Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life in This Great State

A drop of blood clings to the off-white border on my flannel mittens, and I realize at that moment my face must be bleeding. Seconds prior, I had hastily reached for the lower, snow-laden branch of our backyard spruce tree, trying to assist Penny, our puppy, in locating the stick I accidentally tossed into the tree. She leapt forward, thrusting all her weight into increasing her elevation. She wanted that stick and was determined. In a flash, she locked her teeth onto the stick and fell back.

Snap, cracked the branch, as snow careened through the space surrounding us. At that same moment, I felt sharp needles hit my face and mouth.

“I’m hit!” I cry out. “The branch hit me.”

I look down at my gloves and realize I’m bleeding. My face is bleeding. Darn. I run inside and tell Penny that we will pick up our game of fetch later. She chases me to the door, assuming that we are playing a new game now.

Once inside, I assess my face and clean the slight scratches.  What a morning it’s been, and it’s only slightly after 10 a.m.

Originally, I took Penny to a nearby park to get some exercise. As we ventured deeper into the park, she started jumping incessantly and fighting the leash. Betwixt by sights and sounds – none of which seemed alarming to me, she wanted to explore the north end of the park, without anyone holding her back. I couldn’t control her easily, so I told her that we were leaving. Turning toward the west park entrance, we trudged through the snow, stopping only to gather little sticks for Penny.

The swooshing sound of hundreds of birds flying overhead caught my attention and I veered back around, enjoying their airborne dance. At that same moment, I noticed a large, dark creature take shape near the playground, where we had just been.

A young moose emerged from the forest. Trotting along, it stopped to lock its gaze on us, as if to say, I’ve been watching you.

“Thanks Penny,” I motion to her with pat. “You were looking out for us. As a reward, we can play more in the backyard when we get home.”

Temperatures near our home in Anchorage, Alaska, are hovering around zero degrees this week, with an occasional spike of 8 or 10 degrees at mid-day. Most days, I keep our fireplace burning with the spruce logs we purchased last spring. I can start a fire going myself, and feel accomplished by this newfound skill. In addition to heating our home and saving on gas costs, our fireplace is cozy. It provides a charming backdrop for reading a good book while cuddling with the dog.

Life in Alaska, aptly named “The Last Frontier,” is just that. A wild, untamed land holding great promise for explorers, dreamers, and adventure seekers. There are mountains for miles, large beasts that roam the state, and dramatic changes in light and dark and temperature, depending on the time of year and proximity to the coast. To survive the elements, one must be prepared.

I suppose living in Alaska has been such a shift for me in that way. Growing up on the island on Maui, I was privileged to live without much need for surviving the elements. My girl friends and I would throw together our swimsuits, towels, water, sometimes sunblock, and a snack and head to the beach for the day. Oftentimes, I would forget one or more of these items. Without a swimsuit, I’d jump in the water in all my clothes. Lacking snacks, or water, we’d find a public fountain to drink from or purchase ice cream at a local shop. Likewise, beach towels are nonessential. You can sunbathe and dry off pretty fast under the tropical sun.

Alaska is a stark contrast from the balmy beaches of my home state and yet, there is incredible beauty here as well – a fierce beauty that demands respect and forethought. Rather than passively enjoying Alaska, it must be experienced through preparation and reverence. Realizing that the weather can change drastically and moose or bears can cross your path.

As a child, I vividly recall telling my family that I would never live in Alaska nor did I ever want to visit. “Why would anyone want to be cold?” I’d curiously ask. In my mind, Alaska equaled death. Frostbite seemed like a horrible evil to me, one that could easily be avoided. Ironically, I married a man from Alaska who loves this state dearly, which in turn, helped me reconsider my preconceptions about this place. In coming here, I wanted to gain a deeper awareness of where my husband is from – what his childhood was like and how the place he grew up in has shaped him.

I’m thankful for this season of living in Alaska, where I’m learning how to better prepare for the elements. I think in many ways I’m becoming a stronger and more confident woman, wife, and mother. I am also growing in my ability to cherish the things that I must work for, and focusing on stewarding resources well.

Last night, while ladling steaming hot bowls of homemade moose chili and portioning out triangles of skillet bacon cornbread for dinner, I thought back over my day. I feel like a real pioneer woman – cooking, cleaning, avoiding moose, and fighting the elements (or really, that one spruce tree.)

What an adventure.
A snapshot of life in this Great State.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Journey in Blogging

6 years ago, that's roughly the amount of time I've been blogging. It all started with this blog, named "That One Girl." Back when mustard yellow was my favorite color, and my hair was the likely the longest it's ever been, and just a few months after I had met Ken, the boy who I was falling in love with and would later marry - that's when I began writing online journal entries on a more consistent basis. I was still in my early 20s and creating dance videos with my friends and sisters. (Remnants of that era can be found on youtube, although Lord-willing, those videos are hard to locate.)

I was young and naive. Although I had traveled internationally twice by the time I was 16, I was still unfamiliar with living on my own aside from college. The year I began blogging more frequently, I moved from Maui to Seattle with my cousin Isaac. Together we shared a 450 square-foot apartment and nearly killed each other. We fought like siblings and conversely, enjoyed the stability and safety net of having a friend and family member close by as we both got used to living in the city. Isaac and I spent those warm September days biking around Seattle, enjoying steaming-hot gyros and fresh donuts at Pike Place Market. It was my first "Indian Summer," and a welcome transition into big-city living. I can still smell the pungent aroma of fresh peonies and dahlias in neighborhood gardens, and hear the giant cranes lifting building materials at the construction sites near our apartment. Everything seemed radiant and alive. I loved the energy of the city and being able to walk right downtown. Puget Sound is beautiful, and helped keep me grounded during those long, winter days. Its vastness reminded me of living near the Pacific Ocean, during my childhood and in college.

In January 2010, Ken moved to Seattle after completing his time in Iraq. We got married and nearly a year and a half later, I started this blog, "Lettuce Give Thanks" as a platform for giving thanks by sharing stories and recipes. I feel like I've grown so much as a writer and a cook these past few years. Likewise, this year Ken and I will greet our first child, a baby girl, in March and celebrate our 5th anniversary in August. We now live in The Last Frontier, which looks quite different than the bustling city where we spent our newlywed years. I'm so grateful for where God has brought us, individually and as a couple, as we continue to seek after His heart. My prayer is that our stories will be a blessing and a continued way for us to give thanks for all that God has done and is doing.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Week 30: Homemade Apple Pie & Afternoon Naps

To kick off Week 30 of pregnancy, I baked homemade apple pie. With the help of Ken's excellent dough-rolling skills, I was able to create my favorite version using my Grandma Elsa's Apple Pie Recipe. The combination of red and green apples added a touch of diversity in taste - sweet, tart, and bright flavors paired well with the buttery, flakey pie crust.

Grandma would be proud of my handiwork. She taught me so much in her second floor, tile-lined kitchen, with its patches of sticky coating - most likely caused by flying bits of sugar and butter from all of our cooking and baking together. Grandma was such a strong woman - my mom's mom, she grew up in the Bronx, and loved telling inappropriate New York cab driver jokes and reminiscing about her travels growing up and into adulthood. In many ways, I think she tried to be a second mom to me, particularly when my parents separated and eventually divorced. I miss her wisdom, strength, and love for learning. As a young child, she'd point me to her large living room bookcase - where there sat a dictionary, a thesaurus, an almanac, and a hefty concordance of the Bible - any time I had a question about the world, or God, or the meaning of a big word. I can still hear her now: "Maile, go and get the book! Let's look it up." And we did. Every, single time. Until the days when Grandma got too weak and breathless, and prepared to leave us. Then, she just wanted to hear me talk and neither of us asked too many questions.

I still miss her. Often, when I catch myself reflecting on a favorite memory or recipe of hers, I start to cry. Grandma Elsa would be so excited that I'm pregnant. I hope that I can pass along some of her best attributes to my daughter. Along with her cooking, of course.

This week marks 30 weeks in baby girl's development. She now weighs 3lbs or more and measures roughly 15 1/2 inches from head to foot. She's the size of a large cabbage, according to my reading, and her bone marrow has started producing red blood cells. Her brain is forming ridges and growing steadily, and is helping to regulate her body temperature along with her increasing fat cells. Baby girl's eyesight is also strengthening. Similar to her ability to kick. I'm impressed by how quickly she is able to get my attention these days, particularly when I'm relaxing or sleeping. I believe that she is starting to recognize Ken's voice since I've noticed an increase in activity when he is close by. We are growing in anticipation of meeting our sweet little girl!

At my most recent doctor visit, my belly bump measured 31cm, which is right on track for healthy development. Her heart beat is also normal and thankfully, the only symptoms I'm experiencing in this stage of pregnancy are increased heartburn and occasional backpain. Last night, I woke up feeling very uncomfortable, as I'm struggling to find a good sleeping position that accommodates my growing belly! I go back and forth between using my giant body pillow and my normal head pillow, as I overheat quite easily these days. I'm trying to remind myself what a blessing it is that I can now take afternoon naps. Especially on days when I've gone without much sleep the previous night. Friday was my last day at my full-time job and I'm looking forward to lots more napping in my future (along with continued progress on the nursery!)

Speaking of which, I took a lovely hour-long nap this afternoon and am feeling refreshed. I suppose it's time to head back into the kitchen and tackle the remainder of yesterday's mess from my baking endeavors. Here are some photos of our pie making yesterday.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Operation Nursery: Making Room for Baby

Our office is currently a disaster.

Wrapping paper shards, miscellaneous baby items, cardboard shipping boxes, and medical and bank statements haphazardly encompass the roughly 120-square foot room. Ken and I are in the beginning stages of what would seem like all-out-war to an average onlooker, albeit to us, it is merely the dawning of a new era in which our home office becomes the new nursery for baby girl, who is due in a couple short months. We hope to create a sweet space for her, one that she can grow into, and it begins with us clearing out lots of clutter and making room for the tiny human we get to care for in the years ahead.

I've always been fascinated with color palettes, DIY projects, and the practice of living simply by creating beauty through repurposed materials. For instance, the addition of fresh flowers or potted plants can do wonders for my mood. Likewise, I'm drawn to the playful feel of all-white walls with pops of color (think: turquoise, coral, mustard yellow, or burnt orange) interspersed as key visual elements (pillows, blankets, a chair or lamp). As I set about envisioning how I'd like to design baby girl's nursery, I'm slightly obsessed with the hope that I can create much of the artwork myself. Whether it be oil pastels on canvas or refinished furniture, I'm excited to try my hand at building a baby room that is both fun and functional. These next two months, I'm focused on crafting a space for baby and look forward to sharing photos and stories about my progress.

Tomorrow is my last day at my office job, and while I'm grappling with mixed feelings about saying goodbye to coworkers-turned-friends and the extra income my job supplies, I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to ease into motherhood and prepare for baby's arrival. What a blessing it will be to experience this next season, with the support of my husband and his family nearby. I'm still a bit nervous about the transition from two incomes to one, but I'm confident that God will provide for us - He always has. I'm reminded of the time God used a woman named Frannie to encourage Ken and me to not give up. That story is here. With her support, we were able to acquire the $10,000 that helped us make ends meet a couple years ago. There are so many stories like this one, where I can see God's faithfulness in our lives. I want to live in a state of hopeful anticipation, knowing that living on less opens my eyes to relying more on God's provision.

I suppose it's time for me to get back to cleaning the office. I've often found that sometimes laying a strong foundation starts with removing the clutter.

Breaking down to build up, afresh and anew.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hello 3rd Trimester: 28 Weeks & Counting!

"Hello Baby Girl!" I exclaim, whenever I feel her kicking or dancing these days. My beautiful little baby loves to move around in utero - day or night, I can feel her stirring when I get excited, eat a tasty meal, or jump around with Penny, our dog. She is 28 weeks old, and according to my reading, weighs nearly 2 1/2 lbs, measures up to 16 inches (head to toe), can open and close her eyes, and may now be dreaming as she moves through REM cycles of sleep. She's about the size of a large eggplant, and will start to hold onto body fat in the coming weeks, as she develops.

I'm officially in my third trimester of pregnancy! That means I only have 11-12 weeks (roughly three months) remaining until baby girl is full-term. My prayer is that our sweet baby will continue to develop strong and healthy, and greet the world when she is ready. I'm curious to see if she makes it to 40 weeks, or arrives sooner or later than that.

So far, I'm feeling good overall, with my most noticeable pregnancy changes being increased exhaustion and a constantly stuffy nose. I've gained about 15 pounds in the past 6 1/2 months and can expect to put on another pound a week until birth. Average weight gain for pregnancy is about 25-35 lbs, and I'm trying to practice peace in this particular area of my life, as gaining weight has always had such a negative connotation to me. God continues to equip me with grace for this journey and I'm amazed at how much joy I've gained in this season of anticipation. I'm so excited to become a mom!

My appetite has grown steadily in the past few weeks. Ironically, since my belly is growing just as fast, I'm unable to eat as large of meals as I would like. I'm continuing to snack on fruits, veggies, cheese, and crackers (with my newest craving being Mauna Loa brand chocolate-covered macadamia nuts!) Chocolate has worked its way back onto my list of favorite things, after I gave it up almost completely during my first trimester. Something I also learned about myself recently is that I can eat a whole pineapple on my own. It has to be fresh, ripe, and preferably, Hawaii-grown. Baby girl is Hawaiian at heart, I can already tell!

Here are a couple photos of our meals this past week. I've noticed myself craving protein more frequently.
Broccoli, zucchini, onion, and bacon omelet 
Avocado, shredded carrot, and cheddar cheese sandwich  
I'm looking forward to seeing what these next few months will hold for our little family of three (four, if you include Penny.) Thanks for stopping by and for supporting us in this journey toward parenthood!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Cookies, Cards & Campouts by the Fireplace

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
White everywhere..
In my house. 

Those are the thoughts that transpired in my mind a couple mornings ago, as I hastily threw together butter, sugar, peanut butter, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and flour - lots and lots of flour, which mind you did not all fit into my Kitchen Aid standup mixer. Looking back, I shouldn't have doubled the already-big cookie recipe. Three dozen was more than enough. Six dozen, well, that's just plain ridiculous, especially at 6 a.m. in the morning - on a weekday no less. But, being me, and perhaps being a bit unrealistic toward my own limitations in this stage of pregnancy, I went for it. And, boy, was I exhausted when those batches finally finished baking. It took awhile to clean off all the flour that had spilt on the countertops and appliances, and if I'm truly honest with myself, there's probably more cleaning still to be done.

Christmas-time is a wonderful time of the year, and the snow glistening in the sunshine in our
backyard reminds me of that. It's so cozy to be indoors by our wood-burning fireplace, stretched out on the futon couch alongside Penny, our border collie, while we take in the soft glow of the mini lights on our first-ever fresh cut Grand Fir Christmas tree. Ken and I are blessed to spend the holidays in our sweet little home here in Alaska - the first house we've ever shared together. It's a season of firsts for us - in owning a home, adopting a dog, and becoming pregnant.

There's so much joy in this place we find ourselves, and it comes first and foremost from our hope in Jesus. Praise God for giving us a tangible hope in the form of a Savior who came to earth to be our Immanuel (God with us). As I reflect on recent trials and challenges, I'm reminded that God has overcome the pain and suffering of this world through His Son, Jesus, and I choose to put my hope in Him and draw strength from Him. Christmas would have no meaning for me apart from Jesus. Kind of like life, I suppose.

I'm so thankful for what Christmas represents.

This week, I've enjoyed compiling and mailing Christmas cards and cookie care packages. These are two of my favorite holiday traditions! Anything snail mail-related always gets me so excited. I see it as a unique opportunity to share my heart with friends and family.

Here are a couple photos of the cookies I've been baking and mailing:

A month ago, I scoured the internet for some amazing deals on photo cards and ended up paying less than half the normal cost for most of my cards. I also scored a coupon for a bunch of free Christmas cards and saved nearly $40 on those alone (yes, I have expensive taste, and went for the nicest cards I could get for free.) In the end, I settled on two different Christmas cards - in total about 85 cards. Teaser alert: I apologize in advance to those who may not have received their cards yet and are now viewing these photos. Here are the two designs:

Design #1
Design #2 (Front)
Design #3 (Back)

When I finished addressing each card, I also took some time to melt wax and seal the cards up that I was sending in cookie care packages. (Thank you, again Grandma Dorothy, for the lovely wax seal stamp set from Italy - I've enjoyed using it these past couple years!)

Photos of the wax seal process:

Last week, Ken and I also camped out in the living room on the couch by the fire a couple nights. My back was bothering me an awful lot the second night, so we headed back to our bed around midnight. At that point, Penny moved in and took over the sofa. She's been sleeping in a lot lately, and making herself quite comfortable around the house. She must be feeling right at home...

I suppose that I'm feeling right at home as well, settling into winter here in Alaska, with the hope of spring right around the corner. I can't wait to welcome Baby Crewdson home in just a few short months!

Thanks for stopping by, and I pray that you are having a blessed and joyous Christmas season!

With Love,

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Greetings from Mexico!

Mexican Babymoon!
Buenos Dias, Amigos!

Greetings from the tropical seaside town of Riviera Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I'm watching the sunshine envelope the sky, as I glance out our balcony doors, and enjoying the swaying palm branches as they dance in the morning breeze. It's a little below 70-degrees outside, and we're gearing up for another 85-degree day here in Mexico.

Ken and I stumbled upon this Costco destination package a few months ago, after reaching the disappointing conclusion that it was too expensive to travel to Maui this winter to see my family. It's ironic to me that visiting another country would be cheaper than visiting my own. And yet, in needing a hefty dose of Vitamin D (in the form of sunny skies and warm beaches) after living more than a year in Alaska, we decided to try out a place new to both of us: Mexico.

Together, Ken and I have traveled to eight countries in the past four and half years of marriage, which includes Western Europe and Canada. Before meeting each other, we had separately visited countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia, Africa, and Iraq. Somehow, neither of us made it to Mexico - we hadn't really thought of going there. Particularly since I was from Maui, and Hawaii is a tropical paradise in and of itself, I never thought of Mexico as anything new. Also, with all the border issues and drug cartels I’d seen in the news over the years, I was also very hesitant to travel to a politically/socially tense environment.

And yet my perspective has shifted greatly in recent months. Yes, there are dangerous places in Mexico and yes, it’s probably best not to travel to those places as a tourist – but there are also very tourist-friendly cities, that thrive off of tourism in the same way that Hawaii does. In researching and preparing for this trip, I noticed that Mexico has so much beauty and richness, culturally and physically. The beaches are lovely, and much like Hawaii’s. The people I’ve come across are overall, warm and welcoming. They are also fascinated in finding out that we traveled all the way from Alaska.

“Alaska es muy frio!” We hear that a lot.

While I’m not sure when we will journey back to this area, I’m so glad that we took this opportunity to have our “Babymoon” getaway here. It reminds me of how much I love different cultures and people groups. What a diverse world we live in!

Here are some photos of our time here in Mexico. Ken and I have spent our time here relaxing, swimming, kayaking, body-boarding, eating fresh fruit, walking the beach, and exploring the local towns.

For now, adios!