In the midst of a fun-filled summer, Madeleine turned five. Events of note preceding her birthday were her "graduation" from pre-school (she's headed to our neighborhood public school for kindergarten in the fall), her first camp-out with Ann in the backyard (she finally got to sleep at 11 pm after three trips inside to the potty and commenting several times, "I miss Rachel"), weekly outings with friends to the zoo, Fairyland, Redwood Park, etc. and Alameda's Fourth of July parade.

For her birthday party Madeleine requested water play in the backyard again, prompting Rachel to talk daily of her desire for a swimming pool party when she turns three next year. For her birthday present we risked life and limb hanging a rope swing from our birch tree in the front yard. She couldn't have been more thrilled.

Because we appreciated Madeleine being a toddler when she was baptized, we decided to wait until Rachel was two for her baptism. The big day was May 22, 2011 at St. Columba Church in Oakland. Madeleine was preparing Rachel for months, telling her, "When you're baptized it will be like the priest is washing your hair," to which Rachel would reply with great seriousness, "O'day."

Rachel loves, loves, loves the music at St. Columba and she enjoyed the entire mass that day, except for the baptismal rite. She cried when the priest, Fr. Karl Davis, OMI poured water over her head. She cried (loudly) when Paul lifted her up for the entire congregation to see her, she cried when she was anointed with oil, and she kept on crying when she was presented with her baptismal garment. The poor girl just didn't like being in the spotlight, especially once she got a bit scared. After the rite itself, though, she went right back to enjoying the mass.

That night during her bath, Paul discovered her pouring water over her bath toys and declaring, "Baptize, baptize." Now when she hears we're going to mass at St. Columba she asks us, "Rachel get baptized 'gain?" We ask, "Do you want to get baptized again?" and she says "Yes."

At 25 months of age, she still fit into the baptismal dress her Grandma Naffziger made for Madeleine when she was 15 months old.

Her godparents are Celeste and Brian Stanley, friends from St. Columba, and our friend Sheri Hostetler, pastor of First Mennonite Church in San Francisco.

(We're catching up on some older news...)

Our sweet, second daughter turned two on Good Friday and Earth Day, April 22, after a fun and busy spring. Rather than throw a boisterous party on a solemn church day, we celebrated quietly and happily as a family of four. Then we celebrated again two days later on Easter with Paul's family. Ann came in just under the wire and finished sewing Rachel's one-and-only birthday quilt by the second celebration!

Particular things of note in Rachel's previous few months included our trip the the midwest to visit her Naffziger grandparents at their new home in a suburb of Cincinnati, where she also had some time with her Aunt Ellen. After that, we traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to visit our friends Sharon and Randall -- also Madeleine's godparents -- who moved there from Alameda last fall.  Also this spring we planted Rachel's placenta as a family. It went into the ground to fertilize a lemon verbena plant we hope will bless us with its wonderful aroma for many years to come.

Rachel continues to grow in cuteness, and although she displays some typical two year old obstinance, we know how to manage it with more humor this time around. We appreciate her love of her 'is, which is short for "sis," which is short for "Madeleine." Rachel loves going to My Play Place once a week, but misses her sister when Madeleine is at preschool. She is already learning to ride Madeleine's scooter and is eager to be able to ride a bike with her too. Besides her sister, Rachel's favorite playmate is her stuffed dog which she named "Lulu." She makes us laugh every day regaling us with stories of other dogs throughout her world, all of whom are named Lulu.

Now that the holidays are over, it's time to update some of our photo collection from the busy last few months. By the end of the year Rachel had hit 20 months of age and her early speech has begun. She says more words than we can count, but her repetitive favorites are Mommy, Daddy, 'Is (for "Sis"), 'Lilah (for her friend Delilah), Papa (Paul's father), cat, dog, baby (refers to any child she sees under the age of two) bubble, wa-wa (water), more, and robot to name a few. The vast majority of her conversations include one or more of the above. To our chagrin, she learned how to climb out of her crib in November and to this day still has not mastered the art of consistently taking long -- or even medium length -- naps. She is sweet and funny at times, happy and playful, or stubborn and mischievous.

Madeleine loves the holiday season as she is quite the liturgically-minded child. She asked if we could celebrate Hanukkah again (we did, with dreidel play every day), and Advent was another hit. She loves the ritual of the nightly Advent candles. This year’s Advent had the added excitement of preparation for her inaugural appearance with the children's choir at St. Columba's Christmas Eve mass. She was the youngest and the shyest during rehearsals, either refusing to open her mouth or just mouthing the words silently, but she surprised us by singing out proudly and confidently on Christmas Eve. Although we had never practiced it with her, she even sang along when the 12 year old soloist sang her "solo" verses during one song.  She just turned 4 1/2 and insisted for the second year in a row on a mini-celebration complete with a cake and 4.5 candles. January brought longer preschool hours for her: from 9:00-3:00 on M,W,F. Both she and Ann are thrilled at the addition. The new schedule enables the two of them to make the 1.25 mile commute home by bike, sometimes with the trail-a-bike, sometimes with Madeleine on her own two wheels pumping furiously while Ann pedals slowly behind her.

In other news, we do indeed have six new hens now, bought as day-old chicks in October. After much deliberation in the naming process we've settled on: Goldilocks, Fuzzy, Blackie, Roughpowder (a long story behind that one), Leafy-Leaf, and Buster Posey. We hope the last doesn’t turn out to be a rooster, but we just had to name one in honor of the World Series champs since they were hatched during the post-season that Ann and Paul so enjoyed watching with neighbors this year.
A couple of months ago Lori Eanes, a professional photographer in San Francisco who has done photography for Utne ReaderThe New York TimesSunset Magazine, and Parenting Magazine, just to name a few, contacted us to see if she could photograph our family and garden for a project she's currently doing. 

She came out at the end of July and photographed us for two hours, snapping away as we planted seeds for our fall garden, harvested squash, pumpkins, beans, strawberries, and plums, and the girls tended to the chickens. She came up with some incredible shots. We were struck looking at them by how lush and fruitful our small (only 750 square feet) and not-so-perfect garden came off looking. It really is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space.

We just got the photos today, which you can view in the slideshow below (or click on it to see the photos larger).

You can see some of the other photos from Lori's in-progress "Backyard Project" on her website under Portfolio > Projects.  We hope to see her collection of urban farmer photos in a local publication sometime soon!

This year's honey harvest netted about 115 pounds (about 38 quarts) of honey.

This is the first year that Madeleine was able to suit up and see the action up close (no, she's not pulling frames out of boxes quite yet). She is very well versed in the vocabulary of beekeeping and she was enthralled earlier this season to see a queen bee up close for the first time.

This harvest is also the first time that we've saved the wax cappings because  Ann wants to try making some beeswax candles.

We've gotten the harvesting process down much smoother now. We did the harvest in 8 hours flat (!), by far our fastest time.   A big part of that has been minimizing the number of people present.  That especially helped in the cleanup process, as more people present means more sticky honey on the bottom of people's feet, the floor, the counters, doorknobs, and every last surface in our neighbors' house where we do the extraction.

Madeleine recently turned four after a countdown from 3-1/2 to 3-3/4 to 3-11/12. The lesson in fractions came after she told us one day with a big sigh, "I'm tired of being 3-1/2. I've been 3-1/2 for a long time." she celebrated in our backyard with a few girls from her preschool who enjoyed some arts and crafts and then some water play. The Slip-n-Slide had the girls squealing and shrieking in delight.

Madeleine is in a pleasant, helpful, and delightful stage these days. She cheerfully helps to set and clear the table, and is always excited to help hang up and fold laundry. Lucky for us the laundry line is just about at her level and she can hang an entire load almost by herself. Today she told us we couldn't leave for the downtown street festival yet because she wanted to finish folding Rachel's diapers first. (Yes, we know we're lucky.) Preschool continues to be a hit, she loves to make up songs and sing and dance in our living room, and she and Rachel remain great playmates. She can ride her bike two miles in a day, walk a mile, or get around the neighborhood on the scooter she got for her birthday present without us tiring her out.

For months now she has been entertaining us with some great quotes. Some of the better ones in recent history are:
  • "Mommy, I just noticed that my little toe is smaller than my little finger."
  • After spending a night away from Rachel, Madeleine said "Whenever I'm away from her and it's nighttime, I try to dream about her."
  • "I like strawberries, raspberries, kale, and fava beans from our garden, but I don't like blueberries as much."
  • "I like to ride a bike better than go in a car because then I don't have to smell that stinky gas smell."
  • "Mommy, I just realized Rachel walks like a penguin. She wobbles."
  • As she went out on the back deck for lunch one day, "It's a beautiful day! The bees are a'buzzin' and the plants are growing!"
We look forward to this wondeful stage of hers lasting for the next 17 years, at least....

(And here are some family photos from the last couple months...)

Rachel's first year went so quickly for us and on Earth Day, April 22, we marked the official end of her infancy. We are glad the trials of the first year are through, even as she provides us with different challenges with every new thing she learns.

She is quite a physical little girl: little because she remains solidly in the 10% for weight, and physical because she is a climber, if anything. The smart - and strong - little kiddo has learned to push chairs to places where she wants to reach things and she feels free to climb right up into danger zones. We also have to be vigilant lest she unroll all the toilet paper in the house or try to stir the toilet water.

Now she wants to participate in everything we do and the desire to imitate her older sister is coming on strong. If she had it her way, she would get to stay at preschool with Madeleine. She is quite shy and reserved with anyone outside of her immediate family and she makes people work to earn her smiles and affection. Luckily for Mommy, Daddy, and Madeleine, she graces us with a lot of the both.

We've posted new photos here:

February 2010:

March 2010:

April 2010:

Our girls are growing up! Madeleine now vigorously corrects people when they assume she is three years old by telling them, "No, I'm three and a half!" She has definitely become a pre-schooler in terms of social maturity and independence, which is fun for her and a relief to us.

Madeleine often still asks us, "I forget, how old is Rachel again?"  It's hard for all of us to keep track when we count in months and they are flying by, but Rachel is almost 10 months old now. The two sisters are best of friends and it is beautiful to watch their interactions with each other. The more Rachel develops and learns new things, the more Madeleine roots her on and celebrates her. We love watching her develop too, although the early crawling (at 7 1/2 months) and standing up and now "cruising" have made our lives more complicated.

In January we took a trip to South Bend, Indiana to visit Ann's parents and introduce the girls to snow. Madeleine had some memorable quotes. On a day when the high temperature was 12 degrees she asked "Why are there clouds coming out of my mouth?" She spent about 4 minutes on the outdoor ice skating rink before calling it quits ("I'm getting cold and this is very hard") but she wanted to go back the next day. Making a snowman/snowpyramid was a big hit, as was Grandma's hot chocolate when she came inside.

Back in Alameda, we've welcomed three new chickens into our flock. Madeleine chose all the names: Scramble (named after the one who died last fall), Pancake and Waffle, now bring our flock up to six. We are enjoying glimpses of spring, time to work in the garden, and the prospect of Rachel's first birthday soon to come.

We've posted new photos here:

October 2009:

November 2009:

December 2009:

January 2010:

Rachel is already five months old. Her newborn infancy has come and gone, and now our girl is wanting to grow up and PLAY! She does full-body wriggles when excited, and she flaps her arms and legs when she watches her big sister Madeleine run, jump, dance, etc.

She seems eager to eat solid food (she positively panted and drooled over our pesto pasta the other night), but in the meantime she sucks on her big toes a lot. A couple weeks ago she began rolling over and she's never looked back.  She loves to practice making new sounds, and we swear sometimes she vocalizes "just to hear herself talk." We are still yearning for the time when she will begin sleeping through the night and taking more than 30 minute naps.

Now that Madeleine has started pre-school two mornings a week, Rachel gets some special one-on-one time with mom, which we hope makes up for all the time she gets set down so we can get something done around the house. In the last month, Rachel's Grandpa Naffziger got to hold her quite a bit during his two week-long visits. Look at just a few of the newest photos and you'll see why we call her our "little Pauline girl."

We've posted new photos here:

Month 4:

Month 5: