can cause respiratory problems. So, wherever you are, think about the difference in your coop and outdoor temperature. Obviously you don't want it so extreme that your chickens don't want to get outside for fresh air. Our chickens go outside daily for at least a few hours, unless it is below zero, in which case I leave them closed in with extra kitchen scraps.

As far as coop temperature goes, chickens can tolerate lower temperatures than this. However, our priority as livestock owners is to see that our animals have their basic needs met; clean water, proper food resulting in good weight and health, and the correct living quarters - which encompasses coop size/chicken numbers, artificial or natural light, indoor air temperature, access to the outdoors and fresh bedding. If all of these conditions are met, than your chickens, whether they live in a zone 1 or zone 5 climate, should be happy. I consider my chickens happy this time of year if they are all upright and alert, eating well, rushing outside to get their daily scraps, they all have good plumage without any (or much) pecking and are laying well. If you have older birds, it may be hard to tell if they are laying well, as their production starts to drop off. If I have a mix of young and old birds I'd like to see half as many eggs as there are chickens a day. Right now a quarter of our flock are two year olds. We are getting 12-16 eggs a day from twenty hens. Your hens may be able to survive some pretty cold temperatures, but they will lay better and be healthier looking birds, less prone to sickness if you can keep their coop above freezing.

One of my more raggedy looking, timid Welsummers above and our rooster behind, who ironically has been getting his tail feathers pecked out by the more dominant females.

If you have a well insulated chicken coop that is the right size for your birds you shouldn't need a heat lamp. You may need an electric heater for your galvanized metal waterer and this way your birds always have access to water. An electric heater, while more expensive initially, will be far less expensive to run than a heat lamp. All coops in areas where there is less than twelve hours of daylight need a source of artificial light in order for the hens to continue laying well in the winter. Fourteen hours of light is recommended, and this light can and usually does provide some heat, but does not have to be near as expensive as running a heat lamp. A 40 watt bulb for 14 hours a day makes way more sense than feeding chickens all winter and hardly getting any eggs. Running a low watt bulb will produce some heat as will your electric water heater. Another source of heat, not to be underestimated, is the body heat that the birds produce themselves. In addition, if you are able to let bedding build up and begin to compost, while weekly adding more fresh bedding to the top, the ground will stay thawed and will produce it's own heat. Now, I realize that if you have a traditional wood floored barn, this might not be the way to go. But this is a reason that I am a fan of dirt floors for goat housing and chicken coops. After spending many nights sitting on the floor of our goat barn waiting for goats to kid and soaking up the warmth coming from the composting bedding, I am sold on deep pack bedding practices.

I have a friend whose chicken coop is dug into the ground, and a fine example of a subterranean earth dwelling. Her chickens, goats and rabbits live in here together year round. If she has any problems, I would guess that it might have to do more with humidity issues than the temperatures ever running too cold for the animals. The chicken coop that we use in the winter is about 7x9 feet and is dug into a hillside. It is framed out with insulation and a narrow door on the front. My husband says that the insulation for the coop is R 38.  A well insulated coop is really the way to go. If your coop lacks in thickly insulated walls, you could try surrounding the inside walls with straw bales, or if you don't have room inside, you could build them up around the outside. Make sure you have enough chickens to heat your coop. A general rule of thumb is four square feet per chicken. I think that in cold climates, you want at least this many birds to heat your space. And hopefully you don't have really high ceilings in your coop, because a lot of heat is wasted this way. I'd consider building a drop ceiling in the coop and storing straw bales above, if I had a tall chicken coop. Electricity is expensive! So, if all else fails and your coop is still too cold, then and only then would I consider using a heat lamp and I would put it on at timer to come on during the coldest hours of the night. You can get a red bulb if you don't want to disturb their sleep/laying cycle. Buy a cheap timer and a thermostat so you can keep track of the temperature lows and highs. Have your lower watt light bulb still come on for fourteen hours of daylight. 

So there are a lot of other options to warming up your coop than a heat lamp. If you do use a heat lamp, put it on a timer and save yourself some money. We use a heat lamp for brooding chicks in the spring and that is about it. If you design your coop well and it is well insulated with appropriate numbers, you should not need to run a heat lamp throughout the winter even in the coldest climates.

Best wishes to you and your chickens. Please let me know if I've forgotten to touch on any key important details or if you have any questions regarding this post or my chickens. And as always, I enjoy hearing other's experiences and opinions and I will readily share them.