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I am Zane Kathryne Schwaiger, sharing life with my husband, Je˜ rey, mothering our two beautiful daughters, and blogging at ‘amabellen’ when time allows. I am also a very part-time freelance writer and editor, working for various individuals and organizations across the country. Our family is ever grateful to live within view of Lake Michigan.



Za n e K a th r yne Schw aig er

Amabel and Ellen keep me occupied and inspired every day, and I blog here mainly to record some of our family stories and share them with family and friends. But I also blog to engage in the art of writing and to give myself time to ÿ nd perspective. In this space I can revise my words and shape my thoughts; I can post photographs that capture moments from our days; and I can return to see that picture of Amabel hanging up silk cloths in that funny red dress she put on herself - backwards.


About the Author


Why Amabellen? Soon after Ellen was born, Je˜ rey realized that our daughter’s names could be combined into a fashionable sounding word: Amabellen. It has since become the inspiration for my blog.

AMABELLEN zane KathrYne schwaiGer


amabel schwaig  •  4

Papa Writes: A Circle of Women  •  39

wedding preparations  •  5

on the rocks  •  41





birth noises  •  7

five months  •  43



alice: a confession  •  8

pyramid point  •  45


TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2009

resident witch  •  10

festival  •  46

FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2009

SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2009

two months  •  11

morning greeting  •  47

independence  •  13

six months  •  49

babies are for holding  •  14

urban foraging  •  51

grandmommy’s gifts  •  15

mermaid sisters  •  52



MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2009

TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2009


SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2009



farewell to alice  •  17

watercolor  •  53



mrs. tiggy-winkle  •  19

the cast  •  55



making friends  •  21

happy birthday, amabel  •  56

faces  •  23

the gerber baby  •  57

FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2009




happy may day!  •  24

art therapy  •  59

FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009


baby love  •  25

belated birthday party  •  61

beach toes  •  27

autumn jacket  •  63

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2009


MONDAY, MAY 4, 2009


bedtime  •  29

questions  •  65

SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2009


Graduate School, Blogging, and Mothering  •  31


uncle scott  •  66

fairy child and earth baby  •  67

TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2009

the look  •  32


the wizard of oz  •  33


beach walk  •  35


papa’s girl  •  37


on the beach  •  69


back to work  •  71

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2009

woolly baby  •  73

SATURDAY, MAY 30, 2009


sisters  •  75

spring snails  •  117

handmade  •  76

easter eggs  •  119





winter wonderland  •  77

alone  •  121



lavender love  •  79

the beach  •  123


SUNDAY, APRIL 11, 2010

nurse nancy  •  81

the question of socialization  •  124

calm after the storm  •  82

spring in the garden  •  127

happy new year  •  83

crayon rocks  •  129

her room  •  85

quote of the day  •  130


MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010






MONDAY, APRIL 26, 2010

meadowlark farm  •  87

joy  •  131



play-doh meets sushi  •  89

garden girls  •  132


TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010

ladies gift shop  •  91

pause  •  133



one more light  •  92

beach date  •  135

happy birthday, ellen!  •  93

public places  •  136

the gift of dance  •  94

quote of the day  •  137

read to me  •  95

baby moments  •  139

getting ready  •  97

edward tulane  •  141

happy valentine’s day!  •  99

simplicity parenting   •  143

gousty light  •  101

i love lavender  •  145

help  •  103

morning adventure  •  146


FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2010


THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2010


SUNDAY, MAY 23, 2010


FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2010






MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2010



nola  •  105

bathing  •  147



let go  •  107

when life gives you lemons  •  149

why i keep coming back  •  108

august heat  •  151

her first word  •  110

l’ecole d’amie  •  153

welcome spring!  •  111

welcome fairies  •  155









amabel  •  113

hope  •  157



hoops  •  114

farewell to amabellen  •  159

MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2010


handwork  •  115


amabel schwaig MONDAY, MARCH 9, 2009

“Mama, why do we have a ‘grrr’ in our name? Are we bears? I don’t want to have a ‘grrr’ in my name. From now on, just call me ‘Amabel Louisa Schwaig.’ ” And thus Amabel introduces herself. Amabel and Ellen: Amabellen. Mama and papa: Mapapa. Welcome to life with the Schwaigs.


wedding preparations MONDAY, MARCH 9, 2009

We are preparing for a wedding. Tomorrow we will make Ariel’s gown; that is, if I can figure out how to thread the bobbin on our cherished pink sewing machine. Apparently, Airel’s pink rubber dress just won’t do. Actually, I don’t blame Amabel for detesting that dress. Every morning, as soon as she wakes up, Amabel asks to go downstairs and play with the Polly Pockets in the doll house. I do the ‘voices.’ And Amabel attempts to change their clothes but quickly grows frustrated and asks for help. Tugging mini rubber garments on three-inch plastic dolls isn’t fun for very long. Notice that Ariel is wearing a coat made out of a baby sock in this picture. Amabel can put it on herself. Personally, I prefer the old-school ‘halfpenny dolls’ from my childhood. Prince Eric pictured here is a halfpenny, because the makers of Polly Pocket don’t realize that little girls want plastic princes as well as plastic princesses. I hope that the plastic Ariel fascination fades. For now, I’ll attempt to make cotton clothing so that we don’t have to spend hours dressing the dollies.



birth noises TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2009

“Is there a midwife around here? Cluck. CLUCK. CLUCK! Mama, bring a birth pool! Quick! The hen is going to birth her babies!” We’ve had a lot of births in our house over the past six weeks. Amabel’s favorite doll, Ella, has given birth with a midwife, in a birth pool; Amabel has given birth with me as the midwife, in a birth pool; and, yes, today a chicken gave birth to her babies (twin chicks) with a midwife (a rooster), in a birth pool (a small basin of water). The most eventful birth occurred on January 21st. Seated close next to Grandmommy, Amabel witnessed her sister Ellen, born at home with - you guessed it - a midwife, in a birth pool. During the weeks leading up to Ellen’s birth, Amabel and I read books about new babies and watched a number of birth movies - mostly home births, attended by our midwife. Amabel was completely taken with the movies and would request to watch them over and over. Jeffrey usually left the room when the noises grew intense, but the noises fascinated Amabel. One day she asked me, “Mama are you going to scream when the baby is born?” “I don’t know, Amabel. I might. But I didn’t scream when you were born. I made deep noises. Like this,” I demonstrated the toning sounds I’d first practiced in prenatal yoga class. And Amabel’s curiosity was satisfied, or so I thought. But she continued to ask me if I was going to scream, and for a few weeks my answer remained the same. Finally, one day when she asked me, yet again, I replied, “Amabel, do you want me to scream?” “Yes,” she said with a smile. On the morning of Ellen’s birth, Amabel woke up early to the sounds of the midwife and papa filling the pool. I went upstairs to convince her to sleep a bit longer (it was 5:00 am), and as soon as I got in the bed, Amabel said solemnly, “Mama, I changed my mind. I don’t want you to scream.” 12 hours later Ellen was born. Our big, beautiful baby girl, with chubby cheeks and rosebud lips. We were all in utter awe of our newest family member. She gazed back at us with her deep, wise eyes, as we welcomed her into the world. Ellen’s birth was intense. Only sheer intensity could have possibly prepared me for the addition of this new life. Her birth pushed me to make room in my consciousness, in my mothering soul, for this little being we call Ellen. And although I came close during the heat of birth, I didn’t scream.


alice: a confession THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2009

This picture sits, framed, in our living room next to the window seat. The joyful dog and her happy companions are my vision, but not, I must admit, a reality. Last September, we adopted Alice, a rescue pup who traveled to us all the way from Kansas City. After months of longing for a puppy, I discovered an Airedale rescue organization and passed the extensive application process. When were finally matched up with a 12-week-old pup, I was elated. Jeffrey was not. He knew better, of course. A three-year-old child, a baby on the way, city life, small house, very small yard, AND a dog? No. Despite how qualified I made our family look on paper, Jeffrey knew that, given our circumstances, a dog was simply not a good idea. Okay, I admit: I conned Jeffrey into getting Alice. As I was enjoying the Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete, I asked Jeffrey to read a few pages. Here is a condensed version of what he read: Humankind is in desperate need of recovering its connection with nature, for ultimately it means the recovery of ourselves. We become aware of ourselves by becoming aware of the world around us, a world filled with the presence of God. Without falling into mawkish sentimentality, we must learn to look at nature as an expression of God’s goodness and love, a feast of sight and sound that provokes wonder and amazement. . . For many of us, this love for creation deepens through the relationships we form with our pets, particularly our dogs. By their very nature and need, dogs draw us out of ourselves: they root us in nature, making us more conscious of the mystery of God inherent in all things. When we take the time and energy necessary to raise our puppies correctly, when we learn to truly listen to them, seeing them as they really are and guiding their development accordingly, a deeper part of ourselves is unlocked, a part more compassionate and less arrogant, more willing to share life with another life. (The Art of Raising a Puppy: The Monks of New Skete: Little, Brown, and Company: 1991, 258-259)

Who could argue with logic like that? Getting a puppy would surely help draw us out of ourselves and root us in nature; making us more conscious of the mystery of God inherent in all things; unlocking a deeper part of ourselves; making us more compassionate, less arrogant, and more willing to share life - all good things, right? Well, perhaps so, but did we really need a puppy to achieve such noble goals? Amabel and Ellen have certainly ‘rooted us’ more closely to nature (for what could be more rooting than birth?) and drawn us out of ourselves. Our children have unlocked a deeper part of their parents. Because of them we’ve become more compassionate, less arrogant, and clearly more willing to share life. And a life shared with our daughters is truly a life full of wonder. But Alice? No, Alice is not currently rooting us to nature or drawing us out of ourselves; she is the cause of Amabel’s ear-piercing scream that sends Jeffrey and I flying across the room. Oh, it was just a red doll shoe. “Don’t worry, Amabel, it may turn up in the yard after the snow finally melts.” 8

But let us be fair. I don’t think we’ve devoted the time and energy necessary to “raise Alice correctly: truly listening to her, seeing her as she really is, and guiding her development accordingly,” as the Monks of New Skete recommend. I did a fair amount of listening and guiding during the first few months Alice was with us. And Alice isn’t a bad dog. But alas, my longings for an Airedale clouded my reasoning skills, and I could not see past my childhood memories of Maude. Maude was the perfect companion. The years I spent walking Maude did help me to become more aware of the world around me, a world that provoked wonder and amazement and shaped me into the mother I am today. And I want that for my daughters - the contemplation that happens outside, walking in the company of a dog. But my daughters are too young for that right now. And Alice is one extra responsibility for which Jeffrey simply doesn’t have the patience. I don’t blame him. He is putting in plenty of papa time, and taking Alice for a walk (as I often ask him to do from my position, nursing Ellen on the couch) just isn’t very high up on his ‘to do list.’ Neither is searching for the missing red doll shoe out in the yard. I hate to leave a post unfinished, but I don’t have a good ending for this story. Six months later, Alice is still here. I’m still gazing at the photo of Jeffrey, Amabel, and Alice on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, hoping that someday, somehow my vision will come true.


resident witch FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2009

Amabel was a witch last Halloween. Halloween was not the beginning of Amabel’s witch play, nor was it the end. Her hat bit the dust months ago due to heavy use, but her beloved toad, cape, sparkly shoes, and broomstick still make regular appearances around the house. I’ve tried to make the broom ‘disappear’ a few times, but she is so very fond of it that I can’t quite bring myself to let it go. Recently, we had a large group of people in our home for a meeting. Amabel was overwhelmed, and during a particularly chaotic moment she announced, “I need to get my witch costume, so I can be a witch.” She raced to the closet and reappeared with her broom, announcing her entrance with a deafening witch laugh. When her costume is not available and she is feeling witchy, she will simply laugh that dreadful laugh. The noise stops all conversation and is often a source of embarrassment to me. Perhaps it’s not so embarrassing, however, as her musings about cooking people into stew. She thinks up all sorts of creative ways to ‘do away’ with people, and she also frequently makes potions with her giant mortar and pestle. Yesterday she used a”fallacious ingredient” to turn someone into a “wicked pig.” Maybe I’ve told her too many fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel was her favorite story for many months. And then last fall she fell in love with the Wizard of Oz. One of her dolls has a black dress made out of an old tank top and an eye patch, like the Wicked Witch of the West in the story. When Amabel is out of sorts, pretending to be a witch almost always makes her feel better. It seems kind of backwards to me, but I suppose playing with a giant rubber toad, a sparkly broom, and a dazzling cape is very empowering to a three-year-old who has many big ideas but is still very small.


two months SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 2009

Here is Ellen, soon after birth.

Here is Ellen today, two months old.

And who do you think this is? Amabel, two months old!

Are they sisters?



independence MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2009

Amabel never went through the “independent streak” that I thought would come during her second or third year. She has always been more than happy to be dressed, fed, and taken to the ‘potty.’ But after Ellen was born, suddenly Amabel looked so big. Her head was huge and her legs were so long! I began to expect her to do things for herself because Ellen was so small and so utterly helpless by comparison. Soon after Ellen’s birth, Amabel was eager to achieve her new-found independence. When pulling on her tights one morning, she began to chant: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. . .” until they were completely covering her legs, whereupon she repeated: “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!” I proudly told the story to my mom, proclaiming, “Amabel has discovered how good it feels to do things for herself!” I spoke too soon. The following week we sat down for breakfast. I was nursing Ellen. “I can’t feed myself,” Amabel said in a pitiful voice. “I’m hungry, but I can’t feed myself.” “Amabel, you can feed yourself. ‘Remember ‘I think I can!’ “ “Well, I don’t want to.” She is able; but no, she is not willing. (So, take that, Little Engine!) When Amabel was a tiny baby, we lived in an apartment in Pittsburgh; Jeffrey was away at the office all day, there were few distractions, and life was simpler. Living in a new city, away from family and friends, I was at home with Amabel out of necessity and circumstance. I just didn’t have other places to go or other people around to take care of my babe. Amabel and I got to know one another quickly, and as she grew into her little body, I grew willingly into motherhood. Perhaps she has yet to embrace her independence because from the beginning I was always there, promptly meeting all of her needs. Well, now there are two girls to care for. Jeffrey is here, working from home. Alice is gallivanting about. And we live close to our extended family again. I actually need to make an effort to acquaint myself with my second baby, Ellen, because there are so many other things vying for my attention. Yet I love having two daughters. It is healthy for Amabel to grapple with her will in light of all that Ellen requires of me. And when I find myself longing for the carefree days when I could wrap up my single daughter and go wherever we wished, I remember the Little Engine that Could. And I remember that I am not mothering alone anymore, as I often felt in Pittsburgh. Today, thanks to the Obama campaign, we have a slightly more progressive version of the Little Engine’s chant: the all-too-familiar “Yes we can.” The slogan still sounds rather trite to me, but I am truly grateful that in our family the “I” has been replaced by “we.”


babies are for holding THURSDAY, APRIL 2, 2009


grandmommy’s gifts FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 2009

There are moments when I experience our days as healthy chaos: clean laundry all over the couch, dishes in the sink, piles of books next to the bed, a hard-boiled egg half peeled on the counter, scraps of felt all over Amabel’s table. . . Grandmommy provided some relief when she came over this afternoon with two beautiful gifts. The first gift, a hat for Ellen, fit snugly on my babe’s perfect, fuzzy head. A mindfully knitted hat is a thing of beauty and order. It stands in contrast to the objects that unravel around me every day. This afternoon, I was filled with gratitude for a work of art on Ellen’s head. Simple and resolved. And here is ‘Sister’ - a gift for Amabel. I wonder how many hours Grandmommy sat working on this mini pink ‘knitted babe,’ crafting every detail to perfection. This too, brings me peace. I love to think about the hours my mother has to herself, to create. A luxury well earned. And we, of course, are blessed with the fruits of her labor. After arriving at our house, ‘Sister’ was dressed and undressed; her hair was brushed and put back in a ribbon; Amabel fed her dinner and chocolate cake; she went down to the beach; and finally, ‘Sister’ was tucked up in bed for her first night of rest with Amabel. Amabel decided that today is her new dolly’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Sister.



farewell to alice WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 2009

Last Friday I was awake between midnight and 4 a.m. thinking about Alice. I finally resolved to let her go. This morning, Jeffrey and I drove Alice downstate to join a foster family. She will be living (happily, I’m sure) with four other Airedales, until she is placed in a new home. I shed many tears over Alice’s departure, but I am not in the least worried about her. She is still full of puppy love and energy and will adjust readily to her new surroundings. From my last post about Alice, it is clear why I wanted a dog. I wanted a walking companion, and Alice filled that role beautifully. When she was just a little pup, Alice and I did spend many hours together outside. We grew into a satisfying companionship during our walks; Alice was obedient and fun-loving and I was ever grateful for time to myself, to think out in the fresh air. Inside our house, Alice was a different creature. Her puppy enthusiasm totally overwhelmed Amabel and was the cause of many outbursts and a few crises (including the disappearance of a tiny red doll shoe, which did turn up in the yard during our recent clean up). Alice also had a thing for Jeffrey: she delighted in sneaking into his office and nipping gleefully at his pant legs, irritating him for her pure amusement. I maintained that Alice had a great sense of humor. Jeffrey thought otherwise. As winter grew colder and my pregnant belly grew bigger, my regular walks with Alice dwindled. And then, after Ellen was born, it was even more difficult for me to get outside in the bitter weather. I found less and less time to walk Alice, and her antics inside multiplied accordingly. When Ellen was two weeks old, I was almost ready to give in, but I told myself that I shouldn’t make such a ‘big decision’ with a tiny infant. I needed to wait. But perhaps I waited too long. I fear that I stretched Amabel’s patience (patience that is already very precious) too far. Between Ellen’s arrival and Alice’s torments, Amabel has recently been pushed to her limits. Although Jeffrey was often irritated with Alice, he understood, intellectually at least, my love for that dog. But it was beyond Amabel’s capacity to comprehend why I wanted such a “wild furry beast” around the house. When I finally told Amabel that Alice would be going to a new home, my daughter replied, “That is good news!” Our chapter with Alice has ended. I will indeed miss the companionship of an Airedale. However, I trust that for the peace restored to our home, Alice’s departure is indeed “good news.”



mrs. tiggy-winkle TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 2009

When Amabel was two years old, Jeffrey and I often called her ‘the narrator.’ She still narrates her way through her days and through her play. She loves stories and ‘formances’ of all kinds. One of her current favorite characters is Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a hedgehog washerwoman from a classic Beatrix Potter story. Our resident Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle has been busy over the past week kneading and cooking. She spent hours in her play kitchen making cakes with dough and poppy seeds and soup with dried spearmint, lentils, and other assorted ingredients, narrating all the while. Dolls make a good audience, patiently looking on during Amabel’s monologues. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle washes and irons too. Grandfather recently transcribed one of Amabel’s many dollhouse narrations: ”Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is always ironing. I ironed something for the baby. I have to do all the work in the house every day. All the ironing and wash all the clothes. I am never lonely. I am always happy. So Mrs. Tiggy needs to do her ironing. She can set it up. I just ironed the whole day. They asked me to do all the ironing. . . That’s why I got my iron. Somebody has been working on it. I just put this out to dry. It’s wet, she says. Steam is wet, actually. This is my favorite one to iron because it doesn’t take a long while. Snip, snip, snip. I have to have my ironing done. . . Make some more things that have to be washed. I can iron little things too. Now, there’s one more sheet to do. Put it right here. I am a very working hedgehog, a working porcupine. And I do a good job. Right, says Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. I like to wash my face. Can I have a little towel? Put this on me please, mam. Yes I will, I will, I will. . . I really do need a washing tub. Please bring one to me. I have some things that need to be washed over here. A bad witch was using this to rub off a dirty mouse that she found. And she gave it to us. So now we need to wash it. She’s not a maid; she doesn’t know anything. She found a mouse climbing up her apron. We did wash it . . .” Amabel chatters on and on like this throughout the day, every day. Last weekend she and I used our leftover Easter egg dye to transform white silk cloth into vibrant sheets of color. As soon I set up the drying rack outside, Amabel transformed into Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, tending to her washing. She took great joy in hanging up the cloths on the porch, telling long stories about ‘sashes’ and ‘handkerchiefs’ as she lined them up. If dolls make a good audience, Ellen is an even better spectator. She smiles at Amabel and even giggles a bit now. I wonder how Ellen experiences this world of constant narration and activity around her, and I wonder how much longer she will be content to sit, captive in the bouncy seat, watching the adventures of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.



making friends FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2009

Amabel loves to play alone, in her own little world, in a place where she makes the rules. Sometimes I worry about this. Sometimes I wish that she would look forward to ‘playing with others,’ especially with her cousins. Sometimes I wonder why ‘making friends’ doesn’t come more naturally to my daughter. Maybe it doesn’t matter yet. She is, I remind myself, only three years old. Amabel worries about other children playing with her toys. I think this is normal. But when she starts plotting to hide things before anyone else is around, I start to wonder. Maybe I’ve unintentionally encouraged her concerns by asking if she wants to put ‘special toys’ away when we are expecting visitors. My intention was to cause less conflict, but my plan backfired the day Amabel proclaimed, “You cannot play with my Polly Pockets because they are special to me. We put them up on a high shelf,” the minute cousin Philena walked through the door. She does enjoy the company of other children at times. When she gets into a groove with cousin Cora, the two girls play beautifully. It cracks me up when they hold hands and call one another “honey.” But when Amabel feels contrary, she can be downright mean. Sometimes I don’t quite know what to make of her behavior or how to respond. And although I may not like the way she acts, I do not feel content to tell her ‘how to behave’ (even though sometimes I do). Today we went walking with a small group of mamas and children. Amabel was very excited to show everyone the “witch’s house” she likes to visit in the “deep forest” along the trail. Then she proceeded to truly scare two of our dear little friends with stories of the witch who lives in the rustic stick structure. “The witch doesn’t like birds. She makes stew out of birds. She uses their feathers.” Not a good way to make friends. Alex, who had just drawn a picture of a papa duck in his nature journal, looked horrified. I tried to make amends. I tried to steer the story in a different direction. But Amabel didn’t take the hint. Finally, out of desperation, I said, “Amabel, please tell Lily and Alex that you are just telling a story - that the witch is not real.” “Well,” said Amabel in a very serious voice, “Some witches in the forest are not real and some are real.” Fortunately, our little friends were forgiving. Outside in the warm spring air, scary stories were soon forgotten, and coveted objects, (i.e., Polly Pockets), were the farthest thing from Amabel’s mind. Alex showed Amabel how to float leaves down miniature waterfalls, and Lily told Amabel a mermaid story. I experienced a glimmer of hope, watching my daughter play outside happily with two friends. Playing outside is exactly what she needs, my little girl who often lives inside her head. Playing outside is where she plays best. I feel my best outside. Perhaps she does too.


A blurry photo, but a lovely moment - my girls in a hug. Thank goodness for their faces. 22

faces TUESDAY, APRIL 28, 2009

A dear friend made these dolls for Amabel. When Amabel first received them, they had different heads. Crafted in the Waldorf tradition, their heads were made of smooth wood, with no facial features. The idea is that dolls without features encourage a child’s imagination; a plain-face doll can reflect any expression or mood according to the child’s play. I recently discovered Amabel crouched over the original dolls with an enormous black marker. She wanted them to have eyes. And soon they did: huge black smudges. “Amabel,” I asked, “why did you do that?” “Mama, they needed to see. They were playing hide-and-seek.” Later that night, after Amabel was asleep, I removed the old heads and fashioned new ones as best as I could. And I drew tiny faces, so now they will be able to see one another during their games. I can’t say I blame Amabel for wanting her dolls to have faces. I can’t imagine my girls without their beautiful features, especially their eyes. If I have the clarity of thought to look openly at Amabel’s face, deep into her eyes, in a moment of frustration, our trivial struggles fade away. And Ellen’s young eyes are truly a window into her innocent being. Eyes speak in a language beyond words.

This is baby Amabel after a bath.

And here is baby Ellen in blue.


happy may day! FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009


baby love TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2009



beach toes MONDAY, MAY 4, 2009

It was finally warm enough today for Amabel to wear a beloved ‘summer dress’ at the beach and put her toes in the water. I love quiet spring mornings when we have this beach all to ourselves. I love the beach because there are no distractions here. There are no household chores to complete, no telephones to answer, no toys even (except for Little Katy, the mouse, who came along today for a swim). Amabel was in her element this morning: running, jumping, dancing, and digging. And I couldn’t have been more content, sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, just watching my daughter follow her every whim. These are the best of times - when Amabel can wander freely, uninhibited; when she can play with no expectations and no distractions. There is something about the beach that creates a perfect space for Amabel’s spirit to dance. Ellen was asleep in the wrap during most of our visit. Amabel was delighted when she woke up, so that she could pull off Ellen’s socks and help her baby sister put her toes in the sand for the very first time. Twenty toes in the sand! Spring at last.



bedtime SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2009

So when the night is come, and you have gone to bed, all the songs you love to sing shall echo in your head. Robert Louis Stevenson Last night I started to write about our recent evening struggles. But I was so tired after another bedtime marathon that I went to sleep myself. Over the past week or so I’ve been thinking about bedtime; perhaps if I write about it, I will be able to clarify why Amabel has been making extra efforts lately to avoid sleep. On a typical evening we go upstairs after dinner. We play for a bit. We get into jammies, brush teeth, and read books. We finish with poetry. Then I pull down the shade and sing. Usually Amabel falls asleep peacefully to the sound of my quiet voice. Lately - not so. She is hungry. She is thirsty. She needs to go potty. She wants a favorite doll. She wiggles. She fidgets. She talks to herself in whispers. My patience wanes; I’m exhausted. And I’m craving those precious hours of quiet after Amabel falls asleep. Tonight Amabel was playing with her doll, Sister, before bed, and I wasn’t listening closely to her narration until the subject of bedtime came up. “Sister was a usual girl. She was a good girl, but there was always a problem with her. She did not like to go to sleep. Her mother would say ‘Please go to bed.’ And Sister would say, ‘No, I do not want to go to bed!’ And then her mother would call her father and he would put a giant rubber band around Sister - in her bed. But Sister would get out of bed anyway and go play.” It cracked me up - this idea of a giant rubber band. And notice that Sister’s mother calls her father to do the dirty work. Yes, that sounds like me. When I am at my wits end, I call Jeffrey upstairs and ask him to read to Amabel. He has an effective monotone voice technique that he reserves for such occasions. It usually works. Actually, as I write this, he is upstairs reading to her. He has been reading for at least twenty minutes, and I just heard the pattering of Amabel’s feet. I might be called back up again shortly. Really, though, what is behind Amabel’s fight against sleep? It is especially difficult for me to understand her resistance when I am fighting to stay awake, reading in bed next to her. When we’ve had plenty of fresh air and she has been going strong for twelve hours, wouldn’t you think she’d be ready to slip peacefully into dreamland? I know that Amabel’s sleep rhythms, like most aspects of her being, ebb and flow. But I’m ready for this chapter of bedtime struggles to end, and I welcome any suggestions. I am particularly interested if anyone knows where we might find a giant rubber band. It didn’t work with Sister, but you never know, it might be just the thing to cure Amabel’s bedtime resistance. 29


Graduate School, Blogging, and Mothering TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2009

Amabel went to sleep peacefully this evening. Thank you for your kind thoughts on bedtime. After she fell asleep, I found myself still rocking, with Ellen asleep in my lap, musing about college and the season of graduation. Five years ago I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in French and Environmental Studies. A few weeks before my graduation, one of my favorite college professors said to me, “I’ll give you five years. You’ll be back in grad school by then for sure.” “Oh, no.” I replied, “I want to have babies first.” Why did my professor make that prediction? He was responding to my sheer love of school, I think. I loved my classes with him; I loved learning in a formal school setting; and I especially loved writing papers. My professor had known me only as an eager student and he didn’t have any children of his own. My response took him completely by surprise. After meeting baby Amabel a year-and-a-half later, I imagine that my professor gave up hope as to my return to graduate school. My brother, Christopher, on the other hand (who received his PhD in English just last week), still encourages me to consider graduate school. I like this idea. But I also find it quite humorous. To think that I could go back to college and mother my girls at the same time; well, that would be nothing short of miraculous. Christopher also suggested that I start a blog. A blog. Hmmm. Now that seemed a bit more plausible than graduate school. It took me a while to get here, but now that I’ve embraced it, blogging has become a welcome outlet for me. In some ways, it is reminiscent of college. I loved college, in part, because of the demand for ‘finished products’ - papers, presentations, projects. And I thrived on constant feedback in the form of grades and conversations. So here I am, five years post-graduation, with two daughters. I chose babies. Or they chose us. At the end of a day of non-stop mothering, I don’t have ‘much to show’ for my work. My hard-earned title is simply ‘mama.’ Of course my two beautiful, healthy girls are sleeping peacefully in their beds. And for these little wise beings, I am truly grateful. They are professors of a different sort. But in the thick of our daily lives, perspective is often hard to find. Finished products are unheard of. And feedback is inconclusive. Here, in this blog, I can capture stories in words and photographs and actually create something somewhat finished. Unlike so many parts of my day, these stories are relatively neat and tidy, always in order, always where I want them to be. Blogging has also connected me with old friends, fellow mothers, and other bloggers. And now I’m receiving feedback too! So, I want to thank you, my readers, for sharing your thoughts, through e-mails and comments. I’m slow in responding to many of you, but I certainly appreciate your words. Thank you.


the look WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2009

I caught both halves of Amabellen today with ‘the look’. . . the look of discovery. Oh, how I love ‘the look.’


the wizard of oz THURSDAY, MAY 28, 2009

Last summer, Amabel expressed an interest in the Wizard of Oz. I sent Jeffrey and Amabel to the library one afternoon to find a children’s adaptation of the book. Well, the library didn’t have anything other than the unabridged version, and so I started reading it to Amabel (who was not yet three), thinking that she would quickly loose interest. Was I ever wrong. Amabel was completely captivated by the story. We read the library copy twice and then read the book three more times after uncle Scott gave her a beautiful copy for her birthday. Amabel is only one of thousands of children, I’m sure, who has a love affair with the “first American fairy tale.” We have put on ‘formances of the Wizard of Oz in so many variations over the past year, I’ve lost count. Yesterday I found a Dover book of Wizard of Oz Paper Dolls, and this afternoon we were at it again. In our house, the yellow-brick road never gets old. I love reading aloud to Amabel. We don’t have nearly as much uninterrupted time as we used to, and so I treasure our quiet time together more than ever. Amabel is, as you may know, a chatterbox. She is rarely silent for an extended period of time, except when she is listening to a book. When I read to her, she will pipe up only to ask about unfamiliar words or confusing developments in plot. Listening to a story recharges Amabel’s narrative powers. If I spend a half an hour reading to her, she will then go off on her own, playing out a version of the story we’ve been reading or take her narrative off into an entirely new direction. After Ellen was born we borrowed a number of stories on CD and tape from the library. Amabel was interested in them for a time, but over the past month I have realized that there is simply no substitute for reading aloud, cuddled up next to one another. And so I’ve been reminding myself often to make time to read to Amabel. It is tempting to do work around the house when Ellen is napping, but nap time is prime reading time. The chores can wait. Amabel’s voracious appetite for literature need not.



beach walk SATURDAY, MAY 30, 2009



papa’s girl WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3, 2009

Looking at baby Ellen, just moments after her birth, I caught a glimpse of Jeffrey. I still sometimes tease and call her “papa’s little man child.” Ellen’s grandparents often object when I liken our baby girl to her papa man. (“She is a beautiful little girl!”) Admittedly, her rosebud lips and nearly bald fuzzy head are baby features difficult to compare to my husband. And now that she has huge nursing cheeks, she looks even less like Jeffrey; but still, there is an unmistakable similarity between the two of them, and I love it. When Ellen was just a little bean, less than six weeks old, Jeffrey could calm her at times when I could not. Ellen’s nurturing papa has learned her rhythms and preferences as well as I have, and he manages to receive some of her best gummy smiles and little giggles. There are few things sweeter around our house these days than to catch Ellen cooing at Jeffrey. Perhaps it is the slight resemblance that bonds them or maybe all the time they spend together while I am caring for Amabel. From wherever it comes, I am so very grateful for the love between these two. I’m convinced that baby love is some of the purest we’ll ever know.



Papa Writes: A Circle of Women THURSDAY, JUNE 11, 2009

Amabel finds it difficult to keep herself away from Ellen. She is drawn to Ellen’s pudgy, bareskinned body like a magnet. She loves to rub her baby sister’s belly and smother Ellen with hugs and kisses. Most of the time it is adorable, most of the time it is precious, and most of the time Ellen loves it. But there are times when Amabel goes too far. When she starts putting her toes in Ellen’s mouth or sitting on top of Ellen, we usually intervene. This afternoon, while Zane was making soup, I whisked Amabel and her flailing feet away from Ellen and up to her room. Typically Amabel protests forced removal, but today she was rather calm when I set her on her bed. After rummaging around in her room, Amabel soon came down the stairs with her arms full. She dumped her load and went back up, and after two more trips, Amabel had all of her girl dolls down in the living room. In classic Amabel style, none of the dolls were clothed - nor was she. She arranged them in a circle on the rug and proceeded to dance around them. It was clear, from Amabel’s commentary, that this was her interpretation of Zane’s recent women’s gathering or “Women’s Circle.” “They are talking about milk and nursing and babies and houses and vacations,” Amabel announced. She, like her mother, finds comfort and understanding in a group of other women. Thankfully, the group therapy worked, and Amabel was over the need to shove her feet in Ellen’s face. Amabel was soon happily dressing up in the play silks - not exactly our idea of appropriate dress for this still cold Northern Michigan spring - but better than nothing and certainly more colorful.



on the rocks THURSDAY, JUNE 18, 2009

I was longing for a quiet moment this evening and my girls kindly indulged me. The three of us set off for the beach; Ellen fell asleep in the wrap; and Amabel occupied herself, exploring a stretch of large rocks along the shore. She climbed on them for over a half-an-hour, experimenting with her balance, narrating softly, and freeing me to observe (and experiment with the new camera). It wasn’t until I looked at the photos later this evening that I recognized the significance of these images. Five months ago, Amabel never would have ventured out onto such uneven ground, let alone have welcomed the opportunity to test her agility on such precarious footing. I had to catch my breath, watching her discover the joy in navigating the rocks. Recently, this girl, dearest to my heart, has been weighing heavy on my mind. Amabel has been pushing my patience and creative problem solving to new extremes. Five months ago, I couldn’t imagine the ways in which she would test my mothering agility. At the end of more days than I can count, I have felt that our relationship was on the rocks. But as I look at her now, finding her balance on the shore of Lake Michigan, I can let the details of our day-to-day struggles fade in my memory. Clearly, she is pushing out into new territory. Yet she wants her mother close enough to see, close enough to hear, and almost close enough to touch. Somehow, the assurance that I am still here, by her side, has given Amabel the freedom to stand alone.



five months SATURDAY, JUNE 20, 2009



pyramid point TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2009


festival SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2009

Our little town was swallowed up by the Cherry Festival this week. I am not a carnival person. I’m not particularly drawn to crowds of people, blaring music, flashing lights, and cotton candy. And I’m especially not keen on the air show and fireworks display right above our house. Amabel, on the other hand, was very intrigued when the carnival crew came to set up for the festivities. And so we indulged Amabel’s curiosity with a ride on the ferris wheel. She loved it. Yesterday I told Amabel that it was the last day of the festival and there would be fireworks (again) when it got dark. She nodded, casually, having grown accustomed to noise and traffic after a week of hoopla. After dinner, she and Jeffrey went to the park, and on their way home, our sidewalk was flooded with spectators headed towards the beach. “I’m not much of a fireworks person,” Amabel told her papa. When Jeffrey relayed the story, I smiled. A girl after my own heart.


morning greeting WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 2009

I love to watch the two of them in the morning. Amabel and Ellen are equally eager to get their ‘paws’ on one another and reunite after 12 hours of rest. Ellen explodes into laughter when she nuzzles into Amabel and grabs fists full of her sister’s hair. Amabel shrieks in return, in pain but mostly in delight. Ellen’s growing strength is both a joy and a threat to Amabel. In the morning, it is almost pure joy as they roll around on the bed together. At the end of the day, after countless rounds of tug-a-war and hug-a-war, it is hard to say who is more ready for sleep: mama or the girls. But the night hours will wash away memories of Amabel’s toes in Ellen’s mouth and Ellen’s fists in Amabel’s hair, and then the girls will share another morning greeting.



six months TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2009

When Ellen was first born I was struck by how different she looked from Amabel. Even Gommy (Jeffrey’s mother) said, cradling Ellen in her arms an hour after the birth, that Ellen reminded her of newborn Jeffrey. But then, at two months, baby pictures of Amabel and Ellen looked remarkably similar. Now we’ve reached the half-year landmark, and I want to take another look. Here is Ellen. And here are a few photos of six-month-old Amabel. It is a little difficult to properly compare the photos because of differences in lighting and image orientation, but what do you think? Eyes? Lips? Face shape? Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t compare my two girls - looks or otherwise. There is a whole chapter on the perils of comparison in the book that sits next to my bed, Siblings Without Rivalry. But how eye-opening it is to look back at these photos of tiny Amabel and put them next to her sister’s image. . . to think that three and a half years ago, Amabel was a little being filled with the pure wonder we love and relish (and take for granted?) in Ellen. It makes me catch my breath. Amabel is still filled with wonder, to be sure. But the wonder she experiences now is perhaps a bit more complicated and a bit harder to recognize. The wonder of a six-month-old baby is unmistakable and (dare I say) universal. I love to look back and remember that Amabel came from that place. We all did.



urban foraging SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2009

After five years of living the ‘walkable’ city life, I still consider myself a country girl at heart. And if I worry about anything in the city, it’s that my daughters don’t get enough time out in wild places. Jeffrey shares my love for wild places but that hasn’t prevented him from appreciating the world outside our urban front doors. He began ‘urban foraging’ in Pittsburgh when Amabel was still in utero. After checking out Stalking The Wild Asparagus from the Carnegie Library, Jeffrey convinced me to go down the street with him and explore Frick Park. I learned the names of plants I had known all my life as weeds, and then we took some home for dinner. It makes for a good memory, but I admit, I was a reluctant urban forager. I remained nostalgic for the wild leeks and morel mushrooms in the pristine forest behind my childhood home. Amabel, on the other hand, has proven herself to be a perfect foraging companion for Jeffrey. . . as long as the hunt involves berries. After a number of walks with her papa over the past couple of weeks, Amabel has apparently mapped out all the berry patches within walking distance of our house. I recently took the girls out for a walk and asked Amabel if she wanted to look for raspberries at Hannah Park. Amabel politely informed me that there are no raspberries at Hannah Park; there are blackberries down at the bottom of the hill and a very tasty mulberry tree up at the top of the hill, along the trail. But if I wanted raspberries, we could go the Central Grade School Park. I guess I’ll stop worrying about Amabel’s acquaintance with wild places and trust that berry mapping is a very valuable skill whether in an urban or rural setting. Our home in the country can wait. In the meantime, I look forward to every time Jeffrey and Amabel come with berry stained fingers.


mermaid sisters MONDAY, AUGUST 17, 2009

Last week, my best bud from college graced us with her presence. Although they hadn’t seen one another since Amabel was a wee three months old, Tara and Amabel were soon fast friends - so much so that Amabel anointed Tara her long-lost ‘twin mermaid sister.’ Tara and I caught up as best as we could amidst Amabel’s chattering, Ellen’s babbling, and Amabel’s requests for more mermaid sister play. Actually, Amabel would have been thrilled if I’d have let her have Tara all to herself. Life is quite different from the way it was when Tara and I last spent a week together. But it was truly a joy to see my bud and to watch Amabel share her little world with one of my dearest friends.


watercolor TUESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2009

This morning, Amabel and her cousin Philena spent an hour painting on the front porch. I love to watch them paint. I love to watch the colors dance onto each clean sheet of paper. I love to watch these two girls, who can be so loud and boisterous when they run around together, shift into quiet concentration in the presence of watercolor paint.



the cast TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2009

We’ve had some traumatic events occur over the past few weeks. There were two trips to the dentist (the details of which I’ll save for another blog post). And then Amabel and Philena decided they wanted to look like sisters. So, Philena cut off Amabel’s bangs. Fortunately, missing bangs didn’t prevent Amabel from enjoying her gymnastics class (another subject I’d hoped to write about) and practicing somersaults at every opportunity. This particular somersault occurred the last weekend in August - when we were all still on two feet. We had a lovely family weekend, despite the cold and rain, including a peaceful morning on the beach. Look at our beautiful girl walking, running . . . standing in the water. I certainly took these things for granted that morning. Now I’m looking back on these photos (that I intended to post a week ago) with some remorse. Last Tuesday, in the midst of a spinning sort of dance, Amabel slipped, tripped and fell, breaking a bone in her left leg. Now we are moving slowly around here. Amabel has learned how to crawl, scoot, and wiggle herself about. And all things considered, she has been a good sport - amusing herself for hours on the couch with coloring books, watercolor paints, and Polly Pockets. The rhythm of our days has certainly shifted, and September didn’t begin at all the way I’d imagined. This fall I’m hoping to use this blog as a place to write about our days ‘learning at home’ using Enki Education, a wonderful homeschool curriculum I discovered thanks to a dear friend. But for now, we’ll be sitting outside in the sun, reading stories on the couch, coloring, and painting. Blogging may sit on the back burner for a few more weeks, and hopefully soon, we’ll be back on two feet.


happy birthday, amabel THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2009


the gerber baby FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2009

Baby yoga.



art therapy FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009

Amabel is putting up really well with her cast. I, on the other hand, have been struggling with my expectations. I had great expectations for the late summer season - plans for walks in the glorious weeks of September; adventures to the beaches, fields, and forests; and late season gardening. While I am grateful for the Wike (which has become Amabel’s chariot), I must admit that I am growing tired of pushing, lifting, and carrying two small people who cannot walk, especially when we travel outdoors. And so we have been inside a bit more than I had hoped during these precious weeks of warmth. But Amabel doesn’t mind being inside. She is a happy homebody, and she has been very busy. Amabel has been spending hours coloring, drawing, and painting. Christopher recently expressed an interest in her ‘recovery artwork,’ and so Jeffrey helped me with the scanner. Although there was a lot to choose from, I found myself particularly drawn to these two watercolor paintings Amabel made the day after she got her cast. According to the artist, these are pictures of dancers. There was definitely some art therapy going on here. Amabel has also made a lot of paintings using shades of blue and green. “The land and the water,” she explains (to herself while painting). Amabel prefers to use a very fine paintbrush, and so it takes her a long time to cover a whole piece of paper. And this last one, well, I just had to include it, because after Amabel completed it, she proudly called me over and said, “Mama, look what I just made. It is so cute. It is Bean-a [one of Ellen’s many nicknames] with a crooked smile!” Watching my little budding artist has been a highlight of our indoor adventures. Perhaps I should pick up a brush and join her in an effort to let go of my outdoor expectations. . .



belated birthday party SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2009

Last Sunday, family and friends gathered for Amabel’s belated (and long-awaited) birthday party. It was a costume party of sorts. Ellen was a ladybee, and Amabel was some type of dancing creature in a leotard, scarf, and tights. We made ribbon wands for the occasion. Amabel had the idea, in the summer, to have a “birthday circle” during her party with singing, dancing, and ribbons. After she was put in a cast a week before the original date, her main concern was that she wouldn’t be able to walk for the party. So we postponed the date, and wearing her shorter walking cast five weeks later, Amabel managed to hop triumphantly around the dancing circle. The highlight of the party was a visit from a birthday clown and her pet monkey! Amabel couldn’t have been more pleased with Aunt Debbie and Aunt Marcia’s antics. We wonder what the neighbors thought as Debbie led Marcia (who insisted on walking on all fours) out of the car and up the sidewalk. For many weeks leading up to Amabel’s birthday, she asked “when will my birthday come?” on a regular basis. Then after her birthday came and went, she continued to ask the same question. In Amabel’s mind, she hadn’t turned four until she shared a party with friends and family. After last weekend, she was completely satisfied. I haven’t heard the birthday question since.



autumn jacket SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2009

This beautiful jacket was handmade by our friend and talented artist Victoria Velting. It was made from recycled felted wool sweaters. When Victoria came to take measurements, Amabel requested flowers and a pocket. The pocket is perfect for warming a hand or collecting beach treasures. Amabel and I couldn’t be more pleased with the jacket’s softness, warmth, and vibrant colors. When I was describing the jacket to a friend, Amabel said, “You mean the coat that Soule Mama made for me?” Soulemama is one of my favorite mama bloggers, and I’m sure Amabel has heard me describing her clever ideas and projects. It cracks me up to think how a blog has become a presence in our life - so much so that in Amabel’s mind it was perfectly natural for ‘Soule Mama’ to deliver a beautiful, custom-made jacket right to our home!



questions FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2009

“Living in the question and not in the answer is not an easy thing to do in modern society, but this is where connection is made.” Enki Education : Teaching Guides When Amabel broke a bone in her leg, I didn’t have the answers she desired. I did not know what exactly had happened; I did not know how long her cast would be on; I did not know when she would be able to walk again. That not knowing was alarming at first. But somewhere along the way, I began to sit more comfortably in the questions. Ever since Amabel was a toddler, I have consistently offered her wordy explanations in an effort to help her learn. As a result, Amabel often looks to me to answer her questions and help her make sense of the world. I have been happy in this role, and yet I now realize that I also want to give Amabel the space she needs to discover for herself and sink into the process of learning rather than simply seeking answers. (As a side note, Wendell Berry writes about a related topic in his essay The Way of Ignorance.) So now when my curious child asks a question, I am challenging myself to hold my tongue and allow her to make her own connections. This does not come naturally to me, but the past two months have given me a good opportunity to practice. Two weeks ago, Amabel’s cast came off. And now my daughter is walking, running, dancing, and jumping again. I am increasingly grateful for the past two months - for the ways that Amabel has grown and for the ways that our relationship has shifted. I am grateful for the time I’ve spent reading and reflecting on our decision to learn at home and I’m grateful that I’ve grown more comfortable “living in the questions.” As I let go of my need for immediate answers, I think that Amabel does too. Consequently, we are all finding more freedom and possibility in our days together. “The ability to remain open and interested in an ambiguous situation is the ground of real learning.” Enki Education : Teaching Guides


uncle scott FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2009

Ellen with Uncle Scott in Chicago last weekend.


fairy child and earth baby SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2009

When she was thinking about Halloween last week, Amabel wanted to be something different every day: Shirley Temple, a Gypsy, Raggedy Ann, a Hula Dancer, a Ballerina, Nurse Nancy. . . until finally, yesterday morning she settled on a Flower Fairy costume. That is the joy of Halloween for me - a child knowing that she can be anything and everything. Today after few nights of wind and rain that brought down our leaves, we welcomed in November by raking our yard. Amabel and Ellen took turns riding on the tarp with leaves until Ellen rolled off into the grass. . . much to her delight!



on the beach WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009

I just couldn’t resist one more series of beach photos. After all, this may be the last time we see the sand in 2009. My, but the water looks so wonderful. . . even if it feels like ice! Oh Mama, can I eat just one last fist-full of sand before the snow flies? And put my hands in the glorious Lake once more before next spring?



back to work THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009

Spreading seed babies is serious work. Yesterday I was watching Amabel dissect a stalk of milkweed pods with her brow furrowed and her face caught in look of deep concentration. And I started to think about my child’s work. And my own work. I recently completed an editing/writing project - my first paid work since Ellen’s birth in January. When I am editing, I’m pretty sure that I get a serious look on my face, quite similar to Amabel’s ‘milkweed pod look.’ When she is at work, Amabel does not multitask. In fact, at four years old, I don’t think she is capable of multitasking - a skill at which I excel, I am sorry to say (but perhaps every mother must). However, if I am to write well, like Amabel, I cannot multitask. As a mother, I almost always have multiple things to keep track of. . . minestrone soup simmering on the stove; the baby speed-crawling across the rug to forage under the dining-room table; a fouryear-old’s request for the markers on the top shelf, as she teeters on the edge of Grandma Lois’ antique chair; the telephone ringing (it’s the office, calling for Jeffrey again). . . In fact, a few days ago, Amabel and I were discussing what I might accomplish with eight arms. She asked me to do approximately three things at once and I told her perhaps I could if I was an octopus. But back to work. The author of a recent Mothering Magazine article, described herself, in the byline, as a “write-at-home mom.” I usually skim bylines pretty quickly, but this title gave me reason to pause. That designation struck a chord with me. I like how it blurs the line between “working mom” and “stay-at-home mom” in one simple phrase. And maybe it means that I can indeed merge the ‘milkweed pod face’ mom with the octopus mom. If I have an opportunity to write a byline anytime soon, I think I’ll consider it.



woolly baby TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2009

Yesterday a package arrived. Inside the box was an assortment of plant-dyed wool roving from a local farm, perfect for our Christmas gift making and our curious baby Ellen. Ellen is so big now. She has crossed the nine-month threshold (which seems to me like a turning point: from baby to little child), and now, approaching ten months, Ellen is busy crawling, pulling herself up, babbling, clapping, and eating with gusto. A few days ago she discovered the stairs. When Jeffrey found her, eagerly pulling up to the third step, she began bouncing up and down with joy as if to say, “Hey, papa, did you know this was here?!” Every day brings a new discovery in Ellen’s little world.



sisters SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2009

I’ve had a number of people ask me lately if baby Ellen looks like baby Amabel. As we have been importing our photos from the past five years onto our new computer, I’ve been enjoying looking back. Here are the girls around 9 and 10 months old. Can you tell them apart?


handmade MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2009

I love to make Christmas gifts. But over the years I’ve realized that making a gift with my own hands usually takes a few tries. I first recognized this pattern while making cards in high school. I would sit down to create, make a few duds, and then eventually get into a groove. This was easy enough with cards and other quickly-made items. And it was easy enough with long, uninterrupted hours. Long gone are my days of uninterrupted hours. Now I have to decide if I want to get myself into a project and risk the likely discouragement that results from having to stop before I’ve gotten past the duds. This morning I took the risk. Amabel obliged me. And Ellen did too. Well, sort of. The house looked like a total disaster when I finished this tiny plate of felted food. There was wool, yarn, felt, fabric, and brown rice all over the table and all over the floor. (Ellen amused herself for a long time with a plate of rice, left over from lunch.) But I think it was worth it for just a little bit of something handmade.


winter wonderland FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2009

18 inches! Two snow days. It’s still snowing. . . After we returned inside, Amabel left her cocoa unattended for a moment. Ellen knew just what to do!



lavender love SUNDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2009



nurse nancy TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2009

Amabel was a nurse again today. Wearing the dress that Grandmommy cleverly made out of a men’s collared shirt, as well as the perfect matching apron and hat, Amabel paraded around the house, responding only to “Nurse Nancy.” Amabel has set up a doctor/dentist office upstairs where she has trays full of tools, all set very carefully in place. The (real) dentist even gave her a few face masks, rubber gloves, and packets of gauze. According to a sign on her door, Nurse Nancy’s office is open all winter long; and this is certainly a busy season. Just this week the nurse extracted eight teeth from a small monkey, put a hippopotamus into a full body cast, and smothered lotion all over a doll’s head. Nurse Nancy also applies band-aids, fills cavities, and, of course, practices shiatsu. I don’t have much medical experience. In fact, I think that Amabel has spent more time in doctor and dentist offices over the past few months than I have during the course of my entire life. I kid you not. The closest things to medical tools I had in the house, when Amabel first set up her office, were some items left over from Ellen’s home birth. Do I feel squeamish with a doctor’s office in my own home? No. I love to watch Amabel process her real-life adventures, as she so often does, by moving into the world of her imagination and into the role of director. And I love to listen in on Nurse Nancy’s little conversations with her patients. “Just open your mouth. This is going to hurt!”


calm after the storm WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2009

Christmas felt like a storm this year. I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but I was completely overwhelmed by Amabel’s reaction to the gifts she received at her Grandparents’ houses. Amabel is in a bit of a hoarding phase. She is reluctant to share anything with anyone and very particular about where everything belongs in her little world. She was overcome by her four-year-old emotions at the sight of so many gifts (though they were well-meaning gifts, to be sure). She even told me later, “Mama, the reason why I kept asking if there were more presents for me is because I was worried that I wouldn’t have a place for them in my room.” Now, I see. I just wish I would have been wise enough to understand her thought process during the Christmas scramble. I didn’t feel so graceful in the face of her whining and pleading. Needless to say, I am longing to establish some alternative December traditions. We took a walk on the beach this morning, and I was reminded of the calm we experience when we are outside, away from our “stuff.” This is the peace that I’m seeking during this season of cold and darkness. Goodness knows we spend enough time inside, during the winter, surrounded by our belongings. It is ever so freeing to be out in the elements (even if for a short while with little ones!) and feel the wind in our faces and the ice beneath our feet.


happy new year FRIDAY, JANUARY 1, 2010

To our dear family and friends and encouraging readers of Amabellen, Happy New Year! My favorite picture of the girls: August 2009.



her room MONDAY, JANUARY 4, 2010

Have I mentioned Amabel’s room before? Have I mentioned how it and all of its clutter sometimes drive me crazy? Yesterday, during an uncharacteristic wave of nostalgia, I decided to document it. And, if you are so inclined, I welcome you to join me on a “virtual tour” of Amabel’s room. I snuck into Amabel’s room to take these pictures. Ellen was asleep, Amabel was downstairs, and I had the camera around my neck. Tip-toeing around, I snapped shots in the dim winter afternoon light with Jeffrey’s old manual lens, experimenting with lamp light and close-up photos. I wasn’t quite sure why I was suddenly on a quest to capture still images of Amabel’s “magical mermaid palace.” These images are but tiny windows into the extent of Amabel’s realm. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to rush into this room and sweep everything up, leaving clean surfaces and neatly organized shelves in my wake. It is so much harder for me to sit in the midst of all these little collections and just observe. I thought it would be harder still for me to take pictures of all her paraphernalia. But as I began to photograph, Amabel’s little world transformed before my lens. I began to see it, perhaps, from her level. I even found myself wishing I could peek back on the little places I created as a child. Observing her piles bit by bit, I gained a new appreciation for Amabel’s delicate sense of order. This little world is her home; it is a place where she makes the rules and she does the decorating. This is a safe place. Even a beautiful place. I will let it be.



meadowlark farm SATURDAY, JANUARY 9, 2010

The precious winter sun was streaming through our kitchen windows this morning while I was chopping and peeling vegetables for lunch. The sun on the veggies was so stunning that I couldn’t resist taking some photos. . . and writing an ode to our CSA: Meadowlark Farm. Meadowlark is dear to my heart: I wrote about Meadowlark in my college thesis; I worked on Meadowlark Farm the summer before Jeffrey and I were married; I carried flowers from Meadowlark Farm on our wedding day; and now our bodies are nourished with food from this abundant farm all year round. Even in January we are eating potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbages, parsnips, and beets from Meadowlark. And garlic. Lots of garlic. We have 10 pounds of the “stinking rose” tucked away in our store cupboard. After the other winter veggies have been consumed, this garlic will flavor our meals. For lunch today I added this garlic to our quinoa and kale dish (a little olive oil, a little lemon juice, a little salt, a lot of garlic . . . et voilà!). Thank you, garlic, for gracing our table. And thank you, Meadowlark, for feeding our family through all the seasons.



play-doh meets sushi FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010

Amabel’s Grandparents gave her a huge pack of Play-Doh for Christmas. This was one gift I was very eager to open; I love to play with clay. But I waited to bring out the Play-Doh stash until a recent cozy afternoon, when Ellen was taking a long, luxurious nap. Playing with Play-Doh, or any sort of clay, reminds me of the hours my brother James and I spent making tiny things out of Sculpey Clay. Amabel actually has a few of those treasures squirreled away in the little doll kitchen she inherited when my parents moved out of their house two years ago. Although James and I used Sculpey to make just about every type of doll food imaginable, we never did make. . . sushi rolls! I never ate sushi growing up. Jeffrey introduced me to it when we were first married, and when I was pregnant with Amabel we made it at least once a week. Perhaps that is why it remains one of her favorite foods. As I made the roll, Amabel got right to work making the accompanying edamame (or are they balls of wasabi?). Now her dolls may also develop a taste for sushi!



ladies gift shop TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2010

When we were making Christmas gifts in December, Amabel dubbed our living room the “Ladies Gift Shop.” Over the past couple of weeks, the Ladies Gift Shop has been busy again; we have been felting wool sweaters, tracing, pinning, snipping, and sewing. We made this cupcake based on a pattern from Betz White’s book, Warm Fuzzies: 30 Sweet Felted Projects. Amabel is particularly proficient with scissors. She loves to cut up wool scraps into miniscule pieces, which then become anything from stew ingredients to fairy dust. Actually, while I am focused on creating something, Amabel is usually utterly absorbed in deconstructing something: yarn becomes fluffy wool; paper becomes confetti; crayons become shavings; ribbons become shreds. You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong: in her busy little corner, Amabel is, of course, making something essential. Yesterday she was clearly making dog food out of ultra suede. Last week, while I was making a birthday ball for Ellen, using a pattern from the sweet little book Feltcraft by Petra Berger, . . . Amabel was occupied making this bowl full of . . . fuzz?


one more light FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2010

I lit a candle this evening to honor our children and the children of Haiti. Thank you, Kyrie, for the inspiration.


happy birthday, ellen! THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010


the gift of dance SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2010

We don’t see these toes very often in the winter. Our feet are usually covered in woolly socks and tights. But this week, with temperatures in the single digits, we didn’t make it outside for many walks, and so we shed our stockings and cleared the floor. And we danced. Twirling, skipping, rolling, crawling, and grooving to the music of Nickel Creek, Baka, Raffi, Daisy May, Benjamin Doerr, Capercaillie, and Béla Fleck, we got our bodies moving and cured our cabin fever. Dancing comes so very naturally to my children. Even Ellen (who isn’t walking yet but gleefully waddling about on her knees) sways to the sound of a good beat. Actually, it doesn’t even take a beat: Amabel’s sweet chirping voice is sufficient music for Ellen. Ellen is always eager to join in anything when Amabel leads the way. And, oh, how Amabel loves to lead. Dancing is a perfect activity for our natural born choreographer. And when Amabel is in a sour mood, an invitation to dance almost always inspires her to smile. She loves to spin around and around with Jeffrey and me, until she collapses onto the floor in dizziness and delight. In college, my favorite release after a long evening of studying was dance. My best bud, Tara, and I could turn any open space into a dance floor: the basement of our dormitory, the lobby of the School of Nations, the hallway outside our room - our dancing feet covered a lot of ground during those years. Tara and I choreographed and danced on stage together, but I remember loving best of all those “free-style dance parties” we organized at the drop of a hat. How grateful I am that today we can turn our own living room into a dance floor and share the gift of dance with our girls. It is such a wonderful, easy way to connect with them, especially on cold, gray days when we all need a little lift. On days like these, I’m relieved to see those beautiful toes peek out and accept another invitation to dance.


read to me THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2010

Ellen is a voracious reader. She will choose a book from her “library� (the low shelf dedicated to nearly indestructible board books) and bring it to whoever is nearest. Once the book is over, she will let out a loud yell and go get another book. Or she will shake the first book and make monkey noises until we read it again. . . and again. Amabel likes books perhaps even more than Ellen. Today Amabel and I went on a date to the library. I do think she would have been content to sit and read together all afternoon. But because we needed to get home to our little one, we finally packed up and checked out some audio books. And then Amabel continued to listen to stories upstairs in her room until dinnertime. Amabel has been a storyteller for a long time, but I believe this evening was the first time she read a book to someone else. Her listener was, of course, Ellen. And Ellen was as pleased as could be to hear a familiar story (Good Night, Gorilla) narrated by her beloved sister.



getting ready FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2010

Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. I get teased about that sometimes. But I love pink; I love hearts; and I love to make cards. So, it is only natural, I think, that I should be so fond of February 14th. The Ladies Gift Shop has been busy over the past week. In my enthusiasm, I tried to start a project one morning while both girls were downstairs, and, not surprisingly, chaos ensued. Ellen discovered the sewing machine peddle. You can imagine that. Amabel and I then decided that we will open up our workshop only during the afternoon (while Ellen sleeps). Amabel loves to sit on my lap and work on the sewing machine. She pretty much loves making anything that involves sharp objects. I wish that she loved giving things away as much as she loves making them. But maybe that character trait develops later on in life? The idea for this heart garland came from a fellow blogger: are so happy. I wish I had a better picture, but Amabel instantly took it upstairs and added it to her collection of fancy objects. These are my favorite Valentine treasures. The idea for these little felted acorns came from Bella Luna Toys. Amabel has all of them stashed away in her room. I think that I will make more while she is sleeping and then tuck them into unsuspecting friends’ pockets on Valentine’s Day.



happy valentine’s day! SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2010

On Amabel’s first Valentine’s Day, I took pictures of this sweet little five-month-old clutching cut-out hearts and sent the photos to Jeffrey in his Pittsburgh office. Since then, taking Valentine photos of Amabel has become a sort of tradition. I think I forgot to do it last year because Ellen was so tiny. But yesterday I went all out: first I dressed the girls in matching outfits (which I rarely do); then I moved the red-and-white checkered chair into the best light in the house; and finally, I got out the camera and a few heart props . . . at which point, Amabel stripped off her shirt; Ellen proceeded to eat the paper hearts; and Amabel screamed when Ellen pulled her hair, adding, “Mama, I’m maxed out of the camera. I’m going to hide.” After lunch, when everyone was feeling more cheerful, we did take some photos. The results weren’t exactly what I had in mind, but looking at them now, I am just filled with love for these little girls. Sometimes, when looking at pictures, I think how a still photograph inevitably fails to capture the vibrant movement of a child. And yet, I love to look at my children as they are captured in photos. The images give me a different perspective on two very familiar subjects. Sometimes I snap a bunch of pictures during the day just so that I can look back on them later, when the house is quiet and still. It is satisfying, somehow, to look back on their unique expressions, their bright eyes, their pure presence. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!



gousty light WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2010

Amabel, Ellen, and I recently spent an afternoon at my parents’ home. It was a beautiful day, and the sunlight coming through the windows, intensified by the white landscape, was stunning. My parents live in a new house, built on the land they’ve lived on for almost 20 years. Over the past two years we watched the old house come down and the new house gradually take shape. I could spend all day inside, looking out the windows, taking in the familiar landscape from a new perspective. And I could spend all day inside, watching the sunlight creep across the window panes, into the beautiful space my parents now call home. I could also spend all day outside, walking. I love this land. I know the line of the hills almost by heart. And I am so very grateful that my girls can grow up knowing this place and sharing its beauty with Grandmommy and Grandfather. The only thing missing now is a dog. We are working on that. . .



help SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2010

Yesterday we had beautiful sunshine all day long. And there was a hopeful hint of spring in the air. Amabel and I spent part of the afternoon on the back porch playing with her portable beach (a heavy box of sand and beach treasures). First, Amabel created a landscape by herself. Then she wanted my help moving sand around. Today we cleaned up her room. Finally. And what did it take to organize all her tiny collections? Just a little bit of help. Amabel was so peaceful after we spent a happy couple of hours sorting her things and cleaning up her space. She even decided that we were twin sisters, playing together. I wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. Perhaps I’d been trying too hard to “live in the question.” (Why does my daughter insist on saving boxes and bowls of tiny cut-up objects?) Maybe I’d overestimated what a four-year-old can manage on her own. Perhaps, after avoiding her room for so long, I was simply intimidated by it. And maybe I’d become so occupied with two little girls that I simply forgot to offer my warm, enthusiastic help. This week, I want to cherish helping my little twin.



nola WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2010

We spent the past week in New Orleans, visiting my brother and sister-in-law. The girls loved spending time with beloved Chris and Lara, exploring the city together, and, of course, playing with the cats, Henry and Zoe.



let go SUNDAY, MARCH 7, 2010

“Fly me, Papa!” is an oft-heard request in our family. We’ve had some power struggles around our house lately. At times I’ve been holding my hands too tightly on my mothering reins. Amabel doesn’t respond well to the pressure of my set expectations. Neither does Ellen, in her own little way. How grateful I am for the release of spring and the promise of each new day. How grateful I am for the unconditional love of my daughters, for their honest forgiveness, and for their love of sovereignty. This week I want to welcome the coming season and let go of the illusion of control. Let go and let them fly.


why i keep coming back TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2010

One year and 70 blog posts after starting Amabellen, I’m reflecting on this place that has become my online home. What strikes me most is how different Amabellen is from what I thought it would be. When I began, I thought that my blog would be an extension of my journal. As an avid writer, I’ve kept a hand-written journal since I was 15. I have a bookshelf next to our bed devoted to my journals. I love to write in a notebook; I love the way my thoughts sit on the pages; and I love the way the pages pile up on the shelf. When I am in need of perspective, I turn back to a chapter of my life from a year ago or two. . . or ten. And so last March, when I began, I thought that my blog would be a sort of polished supplement to my journal. I would write like I do in a notebook and then edit my text. And I would include a few photos. When I write in my journal, I don’t edit myself (thank goodness). But as I soon discovered, when I blog, I write and edit simultaneously. And this changes my voice considerably. During my year of “blogging” I have become increasingly aware of the self-censoring I do. Sometimes I start to compose a blog post when I really should be sitting on the couch with my journal. Last weekend, for instance, I spent a precious hour-and-a-half in front of the screen, hashing out my frustrations with a particular education philosophy. After writing about 600 carefully chosen words, I ditched the whole thing and returned the next day to compose the two little paragraphs in my post “Let Go.” This is not uncommon. I often write something three or four times the length of what you will finally see online and then edit the original down to its essence or transform it into something else entirely. This is good work. This is what writing and editing is all about. But this is not journaling. And because I have been known to become obsessed with words (this is why I am an editor, after all), and because blogs don’t have deadlines and mamas need sleep, my musings have grown shorter over the months. I have also spent more time with pictures than I expected. I have no formal training in photography. When I started blogging, we photographed our girls with a modest digital camera. But when Jeffrey gifted us with a nicer SLR camera last spring, I began to put more thought into my images. My efforts were rewarded, and because the blog is such a perfect format to share photography, I now think about my images and text together; even though a year ago I probably would have described myself as just a “word person.” As my blog has grown, so have my blogging reservations. Sometimes I question how it is that one can “self publish” so effortlessly online. And while I gather inspiration from fellow bloggers, I periodically regret the time I fritter away browsing other blogs. And a few times, suffering from a fishbowl complex, I’ve been close to throwing in the towel and discarding my blog in the cyberspace trashcan. But then Amabel would say something hilarious, or I would happen to capture sneaky Ellen slurping a mug of cocoa. . . and you can see how wonderful it is return to this space we’ve created.


When discussing the ups and downs of blogging with my brother a couple of months ago, Christopher encouraged me to re-articulate the purpose of my blog. After reconsidering the purpose of Amabellen, I was happily surprised to recognize how much I value the encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, and visitors that I’ve never met face-to-face. Writing to an online audience is still very new to me. I am both motivated and tormented by the question of who my audience really is, and so I greatly appreciate the connection to my readers in the form of your feedback. In recognition of this, it is one of my goals to respond more consistently to your comments and e-mails in the future. So why do I keep coming back to Amabellen? Once a week or so, the spirit moves me. I start composing a post in my head as I’m nursing Ellen to sleep or folding the laundry. I capture a series of images that I want to share. I find myself longing for the little bit of satisfaction that comes from this creative work. And I want to share our stories, and my reflections, with this audience. . . whoever and wherever you are. Indeed, I wouldn’t keep coming back if it weren’t for you


her first word THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2010

Although Ellen Marie chatters fluently in a foreign tongue, our baby girl has a limited English repertoire. Over the past few months we have heard her utter: papa, mama, up, look, uh-oh, Am-ee, baby, ow, and a few other little words, now and then, off and on. However, there is one word that Ellen has positively mastered: the universal “Hi.” On our recent trip, Ellen perfected the art of the single-word greeting. With a full smile, she addressed hundreds of passersby with a “hi” as we traveled through airports, streets, shops, restaurants, and parks. Almost anything with eyes, in fact, received a greeting: advertisements with faces; dogs in the back of a truck; creatures behind flip-book flaps; her reflection in a window; the picture of a lemur on a granola bar wrapper. “Hi!” Sometimes the joy in “hi” is in the response. Our fellow air travelers helped to entertain Ellen by simply returning her greeting. Or when a “hi” was acknowledged, Ellen continued the conversation with a round of peek-a-boo or a game of point and say. But Ellen also has a breathy version of hello. She has discovered that the effect of murmuring “hi” is different from the energetic greeting. The exchange is more nuanced. She loves to converse with us in one-word whispers. All too soon, our little knee-walker will rise to her feet and learn to express herself with a host of expressions. But for now, life is truly good for a babe who greets the world enthusiastically with a single syllable. May we always remember the sweet sound of Ellen’s first word.


welcome spring! WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2010



amabel THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 2010

This week Amabel has been playing outside with a neighbor friend that she hasn’t seen since last autumn. Today, he came running down the front sidewalk, calling out an enthusiastic “Hi Annabelle!” A few minutes later, from my position, raking in the side yard, I overheard Amabel repeating to him several times, “Ah-MA-bel; my name is Ah-MA-bel.” He is only five, and he can’t quite make the distinction between the ‘m’ and the ‘n.’ Amabel’s friend is not alone in mispronouncing her name. Far from it. Soon after Amabel was born we received a pile of baby cards with every possible interpretation. From Anabel to Omibelle to Anniboo, I think we’ve heard them all by now. I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult. Tonight when Amabel explained to me that her friend “could not say” her name, we started to talk about what it means and where it comes from. My brief search led us to a definition from Wiktionary: Amabel is a Medieval English name apparently based on Latin amabilis (‘lovable’). A difficult name, perhaps, but a beautiful, simple definition. When I read it out loud to Amabel, she replied in sheer delight, “So I am able to be loved!” Yes indeed, my dear, you are loved.


hoops MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2010

Amabel has been asking for a hula hoop for a few months. On Friday, we finally took on the task and made a family of hoops (using these simple instructions). And we’ve all been hooping - to varying degrees - ever since. Ellen is particularly intrigued with the activity. She sends us into fits of laughter when she rocks back and forth furiously, gripping on to her mini-hoop. When she needs a rest from her aerobic workout, she pauses and flashes us a huge grin, as if to say, “I’ve really got it!”

When I was trying to capture a decent image of hoop motion in our living room yesterday, my dear friend Jenny came to mind. Jenny is posting a photo a day this year, and I am very inspired by her work. I am especially struck by the way her panning photos capture children in motion, which is a constant challenge for me. I found myself wishing that Jenny was next to me, yesterday, to give me a quick photography lesson, because I kept taking photos that looked like this. . .


handwork WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010

Last week we created a few colorful felted eggs. I am not experienced with wet felting; I was grateful to have two eager helpers. Our eggs turned out well (for beginners), but I learned more from the process than the product. As I caught myself wondering whether or not the soggy wool would actually turn out looking like eggs, cousin Philena and Amabel were utterly absorbed in the bowl of warm, soapy water and the fiber between their fingers.



spring snails THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 2010



easter eggs SATURDAY, APRIL 3, 2010



alone SUNDAY, APRIL 4, 2010

Spring is the season that finds me most longing for the forest. And I dream about going there alone. I love the solitude of the woods, especially in this season of rebirth. But when was the last time I was alone in the woods? When was the last time I was alone anywhere? Living with two small children, I find it nearly impossible to be alone. Even when I am alone, I just don’t feel alone. Little people need me. And I love that, of course. Living in an urban environment, even when I do go out ‘alone’ for a walk or sit ‘alone’ in our window seat to write, I find myself distracted. A car rushes past. Someone walks in front of our house, down the sidewalk. The dog across the street barks. A child calls out. Alone in the woods seems little more than a memory. Alone in the woods feels far, far away. And, yet, I can still go there. I can still go there because I spent so much time there with my Airedale, Maude. Maude has been on my mind recently. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe because a year ago we said farewell to Alice, the puppy who spent seven months with us. Maybe because we’ve been talking about the possibility of a new dog for my parents. Maybe just because it is spring. Maude loved spring. Maude came to live with our family when I was 10. She and I grew up together, exploring the hills of Gousty Knowe. Maude was my walking companion and my trusty friend during a series of moves, new schools, and unpredictable friendships. Maude and I walked together nearly every day during my middle- and high-school years. During college breaks at home, I treasured our walks even more. When Jeffrey and I were married, Maude was our flower girl. And although Maude never particularly liked babies or small children, she loved Amabel. Maude was 16 when she passed on two years ago. Occasionally, she will still speak out, in the raspy voice we created for her. And she lives on in the stories Amabel likes to hear us tell over and over again. I miss my old girl. I miss the way she would frolic about in the spring, taking in the air and the earth with her whole furry being. I miss her quiet, trusty companionship. And I miss the time we spent together, alone, walking in wild places. I am grateful that I can still go there, in my mind, even in the midst of this lively chapter of mothering. I hope, with all my heart, that I can pass this place onto my daughters. I hope that they will discover, for themselves someday, the joy of being alone in the woods.



the beach SUNDAY, APRIL 11, 2010

The beach is my favorite place to take photographs. I never tire of the landscape. And the girls never run out of things to do. This morning the cold wind sent us home earlier than we’d wished. But the light was absolutely stunning. I am so grateful to live within a short walk of this beautiful place.


the question of socialization MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010

It has been our intention to homeschool since Amabel was a baby. Not long after Jeffrey and I discovered books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, we were convinced. We were eager to share the journey of learning with our children. However, despite the wonderful curriculum I purchased last fall, the reading I’ve been doing, and the family rhythm I’ve been working to establish, there has been one main issue nagging at me over the past six months: the question of socialization. Making new friends has never come easily to Amabel (I wrote about this subject a year ago). And over the past few months, she has been especially hesitant to attend gatherings with other children. She loves to spend time with family members and people she knows well, but it seems to be difficult for her to join a group of children or connect with a new friend. And because of her social inhibitions, I have found myself perplexed about homeschooling and its relation to socialization. Fortunately, I recently discovered a wonderful post on Carrie Dendler’s blog, regarding ‘social experiences’ for the four-year-old. This really helped me to put my expectations into perspective. When I stopped expecting Amabel to enjoy getting together with other kids, she and I both became much happier. And now, something wonderful is beginning to take hold in our house. Amabel is starting to play, really play, with Ellen. This may not seem extraordinary; but for me it is a revelation and a relief. It should come as no surprise that Amabel’s newfound interest in Ellen coincides with the advent of Ellen’s speech. Ellen still has a limited vocabulary, to be sure, but it is as if her new little words are the invitation Amabel has been waiting for. A few days ago, Amabel was sitting next to Ellen out in the living room. They were looking at books. I was in the kitchen when Amabel called, “Mama, Ellen said ‘fizz’!” I looked around the corner. “Ellen, say it! Say FIZZ!” Ellen grinned. (And, oh, how Ellen can grin.) Then she made a noise sort of like fizz. Amabel yelled proudly, “She can say fizz!” Last night Amabel was sitting on her bed when she dropped a marker on the rug. “Uh-oh,” Amabel said. Then Ellen replied from the adjacent room, “AH-OHH!” Amabel repeated the word, and they went back and forth until Amabel, in a fit of giggles, went running through the doorway and threw herself down on the bed next to Ellen. This afternoon Ellen noticed a squirrel out on the bird feeder. “Puppy!” she proclaimed, triumphantly. Amabel peeked out the window and then burst out laughing. “Puppy!” Amabel repeated, dancing around Ellen. “Puppy!” Ellen chimed back. And on and on. Amabel makes connections with words. She is drawn to people who talk to her with warmth and genuine interest. She loves stories, poems, and silly jokes. And she loves to sing almost as much as she loves to talk. And now that Ellen is starting to talk, Amabel loves to play with Ellen, with words. 124

Playing with words has opened Amabel up to all sorts of new games with Ellen. They have been dancing, riding on stick ponies, tickling, and giggling together. Amabel has actually been sharing toys, willingly, with her sister. Ellen is utterly delighted to be the object of Amabel’s affection. The question of socialization still remains open, but now I have one more thing to consider: the growing friendship of our dear daughters.



spring in the garden TUESDAY, APRIL 20, 2010



crayon rocks THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2010

Amabel has never liked working with crayon blocks. After examining her new set of beautiful stockmar crayons, she put them aside; for over a year, they have sat on her desk shelf. When she wants to draw, she reaches for colored pencils or markers. Crayon blocks are not very useful for detailed work. And Amabel likes details. However, this afternoon she discovered that these beeswax crayons, warmed by the sun, rub perfectly onto the smooth surface of beach stones. Utterly absorbed in her work, chattering away to herself, she spent a peaceful hour on the back porch, coloring with sweet-smelling beeswax.


quote of the day MONDAY, APRIL 26, 2010

“Mama, come look! I made a mohawk in Beana’s hair with a toothbrush!”


joy WEDNESDAY, APRIL 28, 2010


garden girls TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010


pause SATURDAY, MAY 8, 2010



beach date FRIDAY, MAY 14, 2010

After an unusually long and busy week, Amabel needed some mama time tonight. We went on a beach date. And it was the perfect way to reconnect. We won’t have this shoreline to ourselves for much longer this season. I’m enjoying the glorious solitude while it lasts.


public places THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2010

Yesterday I was taking pictures of Amabel’s fairy garden. “Mama,” she said, “I don’t want anyone to see this place. If anyone sees it, the fairy won’t come. I don’t even want to tell anyone about it.” And so today, I present to you, a solitary Poppy (not part of the fairy garden, you understand) and a few questions. I love to take pictures of the girls; I love to write about the girls; and this blog is a wonderful forum for this activity. It is so easy to post here. But too easy, perhaps? By sharing our little world, making snippets of our days “public” on the blog, am I infringing upon our family privacy? The lines between public and private have become so blurred online. This makes me wary. But I’m not expressly concerned with our safety. I’m concerned with what I do not know: how being able to share our little world so easily may change things that I cannot foresee. How will my children look back on the way I have portrayed our life? Does this online place alter our days together at home? How does this blog affect the way I interact with others face-to-face? How does the ability to ‘publish’ without an editor impact my writing? Would it be more respectful to my children to record these photos and musings in a private framework? Have I become self conscious, on a certain level, knowing that our day-to-day life can be made public in one click? Will the fairy come to visit a public place. . . ?


quote of the day SUNDAY, MAY 23, 2010

“Hot tea! Hot tea!” Ellen calls any vessel of liquid, including mugs, cups, bottles, teapots, and watering cans, “hot tea” in her confident little deep voice.



baby moments FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2010

While I was finishing dinner last night, I asked Jeffrey to take a few pictures of Ellen in this oldschool romper, which my mom found at her favorite thrift shop. Our Ellen is in such a classic baby stage with her plump cheeks and head of wispy fuzz: and this little suit completes the look perfectly. We have a new neighbor who has been enjoying the recent weather on her porch. Every time she sees us outside she says, “You are one lucky woman. Enjoy them girls.� I guess I will. I guess I am. Perhaps I understand a little bit better, this time around, how quickly babyhood passes. And so, I cannot help but to linger here . . . in these baby moments. In the fullness of her smile. The joy in her eyes. The peace in her face. Thank goodness for babies.



edward tulane WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2010

I walked through Amabel’s room this afternoon to tuck a pile of blankets into her closet. I stopped for a moment to listen to the book on tape she had just begun. I put the pile of blankets down. I sat on her bed and I stayed there for nearly two hours. Amabel was drawing. I was knitting. Together we listened to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, a book recommended to us by our friends at the Books for Walls project. We were totally captivated by the tale of the china rabbit and his adventures as he is discovered and loved by a cast of peculiar characters. Edward’s story is one of tenderness. Above all, it reminds us that even in the face of our doubts, love swells from loss. Although I wonder how much Amabel absorbed, her wide eyes and still countenance communicated her appreciation for the story. I marvel at the skill of this author; it is a rare book that truly speaks to both mother and child. For the rest of the day, I found myself walking at a slower pace. I attended to my daughters with more patience. I watched Amabel respond to Ellen with greater care and warmth. And I felt quiet gratitude for the story of Edward Tulane.



simplicity parenting TUESDAY, JUNE 8, 2010

We finally decided to take the plunge and paint Amabel’s room. Before painting, we had to completely clear out the space, of course. And if you remember how much Amabel cherishes her room, well then you will understand that clearing it out was no small feat. But we did it. And after hours of scraping ancient wallpaper, scrubbing, patching plaster, caulking, painting, and painting some more (with the help of many family members, without whom we could not have accomplished such a task!), Amabel now has a lovely lavender blue room. Grandmommy calls it periwinkle. The day after we finished Amabel’s room, I listened to an interview with Kim John Payne, the author of Simplicity Parenting. The timing was perfect. Amabel’s room was still clutter free; all we had moved back in was her bed, rug, desk, dresser, and bookshelf. It was lovely like that. So peaceful. So spacious. Perfect, I thought. Amabel’s room has been simplified! Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. We did return her beloved dollhouse into the room (the dollhouse that my brother and I spent hours playing in as children). I filled her bookshelf with books. And I brought out her basket of play silks. But no stuffed animals. No other dolls. No accessories. No trinkets. No other stuff. I left it all packed away in two storage bins, in the attic closet. Each day over the past week, she has asked for at least one thing: her jewelry box, a particular activity book, a baby doll. Sometimes I find the requested item and bring it into her room. Sometimes it seems that she is determined just to fill her room back up. But each night, before (or after) she goes to sleep, I tuck things back away, into the closet. I don’t talk about it; I just do it. I still have the word “simplicity” ringing in my ears. Why is it so important to me that we keep this space simple (and work through all the other rooms in our home)? I will quote from the book Simplicity Parenting: Too much stuff leads to too many choices. A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement. An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm. By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self. Amabel is easily overwhelmed by stuff (remember last Christmas?). She wakes up happy in a clutterfree room. It is true that Amabel had paper scraps, markers, ribbons, buttons, and dollhouse items spread out all over her rug this afternoon. But it is easy to put things away now because there is much less. And for Amabel, less stuff means less worry. Less worry means less yelling at a certain little person who is quick to grab anything and run off with it clutched in a tiny fist. Simplicity Parenting outlines four main areas of a child’s experience: Environment, Rhythm, Schedules, and Filtering Out the Adult World. My focus on Amabel’s room is just the beginning of simplifying her experience, but an excellent beginning to be sure. I hope to return in a month to report on the state of the lovely lavender room . . . and my commitment to simplicity in our home. 143


i love lavender MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2010

Gathering lavender reminds me of my Mother. As a child I remember her describing lavender as the only scent she ever wore. And it was a familiar, yet subtle fragrance around our house: lavender soap next to the sink, lavender sachets in the cedar chest, and lavender in my Mother’s abundant gardens. In my childhood memories, my Mother’s hands are covered in dirt; she has a pair of garden sheers in one hand and a bucket of colorful flowers in the other. Her arms are brown from many summer afternoons in the sunshine, and she smells of sweet, soft lavender. Now I am watching her create new gardens on familiar land. This is my parent’s first spring in their new home (a new home constructed on the land they have loved for nearly twenty years). And they are in their element. My Father is busy moving rocks around, mixing compost into the soil, and spreading buckwheat seed. My Mother is filling every spot of bare earth with baby plants - flowers, herbs, vegetables, and ornamental shrubs. In May, my parents transplanted dozens of tiny lilac bushes from a secret spot way back up the valley. Together they are weaving a landscape of color and beauty around their new home. I can trace my own love of the earth back to my parents. How grateful I am for the hours they spent in their gardens - those gardens that felt as much home to me as did the inside of our house. Soon, I suspect, my girls will have their own memories of Grandfather’s carrots, peeking up in tidy rows, Grandmommy’s hands covered in dirt, and the scent of lavender love.


morning adventure THURSDAY, JUNE 17, 2010


bathing WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2010

“We often bathe our children in words. By keeping a running commentary on everything they do, we mean to assure them that we’re noticing. Yet the more we’re talking, the less we are really noticing.” Simplicity Parenting, page 185. This summer I plan to spend less time bathing my children in words and more time bathing them in the Lake.



when life gives you lemons SATURDAY, JULY 10, 2010

It’s that time of the year again. My least favorite week of the summer. Amabel, on the other hand, didn’t let the constant stream of traffic ruin her day. She spent a lovely afternoon out in the front yard, greeting festival goers with lemonade and smiles. At one point she ran in the house and yelled, “Mama, I even got some paper money!”



august heat MONDAY, AUGUST 2, 2010

We’ve been . . . working in the garden; spending time with family; creating inside; playing outside; and dreaming in the summer heat.



l’ecole d’amie FRIDAY, AUGUST 6, 2010

Ellen’s sweetest word thus far is the name she has given her sister, “Amie.” The name is fitting for a number of reasons. “Amie” is French, of course, for “friend.” Amabel’s name has its roots in the French. My dear Aunt Zane lives in France, and I studied in France. So, you can imagine my delight in hearing Ellen speaking to her beloved Amie. Amie is very eager to create a school, her own sort of school, this autumn. She has big plans for the first day (the day after her birthday), all the children we will invite, and all the subjects we will teach. She will be both a student and a teacher, naturally. She will teach gymnastics. Papa will teach drawing, painting, numbers, and “tools.” Mama will teach letters, singing, gardening, and French. And this is only the beginning. Amabel has asked me to keep track of who will be teaching at “L’Ecole D’Amie.” Here is her list so far: Grandfather will be the Principal. Grandmommy will teach sewing and cooking. Uncle James will teach about airplanes and flying. Aunt Jamaica will teach dance. Uncle Christopher will teach fishing, reading, and “subsets.” Aunt Lara will teach fashion design. Aunt Elizabeth will give art classes. Cousin Philena will demonstrate cartwheels. Uncle Aric will teach Spanish and aviation. Gommy will teach math and organize craft activities. Boppa will teach woodworking. Aunt Kim will teach photography and piano lessons. Cousin Cora will instruct children on the monkey bars. Uncle Kenny will teach fitness and weight lifting. Uncle Scott will teach creative writing and nutrition. Aunt Debbie will teach baking. Cousin Frances will teach jewelry making. Aunt Marcia will teach swimming. Uncle Wally will teach watercolor painting. Amabel would like to extend an invitation to all children to attend classes at our school this year. She will be working on admissions forms this weekend. Please let us know if you would like to be put on the mailing list for L’Ecole D’Amie.



welcome fairies SUNDAY, AUGUST 8, 2010

We were inspired by the fairy gardens we ‘visited’ thanks to the Magic Onions Fairy Garden Competition. Amabel and I spent a peaceful afternoon in our own garden yesterday, creating a place for the fairies to play. She ever-so-carefully painted acorn cups, gathered leaves and petals, arranged baskets and shiny marbles. . . narrating all the while, of course, in Amabel fashion. Perhaps we’ll make another fairy home this week: wouldn’t a beach garden be lovely?



hope THURSDAY, AUGUST 19, 2010

It took me a few minutes to realize that I was carrying it around. After simplifying my work space, I had sorted through pile after pile of papers, cards, receipts, bills, and scribbles, and I was down to a small stack on top of my ‘current’ clipboard. I filed some bank statements, recycled a few notes, concealed my scissors in a baby-proof drawer, and then I began to put away a handful of pens and pencils. As I stood in evening light, placing each utensil in its recently labeled cigar box, I realized that I was holding the letter in my hand. I had taken it off my clipboard, as it was no longer current. But it didn’t belong in any of our existing files or storage boxes. I didn’t know quite where to put it, and so, unconsciously, I’d carried it with me from room to room, as I sorted through the remaining objects on my desk. The letter was not dated. I reached back into my memory to recall when we found it, left for us on their kitchen counter. It was a Friday morning in June. An early summer breeze was coming in through their windows. The sun filtering through the magnificent trees cast shifting patterns on the expansive gardens and meadow. Everything was just how I’d remembered it, only more perfect. I had walked up the oak staircase to the landing and stood at the window, alone. I’d looked out over the field, the barn, the hill. I’d envisioned my children growing up in that place. I had even imagined myself there, at my own desk, writing. Stirred back by the whir of our living room fan, I looked down at the letter and wondered if I should just throw it away. *** We dreamed about buying a farmhouse this summer. We visited twice. We stayed up late, brainstorming. We wrote letters. They wrote back. We worked on our house in town, preparing to sell. We made offers on our dream house. And counter offers. In the end, it wasn’t to be. The numbers didn’t look promising and we decided to let it go. We let it go, but I still have a letter, and I still have hope.



farewell to amabellen FRIDAY, AUGUST 27, 2010

The time has come for me to say farewell to amabellen. This blog has served me well over the past 18 months. I am very grateful for this online place where I’ve kept a journal of our family milestones and times of transition. Here is a recapitulation of my favorite and most meaningful posts: It started with Ellen’s birth. This right of passage into the parenthood of two, inspired me to start blogging. After that it was saying goodbye to our puppy, Alice. Dear, sweet Alice. Last June I created my all-time-favorite post: On the Rocks, which is symbolic of the incredible transition Amabel has made from being an only child to one of two. All along, I’ve been considering our life in the city, as a woman who has the land deep in my heart. Urban Foraging helped me to clarify the places we love right in our own neighborhood. This spring I reflected on being Alone in the woods. And a theme that reoccurs in my writing, time and time again, is my connection to the place of my childhood. Last autumn, there was the cast and the art therapy and nurse play that ensued from that event. I sorted through my feelings about Amabel’s room early this year, and eventually we simplified her space, much to our collective relief. Ellen’s first word was a joyful time in her babyhood that will remain crystallized in my memory thanks to this post. This spring I explored some of my concerns about teaching my children at home, which helped to further my own understanding of ‘socialization.’ And there was that question of privacy, which still vexes me. And in honor of my concerns about privacy and also my plans to pursue other writing projects this year, I am going to retire this blog. It is perhaps significant that this is my 100th post on amabellen. 100 seems like a good marker and also a good place to close this chapter of online journaling. I thank you friends, near and far, old and new, for your visits to this place, for your encouragement, and for your comments and kindness. I hope we’ll continue to be in touch. I will keep this site up for a few more weeks while I archive its contents. Please do leave a comment, or send an e-mail if you are so inspired. Again, thank you all.


I am Zane Kathryne Schwaiger, sharing life with my husband, Je˜ rey, mothering our two beautiful daughters, and blogging at ‘amabellen’ when time allows. I am also a very part-time freelance writer and editor, working for various individuals and organizations across the country. Our family is ever grateful to live within view of Lake Michigan.



Za n e K a th r yne Schw aig er

Amabel and Ellen keep me occupied and inspired every day, and I blog here mainly to record some of our family stories and share them with family and friends. But I also blog to engage in the art of writing and to give myself time to ÿ nd perspective. In this space I can revise my words and shape my thoughts; I can post photographs that capture moments from our days; and I can return to see that picture of Amabel hanging up silk cloths in that funny red dress she put on herself - backwards.


About the Author


Why Amabellen? Soon after Ellen was born, Je˜ rey realized that our daughter’s names could be combined into a fashionable sounding word: Amabellen. It has since become the inspiration for my blog.


The first 18 months.


The first 18 months.