Winter time

For me, winter is about reflection on the past year, letter writing, curling up with a good book and some hot chocolate, and projects. Let’s start with the last first and move backward from there. (Trying to make up for my lack of posts here with a long one with lots of photos, folks!)

I taught myself to crochet in October and have been pretty much a crochet fiend since then. I made almost all of the Christmas presents I gave this year, and while that did add to my stress load a bit as the holiday approached (pretty much spent all free time crocheting), I’m glad I did it. Homemade gifts are far more appreciated than store-bought ones. Of course I forgot to take pictures of all the different lovelies I created because I was more concerned with getting them done than snapping photos. Wish I’d been more diligent about my picture taking but well, next time. I made crochet snowflakes (both with crochet thread, which is quite time-consuming, and with worsted weight yarn) for my grandmothers, ear warmers for my female cousins and sister (they all matched, but were different colors: blue, orange, 2 purple, pink), and cowls/scarves for my mom (wave stitch in a delightful autumn red), a friend (double crochet fans), another friend and my step-mom (broomstick lace in china blue). Here are photos of a couple of them:

Crochet thread snowflake

I have a whole new appreciation for these crochet thread snowflakes. They take forever! I think each of the two I made took nearly three hours.

Crochet yarn star

These yarn snowflakes on the other hand I can whip up in about 15 minutes.

Scarf for Elise

Broomstick lace cowl

Matching headbands for cousinsThese are my two of my cousins and my sister (in the middle) with their matching ear warmers. Here’s where I found the pattern.

Currently I am working on a hat for a friend who is expecting a daughter in February, two sweaters for my son (one knitted, one crocheted), and finishing a star garland that is holiday festive. I plan to have the latter finished by tonight or tomorrow afternoon before the New Year’s Eve party my husband and I are throwing. We’re excited for the party and for the fact that we’re going to celebrate the new year at about 7 p.m. so that all of our friends (the majority of whom have babies/kiddos) can go home and go to bed. When you’ve got a little boy who wakes up between 5 and 6 a.m. every day, watching the ball drop at midnight (oh and we don’t even have a TV to do that, whoops) is pretty unimportant compared to 8 hours of sleep.

I love these little projects. I’m a stay-at-home and craft all day sort of person, but I only allow myself to do that sort of thing in the winter months because it’s just too nice where I live in the summer to stay inside and craft. Summer is for gardening and hiking.

I’ll post more about my star garland soon. I’m going to post something of a tutorial for it. I found the tutorial elsewhere, but it’s in Australian crochet terms, which are a bit different than American, and I’ve streamlined/made less confusing some of the steps. I post a link to the original, of course, but I’ll update the tutorial. It’s a quick and easy garland that can really add some festive this time of year.

Stars garland beginnings

So on to reading and hot chocolate. Where we live, it snows a lot during the winter (and is currently), so we spend most of our time inside (though we love to ski, snowmobile, and snowshoe too!). And since it’s dark so much here in the northern U.S. (sun sets by about 5 p.m. and doesn’t come back up ’til 8 a.m. or so) in the winter, there isn’t much to do in the evening hours but craft and read. Here’s a photo from our living room (oh right, it’s been so long since I posted I forgot to tell you all we moved to town!)

Snowy view

My reading has changed a lot since my son was born. Used to be that I could dash through two or so novels a week. Now if I finish a novel in a month, I’ve clearly had a lot of time to read! I’m re-reading Little Women right now, which is one of my favorite books (and movie! – the one with Winona Ryder) for sentimental reasons. I love that my copy of the book has an inscription from my aunt, who gave me the book a decade ago.

Little Women inscription

The inscription reads: “Christmas 2002, To our dear Kelley, It has been such a pleasure and delight to watch you grow up into such a fine young woman. We hope you will enjoy these books just as I did as a young girl and pass them onto your own one day. We wish you all the best, Kelley, and love you very much. Auntlee, Uncle Chris, Kylee & Hali.

I have ever so many other books on my reading list, and am supremely grateful for the Amazon gift card I received for Christmas for buying books! I try to use the local library as much as possible, but with my reading time so brief every day I often have to return the books I’ve checked out before I’ve finished them (or sometimes even cracked the cover). And I also try to patronize our local book stores (we don’t have a box chain bookstore here anymore… which is so completely awesome) too, but you can’t argue with gift cards! I need to be better about updating my “What I’m Reading” tab on this blog… but I don’t get much reading in these days so that’s why it doesn’t change much! I also have subscriptions to the New Yorker magazine and High Country News magazine, so I try to get those read too.

Rounding the corner to writing letters: I love to write letters (the snail mail variety) and trade frequent letters with a friend who lives in the mountains in Colorado. We’ve been writing each other letters since college. I have a shoebox stuffed full of letters from her and need to catalogue them in a binder one of these days. I also try to write semi-frequent letters to my grandmother, and to several other friends who I know appreciate that sort of thing. I just picked up a new pen for my letter writing and can’t wait to bust it out (yes I have to have a specific pen for letter writing or it’s just not as enjoyable). I also have scads of thank-you notes to write for Christmas presents. I was raised that one MUST write thank-you notes for Christmas and birthday presents and while I loathed writing thank-you notes for years, now I’m appreciative of the fact my mother made me write them. It’s a little gesture that means a lot. Just like a letter.

Finally, winter is a time of reflection. It’s for thinking about the year gone by (and holy moly was this an epic year), and thinking of the year to come. It’s for sitting in living rooms watching the snow fall. It’s for visiting friends and talking about what they’re reflecting upon to. Few things are closer to heaven for me than sitting with good friends engaged in good conversation in front of a fireplace or wood stove while the snow falls without. Seriously blissful.

I have two New Year’s resolutions this year. And I’m not a resolutions sort of person, but this year it just feels right.

1. Do yoga 2-3 times a week. There’s a yoga studio/wellness center in my town that has yoga classes three times a week for $7 a class. I can’t wait to start on Wednesday. For me, yoga is good, low-impact exercise. And I need flexibility and centeredness back in my life.

2. Write. Every. Day. EVERY DAY. I have three novels in the works (one fiction, one historical fiction, one gothic children’s fiction) and they’re never going to get done if I don’t work on them diligently. So my goal is 500 words (one page in Word) every day. I’ve already started this resolution and today is day three of success.

So there, I did it. Snuck a post in this December. Whew. It was getting down to the wire there, folks.

Happy New Year! I have a feeling 2013 is going to be pretty rad.

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Festive scarf

I actually completed this scarf about a month ago, but didn’t post pictures until it had made its way to the person who I made it for (sent it early so she could get more use out of the scarf this winter instead of waiting until late December). Didn’t want to spoil the surprise since she reads this blog! It was the very first thing I made after learning how to crochet. Here’s a link to the pattern. The only thing I did differently from the pattern is use three different colors in the scarf instead of one. I thought that made it a bit more interesting (the pattern is pretty enough for just one color, though!). If anyone is interested in where I find the patterns I use (I’m a tightwad, so I find free ones, but make sure to give credit where credit is due), please consider following my crochet board on Pinterest!

I whipped this scarf up in no time at all. A very quick pattern!

So far my handmade Christmas presents are coming along nicely! It’s much more fun than shopping. Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe shopping?

Our Christmas surprise (part one)

OK, folks, I finally have found some time to get this post written! I apologize it took so long, but, well, babies are time consuming! This is a long story I have to share, so it’s going to be in two parts. This part is about labor and delivery. The next part will be about the week we spent in the hospital.

Let’s start at the beginning of our little saga. First of all, keep in mind that my son’s due date was January 23, 2012. So it was December 22, 2011. I got up about 3 a.m. (For the last month of my pregnancy I had terrible back pain. I couldn’t sleep for longer than five to six hours at a stretch without needing to get up and do something other than be prone for a while.) to use the bathroom and when I came back to bed I had several contractions in quick succession. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks, but I knew these were different because they hurt. Not terribly, but no picnic either. But after 15 minutes or so, the contractions stopped and I went back to sleep.

That same day I had an OB appointment. Keep in mind that I live 75 miles from my OB. Anyway, we drove in for an appointment and things went normally. Because I have Factor V Leiden (I’m a super clotter! This is good because it will keep me from hemorrhaging during childbirth, but bad because of the Western diet… I’ve got to keep an very close eye on my blood pressure, eat healthily and exercise to keep my weight at a healthy point.), my OB had me come in weekly from 32 weeks on to be hooked up to a fetal monitor to make sure my little guy wasn’t in distress. And that Thursday, everything was just fine. I mentioned the contractions to my OB and he did a cervical examination. I was 2 cm dilated, but that’s pretty normal and many women walk around 2 or more cm dilated up to and past their due dates. My husband and I had lunch and went home.

Fast forward to 6:45 p.m. that evening. We were making dinner (homemade Swedish meatballs with lignonberries… so good!) and the contractions started again. Odd, but it was a month early. I couldn’t be in labor, right? After an hour or two we started writing down the times and duration of the contractions. At 9 p.m. I called my OB and asked for his advice. He said if the contractions got closer than five minutes apart, to head to the hospital. He also suggested I take a bath or shower because that can stop false labor. I took his advice and took a bath followed by a shower (glad I did! I was nice and clean when I got to the hospital!), but no dice. The contractions continued so Shawn and I threw a bunch of stuff in a little bag just in case (remember I didn’t think I was in labor).

At 11 p.m. we went to the hospital. We decided to go to the one here in town instead of traveling to my OB’s hospital 75 miles away, because I was certain the doctors there would check me out and send me home. On the way to the hospital, I had multiple contractions. Throughout all of this, the contractions hurt, yes, but they weren’t terrible. I always figured childbirth would be excruciating and so I think I convinced myself that it couldn’t be labor because it didn’t hurt enough! We quickly got checked in to the labor ward, and while Shawn was filling out paperwork signing my life away, a nurse examined me.

“You’re 8 cm dilated,” she said.

“What!” I yelled. It should be noted that “what” is not what I yelled. Let’s just say it’s a word that starts with an F. It’s a good thing Shawn and I decided to go to the close hospital, or we might have had a baby in the car on top of the continental divide in the middle of the night (Shawn thinks that would have been really cool… me? Not so much.)

A few minutes later an OB came running in to the labor room wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

“I’m ready!” she announced.

Apparently everybody thought I’d have that baby squeezed out within the hour.

Oh I wish. I had to have a penicillin drip because the results of my Strep B test weren’t back yet (I’d had the test that morning at my OB appointment, whoops.) and anybody who’s had a penicillin drip knows that’s nasty stuff and oh buddy, it burns.

I labored for another hour and got to 9 cm. The OB broke my water (Hey, it’s not like the movies folks – just as often as not the OB has to break the water for you! No gushing all over the sidewalk in public.), so the baby definitely had to make his entrance. But then things slowed and ground to a halt. I went back to 8 cm. And those contractions that before had been bothersome but not terrible became TERRIBLE. A few minutes apart and unbearable. My husband was holding me up because it hurt so badly I couldn’t support myself. It didn’t matter my position — on my side, standing, walking, on an exercise ball — the pain was beyond intense. The only thing getting me through them was the fact that they only lasted a minute. And while I was contracting I was focused on watching the fetal monitor to make sure my baby was doing OK throughout the process. I’m proud to report his heartbeat was steady as could be the entire time. What can I say, he’s a pretty chill little dude.

So the OB, concerned about the situation, recommended I have an epidural. She’d had time to put on scrubs at this point.

Oh the moment of truth. See, Shawn and I had decided that we were going to do this thing naturally. No drugs for my baby! And frankly the decision was just as much about the eye-popping cost of that shot — $1,400! — as it was about protecting my baby from unnecessary medications. But of course things like having a baby make the best-laid plans quickly fall apart. The OB said that we needed to get the show on the road and it clearly wasn’t going anywhere on its own. And one after another of excruciating (oh hey, there’s the excruciating pain like the movies) pain convinced me that she was right. The next 20 minutes waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive were just about the longest 20 minutes of my life.

I think that was the hardest part of the labor — sitting completely still through several awful contractions (no small feat, my friends) while a doctor put a needle in my spinal column. Freaky?

Of course the minute the epidural went into effect — quickly, thank goodness — I felt relief and labor became a breeze. I dilated to 10 cm pretty much instantly and pushed for 45 minutes. And out into the world came Jonathan Dean! He was born at 4:54 a.m. — 5 pounds, 3 oz. — on December 23, 2011, a month early!

Merry and bright

I’ve been in a funk lately… I think part of it is the prego hormones. But I think it’s mostly that it’s the Christmas season and well, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Christmas is my favorite holiday. I’ve always loved making cookies with my mom and sister; playing the “I’m thinking of a ornament that looks like…” game at night in the darkened living room with the glittering Christmas tree while sipping on Ovaltine; eating a delicious Christmas dinner; sampling “The Recipe” (a festive holiday punch… it’s got enough alcohol in it that there is a fair bit of family lore about various relatives awakening in bathtubs and under tables on Christmas mornings past). But this year it’s just Shawn and me, alone for Christmas. To be fair, it’ll be our only Christmas just the two of us, but it just doesn’t feel the same. It feels a little lonely. We don’t have a Christmas tree because we’re trying to save money and because our kitties have never been around a Christmas tree, so they’d probably take to scaling it in the wee hours of the night. I can just hear the shattering of ornaments now. We live in an apartment, so there’s no lights to string, no halls to deck, as it were. A downright bummer, if I let it be.

So you know what? It’s time to get Festive. With a capital F. We’re gonna make this Christmas happen. I even made a list. We’re going to go look at Christmas lights this week around town. We’re going to make a delicious Christmas dinner: Lamb with mint jelly, twice-baked potatoes, homemade apple sauce. We’ve got some Christmas movies to watch. I’ve got a date with a nice glass of eggnog. I’m going to make stollen for the first time ever. I’m digging out the construction paper to make a paper chain to hang. We’ve been enjoying the Season of Advent church services we’ve attended and we’re looking forward to the Christmas Eve service Saturday. And today we made Christmas cookies.

Kelley Christensen photo

Note Shawn's shirt. And yes, it glows in the dark.

Today’s festive creations are not low calorie. In fact, we used four sticks of butter. That’s right. FOUR. We made a batch of spritz, a family holiday tradition (though, alas, I lack a cookie press so they don’t look like spritz), and a batch of gingerbread trees and men.

I did this while listening to a Pandora Christmas radio station blaring out “Carol of the Bells,” “Santa Baby,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (and the occasional “Ima CHAINSAW that b*tch!” from the husband, who was indulging his “Gears of War” video game addiction in between helping making cookies and dinner). We’ve got enough cookies at this point I will probably have to start pressing them on total strangers in the street (or just our neighbors… no better way to meet neighbors than to give them cookies!).

And since we’re lacking a Christmas tree… we have a Christmas chair! For your viewing pleasure, I draped the back of the chair with the lovely tree skirt my “Montana mom” Lynnette made for us for a wedding present, and piled the chair with presents from family.

To top today off, Shawn (and the bread machine) made a loaf of homemade bread. It’s one of our favorite recipes, with raisins and orange zest in it. Yum yum yum. We’re going to eat some tonight with homemade chicken pot pie.

Things are definitely looking far more merry and bright.

And now for a nice, long break

It’s finals week this week. Poor husband, he has six finals. Lucky me, I only have one. Here’s a photo from the coffee shop today. Shawn’s studying chemistry while I work on my “finals week project.”

And here’s a close-up of my project:

This is one of those projects I’ve been working on for a while. It got put on the back burner for the past month with school (alas, my autumn-themed project has spilled over into winter). But that it’s winter break, I can resume working on it! I’m planning to make it into a pillow. I post pictures of it when I finish. Speaking of projects, I finished the little birds for the mobile for Baby C’s room, so now all we have to do is glue them to the sticks and hang the mobile. I’ll also post a picture of that soon. I’ve got scads of other projects planned for winter break, though. I want to make a stuffed puppy for the little boy, do some monogramming, make some Christmas presents, etc. Shawn and I moved my sewing desk into our room (wouldn’t fit in kiddo’s room), so I have a nice little workspace I’m putting together. I’m planning to string up an idea line, so once I get that put together I can post some photos. It’s nice to have a little workspace, even if it’s just the island of a desk where my sewing machine resides.

Other Christmas break plans include making a ton of food to freeze to we don’t have to cook for a few weeks after the baby is born, applying for scholarships, writing, and enjoying the last month of “just the two of us” with my husband. I’m also trying to make the apartment a little more festive for Christmas because we’re not getting a tree… just too much hassle this year (And where would we put it? Our apartment is tiny). I already made one Christmas ornament and have plans for others. Never underestimate the power of Christmas music, festive candles and well-placed decorations.

Frosty fenceposts

Hubs and I went back to Denver and Lodgepole, Nebraska, this past week for Christmas. We had a wonderful time seeing friends and family. It was great to re-connect with an old friend from middle and high school and meet her lovely new man. We laughed and joked with one of my bridesmaids and her boyfriend, and had a great meal with another friend from middle and high school and her husband in their new (well, not so new to them, but new to us!) house. We had Christmas with all different parts of the family and enjoyed a Christmas party on Christmas Eve. Then we headed to Nebraska for Christmas Day, and awoke to a crystalline landscape:

A hard frost coated everything in ice, from barbed wire to grass to trees. A hoarfrost, right?

It was a beautiful morning and I’m glad I took the pictures when I did because the frost burned off about an hour later. We had wonderful weather for our trip home. Northwest Montana is rather dreary and gray these days, but Denver and Lodgepole were sunny and warm! One thing we both noticed was how much earlier the sun comes up there. We leave at the 48th parallel, and these days the sun doesn’t come up until 8:30 or 9 a.m.!

This tree was the most beautiful of all. I love how the frost contrasts with the green pines to the right and the grass to the left. I think that reddish-brown grass is so beautiful, especially in the winter.

Christmas Day we enjoyed spending time with Shawn’s family. The highlight of the day was the three-hour game of Liverpool Rummy that got quite intense!

All in all, a fabulous trip home.

Decking the halls

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I’m always bummed when the big day is over. I love Christmas because it means time with my family. We make big, delicious meals, laugh and joke around the table, listen to favorite holiday tunes and spend time in front of the Christmas tree admiring the lights and ornaments.

This year the Hubs and I are headed to Denver, so we’re not decorating much and we didn’t get a tree. But the apartment still feels festive.

It’s not much, but I like the shabby-chic look of it. I simply strung ribbon through the sparkling ornament balls and hung them from the ceiling against our spiffy brick wall. The candle by the lamp is Christmas-y too.

And since we lack a fireplace, I hung the beautiful stockings Hubs’ mom made us for a wedding present from the banister of the stairs that lead up to our loft.

Hope your Christmas is merry and full of cheer!