Photography Challenge Week 4 – Headshot

For all of you math whizzes out there, it’s week 4 but I only have two images?????

I’ve been struggling to find my motivation. Not to take the photos, but to be content to take them where it’s convenient for me. Especially when encountering such talented photographers on my supporting Facebook group, it’s an even further struggle to make this a personal challenge and growth period and not a contest. So I’ve been content to watch their development and keep working on my own. No tree blooms overnight.

I’ll post the missed weeks as I come to them, but for today I leave you with some portraits of Lily from this morning. This kid… She was pretending the heating vent was a fireplace and having breakfast with her stuffed friend Duckles. Dale Foshe, the mastermind behind the 52-week Photography Challenge, hinted that a head shot should tell the viewer who this person is in one sentence.


(C)2016 Simply Stein Photography

“An independent, spirited toddler whose beauty and mischevious nature shines even through her unpolished outward appearance.”

She’s my beauty, and I love her so very much.

Until next time, my friends!


52 Week Photography Challenge

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions – just like being specifically generous at Christmastime, why do we feel like one season of the turning of the world is enough to change everything? Why aren’t we striving to resolve and grow all year long?

All that to say I’ve crumbled. I resolve to complete the Dogwood 52-week photography challenge. And lose 50 pounds. And exercise regularly. And defeat the dreaded Balrog with nothing but a wooden spoon.

We’re off to a smashing start.

The assignment for week 1 is a self portrait. Typically, we’d be dredging up something featuring a perfect coif, non-squinted eyes, a favorite outfit and eighteen retakes of the same ridiculous pose. There’s a time for that.

In rethinking how I’ve looked at photography since graduation and having children and generally never being presentable for public until two in the afternoon, I wanted to start this year with honesty.

week 1 - self portrait

I’m trying to redefine how I look at the idea of “self-portrait”. I’ve always been a photographer who likes real, candid snapshots of life. We primp and plan to show our “best” side in a selfie, but is that really us at all?

Me cooking breakfast for my two year old after coming home from a weekend of hunting with my father-in-law. Focus on the brush to show my attempt to keep everything together even though there’s mess on the counter representing my current life perfectly – breast pump, half eaten chocolate bar, goldfish. Taken with my Canon 7D, ISO 400/f 3.5

Look forward to more soon, with a longer entry coming in hopefully shorter than an eternity!



Some nights, when the kids are both asleep and only noises in the house are the jingle of the cat’s collar and the click-smack of buttons in the dryer,

you must make teeny, tiny batches of concord grape jam.

Oh yeah, I have two kids now.

I’m back, baby! ūüôā


The Story of New Life (and the Uphill Battle Getting There)

** Friendly Disclaimer: This post is going to include some minor graphic details about the birth of our daughter Lily. For the mildly squeamish, and with consideration to my gentlemen readers in particular, I have tried to be as vague as possible without leaving out important details. Just a head’s up, but I do hope you’ll read it. It’s quite the story. **

Greetings, everyone, from the Steinway!

Current population – One husband, one wife, one cat, and one brand new human being. Yes, after a long and mysterious nine months, our little mystery baby entered the world after one of the longest days (and nights) of my life to date. The nights are still long and tiresome, but we’ve made it through the first month of parenthood and we still have a baby and we’re still surviving. Not sleeping, but surviving ūüôā

After my last entry, I didn’t know what to expect from the coming week. I know what I wanted to get out of my birth experience. My doctor knew what my hopes were, and being the wonderfully considerate man that he is, he was going to do his best to help my labor and delivery be as close to my plans as he could help make them. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and doctors often get thrown off by mild preeclampsia. The entirety of this pregnancy, I have been struggling with high blood pressure. I had seen the same problem when I was still on oral contraceptives, and it had improved when I stopped them. In this case, the high blood pressure could only be *hopefully* cured by delivering the baby. A surprising number of maladies are cured this way – swelling, heartburn and of course, pregnancy.

Thursday morning, the hubby and I had our 39 week prenatal appointment. Based on the protein levels in my urine and my high blood pressure, my doctor was concerned that keeping the pregnancy going could be risky for the baby’s health and my own. I was about 2 cm dilated. We set up an appointment for some testing at the hospital later that afternoon, as well as a 24-hour urine screening. We both called work and by 2:30 in the afternoon, I was down in radiology at the hospital having a routine ultrasound to check baby’s position, vitals and fluid levels. Other than a very still, sleepy baby who was head-down and ready to meet us, the ultrasound revealed nothing of note.

Next, we went up to the maternity ward and I was hooked up to two monitors – one to monitor contractions and one for baby’s heartbeat. Every 15 minutes, the machine automatically took my blood pressure and recorded it on a printout. We watched TV and quietly waited for the test to end when one of the primary physicians from our office came in to see how we were doing. She looked at the printout and smiled widely.

“Congratulations! You’re contracting! Can you feel those? You might have a baby before you know it!”

Needless to say, I felt nothing other than the occasional kick from our kiddo. The nurses informed us that our doctor would be at the hospital soon if we wanted to wait for his opinion on the situation, so we waited. And waited. And another hour passed. Our patience was rewarded ¬†by a breathless doctor who had run up four flights of stairs to keep us from waiting longer. After reviewing my vitals and the printouts from the testing, he was thrilled with how regular and strong baby’s heartbeat was, but still concerned about my blood pressure and excited at the fact that my contractions had begun, even if I couldn’t feel them. He recommended some exercises to jump-start natural labor and gave us a few options for induction if the next day yielded no further progress and ¬†my 24-hour panel results were poor.

Fast-forward to Friday, my due date. This ended up being a very, very long day indeed. Not surprisingly, I felt no different than the day before. I was hoping for a quiet, peaceful day at home with Matt, but I was in an awful emotional state all day. I was anxious about my test results, terrified about the future, thrilled at the prospect of meeting our baby before the weekend was up and seemingly upset about every tiny thing that was going the slightest bit wrong. In the midst of all of this, the clinic processing my urine test had crossed wires with the doctor and wanted my sample as soon as possible. This would either mean waiting for the courier to come pick it up from diagnostics, which might take 4-5 hours, or driving a half hour to drop it at the hospital.Amid tears and frustration, we drove out to the lab and then stopped at Wendy’s for dinner. It was our last dinner together before we became parents. Peaceful, reflective and a little melancholy. I began to feel selfish – I was going to miss having Matt to myself, miss having the time to spend pursuing my own interests, miss being “just us”. I also began to feel anxious – what was going to happen? One day we were alone and watching TV and eating dinner together. The next time we blinked, all that could have changed. All that did change. It just took longer than I thought.

On our way out of town headed back home, I received a call from my doctor. He had gotten my results from the lab and wanted to get me to the hospital to induce labor as soon as possible. He wasn’t alarmed, but since I wasn’t getting better he wanted to be on the safe side. We would head home, get ready, and return to the hospital in two hours once room opened up in Labor and Delivery. Weekend staff is short, so we were really being squeezed in. Once home, I was suddenly overcome with a burst of thrilled excitement and stressed efficiency. I showered, finished packing my bag, posted a quick update to Facebook and finished folding my laundry. Things were suddenly happening – after waiting and preparing and worrying and imaging, we suddenly had a set deadline. We were taking home a baby this weekend, one way or another.

We arrived at the hospital and finally found registration. We checked in, and I was wheeled up to our room. Immediately, I was handed a gown and robe and settled into bed. Our doctor greeted us tiredly and briefed us on his thoughts. Since my labor was not progressing naturally, he wanted to first try inducing labor with a drug called Cytotec – while being a medication for stomach ulcers, it is also used for ripening the cervix for delivery. I trust my doctor wholeheartedly, and he encouraged me that results of using Cytotec were positive. I signed a consent form and was administered the pill. After that, it was all a matter of waiting. We got some sleep while we waited for the drug to take effect.

Two hours later, my mom and dad had arrived at the hospital and I began to feel some contractions as we chatted. It was around midnight when my doctor returned to check on my condition. Very little progress had been made, so we decided the next step was to start me on an IV drip called pitocin. Pitocin kicks the uterus into high gear and is supposed to start contractions at an intense rate. I had read some encouraging articles on women who went through labor without pain medication while using pitocin – it can be very difficult. Natural contractions build up and grow in intensity, whereas even when administered in gradually increasing amounts, pitocin can cause contractions to be very frequent and very painful very quickly. Dr. Fernaays acknowledged that he knew this wasn’t what I wanted, but that we would do our best to stick to my plan. My heart was as set as possible on natural birth and no medication, but I was starting to open myself to the alternatives – including C-Section. The thought of surgery terrified me, and I felt that after nine months of waiting and taking care of this baby, I wanted to bring it into the world with as little intervention as possible.

We took some supplies and shuffled down to the suite where I would be for the remainder of my delivery. ¬†I was hooked up to an IV of saline and pitocin on one arm, monitors across my stomach and a suffocating blood pressure cuff on the other arm. Tucked into bed, I tried to get some sleep while the cuff inflated every few minutes and the monitors beeped away next to me. I fell asleep to the sound of my baby’s heartbeat. Four hours later, we did an internal exam and there was still very little progress in my readiness for delivery. I had dilated maybe another centimeter, but I could no longer feel the contractions that had been present hours before. With some frustration and consideration of the options, the doctor stopped the pitocin drip and prepared to put me back on another round of Cytotec. That was when miracle number one happened – the monitors registered strong, frequent contractions that had not been present while I was on the IV. We all practically danced – maybe our intervention had only delayed everything and there was still hope of “sticking with plan.” My poor exhausted doctor had to leave for a while to tend to his family and his farm, but he encouraged us in his absence to do everything we could to keep labor going. We walked the halls, bounced on a birthing ball (imagine an exercise ball shaped like a giant peanut), watched TV, talked, ate a tiny portion of lunch (since I was now technically in active labor) and drank more water than I thought I had room for. This went on for a good portion of the morning and into early afternoon.

At around 3 o’clock, my nurse on rotation, Jay, did another internal exam. I was close to four centimeters dilated but still not much further along. Her opinion was that resuming pitocin would get us where we wanted to be. She confirmed with my doctor, and in his absence the medication would be given under the supervision of another doctor on call. They also had begun discussing breaking my water if contractions continued. We got ¬†back into my room and back onto the IV and resumed our sitting and talking and monitoring. Matt and I even tried playing a few hands of Rummy in the waiting time.

I want to say it was an hour later – after that many hours of no sleep and not much happening, I lost track – my dad was sleeping in a chair in the corner and we were all joking about his ability to sleep through anything. I had begun feeling mild contractions at this point, and was using deep breathing exercises to work through them. I was sitting in a rocking chair and talking with my mom when there were what felt like two sharp blows to my pelvis, like someone punching me on the inside, and my water broke. Somewhere in this commotion, Dad woke up and we filled him in on all the fun he’d missed. It was then he kissed me goodbye and made his exit – the next part of the show wasn’t really his favorite (I love you, Dad!) I had no idea that those two jabs were going to be the start of the longest (and simultaneously quickest) hours of my life.

For those who have not experienced or never will experience labor, imagine having a bad stomach or gas cramp. Then imagine someone took that pain, applied it to all of your main internal organs from the lungs down, and squeezed them in a vice. It doesn’t do the pain justice, but it’s the closest I can come by. I couldn’t anticipate how quickly the contractions would ramp up – but they did. Rather than just breathing through them halfheartedly and being able to make some conversation, I found myself needing to close my eyes, center myself and really focus on how to get through the pain. Matt did a special compression exercise by squeezing my waist to help open up the pelvic area and my mom would tell me to grasp her hands as hard as I needed and remind me to breathe.

After what felt like only minutes, the weight of all of the pain and sleepless hours began to take their toll. Each contraction would start as a small clenching and then quickly broaden, full force, and last anywhere from only a few seconds to a minute or slightly longer, and then gradually ease off. I would collapse, half-asleep, as soon as I was able to stand it. I had no concept of time passing – only that it was. I didn’t know how long I was asleep. I only heard my mom telling me to rest, and then telling me when the next contraction was coming so I could throw myself out of my chair and stand or squat or lean across my hospital bed and breath and cry out through them. I never actually cried, but I did shout out in frustration to vent my pain. I was terrified of having to get back in bed to be examined or being stuck sitting down while contracting. I didn’t want to be caught without some outlet to work through them.

After what seemed like an eternity, I felt like I couldn’t go on any more. In a delirious state of exhaustion, I only had a vague idea of who was in the room. I remember my mom bathing my head with a washcloth, being fed ice chips off a fluorescent green spoon, having my lips smeared with chap stick… It was the second closest thing to an out-of-body experience that I’ve ever had. Finally I felt the slightest inclination to start pushing. I didn’t know what that meant exactly. It’s more of an instinct than anything, but I did know it would mean we were closer to the end than we had been all day and night thus far. With some hesitation, I crawled back up into bed so my doctor could check my dilation. We were set and ready to go.

Pushing, as many mothers will describe and agree with me, is probably the best part of an un-medicated labor. After hours and hours of seemingly endless contractions and pain and fear, you are suddenly handed an outlet for all your pain and frustration. While fighting labor pains is very difficult when you’re trying to remind yourself to work with your body, pushing allows you to actively do just that. It’s finally the time to have all the parts sync up and come together to do what you’ve been trying to do all along – bring a baby out into the world.

The downside of pushing is that you are required to put all of your earthly strength into attempting to move a baby down the birth canal in the time of your contractions. It doesn’t sound like such a challenge, but when you’ve been at it for an hour and you can’t feel your legs and you know your eyes are swollen shut, you might as well have been trying to push a concrete truck through a snow storm. It was hard not to start feeling hopeless – I kept pushing past the end of the contraction and then collapsing back on the table just wanting to quit. Our doctor pulled Matt aside at one point to let him know that it’s not unusual for first-time moms to push for anywhere from an hour to three hours. I think he was worried I was going to run out of steam. It was only by the grace and strength of God that I was able to keep going. I was so weak and shaky and exhausted – I felt like only a fraction of a human being.

Two hours passed, and the doctor and nurses started suggesting alternative positions and ideas for pushing. At one point, they had me try getting on my knees and holding on to the top of my hospital bed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep that up for very long. It was just too tiring to not have the support of the table. Seeing my weariness, it was also suggested I didn’t have to push and could just work through the contractions. That idea was very quickly thrown out when the pain came rushing back. I wanted to keep this baby moving, despite my own weakness. The longer I catered to my own needs, the longer it would take for it all to be over.

By the time we got to hour number three, both my doctor and I were very tired and running out of options. I was starting to think I was at the end of my rope. Everyone kept encouraging me to push down, push the baby out, keep her moving, but I just couldn’t seem to find where I was supposed to push. Baby’s head had been sighted, but she was stuck behind my pubic bone. Every contraction, we were supposed to be almost there and I would push for my life, and then the contraction would pass and I would wither, discouraged and worn out, feeling her slip back to where she was. The dreaded conversation began – what would we do if baby wouldn’t move? The doctor informed me he was calling the surgeon in to be on hand in case we needed to use vacuum suction to help the baby along since her head was swollen and stuck. Nervously, I inquired as to the option we would have to resort to if that didn’t work. Again, we brought up C-section. At this point, all I heard was “put her back where she came from and start all over.”

Something lit in my subconscious. In my fogged, delirious mind, I just needed to meet this baby. I was not going to have done all this hard work to then have to be cut open. With the next contraction, I pushed from some new center. Excited shouts of affirmation came from the end of the bed. I was doing it right – I was conquering labor. Matt, my mom, my doctor, the new nurse who joined us for the night shift, all of them were there cheering me on, holding me, feeding me ice, telling me that they finally all meant it – we were¬†almost there.¬†The worst part of the whole night came when the baby’s head was finally free, but I was forced to reduce my pushing so we could preserve the perineum and keep me from tearing. Blinding, white hot pain was all I knew, and it was almost unbearable. The gentle reassurances of my doctor kept me holding back – we had discussed this in our appointments and he was doing all he could to keep my body together. At long last, he told me I could be strong again, and in a flurry of plastic sheeting and surgical instruments, out came my sweet baby, squalling up a storm. Just like that, like we’d just started, our child was out in the open and ready to be cleaned up. After nine months of mystery, we finally knew that we had a daughter. A sweet baby girl.

My eyes were so swollen that I was seeing double, but as my baby was placed on my chest, I couldn’t believe how far we had come. One day, she was just a speck on an ultrasound and a line on a pregnancy test. Now suddenly, finally, she was a fully realized and fearfully and wonderfully made little human. Now at one month old, I’m watching her sleep in her bouncy seat as I type and all I can do is marvel at how beautiful she is. The best parts of Matt and I, brought together by love and created by a wonderfully loving and almighty Heavenly Father… all in the being of this tiny little girl.

26 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, and no medication for pain. By far, one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. And I couldn’t have done it without my beloved husband, my amazing mother, my wonderful doctor, the nurses and the support of all our family and friends.

We are so very blessed, and what a long journey it was. This is just the beginning of our adventure together!
Thank you so much for reading and for sharing my experience with me. Keep a look out for my next entry!

The Battle for New Motherhood

Well readers, after many months of infrequent updates and poor accountability, here I am.

Oh yes, and I’m pregnant.

Oh yes, and I’m due on Friday.

For those of you just joining us now, I apologize for this mind blowing announcement. What kind of blogger posts about breakfast sandwiches but then neglects to tell her readers that she’s expecting a baby?

Frankly, it’s the work of a girl spoiled and corrupted by social networks. I fear I have very little readership outside of my personal relationships, so naturally I just assume you all know what’s going on in my life and don’t want to overwhelm you with details from too many sources.

This is horribly closed-minded and selfish of me. Even when you feel alone, it’s necessary to embrace outside readership and write to an audience who you¬†could reach, not just the audience you’re¬†sure you’re reaching. How can you ever expand your horizons when you’re focused on the line on your dashboard?

With that said, I hope that any readers who don’t know me and may never meet me will enjoy my work, participate in my life and accept my apology for inadvertently closing them out.

Onto my original post ;

Anticipating mommy-hood is scary. Less than five years ago, I was starting college. I had just “graduated” from being a kid living at home to being a semi-child off in the world trying to figure out what kind of adult she would be. I made mistakes, came home for the summer and got reintegrated into my family’s routine.

Less than a year and a half ago, I was a naive new bride preparing for married life. Still living at home, still eating meals with her parents, still borrowing a room in their house that was temporarily my own. That start of adulthood I’d begun in college was still blossoming. I was heading out into the great wide world with a husband and responsibilities of our own.

Suddenly, out of what feels like nowhere, I’m about to become a mom.

I’m thrilled at all the possibilities. We decided not to find out our baby’s gender, so this upcoming surprise of new life is made even more exciting by unknowing. Each day moves closer to our introduction of this new member of our family, and we have been preparing for so long. We are as ready as we think we can be and simultaneously totally in the dark. We’ve never done this before. We’re going to have to learn how.

The most difficult thing I’ve faced thus far was not any aspect of the pregnancy. Without intending to boast, I must praise the fact that I’ve been blessed with a very easy pregnancy. With the excepting of a few weeks of morning sickness, some carpal tunnel (which is buzzing my hand as I type), and sore feet, I have not suffered much with physical symptoms.

No no, my greatest adversity has been being a new mom in an old-mommy world.

I am choosing (with my fabulous husband’s support, I might add) to cloth diaper our child. Between saving money on disposables, saving space in our landfills and saving my baby’s body from the harsh chemicals and fillers of modern disposables, I am thrilled at the opportunity to continue a tradition moms have stuck to for years.

Unfortunately, many veteran mothers are close-minded and deeply rooted in cynicism. Many of the wonderful ladies I work with have openly told me I’m crazy for wanting to do anything other than the “easy” way. One woman in particular got caught up in a conversation about laundering diapers and how I was deliberating over which detergent to buy since I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that might not work for us.

“Oh my gosh! Just pick a friggin’ detergent. You’re freaking neurotic! Your kid is going to be neurotic!”

And God bless the gentle encouragement of near strangers.

Does wanting to make good decisions for my wallet and my baby make me neurotic? To a stranger to the concept of sustainable living and a desire to do the best one can, I could maybe start to see her point. But why do we spend so much time driving the ambitious away from ambition? Especially in parenting, every one will learn in their own way. No one knows what kind of child their kid will be until they start to raise them. Yes, women have learned the same lessons over and over, but if all that offhanded and blunt advice that is shelled out by every mother EVER was taken to heart by half the women with children out there, we wouldn’t have horrid parents and horrible kids. Everyone would be the same. There are ideals to strive for, but not everything works for everyone.

I’m also going to do everything I can to have an un-medicated delivery. I feel it’s important for my own reasons, one of which being that I really do want to experience birth for all it is. It’s not some naive earth-mother philosophy. It’s just the plain fact that God designed my body to do this, and if I can get through it without needing medication, I want to accomplish that feat. I don’t need drugs to make me succeed. I have no shame in accepting or asking for them, but I want to do my best without.

“No you won’t. You’ll ask for the drugs. Everyone does. It’s hell. Get over it.”

What is so wrong about letting me do this myself? Tell me a big, fat “I told you so” afterwards, but encourage me in my ambition. I’m not striving for complete impossible odds. I don’t want to deliver my baby while skydiving or teach my kid to change it’s own diaper. I just want to¬†try.

All those horror stories people share are just because they’re a good story. For example, two elderly women came into work at the same time to pick up medications. One woman was impressed I was still working and commented about how I would be just fine in delivery – her labor lasted only an hour or so, and she spent most of it at a diner down the street nursing a cup of coffee.

The woman next to her gaped incredulously. After guessing that she had a completely different experience to share, she expressed her tremendous jealously and proceeded to share about her earth-shattering and horrendously long twenty or so hours of painful back labor. Side by side, these two women gave me perspectives from both camps: pure martyrdom vs easy-breezy delivery.

She don’t mind. She’s short and skinny, but she’s strong. Her first baby come out sideways. She didn’t scream or nothing.” -Planes, Trains and Automobiles

There’s nothing wrong with telling me your worst tales of blinding pain, breached babies and last-minute c-sections. But especially from the perspective of someone who has never done this before, there is nothing worse and more discouraging than to be told that this event that I can’t prevent, that I have been anticipating and doing my own worrying about for nine long months, will be the worst hours of my life.

You’re not saving me. You’re only making things worse for everyone around you. You’ve taken the miracle of birth and put it on an episode of Jerry Springer. Let’s include some hair pulling, shall we?

As for cloth diapering and making my own baby food and carrying my baby and breastfeeding and any other “alternative, new-age” (traditional, people) methods of parenting, let me make my own decisions. Yelling at me about my apparent neuroses will do nothing to change my mind. You think that in those few minutes of you shoving your experiences from previous children down my throat that I’ll suddenly change my mind and do it your way? That the hours I’ve spent every day thinking about my baby and our budget and our beliefs will be suddenly cast aside by one person telling me I’m nuts?

While this isn’t the bouncy baby announcement I’d hoped to write, it’s something that I’ve been battling this entire pregnancy and has been on my mind as we near the close of this particular stage of life. Rather than try and tell new moms how it should be done, wait to offer advice until asked for. Just like reaching out and touching a pregnant woman’s stomach, hold back your way of doing things until the opportunity arises to assist a helpless new mom in adjusting her ways to better suit her needs and her family. Use more grace, and win more followers to your opinions.

Before you all get the wrong idea, I have been greatly blessed by the support of many veteran moms and new moms alike. My own mother has been a great cheerleader and encourager this entire pregnancy, especially in trying to support my offbeat endeavors. New moms have been some of my best friends because they’re still going through what I will be and have the fresh knowledge and experience and are able to share what works for them. I am a strong enough woman that the negativity camp will not shut me down. They can look at me later and say what they like about my successes and failures, but I will take heart in the fact that they were MY successes and MY failures, not some other mom’s.

We are winding so close to the end of this pregnancy. While I hope to share more thoughts (and particularly on a more positive note) before this little person greets the world, there is a chance I may not get around to it. If that is the case and this is the last you hear of me until after my baby is eighteen and out of the house (just kidding), I hope old moms will take it to heart and that new moms might have a hearty “amen” in response.

Otherwise, let’s plan on more words soon, shall we? We may be due on Friday, but that doesn’t mean baby is quite ready to say hello.

Pregnancy has been a fantastic and life-changing adventure, and the best is yet to come. I’ve embraced it!

From one terrified, thrilled mommy-to-be to the world,
we’re almost there!

Behold the Breakfast Sandwich!

As an apology to you, ¬†my dear readership, for my almost 6-month absence from blogging, I bring you something that will most certainly cause you to heap forgiveness on me without a second thought. I’m diving right in because while I do have much to tell you and many words in which to say those things, it’s also a bit of a crazy day. That’s just how much I love you. No beating around the bush!

I love the breakfast sandwich. When you think about it, it’s what breakfast is all about. Some brilliant chef somewhere (or perhaps someone with the munchies who was brilliant enough to do some experimentation) took the four most common breakfast elements in American culture – protein (or fat-laden meat with lean strips of protein), eggs, dairy, and carbohydrates – and slapped them all together in a glorious chorus of flavor and melted cheese.

While not for the calorie-conscious, a breakfast sandwich has the brilliant versatility of allowing for endless combinations of tastes and personal preferences while also being portable and filling. You can make them healthier by substituting egg whites for egg or low-fat turkey bacon for sausage. Today, of course, I didn’t do either of those things, but the possibilities are there.

To begin, my dear hubby and I took a quick jaunt over to our local grocery store – one of those places that has what you need when you need it at low, low prices. We picked up all of our main players – bagels, one pound of ground pork, locally-sourced eggs and cheese.

For this specific recipe, we found some excellent asiago cheese bagels to serve as our carrier for the rest of the sandwich. Why asiago? They’re hefty, soft bagels with that tangy cheese baked right on top. They also provide a lovely complimenting contrast to our choice of sweet sausage. For our cheese, we went with basic smoked provolone – nothing fancy, mostly because of our small selection (and small budget).

Some of our key players, lined up and ready to go

After slicing our bagels in half, we put everything else aside to focus on the wonderful and satisfying joy of mixing up our own sausage.
The best part about making your own is not only the cost – compared to buying some preservative-filled, overly-priced box of Jimmy Dean or Bob Evan’s patties, you can save a good chunk of change and personalize the recipe to your tastes or to the specific type of breakfast you have in mind.

Our chosen few seasonings (brown sugar and pepper not pictured

Maple syrup is one of our passions here at the Steinway, so I decided on a basic maple sausage recipe. Put your one pound of delicious pork meats into a bowl. Then, I added two tablespoons of maple syrup. Don’t get me started on that fake-o pancake goop. It’s GOT to be the real deal! NO FAKERS HERE! They’re not even TRYING to be vaguely maple-flavored! PAH! PAH I SAY!

Rant concluded. I then added almost a teaspoon of ground sage, a teaspoon and a half of salt (more or less to taste), a teaspoon of granulated garlic and a teaspoon of granulated onion, about a tablespoon of brown sugar (for a little extra glaze), and a few dashes of black pepper. I occasionally will add a little crushed red pepper for heat, but not today. If you like spicy, make it spicy!

After adding all your seasonings, it’s time to mix it all into a glorious mash of meat and spice. You can mix with a spoon if you wish, but if you really want to blend it up and get down and dirty, do what I do and get your hands in there and squish and mash until thoroughly combined and ready for shaping. If you’re wondering how to tell if your sausage is seasoned to your liking, put your skillet on the stove over medium heat and fry up a small piece. That’s really the best way. Otherwise, you can just cook them up and tweak them for the next time. It’s a learning process.

Once mixed, make about four-4 oz balls of meat (about the size of a billiard ball) and flatten them into patties. It may take a little shaping to get them to look beautiful and disk-like, but they’ll get there. Make sure they’re relatively thin.

Glorious pork, aglow with sunlight!

Since DH and I were the only ones eating this morning, we decided to freeze the extra patties for a later time – just layer them in wax paper and stick them in a freezer bag. To defrost, either leave in the fridge overnight or defrost in the microwave before frying up the next morning.

Eat them now or save for later ūüôā

Now that our meat is prepared, we wash up and get ready for the whole ensemble to come together!
Start by giving your bagels a little pre-toast. You can do this in a toaster if you wish, but lacking a toaster big enough, I chose to use my oven broiler on low. Keep the door cracked open an a careful eye – they can go from delightfully light golden brown to burnt in seconds. One advantage to doing this method is the bagels are ready to go on a cookie sheet for when your sandwiches are ready for assembly.

Toast away!

With bagels toasting, start preheating two skillets for the eggs and sausage. For the eggs, throw about a tablespoon of butter (more or less to your liking) in the pan and let it start to melt and get a little bubbly. For the sausage (especially when using non-stick cookware), no grease needed. The little guys will produce enough fat of their own. Put the heat to medium for both pans.
In the meantime, take out your bagels and set them aside. Ours were a little more well done than I wanted, but still delicious and ready to be layered with morning joy.

Mmm, toasty!

Now your pans should be ready to rock – for the sausage, cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until brown, sizzling and reaching an internal temperature of about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. I love using my cooking thermometer because so many recipes call for checking to see if the meat is still pink – who wants to tear about their lovely sausage to see if it’s done?
Once cooked, just set aside on a small plate lined with paper towels and let it rest.

Brown, delicious and maple glazed.

Now, onto the eggs – my DH was my sous-chef and helped me on this part to make the time go faster. Fried eggs are a new chefs best friend. Easier than scrambled in many ways, all you have to do is crack them into the skillet (trying not to break the yolk, but in the end, it all tastes the same) once it’s heated and let them sizzle away. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, or a little seasoning mix like Penzey’s Mural of Flavor, and occasionally spoon some of the melted butter in the pan over the yolk. When the egg white has all turned opaque and the yolk starts to set, carefully flip the egg with a spatula and cook on the other side, again sprinkling with a little seasoning. The egg is done when the yolk is cooked to your liking and the white has a little bit of brown along the edges – not too well done, just right.

It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be an egg (made by our chef-in-training)

As your eggs finish up, go ahead and put the sausage on the bottom part of the bagel. As each egg is through cooking, you can move them right from the pan to on top of the sausage.

As it all comes together….

Once both bagels have sausage and egg, lay your cheese on top and put everything under the broiler on low until your cheese gets melted and starts to bubble. Again, keep a close eye. The last thing you want is overdone cheese. I also flipped the bagels over so the asiago topping could get warmed up and reheated. Good decisions on my part!

Almost there….

Finally, cheese melted and the whole gathering reheated and toasty, remove from the oven and firmly put the top half of the bagel over all the layers to complete your sandwich. Voila! A breakfast fit for some budget-conscious hungry non-royalty! ūüėÄ


Besides being delicious, these sandwiches end up saving us a good deal in our budget. We love getting breakfast sandwiches from the restaurant just around the corner from our apartment. Those end up costing us about $3.50 each, or $7.00 if we both want one, and they’re about the size of a McDonald’s Jr. Cheeseburger. For these babies, we add up our ingredients:
Eggs: $1.81 a dozen, or 15 cents an egg,
Sausage: $2.48 a pound, or 62 cents a patty
Bagels: $2.29 for 4, or 57 cents a bagel
Cheese: $2.50 a package, or 25 cents a slice
Add that all up, and for two of us can have a hefty breakfast sandwich each for $1.59 – $3.18 spent altogether on breakfast. How cool is that?

Best part is that we now have all the components in the house so we can make them anytime – and these were so filling, we both had some leftover that we saved for this morning. I love cooking, I love saving money, and I love sharing my passion with my friends!

Pair with a good cup of coffee, and nothing could be better

I hope this little sidetrack into the Steinway kitchen has thoroughly made up for my blogging laziness over these past few months. Happy cooking, and enjoy your good eats!


Recipe Notes:

– Be creative! Instead of asiago, use onion, everything, or plain bagels. If feeling a little soft, use kaiser rolls, english muffins or just some good hearty artisan bread! For any of the non-bagel options, consider spreading with a light layer of butter and toasting in a skillet.

– Feel free to purchase any of your pre-made sausage favorites in a pinch! I love the satisfaction of making my own, but I also appreciate convenience and reduced mess.

– On a similar meat note, don’t stop at sausage! Try bacon, ham, Canadian bacon, turkey bacon, your choice! I used to make super quick breakfast sandwiches to go in college using lunch meat (usually ham), shredded cheese, a well-seasoned fried egg and normal whole grain sandwich bread. Adapt to what you’ve got!

– Spices can vary immensely – if you don’t like sweet, try adding some crushed red pepper or Tabasco for a kick. Or, stick to your garden herbs and make a savory breakfast companion. Much like my beef breakfast sausage, there’s no rule as to how it should taste!

In short, get creative or stick right to the recipe. Have fun, and enjoy what you eat!

Pharmacy People – Forever Young

There are definitely certain advantages to working at a pharmacy. And before we start making methamphetamine jokes, I mean for those who enjoy their jobs and perform them legally.

For example, I can go in any day of the week and get a free consultation on my current medication, on potential future medications I may need to take, or the risks of mixing loratadine with over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen (there really aren’t any). ¬†I can learn exactly what my grandfather’s medication does to help him, what insurance companies are really doing when your co-pay is over fifty dollars, and how many drug reps it takes to sell one box of lancets to a stubborn haggler. I can even learn the per-pill price of every medication we carry and realize just how much good health costs these days, at least for some.

I also have the advantage of getting to know my community (Houghton students, gimme a C!) and its members quite¬†intimately¬† While some of that intimate interaction does involve hearing play-by-plays of colonoscopy¬†preparation¬†and being shown horrendous rashes in order to diagnose a creeping ailment, not all of it ¬†is disease and horror. Occasionally it just involves a hello and a chuckle with the same man who comes in at noon every day to buy his newspaper. He scatters two quarters, a nickel and a dime into my hand with a sprinkling motion and emits a the manliest “tee hee hee” you’ve ever heard before wandering back out into the afternoon.

Or perhaps it’s the elderly woman who met me when I first started working, and even though she’s been confined to bed rest for some time, she is always so thrilled when I answer the phone to write down her RX numbers. “Is this my special friend?” she asks before laughing and demanding I let her know how I’m faring at the job and what’s new with the bustle of Akron.

There’s also the regular Lottery players who exchange small talk and success stories while I print them their usual tickets, and who never leave before slipping me a dollar to share their good fortune. Lottery creates a split atmosphere, as some people are obnoxious with half-hour that passes with them at the scratch-off table or how much change they need from me before they’ve run their luck out for the day. But they spend money, and in the business of making money you take any and all who are willing.

Growing up in a relatively large city outside of Cleveland, I never understood the “small town atmosphere” that so many novelists¬†encapsulated in their stories. I never understood the characterization of citizens like I do now that I’ve been living in a town with a population of 2,856 and working at a local business. There are many, many characters and many, many plot lines.¬†¬†There are categorized villains and jokers and nomads. It’s quite easy to learn names and begin recognizing people when I see them lined up in front of me daily and I can see just how different they all are.¬†Being at the pharmacy, however, has also made me very self-conscious¬†of my good health, happiness and youth. Almost every day, I have elderly people shuffle through their bag of many drugs, sigh wearily and look at me with narrowed glances .

“Never grow old. It’s just awful. Stay young forever.”

What in the world am I supposed to do with that? It puts me in the most awkward position. What’s my best response to that? Let’s see…

1. “I will, I will! Curse your age, I shall defy it and stay young for ALL ETERNITY.”
2. “Ok, thanks for the tip. Did you want your receipt in the bag or with you?”
3. “Uh… well… how do I stop it?”¬†

I just become exceedingly aware of the fact that I am young, fit and not on any regular medication.

I do my best to relate to everyone who comes in my door, but there are times when I don’t know what I can do except accept them where they are at and give them at least one smile in their day.

Today in particular, I was sent on the delivery to a few of our residents who are unable to get out to pick up their medications themselves. One woman began to relate to me the regrets of her youth and her poor choices and her failing health and while I tried to encourage her, all I was thinking ¬†was “not me, never me, I won’t regret and I won’t want to do it all again.”

These people are lonely. Most of them live with either a disabled spouse or no spouse at all. I do my best to enjoy my brief visits with them when I can, simply to remind them that while they may not have much around them, they do matter. And since they¬†can’t¬†do it all again, we’ll make the best of where they are at now.

I know we all grow up with this sentiment of every children’s book or television program¬†tattooed¬†on our brains – the one that says “Be the best you can be! Reach for the stars and follow your dreams!” Most of us can’t appreciate that sentiment. Either we keep trying and are blinded into non-retrospection or we let it fall apart and live the depressing reality of a dead-end street like so many of the kids I grew up with.

However, when you’ve seen the people who didn’t live lives to be proud of and who really don’t feel like their life led anywhere good, you begin to find the sincere motivation to wake up each day and say “I will live a good life. I will stay healthy and have everything in moderation, I will do well in my marriage and find joy in all things and happiness when possible.”

Like New Year’s Resolutions, we can all be good liars. But let’s strive not to lie and not to cheat. We can be human and fail and not do our best some days, but the difference is found in the will to get up and do better next time. You can’t really regret those choices you’ve made in life because then you can never learn from them. We all wish things had never happened, but if we’re always wishing things had never happened, we’d never have grown and learned the way we have. We would not be the people we are.

I want to look back at my life when I’m eighty and not want to trade those spent years for anything in the world.

I said there were many advantages to working at a pharmacy – like being constantly reminded of how other people live and how you can learn from their example, both good and bad.

One day at a time. Just one long youthful day at a time.


Life, Post-Wedding Style

In this week’s episode, Hannah finds out that being an adult is not a box of chocolates.

Adulthood is more like dumping all of your money into buying the world’s most expensive, hand-crafted, artisan box of chocolates using the world’s oldest recipes from the birth of Historic Record, and having someone eat them, when you’re not looking, on the bus.

For the bum who ate them, they were fantastic, but it’s just not at all the fate you imagined for your precious dreams.

Marriage is excellent. Between the happiness and wholeness it brings and the cost of ending, it’s hard to conceive why people could even dream of divorce. But I know everyone has their reasons.

Moving was great. After college and my family home being sold and living out of suitcases most of the past four years, it was so refreshing to come back from our honeymoon to a home. Our stuff was in it, our cars were in the driveway, and our mail found its way to the box at 2:30 p.m sharp.

Working minimally from home was great until a woman realizes how bored she can get and how much money this “adulthood” thing requires. Thus, a job (part-time) was found.

Bills and loans are the devil’s coloring book.

Being a Stein? Probably the best move I could have made as an outdoorsy, adventurous lady. I’ve got my hunting license and a tree stand and I got my two extra doe permits. I’m helping to conserve and control wildlife populations while eating like a queen. Plus, the wood stove and a hot cup of coffee after waiting in the rain two hours for no ducks makes the whole experience complete. Beards are in.

So thus far, it’s all checking out okay. The Ideation Post-Marriage Update is a winner.


Oh yeah, and then being asked to leave your new home because you asked for a repair that was three months late… That part was not so much fun.

But finding a newer, better, warmer home a week later? We’re back on the blessings list.

The house which we had found for the first two months of our marriage was nice enough. It was an old house with no central heat, slanted floors, cracking ceilings and a few mice, but it was colorful, cozy, and had a backyard that overlooked cows. However, after the brief and dwindling heat of a New York summer starts to fade and the residents can see their breath inside in October, a chill (far more than literally) starts to set in and you realize that the justifications you made for loving this house so much don’t apply when you have to keep from freezing all through a long and unsympathetic winter.

To avoid divulging more information than would be proper for this circumstance, all I will say is the lack of insulation had been overlooked by all parties connected to this house. Then, when we needed that warmth most, we were thrown out into the cold.

With 30 days notice and bills and loans to pay, there was brief panic. I had just finished adding a tapestry over our bed and putting up our movie cards to bring some life to the living room. It seems that only a day after I begin to truly feel like the house is our home, we’ve been told that not only is it no longer our home, but we’ve brought this upon ourselves. Fighting feelings of immense injustice, we pushed on with the search for something better, owned and maintained by better people.

Less than a week later, we find a place we like. A day after viewing it, Matt and I had a¬†conference¬†and realized that in our own separate times, we realized we loved this place. It was smaller, but newly renovated, quiet, warm and right in town. It is (quite literally) a thirty second walk from the place I’m working for now. And the people who own it are sweet and on the ball.

Put a¬†rambunctious tortoiseshell foster kitty named Tinker, some good friends and some great culinary adventures, and you have two Stein peas in a cozy center-of-town pod ūüėÄ

That’s the moderately brief, mostly upbeat summation of 5 months of married life. On one hand, I feel like we’ve just settled in, and on the other hand, I can’t believe we haven’t been here forever. We’ve dealt with our share of sorrows, frustrations, confusion and chaos, but it’s all been tangled together in a nest-web-ball-tangle of overall blessings and good.

So after a long time away and a few nudges, I’m back. I can’t make any promises about my consistency, but at least I’m still around.

And that’s enough for now.


Unforeseen Circumstances

Note – I know it’s Monday, but when you have unfinished posts you want to complete, you find a way. Roll with it!

Wednesday is the new Friday and man, today is one of those days.

Wednesday has never been my favorite day. I won’t subscribe to any of that “hump day” business, especially due to a flagrant dislike of the Black Eyed Peas song. ¬†In general, Wednesdays remind me that the tough start of the week may be over, but we still have half of the days to finish up. When a Tuesday feels like a Friday, Wednesday is the worst because in your mind, it should be Saturday… and instead, you have 3 days of work remaining. It’s a similar feeling to waking up and, thinking you missed school, tearing around the house at six a.m to get ready. Then, just as you’re walking to the bus, your mom stumbles out of her room, bathrobe clutched together in one hand, to remind you it’s the weekend, and why can’t you ever be ready on time every other day?

To begin, my car is much like a celebrity. To all outside onlookers, it looks healthy, soundly built and pretty handsome. It even has tiny flame decals. However, when one gets to know my car better, it starts to show signs of wear and instability – indicator lights coming on, strange noises, a spongy delay to the breaks, a slow leak in the tire. We take it and put it through gentle rehab and it looks ready to face the world again. Give it two weeks to a month and it’s back to the same drama – new parts and time. I thought I happened to own the world’s most high-maintenance car based on the number of repairs needed in such a short time. My dad informed me that, much like celebrities, the issues and drama are normal and my car is really no worse off than any other. It just likes all the attention and in another few years, it will just accept the fact that it’s not hot stuff anymore and will resign itself to running errands for old ladies and puttering kids off to school.

In other words, Nicholas Cage and Disney. It’s going to spend all our money and then finally work well for us when it has no other choice.

So on this fateful Wednesday, the car was in the shop. It needed a lot of replacements – fuel lines, brake lines, ball joint, power steering fluid. Under the impression that the shop would be done with it this morning, we drove into Solon from our new house in Cleveland. The people I work for expected me to be late, but when I called them and told them it would be close to noon, they weren’t the happiest. I am blessed to work with very flexible, understanding people, but I also work with animals who can be a little less understanding, especially when hungry or needing to pee. We’re working with what we’ve got.¬†Along with some unusual personal issues, dealing with businesses and people connected to the wedding, there have been a lot of unforeseen circumstances muddling up my month.

“The Unforeseen” have been teaching me a lot, though. Order things months in advance. Make sure you’ve got all the right information from the start. Make sure you do everything you can so that you aren’t to blame when “circumstances” become “facts of life”. And make sure you are prepared to do what must be done to fight biting disappointment and clean up the messes left behind when people (mortal as they are) let you down. TIP: NEVER PUT FAITH IN MORTAL BEINGS. They will find a way to take that faith and do bad things to it, much like Dolph Lundgren to magical unicorns (see hilarious Norton commercial here).

I’m getting married in two weeks to the love of my life, my best friend and confidant, my “tough with the scruff”. I have been hoping to share more about my summer, but between the end of work and wedding planning and my silly “s” key still acting up, blogging has been one of the last things on my mind. I’m planning on sharing my entire wedding band fiasco (another “unforeseen”) with you all at some point, mostly to serve as a consumer warning against the “big dogs” of industry and economy. In fact, one of the only things thus far that has gone wrong with wedding planning was Kay Jewelers, a Stirling Jewelers company, royally screwing up my wedding band and giving me the hardest time about getting my money back.

Weddings were once sacred. They have now become a giant, sucking¬†black hole¬†of burning cash and frills. You would think that people working in an “industry” with emotional, needy, selfish women (think the worst of the worst Bridezillas) would be a little more considerate and tactful when dealing with mistakes. No such luck, my friends, and for that Kay Jewelers will never get my money for any piece of¬†jewelry, no matter how big, small, or encrusted in shiny stuff. However, before I start my big business rant early, I must redirect and say that in this minor case, the grand Unforeseen almost had me beat, but due to love and support and a stellar local jeweler, all’s well and Kay’s awaits my scathing internet review. Soon… *finger pyramid of doom*

When we least expect it, the¬†Unforeseen¬†can be those situations that bring us joy. People who I didn’t think would be available accepted my wedding invitation with excitement. Others who I would have loved to see and share my joy with were inhibited by life circumstance and travel. I know my wedding only needs to be Matt and me and our beloved officiant (flying in from the Great White North) in the sight of God, but I am so excited to share my one and only wedding with my loved ones, family and friends alike, overlooking the lake that is so close to my heart.

In closing for now, I have had people have mentioned the one “unforeseen” that Matt and I have banished from our list – Divorce. I have watched too many young marriages of people I know die within the first year because of laziness, misunderstanding and an unwillingness to accept the responsibility of the marriage commitment and God’s expectation for that union. This is a one-time event, baby, and once we say “I Do”, there will simply be no going back.

Looking at the man I’m going to marry, I’d say I’m perfectly all right with that. I’ve waited my whole life for him to come along, and now that he’s here I’d be a fool to chase him away. Twenty-two years is a long time to have otherwise wasted waiting for love.

I’ll do what I can to write a couple posts before the wedding, but in case of unforeseen circumstances, I look forward to reporting to you from Akron, New York as Mrs. Hannah Stein. I’ll have adventures and travels and stories to share, and we’ll finally be back on track!

Two years ago, I would never have imagined that I would now be in the throes of preparing to marry my best friend. Now that it’s only two weeks away, I can’t imagine a future without him. Funny how things change, isn’t it?

Be well, everyone!

Itsy-Bitsy Teen-Weeny Update Since You Haven’t Seen Me…

There’s always a reason for why bloggers don’t update for weeks.

Good Reason: Kidnapped by Vikings and taken on a three-month pillaging voyage against their will.

Bad  Reason: Bag of Doritos was obscuring the keyboard.

Good  Reason: Ravenous wolves ate my hands while camping and was waiting for dictation software to arrive.

Bad¬†Reason: Netflix wouldn’t load with so many tabs open in Chrome

Good  Reason: Graduation, selling childhood home, moving to new house and starting a job took lots of time and energy.

Bad¬†Reason: My “s” key won’t type unless I hit it like a semi crushing a water bottle on the highway.

In case you somehow haven’t figured it out, the last two reasons are my own. Yes, I graduated Cum Lade¬†from Houghton College in May, and then moved home and immediately started with some home/animal care work. Within a month of being home, we were frantically packing belongings, setting up a garage sale, throwing away piles of trash and useless accumulations from our past, and moving. My parents moved into our new rental house, and I moved enough stuff to get me through summer. The rest of my worldly belongings are packed neatly into a 10×15 storage unit, waiting to be moved to New York in August.

As for the “s” key dilemma, it’s taken me a while to get through even this short post, but it’s time for me to get past my irrational fear of slow typing and excessive use of my backspace key. I’m back on the internet, and I’m really excited to share all the activity that this summer has seen thus far.

It’s good to be back.

Look for my return to the blogging game on Friday!